Zhong Biao at the Margins of the Avant-garde

 

Last month at the American Comparative Literature Conference in Seattle, on a panel co-organized by Barrett Watten, Jonathan Stalling and Jacob Edmond, I was presenting on Zhong Biao. Here a brief digest of my remarks.

 

Title: Zhong Biao at the Margins of the Avant-garde

Highlights:

Broader context:

I am trying to situate Zhong Biao with regard to the contemporary Chinese avant-garde. In the process, I am posing the following question: if we begin with the assumption that essentially (and among other things) the avant-garde is a challenge to status quo, a compulsion to dissolve codifications wherever they occur (and particularly as they relate to or bolster ideological structures with mass influence, be they market appeal or state apparatus based on coercion), then what of a situation where so few codifications are in fact in effect? –that is contemporary China, a tear-it-up-and-rebuild-it ethos, be it in the array of material work of the built environment or in the circular waves of political campaign didactially deployed to lead the nation “forward” but, I suspect, more often than not not fooling anyone.

Zhong Biao focus:

Zhong’s work strives, through a combination of abstraction and uncanny juxtaposition of realistically rendered figures from disparate space and time, to uncover latent energies or pneuma of the universe, manifest momentarily. The ephemera of our lives and ourselves emerge in his painting at the point of concretization but also dissolution, and always in some inherent interconnectedness.

This is an ambitious project because Zhong’s work does not fit easily within the avant-garde. Indeed, I suspect many would argue that his work belongs in an opposite category, if such a category exists. Where avant-garde practice is oppositional and in some respects destructive, Zhong’s is affirming, constructive, and mainstream. The reason I believe such a conversation is even warranted is that an attempt to situate ZB in AG context encourages fathoming of the limits of each. While discovering limitations of an artist poised too close to market impulses is unremarkable, observing the edge (blunt rather than cutting?) of the avant-garde as marginal overlap with the market is perhaps news.

 

Images discussed:

20、An Overall View 87.8x69.6cm Serigraphs 2013

An Overall View 150 x 120 cm 2013

10 Thousand Years

10 Thousand Years 200 x 150 cm 2011

ZBFLIGHT1

Life 280 x 200 2004

荡漾山水

Swinging Landscape 200 x 150 cm 2010

 

11-090310-ZB

Today 400 x 280 cm 2009

ZBLivingSpace生活空间

Living Space 130 x 130 cm 1996 (Oil on Canvas)

 

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Visiting Lo Ch’ing (羅青)

 

Recently visiting with poet-artist Lo Ch’ing in his Shanghai studio where he kindly gave me one of his paintings (“manyuan” 满园), a full garden, on occasion of the publication of my book.

LoChingManYuan1 LoChingManYuan2

Lo was just back from attending events in conjunction his “In Conversation with the Masters” exhibition at Masterpiece in London. Below are remarks on his work by Michael Goedhuis:

 

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/95917539″>Lo Ch’ing at Michael Goedhuis</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/gallerylog”>GalleryLOG</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

 

 

 

Modern Poetry in China promo

cambria-press-author-paul-manfredi

Fresh from Cambria Press blog, generous write-up about my book:

Another fantastic thing for Cambria Press at this year’s MLA (as was the case last year for Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian’s book and E. K. Tan’s much-lauded book) is how some titles were published right in the nick of time for the MLA!

It is even better when the author is there to see the book in person! This year, Cambria Presspublished Paul Manfredi’s book, Modern Poetry in China , just in time for the 2014 MLA annual conference.

Dr. Manfredi’s book sets a high precedent because it illuminates the important dynamics which fall outside of general narratives given how modern Chinese poetry production has been addressed only very broadly in scholarship. The importance of Chinese visual tradition to modern Chinese poets is a good case in point. Accordingly, this book addresses specific manifestations of the nexus connecting modernity and visuality in Chinese poetry. It begins with a discussion of May Fourthpoetics as exemplified in the groundbreaking work of Li Jinfa, China’s first “Symbolist” poet. From there the book traces notable developments of visuality in the new form or free verse writing (called Xinshi or “New Poetry”) through mid-century modernist experiments in Taiwan (focusing on Ji Xian). The book also explores the avant-garde poetry of Luo Qing and Xia Yu before returning to mainland Chinese developments of Misty poets Yan Li and his contemporaries.

The book includes rare, stunning color images of the poet-painters’ works. It is also part of the prestigious Cambria Sinophone World Series headed by Victor H. Mair (University of Pennsylvania). Be sure to check out the China Avant Garde blog too!

Modern Poetry in China will be on display again at the 2014 Association of Asian Studies (AAS) annual conference in Philadelphia, but you don’t have to wait–read it online now!

Don’t forget Cambria Press is offering a 40% discount on all hardcover titles for the MLA. Please use coupon code MLA2014; the offer is valid until Feb 14, 2014. Librarians can use this code too, so please pass this on to them! Download the Cambria Press MLA catalog and booklist.

art documentaries : Chimeras in the mix

Another year another China art documentary, focusing on questions of identity, or, as Wang Guangyi asks in Finnish film director  Mika Mattila’s Chimera: “what are our roots?”

The question itself continues to inspire new documentary work, but not, perhaps, much discussion or even interest (at least not for me). I remain intrigued, however, by filmmakers who are able to take this topic as the subject of their art, in other words, film artists who make art the fodder for their art. The arrangement is curious in that so much of what is compelling about such work is derived, if not flat out stolen, from someone else’s creative work. Where would, in other words, Mattila really be without Wang Guangyi and Liu Gang, who in most media reports (LA Times, for instance) are the headliners anyway, with the ‘real’ artist–the filmmaker–relegated to round about paragraph three. Journalists can see proportionality in this case of creative production, anyway.

The question is somewhat personal, I suppose, as I’ve endeavored off and on to tackle Zhong Biao in documentary format. Whether or not the project ever comes to fruition, I am certain that the better part of what emerges as watchable (耐看) will stem from his painting, or other products from his fundamentally creative hand. The structure, rhetoric, even cinematographic dimensions of my work would all rightly be upstaged by the artist or artists in question.

Robert Adanto’s work, discussed elsewhere on this blog, is also a case in point, but in watching that work we are forced to admit a certain spectrum of truth to the proposition that the documentarian of art is a thief of sorts, particularly when compared with Alison Klayman’s work on Ai Weiwei, a more modest, and therefore artistically thin operation. Yet in either case there is something there, in the art of the art, something beyond mere convenience (documentarian travels to locales we cannot in order to bring back the goods of what’s good), something expressive and individual, self-deprecating by design, but occasionally aesthetically there in the mind’s eye of the viewer.

And so it will be with Chimeras, I expect. I’m looking forward to seeing it when it comes to town.

China Avant-garde

The title of this blog is itself worthy of discussion.  As Wu Hung, noted scholar of Chinese art classical and modern/contemporary, observed over a decade ago, the term “avant-garde” is not ideal for discussing contemporary Chinese artistic matters.  Wu opts instead for the term “experimental,” a relatively de-politicized but nonetheless elastic enough term that effectively names a great deal of what transpires on the rapidly and often radically shifting artistic landscape in contemporary China (Wu, 2000: 11).  Still, its seems to me that the elasticity of the term “avant-garde” (French to begin with, so never quite “accurately” applied in English) should accommodate discussion of artistic phenomena, even if that discussion finds itself mired (delightfully!) in nomenclature itself. And discussion of contemporary art, by whatever name we call it, is the purpose of this blog.  I welcome posts, one and all.