2019 "Research-based Curatorial Project" Finalists

Research-based Curatorial Project" is OCAT Institute’s exhibition curatorial and research initiative. This initiative aims to explore and advance the execution of art-related research projects and exhibit these studies, providing a practical opportunity and communication platform for outstanding scholars and curators in the fields of contemporary art and art history.


During the three-month submission period of OCAT Institute’s second "Research-based Curatorial Project” in 2019, we received more than 50 submissions, of which 45 of them were complete curatorial projects. Among these, 20 were submitted in Chinese and 25 in English; 24 were independent proposals and 21 were joint. The submissions covered a wide spectrum of topics, including the past and the present, space and archives, experimentalism and locality, architecture and the city, performing and theatre arts, virtual reality and artificial intelligence, and art and technology. The vast majority of these curators have fair amounts of curatorial experience; the variety of their proposals reflects a diverse range of approaches that utilize the exhibition space in compelling ways, highlighting the research aspect of their respective projects. With the research-based emphasis of this initiative in mind, Professor Wu Hung and the OCAT Institute team selected seven finalists (in alphabetical order):



Andris Brinkmanis, Paolo Caffoni, Yin Shuai 

Infancy and History


Chen Shuyu 

Archiving the Spaces of Anxiety: From the Burrow to the Peach Colony


Duffy Du 

Rethinking Ethnography as Methodology for Art


Pan Yuxi  

Global Echoes: An Anthropology of Sound


Pocono Zhao Yu, Rie Kung 

Lions of the Scottish Highlands—Parallel Exhibition of Writing


Rupert Griffith, Zhu Xinwei 

The Persistence of Light and Sound


Wang Huan, Wang Ziyun 

The Story of Finding Differences—Human Trace, Intercity, and Transformation of the World


OCAT Institute will exhibit these seven proposals from August to October 2019. Led by OCAT’s executive director Professor Wu Hung and several guest jurors, a workshop will be organized during exhibition and engage each curatorial project in dialogue.


Professor Wu Hung and the OCAT Institute team will make a final decision after considering feedback from the guests and audience to each proposal. The final selection will be released on our official website and WeChat platform, and the winning proposal will be curated at the OCAT Institute in the spring of 2020.


About the Shortlisted Proposals


Infancy and History

Curators: Andris Brinkmanis, Paolo Caffoni, Yin Shuai


The exhibition project “Infancy and History” takes the title and inspiration from the renowned collection of essays published in 1978 by Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben in which, departing from the problem of experience, he proposes a particular theory of childhood. The gaze towards infancy becomes in this case a powerful tool and method of analysis, allowing to deconstruct the dominant narratives of history as well as those of the present.


In his reflections on the relationship between ritual/game, historical continuity and discontinuity in the West, Agamben describes a conception of history closely linked to the perception of time that underlies it: with the beginning of modernity the rectilinear concept of time, its linear homogeneity, is structured according the time of manufacturing work, the time of global metropolis, the time of colonial explorations. At the very base of this conception of history resides a Western ideology of progress that defines both the development of the “biological body” from childhood to maturity, as well as the “cultural body” from the primitive to the modern.


The exhibition “Infancy and History” wants to assume the form of a collection and an assembly of various objects, research materials and artistic works, aiming to render visible those “discourses of things” and gestures, which still can allow us to reread and re-interpret history. Each of materials gathered in this exhibition bear historical witness about its own cultural background, about the emergence and gradual mutation of the perception and understanding of the notion “childhood” in different geographical and historical contexts.


The museum in this sense is an exemplary space, where objects are placed in a particular sphere, disconnected from their original use value. This space also preserves a set of rules and regulations, which only children are still capable of subverting. In this case, the exhibition’s display aims to render visible those limits, opening up a discussion on how these cultural codes could be critically evaluated and eventually “profaned” not only in the museum but also in the social and political space.


Archiving the Spaces of Anxiety: From the Burrow to the Peach Colony

Curator: Chen Shuyu


“Archiving the Spaces of Anxiety” takes its form from a transitional path that links Kafka’s unfinished short story The Burrow (1923–1924) and Wu Li’s painting White Cloud and Green Mountain (1668), by looking into a set of intertwining relations between the external space that surrounds us, and the internal space that belongs to our body and our feelings.


In The Burrow, Kafka writes about an unknown creature tortured by anxiety and who thus keeps building his underground world in search of perfect security. Whereas Wu Li, in his long handscroll, paints a gateway that connects the real world to the world of illusion, interpreting one of the most well-known Utopian stories in Chinese literature, The Fable of the Peach Blossom Spring by Tao Yuan Ming (365–427), also translated as The Peach Colony by Lin Yutang. The spatial experience created in literary imagination and artworks offer us a position to reflect on the real space in which “the erosion of our lives, our time and our history occurs” (Of Other Spaces by Michel Foucault, 1967).


I also propose to construct a new “spatial archive” of artworks that explore anxiety in relation to a perceived, physical space and an imagined, inner space. This also emphasizes the experimental “spatial curation” of this project: how to create specific locations, relationships, and contexts for a series of “spatial archives” in an exhibition space, so that “spatial archives” and “archival space” mutually propel and expand each other in a heterotopia of subjects and places. The viewer experiences their presences from oscillating between the two, and thus encounters the problematics of space—how do we interrogate the spaces that determine our existence?


“Archiving the Spaces of Anxiety” features eight artists who research, act, and create around different types of spatial concepts to explore creating new interlacing paths between The Burrow and The Peach Colony.


Rethinking Ethnography as Methodology for Art

Curator: Duffy Du


Walter Benjamin once published the essay “The Author as Producer” which theorized the concept of art production. Hal Foster later put forward "The Artist as Ethnographer?” based on  Benjamin’s text and questioned the legitimacy of artists who create art through the paradigm of “ethnography.” Benjamin shattered classical art theory and rendered advanced modern technology (images and photography) as a means of mass reproduction. Classical anthropology used to focus on the study of theology and witchcraft, but was restructured by Claude Lévi-Strauss (1958). In contemporary art, American director Robert Joseph Flaherty’s fieldwork are the subject of his films. With the evolution and synthesis of contemporary art and ethnography, we return to the Hal Foster’s question—how do artists use ethnography as art methodology?


The exhibition topic “Rethinking Ethnography as Methodology for Art” researches and discusses young artists who utilize ethnography as a method of artistic creation. In order to explore the emotions and narratives inside works of art, the exhibition features four young artists: Avita Guo, Chih Ying Musquiqui, Okui Lala, and Solveig Suess. Through video works and installations that are concretely experienced, each of them draws from their sociocultural background, political-economic environment, and personal experience to explore and study issues of colonialism, immigrant identity, economic development, and personal emotions. By examining art as a possible mediation between methodology and ethnography, the whole exhibition cites the narrative style of the classic ethnographic film “El Abraz de la Serpiente” (2015), which divides the exhibition into three parts: readings, artworks, and discussions.


Global Echoes: An Anthropology of Sound

Curator: Pan Yuxi


Since the second half of the 1990s, sound art has become an independent artistic discipline in global contemporary art despite its ambiguous definition. In 2000, there were three important sound art exhibitions by several leading art institutions in London and New York. These exhibitions influenced Chinese contemporary art curators and artists to begin curating and practicing sound art. In 2013, Museum of Modern Art in New York presented Soundings: A Contemporary Score, an exhibition that explored the complexities and varieties of contemporary sound art. From architectural and performative interventions, to sound visualizations and field recordings, Soundings showcased an ever-expanding field of contemporary art along with many other sound art exhibitions held globally, including RPM: Sound Art China at the 2013 Shanghai West Bund Biennale. In recent years, sound artists were no longer satisfied with just exploring the form of sound and its listening environment as displayed in previous exhibitions. Rather, many of them were trying to explore the role of sound in global politics, history, and geopolitical relations; to use sound as a code to uncover the dynamics between society and politics, nature and culture, and history and reality.


Global Echoes: An Anthropology of Sound will feature sound artworks by seven contemporary artists from around the world. Utilizing photographs, videos, sculptural installations, field recordings and digital archives, these artists investigate the historical, political, economic, and environmental forces that lie underneath the production, circulation and perception of sound. It seems more fitting to describe them as anthropologists rather than sound artists, as these individuals develop distinct and coherent approaches to an anthropology of diverse sounds in various cultures, historical eras, and natural environments. From the death knell in the Burmese temple to the roaring machine in the sugar factory in Taiwan, from the opening rhythm of the former Yugoslav evening news to the songs of different social classes in the Danish town, and from the urban noise of Hong Kong to the melody of the rock of Gobustan in Azerbaijan, their explorations and reflections bring us into the long-overlooked places and expose us to the “sounds” behind sound. 


Lions of the Scottish Highlands—Parallel Exhibition of Writing

Curators: Pocono Zhao Yu, Rie Kung 


Exhibitions based on novels have become a common sight. For example, Jens Hoffmann's four exhibition adapted from novels in the CCA Wattis project and Stéphanie Moisdon's adaption of Michel Houellebecq's novel The Map and the Territory. In this process of converting text to exhibition, we began to rethink the exhibition hall itself as a new place for storytelling. Unlike screen adaptation of the novel, the exhibition hall is an immersive environment for the viewers inside.


“The Lion of the Scottish Highlands” is a writing project initiated by Pocono ZHAO Yu and Rie Kung. It consists of fifteen articles, written by twelve authors. Unlike a novel, “The Lion of the Scottish Highlands” is a segmented and independent journal. So, in what way can it become an exhibition that parallels the text with continuity? With these questions in mind and the desire to continue writing, we constructed a curatorial plan that is a “parallel exhibition” of writing. The exhibition consists of the works of eight artists including the two curators. The discussion involves four parts: “Negotiation of Real and Fictional,” “Fabrication in Narrative Continuity,” “About Void and How to Fall Into the Void,” and “The Continuation of Time in Fiction.”


In contemporary art’s customary use of narrative techniques, “narrative continuity” requires one or more MacGuffins to function as conceptual indicators and give the artwork a sense of completeness. While the narrative itself often ends up as a kind of MacGuffin of the artistic creation, its significance is not the inherent story, but rather the use of conceptualization to become possible. The “MacGuffin” has become the exhibition; it is its own justification. In other words, the MacGuffin itself is a MacGuffin. In these processes of entanglement and cycles, we all become entwined in this MacGuffin-woven “mega” exhibition.


The Persistence of Light and Sound

Curators: Rupert Griffiths , Zhu Xinwei


Cities are regions of intensity—intensities of movement, communication, encounter, and dwelling. These intensities fill the air with an excess of waves and particles—light, sound, dust, and imperceptible particles. These seemingly immaterial excesses insinuate themselves into our imaginations, our subconscious, and our bodies, creating an urban ambience that is simultaneously phantasmagorical and quotidian, beautiful and pernicious.


By considering the specular and aural qualities of the air in cities, this research-based exhibition asks how artists represent the aural, visual, and particulate noise in the air that surrounds us. It does so by considering artworks that addresses noise and excess and putting them into dialogue with artworks that deal with silence and absence. By developing the exhibition along this line of tension between excess and absence, it will explore how contemporary and historical imaginaries of nature and the urban inform, define, and challenge one another.


The exhibition will approach such works from the academic perspective of cultural geography, considering not only the representations that artists produce but also the practices that they employ, the tools that they use, and the materiality of their work. It will ask how and why artists capture and represent the apparent immateriality of air and give it presence—whether by collecting light, sound, or particles—and how these works frame themselves against cultural constructions of nature. How, for example, do imaginaries of a pristine nature frame artistic discourses and practices that deal with light, sound, or air pollution? Similarly, how do works that address ideas of silence or absence frame themselves against the concepts of nature and the urban?



The Story of Finding Differences—Human Trace, Intercity, and Transformation of the World

Curators: Wang Huan, Wang Ziyun


There is a group of people whose identity has fallen in a crack. Not solely the “county town youths” as categorized by the Chinese census—some of them have even become the urban elites who reside in first and second tier cities in China. In the past 40 years, China has encountered urbanization at an almost impossible rate. In the 1980s, when more than 80% of the population lived in rural areas, many people strived for and coveted county life. Yet nowadays, young people born in these county towns and rural areas have flowed to larger and more bustling modern cities; the county town has since become a fissured space. Meanwhile, despite that the vast majority of “small town youths” have quickly embraced urban life, many are not well prepared. Their lives are irrevocably forced forward step-by-step. This sense of dislocation is hidden in their living habits, hobbies, personal beliefs, and social relationships.


This exhibition research proposal “The Story of Finding Differences—Human Trace, Intercity, and Transformation of the World” draws from “county temperament,” as an approach to figuring out the “shadowed vision of localization” under constant globalization. Among the multi-person/group “artists” who are involved in the project, some are identified as artists, internet celebrities, artisans, or band musicians. We believe it’s less important to use creative methodology that looks like contemporary art than it is to actually find a way to deal with the “problems” in their respective dimensions of the world—when bodies are caught off-guard by the acceleration of the world, how can we prepare our psychological defensive measures? Under the framework of Western modernity and the logic of capitalism, how do Asia or China establish their heterogeneities? Many questions remain unresolved, and we must disrupt these conceptual narratives to re-examine overlooked spheres.