International artist Dr Laurens Tan presents ARENA: A Post Boom Beijing as curator, artist and Chinese-Australian ex-pat currently living in Las Vegas; a place for Tan that allows a perspective of China from another country. Sydney, Wollongong, Beijing, Las Vegas and now Townsville have contributed to his research into ‘language, urban design and identity’ (Pinnacles Gallery 2013).
ARENA provides an insight into contemporary artists’ works in new media and China’s significant contribution to international, high profile art. Tan’s selection of video pieces inhabit mega city urban places, as well as rural, in a mix that is the complexity and diversity of a populace over 1.35 billion, … 20 percent of the world’s population (The Atlantic 2013). Tianjin alone, where Tan is Adjunct Professor in Digital Media at the Tianjin Academy of Fine Art is a Municipality (National central city) of 11,090,314 (World Population view 2013). Whatever we might think big in Australia is bigger in China: the art galleries, the art studios, art schools, video production and the potential for the diverse local story. The latter is also of great interest to Tan who divides his time between China, USA and Australia. Pinnacles website refers to ARENA as: a survey of contemporary documentaries and video from China’s cultural capital Beijing offering views of a society undergoing a frenzy of change since the 2008 Olympics and the Global Financial Crisis…
This arena of change coexists with a boom in Chinese Contemporary Art. The ‘twenty-one video’ installation evolves slightly throughout the four-year tour, by venue, as installation practices morph with regional galleries layout. The 40 cm high by 300 cm wide Beijing Scrolls, 2009, multi-screen photomedia and digital ink painting by Miao Xiaochun is an exceptional introduction to the video format and interpretation of place change. Mostly in grey and white with striking use of figures in dark clothes inhabiting the spaces, the scenes range from traditional hutongs to tall modern building schemes in poetic ways. Beijing index / interactive work 2007-9 is a 360º view taken with a Seitz Roundshot camera and situates the viewer as a part of the work. Both works provide an aesthetic to the process of change and GPS viewing.
Laurens Tan contributes to the Townsville showing of Arena, as a practising digital artist with BengBeng, 2008, investigating the inexhaustible Chinese sounds and intonations crucial to meaning and language. Jin and Jin demonstrates frustrations of language; transferred meaning that is partially made clear by radicals and characters in Mandarin. Along with linguistics, Tan presents his extensive knowledge of the digital moving image: he has been working on a research grant since 2008. Tan’s Empire bookends exposes another perspective with interviews, where for Simon Kirby place tells a great part of the story of what has happened in China over the last 50 years. A second interviewee is female, well dressed in a wealthy interior with high profile Chinese art works. She was born as one of the first to the 1 child policy and tells how her classmates replaced siblings.
Guan Shengsheng’s Winter of 2008 tracks the installation of an exclusive exhibition, DIOR and Chinese artists 2008-9 at UCCA Beijing2 (Centre for Contemporary Art) and Wise 2010, 31:00 is a documentary of the first Mr Gay Pageant in Jianguomen. Like some other shows in China it runs the risk of being closed almost as it opens. Guan Shengsheng also works with ‘accomplished film directors in feature films and TV dramas including work with designer Tim Yip’ and for Tan, her two documentaries ‘are “barometers” of Beijing’s social circles in contemporary culture’ (Tan 2011, p. 11).
Petition ‘the plight of unresolved judicial cases’ and Wheat Harvest 2008, 98:00 HD-DV by Xu Tong are not what titles suggest, both explore modern difficulties such as HIV aids and land cases.
The Face Animation 2:46 by Chen XUEGANG is strong animation in red, black and white. XUEGANG completed traditional arts training and now works in experimental video and new media as an independent Beijing artist.
Pixel Underground an interactive work is Wu Jun Yong’s flash animation, where ‘satirical characters wear dunce caps,’ (Tan) and Wu Junrong wait us rich is a visual feast of carp (intended wealthy symbol), cartoon figures releasing icons from various orifices, and a man blowing up a cow-like balloon that he lets float away past red flags. Symbols and visuals are fast, furious and intriguing, such as, lots of fish and humans swimming diagonally across a screen.
Two artists inhabit the vehicle scenario of multi-million-metropolis life: Beijing Ballet, 2010 by Allan CHAWNER, is captured at dusk at the huge Tunjiehu intersection, Dongsanhuan; Chi 3, 2008 by Nan HAO, a graduate of painting from Holland and Studio Art, NYC provokes a sense of drama as the artist plays with traffic in the huge metropolis. Ballet and Chi 3 [Tai chi], as two titles, benignly defy the play out between traffic, pedestrian and bicycle rider’s negotiations. CHAWNER is the only person to incorporate classical western music. Beijing ballet is at dusk where traffic, transport tricycles and commuter-buses are made romantic with classical music. In fact, it is putting your life on the line.
Radically different to classical sounds, in many ways is Go on the TV Show 2009 a music clip by Peng Lei and Xiao Rong, acknowledged to BRAIN FAILURE, a 4 piece Beijing punk band. Brain Failure, Chou Xioganng and Ray Lei are on one loop and make for some enticing rock imagery and sound. Lead singer Xiao Rong is one very sexy gifted performer. This installation loop contains a mix of red and black propaganda posters 2006, Xiou Rong in Brainfailure, as well as Lei LEI, (Ray Lei) Pears & Aliens with red, blue and white aliens.
Lei LEI, (Ray Lei) Pears & Aliens, 2008 4:05 and Magic Cube & Ping Pong, 2010 4:12 animations may be ‘child-like colour pencil drawings … about love and innocence with the landscape as interpretations of rural, urban and industrial China, (Tan p. 13). They are also sophisticated fantasy images of colourful game-like cityscapes.
Skyscraper 2008 5:0 a fantastical construction 35 meters high with golden scaffolding ‘signifies drastic changes in urbanization’. It is by Wang Qingsong and in addition, 123456 Chops is confrontational in that the artist concludes his movie having chopped his way through a goat or sheep carcass to end covered in minute but numerous pieces of chopped animal flesh.
Arena’s video works also include Zhang Xiaotao’s Scar, 11:38, 2009 a ‘graphical cartoon’ animation that ‘crosses between the industrial and the biological, between anatomical drawing and fractal graphics’ (Tan 2011, p. 13). Gao SHIQIAN, or Gao Shi Qiang (the catalogue uses both names) produced Total Solar Eclipse, 2010 where a ‘mastery of characterization, composition and lighting assimilate[s] into a dream sequence…’ is reflective black and white work. The exhibition presents works that are intentionally provocative in diverse ways.
Dr Tan completed his thesis on The Architecture of Risk, University of Technology Sydney in 2005. Tan presented the curator’s talk 27 July 2013 and Professor Peter Murphy Head of School, JCU SoCA, opened the installation of video works. As Townsville aspires to celebrate the digital as world class and congratulate this work it will be critical for art students and the public to engage in a video installation that surpasses.
HAZELHURST REGIONAL GALLERY & ARTS CENTRE, ARENA: A POST BOOM BEIJING, 2010, CATALOGUE AND EXHIBITION OF VIDEO WORK
MIAO XIAOCHUN, IN ARENA: A POST BOOM BEIJING, HAZELHURST REGIONAL GALLERY & ARTS CENTRE, CATALOGUE 2010, P.30
TAN, L 2010 ‘NOTES ON ARENA’, IN ARENA: A POST BOOM BEIJING, HAZELHURST REGIONAL GALLERY & ARTS CENTRE, CATALOGUE 2010, PP. 11-13.