Over the past ten years, research methods rooted in the notion of “space” have attracted more and more attention. These theories of space are not only concerned with physical space, but rather emphasize the mutually formative processes that occur between space and society, which are often intertwined with such issues as the current globalized production, the production of public space, or spatial memory. The geographical context of China and its neighboring countries has become a rich, multilayered regional ground and experience where to carry out this reflection and practice; as a new perspective and angle, this context has made its appearance within artists’ work and discourse. In the same way that Chinese contemporary art is in need of development, it also requires new and deeper work methods, in order to expand into wider social scenes and fields.
Tang Chao’s unremarkable little hometown in Hunan; Chaotianmen Pier in Chongqing, Yu Guo’s living place; or Labor Park, in Huang Songhao’s hometown of Zhengzhou, are places that trace the geographical outlines of China’s hinterland. These outlines are shaped by social governance, labor laws, as well as the value systems and consumption behaviors of everyday life. Zheng Yuan collects scenes specific to this hinterland and throws them into the context of the reorganizing spaces of globalization; and it is precisely such imported scenes that point to the repression and the tense relations affecting regional culture under the influence of globalized production. Ho Rui An’s works multiply these relations by narrative means. Wu Chi-Yu, Shen Sum-Sum, and Musquiqui Chihying’s historical investigations bring the entire background of these works to the fore.
Most of the works in this exhibition originated from the research and observations carried out by these various artists for extended periods of time. They form a tree–like, decentralized structure, which grows and extends with every new historical period. Simultaneously, the artists place themselves and their objects of study in the same real–life situations, and thus scrutinize cities, history, as well as the microscopic, multiple and complex relations between individuals. The artist’s body plays a fundamental role in these works. In those of Tang Chao and Huang Songhao’s, it develops out of “local work” projects carried out in extreme spaces. Thanks to his connections with a classmate working at Changning Police Station, Hunan Province, Tang Chao turns a police camera into an angle of vision allowing surveillance and control, which he uses to rediscover his own hometown. In the video recording, he appears under his real–life situation and identity, as he discusses with his classmate from the crime brigade the possibility of using images in his work as a police officer – while also revealing the unresolvable contradictions between social and professional requests in the life of this young man. Simultaneously, their discussion of a death case braids together the entangled and interlocking destinies of several generations of small-town inhabitants from the inner regions of China.
As for Huang Songhao, he brings to light everyday–life political divisions in a Zhengzhou park, as he witnesses a clash of opposing value systems between various retired workers – and decides to jump in, so as to scramble up and reconstruct this particular relation. In this project, he plays the role of an opposing debater who nonetheless brings about a feeling of balance; the argument that opposes him, in this daily setting, with these workers from the past century – full of idealism and a spirit of sacrifice – is an unequal contest. As for Yu Guo, while he roams around Chaotianmen, in Chongqing, he uses rays of light to interfere with the nightly work of the bang bang porters, and thereby intentionally plays the role of a overseer, in a position of mute opposition to them.
Zheng Yuan’s work has always been carried out from a spatial perspective. Here, he records the shanzhai (knock–off) Western architectural sceneries around Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Shanghai, as the background to a sort of “regressive utopia” in the midst of globalized production. The Taiwanese artists Wu Chi–Yu, Shen Sum–Sum, and Musquiqui Chihying use the classic song Bengawan Solo to summon historical memories of colonized space in South East Asia; and as for the Singaporean artist Ho Rui An, through the use of the word “green” in official discourse, he recounts the development and the predicament of South East Asia’s miraculous city.
The title “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth glancing at” originates from Oscar Wilde’s theories. The second half of this sentence explains its origin all the more deeply: “… for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail.” This better land known as Utopia appears like a distant castle in the sky; it is the place where mankind lands, and the one from which it sets sail. While this place once belonged within people’s depictions of the way they imagined Socialism, nowadays it is but a place from where they keep hoisting sails – venturing onto the boundless expanse of a sea where they eventually lose their way. The artist, however, still attempts to write and to connect things together, intent on drawing closer to a new paradise.