Collective Marching as A Curatorial Method

Nie, Xiaoyi

On-going PhD research in Royal College of Art
Supervised by Prof. Victoria Walsh and curator Grant Watson


This research looks at an early curatorial project in China Long March: A Walking Visual Display (2002) to explore the tension accumulated when the local artistic practice was translated and represented internationally for the global art circulation in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Long March: A Walking Visual Display was curated by Chinese curators Lu Jie and Qiu Zhijie in 2002 and about 250 local and international participants held site-themed exhibitions and events along the historic route of Red Army’s Long March in 1930s. Instead of looking from the formerly existing perspectives like ‘social-engagement’ (Claire Bishop), ‘site-specificity’(Miwon Kwon) and ‘utopian action’ (Alexandra Munroe/Hou Hanru), the research considers the project as an spontaneous response, influenced by the emerging curating experiments in the West, to the discursive anxiety specific to that time (early 2000s) among Chinese artists: Are themselves creating ‘Chinese contemporary art’ or ‘contemporary Chinese art?’ And how should ‘Chinese art’ relate to the identity politics and post-colonial discourse when China is a socialist country with a free-market ? The wide participation of Chinese artists in this project is then considered as not only a collective retreat from the international biennials and western institutions, but also an attempt to generate an alternative art ecology to be born in the local.

By sorting out previous researches, investigating Long March Project’s archive, interviewing previous participants, I hope to provide a historical path of understanding this project’s origin and its later various self-representations back to the international, but especially point to its curatorial anxiety of generating a new discourse to articulate for contemporary art in China. The research will also carefully review the self-claimed  failure of this project, revealing how curatorial proposal  overrrode the en-route progress and how the desire to echo to the history overdetermined the artworks.

Drawing upon marching as a model for curating, in which the intensified somatic experience and unexpected situations would disrupt the continuous thinking but still place the indivudals on the track of the route plan, the research finally departs from Long March: A Walking Visual Display and suggests ‘collective marching’ as a curatorial method for participants to transform the anxiety of self-positioning in a system and temporarily collaborate to form a spectacular yet reflexive moving troupe. This speculative critique towards Long March: A Walking Visual Display speaks back to ‘Chinese contemporary art’ which is still awkward in finding the language and the route to develop, but also explores the generative translations between actions, images and texts after the discursive turn in the curatorial.

Key words: marching, curatorial, globalisation, post-colonial, discourse, action, biennials, social-engaged