The 11th Annual Conference
Reinventing Tradition in Contemporary Chinese art
10-11 September, 2018
School of Art, Birmingham City University
Margaret Street, Birmingham, B3 3BX, England
Tradition stands in the first instance for the heritage – including its intangible dimensions – of cultural activities and products whose possible extinction is now sharply profiled by relentless social adjustments to standardised industrial production, transnational distribution, mass marketing, centralised media flows, and patterns of imagination. In China, traditions have been interrupted. During the early development of the People’s Republic of China, major cities were industrialised and historical architecture was severely neglected. The Cultural Revolution (1966-76) provided an extraordinary example of political mobilisation directed against the material and cultural vestiges of the past. Since the 1980s, the pace of globalisation and the force of its reshaping influences have posed a serious threat to the sustainability of Chinese traditions, as Western culture has permeated Chinese cities and accelerated their ‘internationalisation’. Urbanisation and tourism have turned Chinese traditional art and crafts from indigenous to touristic and commercial, from the ‘local’ to the ‘global’. Today in China, much of what is described as ‘traditional’ is no longer part of an everyday reality, but is instead a transformed panoply of material culture, ranging from the discrete displays of museum cases to monumental structures of historical significance.
To reflect critically upon this cultural anxiety, will tradition reinvent the past for the future and translate from China to the world? This unique situation in China provides contemporary artists with challenges and opportunities, as traditions are constantly reassessed, and reinvented. Looking towards the fragmented traditions, artists stand in various positions favourable to reimagining, appropriating and subverting the processes that traditional art and crafts have long used, harnessing their symbolic potential and exploiting their cultural resonances. Through their practices, artists re-examine, draw from and are inspired by traditions, which include techniques, forms and materials, as well as aspects of their intangible cultural heritages; they reflect critically upon their current situations and its implications to the present and future, and ultimately, they reposition Chinese contemporary art in the international arena.
This conference will be part of the conclusions of the two-year Leverhulme International Network project, ‘Everyday Legend’ (2016-18). Led by CCVA at Birmingham City University, the international partners of the project also include the New Century Art Foundation andthe Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, University of Groningen, Goldsmiths College, University of London, and the White Rabbit Contemporary Chinese Art Collection in Sydney.