Curator Helen Kaplinsky is undertaking a residency from the 4th July – 10th August at 501 Art Centre, Chongqing, China. She has commissioned London-&-Berlin-based artist-&-DJ collective psychoanalYSL to produce new work for the exhibition. This blog documents Helen’s research, alongside thoughts from the artists and specialist in Chinese contemporary art/curating, Rachel Marsden.

The project is supported by Arts Council England, Svenska Kultur Fonden and Chinese Arts Centre.






PREVIEW 6TH AUGUST 17:00-19:00

Preceeded by a psychoanalYSL

FREE SCHOOL event from 15:30





“Shit on your whole mortifying, imaginary and symbolic theater.”

Gilles Deleuze

Qincheng Prison, Changping District, Beijing, April 20th 2011; a dimly-lit room: hazy infinity seems to stretch in every direction as a persistent hissing sound fills the air, occasionally building to a menacing crescendo of mechanical destructioin. An imposing figure at the far end of the room, with red laser eyes throbbing in his head, is just visible through the fog. He stops dead in his tracks and turns to fix his gaze before declaring:

“This is not a political artwork.”


London/Berlin-based artist/DJ collective psychoanalYSL specialise in the disorientation of popular entertainment. For their first solo exhibition in China at Ceiling Space (in association with 501 Contemporary Art Centre and China and Chinese Art Centre, UK) the artists respond to the wrong-footed boycotting of Chinese cultural exchange in their home country and the way in which Chinese contemporary art is curated in the UK as novel political curio. Their presentation includes a mute-sensory installation and a series of quixotic prints.

The collective (Christopher Thomas, Benjamin Orlow and Joey Holder) make artworks which stockpile clichés. Their London exhibition The Emaciated Spectator at Apiary (London) earlier this year was immediately identified as urgent to current conversations concerning the professionalisation of art. Their hyperreal vision of the scene in London is now being exported to China, enveloping the Chinese art world in their own ideological smoke screen.

Spotlighting how activism has been co-opted, monetized and amalgamated by the marketplace, psychoanalYSL were fascinated by the festival of protest which followed the detention of Ai Weiwei. The artists planned to exhibit an artwork which responded to the market’s dependence on political cache in Chinese contemporary art; however the project faced two levels of censorship from both their hosts in China and supporters of the project in the UK. This exhibition reverberates these prohibitions.

Cultural exchange is often described as soft power: a reinforcement of Chinese authority, with a friendly face. This is the excuse of a number of UK organisations in culturally boycotting China. We refuse the principal of culturally boycotting China on the grounds that boycotting shuts down discourse.

The curatorial approach to Chinese contemporary art in the West can been associated with a wider phenomenon of “the collapsing distinction between marketing and activism” outlined by Micah White and others. Ai Weiwei’s sunflower seeds at Tate Modern provided not only mass entertainment but a satisfying moral soup. For their exhibition at Ceiling Space the collective utilise these surface observations to build a critical spectacle of the spirit of these international cultural relations. The artist’s process of observation and presentation studies and reflects capital’s operation that with one breath gives and another takes away the possibilities for art.

As Sontag purports “practically all metaphors for style amount to placing matter on the inside, style on the outside. It would be more to the point to reverse the metaphor. The matter, the subject, is on the outside; the style is on the Inside” (On Style, 1965). With this is mind, psychoanalYSL allows the matter to reveal itself by embodying and reflecting the preferred appearance for Chinese contemporary art in the West. The collective announce the conviviality of the apparently radical thematic in art; it is not that the politics is not present, but rather that simple resistance might be futile in our ‘Age of Complicity’ and maybe there is no easy oppositional solution.

– Helen Kaplinsky



Only one day till the artists arrive. I’m trying to finish a short essay for the publication in oppressive heat. It’s impossible to concentrate. I have to play a careful game in the way in which I word things. When my text gets translated into Mandarin I know it will be changed, but not how much or in what way. Translation is such a delicate art. With the knowledge that the Mandarin text will not be my words, I try to keep my English text my own. It’s not just problem ‘key words’ which the translation will remove. I feel under pressure to create a diplomatic and bland statement about cultural exchange and partnership with Ceiling Gallery. This is not me.

The fog machines for psychoanalYSL’s installation have arrived. Yanyan had to spend four hours sorting out the delivery. There are so many practical things I would be arranging as a curator in UK which are just not possible here because of language. In some way this is great as it allows me to concentrate on the writing. For Yanyan this project is a lot more work than other residencies he has managed.

The packaging for the fog machine liquid is brilliant ***DJ~POWER***

We test them out but the space we’re in is 350sqm and the installation space only about 75sqm so it’s difficult to tell if they will suffice. They have fun remote controls with fake walnut detail. I fill Yanyan’s office with fog just as the head of culture for Chongqing province arrives for a meeting! She’s here to discuss the issues 102 artists have with the Huang Jueping Contemporary Art Gallery next to their studio block (see blog entry #14). The problem of the government controlling gallery spaces in Chongqing is coming to a head and Yanyan as one of the elders of the scene has been busy this week with meetings every second day in which he is asked to give advice to the younger artists in the 102 studios. Yanyan is the link to the council officials and landlords, the one who originally signed the agreement with the landlords at 501 studios and now manages negotiations at 102. He feels cornered when it comes to options as he knows he’s always on the outside of these negotiations. The council and landlords are in one another’s pockets.

I’ve also been working on the invitation and poster. I wanted psychoanalYSL to do the design as I knew the graphic design here would not be up to scratch from the other posters I’ve seen in the area. They could only do so much as the Mandarin needs to be inserted. Once the local graphic designer had done their work the original image by the artists had been taken down to a 50% transparency, blue and turquoise ugly squashed type stamped upon it. Those involved want their names centre stage, so the poster looks like an advertisement for a feature film rather than an exhibition “PRODUCER : ALEX ZHOU, EXHIBITION DIRECTOR : TIAN MENG, ACADEMIC SUPPORT … ETC Also the gallery insist upon using as many logos as possible to make the show look important. Yanyan has a folder of 10s of logos of different media companies; he randomly pulled about 8 to put on the poster shrugging his shoulders saying how silly this practice is. Plus the arbitrary media partners we’ve got those who have actually given support; Arts Council, Sveska Kultur Fonden, 501 Contemporary Art Centre, Chinese Arts Centre and Ceiling Space…so another 5! I can’t convince them to stop at the genuine 5 investors but I do have another go at the graphics, reinstating psychoanalYSL’s artwork to its intended hue, stripping down the amount of text and putting it in the most minimal font I can find.

It’s taken a whole week of backwards and forwards with the poster and it’s not even printed yet! We’ve also got a publication of 16 or so pages to put together. This is going to be interesting.

PsychoanalYSL prior boarding their plane to China have just installed work in

RIVE GAUCHE: South of the River

NULL/VOID’s inaugural exhibition for their project space. See:

1 Comment

Skyping with artist in Chongqing last night:

[01:40:45] Helen Jiang: Helen, It’s late, u r still working?

[01:42:00] Helen Kaplinsky: Yeah. Uk is 7 hours behind China so I just wait to talk to the artists on skype now. You/

[01:42:59] Helen Jiang: I talked with a friend on skype, before that, I check some information on internet

[01:43:45] Helen Kaplinsky: Did Max invite you to tonight? we had dinner and watched a film. I was sad you and your girls could not come.

[01:44:18] Helen Jiang: who is Max?

[01:44:22] Helen Jiang: I don’t know that

[01:44:29] Helen Jiang: I’m so sorry

[01:44:48] Helen Jiang: I didn’t know

[01:44:55] Helen Jiang: If I know I will come

[01:45:04] Helen Jiang: I stay at home whole day

[01:45:06] Helen Kaplinsky: It’s his english name. I dont know his Chinese, he came to your flat with me

[01:45:26] Helen Kaplinsky: I told him to ask you and your friends…

[01:45:26] Helen Jiang: oh, I don’t know his english name, hehe

[01:45:43] Helen Jiang: He didn’t asked me

[01:46:18] Helen Jiang: last night I met him on the way, he didn’t say

[01:47:06] Helen Kaplinsky: Oh. He chose I film to watch at my studio, and before we had food. I will invite you myself next time1

[01:47:09] Helen Kaplinsky: !

[01:47:14] Helen Kaplinsky: sorry

[01:47:28] Helen Jiang: thank you, Helen

[01:47:37] Helen Jiang: maybe he told to my friend

[01:48:04] Helen Jiang: but my friend visted me this afternoon

[01:49:22] Helen Kaplinsky: strange. Next time.

[01:49:33] Helen Kaplinsky: I’m here till the 12th of august

[01:49:43] Helen Jiang: and maybe Max doesn’t know my English name

[01:49:50] Helen Jiang: ok, we still have time

[01:50:06] Helen Kaplinsky: What’s your favorite chinese film?

[01:50:19] Helen Kaplinsky: we can do another film night

[01:50:33] Helen Jiang: I don’t know how to translate

[01:50:46] Helen Jiang: maybe LET BULLETN FLY

[01:51:32] Helen Jiang: bullet

[01:51:38] Helen Kaplinsky: Wen Jiang? I just look it up but the site is blocked

[01:51:44] Helen Jiang: right

[01:52:04] Helen Jiang: very good, that movie

[01:52:36] Helen Kaplinsky: 1920s. Thats all the information I can get. wickipdia and imda is blocked

[01:52:37] Helen Jiang: whenever u are free, u can call me, or visit me

[01:54:02] Helen Kaplinsky: tonight we watched ‘love in a puff’. A Hong Kong film chosen by max

[01:54:22] Helen Kaplinsky: What’s your chinese name…again

[01:54:24] Helen Kaplinsky: ?

[01:54:54] Helen Jiang: Jiang Dong dong

[01:55:01] Helen Jiang: dong means winter

[01:55:14] Helen Jiang:…

[01:55:16] Helen Kaplinsky: oh yeah, I remember your email!

[01:55:30] Helen Jiang: maybe you can try this to watch bullet

[01:55:48] Helen Kaplinsky: thanks

[01:56:00] Helen Jiang: but speak Chinese

[01:56:15] Helen Kaplinsky: It says a message in mandarin. i think something is wrong but not sure what

[01:57:39] Helen Kaplinsky: I’ve been looking for falun gong and let the bullets fly, many things that are blocked on the internet tonight!

[02:00:35] Helen Jiang: oh, there is no English caption, what a pity

[02:01:07] Helen Kaplinsky: I will find a way to watch when I return to UK

[02:02:26] Helen Jiang: ok

[02:02:55] Helen Kaplinsky: Also, there is an exhibition preview on saturday

[02:03:10] Helen Kaplinsky: An austrian filmaker Axel Stockburger at organ haus

[02:03:22] Helen Jiang: oh, in ur studio

[02:03:23] Helen Jiang: ?

[02:03:31] Helen Kaplinsky: No, at 501

[02:03:52] Helen Kaplinsky: Different residency organised by yang shu

[02:04:05] Helen Jiang: ok, in the evening?

[02:04:44] Helen Kaplinsky:

Organhaus Art Space are holding Axel Stockburger(Austria)’s solo exhibition ——“JINGSHENFENXI”. (2011 Chongqing Organhaus Art Space Artists Residency Project 04#)

Opening: 7:30pm, July 30th, 2011

Exhibition days: July 30th –August 9

Venue: Organhaus Art Space exhibition hall #1(501 warehouse 1st fl).

Welcome to join us!And thank you for your support!



Organhaus Art Space

Address: Organhaus Art Space (first floor, 501)

Huanghjueping 126, Jiulongpo district

Chongqing City






The general perception is that there are plenty of artists in Chongqing but no ‘art scene’ has developed as yet. By ‘art scene’ they refer to collectors and galleries. As anyone with an interest in Asian contemporary art will know, the main focus, due apparently to the concentration of fortunes is in Hong Kong. In fact with its booming property market Chongqing is not short of money, but it does lack a ‘cultured’ middle-class who might be cultivated into art buyers. Chongqing is known for it’s loud feisty women with supple skin (the humid weather they say keeps it peachy), and a rustic character that despite the persistent urbanisation allows it to retain an intimate charm. This has especially endured in Huangjue Ping, the area where I’m staying, with its night market and barbeques till 2am which according to locals the government will clear away and replace with sanitary shopping malls in their next round of development. Amazingly the soviet style architecture which lines the main shopping street in my area is only 10 years old. It looks more like 40. Poor quality concrete is used and so becomes dilapidated almost immediately. When I visited my friend’s 27th floor apartment yesterday, which was built only 1 year ago, he showed me where the wall had begun to crumble round the door frame. This sense of impermanence, get-rich quick building demonstrates the foundations on which the new money has been established. The market is being flooded with too much property development and the bubble will burst. Perhaps art could be a good investment for the future for the fragile new middle classes in Chongqing, if only they can be persuaded.

The closest city to Chongqing with a more developed ‘art scene’ is Chengdu about 350km away, then there is of course Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai which artists who are based here are constantly making jaunts to. The gallery we are exhibiting at, Ceiling Space is a new venture for Chongqing, programming only started in September last year. So far they have been working with local artists mostly but plan to bring over some international in the future through a partnership with Goethe Institute. Ceiling Gallery promotes conceptual art. From what I can see this is the first conceptual art gallery proper for the city and so it’s opening could beckon a new dawn for its art world reputation. When I met Meg Maggio in Beijing prior to coming to Chongqing she described Chongqing as the Boston to New York (when comparing it to Beijing). The reality left me disappointed. The curator Tian Meng comes across as loyal to the province and strong minded, I think you need to be to resist the pull to a bigger city or the constant refrain that “no exhibitions worth a thought ever happen in Chongqing”. This platitude which local artist Oliver Gosling quotes to me seems to go against not only Ceiling but longer term projects which have been taking place in the city. Organ Haus, run by prosperous local teacher and artist Yang Shu has been programming an international residency programme and providing opportunities for Sichuan artists for several years. Through a partnership with Triangle Arts Trust and Gasworks Gallery (London) he has bought prominent names such as Alexander de Cunah to Chongqing. However, this is not a commercial programme which has the forward planning to build an art market in Chongqing. This kind of activity is great for building an audience for art with events by artists from outside who bring a fleeting energy for the locals to enjoy.


Back by popular demand, Rachel Marsden and others via email who have expressed their interest in Skype conversations I have with the artists.

Skype conversation 2, part 2/2

[16:18:32] Helen Kaplinsky: Can you confirm if it’s upper or lower case, and is wording ‘I DID IT MY WAY WAY’

[16:18:42] Joey Holder: yes upper case

[16:18:48] Joey Holder: and this is correct title

[16:19:02] Helen Kaplinsky: cool

[16:19:11] Joey Holder: i spoke to chris on the phone 20 mins agao

[16:19:12] Joey Holder: ago

[16:19:37] Joey Holder: and he said he could add the title etc, but not for another hour or so coz hes at embassey

[16:19:43] Joey Holder: sorry this is so fucking rushed

[16:20:18] Joey Holder: i m not good with type, just with images (sweat)

[16:20:31] Helen Kaplinsky: just wasted a day and know you guys will be travelling soon so need to get things sorted. I need images you want to put into publication before you leave also

[16:21:01] Joey Holder: ok

[16:21:34] Helen Kaplinsky: I know you guys are super busy too with other projects and working full-time so understandable x

[16:21:54] Joey Holder: its pretty crazy

[16:22:11] Joey Holder: busy I mean

[16:22:16] Joey Holder: but will get it all sorted

[16:23:07] Joey Holder: did you get the file?

[16:23:41] Helen Kaplinsky: yep, just downloading, think it will take some time

[16:25:40] Joey Holder: ok

[16:25:47] Joey Holder: i just spoke to chris on here

[16:25:54] Helen Kaplinsky: on another note I think my blog has been blocked

[16:26:08] Joey Holder: he is going to send you the flyer again with the title done, in the right font

[16:26:11] Joey Holder: he will do it now

[16:26:17] Helen Kaplinsky: WICKI

[16:26:23] Helen Kaplinsky: D

[16:26:36] Helen Kaplinsky: & COOL

[16:31:47] Joey Holder: :D

[16:31:50] Joey Holder: ok

[16:31:54] Joey Holder: gotta run

[16:31:57] Joey Holder: xxxxxxx

[16:31:57] Joey Holder: bye bye

[16:31:58] Joey Holder: x

[16:32:15] Joey Holder: chris is online if you need to speak to him….