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September 15, 2011

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Curtain rises on video art

THIRTY years of China's contemporary video art is on offer in a large exhibition at the Minsheng Art Museum. It ranges from boring to startling and it's definitely not easy art for the masses, reports Wang Jie.

Many people find video art deliberately obscure and too self-reflective. They don't want to spend time watching long and tedious videos of a guy breaking the same piece of glass for 180 minutes. So they give it a pass.

China's video art has been developing for three decades, and an exhibition at Minsheng Art Museum offers a fascinating look at what's been happening.

"Thirty Years of Chinese Contemporary Art" features the key works of around 50 artists starting in the late 1980s. Running through November 27, it ranges from very simple, though thought-provoking, to highly complex and intriguing.

It's rare to see such a large-scale video art exhibition in China, given the space required, the expense and the lack of enthusiasm by the public.

China's video art is far younger than that in the West; it developed when television became popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It rapidly became part of the family and the most important form of entertainment. This became a period of media art revolution.

Unlike Western countries, China has not experienced the video art that emerged in the 1960s, the experimental films in the 1970s, MTV that was popular in the 1980s, and the linear image history of artist films that emerged in the 1990s.

"This video exhibition tries to objectively reflect the circumstances at the time that created video art, including the artistic and cultural contexts," says He Juxing, director of Minsheng Art Museum. "It is a historical review, a systematic archive and points to future directions of exploration."

The show includes pioneers Zhang Peili, Qiu Zhijie and Yang Fudong. The earliest artists in the new medium were Zhang, Qiu and Yan Lei.

Zhang made his first video work "30x30" in 1988 and it was shown for the first time at the China Avant-Garde Exhibition in 1989. It's considered "the first video work on the Chinese mainland."

In the video, Zhang stands in front of a camera, repeatedly breaking a piece of glass, gluing fragments back together and breaking it again. It went on and on for 180 minutes, the maximum length of a video tape at that time.

In 1994, Qiu began to shoot "Washroom" in black and white. A typical grid pattern of small black-and-white tiles in a rest room is superimposed on people's faces and on the walls, which make the human faces become less dimensional and part of the pattern.

The audio is the sound of running water in the washroom. The straight lines in the grid pattern change and twist to depict expressions of happiness and sorrow. The work overwhelms viewers with the changing images full of physical uncertainties, rather than deliberate shooting methods.

"In the 1990s, a new medium was discovered; a video camera was not just for recording boring behavior and events, and artists did not regard video as a recording tool anymore," says Guo Xiaoyan, curator of the exhibit.

For example, "Looking Into the Mirror" created by Song Dong in 1997 is a video projection of the artist looking into a mirror - the images are reflected into a mirror behind him. The work is about ceaseless duplication and extension. Viewers also became part of it as they looked into a mirror.

Beginning in 2000, short film and video installation became the mainstream forms of Chinese video art. With backgrounds in art, artists freely moved between creative fields of installation, performance and video, says Guo.

In 1997, Yang Fudong got US$5,000 from an investor to film his first work "An Estranged Paradise," the first work using cinematic film. The delicate arrangement of space and careful depiction of the relationships among the characters are his hallmark.

In addition to pioneers, it also features a new generation of promising video artists. For example, Sun Xun makes water-and-ink painting, oil painting and pastel painting animations into videos. The works are dark and filled with metaphors.

Date: through November 27, 10am-7pm

Address: Bldg F, 570 Huaihai Rd W.

Tel: 6282-8729


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