'The Artist is Absent': Agency and Automation in Contemporary Chinese Art
(University of Oxford)
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines the role of re-materialization as artistic practice. Contrasting two works by Huang Yongping and Wang Yuyang, it interrogates how the 'agile objects' produced by these artists reveal an intense negotiation with the role of authorial subjectivity in contemporary Chinese art.
Paper long abstract:
In 1987 Huang Yongping placed 'A Short History of Modern Painting by Herbert Read' and Wang Bomin's 'History of Chinese Painting' in a washing machine for two minutes. The illegible pulp which emerged from this process was presented as a re-materialized artwork, one which commented not only on the manipulation of language and the deconstructive 'washing away' of printed histories of Chinese and Western art but which also, by means of a modern form of labour (the washing machine) sought to eradicate the artist's hand and authorial subjectivity. Nearly three decades later Wang Yuyang converted Karl Marx's 'Capital: Critique of Political Economy' into a binary code that he then re-materialized as a six-metre tall sculpture using 3D modelling and rendering software. Wang claimed that he had enabled the code to entirely determine the material, colour and structure of the sculptural outcome. Utilizing processes of 'automation' to re-materialize these works, both artists sought to deny their artistic agency despite the indisputable intentionality underpinning the works' production. As such, this paper aims to further explore: What happens to objects when they are de- and re-materialized in this way? What socio-economic, cultural, and inter-subjective processes are at stake in this transposition of canonical texts into works of art and how can these works be 'read'? I argue these questions are central to understanding the practices, politics and affects of re-materializing artworks and the vital role that such 'agile objects' play in reframing China's recent art history.
Agile Objects: The Art and Anthropology of Re-materialization