Big Tail Elephants: One Hour, No Room, Five Shows
March 15–July 16, 2017
Hours: Tuesday–Sunday 10am–5pm
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Participating artists: Chen Shaoxiong (1962–2016), Liang Juhui (1959–2006), Lin Yilin (1964) and Xu Tan (1957)
Curated by: Hou Hanru, Nikita Yingqian Cai
The Big Tail Elephants Working Group (aka Big Tail Elephants), comprised of the artists Chen Shaoxiong, Liang Juhui, Lin Yilin, and Xu Tan, was active during the 1990s in Guangzhou, the heart of the Pearl River Delta region. From 1991 to 1996, Big Tail Elephants self-organized five exhibitions in temporary spaces that varied from cultural palaces and bars to basements of commercial buildings and outdoor venues. In 1998, two collective presentations of the group's recent works were staged at Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Kunsthalle Bern respectively. After 1998, Big Tail Elephants received a number of invitations to participate in international exhibitions. Since then, members of the group have participated in P_A_U_S_E: 4th Gwangju Biennale (2002), The 50th Venice Biennale—Zone of Urgency (2003), and The 2nd Guangzhou Triennial—Beyond: An Extraordinary Space of Experimentation for Modernization (2005), among other shows.
Big Tail Elephants: One Hour, No Room, Five Shows is the first comprehensive retrospective of the group, bringing together, and at times re-staging, important works, actions, projects, and archives of the group. “One Hour” refers to Liang Juhui’s performance piece One Hour Game (1996), enacted in the elevator of a construction site in Guangzhou. Working directly in public urban spaces, Big Tail Elephants proactively engaged with the ephemerality of artistic projects. “No Room” corresponds to the title of the group's fourth exhibition in 1994, organized at No. 14 Sanyu Road, Guangzhou. Suggested by Hou Hanru, the title indicates the paucity of institutions and spaces available for the display of contemporary art in the 1990s, while also alluding to the guerrilla-style spontaneity of the group's exhibition initiatives. “Five Shows” highlights the five exhibitions organized by the group in non-art spaces between 1991 and 1996, which form the core of the OCAT Institute's survey of their works. The members of Big Tail Elephants were among the earliest to adopt a conceptualist approach, and introduced ideas of temporality, process, and immateriality into their practice. Exhibitions and sites of action were thought of as laboratories for their artistic experiments that brought art and everyday life, concept and medium, audience and artwork into constant interactions. Ideas materialized directly in the exhibition spaces; processes paraded from streets to bars; performances and works were open to the participation and intervention of audiences. The works and actions conducted by Big Tail Elephants constructed temporal-spatial relations that only happened once. These fleeting events collapsed the hierarchical ordering of art and non-art, elitism and street culture, and offered prescient insight into the socio-political context of contemporary art in China during and after the 1990s, and its pointed and deliberate lack of ideological appeals.
Invited by OCAT Institute in Beijing, Big Tail Elephants: One Hour, No Room, Five Shows, besides showcasing selected works from its previous edition in Guangzhou, devotes a special section to the conceptual reconstruction of the fourth exhibition organized by Big Tail Elephants at No.14 Sanyu Lu. The spatial reenactment situates the self-organized artistic strategies in the actual context of the 1990s. Responding to OCAT Institute’s unique institutional vision, additional archival materials are incorporated into this second edition, including exhibition floorplans, artist proposals and sketches, conversations and reviews, many of which are presented to the public for the first time.
Exhibition talk: Urban Monster? Big Tail Elephants and Urbanization in Pearl River Delta
Participants: Nikita Yingqian Cai, Chen Tong, Dong Bingfeng, Hou Hanru, Lin Yilin, Luo Qingmin, Philip Tinari, Xu Tan
Venue: Auditorium, CAFA Art Museum