Karaoke Hyperspace

Karaoke Hyperspace: Gu Xiong’s Red River as a study of Placemaking was originally published in the fall 2008 issue of the Yishu Contemporary Art Journal.

Instead of resting on metaphors of here/there or homeland/site of resettlement, Gu’s exhibition becomes a deep meditation on constant mobility in the physical and virtual realms of contemporary life. In her recent study of Chinese art outside China, Melissa Chiu has argued for a view of diaspora that recognizes “the location and circumstances of migration and settlement as significant factors affecting the expression of Chineseness.”Melissa Chiu, Breakout: Chinese Art Outside China (New York and Milan: Edizioni Charta, 2006), 35–53. Instead of measuring “Chineseness” by one’s connection to the homeland, Chiu suggests that one should examine it across different sites, where any given host culture is equal in standing to the homeland. Chiu thus proposes a more dynamic view of migration, where identity is understood as existing in a state of flux, informed by each new site of experience. Similarly, scholars of such as Ien Ang, Yunte Huang, and Aihwa Ong have argued for a critique of Chinese essentialism through an emphasis on positionality and the breaking down of the spatial and cultural boundaries of a geopolitical China. By asking “Can one say no to Chineseness?”, Ien Ang challenges the diasporic paradigm itself and its “debilitating obsession” with China as the center of cultural identity. Underlining the unstable nature of diaspora, Ang states “the spirit of diasporic thought, motivated as it is by notions of dispersal, mobility, and disappearance works against its consolidation as a paradigm proper. Contained in the diasporic perspective itself, therefore, are the seeds of its own destruction, which provides us with the opportunity to interrogate not just the different meanings Chinese takes on in different local contexts but, more fundamentally, the very significance and validity of Chineseness as a category of identification and analysis.”Ien Ang, “Can One Say No to Chineseness” Pushing the Limits of the Diasporic Paradigm” in boundary 2, Vol. 25, No. 3, Modern Chinese Literary and Cultural Studies in the Age of Theory: Reimagining a Field, (Autumn 1998), 228.

Gu’s career reveals a unique approach to these issues. As one of the artists whose work was censored in the pivotal China/Avant-Garde exhibition of 1989, Gu left China, right after the Tian’anmen Square crackdown of that year. Along with canonized names such as Xu Bing, Huang Yongping, and Gu Wenda, Gu Xiong was part of the first large wave of contemporary Chinese artists to engage with “the West” during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Many of these artists have tended to focus on imagery that refers directly to Chinese history, language, or tradition. This is evident in major works such as Huang Yongping’s Roulette series (1985-1988), Gu Wenda’s Pseudo-Characters series (1996­–97), or Xu Bing’s Square Word Calligraphy (1994–96). Gu can be distinguished from this group because his art followed a different trajectory in Canada, and throughout this stage of his career, one can observe a tendency that sets him apart from his contemporaries: he seems less interested in the project of deconstructing “Chineseness” through the use of distinctly Chinese imagery.

— April Liu