“We are all different…”

This week, I came across the talk ‘The generation that’s remaking China’ by Yang Lan on TED. It links in well with the conference paper I have just written for the 5th Centre for Chinese Visual Arts (CCVA) annual conference at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), Beijing, on the theme of “Yingxiang Today”. It is taking place from the 13th-14th October…so next week! That’s come round fast, well Autumn has really. I’ll talk about the paper later on in this post. Yang is an incredibly witty speaker, with a real instinctive sense of the state contemporary China. She references “otherness”, individuality, the need for having a personal voice…

“We are all different, from different perspectives…being different is good because you are presenting a different point of view, you may have the chance to make a difference.” – Yang Lan

She questions – ‘what are the differences the younger generation are going to make to shape the future of China, or at large the world?’ She speaks about the power and transparency of social media and micro-bloggers in China with sina.com now having 140 million users. ‘It offers an opening to let the theme come out.’ Yang claims that ‘through micro-blogging we are able to understand a Chinese youth even better’. Today, education is paramount, where illiteracy is under 1% in the nation…where income inequality is one of the largest issues to the younger generation. The most popular subject talked about through micro-blogging is a personal cry for social justice and government accountability. Public safety is also a hot topic on the internet such as poisoned food, fake beef, poisoned water. All these things have caused a huge outcry from the Internet where the government have been responding more frequently. China is the number one market for luxury goods with some younger people saying ‘I’d rather cry in a BMW than smile on a bicycle’. In contrast, other young people are taking to “naked marriage” – those who are prepared to marry without a house, car or diamond ring, the material things in life, in order to show their commitment to true love. Doing good through social media is also a growing trend…acts of charity and faith in mankind, help with missing persons. Finally, happiness is the most popular word in the past two years in China relating to personal experience and values, but also to the environment.

“How capable is the system of self-correctness, to keep more people content with the friction happening at this time?…the younger generation are going to transform this country while in the meantime being transformed themselves.” – Yang Lan

These are all issues that I touch on in the conference paper I have just written entitled ‘Yingxiang Online: Translating Contemporary Chinese Art’. “Yingxiang” is a Chinese word, literally meaning shadow (ying) and image (xiang), and there is no such a single English word that can comprehensively interpret its definition. Apart from its literal connotation, “yingxiang” can be referred to as photography, video, film, and digital images, either still or time-based. “Yingxiang Today” creates an opportunity to break the traditional boundaries between disciplines. The paper discusses how the identity of “Yingxiang Today” transculturally translates through new artistic practices and curatorial sites online, from a Chinese to international context. It presents new perspectives whilst critiquing the problematics, including censorship, of how the Internet is used as a pathway, a vehicle and platform for the transportation and translation of contemporary Chinese art from a Chinese to Western context. I go on to examine the online work of the DSL Collection, who this year created an online virtual gallery space, and the work and blog writing of the renowned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. I am quite opinionated in this paper and thus, a little concerned about the reaction I’ll receive…but I’m going on the viewpoint that I’ll be within a contemporary, creative art community so they’ll not only already be aware of what I’ll be saying (no doubt having personally experienced some of the problematics of Internet restrictions and censorship), but they’ll probably agree with me. So we will see. There is just over a week to go until the conference takes place. As I am Coordinator for the Centre for Chinese Visual Arts (CCVA), I’ll be blogging and tweeting whilst I’m there…if you haven’t already, take a look at our redesigned website…and follow my thoughts at the end of next week!

Finally, a quick update as regards my China travels. My visa documents got delayed coming out of China for one reason and another. It has made me immediately frustrated as you somewhat prepare yourself to leave and go, move on to the next stage, right? So my work permit is currently somewhere over international waters via Fedex to get to me as soon as possible…Friday hopefully. I already have my letter of invitation and a visa appointment for tomorrow morning in Manchester but I have a distinct feeling they are going to send me away empty-handed, and I’ll have to go back up to see them on Monday when my permit has FINALLY arrived. No clue why the documents weren’t sent together to be honest. Monday is the day before I fly. No pressure. I thought I’d finish the post on a few photographs from the ‘See You Soon (一会儿见)’ party I had at the weekend for my impending departure. They include comedy gifts from a friend called Tom. They taste nothing like real Chinese food…but I loved the thought. Thank you Tom and thank you Ken Hom. I can’t wait to get back to China.


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