主题：陈蔚 胡晓媛 马秋莎 汤艺 胡筱潇 雷本本 陆扬 林菁菁 方璐
新作：方少华 葛辉 傅中望
Theme: No.72 Nine Young Women Artists in the Contemporary Art of China
Academic Host: Fu Xiaodong, Yan Shuli
A.T: Chen Wei, Hu Xiaoyuan, Ma Qiusha, Tang Yi, Hu Xiao Xiao, Lei Benben, Lu Yang, Lin Jingjing, Fang Lu
A.N: Fang Shaohua, Ge Hui, Fu Zhongwang
Nine Young Women Artists in the Contemporary Art of China
Academic Host: Fu Xiaodong / Yan Shuli
At the beginning of this theme planning on young women artists, we, as women, once had very temporary doubt that when discussing their works by taking the young women artists as a single group, we actually acquiesced in a certain singularity and specialty. And it was not difficult to perceive that in the process of contemporary art in China, not every women artists would like to be talked about with her identity as a member of this “women” group due to the repugnance in the image-building as “beautiful artists” by the society and the media, or to the avoidance of being labeled as “radical feminist artists” to declare war against patriarchy, or to the revolt against the concepts in essentialism like “femininity” and “female language”. But as a matter of fact, the reasons above indicated exactly several embarrassing situations faced by women artists and feminist criticism itself in our society.
We are aware that the identity of women artists must be prudently mentioned, while once there is any need to discuss, we must admit and face the various realities brought to this artistic group by the “female identity”. We hope the theme could initiate the interpretations, discussions and queries. Just as what post-modernism emphasizes, the “identity” possessed by the individual is social, and it is diverse, changing and transformational. In the 1980s, the post-modern feminism in the western world went against the previous interpretation in essentialism about the concepts such as “female” and “femininity”, and essentialism of any kind. Meanwhile, the social gender theory which explored how social mechanism constructed gender in various aspects emerged. According to this theory, both sexes were not in the opposed dual mode, and in fact the gender equality developed mutually. This theory “questions the necessity and rationality of the existence of the male and female identities from the microcosmic view of the role, costume decoration and behavior; it challenges the traditional idea of the division of labor in society as well as value; it probes into the relationship between social development and equality.” ①These new ideas and methods make us finally believe that the group of “women artists” in China’s contemporary art are worth discussing. However, in this theme, we mainly focus on the younger generation of women artists (born between late 1970 to early 1980) in our contemporary artistic field with the hope of comparing them and the early generation of women artists to display their similarities and differences, which of course do not expose as absolute or clear, but interlaced and mingled by paying attention to the condition of survival and thinking clues of these younger generation.
In his “Language Attic—the Eight Individual Cases of Women Avant-garde Art”, Zhu Qi once described and summarized the works of the women artists who were active in the contemporary artistic field from the 1990s. Zhu believed that “in the middle and late 1990s, one of the remarkable phenomena in the contemporary art of China was the real rise of the feminist art…whose maturity lied in the maturity of the Chinese women as the women group when China was in the process that changed quickly. A group of the real elite cultural women emerged in large numbers particularly in the large and middle-sized cities whose society and economy changed enormously…An outstanding progress of the Chinese women art since the 1990s was the salvation by self-help through language. By starting from the theme of personal experience, they analyzed self-image as well as the fabrication of self language. This generation of women artists began to have the real creative power in the artistic language. ” ②
So it is true. In the middle and late 1990s, with the development of contemporary art, a group of excellent women artists such as Chen Qingqing, Lin Tianmiao, Cui Xiuwen, Yu Hong, He Chengyao, Xiang Jing, Chen Lingyang and Jiang Jie emerged. These women artists emphasized the life experiences of women with self-analysis of their own bodies and the images in the past as the theme. Generally speaking, their works had the following characteristics: firstly, they paid attention to female topics; secondly, they (for example, Lin Tianmiao, He Chengyao, Xiang Jing, Chen Lingyang and Jiang Jie) questioned and constructed female images, especially the female “body” disciplined and punished by the history and culture of the patriarchic system; thirdly, they (such as Cui Xiuwen, Yu Hong and Chen Qingqign) felt a compulsion to look for the oppressed female history from personal experience, as well as from the personal and historical texts, and to re-interpret the history of patriarchic culture from the female perspective; fourthly, they (such as Lin Tianmiao and Chen Qingqing) began to make use of the daily material in their experience to develop an artistic language of “feminism”. This group of women artists who “not only went in quest of the symbols in accordance with the femininity, but also explored a brand new feminine artistic expression through the materials—cloth, interweaving, and techniques such as stitching and clouting—which represented the daily life experience of women” ③ actually shared some similarities with the feminist artists in the 1970s of the western world.
However, different from the western women artists in the 1970s, the 1990s for China was undoubtedly an important transitional period, which was also a connecting period between the preceding and the following. It carried on the revolt against totalitarianism that suppressed personality as well as female sexual characteristics and denied the natural differences between men and women for the so-called equality in the 1980s of the late period of the Culture Revolution; meanwhile, it also opened up various complicated identity problems faced by everyone in the commodity economy consumption age under the global background since the 1990s. These new and old problems would be transformed, solved, laid aside and dissolved by the younger generation of women artists in their following artistic creation. Of course, in practical term, the methods mentioned above exposed themselves obviously in the recent creation of the women artists (such as Yin Xiuzhen, Lin Tianmiao and Cui Xiuwen) in the 1990s, and we selected nine of them whose works proved to be more clear and common under our theme.
Active after the year 2000, the nine women artists introduced in this issue were generally born in the late 1970s or the early 1980s. Different from the previous generation of women artists who were born in the 1950s or 1960s, they also faced a different background. Most of them grew up as a single child in their homes, which provided them with the expectation and education the same as that of the boys so as to let them be independent and free. This made them feel calm and confident about the gender relationship. Of course, relative as the calmness and confidence might be, they, on the one hand, felt the acceptance and recognition of the traditional values from their parents, while on the other hand perceived the contradictions and conflicts in the process of developing new values. And as the social formation and values became diverse, possibilities of choosing, stepping over and transforming between various identities were unfolding, which of course would bring confusion and uneasiness. Besides, they grew up with China’s contemporary art ecosystem which developed fast and possessed more international vision. Having a broader international vision, this generation of young women artists were encouraged by this more open and attentive artistic ecosystem to gain confidence in their creation. Certainly, what was more important, the strengthening of confidence and the degree of freedom enlarged the possibility for them to gain richer social materials, and the development of information technology also provided them with choices of various artistic media. Therefore, some new and different characteristics were displayed in their works: first of all, the artistic creation focused on themes of various kinds, in which the female theme was the center but not the only topic, or they rarely talked about this female theme; secondly, the artistic works still paid attention to the daily life experience and interpersonal relationship, but apart from sexual experiences, they also concerned about the relationship between individual and society, individuals, man and nature, and different classes, races and identities; thirdly, their works did not deliberately avoid the identity of women, or feminine materials and languages, but “femininity” and “female language” were not over-emphasized or built. They only chose the materials and media which were suitable to the themes or themselves by constructing the values and emotion in both of their realistic and spiritual worlds; fourthly, when they gained more respect, opportunities and relaxed environment, the more complicated and hidden social gender disciplines, bandages, prejudice and injustice which could easily internalized into self conflicts confronted them, thus their works still presented the same contradiction, drifting away and conflicts felt by the previous generation of women artists. However, the attitude towards these conflicts no longer seemed to be that fierce or painful. Instead of raising their arms in a call for a war or making a complaint about their wounds, this generation of women artists, when facing the reality confronted by their women identity, adopted a careful, slow and calm way to recognize, distinguish and establish. And they were more wiling to discuss openly so as to analyze, communicate and construct in various aspects while no longer hid confusion and conflicts. Just as what Ma Qiusha said in the account of her own life, “to heal the inner side and then to do some other things with extra time.” The attitude towards gender displayed in their works shared some similarities with the view held by the post modern feminism when the western feminism in the 1980s headed for the third tide. “the theory of post modern feminism held the opinion of plurality, multiplicity and difference while opposed enduring and single influence of the stereotypes.” ④
But how on earth could they face the more diverse and hidden social gender construction mechanism in China? How to confront the new values, the shape of concepts, disciplines, punishment or the deconstruction way brought by the consumption society? How to embrace the reality of the Chinese culture brought by post-colonialism and the western centralism? These will be the new problems put forward by the new era to the young women artists. Of course, they were no longer the problems concerning the “female” identity. But it could not be denied that the “female” identity and the feminist perspective would provide more valuable ways of thinking, perspectives and practice, which actually is another original intention of the theme in this issue. Besides the nine women artists this time, there are actually a great deal of very excellent and active young women artists such as Duan Jianyu, Kan Xuan and Cao Fei, whose works also obviously displayed the characteristics illustrated above. But due to various reasons, we can not make a detailed introduction of them in this theme. Just as what the preface says, the individual creation of every artist, which could be discussed as an individual case or through other identities when detached from the identity of “women” artists differ a great deal. More importantly, we need to be aware that the summary and description of every group could only be relative, partial and selective, and when making any summary, we must know, pay attention to and respect the different acceptance and exploration direction between the other young women artists and these nine.
This article was finished within such hasty time due to the limit of learning, cultivation and time. Not fully explored, the summary and analysis of the artistic works of this generation of young women artists seemed to be very rough. Thus, this article, as the beginning of a topic, could only serve as a modest spur to induce more valuable studies and expect others to make more academic, thorough and detailed discussion.
①Shen Yifei, The constructed Women—Modern Social Gender Theory, Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 2005, P3
②Zhu Qi, “Language Attic—the Eight Individual Cases of Women Avant-garde Art”, 2005
③④Zeng Shaishu, “The Feminist Perspective and Artistic Creation, Art History and Artistic Critic” (original text: “The Study of the History of Art about the Feminist Perspective”), Journal of Humanities 15, 86/6