Taking a spiritual, cultural and nomadic journey

The 2017 Hangzhou International Moving Image Exhibition opened last month under the banner of "Urban Nomadism" at the Liangzhu Center of Arts. 

The 2017 Hangzhou International Moving Image Exhibition is underway under the banner of “Urban Nomadism” at the Liangzhu Center of Arts. 

Featuring works from more than 80 video artists from around the globe, the exhibition is arguably the largest in Hangzhou to have specifically focused on experimental video art.

Divided into four parts the show features a Chinese unit, an international unit, a remapping Hong Kong unit, and a unit of five senses which showcases award-winning pieces from the Magmart International Video Art Festival.

Video art takes many forms at the exhibition. There is a one-hour-and-44-minute drama film concentrating on the ethos of young people in China, a six-minute clay animation movie, a moving image installation and a documentary recording the migration of a group of people.

Visitors watch the video works at the 2017 Hangzhou International Moving Image Exhibition, which will run through January 9 in Liangzhu.

According to curators Gu Zhenqing and Zhang Haitao, “Urban Nomadism” is the core concept that lies behind all of these art works.

“The nomadic culture is naturally non-linear and non-centralized. It is against the dualism and therefore more inclusive than other civilizations,” said Zhang. “And these artists do not intend to tell a story. They borrow certain symbols, concepts and scenes from their cultures, and invite people to think about relations between nature and technology, tradition and modernity, globalization and diversity.”

Several of the artists featured in the international session come from Asia. Four of those hail from Mongolia and their works have rarely been exhibited in China.

Mongolian artist Enkhtaivan Ochirbat’s video installation “Karma” attracts viewers at the entrance of the museum. 

A single chair is placed at the center of a projected image showing the dried terrains of a dessert. The shifting projection also emits shadows of the chair that appears to interact with the viewers, indicating the possible consequences of human activities on the environment.

The piece featured in last year’s Venice Biennale was part of a larger project that explored the urgencies the country faced between its traditional nomadic culture and the growing reality of globalization and economic development.

In a way, Mongolia is a metaphor to the Chinese art circle as it is trying to build up its own discourse in an international art scene that is presently dominated by American and British cultures.

“Cang-style Shaman” by Chinese artist Cang Xin

“The history of modernity is a process of non-Western cultures gradually losing their identities,” said Gu. “So we hope the artists are always aware of their cultural roots. Only by taking back their identities, their expressions become personalized, and therefore different from that of the West.”

That kind of awareness is especially prominent in the work of Chinese artist Cang Xin. Being a Manchu minority himself, he finds a lot of similarities between the performance art he’s been doing as an artist and the rituals done by a shaman.

In his “Cang-Style Shaman,” he is incarnated as an animated shaman figure where he conveys his ideas of purification and regeneration by adopting a complete set of shamanist practices in the video.

If the artistic expressions are still way too obscure for common viewers, in Tang Guanhua and Yu Bogong’s documentary project “Spiritual Nomadic Mobile Camp,” you will be able to find a more concrete plan for practicing the ideal of “urban nomadism” in everyday life.

The one-hour-and-24-minute documentary loyally portraits the process of a group of artists, monks, poets, architects and growers, hiking from Beijing to the Handahan camp in Inner Mongolia. 

When the project was first launched in July 2017, there were only 10 people. They camped and exhibited along the way. At the same time the project was also circulated online and opened to anyone who wanted to join.

At its peak, 50 people were part of the group. But they were also free to leave at any time.

“The journey itself is like a mobile art museum. Instead of bringing artists and artworks to a single spot, we spread the art opinions to a wider society, to anyone we met on the road,” said Tang. “And we don’t set standards of what kind of art can be exhibited. We just collaborate with people who want to participate. And we work together to get our ideas off the ground.”

But Tang is not against commercialism. Members were allowed to use their phones, and sometimes they took public transportation as well.

“Karma” by Mongolian artist Enkhtaivan Ochirbat

“The main goal is to connect with other parts of the society spiritually, with places like shopping malls, office buildings and cafes,” Tang said.

The on-the-road curatorial idea is thoroughly in line with purports of a nomadic culture. Though it may sound too radical for many.

“In my opinion, urban nomadism is not opposed to modernity,” Gu added. “It is a complement to it which allows in more diversified expressions of contemporary art.”

The exhibition was organized by The Roof Culture in collaboration with School of Intermedia Art at China Academy of Art, Contemporary Art Department at Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts and Li Space at 798 Art District in Beijing. 

Date: Through January 9, closed on Mondays

Address: Exhibition Building, Liangzhu Center of Arts, Yuniao Rd

Admission: 20 yuan (US$3)

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