EX: 1/30/2012
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2012.11.21 Wed, by Translated by: Fei Wu 吴一斐
Playing the Marginalization Card:
More Mainstream than Sub-Culture
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The Central Academy of Fine Arts Museum recently held an exhibition entitled “The First CAFAM Exhibition of the Future: Sub-Phenomena — A Report on the State of Young Chinese Artists.” Though true to the subtitle of the exhibition, they lacked a certain sense of appeal as many have appeared in CAFAM graduation shows over the years (in fact, some of them have even popped up in various galleries). Of course, this is not to say that one does not experience anything new when seeing a piece a second time — the same artwork exhibited under a different concept can take on new meanings. Case in point, the layout and planning of the recent exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum involving Alexandra Munroe was superbly meticulous; the sequence of pieces made sense, but the curators were also mindful of the viewer’s freedom to choose.

However, one of the problems with the CAFAM show happened to lie in its concept. Like other large-scale CAFAM exhibitions in the past, it was big and bold. The heavy-handed curatorial team appended the exhibits with numerous conceptual frameworks. Additionally, they took pieces and grouped them into ambiguous categories like “Growth,” “We-Media,” “Micro-Resistance,” and “Otaku Space” in an attempt to express these concepts. It must be said that the relationship between the exhibit and the subject of “subculture” might have been over-determined. Though the content of the exhibition and its topic did not contradict each other outright, any similarities they might have had were purely superficial. Perhaps this contradiction was for the best, as it allows us to question what constitutes the “sub phenomena” of subculture and to scrutinize this concept.

One could say that this exhibition encapsulated nearly every creative idea and visual strategy that the current generation of young artists possess in its varied repertoire. The topic of personal nostalgia could be seen in the images of old-fashioned dresses and plastic sandals of Chen Wei’s “Diary of a Scavenger – A Lingering Song” (2012). Nostalgia was also reflected again in Ye Funa’s classic 1960s group photo entitled “Home, Spring, Autumn – A Family Photo of Mother and I” (2012). In “Bells and Whistles,” Chi Ming uses oils to recreate the effect of old photos while other artists chose to work in the minutiae, creating artwork that resembled craft, as in Chen Fei’s “Strangers” (2012), Huang Yan’s “Material, Spirit, Sustenance” (2012), or Wang Sheng’s “The Myth of 32” (2012). Of course, there was also the obligatory array of visually exhausting political-pop art.

It might pay to consider how these works could have been called “sub phenomena” as so many of them fell into similar categories. The root of this misnomer may lie in the inherent ambiguity of the term “subculture,” which makes it a difficult term to understand and grasp. According to Stuart Hall, subculture must be expressed through a distinctive form; it must be differentiable from the larger culture in its form or structure; and it must focus on some sort of unique activity, value, object, or materiality of space. Clearly, most of the artworks and movements that currently call themselves “fringe” do not meet these criteria, but are still seen as “sub-phenomenal.” This lack of distinction has occurred because subculture flows quietly back into “mainstream culture,” along with two even more magnetic concepts, one being “youth culture” and the other, the “avant-garde.”

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