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Caroline Ha Thuc on Chinese art today

Sun Xun, Zhang Ding, Cao Fei

“After 2000: Contemporary Art in China” by Caroline Ha Thuc on influences of the contemporary world on Chinese art.

Hong Kong-based Caroline Ha Thuc looks at development of Chinese art within a social, political and economic context.

Chinese artists consider themselves as privileged witnesses to a society in deep flux. The sheer variety of their work reflects this increasingly complex and ceaselessly changing world. To them, art is a work-in-progress, kept vital and relevant with exciting new visual languages and their own energy and freedom of mind. A new generation of artists has emerged who embrace the idea of belonging to a borderless, international art community.

Featuring more than 100 artists (many interviewed first-hand), this reference book analyses how art has evolved against a backdrop of radical social, political and economic change since the turn of the century. It is the fascinating story of contemporary art in 21st century China.


Cao Fei, RMB City : A Second Life City Planning, 2007. Video. Courtesy of the artist and of Vitamin Creative Space. . Born in Guangzhou, Cao Fei (b.1978) took advantage of the early opening of southern China in order to discover quickly the contemporaneous aspects of Western culture. She was thus in a position to integrate easily into her own culture such items as pop music, mangas, then video games and finally the internet and social networks. Fascinated by Second Life, a 3D virtual platform launched in 2003 by Linden Lab, she quickly created her own avatar of it, China Tracy, and she recalls this experience in a documentary video I. Mirror (2007) presented at the Venice Biennale. She then created her own Chinese version of Second Life, RMB City (2007-2011) or the “City of money”, a futuristic city modeled on the big Chinese metropolis of today. While still exploring the latest technologies, Cao Fei constantly proposes new game-based participatory projects in the field, such as having passers-by of all ages dance Hip-Hop (2003-2005) or offering gymnastic courses to staff of the Deutsche Bank (2011).


Sun Xun What happened in the year of the dragon, 2014. Video 10 minutes, courtesy Edouard Malingue Gallery and the artist. . Sun Xun’s family has always been close to the army and when he was a child, his father would tell him stories of soldiers, of the horrors of war. Adding to those tales his own reading, he made up a stock of memory from which he draws, convinced as he is that history and revolutions repeat themselves. As for himself, he wants not only to document it but also to be part of it. In 2006, Sun set up his own studio of animation, “Pi”. Although he liked very much oil painting he was also interested in the cinema. Being poor, he could not buy a camera, so he drew every image of what he would call a film, making what is called today animation. Depending on the subjects, he would use different kinds of base: rice paper or wooden engraving for instance. His universe is a dark one, burdened with anxiety. It is the world of lies, of black chimney smoke emanating from factories which darken the sky and hide the sun from sight. An atmosphere much like the one in George Orwell’s novels. In many of his animations, one finds the same character, a lost wizard in search for a better world. Because his world is also a child’s world, full of dreams, a unique mix of William Kentridge’s and William Blake’s universes with a dash of ancient Chinese cartoon.


Zhang Ding, Buddha jumps Over The Wall, 2012. Single-channel video. Courtesy of the artist and of ShanghART gallery. . Zhang Ding (b.1980) has a diploma in painting but, like many artists of his generation, he quickly turned over to the new media: in 2003 he graduates from the prestigious China Academy of Art in Hangzhou in that specialty. He became famous with his video Great Era (2007) depicting the dreams brought by the new market economy in China.  For Zhang these illusions are those of which cheap capitalism is the carrier, the gildings and the shoddy luxury goods of present-day China. Artificial rejoicings and their short-lived pleasures are central to the performance Buddha jumps Over The Wall (2012), an outburst of the senses and quintessence of the spectacle. The title of the work derives from a famous Chinese dish, so delicious that Buddha himself could reportedly jump over the wall to taste it. It is made of several kinds of meat and fish, which the artist has reproduced, in plaster, full size. He also constructed a music pavilion from which musicians play waltzes. Some hired ballet-dancers, in beautiful costumes, dance, while cooks busy themselves preparing the food. When they start getting at the animals, there is a blast: from the belly of each animal, crackers explode, piercing holes in the body of the beast and making blood gush all around. At the end of the performance, rubbles of plaster lay all over the ground as a metaphor of the killing of the animals, a sacrifice necessary for the pleasure to be had.


Caroline Ha Thuc is a French Hong Kong based art writer and curator. Specialized in Asian contemporary art, she contributes to different magazines such as ArtPress in France and Pipeline in Hong Kong.

Prior to moving to Hong Kong, Ha Thuc spent two years in Tokyo and published ‘Nouvel Art Contemporain Japonais’ (Nouvelles Editions Scala 2012) about the post-Murakami Japanese art scene. Her book ‘Contemporary Art in Hong Kong’ (Asia One, 2013), which was first published in France (Nouvelles Editions Scala, 2013) provides essential keys to apprehend the city’s vibrant contemporary landscape and exposes the countless links between art, history, culture and identity. She recently published a book about Chinese contemporary art analysing the interactions between the art scene and China’s rapidly changing society (‘After 2000 : Contemporary Art in China’ published in French language Nouvelles Editions Scala, France 2014 & MIP, Hong Kong 2015 for the English and comprehensive version).

As a curator, she focuses on promoting dialogue between artists from different cultures. Her recent exhibitions include ‘Radiance’ (French May, Hong Kong, 2014), ‘Hong Kong Bestiary’ (Platform China, Hong Kong, 2014), ‘Shelters of Resistance’ an in-situ installation by Kacey Wong in the courtyard of the City Hall (YIA Art Fair Paris, 2015) and recently ‘The Human Body : Measure and Norms’ (Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong, 2015).


After 2000: Contemporary Art in China by Caroline Ha Thuc, features more than 100 Chinese artists, among the New Generation: Gao Weigang, Jiang Pengyi, Xu Zhen, Jia Aili, Chen Wei, Sun Xun, Zhang Ding , Gao Lei, Li Shurui, Cheng Ran and more… Organized by themes, this book is an analysis of the development of Chinese art within its social, political and economic context based on interviews with most of the artists and studios’ visits to get the story first hand.

Published in English by Mars International Publications, Hong Kong, in May 2015.

210 pages – 21×26 cm – 200 color photographs

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