Yao Qingmei at Factorys, Machines and the Poet's Words:Echos of the Realities in Art

Curators: Liu Ding, Carol Yinghua Lu
Dates: Oct 5, 2019 – April 30, 2020
Venue: A07, 798 Art Zone Buildings, Beijing

Yao Qingmei at “Factories, Machines and the Poet's Words: Echoes of the Realities in Art” is a large-scale and research-based exhibition with a focus on socialist industrialization in the era of new China.


Yao Qingmei, The Trial, 2013, Video, 9 min

Nothing is coincidental in China. Trees originate from saplings. Everything is defined by its shared future in relation to other entities.  Nothing is self-defining. China, like a maturing forest, needs to be interpreted and understood. Mere description is futile.
                                                                                                                -- Simone de Beauvoir, 1957

“Factories, Machines and the Poet's Words: Echoes of the Realities in Art” is a large-scale and research-based exhibition with a focus on socialist industrialization in the era of new China.

In its essence, socialist industrialization in the People’s Republic of China is a system of thinking about an overall social design to achieve modernization and creating a contemporary society. Having evolved through numerous stages, it is the practice of modernization in China. Against the backdrop of the Cold War, the goal of socialist industrialization became the key theme and priority in China’s development and social transformation after 1949. There was a palpable urgency to change China’s backward economic situation, speed up national industrialization, build strong material and technological foundations, and transform its agrarian society. This rationale was also a paradigm formed under the general drive towards participating in the universal vision of modernization.

In the early 1950’s, China looked to Soviet Union as the key point of reference, prioritizing heavy industry in order to accomplish a swift transition to industrialization. By the late 1950’s, the Chinese government speedily adjusted the sequence of importance allocated to the developments of heavy industry, light industry and agriculture, and proposed the concurrent developments of industry and agriculture. Subsequently, the government formulated an economic plan that prioritized agriculture, light and heavy industrialization respectively, which became China’s bespoke path of industrialization in the development of its contemporary society. Informed by new conditions such as the liberation of thoughts and economic globalization since the economic reform from the late 1970s, the Chinese government has continually updated, assessed and modified the implementation of economic policy. In this process, a specific discourse and paradigm is formed.

Hence, socialist industrialization in the People’s Republic of China is a case study of global modernization in the twentieth century. Over a long time, this process of evolution has shaped the distinct appearance and direction of China’s contemporary society. However, though the process of industrialization in the People’s Republic of China was never disconnected from the rest of the world, due to its distinct needs and values, a more complex and dynamic logic on industrialization came into being in China.

In China, the trajectory of modern and contemporary art has always been closely linked to historical changes in society. The relationship between social reality and art was a central concern in the history of Chinese art in the twentieth century. The gradual emergence of realism and socialist realism in China in the 1930s, the reform of Chinese ink wash painting, along with the discussion and practice of “nationalizing oil paintings” in the 1950s, artistic production in the midst of the Great Leap Forward, the absolute dominance of Socialist Realism in literature and art in the 1960s and the 1970s, the upholding of such ideas as “formal liberation” and “renewal of concepts” in the 1980s, the commercialization and re-institution of Chinese contemporary art in its course of joining the global art movements, the growing tendency of being detached from the reality in Chinese contemporary art since 2008, all of these specific moments constituted a sketchy summary of the historical course of art in China. In such a process, the art world has maintained a close dialogue with the ideology of society as a whole. As producers in the field of creative practice, art has become a part of social productivity and landscape.

This exhibition investigates the course of social development in China since 1949 as a happening site of modernization. Through the reflections and works of artists, this presentation unfolds the historical panoramic of socialist industrialization, its inner motivations and logic. Meanwhile, taking on a cultural perspective, this exhibition considers this dynamic process as a sequence of experimental practices, which become the subjects of our contemplation and creation. The exhibition showcases artworks and discourses that touch upon concepts and experiences related to constructing, manufacturing, machinery, evolution, implementation, experimentation, laboring and social order. As the artworks and narratives are from different historical periods and cultural contexts, the exhibition explores the inner visions of practitioners in historical courses and contemporary times.

This exhibition brings together works from varying historical periods by artists across regions in and outside of China, reflecting their diverse efforts to represent, imagine, enact and take an active role in the realities. Their artistic productions have become an integrated part of historical realities and discourses. The artists’ observations and contemplations of historical and contemporary social lives in China, have demonstrated to us that the relations, institutions and discourses of artistic production have been deeply embedded in the ideological process of modern and contemporary Chinese society.