At the beginning of December, Susanne Junker flew to Shanghai. She was invited to participate in an exhibition on "Comparative Feminism" which was initiated and organized by the WhyWhyArt Art Center in Nanjing. How do you get a job like that? Does feminism exist in China? What is WhyWhyArt all about? And where is Nanjing located? Quite intriguing questions for GoSee – and here is the exclusive travelogue by the photographer/curator, and last but not least, GoSee friend for you on GoSee.
"At least as far as Shanghai is concerned, I am an old hand. I lived there from 2004 for more than 10 years and witnessed a rapid change. The aughts in Shanghai were wild and free. Everything was new, and there was room for everything and everyone in a society that started to reshuffle, invent and establish itself. In 2007, I founded a non-profit art space in Shanghai, the "stage候台BACK"
In best Brooklyn underground fashion, this all happened in a shabby warehouse, sprayed with graffiti and squatted by Chinese artists and newcomers, just like me. There was a lively exchange among one another. Tea flowed, as did schnapps, there was lots of cigarette smoke, and controversial exhibitions were on display. It made it easy for us to express ourselves and to be part of the growing dynamic which surrounded us.
In today's Shanghai, none of this exists anymore. The artists have moved to the edge of the city or gone completely to either Beijing or Berlin, or to other cities in China such as Nanjing. For many years now, Shanghai has been utterly ruled by money and commerce. However, some of the luxury shops and shopping centers built almost overnight are now empty again.
Zane Mellupe-Goutard knows the energy of the aughts all too well. Zane, artist and curator, is originally from Latvia and has been calling Shanghai her home for many years. She is co-founder of the island6 art collective and founder of Yongkang-Lu Art and WhyWhyArt. Plus, she supports socially engaged art projects and also advises and conducts documentary research on urban development throughout China. We both got almost a bit melancholic when we remembered how exciting it was together when Zane opened galleries in the middle of an old vegetable market on Yongkang Road and turned an abandoned clinic for traditional Chinese medicine into space for the opening exhibition of WhyWhyArt in 2015.
Meanwhile, WhyWhyArt has found a new location in Nanjing. Nanjing is located 330 km west of Shanghai. The express train bridges the distance in only one hour and seven minutes. The city with a population of 12 million is strongly reminiscent of the time when I started working in China. WhyWhyArt, the 300-square-meter art center, is located on the first floor of an office complex surrounded by cranes on an open field, which has been declared a free trade zone. Located opposite a construction site for a new subway station is an oversized drill; the asphalt streets lead to nowhere and are lined with freshly planted trees. The highway, which cuts through the landscape roars incessantly, and the skyline of downtown Nanjing shimmers in a yellowish glare on the horizon.
There is a café, a designer boutique and a supermarket reminiscent of a photograph by Andreas Gursky, with its deserted long rows and meticulously stocked shelves, which look like an art installation themselves, with the absurd repetitiveness of a sheer unbelievable mass amount of the same product over and over again. The cashiers doze off or stare at their cell phones unless some artists pass by. Then their heads turn and the expression asks surprisedly: "What are you doing here?" And we are no less astonished by such a bizarre scene. The concept of 'prettying up' newly developed real estate by means of artistic activities is extremely popular in China. Commerce combined with creativity is used to make new neighborhoods more attractive. What develops naturally in Western cities over the course of decades is expected to happen much more rapidly in China. A district is supposed to be finished in only a few years, and then it's over again for the art scene there.
And Zane Mellupe-Goutard now knows how make best use of a new location for her curatorial work in a limited period of time. These short interludes allow her to deal with topics which are rather unusual for the Chinese art world, such as feminism. But does feminism exist in China at all? After all, there are over half a billion Chinese women! In fact, the exhibition "On starting another conversation about comparative feminism" shows that feminist zeitgeist has even made it to China. #metoo has also spread through the social media there, and hopefully feminism will no longer be only a Western movement.
For my part, I presented a portrait of Sofia Sept, which I photographed in 2016 for the series "Portrait Parole" in Paris. Sofia is for me the epitome of contemporary feminism in France. As a Femen member and as an activist, she is omnipresent. The now famous hand with #metoo written on it with red lipstick is hers. I was honored to tell young female Chinese students at a forum during the opening of the exhibition in Nanjing about Sofia in front a message written by her on the wall: "Between me and myself there is only me". It was like preaching in front of an altar.
Steven An, artist and moderator of the forum asked directly: How important is it to understand why and how a movement started? How important is it to understand that feminism, gender and racism are close to one another? A lot is still not understood. How do you explain to someone who doesn't have the right to vote how important it was to fight for women's suffrage? But it also pricked up our ears when a young woman told that her boyfriend forced her to take the pill, and she did not really want to. What is the story behind that? Frustration was audible and many questions remain unanswered.
The text for the exhibition describes the history of feminism simply with three short points before it further explores feminist art and continues onto gender and "comparative feminism". The topic is still in its infancy in China, and Zane Mellupe-Goutard is planning a series of further exhibitions to give the topic the platform it deserves. Then I will be heading back to Nanjing.
WhyWhyArt at Chic Oasis in Nanjing City, Pukou District . Zijin Special Creative Zone . 88 Pubin RD, 2F . Feminism is one of the most important social terms in the contemporary -world. Not only because half of the world’s population is feminine. Feminism, alongside globalization, population migration, and technological advancement, is one of the major factors changing the existing social order and influencing our understanding of what it is to – to be a human. 17 artists, both international and domestic, will explore the nature of comparative feminism, the existence of differing perceptions and trajectories of feminist identification that coexist as a result of a world that is globally connected, yet widely disparate regarding other influential factors, such as social mobility and economic development. Curated by Zane Mellupe-Goutard.
Abby Robinson (USA)
Alexandre Ouairy (France)
Daniele Mattioli (Italy)
Guanyi Ming (China)
Hazal Firat (Turkey)
Inga Bruvere (Latvia)
Island6 Arts Collective (International)
Monika Lin (USA)
Panos Dimitropoulos (Greece)
Steven An (China)
Susanne Junker (Germany)
Cao Tongliang (China)
Virginie Lerouge Knight (France)
Zane Mellupe-Goutard (LV/FRA)
Zhu Ye (China)
About this artwork: polaroid original print signed and framed + book, signed and framed. 280 euro + shipping
About this artwork: Susanne Junker's new book about identity,feminism and beauty.
About this artwork: Unique POLAROID ORIGINALS print made by Susanne Junker from her series 21st CENTURY WOMAN, signed and framed. Polaroid size: 8,8 x 10,7 cm , with...