Death by a Thousand Cuts at Chinese Arts Centre until 23rd March
Archived: This event was in 2007.
A new exhibition at the Chinese Arts Centre, Death By A Thousand Cuts, continues Gordon Cheung's preoccupation with power systems focusing on the uneasy relationship between China’s history and its current emergence as a world superpower.
The exhibition, Cheung’s first solo show for the Chinese Arts Centre, comprises four works – Death By A Thousand Cuts and Acrobats, both commissioned by the Chinese Arts Centre, Technophobia (2005) and Milgram’s Progress, which first showed as part of the Arrivals / Departures exhibition at Urbis in 2007.
London-based and of Chinese descent, Cheung’s work explores the gap between Chinese tradition and Chinese experience, and the disparities between this experience and the West’s perceptions of it. Huge canvases covered with stock listings from the Financial Times form the base of post-apocalyptic landscapes created with a combination of acrylic paint, spray paint, traditional Chinese ink and images from both B-movies and Chinese propaganda. The sheer scale of works such as Milgram’s Progress and Technophobia create an almost hallucinatory effect on the viewer.
However, it is the smallest work that has the biggest impact in this show. Acrobats (pictured) was created for the exhibition and, like its sister commission Death By A Thousand Cuts, takes the forthcoming 2008 Olympics as its subject. The acrobats themselves evoke ancient Chinese circus performance, but their mesmerising tumble across columns of stocks and shares brings the modern world to the forefront. Though the work maintains many of the features of Cheung’s style, including grey flowers at the top of the canvas and the contrast between the mutes colours of the stock listings and the acid tones of the spray paint, a vivid swathe of sunset acrylics dominates the base of the picture and creates a joyful, hopeful tone that sets this work apart from its companions.
The other new work, after which the exhibition takes its title, explores both the slow movement of China from socialism to social capitalism and the gap between Chinese experience and Western perceptions of China. In this work, a tiny figure stands isolated on a precipice overlooking a vast chemical sea. On the other side, a pagoda created from blue-bodied acrobats stands beneath a rainbow. The juxtaposition of the team of acrobats and the isolated individual raises questions about the effect of the Olympics on the world stage and on individuals within China, as well as addressing broader issues such as the struggle between communism and individualism in modern China.
A London solo show runs concurrently to Death By A Thousand Cuts, while audiences in the northwest are returning to this exhibition to revisit Milgram’s Progress, which first showed as part of the Arrivals / Departures exhibition at Urbis in 2007. These two new works show that Cheung is definitely a name to watch out for on the British arts scene.