|Luo Yang, 'Xie Yue' (from the series GIRLS) 2015 digital print on fine art paper 70x100cm (unique edition)|
image courtesy Vermilion Art
In the 1990s in China there were a number of all-women exhibitions that left artists a little bruised and critics a little bemused. The reasons are sufficient for a whole doctoral thesis, but suffice it to say that one artist said to me, 'They don't have exhibitions and call them "exhibitions of mens' work", they're just exhibitions! Why should women be any different?' I don't agree with this, because of course the point is that there are still far too few women artists represented in the big curated shows - including the dismal statistic of 9 women in more than 72 artists in the recent Guggenheim exhibition, 'Art And China After 1989: Theater of the World'. But the conundrum of 'nüxing yishu' (womens' art) and what the term might imply is at the heart of my own research. Like everything else in China, it's complicated.
At Vermilion Art, though, 'Sworn Sisters' navigates these potential pitfalls in interesting ways, presenting the work of 9 very diverse artists who yet strangely complement each other. Xiao Lu, whose reputation as a 'bad girl' was forever cemented by her notorious performance in 1989 at the China/Avant-garde exhibition in Beijing, when she fired a pistol into her own installation, is represented by photographs and video of a recent performance work. No less transgressive, this performance resulted in a serious injury to the artist's hand as she cut and hacked her way out of a block of ice which gradually became stained with her blood.
|Xiao Lu, 'Polar' documentation of performance, 2016, C-print, image courtesy Vermilion Art|
|Xiao Lu, Hanging Ice (悬冰), 2017, performance and installation, image courtesy the artist|
Other works in 'Sworn Sisters' include a print of one of Chen Qingqing's ethereal robes made of dried grasses, and a Joseph Cornell-style weathered timber drawer containing a little naked plastic doll, her blonde head weighed down as if by the intolerable weight of memory. Called The Long March (2014), it recalls Qingqing's own dramatic life story: sent away from her family to cadre school during the Cultural Revolution she drove tractors, worked as assistant to a barefoot doctor, and much later became a corporate executive working in Germany, before returning to China to join the burgeoning contemporary art movement centred on the 798 art district. You can see my story about Qingqing here:Between Memory and Metaphor
It is wonderful to see more work from rising star Geng Xue, following the popular triumph of her installation and animation Mr Sea at White Rabbit Gallery in 'Ritual Spirit', an exhibition of her works on paper in the last show at Vermilion Art, and her selection for the Biennale of Sydney, where The Poetry of Michelangelo has been showing at Artspace. The conceptual artist is represented here by two earlier porcelain works; they are delicate and ethereal and I was immensely relieved that somebody in the enormous crowd on the opening night did not somehow back into their vitrines and destroy them!
|Geng Xue, 'Untitled 2' porcelain 2016 25x25x25cm, image courtesy Vermilion Art|
|Geng Xue, Untitled 1, porcelain 2015 45x35x35cm image courtesy Vermilion Art|
|Cindy Ng 'Ink 1711' 2015, ink acrylic on paper, 30cm, image courtesy Vermilion Art|