Social Forums for a Different Democracy: Key Artistic Strategies of Chinese Socially Engaged Art in the 21st Century


It is the goal of this presentation to analyze how do some recent Chinese socially engaged art experiment a different democracy than the western paradigm. An in-deep study of art project Everyone's East Lake (2010-2014) will be introduced. East Lake is the biggest tourist attraction in Wuhan city of China, whereas, in recent ten years, increasing real estate projects have been invading her surface. This project called for artists and the public to do artworks along the lake to declare their civil rights for the common land, meanwhile, to protest the construction of a big amusement park. During three terms in four years, 116 artists(groups) created 133 artworks of all-media, including visual art, performances, and performing arts. As many of the creations interacted with the audience, and several relative public seminars were held, this project functioned as a "Social Forum" coined by me in my PhD research. It refers to a type of socially engaged art addressing particular social issues and endeavouring to build a platform for public discussion. In a nation where the freedom of speech is often not guaranteed, a Social Forum has a significant meaning as an artistic substitute for democracy in China. Namely, a "social interstice" adapted by Nicholas Bourriaud from Karl Max, which is an independent space in the society excluding political and economic regulations. Thus, it is critical to ask, what are the unique artistic strategies of these projects? What kind of democracy do Chinese artists want to achieve by these strategies?

Author Information
Weiwei Sun, Ghent University, Belgium

Paper Information
Conference: ECAH2020
Stream: Arts - Social

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Posted by James Alexander Gordon