Urban Monster? Big-Tail Elephants and Urbanization of the Pearl River Delta

Time: 3/15/2017 (Wednesday)   19:00-21:00

Participants: Nikita Caiying Qian, Chen Tong, Dong Bingfeng, Lin Yilin, Luo Qingmin, Philip Tinari, Xu Tan

Host: Wang Chunchen

Organizer: OCAT Institute 

Venue: Auditorium of CAFA art museum. (Enter from the west end)

What is Big-Tail Elephants? Is it a new animal species? Or is it a pre-historic monster? Actually, it is a name of an artist group given by youngster artists to themselves  in the early 1990s.  At first, they planned to call themselves Big “Rhinophants” (大犀象 da xi xiang), which is probably a hybrid of rhinoceros and elephant. However, nobody in the group knew how to write “犀 ” (xi, rhinoceros) in Chinese, and they mistook “尾” (wei, tail) for “犀”. As a result, the hybrid creature “rhinophants”, which was supposed to be in the group name,  became another kind of monster that no one had ever seen in reality. It was a time when commercialism and consumerism began to spread in China and  Chinese cities became to expand wildly. Busy streets took on a new look every day and the business world became indistinguishable from the daily world—all these changes in the Pearl River Delta threw people into a vortex of excitement and helplessness. Big-Tail Elephants “seized the opportunity” and began making performance art in the street. They made the rapid-expanding construction sites their stage for art-making, blending themselves into activities on streets and interrupting the traffic while opening up a new space for free expression. Just like Godzilla, the Big-Tail Elephants  was a monstrous creature born in the congested urban center, bringing both great thrill and intense fear to its audience. However, there was also time when their works put on another look that displayed romance and poetry. The complex and diverse appearances of the works of Big-Tail Elephants foresaw the fate of urban space in both China and the world.

A war of the street has thereby started. Strategies to cope with all sorts of oppression were contained. The power of cultural critique and activities of innovative art creation were ignited at the same time by means of Big Tail Elephants’ works, making the force irresistible. 

More than two decades has past since the establishment of the Big-Tail Elephants, but we can feel the significance  of this “urban monster” even more clearly today. How much significant is this “urban monster” ? Isn’t this the right time to have a debate on it and find out how it interacts with the urbanization of the Pearl River Delta ?