2017 Art Recap: The New Normal @ UCCA


This week’s photo theme is 2017 in Contemporary Chinese Art: a look back at exhibitions that stood out to us this year, for one reason or another.

The most ambitious — if not ultimately the most successful — show I saw all year was The New Normal, a major group exhibition at UCCA, Beijing’s preeminent contemporary art museum. UCCA — which had a question mark looming over its future all year, until it was purchased by a group of investors including media billionaire Jason Jiang in October — tends to mount a major group show like this once every four years, and the focus this time around was on the massive cultural change that’s been presaged by the tectonic technological shifts of our times.

I described The New Normal after its opening as “an authoritative, if not necessarily definitive, presentation of the state of Chinese art,” and in retrospect it seems a bit too crowded in my memory, but there were a few standout pieces that have stuck with me since March. One is Miao Ying’s Chinternet Plus (pictured above):

As ‘the internet’ is both a virtual space and a vaporous stream of 1’s and 0’s, ‘internet art’ is a rather nebulous term that encompasses work appropriating virtual media (YouTube videos, WeChat stickers), art made specifically on or for the internet, and work in more traditional, offline media that explicitly references internet culture. Miao Ying’s work straddles the line between these, configuring a half-real, half-imagined ‘Chinternet‘ both in virtual and real space… Chinternet Plus, the highlight of UCCA’s current group show The New Normal, is an installation consisting of found-video collages and terse wall texts referencing the Great Firewall and the Chinese internet’s ‘counterfeit ideology’, viewable through jagged holes carved in a gallery partition.

The other main highlight for me was Lawrence Lek’s Sinofuturism, a one-hour video essay comprised of a “chaotic, dense and thoroughly bleak depiction of a post-human landscape dominated by a self-propagating AI [that] gets much closer to the future-shock weirdness of today’s China than almost anything else currently on the art market – or in the sci-fi stacks, for that matter.”

Sinofuturism, however, as a long-form video, had too much competition with the other odd-dozen works clamoring for attention in The New Normal, and like most of the works in the show with a virtual component, was more meaningfully experienced online. You can watch it here, and read my March interview with Lek here.

Josh Feola
Josh Feola is a US-based writer and musician, and RADII's former Culture Editor. His coverage of Chinese music and art has appeared in The Wire, Dazed, MIT Technology Review, Artsy, Bandcamp Daily and more. He's been active in China's underground music scene since 2010 via his booking platform pangbianr.com, and is a former member of Beijing bands Chui Wan, SUBS, and Vagus Nerve.
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