Jianghu and Empire: Cultural Geographies in Chinese Contemporary Art
In Postmodern Geographies, Edward W Soja commented on an obsession with time in 19th century: time is considered to be rich and dialectic; space, to the contrary, is regarded as "the dead, the fixed, the undialectical,the immobile". In the fields of critical theory and epistemological production, the temporally-focused point of view
was expressed in the form of obsession with history and idling of geography. Although academic stars like Foucault had already expressed doubt towards this hegemony, it is obvious that enthusiasm about history in critical and
cultural theory has not yet faded away. In the contemporary art scene, the obsession is manifested as a drive towards art history. Although there are scholars who investigate the cultural geography of (Chinese) contemporary
art, the results are generally either regional stereotypes or absorption of cultural geography into art history. This essay aims at investigating Chinese contemporary art with reference to two spatially-oriented concepts:jianghu
Empire, a significant text by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, virtually maps the narrative and diagnosis on the sovereignty "Empire" in the context of globalization. (Although Negri's Marxist reference may raise suspicion about the possibility of historicism, the spatiality of Empire acts as a plane of immanence to thought.) The concept of "Empire" already existed during the Roman Empire, but Negri and Hardt's Empire in the context of globalization is not simply a heritage of antiquity, but also a fracture motivated by capital. The ceaseless self-production of capital
as a cancerous body-without-organs drives towards over-top national-states and super-national organisms while capital endlessly reproduces its own pattern. This ceaseless reproduction results in a weakening of the
independence of nation-states, which, along with other super-national organisms, are accommodated by the capitalist apparatus and "united under the logic of the single rule." The result is a new form of sovereignty: Empire.
The development of info-technology shortens or even erases the physical distances and hence strengthens the influence of Empire. Subjects are passively subsumed by the new sovereignty, like bodies inscribed with medical signs. The concept of Empire takes a crucial role in the production and identification of Chinese contemporary art.
Apart from Empire,jianghu is another cultural concept that is inseparable from the cultural geography of Chinese contemporary art.
jianghu, literally "rivers and lakes," initially referred to a name collectively for rivers and lakes. The term then transformed over time and becomes a word standing for either: the habitat of the hermit; or the environment where you min(the people who are outside of the ancient Chinese hierarchy comprised of government officials, peasants, workers and merchants) make a living. This essay adopts the latter.
Jianghu embodies an alternate space with loose organization and its own hierarchy and rules. As an industry for which it would be difficult to obtain a firm definition, contemporary art in China had a sphere of influence which is a
The geography of Chinese contemporary art depicts in a spatial form the simultaneity of the society and the map of power among producers and participants in the industry.
It is too imprudent to equate jianghu of Chinese contemporary art with resistance against the capitalist apparatus and Empire, as the relationship between jianghu and Empire should not be reduced to a simple dualism. Yet it is
even worse to think that they are equivalent. The two sometimes overlap: sometimesjianghuis the Lacanian symptom of Empire; sometimes jianghuis the metaphorical surplus of Empire.Despite the uncertainty, what can
be sure is that the two concepts are among the factors that determine the legitimacy of Chinese contemporary art.
• “Empire" and "China": Concept of Empire and Chinese Contemporary Art in an International
◦ This part investigates how the Empire concept is applied to the art mechanism and how the
concept molds the signifier “China art.” Under the mechanism of Empire, the independence of
China as a nation-state is weakened, and Chinese contemporary art is transformed to a noun
floating in the chain of signifiers, always drifting on its relative positions.
• Chinese Contemporary Art and the Concept ofjianghu
◦ This part investigates the history of jianghuas a concept in Chinese contemporary art and how
the participants in the scene interact with this cultural topography when transcending physical
• Interaction Between Empire and Jianghu in Chinese Contemporary Art
◦ Comparing the structure and symbolic networks in Chinese contemporary art under the
concepts of Empire and jianghu
◦ The influence on art production by the epistemology engendered by the suspension of physical
geography by Empire and jianghu
◦ Point de Capiton: This is the part probing into the overlapping and dislocation of Empire and
jianghuin the context contemporary art in globalization, with a focus on the expansion of
jianghuof Chinese contemporary art beyond the previous nation-state-geography boundaries
◦ The Name of the Other: Investigating the positions of Chinese galleries and artists in
international art events: Venice Biennial, Documenta and Art Basel, with a reference to concept
of "outsider" which Derrida mentioned inOf Hospitality.
◦ Who is whose symptom: The subjectivity between Empire andJiang Hu, and how it works on
◦ Biopolitics:jianghunever exists without people; Empire obtains its legitimacy from its
"multitudes"; this section analyzes how the politics between the people differ in the context of
• Treading onJianghuand Striding through the Empire:Case Studies on Artists' Productionofa
Nation in a Nation/ Carrying the Tao to the West:Chinese
◦ Writing about the pioneers who made Chinese artist in an international horizon
◦ Artists: Cai Guoqiang, Huang Yongping, Xu Bing
• South to the Border:the "Southern" Artists in Cultural Geography
◦ Investigating how the “southerness” of the artists are produced injianghuand Empire.
◦ Artists: Chu Yun, Jiang Zhi, Liu Chuang, Zheng Guogu
• The World is the Corner: "International" / Non-Place Artist
◦ Focusing on how the Chinese artists who are considered to be international due to their
distance from conventional Chinese icons
◦ Artists: Cao Fei (early work), Adrian Wong, Xu Zhen