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The hypercultural universe of Chen Tianzhuo (2019)

Journal of Contemporary Art, Volume 6:1


Chen Tianzhuo’s theatre performances, video installations and sculptures are infused with the iconographic vocabulary of divinities, ceremonies and rituals of a variety of cultures. His puzzling and immersive installations, surroundings and creatures question belief systems in the Post-Internet Era, mingling Buddhist cosmology and the visual language of corporate identities with the ecstasy of club nights at Berlin’s Berghain. The artist creates experiential spaces that are equipped with creatures that seem to be in a constant state of transformation, a state of in-betweenness.

Chen Tianzhuo is a master of sampling and his oeuvre is often labelled as queer, especially in a western context. As stated by scholars (Zhao, Engebretsen) when discussing the term queer in the context of China, this needs to be done in the complex and dynamic political and cultural context of the country. Chen Tianzhuo’s work discusses non-heteronormativity throughout the country’s history and how it has shaped what it means today, in the age of the Internet. Byung-Chul Han and his writings on hyperculturality seem to be an appropriate approach when reviewing Chen Tianzhuo’s oeuvre. Han claims that through forms of new media (particularly the Internet), the exchange of information and forms of expression are exponentially dispersed. He sees hyperculturality as the dissolving of previously defined cultural boundaries; celebrating the newfound freedom with which interconnected works can be passed through an unlimited network.

This article aims to investigate Chen Tianzhuo’s artistic practice, focusing on his stage performances An Atpyical Brain Damage and Ishvara, and zoom into the hypercultural universe he opens up to create queer, hybrid and often godlike figures and surroundings

Published in Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, Volume 6, Number 1, March 2019, pp. 55-75.

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