what is lost in the conversation about government control of artistic (and other) expression in Chinese context is, basically, all the rest. of course, there are those like Ai Weiwei whose primary concern is the quality of political discourse in the public sphere. there are many, though, who are otherwise concerned. The dangerous, or just bad, assumption I find in much reporting on China is that the “other” concerns are somehow secondary to the strictly and actually very narrowly defined political. Perhaps even more to the point, the more subtle forms of political dissent, which are in the long run more effective precisely because the elude censorship, are more worthy of attention than, say, street demonstrations or self-sacrificing political maneuverings.
Looking at Xu Yong’s 798 Space photography exhibition from April, 2010, for instance, we find an expert blurring of lines:
A Tiananmen so rendered is free to accrue meanings more broad and resonant than any particularized act of rebellion might (useful as those might be). Similarly, the oft-reviewed tank image (1989 student protests) undergoes almost complete dissipation, again opening it up to more subtle readings.
Not that Xu always works with this blurred method. His last exhibition in the same space was of a different variety, although one which I find even more powerfully interventionary. For while the Euroamerican West is clamoring for more capitalist-based liberalization of Chinese society, old features of a market economy are taking shape. One case in point being the relatively rampant sex culture that develops apace with nouveau-riche Chinese business experience. It is this that Xu Yong 徐勇, teamed up with bar hostess and artist Yu Na 俞娜 explore in their exhibition “解决方案“
I would argue, along with many others, that one of the real threats to Chinese artists comes ironically from the very free-market that underpins the entire exercise of expression in the contemporary period. The strategy for many (extending back into Political Pop of the 1980s) has been to comment ironically on the same market that, a strategy which has served artists well for the past twenty years or so. Now, however, having taken over entirely from the Maoist-era art production machine, we see a similar machine-like cranking out works according to a different but no less confining dictum: “make what you want, as long as it sells.”