There is No I in Team was an opportunity to see the work of an extraordinary and vibrant new generation of Chinese video artists demonstrating that as familiar vistas close, new ones open up.
Curated by Keith Whittle and Keri Elmsly – UK & Pauline Doutreluingne and Jiang Jian – China, There is No I in Team showcased over 20 emerging artists from Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau. A major international collaborative touring exhibition presented at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, and city-wide locations across Newcastle. The exhibition was part of CHINA NOW the largest festival of Chinese culture ever in the UK. It launched in February 2008, with a series of high-profile events to mark the beginning of the Chinese New Year, and was also part of EAST’08, a world-class celebration of contemporary Asian culture in Newcastle-Gateshead and toured to V&A, South Kensington, London and Program EV Berlin.
Whereas their predecessors watched as China’s post-socialist project passed them by, this generation of bright stars of a surging generation of mainland Chinese artists working in video and lens-based media have experienced the aftershocks of the transition to capitalism. Artists frozen between the stances of ‘dissidence’ and ‘submission’ under increasing surveillance and authoritarianism, offering speculative, commentary on changes burning through China. Producing works in media that are products of complex, globalised conditions, while simultaneously traversing their world of China now.
In spite of the intense preoccupation with individual and self in modern Western thought, in China where both Confucian ethics and Communist policies have shaped collective structures, there seems little room for individual agency and choice. What is actually happening, however, is growing individualisation of China – not only changing perceptions of the individual but also rising expectations for individual freedom, choice, and individuality. How this process is evolving in a state and society lacking two of the defining characteristics of European individualization – a culturally embedded democracy and a welfare system – as being explored by artists, with all of its ambivalences, contingencies and contradictions, was the focus of There is No I in Team.
As the new economic model of China surges forward, the individual is finding a new place in The People’s Republic. Collective responsibility has given way to individual gain, and for some enjoying the material benefits of the past 2 decades following The Four “Modernisations” has become central to the notion of the ‘self’ in contemporary Chinese society, one where the ideals of personal expression and individuality are taking precedent.
The rise of the individual is no better exemplified than in the way in which contemporary Chinese artists live and work, and as the gaze of both public and private worlds focuses in on the Chinese success story. European culture is increasingly looking to artists to gain insight into the significance of these changes and to better understand the degree to which they themselves value such change beyond the clichés and hype currently surrounding their country’s growing industrial, political, and cultural prominence.
Taking its title from an American motivational statement used to encourage people to abandon their own ego and self so as to be an effective part of the team, the project was curated by a ‘team’ of European and Chinese curators, each bringing a unique cultural viewpoint to its theme, whilst also sharing firsthand their knowledge of contemporary China and its rapidly expanding arts scene, in all its cross-disciplinary nature and differing methods of representation. All of the works selected for There is No I in Team capture a distinct vision of contemporary China, whilst also reflecting on how artists’ lives and practices have developed and been informed by their new cultural surroundings in China.
There is No I in Team was presented as part of EAST ’08, a celebration of contemporary Asian culture in NewcastleGateshead, which included premiere’s and screenings of artists’ film and video work. The curators Keith Whittle, Keri Elmsly, Pauline Doutreluingne and Jian Jiang worked in partnership with D6 and /sLab and Newcastle City Council to deliver the project.