An Exhibition of Chinese Urban Art
Curated by Yan Lei
23rd September – 21st November 2008

Down Town Production is a dynamic group show bringing cutting-edge, urban Chinese art to the UK. Curated by one of China’s leading artists, Yan Lei, the exhibition brings together eight rising stars of contemporary Chinese art whose work reflects the recent dramatic social and economic transformation of China. It is anticipated that 70% of China’s 1.3 billion population will live in urban areas by 2035. At the end of 2002, records showed that China’s urban population totalled 502 million, living in over 21,000 towns and cities. Down Town Production is a selection of art that reflects and explores this dramatic shift.

The artists will give us a taste of China’s emerging popular culture, with works as such as ground-breaking L.A.S.E.R. graffiti by conceptual artist, DJ and rapper, MC Yan. L.A.S.E.R. tagging is the very newest form of graffiti art developed only a year ago and currently cropping up in cities all over the world. Courtesy of MC-Yan, London will experience a major laser-tagging event this autumn, as part of the exhibition.

Down Town Production is was staged by The Red Mansion Foundation, which has been working to bring China’s contemporary art scene to the UK for almost a decade, discovering new talent and establishing an exchange program between London and China for some of the biggest names in contemporary art. Many of the works in the exhibition are be for sale.

The Down Town Production show took place both inside and outside the Red Mansion Foundation’s gallery space, which was completely transformed for the purpose of this exhibition. Curator, Yan Lei, distorted the traditional “white cube” concept and created a totally new environment for the show that was particularly striking in the context of the Red Mansion, a listed Robert Adam building.

The exhibition also included a one-off special performance by Brain Failure, trailblazers in China’s burgeoning punk scene, who played at the ICA on 17th October. Formed in 1997, the band were the first to emerge from the People’s Republic of China, embracing Western punk ideals and now enjoying commercial success at home and in the US. This was their first UK performance, and offers an insight into a youth movement that is gathering force. The bill also included Stanley Kubrick Goes Shopping, a new collaboration between Youth of Killing Joke and Dennis Morris, lead vocalist of Basement 5 and music photographer, famed for his seminal images of the Sex Pistols and Bob Marley.

The “Down Town Production” artists included:

MC Yan is a truly urban creative; a conceptual artist, graffiti artist and rapper. Recently MC Yan has produced new work using laser projection technology, writing words and images on Beijing’s skyscrapers, putting the debate about the plight of the individual in full public view. MC Yan will be tagging a prominent London landmark to demonstrate the art of laser tagging for the first time ever in London.

Liu Ding has exhibited extensively internationally. Liu works mainly with installation, however he also works across a variety of media including painting, performance and photography. After moving to Beijing, Liu Ding collaborated with nine artists to launch the Complete Art Experience Project, an artist-led initiative that produces group and solo exhibitions with a focus on interdisciplinary artistic experiments. He has exhibited internationally, including China Power Station at the Serpentine Gallery in 2006.

Hong Hao is a major graphic artist and photographer whose intensely witty and sophisticated work celebrates the tradition of the artist’s book in contemporary Western and ancient Chinese forms. Born in China in 1965, on the eve of the Cultural Revolution, Hong graduated from the printmaking department at Beijing’s Academy of Fine Arts in 1989, the year of the Tiananmen Square protests. He is best know for his photographic series, My Things, which are composed of thousands of scanned images of objects from his own life and several will be included in Down Town Production. He has shown at galleries and museums in China and all over the world including the USA, Ireland, France, Czech Republic, Canada, Sweden, Australia and Japan.

Meng Luding is one of China’s leading abstract painters. His work, Enlightenment of Adam and Eve in the New Age, went on record as the pioneering work for the ’85 Art Movement. The Football, one of his expressionist works, is considered a masterpiece of the genre, pushing the medium of oil painting into a new realm. His recent works show a strong personal style and unique art concepts and demonstrate a new visual language and production method.

Liu Zhenchen was born in Shanghai but has lived in France for the last eight years, so that Shanghai is now only a memory to him, a compressed experience. His recent photographs and films, which are documentary and poetic hybrids, show the frantic changes taking place in Shanghai and their direct impact on its residents. Zhenchen Liu has been awarded numerous prizes. His latest video was named Best Experimental Film at France’s 9th Aubagne International Film Festival and was screened at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Most Chinese people know Lao Liu as a rock ‘n’ roll musician from the 80’s. Now, he works as a photographer and lives in Beijing. In one of his more recent works, Lao Liu managed to elude border checks at the Ya Lu River, smuggling his camera into North Korea to take a series of photographs. Entitled Dance over the Border (Wu Guo San Ba Xian) they record and express the passion and romanticism of the local population. Liu has shown in the USA and China.

Zhao Shaoruo was born in China but lives and works in Espoo, Finland. Moving between Beijing, Hong Kong and Helsinki, Zhao has experienced a sense of displacement and his work explores loneliness and the absurdity of human incompetence. He reinterprets photographs for instance in Under the Name of the City, he replaces the faces of the passers-by in city scenes with his own face and places his own name on all the adverts, banners and street signs. He shows regularly in Finland and has also showed in Germany, Japan, Czech Republic, Indonesia and the V&A Museum in London. He will have four photographs in the exhibition.

Whilst much of China’s most visible contemporary architecture ranges from glittering towers created by international architects to the kitsch of Thames Town (a mock English suburb near Shanghai), China, naturally, has it own architects who are now building for themselves, rather than for the state. Wang Hui, a founding partner of Urbanus Architecture & Design, is one such architect. With branches in Beijing and Shenzhen, Urbanus projects include urban design, architecture, urban landscape design, interior design, exhibition design and public art installations. Urbanus is recognized as one of the avant-garde among young Chinese firms. Their concept of urbane urbanity instead of chaotic urbanism characterizes each Urbanus project and, as a firm, they aim to restore humanity back to China’s vast and fast-growing metropolises. Hui will make wallpaper to dress the gallery space and an installation for Down Town Production.

Top Chinese punk band Brain Failure playing at ICA on 17th October 2008, supported by Stanley Kubrick Goes Shopping. Down Town Production curator Yan Lei has been collaborating with seminal Chinese punk band Brain Failure for many years, making paintings of them and inviting them to participate in exhibitions. The aim is to introduce another dimension to the traditional visual art exhibition and to open up possibilities for creativity and interpretation. Brain Failure is one of the leading punk bands in China. Founded by high school dropout, Xiao Rong, in 1997, Brain Failure’s members are the first generation of Chinese musicians since the 1949 Communist Revolution to grow-up in relative political stability, economic prosperity and exposure to western popular culture. Brain Failure brings a power and a passion to the stage that reflects the years of playing underground gigs in Beijing. Lead singer Xiao Rong is relentless and tireless, a man possessed. Brain Failure is influenced by bands like The Clash, Ramones, Rancid, Op Ivy and Green Day. Their lyrics tend to deal with the social problems and attitudes of present day China, rather than the political issues. An almost complete lack of media interest and a general aversion to rock music in China hampered their progress at home, but they have found a warmer reception in the outside world. Their US tour in 2003 led to the release of the 2004 album American Dreamer, a reference perhaps to the fulfilment of a long-awaited dream for recognition in the music world. Further acceptance came in the form of a casting for a European Levi’s Commercial and coverage across US printed press, with appearances on MTVU and MTV Chi, MTV’s new Asian American channel.

Their latest EP Beijing Calling features Public Enemy’s Chuck D.

Stanley Kubrick Goes Shopping: Supporting Brain Failure is a group who, in stark contast to Brain Failure, are steeped in the history of British rock ‘n’ roll. Recently formed, Stanley Kubrick Goes Shopping comprises legendary photographer Dennis Morris (best known for his seminal images of Bob Marley and the Sex Pistols during the 1970’s); producer, Youth (ex-Killing Joke) and Phillipe (ex-Telephon). Yan Lei invited the band to be part of Down Town Production as a result of collaborative work with Dennis Morris – Lei is working with elements of Morris’ iconic Sex Pistol imagery – while Youth has been working with Red Mansion artist Cang Xin on the latter’s Exchanged Identity series.

There will be a laser-tagging event attached to the gig brought to us by Chinese rapper and graffiti artist, MC Yan, one of the Down Town Production artists. Laser tagging has been developed in the last 2 years and it is the latest trend in graffiti writing. MC Yan will be bringing to London a major interactive laser tagging event at a London landmark. MC Yan has also collaborated with Brain Failure on a track that will be released in China in October of this year.

Check out some laser tagging at: graffiti research lab

To view images of the LASER tagging event at TATE Modern on
September 27th, please CLICK HERE