WASTELANDS presents the works of eight artists who all have links to China or are of Chinese descent. This group exhibition of contemporary Chinese Art includes installation, painting, sculpture and film, presented against the backdrop of OVADA’s industrial warehouse space in central Oxford.
The exhibition explores the idea of ‘waste’ as a result of consumption through different landscapes and materials. Ranging from the ‘aesthetic debris’ in the work of Cai Yuan’s cardboard painting installations to Cao Fei’s film ‘Haze and Fog’, a surreal and abject portrait of an excessively self-consuming Beijing in the form of a zombie movie. Featuring established artists such as the hugely significant figure of Ai Weiwei alongside artists with long- standing practices in the UK, the exhibition engages in themes around issues of neo-liberal ideologies, consumption, development and economies of culture.
The documentary ‘Ordos 100’ by the globally renowned artist Ai Weiwei shows an ambitious architectural project in the new city of Ordos, inner Mongolia, that engaged in an “out of the world location…where boom and bust co-exist and where creativity takes elusive forms”. The documentary also taps into the rich potentiality of China as a developing country, where development is pursued on an unprecedented scale. Ordos is one of the richest regions in China, surpassing the GDP of Beijing in 2008. Ai’s project is about creative collaboration on a global scale, as a number of architects from around the world come together in the remote site. Already known as a huge ghost town in the desert, Ordos symbolises both the possibility of the future, drawn out in Ai’s project, and the hubris of China’s crazed project of ever- expanding urbanisation.
In another work about a site, the ‘new’ town of Milton Keynes is explored by Sun Haili, who makes a living sculpture out of a section of grass removed from the edge of the site due to development. This simple bio-sculpture can be seen as a commentary on the dynamic between sustainability and development. A participative installation by HMFF Collective, replicates an out-of-town shabby hotel in Nanjing, critiquing China’s ‘economic miracle’ and drawing on possible everyday realities of ‘shady dealings’ and low-level surveillance. HMFF’s ‘Dream Hotel’ at OVADA invokes the idea of the dream at different levels by inviting participants to sleep in the hotel room for one night.
Pioneering female artist Cao Fei shows another work that engages in present-day China, as part dream, part nightmare, in which a range of deranged characters play out scenes which are often slightly crazed and deeply insecure. Dark humour pervades the work that features a new middle class in Beijing with empty, meaningless lives and the zombies in the film appear to symbolise a society literally devouring itself.
Anthony Key’s ‘Dolly’ is a sharply observed sculpture made from a supermarket trolley in an absurd take on consumption and reproduction. Wessieling’s work takes the garment label and site of production in the vast clothes industry, creating placards and brands to question positions of power and invisibility in the circulation of fashion. Sun Yi, a young artist, uses the vocabulary of daily newspapers as free disposable material for everyday consumption of news. Materiality and ideology are also concerns for Cai! Yuan, whose cardboard painting installation appears as raw and aesthetic, immaterial and material, sitting at the intersection between sculpture and painting.
The works in WASTELANDS include sites of 21st century China, such as the small hotel in Nanjing to the sprawling desert city of Ordos, and Beijing’s psycho-geography evoked in Cao Fei’s work. Artistic responses to the global circulation of manufacturing and labour in Wessieling’s labels or Cai Yuan’s cardboard paintings from supermarket products also point to economies of culture and their by-products. In the thoughtful and often playful works of Anthony Key and Sun Yi, artistic languages engage other types of consumption, whether that of digesting and casting aside the daily news, or the supermarket trolley, a universal aspect of our weekly shopping routine. Curator, Katie Hill, comments: “This project came from an idea about things in my kitchen that bore the label: ‘not currently recycled’ which seems an unsustainable proposition in the current environment. What the wastelands of the future will be is anybody’s guess.”
Katie Hill is Director of OCCA and course leader of Asian Art and its Markets at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London. Wastelands is produced by the Office of Contemporary Chinese Art (OCCA) and funded by Arts Council England.
Artists: Ai Weiwei, Cai Yuan, Cao Fei, HMFF! Anthony Key, Sun Haili, Sun Yi, Wessieling
WASTELANDS – OVADA Gallery – Thursdays to Sundays, 12-6pm – 17 July to 9 August 2015