Action-Camera: Beijing Performance Photography

Opening night January 15, 8 to 10 pm
Runs January 16 to April 19, 2009

This exhibition is curated by Keith Wallace and explores an aspect of performance art that is prominent in mainland China and in particular, Beijing. In mainland China, performance art is a relatively recent development with not much more than twenty years of activity. Action—Camera: Beijing Performance Photography examines the trajectory from the discreet underground performance art community centered in Beijing’s “East Village” in the early 1990s, to a current internationally recognized practice.

Performance art in China during the early 1990s represented a moment when the avant-garde resurfaced in a powerful way in order to break with the past and to forge new artistic directions within a rapidly evolving society. Many of these performances were recorded by photography and video to provide a document. These early photographs were not necessarily intended to be presented as artwork, yet have emerged as such in various exhibitions. The artists were quick to acknowledge the power of the photograph and increasingly looked to photography as an integral component of their live performance work.

By the late 1990s, performance art became a more clearly defined practice, and for many artists the photograph functioned not only as a document, but also as a work of art in itself. As a further development, many performances were specifically created for the camera rather than a live audience—the viewer’s access to the “performance” was exclusively through the photograph. The shift from live performance to staged photograph and the reasons behind it are a central anchor to this exhibition.

Featured artists include: Ai Weiwei, Cang Xin, Dai Guangyu, the Gao Brothers (Gao Zheng and Gao Qiang), Han Bing, He Yunchang, He Chengyao, Hong Hao, Li Wei, Ma Liuming, RongRong, Wang Qingsong, Xing Danwen, Zhang Huan, and Zhu Ming.

A catalogue published by the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery accompanies the exhibition. It includes colour images, a list of works and essays by Dr. Thomas J. Berghuis of the Department of Art History & Film Studies at the University of Sydney, Beijing-based writer and curator Maya Kóvskaya, and curator and writer Keith Wallace.

This exhibition is presented by Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad, The Canada Council for the Arts, and the Vancouver Foundation. We thank Mark Allison and Stephanie Holmquist for their support.

Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery