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Sarah Morris

By Nooshfar Afnan

The Importance of Conversation

Conversations and research form the bedrock of Sarah Morris’s artistic practice. The artist conceives most of her creative ideas through conversations, followed by research to give shape to those thoughts, and then even more conversations to realise a work. These conversations involve fellow artists, curators and potential film subjects. But the spark for new ideas for artistic projects most regularly comes from conversations with the group of culturally diverse young professional studio assistants from a variety of disciplines that she surrounds herself with.

The New York-based artist was in Beijing in March for the opening of her solo show at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Sarah Morris: Odysseus Factor. Resembling a mid-career retrospective, it is one of her biggest shows to date. It also marks a decade since Morris came to China to shoot her film Beijing (2008) about the Olympics. Ten years is also the amount of time it took Odysseus to sail home to Ithaca and the duration of the Trojan war, hence the show’s title. 

Sarah Morris Beijing 2008 (medium res) 2

Beijing by Sarah Morris, 35mm/HD, 84 min 47 sec, 2008. © Sarah Morris. Courtesy White Cube.

Morris is busy working on several projects. In late May she will be in Hong Kong to attend the opening of her solo show at White Cube. After Beijing, she and her team travelled to Japan to shoot her next film, which has two main elements: the spectacle that surrounds the blooming of the sakura cherry blossoms; and an interview with molecular biologist Shinya Yamanaka, a Nobel Prize winner, about a controversial new technology to create stem cells. She is also working on a project for the Convention Center for Art Basel Miami in December, a very large-scale site-specific ceramics facade, produced in Guadalajara, Mexico.

All of Morris’s 14 films are on show at the UCCA, spanning the two decades from 1998 to 2017. Most of the rest of the exhibition comprises her paintings, mostly consisting of geometric shapes and precisely drawn lines, with a limited palette per painting of solid colours. Posters designed in collaboration with M/M Paris to promote her films and two large-scale wall paintings round out the show. Dr Caligari [2] (2018), a site-specific wall painting over nine metres long, was created for the UCCA’s monumental factory space.

For Morris, her films and paintings form a cohesive whole, although each is different in the state of mind it requires, the time it takes to execute and the collaborative effort involved. “They allow for each other to exist and they also constantly inform each other,” she says. There are also overlaps between the two practices in colour palettes and titles.Morris’s key themes include power structures, the movement of capital, corruption and conspiracy. Rather than following the trend of artists dealing with the marginal and the alternative, from the beginning of her career Morris has been interested in the idea of “trying to deal with these very mainstream forces – to go right to the centre”. This finds expression in her focus on the self-involved world of Hollywood in Los Angeles (2004); the juggernaut that is the Olympics, described by Morris as “political, corrupt, super-commercial and artificial” in 1972 and Beijing (both 2008); how power is manifested in a city’s architecture in AM/PM (1999) and Points on a Line (2010); and how the cash that flows in from selling “a fantasy” or “a dream” via luxury goods enables the building of an art museum by a starchitect like Frank Gehry, in her film commissioned by Suzanne Pagé and the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Strange Magic (2014). However, we never feel outright critique, only subtle hints at something dark or corrupt. “If there is a conspiracy, I’m not saying I know what it is,” she says.

Sarah Morris 1972 2008 (medium res) 1

1972 by Sarah Morris, 35mm/HD, 38 min 12 sec, 2008. © Sarah Morris. Courtesy White Cube.

Morris’s films are neither documentary nor entirely fictional. They occupy a space between the two, forcing the viewer to grapple with the images seen and come up with some kind of understanding. Devoid of a definite narrative, defying logic and a clear ending, we see scenes jump from one to the next, from macro to micro and back again. In Beijing (2008), for example, we see preparations and practice for the Olympics, followed by a close-up of a woman collecting plastic bottles for recycling in the vicinity of the Bird’s Nest Stadium. These scenes seem both random and yet interconnected. For example, we might draw the conclusion that large sports events create a lot of additional waste. Morris wants her audience to come to their own conclusions. “The viewer is actually producing the meaning. Of course, I try to direct it when I can,” she says.

Instead of verbal commentary, highly repetitive electronic music forms the audio background to most of Morris’s films, exacerbating the absence of clues. The artist considers music an important element in her films. All originally composed by artist Liam Gillick, who is familiar with some of the themes in each film, the music is not written to accompany specific images. Then Morris takes the composed elements and pairs them with visual material, but she just as easily “might run counter to the image”, she says, questioning the implications of the scene. For example, in Rio (2012), the artist matches footage from an assembly line in a beer factory with ominous-sounding music. Elsewhere a disturbing scene, in which a seemingly dead horse is carried off by a Jockey Club truck, comes paired with gentle music.

Sarah Morris Rio 2012 (medium res) 1

Rio by Sarah Morris, Red Code / HD, 88 min 33 sec, 2012. © Sarah Morris. Courtesy White Cube and Galeria Fortes Vilaça.

The title of her latest show, at White Cube Hong Kong, Your Words are Mine, reflects her belief that “conversation is a very powerful thing. This issue of speech and the veracity of speech is obviously being contested a lot right now. Words are very important and very beautiful.” Building on this theme, Morris is showing a series of her latest paintings, which she refers to as “sound graphs”, with undulating lines that resemble hills and mountains. The series was inspired by a remark made by Alexander Kluge in her film Finite and Infinite Games (2017) while discussing New German cinema, when he momentarily veered off-script. His words where converted into the first sound graph painting, So in a sense it’s abstract as no painting will ever be [Sound 3] (2017), which is on show at the UCCA. Other works at White Cube will include the film Abu Dhabi (2016) and several paintings that capture the colours of the desert city.

Sarah Morris Your Words Become Mine Sound graph 2018 (medium res)

Your Words Become Mine by Sarah Morris, [Sound graph], Household gloss on canvas, 122 x 122 cm, 2018. © Sarah Morris. Photo © Ron Amstutz. Courtesy White Cube.

For Morris “there is meaning in every surface” and “meaning is there to be mined” by the audience. She believes our eyes are already trained to do so; she’s just trying to give us a helping hand.

M+ Live Art: Audience as Performer

June 1–3, 2018 

Goethe-Institut Hongkong 
14/F, Hong Kong Arts Centre
2 Harbour Rd
Wan Chai, Hong Kong 
Free admission. No registration is required for performance programmes.

Friday, June 1, 7:30–10pm
Saturday, June 2, 12–7pm
Sunday, June 3, 12–5:30pm

Audience as Performer is the inaugural exhibition of M+ Live Art, the museum’s first series dedicated to performance art, highlighting and unpacking the concept of the live body in visual art through compelling performances from local and international artists. Spread over three days, M+ Live Art: Audience as Performer features works by five artists from Asia who engage directly with the viewer, shifting the role of the audience from passive witness to active participant. By offering collaborations in new and open-ended works of art, the exhibition inspires the public to build social bonds through artistic production and collective action.

M+ Live Art: Audience as Performer features new commissions by two Hong Kong artists, wen yau and Isaac Chong Wai, whose works express the lived experiences of the city’s inhabitants facing shifting social realities. In A Drop and Two Dots: Everything Must Go! (Homage to All Peaceful Revolutionaries), wen yau focuses on a local context to examine the meaning of belonging to one’s land. In Rehearsal of the Futures: Police Training Exercises, Isaac Chong Wai addresses the history of protests around the world, considering how acts of confrontation can also be viewed as beautiful and gentle gestures.


Rehearsal of the Futures: Is the World Your Friend? by Isaac Chong Wai, 2018. Photo: Alice Yu.


Equally dedicated to addressing societal concerns is Indonesian artist Tisna Sanjaya, who uses traditional rituals as means of uncovering social injustices. In his work 99 Sajadah Merah, he welcomes members of the audience to traverse a sprawling installation with him in a collective form of art making, to encourage tolerance and cooperation.

Taiwanese artist River Lin’s work is also concerned with notions of ritual and the relationship between the body and time in site-specific social spaces. His work Cleansing Service offers one-on-one dialogue through a series of prescribed actions and personal exchanges.

Duan Yingmei continues the exploration of conversations and introspection with her work My Hong Kong Friends. Seeking connections to others by observing human instincts such as desire, fear, and love, Duan leads the audience on a journey that offers personal stories and creative, imagined worlds.

M+ Live Art: Audience as Performer invites the public to experience the transformative potential of the works of these five artists and consider the role of the audience as agent and producer of artistic meaning for new and unexpected encounters that not only live in the moment, but also are shared as collective memories for the future.

Alongside live performances, the exhibition includes an artist talk and an artist-led workshop that further expand the viewers’ experiences to encourage exchanges of ideas and perspectives on this ephemeral art form.

Presented as a semi-annual series, M+ Live Art offers audiences direct access to the artists through their live, immediate, and ephemeral performances. M+ Live Art acts as a catalyst to spark curiosity and expand thinking, engagement, and dialogue with the Hong Kong public about performance as a mode of artistic expression. Through the convergence of disciplines in performance art, such as visual art, dance, technology, sound, and moving image, the series contributes to the interdisciplinary ethos of M+ as a museum of visual culture and as a place for new and diverse cultural experiences.


About M+
M+ is a new museum dedicated to collecting, exhibiting, and interpreting visual culture of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Within Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District, we are building one of the largest museums of modern and contemporary visual culture in the world, with a bold ambition to establish ourselves in a short time as one of the world’s leading cultural institutions.

About West Kowloon Cultural District
Located on Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour, the West Kowloon Cultural District is one of the largest cultural projects in the world. Its vision is to create a vibrant new cultural quarter for Hong Kong. With a complex of theatres, performance spaces, and M+, the West Kowloon Cultural District will produce and host world-class exhibitions, performances, and cultural events, as well as provide twenty-three hectares of public open space, including a two-kilometre waterfront promenade.



Catherine Opie at Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong

So long as they are wild

through July 7, 2018

Lehmann Maupin is pleased to present So long as they are wild, a solo exhibition of recent work by Catherine Opie. For the Los Angeles-based artist’s first solo exhibition in Hong Kong, Opie will present a series of photographs shot in one of the United States’ most revered and naturally beautiful locations, Yosemite National Park in California. Opie is known for her ability to create photographs that unite contemporary themes and issues with a classical aesthetic that expands upon her exploration of the tradition of photography as well as the greater art historical canon. In addition to the photographs, Opie will include a series of ceramic sculptures. This recent undertaking of sculpture began as a personal pastime but has evolved into an alternative aesthetic pursuit.

4th Floor, Pedder Building
12 Pedder Street, Central
T (852) 2530 0025
Tu-Fr 10am to 7pm, Sa 11am to 7pm


Image: Installation view of So long as they are wild by Catherine Opie at Lehmann Maupin Hong Kong. 

Huang Yongping, Shen Yuan

Hong Kong Foot 
Tang Contemporary Art
Hong Kong
Dec 20, 2017 – Jan 27
Katherine Volk

Huang Yongping and Shen Yuan don’t avoid provocative subjects, and their work often creates controversy. Late last year, for example, Huang’s work was topical when his piece Theatre of the World, featuring lizards consuming insects as a metaphor for human violence, helped provide the title of the exhibition Art and China after 1989: Theatre of the World at New York’s Solomon R Guggenheim Museum. After arguments between animal cruelty activists and proponents of artistic freedom, his work was ultimately pulled from the show.

Neither did the pair shy away from contemporary discourse in the four works they made specifically for the opening of Tang Contemporary Art’s new space at H Queens. The title, Hong Kong Foot, refers to the fungal infection more often known as athlete’s foot, which was historically a common local condition among settlers, missionaries, soldiers and refugees. As Huang says, it has now been redefined as the way Hong Kong infects those who come to the city with its characteristics.

Central to the exhibition was Huang’s large-scale installation Les Consoles de Jeu Souveraines (2017). Rotating near the entrance of the gallery, the carousel structure contained seven unique figures that orbited in the opposite direction to the core’s hanging map of Hong Kong and some of its many islands. The islands danced around heavily as the wheel spun and figures passed by, teeming with symbolism from politics, history and culture. The piece asks, with such diverse influences, how the characteristics of modern Hong Kong can be defined, and whether it is possible in a globalised society for a city to leave its mark as profoundly as it has in the past.


Les Consoles de Jeu Souveraines by Huang Yongping, Iron, aluminum, wood, plastic, fiberglass, paper, straw and animal fur, 370 × 560 × 560 cm, 2017. Courtesy the artist and Tang Contemporary Art, Hong Kong.


Huang used creatures such as a locust and a replica of the 18th-century mechanical toy Tipu’s Tiger to comment on Hong Kong. Locusts refer to greed but have also become as a
derogatory term for mainland Chinese visitors and residents as tensions have grown regarding overcrowding, the influx of tourists, language and alleged disparities in behaviour. Tipu’s Tiger was an automaton featuring a tiger savaging a European man made for Tipu Sultan of Mysore in South India (1750-1799) as a comment on his hatred of the British East India Company. After lifelong hostilities, Tipu Sultan’s life came to an end when was killed after a siege by the British army. The original artefact went on to become a tool for imperial propaganda, and resides to this day at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

With its layers of history, the structure of the carousel itself carries a melting pot of implications. The concept was born from early war games in Europe and the Middle East, and brought into the mechanical age in the United States, where these depictions of invasion and conquest were transformed into whimsical attractions.

Shen’s Yellow Umbrella/Parasol (2017) is four tables filled with handmade items that recall the 2014 Hong Kong democracy protests, during which protestors blocked roads and set up camp for 79 days. Major Hong Kong streets shut down, crippling the heart of the financial district and bringing ordinary life to a standstill. The social and political movement was heavily student-led and was eventually suppressed by the authorities.

The 3D models are structured like sand tables used by the military, and Shen maps out a politicised landscape of Hong Kong society. Despite the apparent surface calm, tensions bubble up from below through the charged meanings left behind; even though there are no people, their presence is felt. Sand tables are also tools for education and planning, used for tracking ephemeral human changes against the permanent landscape; parts can be moved, layered, hidden and erased. The child-like aspect of the miniature models make them feel like doll’s houses or toys, alluding to youthful innocence and making the object of Shen’s critique unclear.

Huang and Shen posed no answers but offered a broad overview of contemporary Hong Kong society. Large-scale installations brought the pristine gallery to life, with the buzz of the city invading the white-walls. It was an image of where we are today, with reminders of how we arrived.

Ping Pong 129

Hilarie Hon, Lio Sze Mei, Mak Hoi Ching, Tom Chung Man, Tse Chun Sing, Tsim Hui Laam, Wong Yi Ching

May 10 – Jun 25

Hashtag is a selling exhibition by 7 young Hong Kong artists sharing their most cherished memories through the medium of paint, photography and installation. Curated by Emily Ip.

LG/F, Nam Cheong House
129 Second Street, Sai Ying Pun
T (852) 9835 5061
Mo-Su 6 to 11pm

Image: There’s such a lot of world to see by Wong Yi Ching, Oil on canvas, 40 x 30 x 1.5 cm, 2018.



Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

Concert Hall, Hong Kong 
Cultural Centre
Hong Kong
Jan 18, 2018
Ernest Wan

In each of its past three concert seasons, the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, under the leadership of music director Jaap van Zweden, has presented one opera from Richard Wagner’s tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen, aka the Ring Cycle. The plaudits that these concerts and the commercial recordings made of them have received meant there were high expectations for Götterdämmerung (1874), the fourth, longest and toughest work in the cycle. Happily, this final instalment did not disappoint.

The orchestra, over a hundred strong, inevitably sometimes overwhelmed the solo singers, with the former just behind the latter on the stage. Daniel Brenna sounded youthful as the hero Siegfried should, but his voice and tone were wanting in power and focus respectively. As Gunther, the ruler of the Gibichung race, Shenyang had a sound that was dark and indistinct in Act One, but thereafter his voice opened up.


Jaap van Zweden, the solo singers, the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, the Bamberg Symphony Chorus, the State Choir Latvija and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Chorus. Photo by Ka Lam.

By contrast, Eric Halfvarson sang with power and authority throughout, in a vivid and often frightening portrayal of the villain Hagen, Gunther’s half-brother. Peter Kálmán’s appearance as his dwarf father Alberich was brief but effective, so grimly did he urge his son to do evil. Gutrune, Gunther’s sister, sung by Amanda Majeski, pouring out her feelings on the death of Siegfried elicited pity for this rather passive character; it would be good to hear the vocalist in a more challenging role. As the valkyrie Waltraute, Michelle DeYoung sounded suitably gloomy and sorrowful when she told of the plight of the gods, while her sister Brünnhilde, sung by Gun-Brit Barkmin, listened in befuddlement.

Barkmin is a fine Brünnhilde, which is crucial to the success of any performance of Götterdämmerung. Hers isn’t the biggest of voices, but it projected well and possessed a poised calmness. She was affecting when fearful of her abductor; fearsome when she realised that he was none other than her lover Siegfried; and dignified, as befits an erstwhile valkyrie, when preparing to alter the world order in the final Immolation Scene. Her achievement is all the more impressive considering that this was the first time she had ever performed the role.

The combined forces of the Bamberg Symphony Chorus and the State Choir Latvija — plus just eight performers from the Hong Kong Philharmonic Chorus — had been trained by Eberhard Friedrich, chorus master of the Bayreuth Festival, and produced an idiomatic Wagnerian sound, singing as the uncouth Gibichungs with a raw vigour. Van Zweden generally adopted swift tempi, and the performance never dragged; it clocked in at just four hours 24 minutes. The orchestra played valiantly throughout and showed no sign of fatigue, even at the end of Act Three. Its powers of depiction were remarkable, for example of the complex emotions of Brünnhilde in Act Two when Siegfried’s betrayal dawned on her, while all of the orchestral interludes had a great cinematic quality to them. This was a strong conclusion of Hong Kong’s first-ever Ring Cycle, and a milestone for the Philharmonic.

Chen Tianzhuo, Chen Wei, Double Fly Art Center, Hu Weiyi, Lu Yang, Sun Xun, Carla Chan, Chris Cheung, Tang Kwok-hin, Morgan Wong

#You #Me #OurSELFIES 
Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre
Hong Kong
Jan 6 – 22, 2018
Valencia Tong

The hashtag has changed the way we communicate in the digital age. In the exhibition One World Exposition 2.2: #YOU#ME#ourSELFIES at Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre, artists from mainland China and Hong Kong born in the 1980s and 90s show us how the language of technology, the internet and social media infiltrates the aesthetics of art. The title suggests a radical change in how art is experienced, especially by the millennial generation. Gone are the days when security guards in museums yelled “No photos”; instead, audience members are now encouraged to document their participation and interaction with the art works by generating content themselves, usually in the form of a selfie on social media, democratising the consumption of art across time and space. The exhibition showcases how media art can engage with contemporary issues through a selection of multidisciplinary works.

Hu Weiyi’s The Raver compares our consumption and production of information to being strapped to electric chairs used during executions. We are forced to react incoherently to the bombardment of images, sounds and words we are spoon-fed by digital devices. Partial images captured by the cameras surrounding a figure strapped to an electric chair are projected onto a screen in front of her. This eerie performance and installation piece echoes daily life, especially when we sit in front of a computer screen staring at pictures of ourselves. It makes us wonder if we are truly free, or mindlessly controlled by technology.


The Raver by Hu Weiyi, performance and video installation, 2017. Courtesy the artist and Videotage. Photo by Derek Yung.

Another attention-grabbing work in the show is Chris Cheung’s CarbonScape. In a stark white room, black spheres bob up and down in acrylic tubes in a mesmerising, hypnotic fashion. Coupled with the ambient noise in the background, the work is reminiscent of industrial chimneys. The artist says the spheres symbolise carbon dioxide levels, which are increasing globally due to human activities. This immersive, kinetic installation situates the audience in a manmade environment and asks them to rethink their position in relation to the planet. Similarly, Carla Chan’s A Blacker Cloud shows us the destruction of the environment through a real-time smoke-machine installation inside three transparent boxes. Viewers can see clouds of smoke turn from white to black.

Several works in the show reflect on technology, pop culture, religion and folklore, such as Double Fly Art Center’s Guess Guess Hero, featuring performers in comic-book character costumes; Sun Xun’s Time Spy, showcasing traditional woodcuts and 3D technology; Chen Tianzhuo’s An Atypical Brain Damage, a kitschy appropriation of cultural symbols from club culture; and Lu Yang’s Electromagnetic Brainology, which explores deities, medical technology and neuroscience.

Everyday life, meanwhile, is explored in Chen Wei’s Trouble (New World), which depicts an out-of-context advertising screen; Morgan Wong’s Our Feet Are Always Younger Than Our Heads, about temporality and choreography; and Tang Kwok Hin’s interactive piece Diners.

Elpis Chow

Gallery Exit
Hong Kong
Feb 24 – Mar 17, 2018
Valencia Tong

The muted, pastel hues of emerging Hong Kong artist Elpis Chow give her paintings a timeless quality. To viewers who are Hong Kong natives, the paintings portray easily recognisable surroundings, featuring common objects such as fences around a construction site at the side of the pavement, the iconic orange rubbish bins, security guard booths, and red and yellow bricks on the street.

Despite the presence of familiar objects from the city, the paintings also look nothing like Hong Kong, with their vast empty spaces generating an uncanny feeling. It’s unusual for a densely populated city with notoriously cramped living spaces to feature such open spaces with not a single person in sight. The crisp lines and modernist aesthetics of the architecture depicted in paintings such as Invisible Wall and Dim Scene recall those of American artist Ed Ruscha’s low-rise suburban communities, while Vacant is reminiscent of British artist David Hockney’s Californian swimming pools. The interior and exterior
settings shown in Chow’s paintings elevate the mundane and banal side of everyday existence to the centre of attention.

Elpis CHOW, Dim Scene

Dim Scene by Elpis Chow, Oil on linen, 77 x 77 cm, 2018. Courtesy the artist and Gallery Exit.

The artist pays particular attention to observing the intricate details often ignored in quotidian experiences. “The paintings are drawn from places that she knows well by heart but never cared to look, until now,” says a statement accompanying the show.

In Chow’s paintings, human beings are depicted mostly as lone figures. These figures are not particularly animated, and look as if they are minding their own business. In Peel, the unsmiling figure in a reflection in what seems to be a bathroom mirror becomes the focal point, looking fatigued against a monotonous backdrop. The sheer stillness makes the paintings look either calm or eerily alienating. Animal figures also gather in them, but they are also rather motionless. By highlighting the paradox between the familiar and the unfamiliar, the artist urges viewers, especially those also living in Hong Kong, to
re-examine their daily lives.


NOW: A Dialogue on Female Chinese Contemporary Artists

Multiple venues in the UK.
Until September 2, 2018.
By Margot Mottaz

Over the past two months, six institutions across the UK have come together to celebrate the women at the forefront of contemporary art in China. A project spearheaded by the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art in Manchester, in collaboration with the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, Nottingham Contemporary, Turner Contemporary in Margate, HOME in Manchester and Tate Research Centre: Asia, NOW: A Dialogue on Female Chinese Contemporary Artists offers a platform for cultural exchange, raising universal issues relating to gender, identity and perception.

Bringing together a variety of artists connected by their gender and nationality naturally prevents the programme from being perfectly cohesive and thematically straightforward. The exhibition at the CFCCA, for example, features works by seven artists that are perplexing, but equally rewarding once they reveal themselves as acute commentaries on established social structures.

Na Buqi

Floating Narratives by Na Buqi, Installation, 2017. Courtesy the artist and CFCCA.

Na Buqi’s (b.1984) site-specific installation Floating Narratives (2017) combines artificial exotic plants and images of landscapes printed on silk with portable fans and hanging lights on a scaffolding-like frame to conflate perceptions of man-made objects and nature, and by extension of the fake and the real. In dialogue with this work, Luo Wei’s (b.1989) multimedia installation Wave Transmitter Company-World Line (2017) seeks an alternative reality to our own by proposing a virtual interdisciplinary world where everything is connected. This universe might be fictional but it also seems plausible, presented as an imagined virtual mega-city, not unlike Hong Kong, Beijing or Singapore, inhabited by digital avatars.

Nearby, Geng Xue’s (b.1983) photographs and videos specifically emphasise the human body, with close-ups of hands painted red, some in focus and others blurred. Its human touch offers a welcome sensuous counterpoint to many works that deal with the realms of the fictional and the digital. Similarly, a series of works by Yang Guangnan (b.1980) draws attention to the relationship between the body and automation. In Action No. 1 (2012), a white shirt is suspended on a horizontal metal rod, bent and suddenly released by a relentless rotating arm, causing the shirt to shake jerkily – trapped in an endless, monotonous routine. On the floor by the next wall, a small television shows images of door after door being shut in Nothing (2012). Both works speak to our expectations: as viewers, intensely watching the works unfold, hoping something different will happen next time; and as human beings, creatures of habit, capable of repeating tasks daily even when we know the outcome will be the same.

The fast pace of contemporary life, and our inability to escape it, are the premise of NOW’s showstopper at Turner Contemporary, a giant stomach made up of flesh-coloured clothes sewn together and stretched over a metallic structure. Imposing, confrontational and strange, Digestive Cavity (2017) by Yin Xiuzhen (b.1963) looks as if it has been created for the gallery’s foyer. To engage with it fully, viewers must enter it and explore its innards: be eaten up and digested in order to contemplate how we are similarly engulfed by our urban environments. Exiting the cavity and looking out onto the North Sea through the large window behind it, we are also reminded of the role urbanisation and globalisation have played in today’s environmental crisis. Our mass-produced, synthetic commodities – as exemplified by the numerous, quasi-identical items of clothing that make up the piece – are consumed and spat right back out, only to end up in our oceans. It is this topical urgency that makes Digestive Cavity such a poignant experience.

Despite the exclusive focus on female artists, there is surprisingly little in NOW that relates directly to questions of gender and feminism. In a sense, it doesn’t really matter. The all-caps title loudly proclaims that now is the time to pay attention to the women shaping the creative landscape in China and elsewhere; that geographical distance does not preclude emotional and cultural proximity; and that female artists are more than their gender.

During a symposium at Tate Modern, Na Buqi, Ma Qiusha (b.1982) and Ye Funa (b.1986) spoke candidly about their practice, rarely mentioning their femaleness or feminism. Each felt that such notions were only incidental in their work, present merely because they are women and that is what they know best. Together, the works in NOW are powerful because they address the human condition, one not necessarily defined by gender.

Image, top: Digestive Cavity by Yin Xiuzhen, installation, 2105. Photo: Stephen White. Courtesy the artist and CFCCA.