Session Three: Chinese Art in Global Contexts
Connecting with Chinese Antiquity: the case of 20thC Francophone writers and artists
Li Xiaofan (Randall MacIver Junior Research Fellow,St Anne's College, Oxford)
This talk examines how twentieth-century Francophone writers and artists encountered Chinese antiquity and drew inspiration therefrom. I focus on three artistic figures that are representative of three different ways of engagement: firstly, the Polish-French painter Balthus, who, inspired by Daoist literature as well as Chinese ink and wash paintings, explored the theme of dreams in a way different from dominant Surrealism, and innovated oil landscape painting; secondly, the Belgian-French poet and artist Henri Michaux, who engaged extensively with the Chinese aesthetic tradition and created iconotexts that integrated elements of calligraphy, writing, and abstract art; thirdly, the contemporary French writer Pascal Quignard, for which the complexity of classical Chinese language and argumentation, especially that of Gongsun Long, offered new ways to think about the nature of language in a multi-lingual and culturally eclectic world. Finally I argue that the case of these artistic figures allows us to understand how Chinese antiquity is not only of interest and significance for modern and contemporary China. Ancient Chinese culture—its texts, visual culture, and intellectual traditions—was gradually globalised in Europe trans-historically and trans-culturally from the seventeenth to twentieth centuries, and lives on posthumously, through the creation of connections between past and present by diverse aesthetic and cultural metamorphoses.
It’s not funny: making sense of humour in contemporary Chinese art
Wenny Teo (Manuela and Iwan Wirth Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Asian Art, Courtauld Institute)
In November 2014, China’s media regulators issued an official statement prohibiting the use of wordplay in television and advertising, on the grounds that such acts ‘violate China’s cultural traditions.’ This was arguably a reaction against the proliferation of politically subversive puns and rebuses circulated online by Chinese netizens, who routinely exploit the comedic potential inherent to the homophonic and ‘ideographic’ properties of the Chinese language to challenge state control over social and political discourse. While the edict made it clear that the Chinese state does not find such plays on words and images funny whatsoever, it also served to underscore the power of visual/verbal humour as a means of socio-political critique and resistance. This paper looks at how Chinese artists have engaged with humorous forms of visual/verbal play, performativity and parody by mapping out a genealogy of such practices from the late 1980s to the present day, focusing on the work of Xu Bing, Wu Shanzhuan, Ai Weiwei, Song Ta, Hu Xiangqian and Wu Junyong. Following Henri Bergson’s suggestion that laughter is not only a collective activity but one that has a distinct social function, it first historicises and questions the efficacy of visual/verbal humour as a means of socio-political critique in a specifically Chinese context, before focusing on how issues of cross-cultural intelligibility and translatability play out in the wider arena of the transnational online public sphere. It questions the level of knowledge global audiences must have of Chinese culture in order to be ‘in on the joke’, and explores the roles that the global art market, art institutions and the international mass media play in making sense of humour in contemporary Chinese art and visual culture.