On 16th July 2022, “No Gender” kicked off at SEN Museum Chengdu, which features 17 female artists from different cities across China. In the exhibition Preface, the curator Lan Qingwei stated his original intention of “de-gendering” in this exhibition, emphasizing a new way of curating a female group exhibition and a new perspective of understanding female artists’ creations.
On the occasion of the exhibition “No Gender”, CAFA ART INFO invited the curator Lan Qingwei to participate in an interview. Can a female group show be organized without mentioning gender? In the interview, Lan Qingwei elaborated on the exhibition theme and artist selection and shared his viewpoints regarding the historical significance of the female artist group show. Whether “No Gender” can realize “a shift from gender to personality”? Can this exhibition get rid of the label and restrictions brought about by the history of female art, and further provide a unique perspective and standpoint?
Interviewee: Lan Qingwei (Curator, Art History Scholar, and Doctor of Arts)
Interview Date: July 19th, 2022
Interview conducted and trans. by Emily Weimeng Zhou, edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO
Image courtesy of the SEN Museum Chengdu.
CAFA ART INFO: Hello Mr. Lan. First of all, can you share the origin of this exhibition with us? Is it related to the “women” issue that caused a heated discussion at home and abroad this year?
Lan Qingwei: The origin of holding this exhibition is not directly related to the heated discussion of the “women” issue recently. The direct reason comes from the idea proposed in SEN Museum’s exhibition planning last year instead. However, the discussion on the topic of women at home and aboard has indeed become a context for exhibition curating. For curators, it is easy to put forward an exhibition concept, but what is difficult is to realize characteristics and differences. Such a difficulty is exactly what I want to pursue as a curator.
CAFA ART INFO: In the face of the recent attention and heated discussions on the topic of "women" around the world, many group exhibitions featuring female artists have been held in different cities in China. As far as the social environment and research state are concerned, it is completely different from the situation of the 31 Women exhibition organized by Marcel Duchamp in 1943. How do you see this trend? For nearly a century, how has the group show of female artists participated in, influenced and transformed artistic creation and historical research with its unique perspective and method?
Lan Qingwei: Indeed. Since the 31 Women exhibition and the subsequent women’s liberation movement, the issue of “women” has always been topical. In the West, the discussion regarding exhibitions on women reached its peak with the feminism movement. While in China, it was in the 1990s that this topic has been brought into a widespread discussion. After the wars and movements regarding skin color, race and equal rights, the discussion of “women” gradually entered a bottleneck period. As far as the creative method is concerned, it concentrated on “struggling for women’s rights,” “enhancement of female characteristics”, and “female emotional expressions,” among other things. In recent years, the resurgence of international women exhibitions has been influenced and shaped by three factors, namely, the unfinished development of “feminism” in the new media, the reversion of international political rights in women’s rights, and the increasing number of female curators. The proposition of “sexism” always accompanied the whole process, which has been particularly prominent in China in the last few years. In addition, the increasing number of women art exhibitions in China is closely related to the wave of “internet celebrity”. In any case, some female art workers share sweet colors, delicate emotions, sensitive predictions, and maternity brilliance in their artworks, which become the best theme of popular exhibitions on the internet.
Apart from artworks with femininity, the reason why exhibitions with the theme of “women” in China and even the world, have existed for a long time since 2000 and they never lack various attempts—though many exhibitions are merely replicas of Duchamp’s exhibition in 1943, in which lies a sensual pleasure brought about by women. However, such nature and gendered sensual pleasure have not taken any advantage in the writing of art history. Except for the politically correct “female art” chapter and the indispensable female artist, most of the writing on art history retains its “justice,” namely, constituting writing principles of art history with works of art. It, therefore, provides a clue for us to break the bottleneck of art exhibitions on women—to be concerned with the work itself instead of focusing on gender. On the specific path, it requires us to break the stereotypes and barriers of “female,” add more in-depth issues and research perspectives, and break away from superficial forms and conceptualized gender.
CAFA ART INFO: Regarding the exhibition title “No Gender”, as you stated, it refers to a sense of “de-gendering”. Although the exhibition invited 17 female artists to participate, you seem not to discuss the gender-related topics or take such topics as a starting point. Can you talk about the intention and development path of this exhibition in detail? Why are you concerned with the perspective of “de-gendering”?
Lan Qingwei: After the invitation to the exhibition was sent out, I received several questions about the title “No Gender”. The most direct inquiry is since it is a de-gendered exhibition as emphasized, why are the artists in the exhibition all women? Some artists also questioned the exhibition theme after the invitation to participating artists was issued. My answer is relatively simple—no theme. No theme, however, is not to emphasize the de-theming of the exhibition, but to show concern for the individualization and uniqueness of the artists in the exhibition. This is one of the intentions of “No Gender”. The gendered problem of exhibitions composed of female artists will often be amplified, which often obscures the value of the work itself. What “No Gender” would like to emphasize is the artist’s individuality and the artwork’s character. The common aspect formed by this individuality and character can transcend race, nationality, geography, and gender.
I took the perspective of “de-gendering”, and paradoxically chose to use female artists to form the exhibition composition rather than an equal number of male and female artists to form the main body of the exhibition. I made such a decision because I intend to break the vulgarization or superficial nature of a female artist exhibition. Usually, female group exhibitions would be simply labeled as “female art”, “feminism” and “female exhibition”, which imply three different concepts of “sexism”, “sensualism” and “the sweetness of Internet celebrity”. While in the exhibitions composed of men and women, the works of female artists play a more prominent “feminist” role. Therefore, “No Gender” would like to blaze a trail, using common paradigms and anti-paradigm themes to break this stereotypical thinking, trying to evoke a way of reading artworks that discards stereotypes. The intention behind it is to push the exhibition and research work of art to a deeper level, and its most representative path is also emphasized by the “No Gender”, namely, a shift from gender to personality.
CAFA ART INFO: What are your considerations in terms of the selection of artists? How do their creations elaborate the notion of “de-gendering” that you emphasize?
Zhang Yanzi, “Her 24 Solar Terms-Beginning of Spring”, 30x30 cm, Mixed Media, 2022
Zhang Yanzi, “Her 24 Solar Terms-June Solstice”, 98x98 cm, Mixed Media, 2022
Zhang Yanzi, “Her 24 Solar Terms-Autumnal Equinox”, 60x42 cm, Mixed Media, 2022
Zhang Yanzi, “Her 24 Solar Terms-Great Snow”, 50x60 cm, Mixed Media, 2022
Xiong Wenyun, “Colorless Channel”, 200x114cm, Mixed Acrylic Media, 2022
Lan Qingwei: There are several factors intertwined in the process of selecting the artist. In terms of geographical region, half of the participating artists are from Sichuan, and half are from cities outside Sichuan. Regarding artists outside Sichuan, the simplistic geographical concept of “Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen” is highlighted. Among the eight artists from outside Sichuan, two are from Beijing, one is from Guangzhou, one is from Shenzhen, one is from Hangzhou, two are from Wuhan and one is from Chongqing. By doing so, the exhibition hopes to present a wide range of communication and a strong contrast. Specifically, the communication comes from the selection of cross-regional artists across the country. Their works would showcase a diversity that lies in the situational and social influence. Regarding contrast, besides the cross-regional contrast, there is also a regional and national contrast. Through this comparison, I hope to reflect on the current situation of art creations in Sichuan.
Most importantly, regarding selecting artists, I am concerned with the differences in the artists’ personalities. Those who are familiar with the 17 artists in this exhibition may have special feelings that the presentation of various personalities might form the largest diversity on the basis of the notion of “de-”, which transcends the gender of men and women. It is a naturalized division with a common theme that transcends gender.
The diverse artistic perspectives are the best elaboration to the exhibition concept. The works in the “No Gender” reflect on the perspectives of time and life, geography and hometown, classic as materials, technology as language, and painting installations, etc. The artistic perspectives provided by the artists are diverse, brilliant and unique.
Chen Xi, “Inside.Outside No.1, No.2, No.3, No.4”, 230x195cm, Acrylic on Canvas, 2018
Lyu Kangyou, “Who Am I?” , 0.9x1.1m, Mixed Ink and Wash on Paper, 2022
Wang Qingli, “New Interpretation of The Night Revels of Han Xizai” No.10, 120X180cm, Acrylic on Canvas, 2017
Lin Xin, “No Man's Land”, 280x150cm(150x140cm), Oil on Canvas, 2017
Hu Shunxiang, “Looking for ‘Odyssey Brian’”, 138·5x24.5x158cm, Mixed Media, 2016-2018
CAFA ART INFO: The exhibition “Sur-Name”, in which you have participated as a co-organizer last year, also contains the connotations of de-gendering, de-race, etc. It is worth noting that both exhibitions are female group shows, advocating concern for the creation itself instead of the artists’ social identities. Moreover, we found that some artists were invited to present their art creations in both exhibitions. Compared to the exhibition “Sur-Name”, is there any further discussion in this “No Gender" exhibition?
Lan Qingwei: Last year, I was fortunate to participate in the exhibition “Sur-Name”, held at the YUELAI Art Museum. The exhibition was also composed of female artists, and there were some overlaps in the artist list and similarities in artistic propositions. However, what is different is that the “No Gender” is more concentrated. If “Sur-Name” has an extensive attempt to de-gender in a broad sense, the “No Gender” focuses specifically on the de-gendering of “women”.
Kang Ni, “Or”, 108.5x23.3cm, Oil on Paper, 2022
Xu Yi, “Memory Book-Hometown”, 180x120x40cm, window, neon light, telephone, induction system, recording, 2020
Chen Qiulin, “Drowning” (screenshot), Physical Experiment, Sound Behavior, Body Performer: Zheng Yuanqian, Sound Behavior Artist: Chen Hongli, 2021
Deng Xiao, “BDO”, 400x106x72cm, Stainless steel, Mechanical rotating device, Lighting effect device, 2021
Liu Jiajing, “Dream Catcher”, Dimensions Variable, Copper wire, Stainless steel, Carbon fiber tube, Circuit board, Wire, 2022
Secondly, the selection of works in the exhibition “No Gender” also highlights the characteristics of “de-feminization”. Few of the works in this exhibition follow the perspective of women and feminism in the traditional path. Instead, artworks in this exhibition present a more extensive appearance. I suppose audiences who have seen this exhibition could hardly find concepts related to female perspective in these artworks if they view the exhibition objectively. They will be able to find creative hints in the extensive research methods of art history.
For example, time and life behind Zhang Yanzi’s “Her 24 Solar Terms”, Xiong Wenyun’s abstract arrows, the reality, the individual and the world in Chen Xi's paintings, psychology in Lyu Kangyou's works, Wang Qingli’s contemporary interpretation of “The Night Revels of Han Xizai”, the various media and visual experiences in Lin Xin’s works, the promotion of talent in Hu Shunxiang’s works, the space and time in Kang Ni’s works, the voice, hometown and interaction in Xu Yi’s works, the local culture and reflections on identity in Chen Qiulin’s works, science fiction and mystery in Deng Xiao's works, the myth of weaving and creation in Liu Jiajing's works, Ma Wenting's questioning of “bad”, arrogance and stubbornness, fragility and depth behind Wang Xiaoshuang’s works, Wang Ziye’s reconsideration of “definition” in rhythm and symbols, Zhou Hehe’s efforts on transcending reality, and Zhu Keran's experimentation with traditional painting brushwork... these methods are all used and once used by artists in general—not merely by female artists.
Ma Wenting, “Bad Things No. 8”, 90x90cm, Oil on canvas, 2021
Wang Xiaoshuang, “Time and Memory”, 120x320cm, Acrylic on canvas, 2019
Wang Yezi, “DATA”, 11 min 28 sec, 2K video in color and audio (still frame of video work), 2022
Zhou Hehe, “Bio-Glacier II B”, 200x35cm
Zhu Keran, “Appreciating Summer”,165x120cm, Oil on canvas, 2022
About the exhibition:
Exhbition Venue: SEN Museum Chengdu