Undercurrent brings together sound and video art practice from China and the UK to explore cultural and social issues connected with the changing nature of urban environments in both countries. The project feeds from a pool of audio, video and photographic material collected by the contributing artists in Shanghai, Guangzhou + Chongqing, London, Liverpool + Sunderland over two years. China’s ever-increasing drive towards a market-driven economy, one where entire cities are being completely re-built, and the rapid growth of the service and industrial sectors of the economy, have led to large numbers of the rural population venturing to these new ‘metropolises’ in search of a better life, most of them to become part of an ever-growing urban underclass.

The nature of the city and its association with ‘modernity’ was a defining theme of early 20th century art and architecture and many of those ideas and aspirations are now once again being played out in the large construction projects taking place across the whole of China, sending shockwaves throughout both the rural and urban population as their lives and communities are uprooted in the long march towards modernisation.

Artists collaborating on the project (8gg, Actop, B6, D-Fuse [Michael FAULKNER + Matthias KISPERT], Ariane GEIL, Haus M Commune, LIN Zhiying, Davide QUAYOLA, Barney STEEL, Axel STOCKBURGER , THOM Chin, WAN G Geezer, XU Cheng, ZHONG Minjie, Zip Design) were invited to explore these themes, working with either video and/or sound, responding to questions concerning urban architecture, economic and social change as well as our personal relations to the urban environment.

This has given rise to an international research network of artists interested in the city, facilitating the exchange of ideas, approaches and observations and the challenging of each other’s cultural and ideological standpoints. Sound is an integral part of the work, and by drawing on urban soundscape recordings as source material for the audio part, Undercurrent seeks to heighten our awareness of the ‘ambient-noise’ that exists all around us.

Undercurrent exists in a number of different manifestations: As a multi-screened, immersive environment of sound and video, and as a collection of photographic prints exhibited with a sound installation. During 2006 contributing artist Zhong Minjie were invited to visit the UK to contribute to the research and development of the project in Liverpool and London. Similarly, Beijing artists 8GG were invited to CineCity Brighton 2006 to present and debate on the themes explored in the work along with Keith Whittle and contributing artist, following which they joined an International Artist in Residence programme with space/social space. The artistic network established during the research and development stage built a strong network of international contributing artists, thorough research methodology and outreach programme between the UK and China.

The exhibition toured to Kinetica Art Fair, London, MIC Toi Rerehiko, Auckland, New Dis-Locate Festival, Tokyo + Yokohama, Japan, CineCity Festival Brighton, UK, MU Eindhoven, Netherland, UK Arts Festival, Chongqing, China, Lovebytes Festival, Sheffield, UK and AV Festival, UK.

It was supported by Arts Council England, British Council, /sLab + Visiting Arts.