Experimental Art and the Role of Performance Art in China: Xingwei yishu
Lecture by Thomas J. Berghuis
Lin Yilin, Safely Maneuvering across Lin He Road, 1995
Contemporary art in China is known for creating a few stirs. The recent pulling of three works from the exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City shows exactly the senses and sensibilities that a group of artists, art critics and their supporters were seeking to antagonize in China during the second half of the 1990s.
For a relatively brief moment in the history of art in China, between 1994 and 2001, a close-cohort group of artists and art critics take their own critical stance in deciding what constitutes art in China. They do so under the condition of creating "experimental art," known in Chinese as shiyan yishu. Experimental art connects artists and art critics who wish to challenge the common conventions and accepted discourses and practices of art. They seek to convey new and experimental languages, devices and mediums in art, including in video, installation, new media and performance art.
Performance art in China is known as xingwei yishu. In the 1990s, it constitutes a type of "behavioral art," which relates a direct action (xingdong) to an antagonizing "gesture" (xingwei) by the artist, who creates a work that directly stirs up the senses and sensibilities of the viewer.
This lecture will show the conditions of "experimental art" (shiyan yishu) and "performance art" (xingwei yishu) merging in China during the period between 1994 and 2001, when artists also claim a brief momentum by which they decide what can be named "art" (yi "yishu" de mingyi).
Dr. Thomas J. Berghuis
is a curator and art historian based in Leiden, the Netherlands. Berghuis is currently working as part-time Lecturer in Art History at the University of Amsterdam, as Guest (Researcher) at the University of Leiden, and as a Principal Fellow (Honorary) at the University of Melbourne, Australia. An expert on contemporary art in China and Indonesia, Berghuis previously worked as lecturer in Asian Art History at the University of Sydney (2008–2013), as the Robert H. N. Ho Curator of Chinese Art at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City (2013–2015), and as Director of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara, Museum MACAN in Jakarta, Indonesia (2015–2016). Berghuis is the author of "Performance Art in China" (Hong Kong: Timezone 8, 2006), the first comprehensive study in English mapping the development of performance art in China from 1979 to 2006.