To kick off Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA)’s 2013 program, ON | OFF: China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice, focusing on the new generation of young Chinese artists, filled UCCA exhibition space with a breath of fresh air.
The title “ON | OFF”, inspired by the graphic interface of common VPN (virtual private network) software, not only reflects some aspects of China’s social transformation, which have influenced the growth of contemporary artists, but also alludes to the artists’ binary approaches to both concept and practice.
“To define an entire generation of artists simply by a common style, a theme, a concept or a trend is no longer suitable because each artist is independent with a different perspective on art,” remarked Bao Dong, one curator of ON | OFF. “Influenced by graphic interfaces like a switch, we employed the sensibility of ‘switching’ to describe young artists’ practices and the macro environment of Chinese contemporary art and society, instead of defining them with a static term.”
Along with Bao, Sun Dongdong is another curator of ON | OFF. More than a year before the exhibition, the duo began visiting dozens of Chinese cities, where key communities of Chinese young artists could be found, and met more than 200 of them. Eventually, 50 artists, born between 1976 and 1989, were selected. Growing up against the background of China’s reform and opening-up and launching art careers in a new century, these young artists have become the most energetic players in Chinese contemporary art. “Most of them started their career upon graduating around 1999, when a relatively mature contemporary art environment was already formed in China,” noted Sun Dongdong.
The turn of the century also marked a turning point for Chinese contemporary art, when it veered away from the underground scene of the 1990s. Meanwhile, with the ubiquity of the internet and the maturity of a new generation of artists, the system of Chinese contemporary art took shape after 1999 and gradually climbed to its peak before the market bubble burst in 2003. Having witnessed such an evolution, these young artists became an integral piece of the complicated system of Chinese contemporary art.