“Jungle” was by no means one of those ordinary name-dropping group shows of Chinese contemporary artists, even though its presentation was familiar: more than sixty artists at its opening, a list that might be described as long and exhaustive, covering artists of every age bracket and working in many different media. Fortunately the show was aimed at displaying Chinese contemporary art’s experimental side and was organized by artists recommending their peers; two factors which prevented the show from slipping into the empty mediocrity of the “big exhibition” and in fact showed off quite a few signs of life. If the show is as its title describes, the jungle in question was more of a congenial Sherwood Forest than the deep dark woods; no survival of the fittest here.
As such, the works in the show were mostly used to create an atmosphere to describe the intricate relationships within this ecology. Some familiar old works inevitably appeared, including Liu Wei’s What You See is Mine No. 3 (2006). Across from this small section cut from a washing machine was another work of small dimensions from an oft-exhibited series, Metal Language, made by Xu Zhen in the wake of his “MadeIn” name change. The works of these two “key figures” were predictably installed in the entrance corridor of Platform’s Space A, but here the importance of these artists could be connected to the artistic traditions of Shanghai, Hangzhou and the China Academy of Art, and not simply the artists’ fame as individuals. Forming a contrast to these was Sui Jianguo’s The Dress Becomes Tower installed in the entrance to Space B—a cement cube enclosing one of the artist’s famous Mao suit molds, embedded into the double context of the Central Academy of Fine Arts and Beijing’s experimental art history and present. But this use of school ties or regional connections could only comprise a rough outline of the hidden ecology of this “Jungle”; the inside story still lay in the more trifling details of relationships between teachers and students, classmates and (studio) neighbors.
Visitors unfamiliar with contemporary Chinese art and lacking a guide doubtless felt utterly lost in this jungle of artwork spreading across Platform’s two exhibition spaces. But while Caochangdi is an important Beijing art gallery district, it is still not the first choice for visiting art lovers, something that may go some way toward explaining “Jungle’s” inordinately long exhibition period. The show’s determined portrayal of its different constituent communities made the work of artists (particularly young artists) seldom seen on the Beijing beat stand out in what might be called an effort to maintain biodiversity. For example, the interest in machines and science evinced in the installation work of artists like Guo Xi, Lu Yang and Li Fuchun made for a striking expressive contrast to that of their elders. While artists such as Sun Xun, Liang Shuo, Qiu Xiaofei and Jia Aili work in different media, they all focus on the same problem: how to manage the relationship between artwork, space and the senses, a new trend in the experiments of some young artists. And what “Jungle” could really boast of was not its so-called portrayal of the experimental ecology of Chinese contemporary art, but rather its use of descriptive rhetoric to plot out the situation of these young artists. Sun Dongdong