Numerous Chinese artists, curators and cultural critics are taking part in eight individual connected projects, such as Border, Expedition and Inspection (curated by Guo Juan and Hao Jingban), How Much Time Is Being Wasted? (curated by Lee Kit), and Romantic City: Through the Practice of Aesthetic Criticism Today (curated by Project Via), to consider self-criticism and the ability to do so. With each project name also serving as a prompt and launch platform for a micro-discourse, the over-arching exhibition Self-Criticism strives to address the questions directly, instead of encircling the broader topics.
“This exhibition shifts from a stress on works consistently echoing a topic, to conceive of an open relationship between works and subject matter, without favouritism,” explains conveners Carol Yinghua Lu, Luo Xiaoming and Su Wei. Even their choice of “convener” instead of “curator” is indicative of their desire to “accentuate the taking of action, aside from emphasising the general state of political emergency.”
Political urgency is the driving force of this exhibition, located in Sector A of a Beijing artist colony. The curator/convenors stress that artistic endeavours and results need not stem solely from protest and resistance, rather, “we argue for a constructive recognition of self-criticism in the process of cultural history, recognising that it can provide fundamental theoretical premises for real actions.”
If self-criticism is about negotiating the concept of the self with the reality of the self, Self-Criticism is here to reinforce that while connected, the two selves ought to remain disparate entities. Suggesting that society exists in a set of systems, the exhibition asserts that this set up is inherently problematic due to the fact that these systems are created by and composed of humans, who are likely not equally engaging both facets of the self. The system can fairly be criticised though because of this shared foundation – it simply requires being objectively human and taking a stance of constructive self-criticism. “It is when these systems impose rules of judgment and define standards of value that self-criticism can help to read the resulting urges, and inspire conversation as a process of change-making,” the curatorial statement reads.
Self-Criticism is a head-on challenge to intellect and notions of the self. “The basic critical perspective is actually unproductive in the face of reality as such, for it seems to easily descend into a zone of moral nihilism, lacking the competence or rigor to take action,” state the conveners. But, it is a Catch-22. “However, the ethical views on political society and the understanding of political morality are conventional ideas that have shaped our ways of thinking.” In trained adherence to the reality of the situation (status quo), it has ingrained an intangible dialogue barrier between the self and reality.
The participants actively declare life today a permanent state of emergency, they aim to draw attention to how it affects mental functioning and what should be done to combat it – Self-Criticism acts as a call to action. “Inequality, corruption, and discrimination have been given legitimacy and normalised in daily life, providing a rationale for testimony on what appears to be given to us naturally.” The self is multifaceted, they reconfirm, and that alone should be reason enough to start asking questions. The conveners leave the public with one themselves: “As a cultural producer, how is one to re-project the self-position of knowledge production into the possibilities of the many realities and connections?”
Self-Criticism runs until 17 September at Inside-Out Art Museum, Beijing, China. For more information visit ioam.org.cn