‘NOW INK’ at ShContemporary 2012

Last week was an art world whirlwind that I’m still trying to make sense of in my mind and memories. As you know, I co-curated the group exhibition ‘NOW INK’ as part of the ShContemporary 2012, Shanghai’s contemporary art fair, on display from the 6th to the 9th September at the Shanghai Exhibition Center. It was organised by Arthub Asia (Davide Quadrio, Defne Ayas and Qiu Zhijie), co-curated by myself, Xiang Liping (Shanghai Art Museum) and Diana Campbell (Creative India Foundation).

The show examined perspectives on the use of the traditional Chinese medium of ink, and the artistic processes of ink painting and calligraphy, as part of contemporary transcultural visual and performative artistic practice by eighteen Chinese and international artists. The term “water and ink” has developed into an increasingly inclusive and scalable term, to assume a broadened definition covering new and diverse artistic forms. It is based on the skills of traditional ink paintings, modern ink paintings using water and ink as a medium, and diversified exploratory efforts beyond the limits of “brush and ink” (Bi Mo). In addition, it encompasses water and ink as a medium, not always in the literal sense of using water, ink and calligraphic brush, but rather focusing on problems within Chinese ink painting traditions, taking them forward in other contemporary media formats, such as, in this exhibition through live performance, performance on stage and as a process of ritual, intervention of space, participatory practice and the documentation of performative action. Another key focus of the exhibition is the relationship between East and West, looking directly at the process of transcultural translation as to how Chinese and international artists re-interpret and re-appropriate Chinese ink art in Western contexts, whilst it is re-negotiated in its original cultural contexts of China and the cultures of East and South Asia.

Installing the exhibition was an experience like no other. China certainly has its own way of working, sometimes without method, logic or health and safety. It’s phenomenal to see how a contemporary art fair on this scale comes together in such a short period of time. It pushes people to their limits often revealing true colours, and at the same time, their best and inner beauty. Below is a slight ropey video that I took of the show on its final day to give you more of a physical sense of what it looked like…it would be great to hear your thoughts.

Here are a few images from the opening night that was filled with new acquaintances, new and old friends, positive feedback, smiles, double kisses and hand shakes, new creative possibilities, cocktails, celebrations, then dinner at a Taiwanese restaurant called Charmant (very random black sesame smoothie ordered by Ariel) and the compulsory post-event VIP art party this time at Unico at 3 on The Bund. It seemed to disappear in the blink of an eye, as did the four days of ShContemporary 2012. What a journey it was…enduring, exhausting and enlightening…and it still continues, developing into a larger project to take to Europe next year. I’ll keep you posted on it all as it could be monumental.


  1. I only wish I could see the exhibition! What do Chinese artists who’re working in more traditional ways with ink on paper make of it – have you had any feedback? I had some lessons in traditional Chinese painting, so understand some of the tradition, and like very much some of the contemporary ink-on-paper work that I’ve seen in recent years in China. But this is a much wider range of forms of art. How were the works chosen and selected?

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