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Sparks of youth

Updated: 2013-01-25 13:32
By Chen Nan ( China Daily)
Sparks of youth

Chen Wei's photographs possess an irresistible sense of closeness. Provided to China Daily

There are many promising artists in China, but an ongoing exhibition in Beijing aims to show audiences "who represents the real young artists". Chen Nan takes a closer look.

You have to see it to believe it.

Sparks of youth

That's the aim of an ongoing exhibition, On | Off: China's Young Artists in Concept and Practice.

"We've seen many exhibitions and related events on contemporary China's young artists and their works. But we believe that words, themes or symbols are not enough to reflect the young generation of Chinese artists today," says 34-year-old Bao Dong, one of the curators of the exhibition at Beijing's Ullens Center for Contemporary Art.

"We are here to show what we feel represents the real Chinese young artists," he says.

The show displays works by promising and some unknown post-1976 artists who grew up after China's economic reform and opening up.

Together with another curator, Sun Dongdong, Bao traveled around the country for more than six months to search for the artists.

They visited more than 200 artists in cities like Shanghai, Hangzhou of Zhejiang province, Guangzhou of Guangdong province and Chongqing, before selecting what they felt were the best.

Featuring 50 commissioned works by 50 artists and artist groups, the exhibition is considered an ambitious survey of works by these young talents.

As the curators put it, these artists have "grown up in a society and culture beset by binaries, constantly toggling between extremes".

The exhibition is rooted in a series of such tensions that intensified around 1999, just as the Internet was becoming part of everyday life.

"Young artists in China are labeled as being rebellious, nonsensical and cynical. But they are just like any other young people.

"Their artworks reflect their thinking about their lives. We want an exhibition that triggers communication and understanding," says Sun, who was a senior editor of Leap, a bilingual magazine of contemporary art in China.

According to the curators, they didn't display the works of artists they know very well or those introduced by others. Instead, they decided to go on a field trip to search for them.

With the support and help of Philip Tinari, the director of UCCA, they set out and brought back surprises.

Sparks of youth

Unknown horizons

One of the artists is Wen Ling, whose pen-on-paper comics - One Day in My Life - is displayed in the long, high-ceilinged UCCA nave.

The 37-year-old studied woodcut prints at the Central Academy of Fine Arts and now lives and works in Beijing.

"One Day in My Life describes all the tiny pieces of my life - waking up, switching on my cellphone, brushing my teeth, having breakfast, sleeping, and so on," Wen says.

Asked about the biggest draw of the exhibition, he says, "It's an exhibition without asking artists to work on the basis of any theme."

"It means that the exhibition belongs to the artists and shows the personality and perspectives of the artists," Wen adds.

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