Lost in the Labyrinth: Sound Art in China @ 2013 New York Electronic Art Festival
Curator: Xiaoying Juliette Yuan
Opening reception: July 12th 2013, Friday, 7-9pm
Public screening: July 12th – 14th, 1-6pm
Venue: Harvestworks Media Arts Centre, #596 Broadway, 602, New York, NY 10012
Telephone: (+1) 212 431 1130
Participating artists (click on the artists’ names to see/hear the exhibited works)
Since its import into China, the evolution of and the practice of Sound Art, like the art of New Media, has been completely re-shaped by the political system, social structure, and market economy of contemporary China. Sound Art in China – as it’s been greatly affected by the local culture – has very little in common with its original reference in Western art history. Most Chinese practitioners in this field usually avoid classifying their creations as “Sound Art”, as it’s difficult to summarize the complexity of the media evolution in China with such a simple word.
The artists participating in the current exhibition are among the most representative figures in the experimental music (i.e., Sound Art) field in contemporary China. They live and work in Beijing or Shanghai, but originally come from different cities with diverse socio-educational backgrounds, which constitute the decisive factors that influence their sensibility and perception for sound and music, as well as for the current state of Chinese society that they are living in.
Shanghai artist Yin Yi and Beijing artist Sheng Jie (aka GogoJ) have both lived and worked in France, which endows their works with similar temperament: subtle with undertones of restrained violence. Yin Yi shot the video Three Minutes at a crossroad in Shanghai during the same moment when all of China mourned for three minutes in remembrance of the Great Sichuan Earthquake (May 12, 2008) victims, in order to memorialize the “21st deadliest earthquake of all time”, while Sheng Jie created the single-channel video Ruins Face with its mysterious and ghostly images, accompanied by the low frequency from her self-designed electronic violin, thus faithfully relating the absurd and violent behaviors from the privileged power stratum in China through the background story hidden behind the ruins. In Smoking, a 1 ½ minutes long shot of several young females smoking next to the same window in front of an unknown background, Sheng Jie tries to communicate to the audience her interpretation of the act of contemplation, which could create unexplainable visual delusions within different context in our daily lives. The work refers to the illusions that people might confront, or the self-identification that they keep seeking while striving to survive the situation projected in Ruins Face.
Wei Wei (aka VAVABOND) and Li Jianhong often collaborate to deliver live environmental improvisations. Li Jianhong, one of the pioneer figures in Chinese experimental music, never accepted to categorize himself as a Sound Artist. Three sound tracks from Wei Wei and Li Jianhong’s environmental improvisations are shown in the current exhibition. Although created with totally different media and methodologies, and recorded from different environments, these sound tracks seem to interpret both creators’ nostalgia for their hometown and culture in which they grew up, and their constant aspiration for peace, simplicity and authenticity as a life style.
The same pure aspiration can also be found in another artist and pioneer figure in experimental music in China, Yan Jun. Being extremely active as a creator, curator, producer, and music critic, Yan Jun, now only creates site-specific works at festivals or for exhibitions. He is one of the most audacious artists in the community. Yan Jun, known as a multi-creator, has experimented with most creative media and forms, including noise, electronic, field recording, environmental improvisation, live performance, and sound installation.
Lin Chi-Wei, as the only artist who refuses to create art using any sort of electronic device, may actually be the most authentic Sound Artist of the group. He is also a great scholar who has spent a considerable amount of time researching the history of Sound Art in the West. Lin Chi-Wei’s works focus on the interaction between the human body, machine, and sound elements; in particular the influence of body as the media to shape sound. He usually interprets his ideas about sound through performances that require participation of a large audience in order to create a spectacular collective creation effect. His works, very often interpreted as religious rituals, covered by mystery and surrealism, show the unconscious exploration into certain unknown spiritual realms.
Read ArtInfo China Interview
Shanghai based artist Mai Mai appears frequently at various live-performances in recent years. The current exhibition selected the recorded live-performance, which consists of a pure exploration in sound aesthetics given by the artist and the Berlin based artist, Kai Fagaschinski at the Shanghai Rockbund Museum in 2013. Beyond the experimental music circle, Mai Mai is more known as a scriptwriter, film producer, and director whose works often vacillate between documentary and video art, with a narrative apparently much influenced by surrealism and lack of coherence, show images or scenes that are from time to time absurd or deeply philosophical. The voiceover and the music, usually the keys to understand these works, transmit with subtlety but precision the creator’s profound revelation and acerbic sneer at the disparate social phenomenon in contemporary China.
Thanks to every sound artist’s constant effort and support, Sound Art continues developing in China while gaining attention from the international art world. Without any funding from the Chinese government or private foundations, most sound artists need to have a secondary job usually unrelated to music to survival, while giving all their leisure time to experimental music research and creation.
By setting up the current exhibition within 2013 NYEAF, I hope to provide more opportunities for my colleagues in the U.S. to approach the world of experimental artists, and to understand their way to live and creation in China. In my recent collaborations with the U.S., I discovered that the mainstream American art world was very often driven to focus on Chinese artists and works that had been officially approved by the art market or the conventional gallery and museum system, yet stayed unaware of the entire experimental art community lost in the labyrinth of contemporary art; a community which is extremely creative and vibrant in present day China. Unfortunately the small sound artist community with its meager resources, marginalized by the official Chinese contemporary art world, has limited access to gain the attention of leading Western art media.
Xiaoying Juliette Yuan
New York, April 2013