Art Gene, Bath Street, Barrow-in-Furness,
Cumbria, LA14 5TY England, UK
In 2007 Art Gene had been selected as host for an Arts Council International Fellowship and decided to undertake a curatorial visit to Japan to select possible candidates, Zhuo encouraged us to also visit China as she said it was nearby. We asked Zhuo to facilitate the curatorial visit to China where she also acted as our guide and interpretor. The visit had an intensive itinerary of meetings with artists, galleries and organisations in Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing and her home city of Xiamen. Whilst in Xiamen we first began to discuss ideas for an exhibition at Art Gene by Chinese Artists. Thoughts were inspired by the differences in our home towns but soon found similarities of concern shared in discussions with artists in Xiamen who were making interesting work in response to the rapid changes taking place there.
Xiamen ‘in a world somehow now ‘Out Of Place’
Out of Place, addresses and captures the impact and mechanisms of a particularly Chinese ‘take’ on – and rate of ‘capitalist’ economic development. It sheds light and contextualises our own Industrial Revolution and our current part in a global economic situation which has helped catalyse the unprecedented recent, rapidly changing face of China.
The majority of the seven selected artists are postgraduates from Xiamen University Art College, South China which houses the Chinese European Arts Centre. Xiamen is a beautiful and ancient coastal city also known as Amoy. Xiamen’s growth reflects its many thriving industries and a very busy port. Like Barrow-in-Furness, Xiamen has a beautiful coastline and continues a tradition of shipbuilding; whereas Barrow specialises increasingly in the production of nuclear submarines, Xiamen builds a variety of surface ships including cruise liners and huge container ships, many of which are regular vistors to its busy port.
During the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD), the city was open to foreign trade and later became a treaty port in the 19th century. The first treaty ports in China were British; established at the conclusion of the First Opium War by the Treaty of Nanking in 1842. As well as ceding the island of Hong Kong to the United Kingdom in perpetuity, the treaty also established five treaty ports at Shanghai, Canton, Ningpo, Fuchow, and Amoy (Xiamen).
Xiamen’s population has nearly doubled in the past 10 years to over 3.53 million forming the heart of a massive growing conurbation of currently more than 5 million people. Xiamen was one of four original Special Economic Zones opened to foreign investment and trade when China began economic reforms in the early 1980’s. It is endowed with educational and cultural institutions supported by the overseas Chinese diaspora. In 2006, Xiamen was ranked as China’s second ‘most suitable city for living’. Despite this apparent glowing reputation the exhibition exposes some deeper human realities in the face of the rapid, often ruthless, economic regeneration sweeping across China. The long term effects on people, places and their culture are yet to be fully understood and certainly seem of little concern to government and the new rising avaricious elite.
Each work in the exhibition attempts to capture something of this unfathomable process and it’s effect on long held cultural values, identities and traditions. The artists provide a window, through direct personal experience, into more intimate truths which lie unnoticed behind China’s front doors, and the projected image of economic and cultural success.
The exhibition highlights the sometimes jarring juxtaposition of cultures, events and imagery in a world somehow now ‘Out Of Place’. Zhuo Chen
Old town homes in Xiamen each had an enamel sign featuring the number of the house and the name of the street. Zeng Huanguang collected many from homes in streets which have vanished through mass demolition of the old city- placing them as a memorial at Art Gene and along the streets of Barrow. He invited Barrovians to make their own associations with the often poetic street names and house numbers ecouraging them to take a number which matched their own home and place it beside their front door.
Huanguang’s film City Animation, was started in 2004 as an animation about city changes and growth.The time lapse animation records tens of blocks being demolished and constructed on Xiamen Island. Filmed over 4 years at the same spots at different times it exposes the wider impact of Chinese cities in flux.
Yang Jian’s work focuses on a series of portraits of one of China’s new-elite white-collar workers. Posed in different incongruous sites which reflect his displacement within the social natural and built environment of a former China’s culture and identity…
Min Lan’s work explores and documents factories and workers making products for export. Through a combination of documentation and performance the artist embues harsh industrial sites with a childlike innocence, simultaneously melting and exposing the realities of the relentless production line through her manufactured daydreams.
Chen Wei’s endlessly looped video work evokes a sense of isolation and unease, even whilst in ones bed. Her work Freezing features a single bed in a dark room which slowly revolves on screen: ice-cubes gradually melt through a white sheet puddling a stark concrete floor.
Wei Na’s photography documents a changing China. This work was inspired by a piece in a local newspaper about the government deciding to demolish all the open food markets in the city within a year and transform them into indoor supermarkets. A shocking obliteration of a traditional culture pattern and a way of life.
Gu Yue’s works are crumpled, distorted photo works evoking fast change in China’s big cities.
Tang Qiong’s works respond to the fast development of the Chinese market economy serving the West. A vast array of well known clothing labels are collected and stitched together by hand into a compact mass: plentiful, keen, but disorderly, a reflection on the realities of lives lived in China.
“I love those noisy and messy markets full of cheap products. They provide me with all that is necessary to facilitate my daily life and all that inspires my work.”
Tang Qiong, 2008
Cumbria, LA14 5TY England, UK
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