Chinese artists born after 1975 have grown up, toggling between extremes, in a rising society and globalized culture. Representing a striking diversity of practices and positions, this generation is the first to come of age in a post-Opening, post-Reform China, a group with instant access to information about artistic developments around the world and ample opportunities to travel abroad. The Ullens Center for Contemporary Art opens its 2013 program with ON | OFF: China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice. Occupying all four exhibition spaces at the UCCA, ON | OFF is a large-scale group exhibition marks the most comprehensive survey to date of the generation of artists born after the death of Mao and the end of the Cultural Revolution, and at the dawn of the country’s era of opening and reform. ON | OFF will feature 50 commissioned works by 50 artists and artist groups.
Curated by Bao Dong and Sun Dongdong, ON | OFF is an effort to effectively document a new generation of Chinese artists born after 1975 who have “grown up in a society and culture beset by binaries, constantly toggling between extremes.” The title ON | OFF, which comes from the graphical interface of a common VPN (virtual private network) software used to scale China’s Internet firewall, represents this binary condition at its simplest and most direct.
The exhibition is rooted in a series of such tensions that intensified in 1999, just as the Internet was becoming implicated into everyday life. Since then, it is precisely this generation of artists that has surfaced and begun to attract attention, as Chinese contemporary art has moved away from the underground scene of the 1990s and a new commercial market and institutional infrastructure have come to replace it. Today’s most notable young artists are the recipients of formal art educations, and many are gradually fitting into a rising gallery system. They exhibit a strong tendency toward self-organization and collective practice, yet represent a wider diversity of individual subjectivities and styles than ever before seen in China. They actively participate in the emergence of new art institutions even as they question and mediate these developments. Unlike previous generations, they stay informed of international developments in real time, even as they continue to run up against a distinct and specific set of constraints and challenges.
ON | OFF is above all a research project, drawing on preparatory visits to more than 200 artists in cities including Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Wuhan, and Shenyang. Accompanied by a wide range of publications and programs, the exhibition aims to articulate a generational sensibility by highlighting individual positions. “Since its founding in 2007, the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art has been a platform for presenting the freshest artistic voices in China, and for placing them into the twin contexts of Chinese art history and the international conversation around contemporary art,” said UCCA director Philip Tinari. “We are extremely excited to mount an exhibition that will showcase the wide range and high caliber of work being made in China today.”
ON | OFF will be accompanied by a full calendar of events, including a lecture series, a documentary screening, and a concert series.
SEE / SAW: Collective Practice in China Now is a preliminary exhibition to ON |OFF that invites thirteen artist collectives to show for one-week intervals. Curated by UCCA curator Paula Tsai, SEE / SAW examines the production processes and decisions involved in creative collaborations, which have become a major trend in the Chinese context during recent years. In focusing on the concept of the “group” and exploring notions of co-dependence and reaction, viewers are, with the exhibition’s weekly reincarnations, urged to observe how the exhibitions may or may not play off one another.
Participating collectives include Double Fly Art Center, A Diaodui, Museum of the Unknown, Zuzhi, North Village Independent Workshop, Irrelevant Commission, 8mg, TOF, Art Praxis Space, LVXIAO, Nanshan Painting Group, GUEST, Hexie Baroque, and Cell Art Group.
“Self-made · Self-said” is the first half of ON | OFF’s sixteen-week panel discussion series, occurring in conjunction with the exhibition “SEE / SAW: Collective Practice in China Now” (2012.11.17—2012.12.30) and as a preview for ON | OFF. ON | OFF curators Bao Dong and Sun Dongdong and SEE / SAW curator Paula Tsai engage members of art collectives in lively discussions on their individual and collaborative creative practice.
“Discrepancy and Commonalities: Regarding the Particularities of Artistic Practice” will present a series of weekly panels, as ON | OFF artists as well as key figures in various areas of the contemporary art world discuss “individualism in artistic practice.”
UCCA has collaborated with ON | OFF curators Bao Dong and Sun Dongdong to create a documentary film that provides background insights into the curatorial processes and creation of ON | OFF. Xie Meng (deputy director of education and public programming at UCCA) goes on the road with the curators as they travel across China to cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Wuhan, and Shenyang, researching and seeking out a “new generation” of creative minds. Premiere to be held at UCCA in March 2013.
The ON | OFF Concerts will introduce the maturity, diversity, and innovation of young composers born in China in the 1970s and 80s as well as the first-generation Chinese diaspora. Organized into three concerts to be held in January, March, and April, musical performances and 15 premieres commissioned for ON | OFF will be presented within philosophical, experiential, and experimental contexts. Curated and presented for ON | OFF by Beijing New Music Ensemble founder Eli Marshall.
Birdhead, Chen Wei, Chen Yujun + Chen Yufan, Chen Zhe, Chen Zhou, Cheng Ran, Fang Lu, Ge Lei, Gong Jian + Li Jinghu, Guo Hongwei, He Xiangyu, Hu Xiangqian, Hu Xiaoyuan, Huang Ran, Jiang Pengyi, Jin Shan, Lee Fuchun, Li Liao, Li Ming, Li Ran, Li Shurui, Liang Yuanwei, Liu Chuang, Liu Xinyi, Lu Yang, Ma Qiusha, Qiu Xiaofei, Shang Yixin, Shi Wanwan, Song Ta, Song Yuanyuan, Sun Xun, Tang Dixin, Wang Guangle, Wang Sishun, Wang Yuyang, Wen Ling, Wu Junyong, Xie Molin, Xin Yunpeng, Xu Qu, Xu Zhe, Yan Xing, Yang Jian, Yang Xinguang, Zhang Ding, Zhang Liaoyuan, Zhao Yao, Zhao Zhao, Zhou Tao.
Bao Dong (b. 1979, Anhui province) is an art critic and independent curator. He graduated from the Sichuan Fine Arts Academy in 2006 with an M.A. in Art History and has curated exhibitions for a wide range of art organizations since 2005. In contributing essays to the artistic dialogue and other forms of involvement, Bao has established himself as a leading curator and critic of work by the “new generation.”
Sun Dongdong(b. 1977, Nanjing) is senior editor at LEAP magazine, where he has worked since the magazine’s founding in 2010. He received his M.F.A. from the Nanjing Academy of Art in 2005. Since 2001, Sun has been involved with contemporary art exhibitions, worked as a critic, and curated shows at the Nanjing Sifang Contemporary Art Museum and the Iberia Center of Contemporary Art in Beijing.
ON | OFF will be accompanied by two publications:
ON | OFF: Collective Practice in China 2002-2012 is an anthology of essays offering a comprehensive overview of creative collaborative practice in China over the past decade. Texts provided by ON | OFF curators Bao Dong and Sun Dongdong, UCCA curator Paula Tsai, and critic Guo Juan. Published in Chinese only, to be released with the opening of ON | OFF.
ON | OFF: China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice is a complete, bilingual exhibition catalogue featuring in-depth introductions to each artist, forming an extensive document of a new generation. Available March 1.
Both books are co-published by UCCA with Hinabook and the World Publishing Company, Beijing. Both publications will be distributed in China and internationally, and will be available at the UCCA bookstore.
UCCA is honored to announce LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton as the Lead Sponsor of ON | OFF. As a supporter of the 2009 UCCA exhibition “Breaking Forecast: 8 Key Figures of China’s New Generation Artists” and other exhibitions during the past few years, LVMH has a long history of supporting UCCA in its presentation and promotion of China’s young artists.
Exhibition publications are generously supported by the H2 Foundation for Arts and Education Limited and Hallam Chow. Additional support is provided by the UCCA Patrons Council.
Courtesy of The Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, for further information please visit ucca.org.cn.