Big Tail Elephants: One Hour, No Room, Five Shows
14 June – 7 October2016
VIP Preview: 15:00-17:30, Sunday, 12 June 2016 (invitationonly)
Exhibition Period: 14 June to 7 October,2016
Guangdong Times Museum
Times RoseGarden III, Huangbianbei Road, Baiyun Avenue, Guangzhou, China
Opening Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 10am-6pm (closed onMonday except for public holidays)
Guided Tour: 15:00-15:30pm, every Saturday &Sunday, 18 June to 7 October, 2016,
Participating Artists: Chen Shaoxiong(1962), LiangJuhui(1959-2006), Lin Yilin(1964) and Xu Tan(1957)
Curated by: Hou Hanru, Nikita Yingqian Cai
Academic Director: Wang Huangsheng
Organizer:Guangdong Times Museum
ResearchCollaboration: Asia Art Archive, Liang Juhui Memorial of Libreria Borges Institut d’Art Contemporain (CANTONBON)
Support: ANXINTRUST, SAAC
Special Thanks:Times Property
The “Big Tail Elephants Working Group”(aka Big Tail Elephants),comprised of artists Chen Shaoxiong, Liang Juhui, Lin Yilin, and Xu Tan, wasactive during the 1990s in Guangzhou, the heart of the Pearl River Deltaregion. From 1991 to 1996, Big Tail Elephants self-organized five exhibitionsin temporary spaces that varied from cultural palaces, to bars, as well as thebasements of commercial buildings and outdoor venues. In 1998, collectivepresentations of the group's recent works were staged at Hong Kong PolytechnicUniversity and Kunsthalle Bern. After 1998, Big Tail Elephants received anumber of invitations to participate in international exhibitions. Since then,members of the group have participated in P_A_U_S_E:4th Guangzhou Biennale (2002), The50th Venice Biennale-Zone of Urgency (2003), and The 2nd GuangzhouTriennial-Beyond: An Extraordinary Space of Experimentation for Modernization (2005), among othershows.
The decade from 1990 to 2000 saw distinctivedevelopments arise within the once-peripheral contemporary art scene of thePearl River Delta region, viewed in part as a result of the combined forces ofChina's explosive economic growth also found throughout Asia in general-and the twin projects ofmodernization and urbanization. Concealed by the notions of “freedom and openness,”globalization, the commodity economy, and consumerism deeply transformed thelives of ordinary people. Driven by economic growth and material desires, analternative model of modernization, neither “Western” nor “Chinese,” had takenshape and come into reality. Witnessing and experiencing this complex set ofrealities, Big Tail Elephants strove for the autonomy and legitimacy of artistsand artistic production, and developed self-conscious modes of critique andresistance to the modernist binaries of West/China, central/local,public/private, and avant-garde/conservative. Since 2000, Big Tail Elephantshave not presented themselves as a group in exhibitions but the members haveremained active in the contemporary art field, and have contributed to theeducation and training of younger artists. Big Tail Elephants’ continuous activitiesand influence during the 1990s made a positive impact on the artisticenvironment of the Pearl River Delta region, illustrating that in spite of alack of infrastructure and support, creative forces and energies could be nurtured.
Operation PRD—Big Tail Elephants: OneHour, No Room, Five Shows is the first comprehensive retrospective of the group, bringingtogether, and at times re-staging, important works, actions, projects and archivesof the group. “One Hour” is taken from Liang Juhui’s performance “One HourGame” (1996) enacted in the elevator of a construction site in Guangzhou. Bydirectly creating works in urban public spaces, Big Tail Elephants proactivelyengaged with the ephemerality of artistic projects. “No Room” is responding tothe group's fourth exhibition in 1994 which bore the same title, and which washosted at Guangzhou's No. 14 Sanyu Road. Suggested by Hou Hanru, the title reflects the absence of contemporaryart institutions and spaces in the 1990s, while also alluding to theguerrilla-style spontaneity of the group's exhibition initiatives. “Five Shows”emphasizes the five exhibitions organized by the group in non-art spacesbetween 1991 and 1996, which, here, form the core of the Times Museum's surveyof their works. The members of Big Tail Elephants took on an early stance ofconceptualism and introduced ideas of temporality, process, and immaterialityinto their practice. Exhibitions and sites of action were thought of aslaboratories for their artistic experiments about art and everyday life,concept and medium, audience and artwork. Ideas materialized directly in theexhibition spaces, processes paraded from streets to bars, and performances andworks were exposed to the participation and intervention of audiences. The worksand actions produced by Big Tail Elephants constructed temporal-spatialrelations that only happened once. These fleeting events broke the hierarchicalordering of art and non-art, elitism and street culture, and offer prescientinsight into the socio-political context of contemporary art in China after the1990s, and its pointed and deliberate lack of ideological appeals.
20 of the group's works have beenselected for reproduction based on archives and documentary materials, whichinclude installations, performances, videos, and photography. The dialogues andnegotiations between artists and their artworks, and artworks and theirexhibition spaces echo the Big Tail Elephants' working ethos and their democratic groupdynamics of respecting individuality as well as emphasizing equalcollaboration. Between the presentation of these reproductions and thechronological narratives of the archives, which themselves provide shiftingexperiences of viewing artworks and reading histories, audiences are offered multipleentry points to understanding the Big Tail Elephants' creative process andartworks. A bar area is staged as space for public programs such as dialogues,seminars, book launches, and workshops held during the exhibition. Apublication of the same title accompanies the exhibition, incorporatingimportant documents and archives of the group, as well as artist dialogues andstatements, critical essays from the past and present, and completephotographic documentation of their works in Times Museum.
For thelast thirty years of China's flourishing “avant-garde,” “experimental,”and“contemporary” art movements, the Pearl River Delta has defied identificationas simply an active region. It is, instead, an independent and unique site for experimentation.From the “Southern Artists Salon” of the 1980s, to the “Big Tail ElephantsWorking Group” and “Libreria Borges” a decade later-as well asmore recent additions “Vitamin Creative Space” and the “Yangjiang Group”-these groups and other independent artists have, withoutexception, helped to establish this atmosphere. At the same time, Hong Kong andMacau, each with its own distinctive East-meets-West hybrid culture, contributeto this “alternativeness” throughtheir own specific identities. Together these discrete yet interconnectedplaces represent both a critical creative force in the Chinese-and international-contemporaryart scene, and a liberated stance of unwavering independent thought. The independent perspective put forward by Pearl River Deltaartists is regionally unified, while at the same time exhibiting specificdifferences between behavioral methodologies. These artists connect thoughtwith behavior in their increasingly secular daily lives through bothindividualized and innovative artistic language. In a sense, the artisticculture of the Pearl River Delta Region has become not only a vital part of theChinese and international landscape, but also an “alternate history” that hasrevealed new vantage points from which to view culture and art. Its existenceallows for the continuous use of “alternative methods to boldly strike out orretreat” in revisions of current, and future, history.
“Operation PRD” is intended to recount this“alternate history”, through representative works from groups and individualsthat have defined the region. With its distinct architecture and designsituated “parasitically” among urban residents, Times Museum shares thisindependent creative model. Over the past five years since its founding, the Museumhas been closely bound to the existing culture and development of Guangzhou andthe Pearl River Delta Region.
“Operation PRD” is comprised of the “PRDResearch Fellowship” and an annual exhibition. In light of the clear lack ofresearch dedicated to contemporary art of the Pearl River Delta Region, theTimes Museum is launching the “PRD Research Fellowship” as a platform forresearch-oriented practices, providing interdisciplinary resources and basicgrant for artists, researchers, and writers focused on knowledge productionspecific to the Pearl River Delta Region. More detailed information regardingthe grant will be released along with the opening of the “Big Tail ElephantsWorking Group” exhibition.