2019 Research-based Curatorial Project: Shortlist Exhibition

Duration:  August 24November 24, 2019


Opening:  August 24, 2019


Workshop: 14:00–17:00

Opening:  17:00–18:00


Address: OCAT Institute, Jinchanxilu, Chaoyang District, Beijing 

Organizer: OCAT Institute                

Support: OCT Group Co., Ltd.


From August 24th to November 24th , “2019 Research-based Curatorial Project: Shortlist Exhibition” will be on show at OCAT Institute, exhibiting curatorial proposals of the seven finalists.


Since its debut year, the “Research-based Curatorial Project” in 2019 has made further explorations, established greater progress, and received closer attention. During the three-month submission period of OCAT Institute’s second "Research-based Curatorial Project” in 2019, we received 45 submissions of complete curatorial projects. With the research-based emphasis of this initiative in mind, Professor Wu Hung and the OCAT Institute team have selected seven finalists- Infancy and History (curators: Andris Brinkmanis, Paolo Caffoni, Yin Shuai), Archiving the Spaces of Anxiety: From the Burrow to the Peach Colony (curator: Chen Shuyu), Rethinking Ethnography as Methodology for Art (curator: Duffy Du), Global Echoes: An Anthropology of Sound (curator: Pan Yuxi ), Lions of the Scottish Highlands—Parallel Exhibition of Writing (curators: Pocono Zhao Yu, Rie Kung ), The Persistence of Light and Sound (curators: Rupert Griffith, Zhu Xinwei), and The Story of Finding Differences—Human Trace, Intercity, and Transformation of the World (curators: Wang Huan, Wang Ziyun).


Reflecting on established historical narrative and theories, capturing the obscurities that lurk behind social phenomena, or focusing on artistic form and methodology, the seven shortlisted proposals are all clear and distinctive in their respective research subjects and fields. If last year’s finalists reflect the dynamic ideas and energy in contemporary Chinese curating through great diversity of content and method, then this year’s finalists reflect a greater plural and international range.


A workshop will be held during the opening of the exhibition, in which OCAT’s executive director Professor Wu Hung, academic director Mr. Guo Weiqi, and guest jurors Mr. Zhu Qingsheng, Ms. Karen Smith, and Mr. Feng Feng will engage the curators and their respective projects in dialogue. Taking into consideration feedback from guest jurors and the audience, a final decision about the winning proposal will be made. The final selection will be released on our official website and WeChat platform, and the winning proposal will be curated at the OCAT Institute in the spring of 2020.


Public Activity


2019 Research-based Curatorial Project Workshop

Time: 14:00–17:00  August 24th  2019

Venue: OCAT Institute

Review committee: Wu Hung, Zhu Qingsheng, Karen Smith, Feng Feng, Guo Weiqi

Participants: Andris Brinkmanis, Paolo Caffoni, Yin Shuai, Chen Shuyu, Duffy Du, Pan Yuxi,  Pocono Zhao Yu, Rie Kung, Rupert Griffith, Zhu Xinwei, Wang Huan, Wang Ziyun 

About the Shortlisted Proposals


Infancy and History

Curators: Andris Brinkmanis, Paolo Caffoni, Yin Shuai


The exhibition project Infancy and History takes its title and inspiration from the renowned collection of essays published in 1978 by Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben in which, departing from the problem of experience, he proposes a particular theory of childhood. In this case, the gaze towards infancy becomes a powerful tool and method of analysis, allowing to deconstruct the dominant narratives of history as well as those of the present.


In his reflections on the relationship between ritual/game, historical continuity and discontinuity in the West, Agamben describes a conception of history closely linked to the perception of time that underlies it: with the beginning of modernity and the rectilinear concept of time, its linear homogeneity, structured according the time of manufacturing work in the time of global metropolis and colonial explorations. At the very base of this conception of history resides a Western ideology of progress that defines both the development of the “biological body” from childhood to maturity, as well as the “cultural body” from the primitive to the modern.


The exhibition Infancy and History wants to assume the form of a collection and an assembly of various objects, research materials, and artistic works, aiming to render visible those “discourses of things” and gestures, which still can allow us to reread and re-interpret history. Each of materials gathered in this exhibition bear historical witness to its own cultural background, to the emergence and gradual mutation of the perception and understanding of the notion “childhood” in different geographical and historical contexts.


In this sense, the museum is an exemplary space, where objects are placed in a particular sphere, disconnected from their original use value. This space also preserves a set of rules and regulations, of which only children are still capable of subverting. In this case, the exhibition’s display aims to render visible those limits, opening up a discussion on how these cultural codes could be critically evaluated and eventually “profaned” not only in the museum but also in the social and political space.


Archiving the Spaces of Anxiety: From the Burrow to the Peach Colony

Curator: Chen Shuyu


Archiving the Spaces of Anxiety takes its form from a transitional path that links Kafkas unfinished short story The Burrow (1923–1924) and Wu Lis painting White Cloud and Green Mountain (1668), by looking into a set of intertwining relations between the external space that surrounds us, and the internal space that belongs to our body and our feelings. 


In The Burrow, Kafka writes about an unknown creature tortured by anxiety and who thus keeps building his underground world in search of perfect security. Whereas Wu Li, in his long handscroll, paints a gateway that connects the real world to the world of illusion, interpreting one of the most well-known Utopian stories in Chinese literature,The Fable of the Peach Blossom Spring by Tao Yuanming (365–427), also translated as The Peach Colony by Lin Yutang. The spatial experience created in literary imagination and artworks offer us a position to reflect on the real space in which “the erosion of our lives, our time and our history occurs” (Of Other Spaces by Michel Foucault, 1967).  


Together with seven artists who research, act, and create around different types of spatial concepts, the curator proposes to construct a new “spatial archive” of artworks that explores anxiety in relation to a perceived physical space and an imagined inner space. This also emphasizes the experimental “spatial curation” of this project—how to create specific locations, relationships, and contexts for a series of “spatial archives” in an exhibition space so that “spatial archives” and “archival space” mutually propel and expand each other in a heterotopia of subjects and places. The viewer experiences their presence from oscillating between the two and thus encounters the problematics of space—how do we confront spatial anxiety, how do we interrogate the spaces that determine our existence? 


The exhibition and public activities of this curatorial proposal will take anxiety as the gateway to the realm of idealism and cast light on how space and body mutually construct each other in history and reality. Intertwining paths and reflections are to be explored, from the bodily cavity to the balcony that transgresses the boundary between the private and the public; from the elevated protagonist to the square where the collective and individual memories merge into each other; from the body structure (körperbau in German) that technologies currently take increasingly hold of, to the social body that turns things around with carnivalesque irony; from the utopian city EUR (Esposizione Universale Roma) to the Asian immigrants living in the underground world; from the mother's room to the temporary folding-screen of heterotopia… When the sun sets it's all red, and we are situated in an empty space in the image as a gap in history, how do we examine the relationship between political, utopian and emotional expressions in words and images?


Rethinking Ethnography as Methodology for Art

Curator: Duffy Du


Walter Benjamin once published the essay “The Author as Producer” theorizing the concept of art production. Hal Foster later put forward “The Artist as Ethnographer?” based on Benjamin’s text, questioning the feasibility of using the methodology of “ethnography” in the creation of art. Rendering advanced modern technologies (video and photography) as a means of mass reproduction, Benjamin shattered classical art theory. Claude Lévi-Strauss (1958) restructured the classic anthropology that once focused on the study of theology and witchcraft. American director Robert Joseph Flaherty uses his fieldworks as the subject of his films in the realm of contemporary art. With the evolution and synthesis of contemporary art and ethnography, we return to Hal Foster’s question—probing whether ethnography can be used as a methodology for artistic creation.


The exhibition takes as its core the rethinking of ethnography “as a methodology for art,” researches and discusses young artists who utilize ethnography as a method of artistic creation. In order to explore the emotions and narratives in works of art, the exhibition features four young artists: Avita Guo, Chih Ying Musquiqui, Okui Lala, and Solveig Suess. Through videos and installations that can be concretely experienced, each artist draws from their socio-cultural background, political-economic environment, and personal experience to explore and study issues of colonialism, immigrant identity, economic development, and personal feelings. The participating artists are united in their examination of art as a possible mediation between methodology and ethnography. The whole exhibition cites the narrative style of the classic ethnographic film “El Abraz de la Serpiente” (2015), which divides the exhibition into three parts: readings, artworks, and discussions.


Global Echoes: An Anthropology of Sound

Curator: Pan Yuxi


Since the second half of the 1990s, sound art has become an independent artistic discipline in global contemporary art despite its ambiguous definition. In 2000, there were three important sound art exhibitions by several leading art institutions in London and New York. These exhibitions influenced Chinese contemporary art curators and artists to begin curating and practicing sound art. In 2013, Museum of Modern Art in New York presented Soundings: A Contemporary Score, an exhibition that explored the complexities and varieties of contemporary sound art. From architectural and performative interventions, to sound visualizations and field recordings, Soundings showcased an ever-expanding field of contemporary art along with many other sound art exhibitions held globally, including RPM: Sound Art China at the 2013 Shanghai West Bund Biennale. In recent years, sound artists are no longer satisfied with just exploring the form of sound and its listening environment as displayed in previous exhibitions. Rather, many of them try to explore the role of sound in global politics, history, and geopolitical relations; to use sound as a code to uncover the dynamics between society and politics, nature and culture, and history and reality.


Global Echoes: An Anthropology of Sound will feature sound artworks by seven contemporary artists from around the world. Utilizing photographs, videos, sculptural installations, field recordings and digital archives, these artists investigate the historical, political, economic, and environmental forces that lie underneath the production, circulation and perception of sound. It seems more fitting to describe them as anthropologists rather than sound artists, as these individuals develop distinct and coherent approaches to an anthropology of diverse sounds in various cultures, historical eras, and natural environments. From the death knell in the Burmese temple to the roaring machine in the sugar factory in Taiwan, from the opening rhythm of the former Yugoslav evening news to the songs of different social classes in the Danish town, and from the urban noise of Hong Kong to the melody of the rock of Gobustan in Azerbaijan, their explorations and reflections bring us into the long-overlooked places and expose us to the “sounds” behind sound. 


Lions of the Scottish Highlands—Parallel Exhibition of Writing

Curators: Pocono Zhao Yu, Rie Kung 


Exhibitions based on novels have become a common sight. For example, Jens Hoffmann's four exhibition adapted from novels in the CCA Wattis project and Stéphanie Moisdon's adaption of Michel Houellebecq's novel The Map and the Territory. In this process of converting text to exhibition, we began to rethink the exhibition hall itself as a new place for storytelling. Unlike screen adaptation of the novel, the exhibition hall is an immersive environment for the viewers inside.


“The Lion of the Scottish Highlands” is a writing project initiated by Pocono ZHAO Yu and Rie Kung. It consists of fifteen articles, written by twelve authors. Unlike a novel, “The Lion of the Scottish Highlands” is a segmented and independent journal. So, in what way can it become an exhibition that parallels the text with continuity? With these questions in mind and the desire to continue writing, we constructed a curatorial plan that is a “parallel exhibition” of writing. The exhibition consists of the works of eight artists including the two curators. The discussion involves four parts: “Negotiation of Real and Fictional,” “Fabrication in Narrative Continuity,” “About Void and How to Fall Into the Void,” and “The Continuation of Time in Fiction.”


In contemporary art’s customary use of narrative techniques, “narrative continuity” requires one or more MacGuffins to function as conceptual indicators and give the artwork a sense of completeness. While the narrative itself often ends up as a kind of MacGuffin of the artistic creation, its significance is not the inherent story, but rather the use of conceptualization to become possible. The “MacGuffin” has become the exhibition; it is its own justification. In other words, the MacGuffin itself is a MacGuffin. In these processes of entanglement and cycles, we all become entwined in this MacGuffin-woven “mega” exhibition.


The Persistence of Light and Sound

Curators: Rupert Griffiths , Zhu Xinwei


Cities are regions of intensity—intensities of movement, communication, encounter, and dwelling. These intensities fill the air with an excess of waves and particles—light, sound, dust, and imperceptible particles. These seemingly immaterial excesses insinuate themselves into our imaginations, our subconscious, and our bodies, creating an urban ambience that is simultaneously phantasmagorical and quotidian, beautiful and pernicious.


By considering the specular and aural qualities of the air in cities, this research-based exhibition asks how artists represent the aural, visual, and particulate noise in the air that surrounds us. It does so by considering artworks that addresses noise and excess and putting them into dialogue with artworks that deal with silence and absence. By developing the exhibition along this line of tension between excess and absence, it will explore how contemporary and historical imaginaries of nature and the urban inform, define, and challenge one another.


The exhibition will approach such works from the academic perspective of cultural geography, considering not only the representations that artists produce but also the practices that they employ, the tools that they use, and the materiality of their work. It will ask how and why artists capture and represent the apparent immateriality of air and give it presence—whether by collecting light, sound, or particles—and how these works frame themselves against cultural constructions of nature. How, for example, do imaginaries of a pristine nature frame artistic discourses and practices that deal with light, sound, or air pollution? Similarly, how do works that address ideas of silence or absence frame themselves against the concepts of nature and the urban?


The Story of Finding Differences—Human Trace, Intercity, and Transformation of the World

Curators: Wang Huan, Wang Ziyun


There is a group of people whose identity has slipped between the cracks. Not solely the “county town youths” as categorized by the Chinese census—now, some of them are even the urban elites who reside in first and second tier cities in China. 


In the past 40 years, China has encountered urbanization at an almost impossible rate. In the 1980s, when more than 80% of the population lived in rural areas, many people strived for and coveted county life. Yet nowadays, young people born in these county towns and rural areas have flowed to larger and more bustling modern cities; the county town has since become a fissured space. Meanwhile, despite that the vast majority of “small town youths” have quickly embraced urban life, many are not well prepared. Their lives are irrevocably forced forward step-by-step. This sense of dislocation is hidden in their living habits, hobbies, personal beliefs, and social relationships.


The exhibition The Story of Finding Differences: Human Trace, Intercity, and Transformation of the World focuses on this group of people with the “county town quality”—who are unnoticed, in constant migration and adaptation, and evade nearly all fixed definitions. By following, piecing together, and consolidating the traces of this “quality,” this curatorial proposal aims to link individual and group, space and territory, object and memory, and attempt to address our common concern: In face of globalization, urbanization, digitalization, and other accelerated challenges, how do people re-encounter the “obscured, localized perspective”? When people are caught off guard by the changes in an accelerating world, how do our psychological line of defense adapt?


This is a group stuck in the cracks. But one could also say that even you and I face this torrent of pressing changes, without making enough conscious adjustments in our positions to establish balance.