‘I Don’t Think I Ever ‘Left’ China’: Why a Diverse Cohort of Chinese-Speaking Artists Are Finding Refuge in Berlin

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The city of Berlin is recognized as a refuge for voices that have rebelled against the Chinese government. This story was embodied by Germany’s diplomatic efforts to grant Ai Weiwei permission to leave China in 2015. This image was enhanced in 2018, eight years later. Arrested in the house, Artist and poet Liu XiThe widow of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died in custody, was released and immediately moved to Berlin, where he spread his hands. And in 2019, Germany was the first country to allow Hong Kong activists politically asylum.

But that’s not everyone’s story. A growing community of Chinese (Chinese-speaking) artists arrives in Berlin for a variety of reasons and engages in jobs with varying degrees of political responsibility. Well-established names such as media artist and activist aaajao, painters Yuan Yuan and Jai Dachun have been in Berlin and Beijing or Shanghai for the past few years, before the outbreak of Covid-19.

In 2018, the Cantonese Times Museum in southeastern China Times Art Center Berlin, An institution dedicated to exhibiting the works of underrated Asian artists in a broader global context. Galler Hua Xiaochan and her husband Klaus Dierkes founded Hua International in Berlin and Beijing in the same year. The gallery show “Atlas of Affinities”, which will be held in early 2022, is dedicated to Asian diaspora artists. Many are based in the German capital.

Mm Mm Mm Mm Mm (2017). Courtesy of the Times Art Center, 2021 Artist Installation View. Photo: Jenszier, Berlin. “width =” 1024 “height =” 795 “srcset =” https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/Angst-Keine-Angst_Mh-Mh-Mh-Mh-Mh_Qin-Jin- 1024×795.jpg 1024w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/Angst-Keine-Angst_Mh-Mh-Mh-Mh-Mh_Qin-Jin-300×233.jpg 300w, https: // news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/Angst-Keine-Angst_Mh-Mh-Mh-Mh-Mh_Qin-Jin-50×39.jpg 50w “size =” (max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px “/>

Qin Jin Mm Mm Mm Mm Mm (2017). Courtesy of the Times Art Center, 2021 Artist Installation View. Photo: Jenszier, Berlin.

One thing is certain: the presence of a growing, versatile community significantly adds a new artistic perspective to the cultural landscape of the city and the story of dissident Chinese voices calling for refuge in Germany. That’s what I did. (On the other hand, Ai left Berlin in 2020 for England and then Portugal. He still operates a studio in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district.)

“I’ve lived in Berlin for 11 years and it feels like the community has grown, especially in the last few years,” said Xi Bei, Artistic Director of the Times Art Center Berlin. “Berlin is still counted as one of the most fascinating destinations for independent works of art, not just Chinese artists, yet it is a very affordable and vibrant city.” Xi , Pointed out that local curators are beginning to pay attention. “Important Berlin institutions are beginning to attract attention and contribute to a wider platform of interaction with Asian artists.” These include prestigious residences and exhibition spaces DAAD, IFA Gallery, and state-owned Gropiusbau. And Hamburger Bahnhof.

ベルリンのNagelDraxlerのJiDachun。  <i>In the rain, in the clouds, no one rains at your fingertips</ i>.. Exhibition view, 2020.  GalerieNagelDraxler, Berlin. Photo: Simon Vogel “width =” 1024 “height =” 768 “srcset =” https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/JD_ExhibitionView_NagelDraxler_Berlin_2020_17-2-1024×768.jpg 1024w, https: //news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/JD_ExhibitionView_NagelDraxler_Berlin_2020_17-2-300×225.jpg 300w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/JD_ExhibitionView_NagelDraxler_Berlin_2020_ -50×37.jpg 50w “size =” (max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px “/></p>
<p class=Ji Dachun from Nagel Draxler in Berlin. Rain in the rain, clouds in the clouds, everyone at your fingertips.. Exhibition view, 2020. GalerieNagelDraxler, Berlin.Photo: Simon Vogel

Berlin will change you

On a refreshing November night, a small group of curators, artists and friends gathered on the top floor of Berlin’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, overlooking Alexanderplatz and watching the artist’s performance. Isaac Chung Wai.. This evening was part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ A Artist in Residence program, inviting Berlin-based artists to use the space on the top floor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a studio for three months. It represents the position given to German art and culture as both a soft power and diplomatic tool.

Chung Showed the new performance of the title Fall on the contrary (2021) with the cast of an Asian dancer based in Berlin. The work includes a collective physical endurance moment in which the dancer repeatedly falls onto a hard concrete floor. It deals with increasing violence and racism against Asian communities since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Photograph of the wall of the Residency Studio taken in 2015 Chung Moved to Berlin — showing the artist’s face after being attacked by a stranger on the street with a glass bottle.

Isaac Chong Wai、<I>Fall on the contrary</ i>(2021). Performance at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Performance: Isaac Chong Wai, Ichi Go, Ryota Maeda, Vasundhara Srivastava, Dan Su Photo: Holger Beerman. Thanks to the artists, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Berliner Galerien, and Zilberman.  “width =” 1000 “height =” 667 “srcset =” https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/WZ9A3252.jpg 1000w, https://news.artnet.com/app /news-upload/2021/12/WZ9A3252-300×200.jpg 300w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/WZ9A3252-50×33.jpg 50w “size =” (max-width) : 1000px) 100vw, 1000px “/></p>
<p class=Isaac Chung Wai, Fall on the contrary (2021).Performance at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Performers: Isaac Chongwai, Operation Ichi-Go, Ryota Maeda, Vasundara Sri Bastava, Dan Sue. Photo: Holger Beerman. Thanks to the artists, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Berliner Galerien, and Zilberman.

Born in Guangdong, China, raised in Hong Kong, Chung Is one of the many Chinese artists, gallerists and curators who have recently moved to the German capital. He said the experience of violence left a great mark on his work. It had already dealt with the visible traces of German historic trauma. As part of his Federal Department of Foreign Affairs residence Fall on the contrary It was projected on the façade of a building in the center of Berlin as part of the 2021 Berlin Light Festival. The personal handling of the artist’s attacks has completely gone through and returned to public.

“I don’t think I’ve left China,” said He Xiangyu, who lived in the United States before deciding Berlin. “I still have a deeply rooted and intimate relationship with it. I still work, exhibit, meet family, friends, and work partners in China. In a globalized world, I’m calm.” I think both “separate” and “separate” are just relative concepts. He and his wife chose Berlin, he added. Not only because of its creativity and atmosphere of freedom, but also because “the smell of Berlin on autumn nights always reminds me of my hometown.”

for ChungLeaved Hong Kong in 2012 and moved to Berlin after studying at Weimar. The city has a rich and versatile queer community, providing a safer space and a source of inspiration. “I’m drawn to the struggle between melancholy, memory, repentance, and celebration in Berlin,” he said. “It’s a city that attracts artists and cultural practitioners, probably because of its honesty. You don’t need a fascinating filter to hide anything.” Berlin is also a photographer with an influential poet. It was chosen as the home of the house’s mission. Ren Hang, after committing suicide in 2017 A long battle with depression..

<i>Asian boy</ i>(2019-2020). Photo: Laci.  © He Xiangyu.  “width =” 1024 “height =” 767 “srcset =” https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/He-Xiangyu_cola-boy-11-1024×767.jpg 1024w, https: / /news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/He-Xiangyu_cola-boy-11-300×225.jpg 300w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/ He-Xiangyu_cola-boy-11-50×37.jpg 50w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/He-Xiangyu_cola-boy-11.jpg 1500w “size =” (max- width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px “/></p>
<p class=Asian boy (2019–20). Photo: Laci. © He Xiangyu.

Alone in a big city

Artist and writer Zhu Xiaowen (also an assistant director of the Times Art Center) studied and lived in the United States before moving to Berlin for Brexit. In comparison, she observed that the Berlin community was smaller and more fragmented, a characteristic of the type of artist who might be attracted to Berlin.

“Despite Berlin’s world-famous club culture, it’s also a place of introspection and reflection,” she told Artnet News. “Many creative people are attracted to the opportunity to be alone in a big city.” This introspective turn allowed Zhu to focus on publishing. Oriental silk, She explained, “Exploring what Chinese silk means for the emotional past of immigrant families,” a bilingual book. Shanghai and Berlin-based artist Xu Wenkai, best known for the internet handle aaajao, also repeated this notion of isolation. “Berlin has always been an excursion, so it seems that many people are hiding in Berlin,” he said. Artnet news.

The artist set up a studio in the German capital in 2017. Online activist aaajao, who had posted coded criticisms of human rights abuses in China, experienced a complete erasure on the Internet in 2020, at least behind a Chinese firewall. His Weibo account (Chinese version of Twitter) has been deleted, and all traces of his many years of activity there have been deleted. The world is now following real-time tactics as tennis star Peng Shuai’s allegations of sexual assault have been removed from the Internet. Within 20 minutes of posting..

ヤン・シンジア<i>Kinka 杨 Kinka 30 years younger (30 years old)</ i>(2021). Courtesy of artists Angst, keine Angst, Times Art Center, installation view in 2021. Photo: Jens Ziehe, Berlin.  “width =” 1024 “height =” 768 “srcset =” https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/Angst-Keine-Angst_Yang-Xinjia_30-Year-Younger-1024×768.jpg 1024w , https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/Angst-Keine-Angst_Yang-Xinjia_30-Year-Younger-300×225.jpg 300w, https://news.artnet.com/app/ news-upload / 2021/12 / Angst-Keine-Angst_Yang-Xinjia_30-Year-Younger-50×37.jpg 50w “size =” (max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px “/></p>
<p class=Yang Shinjia Kinka 杨 Kinka 30 years younger (30 years old) (2021). Courtesy of artists Angst, keine Angst, Times Art Center, installation view in 2021. Photo: Jens Ziehe, Berlin.

Disappeared from the internet

The artist, who held a solo exhibition at the Castello di Rivoli Museum in Turin in 2019, recognizes that there is no gap between the virtual realm and the real world. Especially in China, where almost all transactions are done via apps and biometric face recognition is ubiquitous. He recognized this erasure as a kind of death and created an exhibition in Berlin in 2021 entitled “I Died on the Internet”. The exhibition version will be on display at Wannsee Contemporary, a new Berlin gallery founded by curator Avi Feldman in the spring of 2022.

Feldman met aaajao in Shanghai in 2019 as part of his stay with the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo. Trained as a lawyer, Feldman was studying the relationship between Chinese art and law at the time. He argued that Amnesty International clearly defines what constitutes enforced disappearances, but it is also necessary to consider the effects of enforced disappearances. virtual As practiced by the Chinese Communist Party, it will disappear, especially considering that our virtual personas will interact seamlessly between the Metaverse platforms in the near future.

“As always with new technologies, the legal system is slow to respond to regulatory measures,” he told Artnet News.

<i> ddrk.me </ i>Installation (2021). Courtesy of the artist.  “width =” 1024 “height =” 1024 “srcset =” https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/4B5A2423-1024×1024.jpg 1024w, https://news.artnet.com /app/news-upload/2021/12/4B5A2423-150×150.jpg 150w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/4B5A2423-300×300.jpg 300w, https://news .artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/4B5A2423-32×32.jpg 32w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/4B5A2423-50×50.jpg 50w, https //news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/4B5A2423-64×64.jpg 64w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/4B5A2423-96×96. jpg 96w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/4B5A2423-128×128.jpg 128w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/ 4B5A2423-256×256.jpg 256w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/4B5A2423-434×434.jpg 434w “size =” (max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px “/></p>
<p class=ddrk.me Installation (2021). Courtesy of the artist.

Shared experience

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a surge in racial abuse of Asians in Western countries. Germany is no exception. The blockade and isolation of violence became even more complicated for many Chinese expatriates who also had difficulty traveling to China. Separated from his online followers and the internet community, aaajao delved into deeper questions about his practice and identity. “As a Chinese artist, I think my dilemma is more complicated than I expected,” he said. “I don’t equate with China’s national identity and never want to be German. I’m fluent in Mandarin, maybe that’s all at this stage.” By being in Berlin , He told Artnet News that he could “remove the discomfort associated with such a lack of identity.”

The linguistic identity and its idea of ​​being connected through it are in good agreement with Isaac Chong Wai. “We live here for a variety of reasons and backgrounds, but we share a similar language, culture and history,” he said. “We face difficulties such as prejudice, hatred of the masses, and misunderstandings, but we jointly understand and share those experiences.”

Removing the definition of identity based on nationality makes sense for the diaspora voice. It’s a question that anyone who chooses to immigrate can be concerned with. If the community is identified by appearance, it resonates further. His Xiangyu is currently in the process of establishing a new attempt, the Asian Arts Association, with fellow art workers from China and other countries in the region.

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