A collective project by Cantonese artists for the exhibition “Z.O.U. -- Zone of Urgency” (curated by Hou Hanru) for the Venice Biennale 2003




Canton (Guangzhou) and its neighboring region, the Pearl River Delta, are historically the most important Chinese port opening towards the outside world. For the last century, this area has always been the most avant-garde laboratory of China’s modernization. The first revolution to replace the Qing Dynasty with a Republic of China originated from here while the region has always remained relatively independent in terms of economy, social life and cultural identity in the vast territory of China. Its main language Cantonese is no doubt the most open, flexible diverse, evolutional and closest to life among the highly various Chinese dialects. It contradictorily conserves a part of the most ancient Chinese language while entirely exposed to influences from foreign languages, notably English. This makes it a unique system of hybrid expressions and memories. The visual arts as well as the Cantonese literature, drama and music has also been a highly hybrid product of its particular geo-historic position. “Lingnan School”, born in the wave of the first modernization attempts in late Qing Dynasty, promotes a new imagery and world vision mixing up traditional ink painting and Western style of realistic perception mode and technique.

In the last two decades, Canton and Pearl River have, once again, become the most intensive laboratory of China’s modernization. New “Special Economic Zones” like Shen Zhen and Zhu Hai have been constructed out of no-man’s lands on an unprecedented speed – “Shenzhen Speed”, which Rem Koolhaas praised as “an unprecedented system of efficiency”. In the meantime, From Canton to Hong Kong and Macao, via the whole Pearl River Delta, radically rapid urbanization has transform this part of China into one of the most spectacular and exciting zone of economic and social modernization on the earth. A new cultural scene has also been invented. Instead of the “avant-garde” movement based on ideological confrontation that has dominated China’s “mainstream” cultural world, the Cantonese scene, like its language itself, has been much more open to diversity and differences, and closely linked to the unique Cantonese Pop Culture. Born in the incessant movement between Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Eastern Asia, Western influences and Cantonese contexts, this particular Pop Culture, with its widely distributed music, films and TV-multimedia products, is now becoming the cultural condition of South Eastern Asia and China’s societies. Artists living in Canton and its surrounding are involved directly in the making of such a condition. On the other hand, contradictory, the lack of a market for “elitist” artistic works makes the artists to deal with their reality with a more radical attitude. Their works are much more experimental, flexible, non-commercial and hence completely free and limitless. They act like urban guerrillas. They create the most fantastically imagined ideas, products, actions and events to intervene and interrupt urban life and provoke dreamlike moments in our life. Their actions are rapid, efficient, but full of sense of humor and pungent critiques vis-à-vis real life. This makes them a unique and perhaps the most interesting part of China’s contemporary art scene for today. The project “Canton Express”, initiated by the curator, is conceived collectively by different groups of artists from the region to provide a specific space in which one can experience their fascinating adventure of play and invention, to navigate and negotiate in the dynamic currents of the drastic transformation of this part of the planet.


The Canton Express is a project proposed collectively by several groups of artists, writers, filmmakers, designers, musicians and cultural activists from Canton and the Pearl River Delta. These groups have been collaborated in different common actions in the last decade while developing individual identities. Under the names of Big Tail Elephants (Chen Shaoxiong, Liang Juhui, Lin Yilin and Xu Tan), Borges Bookstore (Chen Tong et al.), Yangjiang Group/World Bookstore/Vitamin Creative Space( Zheng Guogu, Hu Fang, Feng Qianyu, Chen B. Lu Yi, etc.), Utèque (Ou Ning, Cao Fei, etc.) and other individuals (Yang Yong, Liu Heng, Feng Feng, and many others), they have been the main driving force of the Cantonese and Southern Chinese experimental artistic and cultural scene. Their activities and products span across the most various fields from visual arts, performance, film making, books, magazines, conferences and other kinds of forms of existence. With critical views and great sense of humor, their works penetrate deeply into the everyday life and provoke moments of excitements and enlightenments. They are a highly distinct and unique force in the dynamic scene of contemporary art and culture development in South East Asia. Canton Express, consisting of activities and events organised by the groups in a specifically constructed structure designed by the groups, intends open a space for the public, from both “local” and “global” communities, to encounter with their highly exciting work and experience the particular relation between their imagination and their living environments, notably the turbulently mutating urban environments. This can perfectly embody the proposal of the exhibition “Zone of Urgency”, curated by Hou Hanru for the upcoming 50th Venice Biennale. In the project (see figures attached), they will produce site-specific “exhibitions” in and around the structure that they invent out of the street life in Canton and open them to welcome the intervention of the public. The whole installation and event will become a temporary city inserted in the Arsenale like a grafted urbanization process. It will bring new and real life into the enclosure of a contemporary art museum. It will be an exceptional moment for the visitors to enjoy a radical shift in their city – to share the joy, dreams and problems of a tropical Asian city’s life…

3. Project 1

Canton Express structure :

General Design : Zheng Guogu, inland coordination: Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou (Zhang Wei)

1. Big Tail Elephants:
a. Lin Yilin: 6 performances on video, 6 monitors/DVD players.
b. Chen Shaoxiong: new piece. 2 projectors with DVD players.
c. Xu Tan
d. Liang Juhui

2. Yangjiang group :
a. Zheng Guogu
b. Feng Qianyu
c. Sha Yeya, cardboard with a “building” inside
d. Lu Yi

3. Borges Liberia/Literature
a. Chen Tong: publications and documents of the BL.
b. Hu Fang: two kinds of “sub-literature”: Dagong Wenxue (new proletariat literature); Chuanmei Wenxue (Media Literature – most of professional writers work in the mass media, a new form of narrative).
c. Jiang Zhi: videos ?

4. Utèque (Yuanying Hui) and underground publications:
Exploring with audio-video means the history of “Sanyuan Li”, a historically symbolic (anti-colonialism) area in Guangzhou, now turned into a kind of extra-territorial (“walled city”) area. The village inside the city. A space of “alternative history”.
Video –film: collaboration with Jia Zhangke to document the situation and historic background.
Audio: concerts of experimental music such as Zbijniew Karkowski in Guangzhou’s underground café.
Underground publications and literature presentations (reading events).
Linked with internet to broadcast/interactive the event and the special history/reality of Guangzhou and Cantonese culture.

5. Beyond:
a. Yang Jiechang (Paris – the oversea’s connection)
b. Cao Fei: videos
c. Yang Yong: two-three channel slide projections.
d. Lui Heng: architectural aspect.