Video Art Offers Window Into China in Transition

Catalogue cover for the exhibition "Perspectives 180—Unifinished Country: New Video from China," on view at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.

HOUSTON, January 3, 2013 — This Sunday, January 6, Asia Society Texas Center will screen a series of video shorts by leading contemporary artists in China. The program is part of an exhibition currently on view at The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Perspectives 180 — Unfinished Country: New Video Art from China, that explores how video art has evolved in China over the past 20 years. Unfinished Country reflects something of China's unique relationship with media culture, which veers between suspicion and obsession: there are well over 500 million people hooked to the Internet in China, yet government-sanctioned surveillance is still a pervasive part of daily life.

The rise of video art in China has its origins in the sweeping free-market reforms that galvanized the Chinese economy over the past generation. By the mid-1980s, China was one of the world's leading manufacturers of televisions and VCRs, and by the late '80s, one out of every three homes in China had a television set from which a family could enjoy state-sanctioned news, foreign films, and imported cartoons. The generation of artists featured in the exhibition, artists ranging in age from their early 30s to their mid 40s, grew up in this television- and media-fueled transitional time. Their choice of video as an artistic medium reflects a fascination with the process of filmmaking as well as with video's accessibility and ability to be reproduced and re-appropropriated for vastly different audiences.

In her groundbreaking 1976 essay "Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissism," art historian, theorist and Columbia University professor Rosalind Krauss argued that video, more than most mediums, is a keen instrument of experience. It enables the artist to work with his body in new ways, pushing the limits of performance art into the realm of experimental filmmaking.

The artists featured in Unfinished Country — among others, Chen Qiulin, Yang Fudong, and Huang Ran — are the heirs to the work carried out in the 1980s by an earlier generation of artists like Zhang Peili and Song Dong. These artists, according to Thomas Berghius in his 2007 book Performance Art in China, were the innovators at a moment when video art, subversive and so new to China, was truly a vanguard practice. The younger generation presents a body of work that bears witness to the changes China has experienced these past 20 years, economic, environmental, and social.

(Yang Fudong will be familiar to some readers from his 2009 Asia Society Museum exhibition Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest, the first time that five-part film/installation had ever been presented in a United States museum.)

As he explains in a statment on the CAMH website, exhibition curator James Elaine hopes that the show will enable viewers to see this diverse group of artists in a new context.

"The country is in transition in every respect. Unfinished Country provides us with a small window through which to view what is going on in the minds and lives of these artists and to look at the ancient country of China as it rises to a new position this century."

Sunday's screening is free and open to the public; click here for complete details.


Related Links

Perspectives 180 — Unfinished Country: New Video from China at CAMH
Yang Fudong: Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest


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