The CFCCA open up a platform for seven emerging female artists working in China and giving a voice to gender equality.
Capturing a particular moment in creative culture, NOW: A Dialogue on Female Chinese Contemporary Artists, sees British institutes converge with Chinese female voices — coming together right here in the small gallery walls of the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA).
A collaborative work between five art organisations across Britain — CFCCA Manchester, HOME Manchester, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, Nottingham Contemporary and Turner Contemporary Margate — the programme stages an intervention in wider political issues surrounding the precarity of women’s position in society.
Not just confined to Chinatown, Chinese culture runs through the streets of Manchester, and quietly confident sits the CFCCA in the heart of the Northern Quarter. With its 32 year history of supporting and exploring emerging Chinese artists, it plays a crucial role in promoting diversity in arts on a public platform, and representing the presence of the young Chinese community within the city.
CFCCA opened the collaboration, showcasing seven emerging artists commenting on the themes of identity and perception – including new commissions exclusive to the programme. This dedicated female space utilised everyday, mundane objects to create a jarring utopia of digital visuals and sensory animation.
You get the sense that this exhibit is marking a microcosm of wider contextual issues. Opening on the eve of the Chinese New Year, Eastern dialogues coincided with a contextual moment in Northern England; as Manchester is currently celebrating 100th anniversary of the woman suffrage movement.
Zoe Dunbar, Director of CFCCA says: “We are really excited to be working with a network of fantastic artists and art venues to showcase the range of diverse and exciting new art work emerging from female artists working in China today.”
The work didn’t have to be about gender explicitly, instead its power was in opening a space for female expression – the artists exploring all aspects of their socio-political environment. I felt the exhibition wasn’t so much attempting to create a singular cohesive female narrative – but about creating multiple narratives, which were inherently hybrid and communal.
More pertinently, the exhibit reveals a disjunction in our perception of China. Though a country often considered at the forefront of modernity and development, it often eclipses gender equality in society and culture. Yet this exhibit deliberately positions itself amidst the creatives who will be forging the new generation of expression, for organised with the China Central Academy of Fine Arts, many of the artists were still students themselves.
On the evening of the preview, it was an intimate affair, with talks from the chairman of CFCCA Peter Mearns and the curators of the show, including a representative from China Central Academy of Fina Arts who spoke of the oncoming sense of prosperity and spring which this new year marked. It was also humbling to have some of the artists there on the evening, who were able to see their work on an international platform. The evening aptly captured the international dialogue which has been happening over the last three years to commission this show.
As you move through the galleries, you gage a sense of individual expressions merging and overlapping to create new imagined worlds. Many of the works seemed to transcend immediate comprehension, picking up from different mediums to create visual collages.
Much of work paralleled the human body and artificial machinery; the exhibition space itself sound tracked by the ticking of engines and devices.
The stark structural presence of Na Buqi’s installation — Floating Narratives — was the most commanding piece of the exhibition. Its almost ghostly composition demanded space in the room. Constructed from a metal frame work; lights hung from it and printed silk and draped over it, while interwoven plants and portable fans created a subtle sense of movement to the piece – becoming an artificial decomposition of domestic objects.
The bizarre nature of the work was what was so charming about the show. This is exemplified by Hu Xiaoyuan’s video installation You come too early, you come too late — a perplexing video installation of a drone attached to a very real rooster, ascending into the depths of a mossy cave.
It’s moments like this, when you see a group art academics discussing the connotations of rooster attached to a drone, that you realise that art engages most effectively with political issues when its playful with it. Though the show is engaging in important discourses surrounding identity and gender, it’s foremost there to engage an audience – to make you wander, and to make you curious. Regardless to whether you can ascertain how a rooster and a drone functions as a commentary on alienation on social structures, you can’t deny it makes you think.
Within Manchester the show extends to HOME, the arts institute across town. Ever dedicated to promoting “new commissions by emerging and established artists of regional, national and international significance” HOME couldn’t not be included in this programme of bold contemporary storytelling
Their contribution was a two-part moving image programme curated by Bren O’Callaghan, which closes in our assumptions of cultural difference with the East. A striking intervention into visual and performance art, they helped open the programme last week with a screening, but there’s still time to catch the next instalment of it on Monday 26th March.
Elsewhere in the UK, there will be art work by Ye Funa at the Nottingham Contemporary, Ma Qiusha and Shen Xin at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art and an exhibition from Yin Xiuzhen and Duan Jianyu at the Turner Contempary.