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UCCA often opens up its Central Gallery to more experimental exhibitions from younger, emerging artists and curators; Cold Nights is one such show. Along with two curators, the exhibition’s four artists – Chen Zhou, Liu Shiyuan, Li Ran and Nabuqi – spent more than a year meeting and discussing Ba Jin’s 1947 novel Cold Nights. Each artist was assigned a character and created artworks loosely based on their stories.
Ba Jin’s melancholic story describes the toils of a family in Chongqing as a man’s wife and mother bicker endlessly, the wife elopes with a lover and the husband slowly withers away as a result. More than simply a fictional story, the genius of the novel lies in its discussion of the social and economic paradigm shifts that were occurring in 1940s China. In much the same way, this UCCA show invites the artists to create individual works that respond to the unique socio-political conditions of our time, while also using the narrative of the novel as a foundation.
A video each by Chen, Liu and Li are packed into the small space, creating a sense of these three young artists’ work merging together. Nabuqi contributes mirrors, lights and fans across the space that heighten the feeling of the artworks, like the family in the novel, working variously in unison and antagonism. Of these four artworks, two stand out: Chen’s otherworldly video of two futuristic women wandering a landscape, futilely searching for a friend, sees script and aesthetic combine to produce an unsettling feeling that’s difficult to shy away from. Liu’s intriguing film jumps from a group of people eating fresh oysters on a beach, to a beautiful dance, to a bee pollinating a flower, to groups of colourful patterns, for an ephemeral yet engaging effect. As remarkable as these two pieces are, it’s well worth spending time checking out all of the works; it’s not until they are considered together that the exhibition’s many resonances can begin to be uncovered.
By Tom Mouna