The artists in this exhibition challenge the conventional understanding of place. By portraying often-overlooked cultural and historical narratives, Chia-En Jao, Kan Xuan, Sun Xun, Sun Yuan & Peng Yu, Tsang Kin-Wah, Yangjiang Group, and Zhou Tao explore concepts of geography and nation-state. Their artworks address specific locations, such as their hometowns, remote borderlands, or a group of uninhabited islands, as well as abstract ideas, such as territory, boundaries, or even utopia. China, too, is presented here, not only as a country but also as a notion that is open for questioning and reinvention.
The exhibition’s title riffs on Gushi xin bian (Old Tales Retold, 1936), the name of a book by modern Chinese literary giant Lu Xun in which he recasts ancient legends to critique society, reimagine history, and illuminate problems of his era.
The artists in “Tales of Our Time” similarly call attention to the dynamic relationship between storytelling and history writing. Official histories are, in their eyes, full of fabrications, and storytelling provides a means to reconstruct the past and demystify the present. While some of the artists engage storytelling by creating characters and plots, others imbue their forms with narrative content by adapting metaphor and allegory. All of them, however, dispute the line between fiction and fact in order to make and unmake boundaries—those dividing communities, regions, nations, and continents, as well as those separating past and present, reality and dreams, and rationality and absurdity.
“Tales of Our Time” is not a monolithic report on the state of contemporary art in China, nor does it encapsulate any artistic trends or phenomena. Instead, it highlights the unique aspects of each artist’s perspective. The artworks—all of which are new commissions—are not just about China; they examine social and political tensions experienced worldwide, exploring themes such as individual and collective memory, migration and urbanization, cultural inclusion and exclusion, and the contradiction of technological development. The tales told in this exhibition consider our seemingly more connected, globalized world as one that is still filled with fractured land, fragmented history, and upended traditions, but, at the same time, they also propose ways to imagine culture differently.