Art for the New Masses: Participation and the Institution of Art in Post-Socialist China
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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EmbargoRelease after 05/17/2023
AbstractIn the past few decades, contemporary Chinese art has witnessed a tendency emphasizing the importance of artists’ participation in society. Artists conducted their projects by collaborating with local residents in both marginal communities in metropolitan cities and rural villages. These participatory practices engage with a wide range of social issues in China, including ideology criticism, environmental activism, cultural and creative industries in urban regeneration, rural reconstruction, migrant workers, women, and left-behind children in undeveloped rural regions. I term this type of art “new mass art.” New mass art suggests the involvement of many people in art practices and the connection to the history of “art for the masses” in socialist China. It moreover echoes cultural transformations of post-socialist China in which neoliberalism and socialism coexist and have a strong influence on the complex dynamics of the categories of the collective and the individual in aesthetic experiences. Centered around the “new mass art” movement in post-socialist China, this dissertation explores how new mass art is created; who created it; for what purpose; who are the intended audiences; how it moves and interacts in different social milieus; and how it responds to emerging political identity in post-socialist China. Focusing on three overarching concepts—“the new masses,” “participation” and “the institution”—this work examines their variations in different historical moments of China. It specifically explores how historical, socio-political and cultural contexts of post-socialist China affect the changing aesthetic value of new mass art, and how this aesthetic value redefines the connotation of the three concepts. It also captures the complex dynamics of the categories of the collective and the individual in contemporary China within the phrase “the new masses,” and examines how new mass art practices have become integral to the emergence of these people—enabling them to define themselves as individuals as well as members of a political collective; as consumers and producers simultaneously; as both the audience and the medium of new forms of participation in art. This dissertation argues that new mass art in post-socialist China demonstrates a hybrid aesthetic value that is profoundly associated with the social, political and cultural characteristics of China’s post-socialism in which socialist and capitalist systems exist alongside each other and mutually inform one another. In post-socialist China, the hybrid aesthetic value is embodied in the visual formats of both “art for the masses” and “art as the avant-garde.” The former is a type of art which uses mass participation as means to work in, with and for the institution. The latter emphasizes civic participation as a subversive power to attack the institution and challenge authoritarian discourses. The two visual formats are ever-changing in new mass art practices. They have been shown in different approaches of participation, the “art-institution” relation they deal with, and the new identity of the people the artworks engender. The main contribution of the project lies in seeking alternative ways of conceptualizing and configuring our conventional understanding of participation and “art-institution” relation through the lens of new mass art. By concentrating on the hybrid political and aesthetic meanings of “the new masses” in art practices of post-socialist China, I attempt to provide an alternative perspective to examine how new mass art have become central to the negotiation of the newly established political identity.
Degree ProgramGraduate College
East Asian Studies