Challenge the Changes: Works of Four Young Contemporary Chinese Artists
The Chinese artists Ma Liang, Yang Yongliang, Chi Peng, and Zhu Feng all began their careers after the year 2000. Having grown up in the unstable and transient realities of China in the 1980s and 1990s, they have experienced the ongoing challenges of a changing society. But rather than focusing on a nostalgic view of the past, their work questions the present and looks to the future. Drawing on the power of the new millennium and standing on the shoulders of giants—not just from their own country, but also from an international, intergenerational, and interactive global network—they look ahead and step forward.
This new generation of artists builds on the work of its predecessors, in particular Xu Bing and Ai Weiwei, who brought international recognition to contemporary Chinese art. It also looks to Hong Lei, who at the end of the last millennium initiated an experiment in the reinterpretation of Chinese painting via new media such as photography, and to Miao Xiaochun, who began a trend of producing large-scale imagery via digital technology and computer graphics.
Inspired by all of these practices, the younger generation continues the investigation of Chinese classics through new media. Ma Liang and Yang Yongliang reinterpret Chinese classical painting, displaying a changed attitude toward the past. Having benefited from the enlarged global context for contemporary Chinese art enabled by the older generation, the young artists also focus on testing the characteristics of the medium itself. For instance, Zhu Feng mimics Thomas Ruff’s Stars (1989–92) and pushes the ambiguity of photography to an extreme, while Chi Peng explores the narrative capability of digital media while telling stories of his generation. These artists take a global perspective in questioning and challenging where and how to locate the current situation of Chinese culture. Ma Liang’s installation work and Zhu Feng’s photographs focus on their personal experiences in the United States. The self, beyond anything else, is the essential core of their work.
One hundred years ago the great Chinese philosopher Feng Youlan asked another great poet-philosopher, Tagore of India, if the difference between Eastern and Western culture was one of “type” or one of “grade.” Today, the young generation of artists is more pragmatic. The answer is always there; it is simply waiting for them to grab it.