The secret corners of a spectacle: Chen Tianzhuo’s ASIANDOPEBOYS and Justin Shoulder at Galaxy SOHO, Beijing
Beijing’s Galaxy SOHO is out of this world. A huge spaceship of curving ribbons of concrete, glass and steel, the building’s starchitect status has not saved it from the changing tides of Beijing’s real estate market. Framed by its creator, the late Zaha Hadid, as an integral part of the living city, four years on from its unveiling in 2012 the iconic retail and commercial complex is still only half occupied. Galaxy SOHO’s most visible tenants are branches of the big Chinese banks, transient dog-walkers, and children exercising its expansive internal courtyards after hours. The entrance to resident live performance venue Modernsky Lab is down an unassuming staircase, a rare human-scale passage wedged between the 2nd Ring Road and SOHO’s gleaming facade. On the night of zhongqiu jie (Mid-Autumn Festival) the courtyard was packed with groups of young VPN-users, gathering to experience the first in a series of parties hosted by ASIANDOPEBOYS and given the moniker ADB Mortuary.
Formed in Beijing in 2015, ASIANDOPEBOYS is a sound and live art label led by artist Chen Tianzhuo, together with Yu Han and Imo. Named after Chen’s personal Instagram account, ASIANDOPEBOYS has evolved somewhat organically out of Chen’s own art practice, even though he sees the two as increasingly discrete. Chen’s video, installation and performance works colourfully collage international pop cultural references from the London rave scene to Japanese Butoh and New York vogueing. He has recently had major solo exhibitions at Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2015) and K11, Shanghai (2016), and was included in the group exhibition The Public Body 0.1 at Artspace, Sydney (2016).
Chen Tianzhuo’s grandiose orchestrations feature a fluid roster of international artists and performers—collaborators who he continues to work with as part of ASIANDOPEBOYS. He sees the label as a platform to shift the focus away from his work, giving space to his collaborators own practices and, importantly, introducing them to new audiences in China. This spirit of reciprocity is just one of the reasons why Chen is so focused on building up ASIANDOPEBOYS. Another, is what he sees as the dominance of Euroamerican promoters bringing international artists to the Beijing club scene. As a Chinese label supporting both local and international artists, ASIANDOPEBOYS, along with a handful of others, are expanding and diversifying the pool of tastemakers in their city and elsewhere. So far, they have hosted parties and performance nights in Beijing and Shanghai (like other young, mobile artists in China, Chen travels frequently between the two cities). Next, ASIANDOPEBOYS will present an ADB Mortuary night in Chengdu, where these kinds of live art events are far less frequent.
Ahead of ADB Mortuary at Galaxy SOHO, ASIANDOPEBOYS released a series of WeChat posts profiling the participating artists and, for the internationals, some of the first text on their work in Chinese translation. Among these was Australian artist and nightlife/ community events producer Justin Shoulder who was in Beijing for the 4A Beijing Studio Program. Serendipitously, Shoulder also had work included in Artspace’s The Public Body 0.1 at the time. Chen curated Shoulder into ADB Mortuary alongside Beijing noise music pioneers Vagusnerve, Nepalese-Swiss electronic producer Aisha Devi, and Russian duo Love Cult.
As an artist whose practice has grown out of the club scene distinct to his home-city of Sydney, it was interesting to gauge how Justin Shoulder’s performance might mutate outside of the more neutral walls of a gallery or museum context. Shoulder’s careful balance of fluidity and precision, the full moon of zhongqiu jie and the intrigue of the ASIANDOPEBOYS crowd came together in perfect synergy. The artist performed Carrion (2016), one of the most human-formed of his Fantastic Creatures series: invented alter-personas based on queered ancestral mythologies and embodied through elaborate hand-crafted costumes. Carrion, however, extends Shoulder’s performative style, shifting his focus from the theatrics of costume to movement. In developing the work, he experimented more with choreography, specifically Body Weather dance training methodologies, for which the artist put images of brittle bones and hot magma in parts of his body, which in turn generated a quality of movement.
Shoulder began the performance by quietly crawling out onto the stage. It took 17 intense minutes for Carrion to fully emerge, summoning the strength to deliver messages of warning about our fragile collective future to a soundtrack sampling Lana Del Ray’s Summertime Sadness and Shoulder’s own text, which shifted perspective between a third person narrator, a weather reporter and a first person male dictator/salesman:
I’ve ERECTED a golden tower
A merger of state and corporate power
With rooms for high-rank political star alliance members
A top-level solarium
Directly beneath the o-zone hole
If u want to shine like the sun
First you have to burn like it
With levels of quiet comfort, ear plugs, eye masks
If you want to keep a secret you must also hide it from yourself
We’ve built a wall, of architectural beauty
With chambers for secrets
We puttied up the leaks
Modernsky Lab is a world away from the Sydney club scene, the histories and contemporary politics of which are central to Shoulder’s practice which, with his collective The Glitter Militia, the artist sees as part of a queer ecology, co-creating spaces for performative expression and expressions themselves. Yet the fact that this context was displaced in Beijing did not take from his performance. Rather, the future-gaze of Shoulder’s post-human being resonated with a different kind of urgency, to a new generation of aspiring local shape-shifters.
Inevitably, the Galaxy SOHO project has been heavily critiqued as symptomatic of the current state of international architecture, where marketing-hype and status are at risk of overshadowing emotion, functionality and relevance. ASIANDOPEBOYS’ slick online marketing, and Shoulder’s elaborate aesthetics could be similarly mistaken as polishing a pretty facade. But for ADB Mortuary, in the secret corners of a spectacle all the right elements collided—and there was magic.
Images from top:
Chen Tianzhuo, ISHVARA, 2016, live performance, Beijing, directed by Chen featuring House of Drama, Kirikoo Des, Ndoho Ange, Beio, China Yu, Jojo. Music by Aisha Devi, Nodey, Li Jianhong + Wei Wei + Yue Xuan, Moumita + Sayak. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Zhuang Yan.
Justin Shoulder, Carrion, 2016, live performance, ASIANDOPEBOYS: ADB Mortuary, Galaxy SOHO, Beijing. Duration: 17 minutes. Courtesy ASIANDOPEBOYS and the artist. Photo: ORAN9E.
Carrion text excerpt courtesy the artist.
Joanna Bayndrian is an independent curator and arts administrator working across Sydney and Beijing. Joanna participated in the 2016 4A Curators’ Intensive and was a 2014 recipient of the Museums & Galleries New South Wales Curatorial Support Initiative for the exhibition From Old Ground (2015-16) at Bathurst Regional Art Gallery. Past curatorial projects include island6 art collective (Liu Dao 六岛) (2014) and Wondermountain (2014) at Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest, Sydney, where she was Curatorial Assistant and Exhibition Project Manager (2011–2014), and Portable Domains (2015) at Firstdraft Gallery, Sydney. Joanna has a Bachelor of International and Global Studies (Hons.) from University of Sydney and Graduate Certificate in Arts & Community Engagement from Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne.
Commissioned for 4A Papers Issue 1. © Copyright 2016 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art and the authors, artists, photographers and other contributors. No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission from the Publisher. The opinions expressed in 4A Papers are those of the contributing authors and not necessarily those of the Editor or Publisher. Permission has been sought to reproduce all images with appropriate acknowledgement where possible.