Lecture at Institute of East Asian Studies, University of Duisburg Essen

Thursday May 21, I will give a lecture at the University of Duisburg Essen titled Umbrellas, Aesthetics, Revolutions: Contesting Creativities in China. 


With its emergence as a global power, China aspires to move from a “made in China” towards a “created in China” country (Keane 2011). Creativity and culture have become a crucial source for innovation and financial growth, but are also mobilised to promote a new and open China to both the citizenry as well as the outside world. They are part of what is termed China’s “soft power” (Nye 2004). What does creativity mean in the context of China, and what does it do? When both the state and profoundly globalised creative industries are so deeply implicated in the promotion of creativity, what are the possibilities of criticality, if any?

In my presentation I aim to zoom in on the question of creativity and criticality through an analysis of contemporary art from China and the umbrella movement in Hong Kong. Whereas Chinese art has taken up a firm position in the global art world, and is by and large being supported by the Chinese nation-state, artists like Xing Danwen continue to challenge China’s narrative of progress and prosperity.

Meanwhile, further down South in Hong Kong, aesthetics play a crucial role in the umbrella movement that unfolded last year: at times a spectacular aesthetics, in which traffic signs for example are altered, or in which images of the Cultural Revolution are appropriated and given new meanings; at other moments we witness an aesthetics of cleanliness and proper behaviour, such as the establishment of study zones for students. What can we learn from the aesthetics mobilised during the umbrella movement and how do they enable or disable new modes of cultural citizenship and belonging? And what role can art play as to alter our perception on society? These are the questions I will engage with in my presentation.

See also here.