Art in City
Since the second half of 1990s, the pioneer art of Chengdu which takes installation and performance as its medium has appeared in the public space by means of group exhibition.
Dai Guangyu, Water Index Laid Aside for a Long Time, installation,1995
Besides consumerization and informationization, urbanization is one of the main marks of post-modern society. With the development of Chinese urbanization since 1990s, urban life has become a main existence of Chinese people. In the art world of the mainland in China, Wang Lin as a critic held a series of exhibitions on the subject of “urban personality” as early as 1997. The documents of these exhibitions can be edited into the book Urban Personality and Contemporary Art. Even in the field of Chinese traditional painting which is known as a relatively conservative circle, many artists choose urban life as their subjects and some critics have had sharp discussions on the questions of ink and water painting, city and modernity. However, the distinction of dualism between the east and the west is in fact a fake topic, which is suggested by some critics as well as a part of artists affected by them. For contemporary art requires the artistic individual images created by artists, and it also requires passing on the artistic concept of human beings. As for “the east and the west” which is the community consisted of several nations or races, the idea itself is a demi-human concept which has nothing to do with the individual life on the lowest dimension and the human life on the highest. Anyway, as a kind of modern human cultural phenomenon, city is logically related to art which express it through images.
Logically, if we take the famous cultural city Chengdu for example, there are four kinds of relationships between contemporary art and city: city in art, art in city, art and city (art which remains outside city), and city and art (art on the fringe of city). The first two is internal relationship while the latter two is external relationship.
Art in city refers to those arts appearing in city. The scenes where art takes place and the meaning of the art are related to town. The city becomes the producer of contemporary arts. The artists consider urban people’s life scenes and slices of life as the component part of their works and try to reflect on modern urban life when absorbing urban elements. This kind of art is represented by a group of conceptual artists in Chengdu. Since the late 1990s, “there are three trends of conceptual art of Chengdu: ecological concern, humane connotation and emerging scenes.” In October of 1997, Dai Guangyu, Zhang Hua, Liu Chengying, Zeng Xun, Yu Ji, Yin Xiaofeng, Zhu Gang and Zhou Bin held a exhibition called “Source · Life” in Du Jiangyan Dam. They held the conceptual exhibition “Man in the Age of Reproduction” at the former site of the Lacquer Factory of Chengdu in the end of the same year. In August of 1998, they held an exhibition called “Defend Memory” in Sichuan Library. In July of 1999, they held the exhibition “Notes from the Underground” in a residential community called Aoshen Garden. From conceptual art, they have developed a kind of ecological art which focuses on the relationship between artworks and real live scenes. Besides natural dimension, they have added new dimensions (social and humane dimensions) to ecological art. They used public spaces like Dujiangyan Dam, factory, library and underground in city to hold exhibition, widely connected art and urban audiences and discussed consciously the internal meaning of urban scenes for installation, performance and video. Their creations have become a part of a city’s historical and cultural memory.” This kind of ecological art which is happened in city began with “The Defender of Water” in 1995. After the exhibition, there were the second exhibition held in Lhasa in 1996, the third exhibition “Source· Life” in Du Jiangyan in 1997 and the forth exhibition “Release Water” in 2000. As the eternal symbol of “The Defender of Water”, a “Living Water Park” which was designed by Betsy Damon, the American environmental artist was built on Fu River of Chengdu in 1998. This work which brings together artistic quality, functionality, education and entertainment has become the witness for the glory and the dream of Chinese art culture.
Liu Chengying, Put out your hands, installation, 1997
The formation of the pioneer art circle in Chengdu has something to do with the history of “719 Artist Studio Union”. The union member Liu Chengying mailed dirt and water in the post office. He wrapped himself like a mummy in the underground, in the library and under the old city wall of Du Jiangyan. He was interested in the long-distant communication between man and man, and also gave attention to the relationship between man and his living situation. “The Union” lasted only two years. The exhibition “Notes from the Underground” held in July of 1999 marked the end of “the Union”. However, the members of “the Union” had created a liberal ecology of pioneer art which was totally different from that of three years ago. Because of the enchantment of this group, the young artist Song Yongxing readily participated in the pioneer art group of Chengdu.
Since the second half of 1990s, the pioneer art of Chengdu which takes installation and performance as its medium has appeared in the public space by means of group exhibition. Concerning about the situation of natural ecology and reexamining the antagonistic relationship between human beings and nature are always the focus of interest of these pioneer artists. Dai Guangyu’s work “Water Index Laid Aside for a Long Time” (1995) is the classic work of ecological art, which is a warning to the audience. In their works, streets, bookstores, city walls, the water of river and man-made historic sites form the internal parts of artistic materials. The most excellent ones among these works are those which combine them perfectly. Ecological concern, humane connotation and emerging scenes reveal the height can be achieved by the art in city and they are the cultural features of pioneer art in Chengdu (Translated by Cheng Li, checked by Zha Changping).