This project and exhibition are supported by the William T. Kemper Foundation. The Spencer’s international residency series has also been supported by the Freeman Foundation and the Center for East Asian Studies, the University of Kansas.
"Stop staring comrades. The spectacle is everywhere." This anonymous intervention, scrawled in black permanent marker and hung from a chain link fence at the entrance to the Spencer Museum of Art, marked the beginning of a collaborative exhibition led by Beijing-based artist Chen Shaoxiong. The result of a month-long residency in March 2012, Prepared: Strategies for Activists is a dynamic multi-media installation that delves into the complexities of contemporary social activism, drawing on the perspectives of a diverse cast of contributors, including scholars, students, artists, and activists.
In light of recent political movements around the world in 2011—from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street—Chen conceived his project as an attempt to better understand the "anatomy of a protest" and offer a research platform for social engagement. A primary aim of the project is to foster a better understanding of the broader historical and cultural iterations of demonstration strategies and tactics deployed around the world.
During the course of Chen's residency, the Museum became a "training camp for activists"—a site for sustained inquiry into protest strategies and activist discourse. In the Museum's Central Court, a stage was installed as the locus for weekly workshops where artists, activists, and experts shared insights into past and current protest phenomena. With its grassroots approach to exhibition-making, Prepared: Strategies for Activists attempts to embody the organic, dynamic processes of the protest in action. As a self-reflexive point, the institution of the Museum also emerged as a contested site, raising the question: Can institutions truly and effectively investigate far-reaching, even radical social reform advocated through protests and demonstrations?
A substantial part of the exhibition comprises artwork dealing with demonstration tactics. The exhibition also features protest artifacts that trace the turbulent history of social activism in the 20th century, including banners, posters, and other ephemera that range from local 1980s anti-nuclear activism to more recent events by Occupy Wall Street. Drawn from the SMA permanent collection, a timeline charts different historical iterations of protests and includes documentary photography and works on paper by artists Bullet Space, Andre Devambez, Lesbia Vent Dumois, Archie Scott Gobber, Guerrilla Girls, Lewis Wickes Hine, Hugo Kaagman, Michael Krueger, Alex Lukas, Josh MacPhee, Lee Neary, Sean O'Neil, Marion Palfi, Alexander Rodchenko, Arthur S. Siegel, Andy Warhol, and Dan Wynn.
Chen Shaoxiong 陈劭雄After graduating from the print department of the Guangzhou Academy of Art in 1984, Chen quickly developed a multidisciplinary approach to art making that has incorporated conceptual approaches to media as far ranging as ink painting, photography, video animation, installation, and performance. Through his early involvement in the 1990s with the "urban guerrilla" group Big Tail Elephant in Guangzhou, Chen developed an artistic practice that deploys humor in an abiding pursuit to explicate the mechanisms of contemporary political culture. After relocating to Beijing in 2007, he teamed with Tokyo-based artist Tsuyoshi Ozawa and Seoul-based artist Gimhongsook to form the Xijing Men. The name of the group plays on an imaginary, nonexistent "Western capital" for a fictitious Asian country.
This exhibition was curated by Kris Imants Ercums, curator of global contemporary and Asian art at the Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas. The residency was generously supported by the William T. Kemper Foundation, Kansas City, Missouri.
Protest, demonstrations and mass gatherings have a long history across all stages of human society. They have been practiced in every conceivable manner, and have proven to be an effective aspect of the political language of democracy.― Chen Shaoxiong, Artist Statement
In our universities we have never established a discipline for technical approaches to protests and demonstrations. However, in our lives we have perhaps more than once encountered this kind of event. We need to study interrelated knowledge and grasp the relevant techniques that can help us prepare for demonstrations in just a few days.― Chen Shaoxiong, Project Proposal
Compared to my so-called experimental project, almost all demonstrations and protest are very practical in nature. They emerge as the last resort, and are informed by unbearable, angry choices…In the midst of a struggle the invention of new technique can becomes a temporary solution. These solutions are made with very little experimentation. And as for their reliability, their effectiveness and power, no one can predict. It’s like a clinical trial for medicine.― Chen Shaoxiong, Artist Statement
When Chen Shaoxiong first visited the Spencer Museum in August of 2011, the entire world had been ignited by any number of social movements happening across the globe. The more discussions we had the more his interests returned to a serious investigation into the dynamics of social activism. The project took shape to take advantage of the scholarly expertize of a university setting. In this way, we began to discuss a collaborative project that would dissect the anatomy of a protest. It would look more at the nuts and bolts of a demonstration, and dwell less on the ideological or political motivations. In this way we wanted to better understand the basic structures of social movements as contemporary phenomena.― Kris Ercums, Curator of Global Contemporary Art
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