The Narrative of Guiyang: " Urban Parts Contemporary Artists " in the New Long March
With the stability in the eco-system of local art in Guiyang formed by “Urban Parts Contemporary Artists”, more and more observers will not feel satisfied about their status quo, which is a promising yet necessary route for an open group.
The Narrative of Guiyang: " Urban Parts Contemporary Artists " in the New Long March [Extract]
The "’85 Art Movement" and the "Group Phenomena" in the 1980s are key and familiar components of contemporary art in China. In this group culture, one practical “strategy” exists in the gathering of artists, which, simply put, is not about a loss of personal artistic style, but of the confidence for public feedback. Using a “safer” approach of expressing their own style in way of a group, artists have boundless freedom in their artistic pursuit. Yet this “group phenomena” will disintegrate soon after: either replaced with new associations, such as the 85 New Space, terminating the group’s practice, such as Xiamen Dada, or going for total individualization. During the transformation to individualization, one unquestionable pre-condition is the sufficient strength of the character of the individual, which is shown by greater exhibition opportunities.
In the history of Chinese contemporary art development since 1978, art in southwestern China has always been one dominant force, which is still developing vigorously regardless of the relocation of many studios by artists to Beijing. Before the establishing of “Urban Parts Contemporary Artists” in Guiyang, earth-shaking changes have taken place in contemporary art scene in southwestern China. One obvious fact is the creation of art districts, including Chong Qing, Huang Jiao-Ping, Blue-roof Arts Zone in Chengdu, Innovation House of Kunming (Shang He Workshop). After the Second Guiyang Biennale, with the increasing contact with artists and critics out of Guiyang, Dong Zhong, a Guiyang artist, came to be deeply impressed by the flourishing contemporary art scene in other southwest cities like Chongqing, Chengdu and Kunming, so he began to learn from other art districts. In 2006, he finally turned one vacant old building after the relocation of Guiyang Literary Federation at No.27, Shizi Road, at the foot of Xiangbao Hill, into a base for contemporary artists. This art community, not in the name of an art district, emerged as “Urban Parts Contemporary Artists”, which took its name from Dong’s the photographic exhibition “Urban Parts Contemporary Artists” in the Second Guiyang Biennale.
GuXu, Xia Yan and I have always been trying to find an old factory building and turn it into an art community just like the Kunming Innovation House, Beijing 798, Chongqing Tank Loft and others. However, due to our limited capability, our investigation was still ambitiously in vain. This year, after the relocation of Guiyang Literary Federation to the newly completed Guiyang Art Gallery, one story of the old building was vacant, and thanks to my working in the Literary Federation, we rented this office area in June, revamping six average-sized rooms and one long, narrow passage into studios and exhibition area. We have, besides the three of us, invited the presence of several artists who had graduated from the College of Arts of Guizhou University. Recently, we have added another 40m2 studio and seen two new artists join us.
I named it "Urban Parts Contemporary Artists" after the special photographic exhibition I curated in the Guiyang Biennale of 2003. I believed the four original Chinese characters well illustrated the way we lived hence the name of Urban Parts Contemporary Art Studio. Immediately after the studio was set up, managers of several professional galleries in Chongqing, Beijing, and Singapore came to us and we agreed to have two solo exhibitions and one group exhibition and certainly sold some works.1
It's not difficult to find that in his narrative “The Origin of Urban Parts Contemporary Artists”, Dong highlighted the agreement with professional galleries on exhibitions and selling art works. Few artists would voluntarily mention the role of the market, but “Urban Parts Contemporary Artists” never shuns away from it since its inception and, instead, attributes the other reason of its establishing to the influence from art market.
However, the current situation of contemporary art in Guiyang was a bit difficult; its atmosphere is suffocating. Though Guiyang had organized two “Guiyang Biennales" before 2006, the eco-system of contemporary art had not recovered yet. Dong Zhong, Xia Yan and others who are from studios and colleges couldn't know better about the officialized operational approaches. Rather than putting the destiny of art in the hands of official institution, they chose to give it to the market, a more liberal environment. The participation of Xia Yan and his students in "Urban Parts Contemporary Artists" can better illustrate this situation to us. Dong Zhong and GuXu frequently gathered non-local artists and critics in the Plotting Café run by Xia Yan, which was no small motivation for Xia and those who worked part-time, like Wang Rongzhi, Ding Kai and so on, aspiring students of Xia at the College of Fine Arts, Guizhou Normal College. Well, on the sideline, the close of Plotting Café might, to a large extent, be the result of these frequent rendezvous. Despite the fact Xia Yan had already curated contemporary art exhibitions like "The Ripples" on campus, his students and he himself could never escape the pressure of leaving college and continuing to produce paintings. Luckily "Urban Parts Contemporary Artists" was the place to be and they could stop worrying about abandoning their painting career. Compared with these from Guizhou Normal College, Li Jian-Feng experienced greater challenges. He continued his pursuit of his artistic dream while working in the power plant. No one understood him and he dared not share his thoughts with colleagues. He had no opportunity of showing his works at any exhibitions, not the mention selling them. In 2006, Li Jian-Feng got to know Dong Zhong through his uncle and showed Dong his works in photos, manuscripts, sketches, then he was invited into "Urban Parts Contemporary Artists" and quitted his power plant job the next year. Shi Mo graduated from the college of Fine Art at Guizhou University. He didn't return to his hometown Li Ping after graduation, instead he stayed in Guiyang, renting a 12m2 room in one alley near his university and making his living by doing commercial design without abandoning the practice of painting. Misfortune inflicted him that Guiyang’s overhaul then made demolition the normal context and his studio after three relocations, still met its bitter end, devastated by the fact that his works were often damaged in the process of moving. Exhausted, Shi Mo finally decided to rent a studio in the non-demolishable Guiyang Art Museum building. Higher rent in this commercial area, plus the much-sought-after space, he could not find his place either. Then he met Dong Zhong in an exhibition visit and the two old friends chatted and one thing led to another, Shi Mo was fascinated by the "Urban Parts Contemporary Artists" and joined.
Anyone who is familiar with the history of Chinese contemporary art knows the great turning point in 1990s when art embraced market force and indeed it is the market force that spurs the growth of contemporary art. Guiyang, in this regard, is similar to the overall situation in China then. Knowing that the current institutional arrangement could not cater to the needs of art and the art market was coming anyway, “Urban Parts Contemporary Artists” made the early decision of putting itself in the context of contemporary art in China and its top priority was to break the inherent constraint of locality. Even in Guiyang, it chose to directly brave the pressures and problems. They were not moving to Beijing, the art center in China, because the climate of contemporary art in Guiyang was weak, and among controversies, they worked out exhibitions to make their name. “Urban Parts Contemporary Artists” had no slogan and declaration, and its logo was one simple fist towards audience for its passion and attitude. It’s an undisguised power, inspiring the audience like rock-and-roll. You can also find this power in their composition and characteristics. "Their age difference can be as high as 40 years. They stand united against difficulties and kindly remind each other when ill-informed by complacency. They drink, sing and have fun. When they are losing themselves after hitting the booze, when they are deep in their midnight meditation, when they are alone in the studio listening to their pulse, different memories, frustrations, perplexities, temperaments and endowments, stubbornness and passions naturally make up the their unique means of expression. In modern artistic creation which takes subjectivity as the aesthetic basis, the uniqueness of experience and the experience of uniqueness are particularly important. This is the primary reason for the diversified creative efforts of various members and for setting “Urban Parts Contemporary Artists” art creations apart from those in other regions.2 "Not only is the structure of “Urban Parts Contemporary Artists” similar to those artistic groups in 1980s, it also has the wildness of Guiyang. These artists are together only for their artistic dream, but when observed, they are vastly difference. Behind their unique and dissimilar styles, members of "Urban Parts Contemporary Artists" are held to each other, not just when they drink, but in their attitude towards art and exhibitions.
After its birth, “Urban Parts Contemporary Artists” have curated more exhibitions in and out of Guiyang, in which Guiyang art impressed a lot of people. Their style of being wild, weird and arrogant speaks of their own art, which might be the image they wanna show in this long marginalized culture, but this decentralized local culture has its own jeopardy as an art group. For “Urban Parts Contemporary Artists”, the gap in age and art proficiency is the real deal. This newly settled group still has to support young artists, to whom a group is a harbor for psychological security, which goes beyond physical security. Their permanent task is to turn this physical security into new art. Anyway, “Urban Parts Contemporary Artists” is still young, ten to twenty years behind other cities and not thinking much of diversity, public experience and globalization of art due to restraints in geo-location and persistence in art. To them, having the possibility to keep painting is already good enough. As a mid-aged member, Li Jian-Feng has always been fascinated by Beijing, the center of politics, economy, culture and art and where many success stories are being told. Having moved to the capital city to try his fortune in July, 2009, he was webbed in fear and confusion, like losing the way in the far ocean and surely his confidence under huge stress. Even in his works we find a sense of humbleness. During that time, Zhang Xiao-Tao offered him a lot of help, especially in the understanding art. The change in his horizon dawns on him that his artistic characteristics and painting language in Guiyang is never the barrier to his artistic creation, but the inner strength he has to follow. During his two years in Beijing, the artistic style of Li Jian-Feng was further shaped and perfected. Just like the change in Li’s mindset immediately after he moved to Beijing, “Urban Parts Contemporary Artists”, as a group, is more a platform for art than an artistic focus. We will easily find more artists will shake off the regional constraints and move to Beijing and even abroad, just like their pioneer Wang Hua-Xiang.
With the stability in the eco-system of local art in Guiyang formed by “Urban Parts Contemporary Artists”, more and more observers will not feel satisfied about their status quo, which is a promising yet necessary route for an open group. Stability is one way to transform their perspectives, just like the reason for the foundation of “Urban Parts Contemporary Artists”. Against the multiple contexts of artistic diversity, internationalization and the conversion of artistic languages, what the group shall face and adjust to are inquiry into and reflection upon the monotony of artistic forms, language feature of artistic interest, as well as diversity in local cultures and individuals.
1 Dong Zhong, “The Origin of Urban Parts”
2 Zheng Na, “High and Afar, the Border Town Story”, from the Brochure“An Extra Cut: K11 Guiyang Arts Village & Urban Parts Contemporary Artists opening exhibition”Painting Album, Oct, 2010.