Curator - Sun Dongdong : The “Two Moments”in a Contemporary Art Collection
In 1981, “Time is money, efficiency is life“, a slogan emerged out of the Shekou industrial district in Shenzhen. It was in the early phase of China’s economic opening and reforms. Sharing an equal importance to the political adage, “white cat, black cat” - popular phrase in Deng Xiaoping’s agenda to develop China’s market economy. This then new concept is now installed on Shekou’s Time Square, and became a monument to mark a time of entrepreneurship.
Yet, whether the special economic zones in their early phase, or the later “world factory”, and the “Free Trade Areas” set up in response to the recent new economic status, it’s fair to claim that it would be unlikely for the Chinese to discover another city like Shenzhen, one that has been present throughout the course of experimenting with economic models in the four decades of economic reforms. If we see it from the angle of Immanuel Wallerstein’s system of the world, Shenzhen rose from a small town on the southeastern coast to becoming a modern metropolis that match Hong Kong in its GDP, its success tracing back to China’s proactive engagement in the global movement of capitalist economy. As a result, we are also witnessing the constant shift of order between “the “center and the periphery”.
One of the venues of “Two Moments”, You Space is located in the Nanhai E-Cool Creative Industry Park. Much like the well-known 798 Art District in Beijing, formerly a factory space, however had little to do with the planned economy in the socialist era. By the end of 1982, six levels of factory spaces were built to attract foreign investments, and in September 1983, the Japanese Sanyo Ltd was first stationed here and launched its first production line in Mainland China. In the two decades ensued, nearly one hundred labor-intensive enterprises have been stationed here, until the local investment bureau recalled the real estate in 2005. It was then remodeled into “Nanhai E-Cool”. Over the short three decades, “Nanhai E-Cool” experienced two rounds of de-territorialized production space, the first of which, in restaging the history of capitalist possibility by creating an influx of farm labor; on the other hand, the flow of currency as a means for the exchange of capital – both confluent of the modernity and desire for urbanization, in the nation’s becoming of an export-oriented economic model based on population dividends. Whether it is Shenzhen or China, the rapid GDP growth was largely a result of the cheap labor force influx from the countryside to the cities.
We are well aware that the peak of China’s population dividend has passed, reflected through “Nanhai E-Cool” second round of deterritorialized production space, in response to the previous round of re-territorialization. According to Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, re-territorialization represents the power component of capitalism, because the private individual seize of surplus values hinders further investment into social production. In other words, the deterritorialization of capitalist system of production allows freedom in various practices. Through abiding to all axioms of law in market exchange it shifts the limitations on the appreciation of surplus value. The former, Marx has called a moment of dogmatism, and the latter, a moment of piety. These two moments are like the front and back in the same process of capitalism.
As an upgrade of the enterprise, “Nanhai E-Cool” may not fully manifest the significance of its second round of capital deterritorialization – “Free trade area” are set up in Shekou, its long term vision is to re-establish regional order among Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Macau, it is an proactive construct for a “burgeoning” nation as it lays eyes on the new international order. Obviously, we are bearing witness to a capitalist national image – yet any ideological judgment would be suspended by political slogans such as “white cat, black cat”. Nevertheless, capitalizing is still an effective judgment, at least its effects are manifesting on every level of our economy.
As an exhibition of a contemporary art collection, “Two Moments” not only presents the global structure, at the same time, it infers to the capitalist framework that supports the overall structure. Here, Dahn Vo’s We The People and Yang Fudong’s Seven Intellectuals of the Bamboo Forest are like the two facades of contemporary desire. Dahn Vo deconstructs the image of the Statue of Liberty, and exhibits its fragments in various parts of the world, presenting a fluidity to the work’s conceptual front, whereas the melancholic youth in Yang Fudong’s work, rather than considering them as metaphors for intellectual ennui, they may also be a phenomenology of desire, the process of life is a production variation, making a process to “escape”, who eventually return to the city, to a even greater machine for desires.
A world of multiplicity – contemporary art is the projection of the contemporary spectacle. The differences in our lives are integrated with the axiom of capitalist mechanism, where works with different texture and material, or even conceptually conflicting may be acquired into one collection. Based on the axiom of capitalist mechanism, contemporary art as objects has flattened the differences among them. From this perspective, contemporary art is more akin to a profession rather than a specialty – in fact, as a system of the industry, contemporary art is a form of the capitalist re-territorialization whereby on the one hand we enjoy its aesthetics, on the other, we discover certain criticality, as both aspects would be roped into “ an inseparable homogeneity”. Therefore, the “two moments” of this exhibition reprograms. Here, the political anxiety in Hong Kong, and over there, a young artist being slapped in the face in Wuhan – the goal of the exhibition is not to appreciate their differences, but to rebuild a point of view and desire, to expose the displacement of subjectivity in order to retrieve a path for contemplating subjectivity.
If we come back to the subject of capitalism, when we realize perhaps capitalism has succeeded, then what is capitalist success are they fighting for – and for “me”, would I agree with them?