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Research and Curatorial Practice: Symposium on May 17, 2019

Beijing Inside-Out Art Museum


Transcultural Research and Curatorial Practice in China’s Contemporary Art

Organised by Inside-Out Art Museum (IOAM), Beijing & the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA), Manchester

Curated by Su Wei (Senior Curator, IOAM) & Marianna Tsionki (Research Curator, CFCCA)

Supported by Asia Research Network for Arts and Media

Date: 17 May 2019

Time: 10am – 4pm

Location: The Whitworth, Manchester, UK


Marianne Brouwer, art historian, curator & writer

Qu Chang, associate curator, Para Site, Hong Kong 

Cosmin Costinas, executive director and curator of Para Site, Hong Kong 

Tessa Maria Guazon, Assistant Professor, University of Philippines Diliman, curator of Philippine Pavilion, Venice Arts Biennale 2019

Liu Ding, independent curator, artist, Beijing 

Marcella Lista, chief curator of the New Media Collection at the National Museum of Modern Art – Centre Pompidou, Paris

In the field of Chinese contemporary art, discussions on curatorial practice have been weakening in recent years. Due to the formation of new economic, cultural and social realities in China, the re-configuration of the art market and a general disdain for research in the art industry, attention has been shifted away from critical curatorial practice to other trends in the art world. In some Chinese public art museums, the positions and roles of curators are faced with marginalization or suspension. Public art institutions are indulging, explicitly or not, in commercialisation by focusing predominantly on entertainment and popularisation whilst they are trying to maintain their position within systems of power. They develop a particular type of visual spectacle that is tied to practices of consumption and social power exemplified in private VIP events aimed at socializing and trade. Research, critical writing, and discussion about curatorial practice are overshadowed by the new wave of investment, urban development and the production of artistic spectacle.

Under these circumstances, tensions in Chinese cultural production are becoming evident: anxiety related to the power relationship between the artist and the curator rooted in the 1990s has re-emerged. Artists have become distrustful of curatorial practice and, in order to maintain their artistic independence, many of them question research-based curatorial methodologies and language, especially when these are affiliated with institutions. Chinese independent curators with international exposure, are frequently met with scepticism due to concerns related to the transferability of knowledge and experience gained in Western cultural contexts. The magnitude of this phenomenon and the risk to curatorial practice is alarming. There is an urgent need to integrate research and curatorial practice, in order to reinvigorate the relationship between art and society, explore and understand contemporaneity within its historical context, and overcome commercial globalisation by reconnecting the local and the global from a different perspective.

Alongside the rapid expansion of China’s museum sector there has also been a global transformation within curatorial practice in the form of the ‘art biennial’. Chinese cities are becoming the meeting point for global art systems, with an overall aim to create a dialogue between the local and the global; to foster international collaborations between curators and artists, but also sponsors and collectors; to explore the concept of contemporaneity through new commissions, novel approaches and transcultural interactions. However, the task of these meetings to invent a new locality in relation to globality is often challenging and the risk of reduction to self-referential artistic gatherings should not be underestimated. This symposium proposes to address some of these concerns by bringing together curators and scholars operating within a global art system. 

This symposium is co-organized by Inside-Out Art Museum (IOAM), Beijing, and the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA), Manchester,. With this symposium, we would like to emphasize the close relationship between research and curatorial practice both in China and internationally, and discuss the rich dimensions and potential of theoretical and artistic research through the creative application of curatorial language. Through the dialogue between curators and scholars we want to re-consider the political power of curatorial praxis and its role in knowledge production. By exploring China’s complex global exchanges in the field of cultural production we aim to unpick the particularities of transcultural curatorial practice and its role in interrogating Western narratives of modernity. 

Transcultural Research and Curatorial Practice in China’s Contemporary Art Symposium

An international symposium organized by  Inside-Out Art Museum (IOAM), Beijing & Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA), Manchester in collaboration with Asia Research Network for Arts and Media.

The symposium is curated by Su Wei (Senior Curator, IOAM) & Marianna Tsionki (Senior Curator, CFCCA) 

Friday 17th May

10:00 – 16:30 

held at The Whitworth, Manchester 

 Arrival at gallery from 10:00

10:00: Registration

10:10: Zoe Dunbar (director, CFCCA) Welcome and Introduction

10:20Peter Gries (LeeKai Hung chair and director, Manchester China Institute, and professor of Chinese Politics, The University of Manchester) Introduction and ARNAM

10:30 – 13:00: Session One:

Marianne Brouwer (art historian, curator & writer, Amsterdam)

Hans van Dijk / Dai Hanzhi: An Unsung Hero of China's Avant-garde

When Dutch artist Hans van Dijk arrived in China in 1986 to study Chinese, he discovered that a new, exciting art had sprung all over China. He met with the artists, started an archive of their works, studied Chinese art history. In February 1989, "China/Avant-Garde," an epochal overview of China's contemporary art, was organized by Chinese art critics in Beijing. Six months later, on June 4, the Tiananmen massacre took place. Experimental art was forbidden and Van Dijkleft for Holland. In 1993, he co-curated "China Avant-garde," the first exhibition of Chinese contemporary art in Europe. Returning to China later, he established the NAAC art consultancy in Beijing, working tirelessly and selflessly throughout the bleak nineties to support Chinese artists within China, whilst making their works known in the West. This talk is dedicated to the life and work of Van Dijk (Chinese name Dai Hanzhi), gallerist, scholar, curator, and archivist, who became a legend amongst the artists. He died in Beijing in 2002.


Marcella Lista (chief curator of the new media collection at the National Museum of Modern Art – Centre Pompidou, Paris)

A Double Path: Dislocating the Modern Narrative

In January 2018, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Xuhui District in Shanghai signed an agreement to collaborate on a five years project, involving presentations of the museum's collections as well as the conception of acultural program. In this framework, several exhibition topics and formats are under study. They are an opportunity to reflect on present issues of a post-colonial history and encourage curatorial practices beyond dichotomies between historical and contemporary art, between the culture of the exhibition and the culture of process and performance. In a rapidly evolving institutional landscape, which develops through a constant dialogue with the international context, the project proposes to investigate the meaning and features of western modernity with a displaced perspective.

Qu Chang (curator, Para Site, Hong Kong)  

Hooked on a Feeling

Taking love’s multiple effect of empowerment,infatuation, and destruction as the entry point, the talk will cover Qu’s three past and on-going curatorial projects that ‘emotionally’ examine the danger as well as potential of love (and feelings), while taking into consideration a discernable collective “emotional turn” in the artistic practices in regions of Guangdong and Hong Kong. Among the projects, Crush (Para Site, HongKong, 2018) and Doreen Chan: Used to (tentative title, HB Station, Guangzhou,2019) looks at the social soil that cultivates and consumes personal heartbreaks; Café do Brasil (tentative title) researches into different moments of Hong Kong’s art and cultural communities/circles, while reflecting on the feeling, the memory and the ever more urgent need to be together.


Panel discussion chaired by Su Wei (senior curator, IOAM)

13:00 – 14:00: Lunch

14:00 – 16:30: Session Two:

Cosmin Costinas (executive director and curator, Para Site, Hong Kong)

Curating an Opera. Thoughts on “An Opera forAnimals”, Para Site, Hong Kong & Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai

"Opera" has been used as the name to describe various traditions of performance, social arrangement, entertainment, and spiritual work from around the world. Many of these are ancient and radically different from each other but are nevertheless classified as regional variants of the (relatively young) Western model, most notable on this topic being the current discussions around the appropriate designation of 'Chinese Opera'. But more than being yet another example of lingering colonial taxonomy, this brings into discussion the status of opera as the highest art form, intimately reflecting the European colonial project, its ambition and worldview, having almost become a site for a collective religious experience -around the same time as the height of European colonialism in late 19thcentury. The exhibition An Opera for Animals, currently on view at Para Site and soon to be shown at RAM is additionally interested in conflicts of staging, controlling, hiding, and repressing that occur within the operatic space are at the very core of our contemporary reality, defined by constructed and "alternative"truths, digital parallel worlds, self-staging of personal identities, and the increasingly palpable promise of a new technological turn in the field of intelligence. It understands opera and related issues such as"staging" and "operatic environment" broadly, as terms describing the synthetic landscapes imagined and generated in our world today. And ultimately, it explores the way in which the future is now projected less as the rational thinking commonly remembered from the post-war era - the advanced machinery, design, and social forms - but once more as a place of amorphous fear, of animals that might take over in artificial landscapes. The future it seems, will again be an opera for animals.

Tessa Maria Guazon (assistant professor, University of the Philippines Diliman, curator of Philippine Pavilion, Venice Arts Biennale 2019)  

Liu Ding (independent curator, artist, Beijing)

The Past is a Foreign Country: Salon, Salon: A Profile of ModernArt Practices from a Beijing Perspective, 1972–1982 as a Case of Research-based Curatorial Practice

The exhibition Salon, Salon: A Profile of Modern Art Practices from a Beijing Perspective, 1972–1982 was Part Three of the series of the research project “From Issues of Art to Issues of Position: Echoes of Socialist Realism.” Carol Yinghua Lu and I jointly launched this research series to analyze and rethink the historical narratives and conceptions of contemporary Chinese art through ongoing exhibitions and writing.

 Unlike the common art historical narratives,which emphasize fractures in historical courses and usually perceive the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976 as a brand-new start for art in China, in theSalon, Salon exhibition, we focused on the decade from 1972 to 1982 as a period for research and discussion, as well as a space for historical imagination. We see this period not only as a politically and historically significant transition but also as a relatively integrated period of art. In studying this period, we reflect on its concrete appearance and multilayered practices to consider the mentality of art practitioners in this time of tremendous political changes, as well as the scale it represents when describing creative works and political control within existing narratives on art history.

 Panel discussion chaired by Marianna Tsionki (senior curator, CFCCA)


16:30: Conference ends

Presenters' Bios

Marianne Brouwer

independent curator, writer, studying art history at Leiden University. She used to live in Japan from 1969 to 1972. After she graduated from Sorbonne, Paris. and gained an MA degree in art history, she started writing on art. From 1981 to 1998, she worked as the senior curator of the Kröller-Müller Museum's sculpture department and curated many seminal exhibitions. She visited China in 1985 for the first time, followed by the second trip to China two years later to research Chinese contemporary art. In 1994, she curated "Heart of Darkness," (1994) an exhibition on exile and the "Other", including site-specific installations Huang Yongping, Chen Zhen, Cai Guo Qiang. In 1997, she co-curated"Another Long March. Chinese Conceptual Art," which is the first exhibition outside China of Chinese conceptual, video-, and installation art. In 2004, she was awarded by AICA for oeuvre catalogue "Dan Graham, Works 1965-2000". In 2008, she curated Liang Shaoji's solo exhibition at Zendai Museum, Shanghai. In 2012, she researched Hans van Dijk, archive. In 2014, she curated "Hans van Dijk, 5000 Names," UCCA, Beijing. From 2014 to 2015, she curated "Dai Hanzhi, 5000 Artists," Witte de With, Rotterdam. Biography: Hans van Dijk/Dai Hanzhi, A life with Artin China, 1986-2002, publ. Witte de With, Rotterdam, 2019. 


Cosmin Costinas

Born in 1982 in Romania, Cosmin Costinas is the executive director/curator of Para Site, Hong Kong since 2011. He was a Guest Curator of Dakar Biennale 2018 - La Biennale de l’Art africain contemporain-DAK’ART, Dakar (2018), Guest Curator at the Dhaka Art Summit ’18 (2018); Co-curator of the 10th Shanghai Biennale (2014), Curator of BAK-basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht (2008-2011), Co-curator of the1st Ural Industrial Biennial, Ekaterinburg (2010), and Editor of documenta 12 Magazines, documenta 12, Kassel (2005–2007).


At Para Site, Costinas oversaw the institution's major expansion and relocation to a new home in 2015, and curated the exhibitions: ‘An Opera of Animals’ (with Claire Shea, 2019); 'A beast, a god, and a line’ (touring at Dhaka Art Summit ‘18, TS1/The Secretariat, Yangon,and Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, 2018); ‘Movements at an Exhibition, Manuel Pelmus’ (2017-2018); ‘Soil and Stones, Souls and Songs’ (with Inti Guerrero, touring at MCAD, Manila and Jim Thompson Art Center, Bangkok, 2016-2017).


Zoe Dunbar 

Director of Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art 

Tessa Maria Guazon 

Tessa Maria Guazon’s curatorial and research projects center on urbanization, city spaces, and placemaking through contemporary art. She has curated exhibitions for institutions, including the section Infinite Time, Proximate Distance for the permanent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila. She curated Traversals/Trajectories: Expansive localities at the Vargas Museum University of the Philippines in 2017. 


Marcella Lista

With a PhD in Art History, Marcella Lista is, since 2016, Chief Curator ofthe New Media Collection at the National Museum of Modern Art – Centre Pompidou, Paris. Her work in teaching, writing and curating deals with experimental artistic practices involving sound, film and video, installation, dance, and performance. She has recently curated exhibitions in the following centers: Beirut Art Center, Beirut; Carré d’Art, Nîmes;  Centre Pompidou, Paris;  Kanal-Centre Pompidou, Brussels; and for the Prix Marcel Duchamp 2018.


Liu Ding 

Liu Ding is an artist and a curator based in Beijing. His work has been shown at numerous major art institutions and has participated in international exhibitions such as: 4th Media City Seoul(2008); Chinese Pavilion, 53rd Venice Biennial (2009); 8th Taipei Biennial(2012); 8th Shanghai Biennale (2014); Prospect 3 New Orleans (2014); 14thIstanbul Biennial (2015); 2nd Yinchuan Biennale (2018) and 9th Busan Biennale(2018). His artistic creation and curatorial practices bring attention to multiple viewpoints and modes of description in contemporary Chinese art history, exploring a trajectory of discursive thoughts that connect the contemporary and the historical.


Qu Chang

currently lives and works in Hong Kong and Shenzhen. She is the Curator at Para Site, Hong Kong. Her curatorial projects include Crush (2018), From whence the waves came (2018), ATale: The Land of Fish and Rice (2017). As an assistant curator/curatorial assistant, she also worked on exhibitions such as Manuel Pelmus: Movements at an Exhibition (2017), Soil and Stones, Souls and Songs (2017). Meanwhile, Qu is also involved in the writing, translation, and editing of multiple publications.


Su Wei

Born in 1982 in Beijing, Su Wei is a curator and art writer based in Beijing. He is the Senior Curator of Beijing Inside-OutArt Museum (IOAM). He participated in the 2012 Curatorial Intensive independent Curators International (ICI) in New York. In 2014, he was awarded first place at the first International Awards for Art Criticism(IAAC). His curatorial projects include: 7th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale(OCAT Shenzhen, 2012) No References. A Revisit of Hong Kong Media andVideo Art from 1985 (Videotage HK, 2016, Permanent Abstraction:Epiphanies of a Modern Form in Escaped Totalities (Red Brick MuseumBeijing, 2016), Crescent: Retrospectives of Zhao Wenliang and YangYushu (IOAM Beijing, 2018), The Lonely Spirit (IOAM Beijing,2018), etc. In 2015, he participated in the symposium Dislocations: Remapping Art Histories at Tate Modern, London. His recent work focuses on thick-description of China’s contemporary art history, excavating its legitimate origins and rupturing nature.


Marianna Tsionki 

Born in 1980 in Athens, Marianna Tsionki is the Senior Curator at CFCCAwhere she leads the program team in the development and delivery of CFCCA’s public program of exhibitions, commissions, events and CFCCA’s archive & library. Tsionki has initiated a number of successful new commissions and exhibitions including Cheng Ran’s Diary of the Madman-Manchesterepisode (2019), Miao Ying's Love's Labor's Lost (2019), MAP Office's Solid SeaLiquid Land (2017)  and is currently working on Future Cities (2019).

She holds a BA in Multimedia Design from Huddersfield University and an MA in Contemporary Art Theory from the Goldsmiths University of London. She is a Ph.D. candidate in Curatorial Practice at the Manchester School of Are investigating the role of the curatorial practice in knowledge production, and ways that cultural institutions can instigate social change. Her research examines contemporary discourses at the intersection of art, architecture &technology focusing on globalization, climate change, and migration. Prior to her curatorial career, Tsionki was an architectural designer.


About Beijing Inside-Out Art Museum

Beijing Inside-Out Art Museum is located in the West end of Xishan Cultural and Creative Boulevard, Haidian district, Beijing. Previously established in 2008, it was registered as a private and nonprofit art institution at Beijing Civil Affairs Bureau in 2011. Since the beginning of 2017, Inside-Out Art Museum has started out a series of work with the intention to better understand ourselves. We continuously return to the local sites of art and intellectual histories, searching for threads of ideas, the logic of language, and concepts of art that continue to exert impact on us in spite of multiple changes of time and space. Insisting on facing the realities in China and the issue of it, we strive to track the development inherent in art history using suitable methods on the premise that we are apart of History, Asia, and the Globe. With a focus on the critical viewpoint born out of cultural, historical and political relatedness instead of exclusiveness, we will continue to look within ourselves and promote dialogue with the cutting-edge art practices worldwide.

About Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art

CFCCA is a unique art gallery with a year-round programme of socially engaged exhibitions, events and artist residencies. With over 30 years’ experience of working with emerging and established artists it provides a space for conversation, debate and cross-cultural exchange with a focus on China. It is the go-to place in the UK to discover new artists and explore relevant global issues from different international perspectives.

Supported by: Asia Research Network for Arts and Media

The Asia Research Network for Arts and Media (ARNAM) is an interdisciplinary network formed in 2016 by Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA) in collaboration with Manchester Metropolitan University, University of Salford and the University of Manchester.