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Urban revolution and Chinese contemporary art: a total revolution of the senses
journal contributionposted on 2023-06-08, 21:18 authored by Maurizio MarinelliMaurizio Marinelli
Urban transformation in China has been hailed as a revolution. The pace and scale of change as well as the grand narrative of transformation have been characterized in terms of superlatives – the tallest skyscrapers, the largest shopping malls, the longest bridges and highways, the fastest trains – testifying to the teleology and progress of China’s dream of prosperity. However, behind the sleek and glittering façade lies a story of exclusion, violence, dispossession, and destruction – the ruins of a civilization. This article engages with this side of the story by exploring the dialectic between urban transformation and the parallel development of the visual arts, which has created new regimes of visibility and new hierarchies of representation. In new and large cities alike, the visual arts have been manifesting affections that permeate the contemporary world, creating new possibilities for ‘distributing the sensible’. This article focuses on the artworks produced by Zhang Dali, Dai Guangyu and Jin Feng, whose subject matter involves common people, and it engages with three crucial discursive formations: violence, socio-economic inequality, and utopian dreams. These artists are producing a ‘history from below’ (to borrow E. P. Thompson’s expression): rescuing the common people from ‘the enormous condescension of posterity’. They are making ordinary people assume the importance of the extraordinary. From the point of view of aesthetics, they are enacting a total revolution of the senses and, in Rancière’s words, making ‘heard as speakers those who had been perceived as mere noisy animals’.
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