2020" Research-based Curatorial Project" Finalists

This is the third year of “Research-based Curatorial Project” executed by OCAT Institute, and it is also a very special year. The global pandemic COVID-19 has brought enormous challenges and changes to human society. Affected by the epidemic, we have to stay at home for a long time, many companies and organiztions have been forced to close, and the whole world is pulled to a halt. Because of the epidemic, many artists' and curators' work plans have been put on hold or cancelled. The operating mode of art institutions have changed, and many offline exhibitions and public activities have been shifted online. However, it also seems to be the epidemic that allows us to stop in the midst of such a fast-paced social development and have more time to create, think and transform ourselves.


From the open call released on January 23 this year to the deadline of April 15, OCAT Institute received a total of 50 submissions of complete curatorial projects. Among these, 38 were submitted in Chinese and 12 in English; 37 were independent proposals and 13 were joint. Due to this epidemic, many curatorial proposals in our submissions explore the relationship, development and transformation between human and nature, animals, the environment, cities and science /technology. Topics such as female image, family relations, archival documents, photography and film, body and performance are also focused by many curators. The preliminary evaluation was continuously carried out through online meetings and emails. After more than a month of review and discussion, with the research-based emphasis of this initiative in mind, the OCAT Institute team selected six finalists (in alphabetical order):


Cai Yixuan, Cao Xuefei   

QiWu: Natural Footprint in Geopolitical Vicissitude


Claire Shiying Li, Chris Zhongtian Yuan   

An Exhibition, A Cynic with Pleasure


Lux Yuting Bai   

The Animal That Therefore I Am


Yizhuo Li    

Viral Transmission:A Medium in Between


Yu Weiying     

City, Sound, Lightness: Moving Boundaries and Fictional Narratives


Zhou Lei     

COVID19: From A to Z Toward A Sound & SEEDesign Society


The epidemic has now eased in China and the OCAT Institute has reopened after being closed for four months. OCAT Institute is planning to exhibit these six proposals in September 2020. A workshop will be organized during the exhibition, which will be conducted both online and offline. Led by OCAT Institute’s executive director Professor Wu Hung and several guest jurors, the workshop intends to engage each curatorial project in dialogue.


Professor Wu Hung and the OCAT Institute team will make a final decision after considering feedback from the guests and audience to each proposal. The final selection will be released on our official website and WeChat platform, and the winning proposal will be curated at OCAT Institute in 2021.


OCAT Institute would like to hereby thank the curators, researchers, artists and organizations who participated in this curatorial project, as well as everyone who supported the OCAT Institute.


Due to the impact of the epidemic, the selected project of the “2019 Research-based Curatorial Project”, Archiving the Spaces of Anxiety: From the Burrow to the Peach Colony (Curator: Chen Shuyu) which was originally planned to be held in May 2020, will be postponed. The exhibition schedule will be subject to the development of international epidemic containment efforts and will be announced by the official platform of OCAT Institute once it is finalized.

About Research-Based Curatorial Project


The Research-Based Curatorial Project is a program launched by OCAT Institute with the aim of encouraging curatorial research in conjunction with exhibition curating. Since its inauguration in 2015, OCAT Institute has organized and presented a number of research-based exhibitions, including "La Mémoire Brûle,"  "An Exhibition about Exhibitions," "Sites and Images," and "Metapictures," as well as their related academic research activities, and has been devoted to the collection, organization and preservation of archives of contemporary art and exhibitions. Dedicated to discovering and facilitating art research programs and comprehensive exhibition of the research results, this curatorial project aims to provide institutional guidance and resources for outstanding young scholars and curators in the fields of contemporary art and art history, and build a platform that promotes communications in the arena of the arts.



About the Shortlisted Proposals


QiWu: Natural Footprint in Geopolitical Vicissitude

Curators: Cai Yixuan, Cao Xuefei

Curatorial Team: Conversazione

As a significant factor to adjust the geopolitical structure, the natural environment is often overshadowed, meaning that the function and rationality in modern cities is based on the denial of nature. Benjamin Bratton sketches the structure of the contemporary world as STACK, which is encompassed by the incalculable technological devices based on the geopolitics, and orients the modern ecology and shapes the perceptions, cognitions and human emotions. Beyond the analytical illumination of the nexus of nature, media objects, infrastructures, and humans, the exhibition perceives the world by more affective approaches. Thoughts, emotion and cultural atlas are gestated by different modes of perception in various regions. In the context of Ancient China, Chuang Tzu’s The Equality of Things and Opinions is not explanatory, but to resonate with plural senses and place the nature, spirits and organics in the breath. The breath is not the breath, ‘ it is as the nose, the mouth, the ears, forms a fence, a circle, a mortar.’ The conception of Qiwu(All things are identical) denotes the continuity of the breath, organics and devices; the breath is in air, but morphs the weather through the transformation of water, cloud, and ice, and shapes the climates in different regions. The sensibilities toward breath in Qiwu interlace with the urban configuration, evoking human emotions and casting in ethnographies and cultures. In this exhibition, we want to portray the correlation between human and nature(clouds, oceans and rivers, morning fog, vegetation and wind) with the aesthetics of QiWu, presenting a sense of beauty and praxis based on Chinese geography. However, the built environment is often the opposite, breeding in the intertwined geopolitics, presenting a binary opposition of subject and object. The primary tension in this exhibition is the antagonism between geopolitics and the QiWu aesthetics.

Such tension is manifested in our regional studies: the natural resource and typology often promote the establishment of port trade, industrial infrastructure, and even the bitcoin mines in the era of techno-industrialization. Changes in the geospatial configuration driven by the environment also breed different emotional traits, such as the sense of speed and anxiety under the muggy and steamy environment in highly-dense Hong Kong, the bleak mood generated under the northern continental climate in the post-industrial city, and the ambiguous emotion within spatial and temporal stagger in karst water in southwest China. In these geopolitical studies, we follow the thread from natural climate to human emotions, probing through media archeology. Through media, such as Wardian Box, The Clock of Long Now, Vacuum Tube Amplifier and Satellite Debris in the turntable, we intend to uncover the connection between natural events and human events is revealed in historical moments. The turntable is also a metonymy based on Chuang Tzu’s theory, and through silk prints and dynamic design, the audience's sightline is re-oriented into four zones: Tropical Air, Water Nomadism, Steel Memory and Space Hegemony. The exhibition braid the QiWu aesthetics with geopolitical configuration, retracing the integration of the natural environment with geopolitics and social lifes. 

An Exhibition, A Cynic with Pleasue

Curators: Claire Shiying Li, Chris Zhongtian Yuan

After the epidemic, many characteristics of the post-globalization era are becoming more prominent. Artists are getting better at self-entertaining in small groups like early punks with an attitude of cynic with pleasure. Noticed many new works are created under such situations, we think of many diaspora artists who are committed to uncertainties in terms of “identity”. Their works show their individual thinking on cultures crossing in fluidity. In this exhibition, we invite artists who are in dialogue with multi-cultural society to present their raw emotions and life observations by video in order to find emerging creative forces out of ever-more complex contradictions in the post-globalization era. As more exhibition press these days is written in personal style, we also intend to break through traditional curatorial thinking by revealing the conversation between the curator and the artist and engaging the public to participate in the curatorial narrative. After entering the dramatized narration of the exhibition, each encounter between the public and the video work opens up possibilities of creating a new personal private dialogue.



The Animal That Therefore I Am 

Curator: Lux Yuting Bai 

The global crisis of coronavirus pandemic has led human beings to an unprecedented level of uncertainty and disorder that calls for critical reflections on the Anthropocene. Current evidence suggests that the COVID-19 virus emerged from an animal source, yet animals have long been facing extinction and suffering through global warming, industrial farming, experimentation, human recreation, and habitat loss. In the meanwhile, the mainstream culture often presents animals in the abstract, transforming them into figurative devices. The media and the pet industry assign characters to species that evoke sympathy and sentimentality. The current state of affairs urges humans to respond to nonhuman worlds in a more rigorous and less narcissistic manner, not only ethically but also ontologically. Resisting essentialist divisions between culture and nature, the exhibition aims to interrogate alternative ways of addressing human-animal relations in the contemporary world. 

Since Aristotle, hierarchical divides are constructed between humans and animals. The Cartesian subjective/objective distinction further foregrounds the conceptualizations that privilege the human on capacities for reason and language. Literature and psychoanalysis have a long history of employing animals as projections of human imagination and metaphors of the human psyche. Against the liberal humanist tradition, recent philosophers have posed possibilities of deconstructing the ontological boundaries. In 1974, Thomas Nagel’s well-known article “What is it Like to Be a Bat?” argues against reductive materialist accounts of the mind that ignore the complexity of the subjective experience of animals. Similarly, in “The Animal That Therefore I Am,” Jacques Derrida describes his experience being beheld naked by his pet cat in the bathroom, criticizing the prominent assumed “otherness” and the disregard of individual animal subjectivity. Deleuze and Guattari, uprooting the very notion of fixed and stable subjects, express the intimate and non-dialectical process of “becoming-animal.” Donna Haraway proposes that human and nonhuman co-shape one another as part of an intimate entanglement of agency. 

Drawing from Derrida’s inquiry and other thinkers’ animal theory, the exhibition selects artists whose works disrupt anthropocentrism by exploring animal subjectivity and challenging the ontological foundations of human-animal relations. Either performed or presented, rather than represented, the animals in the group of works play as active agents that maintain their point of view. Rejecting symbolism, the artists approach nonhuman through understanding rather than imagination. Collectively, they offer a post-anthropocentric perspective of species equivalence and plurality thus also suggests a chance of liberation from being bound by identities for human beings. 

Viral Transmission: A Medium in Between

Curator: Yizhuo Li

In a time of panic, or panic of escalating panic, how do we reconcile the geopolitical borders that are simultaneously dissolved and reinforced by viral transmission? How can we make art when we witness, and in not a few cases, experience the dreadful spread of a virus while confined home and barred from productive activities? Is art, however illusorily, a promising antidote to the fear of the unseen and unknown? This exhibition argues to foreground their technographic thinking in a multifaceted entwinement of personal narratives and an intermedial fable of our time. The tale further reaches for novelty in the eye of machines and sensory apparatuses. 

Airborne infections appear to have achieved an ultimate transmissive efficiency—the messenger is the message. This year since March, public programs have been canceled or postponed globally, leaving art in an imaginary state suspended between an archived press release and an upcoming event. The uncertainty is no news—art might have been always dwelling in such an imaginary sphere, nimbly inverting spatial relations and casually navigating its habitat on and beneath, or even in and out of, the surface. How is a virus supposed to transplant itself into a liquefied cell whose membrane is mobile and discernment of othering/belonging questionable? 

 “Television is a medium because it is neither rare nor well done”; this quotable remark attributed to Ernie Kovacs, the pioneering TV comedian, is a telling testimony on our hybrid age of advancement and haphazard. In fact, we would baffle ourselves to name one thing that is either rare or well done; in other words, everything prospectively becomes a medium and a medium of a medium, followed by an infinite derivation. The above fallacy will by no means bear scrutiny, given its mischievous semantic plays, but serves as a metaphor for our society’s impulsive dissolution of cognitive dissonance. Every time confronted by frictions and schisms, we tend to seek shelter in an anthropocentric construct of consistency. In its dawning decades, video was celebrated as a capable conduit—affordable, portable, and amenable for the restive search of social changes—that activated expressive desires instead of merely satisfying a want. Parallelled to the pathogenic mechanism that viruses prey on and die of, this reflexivity has grown beyond a specific medium and has accumulated to a form that hopefully invites investigation into its generative impulse and condition. 


City, Sound, Lightness: Moving Boundaries and Fictional Narratives 

Curator: Yu Weiying  

An azure island on planet Murjek stands somewhere in the universe, and occasionally, a faster-than-light spaceship arrives. Few visitors on an empty grandstand silently watch the original mechanical body, the final piece left by the artist, Zima, which is a slow swimmer focusing on cleaning blue pool tiles. Visitors gaze stubbornly and longingly as if waiting for something, or recalling the pure experience of pleasure in the depths of a distant memory. One of the audience members is Alastair Reynolds, a British novelist who chronicles this fictional future artist’s story. I learn about the artist Zima from Netflix’s 2019 science fiction animated series “Love, Death + Robots.” I think the stories of artists in the future would also be about artificial intelligence, multi-dimensional art creation, and the exploration of the truth of space.

In 2020, humanity is still living in cities on the earth, facing the daily realities and looking up at the unknown. City, Sound, Lightness: Moving Boundaries and Fictional Narratives ponders on the fusion, refutation, and experience of future art and technology—from the representation of life in a “postmodern” context to the pursuit of deep self-consciousness towards the virtual digital space in the form of virtual experience. Since the 1960s, the evolution of science fiction literature and popular culture characterized by cyberpunk has presented moving boundaries of fictional narratives. Human civilization and future world based on a high-tech development where homo sapiens and artificial intelligence replicas fall into an illusory philosophical swamp and a poetic aesthetic imagination—“All these moments will pass with time. Everything is like tears and disappears in the rain.”

The theme of this research-based curatorial project and the work of artists are designed to revisit the paradox of future cities and free will under cyberpunk and dystopian aesthetics, focusing on the field that interacts with the body through listening to sound and rhythm, thus expanding the discussion of the future boundaries of artistic imagination. In the future, artists would be able to experience everything in the universe beyond the earth in a transformed mechanical body as Zima, will artistic creation extend to more distant infinite spaces or return to its beginning on the earth?


COVID19: From A to ZToward A Sound & SEEDesign Society

Curator: Zhou Lei

”(entomb), “”(eclipsed), “”(hallucinated murmur), “”(rememberance), “”(alas), “”(plague)—These six characters are all pronounced as Yi in Chinese resonating with psychedelic connotations due to their polyphonic mimicry of mantra and associations with current catastrophic COVID-19 plague. To the author, the polyphony and polysemy trait of Chinese characters carry essential meme system and signs regime, which enable the language users for the purpose of representation and transgressions. The malaise of this world, begins with corruptions of sound regime and followed by image-centered visual decadence. Therefore, the curator of this project attempts to create a cohort of new sound-visual regime, by mimicking the soundscape of Sanskrit mantra “Oṃ Maṇi Padme Hūṃ” (the mélange of sound and visual installations and documenta used here as ritualistic and sacrificial objects for those deceased and suffering public impacted by Corona-virus). This project intends to reflect the dominion of visual centralism as a regime, by corroborating and confronting it with auditory narratives, as a result, contemplating the possibility of new sound kinship system, might be written as Tingship system (ting means hearing, as  in Chinese). 

The collapse of the world, if this is the ghastly fact we are dealing with, should be heard, in its inception, not be seen. In terms of human epistemology, the numbness of senses, give rise to the decadence of ontological world. Nowadays, those who believe in traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine; those who believe in the "West" and those who believe in the "East"; those who believe in "nature" and those who believe in "conquering nature" are hopelessly disentangled with no gray zone between.  These disagreements lead to countless scourges, which in turn cause endless polemic strife and disasters ensued. As long as we dominated by “seeing is believing regime”, what you hear is not important and often disdained as hearsay.

One phrase Laozi often being quoted: Good fortune follows upon disaster and disaster lurks within good fortune.In Chinese, happiness pronounced the same with bat—which linking directly to the deadly Corona-virus; the happiness is also rime perfectly with another character , “which means magnificent and ornate textiles”.

There is an inherent fallacy in human beings’ cognitive faculty when we attempt  to harness viruses by collecting them from nature and have them study under vigilant and scientific gaze, in this manner, we anticipate reside in a land of carefree, whilst keep the lethal virus at the bay. As we suffering from the failure due to the logic of combating virus by using virus, the prevalent method for us to tide through this COVID purgatory is herd immunity. The system we relying on heavily is a seeing-is-believing regime, stems from laboratory apparatus, which focused exclusively on sight and visual evidences. And this cognitive regime can at least trace its root as far back as the Evangelista Torricelli’s experiment on the barometer. In Chinese, the connotation of intelligent or smart is written as 聪明,聪 actually means good hearing capacity,明means good visual capacity. Interestingly, the Chinese character “hearing” traditionally written as 聪,with its left part denotes an ear, and right part denotes morality, hence, at least to those early users of Chinese, hearing is a morality based on listening and hearing. In contrast, the simplification version of hearing prevalent now in Chinese is written as 听,with its left part a mouth, and right part an axe, how can you possibly hear anything if you constantly talking and carrying an axe?

At the same time, regardless of the East or the West, there is also a cognitive regime that stems from auditory apparatus, which is a “sound regime” that reflects introspectively as well as listening to the invisible. Deafness is more dangerous than blindness for human beings, our mouth will make us deaf. Maybe that explains why when we are taught to drive a car, we are not supposed to checking on any screens or other visual distractions, but multi-tasking on hearing assignments are not frowned upon. With this spirit, we stole one terminology from visual regime—anatomy—and applied here to examination of  ostensibly intangible sounds. In fact, the sound is a form of architecture and silence is also a kind of sound. This is common sense that has been forgotten by most in the modern world.

Languages begin with the audio-visual synergy. People know through senses, construe through perceiving, processing through cognizance. Writing system and rigid regulation on fixity of sound is attempts of dominion for complaining murmurs and polemic shouts. Writing system based on visuality make communication exact, but at the same time keep many other possibilities and opinions muted. 

The use of hearing as a guiding principle inevitably leads to a confusion of opinions and chaotic debates. However, the subjectivity of the cognitive theory of hearing can trickle down from revelation of nature, cognizance of world, to an ambidextrous wrist, with calligraphy brush in hand, transporting the meanings from invisible but audible/prototypical/ sounds onto the paper as communicative scenarios, couch in form of visual characters, but must be read in different tones. The archaeology of knowledge and examination of knowledge regime begins with visual chisel but must ends with audible brush.   

Furthermore, this six-character mantra is also an audible elegy for the lives lost in the epidemic. According to this clue, this project is entitled as audible epidemic documenta, which is divided into six chapters: 1. Six-Character Mantra; 2. Manuscripts; 3. Original Musical Ritual piece; 4. Botanical Architecture: Sound architecture sequence; 5. Solitary Mount, Geshan Monologue; 6. Raintears.