PhD Scholar in 'Advanced Practices'
Goldsmiths, University of London
Several months into his PhD studies at Goldsmiths, University of London, our Scholar Yuhang Zhang elaborates on his experience of engaging with the local art scene in Guangzhou and Hong Kong, and the underpinning ideas of his ongoing research and practice.
ASYMMETRY: What has been your approach in engaging with the local scene of artists and writers in Guangzhou and Hong Kong?
YUHANG ZHANG: I would go with ‘tacit agreement’ or ‘rapport’ to describe my navigation through the local art scene in Guangzhou rather than an ‘approach in engaging with’. The Guangzhou art scene has been labelled as community and social practice-based in the past few years, when my experience has been that, in fact, it consists of myriads of practices, enthusiasms and angles that tackle and approach issues. The scene is very convivial and interconnected which gives the impression of one big collaborative network and there is this sense of ease that connects us. I've rarely felt any barriers. For example, one might pop into a tarot or psychoanalysis workshop on day and join a flash mob with live music in the bar 'Guangzhou South Africa' the other if one felt like it. I was often being lovingly mocked by my friends and artist collective Boloho that I am too ‘inhuman’ to be residing and working in Guangzhou because of my research interests. Yet I'd like to think that people know who to look for if they fancied a piece of a daring exhibition review, some chit chat on eschatology or just a casual drink.
Hong Kong is a bit different. I had started to engage with the younger generation of Hong Kong artists and attempted to do events there even before I had moved to Guangzhou. I have been observing that several young artists have commenced articulating their life and experience of the past few turbulent years through cognitive mapping with a sophisticated touch and mindfulness. Group shows and project spaces have since multiplied and young artists and practitioners are hanging out together. Here I would also like to mention a special thanks to my friends who had brought me along to shows and event happenings in the city back then where I was fortunate enough to talk to young artists and curators right on the spot.
A: Your research on landscapes, infrastructure and non-human ‘invisibles’ are big concepts, could you break down your academic interest in a simpler way?
YH: Simply put, ghosts, haunting invisible beings and magic have been seeing more prosperity in recent years in the Sinophone academic art discourse. The key concerns, or contexts, mostly evolve around colonial and post-colonial traumas, histories and neo-liberal transition. For example, there is a narrative that contemporary Taiwan is haunted by the unsung repressions and resistances during the time under Japanese rule and the time of the White Terror in the form of ‘ghosts’ or ‘haunting spirits’. I do not see anything wrong with this but I would like to expand on both the latitude and longitude of the discussion: not 'humanly' ghosts or spirits but rather ‘inhuman’ demons and swarms (Eugene Thacker); not traumas from past socius or national states but the geo-trauma and evolutionary trauma (Thomas Moynihan and Reza rNegarestani); not Sinofuturism but the eschatological future of the annihilation of the universe. What I am working on is to put ‘East Asian Hauntology’ into this broader beyond-human picture. It is still a working progress and thankfully Goldsmiths and Asymmetry are supporting my endavours of making sense.
A: Alongside your PhD course in London, what other ideas and projects do you envision carrying out in the near future?
YH: Both the Scholarship and the PhD programme endow me with mobility and chances to put together my ongoing projects that had commenced in Guangzhou as well as envisioned ideas and threads that could pan out in London. Based in London and co-hosted by Asymmetry, I hope to connect my ongoing theory-fiction project Djinn Puddle with speculative fiction and the occult culture scene in London. I also hope to connect and communicate with local art spaces (eg. The Horse Hospital) with crossroad interests. Currently, I am working on a theory-fiction project focusing on the history of colonial logistics in East Asia, mysticism and the philosophy of corpse and decay, and I wish these thoughts could be picked up in London in the near future. Besides, I also would like to facilitate related events at Asymmetry HQ.