I. Canton Express (2002-2006): A Space of Negotiation
II. Inside Out: From Third Space to Curating Regionality
III. Outside in: Spatializing White Cube through Architectural Approach


If a historical phenomenon still maintains an influence on the current, it’s not necessarily only in a way of being influential on the value of the achievements or the people once involved, but affecting what people would take from it to carry on. In recent years, several exhibitions and projects reaffirm a phenomenon actively put on the stage in the late 1990s to early 2000s, which is the collective call-out of contemporary artists from Guangdong province or the Pearl River Delta (or PRD) (1). To name two of the most prominent events: first, Big Tail Elephants’ retrospective titled Big Tail Elephants: One Hour, No Room, Five Shows (2016-2017) at Guangdong Times Museum (Guangzhou) and OCAT Institute (Beijing) as the inauguratory project of Operation PRD (2); second, the restaging of Canton Express that was part of the exhibition Z.O.U. -- Zone of Urgency curated by Hou Hanru for the 2003 Venice Biennale in 2017 at M+ Pavilion (Hong Kong). The former artistic collective Big Tail Elephants is comprised of artists Chen Shaoxiong, Liang Juhui, Lin Yilin, and Xu Tan, which was active in 1990s in Guangzhou, the provincial capital of Guangdong. They are also known for self-organizing shows and art happenings in unconventional spaces for a lack of infrastructures of contemporary art institutions. The original Canton Express (2003) is a special project featuring eleven artists and artist collectives (3) from Guangdong in a deliberately designed architectural structure by artist Zheng Guogu. Through reenacting the original exhibition design with artworks and archives, the exhibition at M + sets a tone that the artists involved in Canton Express indicate “a unique regional artistic language” (4), and part of factors is the rapid urbanization at the front of globalization. The representation of the unarticulated history, especially in the retrospective version of Canton Express, not only comes up with a note of urgency for conservation, but also satisfies a historical revisionism in a makeshift manner in order to bring back cohesion for certain purposes (5). Canton Express, due to its international exposure and a broader coverage of artists, is particularly put on the agenda of retrospection to meet the needs of historization as well as institualization during an ongoing reconfiguration of geopolitical relations and resources. To some extent, the growing information on media creates a congestion on hackneyed history expressions, which limits the imagination and proactive gestures taken from the historical archives, even though it is supposed to resolve the lack of discourses.

Along with other unlisted projects (6) in this area, all at once, the growing attention on contemporary art in Guangdong preach to the public of an art circle seemingly grounded on its locality, and wield an influence over the actions of present (7). Not surprisingly, Canton Express is hailed as a successful model of regional art or local identity in the global scene or a sample of multiculturalism, regardless of how it aims to break away from the discourse focused on discrepancy of nations by negotiating the local and the global. As a result, Canton Express is almost synonymous with the contemporary art in Guangdong, and it triggers an elusive question: whether Cantonese contemporary art ever existed or exists now, and if Cantonese contemporary art has its own subjectivity then what it is.

Chen Tong, the founder of Borges Libreria Bookstore who participated Canton Express, has been acting as an active liaison and advocate for Big Tail Elephants and other Cantonese artists since 1990s (8). While many people have a prospect that Canton Express may act as a catalyst for new generation of artists, Chen’s precautious statements made in different cases around Canton Express reveal a sense of crisis while people legitimizing the history. For instance, in a curatorial statement Chen wrote for the show New Notes of Guangdong at Bonacon Gallery, he questions the regionality (9) and the way the historical subject is interpreted. He mentioned after Canton Express, “the Guangdong then, was evolved around hot topics such as group impact and alternative spaces, and its diverse experimentation resonated with Guangdong’s reputation for becoming the pioneer of the Economic Reforms historically.” Though Chen suspects the messages including group impact and alternative spaces carried by a symbolized Canton Express, he still acknowledge it as a “spirit” to be continued: “Today, the transformative effect of the art market is apparent, yet contemporary art practices in Guangdong are confronted with how to rebuild and relay its former spirit.”(10) It more or less suggests that, the investigation of Canton Express’s formation is not yet to be drawn to an end.

If Canton Express is not only a group presentation at the Venice Biennale, it is worth trying to invert the logic of cause and effect of the formation of Canton Express: all the people involved (artists, curators and etc.) in the history draw multiple measurements of the territory called Canton Express, even though it is occasionally meant to be composed of nothing or the people refuse to agree on a single representational/spatial resolution (on that note, I will explain in the following texts); the relativity or the relations stretching in between the people and events imply the fact of a disagreement, and a consistent resistance of an absolute regional concept. This essay will examine the formation of Canton Express, in which the concerns of space in general (e.g. urban space, exhibitionary space and alternative art space) define Cantonese contemporary art as a group and regional effect of urbanization. However, within its limits, instead of getting down to the nitty-gritty question of whether Cantonese contemporary art has its own subjectivity, the essay attempts to provide another understanding of Cantonese art's group representations in exhibitions beyond the narrations of regional collectivism, reflection on urbanization and self-organized spirit of art space/group. The essay will position Canton Express in the spatial turn of social studies and artistic/curatorial practices (11) amidst a widespread trend of representing cultural diversity, which is to resist the enroaching globalism or to repair the west-centralism, with the currents of new institutionalism and relational aesthetics in the contemporary art field. In the end, it will further pose a question of whether or how critical and creative spatial construction is possible in institutional contexts through exhibition design.

I. Canton Express (2002-2006): A Space of Negotiation

Chen Tong once concluded that: “From 2002-2006 we collaborated a lot with Guangzhou-based artists and worked with Hou Hanru on a project he curated called ‘Canton Express.’ The ‘Canton Express’ activity concluded around 2005-2006, after which we obtained the space (current space of Libera Borges) we have now and started planning the programs more consciously.” (12) To elicit Canton Express as an irreplaceable subject matter of this case study that casts a long shadow on the past and present, it's necessary to draw a outline of its genealogy, with a special focus of their organizational methods and how they were concretized as architectural spaces one after another.

According to the research by Lu Peng in A History of Art in 20th Century China, China saw its peak in avant-garde artists forming collectives and in between 1982 -1986, during which 79 young artist collectives were formed in 23 provinces or province-level regions (13). The collective presence of avant-garde artists in Guangdong can be traced back to the Southern Artists Salon (14) in 1986 as a representative of the greater southern China, comparing to the North dominated by the political-charged art surrounding the capital Beijing. However Southern Artists Salon has no direct conceptual connection with the following collective presentation of Cantonese artists after 1989, especially taking its short life into consideration -- Southern Artists Salon ceased activity in 1987 after only one exhibition. Also since Southern Artists Salon obeys a method of composing works collectively, it is much different from the truth that the later artistic collective or collective attendance by Cantonese artists actually maintain the individuality of art practices. To take Big Tail Elephant as an example, they do not share a collective manifesto nor work on the same work, but hold an aligned art ideal, such as against 85 New Wave (15).

The other wave of artistic activities is followed by the establishment of Big Tail Elephants, which was founded by three members of Southern Artists Salon, Li Yilin, Liang Juhui and Chen Shaoxiong, and later joined by Xu Tan. To follow, an expanded artistic circle was generated from the original interpersonal network. Such as, artist Hu Zhiying was invited to participate the second show of Big Tail Elephants titled the United Art Exhibition at the building of Guangdong Broadcast and Television University in Guangzhou in 1992; Chen Tong introduced Big Tail Elephants to the owner of Red Ant Bar, thereby they were given the opportunity of hosting the third show outside the bar in 1993; in 1994, on behalf his Yimei (Young Man) Design Company(cooperated with Sha Yeya, Zheng Guogu joined the No Room (named by Hou Hanru), an exhibition Big Tail Elephants held in an apartment on No. 14 Sanyu Road, Guangzhou; in 1996, Zheng Guogu brought one work to join Big Tail Elephants’ show Possibility in the basement of Zhongguang Building, Guangzhou; in 2003, Yimei Design later took over exhibition design for Canton Express in Venice. If one shift the focus of the overall view of the art scene, the Libreria Borges (started as a bookstore in 1993 in Guangzhou) by Chen Tong gathered a wider range of artists, especially through a series of small exhibitions held in 1999, including exhibitions of Jiang Zhi, Yang Yong, Feng Qianyu, Cao Fei, Ou Ning and Yang Jiechang, many of who joined Canton Express. Adding the later founded World Bookstore and Vitamin Creative Space, the names listed above basically constitutes the main team members of Canton Express. However the real precursor of Canton Express is the collective attendance of Cantonese artists under the name of Libreria Borges in Gwangju Biennale (2002) called Canton Mixed Express: Continuous Decentralization of the Power.

Curated by Charles Esche, Hou Hanru and Sung Wan Kyung, the main project of fourth Gwangju Biennale titled P_A_U_S_E invited alternative art groups and independent organizations throughout the world to reflect a new logic of artistic organizing and a sense of community in the urban sphere they inhabit, also most of them are from Asia, without emphasising Asia alternative spaces out of a sense of regionalism (16). To some extent, it achieves a kind of auto-curation by giving the participants authority to design their own space with art as a dominance. This curatorial strategy, as Chen Tong recalled, already seems to be much more emancipatory than the other forms of biennale (17).

As a major enclave of local intellectuals and artists in Guangdong, Libreria Borges is one of the organizations invited to the Biennale by Hou, after he revisited his hometown Guangzhou and was amazed by the growing of local art scene. Though Libreria Borges is firstly conceived as a project for distributing French nouveau roman and Les Editions de Minuit because of Chen’s personal interests (18), it incidentally serves as a public platform for hosting exhibitions that contributes to the collective scene. The nature of Libreria Borges essentially distincts itself from those artist-run space solely dedicated to visual art, and to some extent, it is akin to the salon space spoken by Jürgen Habermas where the public sphere initiated. Chen recalled in 1999, Hou has expressed his interest of showing the plaque and glass-door of the bookstore in exhibition, and it is the first proposal to position Libreria Borges in a contemporary art context (19). However in Gwangju Biennale, Libreria Borges bears a much heavier load than the first proposal, which is to carry the Cantonese artists under the umbrella of alternative space no matter how legitimate it could be for the bookstore (20). Thus within this curatorial prerequisite, it’s more like the artists request a framework of alternative art space to locate themselves, rather than presenting one of the space models formed by or for a certain number of artists. In Libreria Borges’s statement published in the catalogue of Gwangju Biennale, it identifies itself an invisible role in the development of Cantonese art: within a bookstore, it covers a variety of areas like a meeting point: publication, lectures, exhibitions, symposiums, concerts etc. Since the function of the bookstore goes beyond presenting art and they believe in the independent operational principle carried out by Cantonese artists like the Big Tail Elephants, the key members of the preparatory team for Gwangju, Chen Tong, Chen Shaoxiong and Zheng Guogu took an action of devolution -- gathering 19 individuals working in Guangdong to brainstorm the exhibition proposal, and they were wary of that whether they want to participate in the exhibition is not the problem, the problem is in what way they will participate in it (21). So even though the artists who engaged with the activities surrounding the bookstore never worked in a collaborative way to realize an united project, they needed everyone’s consent to the approach to have a collective presence in the Biennale, which brought them back to collaboration inevitably. In order to reveal the controversy of the individual independence and the collective proposition, the initial proposal sent to the Biennale committee mentions that besides the artworks the artists could drop off freely in a designated space, the documentation of negotiation should be an integral part of the show, including photos, copies of email correspondence, sketches, and videos of the process they plot to participate in the Biennale (22). The first installation design proposal “Canton Mix Express” for Gwangju is a structure comprised of bookstore, Big Tail Elephants’ store by Chen Shaoxiong with paper-cut human profiles, Hu Fang’s Word Store, Ou Ning’s Utèque, human doll by Liang Juhui, and etc. Among the other unadopted design sketches, there is one eventually used for the later Canton Express in Venice Biennale.

After several rounds of meetings and discussions, the preparatory team reached to a consensus that the best way to present Cantonese art is to reject, an idea proposed by Zheng Guogu. As what is explained by Chen Tong later, rejection is the best way to interpret the bookstore as well as the southern China, yet this is not an attitude of resisting the Biennale or the curatorship, but a resistance to themselves. Thus the final proposal submitted to the Biennale committee is “Individual Absence, Collective March-in/Strive”, an expedient to resolve the paradox between conveying a collective voice and presenting a various of distinctive works. They planned to seal off the empty containers that the Biennale prepared for them without putting in any artworks, but to only show a thousand copies of Book of Changes (a documentation of the process of preparing the project) available for pick-up and several posters saying “BECAUSE ALL THE MEMBERS ARE STRIKING, LIBRERIA BORGES CAN’T PARTICIPATE IN THE GWANGJU BIENNALE EXHIBITION” on the exterior of the containers. It may insinuate that there is indeed a cohesive voice within the art scene in Guangdong, that they liberate each other to reach to an independence which cannot be incorporated into an unitary interpretation. However it is a problem emerged later in Canton Express in Venice. Especially in a clarification email Chen made to Hou during the preparation for Gwangju, he pointed out that it’s “Individual Absence” rather than collective absence, suggesting that there are something more to be considered in the idea of collective form, while it’s difficult to embody the very unique integrality only by showing an array of Cantonese artists in such an exhibitionary format (23).

After a long bargain (24) with the Biennale team, their “Individual Absence” plan ended up with a compromise of giving something to look at, however they did paste the strike posters on the containers as if it is a protest or sign of pause that makes the construction of installation incomplete or called off. Also for some financial reasons, the installation of Canton Mix Express reverted to a simpler installation design suggested by architect Liu Heng: three intermodal shipping containers extruding from the outdoor space to the inside of biennale building, like few carriages. In the end, their announcement of being on strike in Gwangju Biennale was in name only, though the strike doesn’t mean to refuse to participate. At some points, the proposal of “Individual Absence” for Canton Mixed Express in Gwangju Biennale might provide an alternative form of “negotiation as exhibition”, even though it makes way for a mode that can be built into the primary curatorial prompt of P.A.U.S.E—corporation networks and new localities added to the alternative cultural diversity that it aims to reach.

In the following Venice Biennale, Zheng Guogu was assigned as the coordinator and designer for the representation of Canton Express (the word Mix is deleted from Canton Mix Express). Part of the thing that has been overestimated is the big amounts of works installation design taken in this two international exhibitions. And that’s perhaps one of the reasons the most of coordination and design tasks were passed to Zheng Guogu in Venice, as it had been proven to be more efficient in a practical manner in Gwangju irrespective of Chen Tong’s lead role of Libreria Borges. In order to reduce the cost, all the installation materials were built in Yangjiang, where Zheng and his Yimei Design Company was based, and then were delivered to Venice. Zheng Guogu named after his spatial design of Canton Express “The Software and Hardware of Street” which include “hardware” (installation design of artworks) and “software” (coordination and communication with artists) (25). The former is divided up into an overline bridge (with model room underneath) and a skeleton of passage, both taken from the urban infrastructural patterns which began to become commonplace in the south of China in 1990s. In Canton Express catalogue, it shows a photo of houses jamming in a side of street in Yangjiang, to which Zheng’s space design refer. Thus the installation design itself along his invisible labor becomes one of his works in the show and it was shown again as a mini architectural model in StopOver Hong Kong (2004), an exhibition reinviting the artists from Canton Express to land in Hong Kong at Hanart TZ Gallery as a continuation of Venice Biennale (26).

In 2006, curator and art historian Martina Koeppel-Yang, who was involved in the previous Canton Express initiated an exhibition revisiting this history in Beijing’s Tang Contemporary Art Gallery. The show Accumulation: Canton Express, Next Stop, which follows her curatorial trilogy starting from Surplus Value (2006), “puts forth the artists and the aspects of communication and cooperation as a potential inherent in artistic creation; hence the accumulation of human capital.” (27)The exhibition invites back the participating artists of Canton Express, and takes an organizational method those artists ever used in Gwangju and Venice—“the principle of the delegation of decision-making to the ‘executive level’ of the artists” (28). Such as the exhibition space in Beijing is designed by Zheng Guogu, and the catalogue is edited by Chen Tong. The most interesting comment Koeppel-Yang made in the statement is that the artworks are inserted in a new container structure designed by Zheng, and “become a part of a common position, but don’t lose the autonomy of an individual statement.” (29) Chen’s later confession (30) about his participation of Gwangju and Venice Biennales shows that the symbolized physical space actually disables the vitality and initiative in artists: not saying they couldn’t show works separately, but they had to take a shelter that is no matter embodied as shipping container or a temporary overline bridge.

The transformation of Canton Express from Gwangju to Venice and further Beijing is not a change of gestures from a repudiation to acquiescence of regionality or locality. The other way around, the cohesive force which tight up this particular group of artists is durable enough to convince people that the collectivity ever worked out as a remarkable impetus to present new type of art and culture emerging in southern China. It is just never clear enough about how much the group representation might hinge on the correlativity of art and its region and why it happened at that moment, particularly in biennials. Besides, it is a question that whether Canton Express is a unique example that unlocks the vernacular potentials of art generating from the transitional cityscape at that time in China. It was not a commonplace yet to connect the urban transformation with artistic practices back that time, but it’s a prevalent phenomenon hardly overlooked. In the late 1990s, the state-funded museums such as Guangdong Art Museum (Guangzhou) and He Xiangning Museum (Shenzhen) gradually began to showcase contemporary art, and they also focused on dealing with art and the arising new metropolis in Guangdong. For example, the exhibition Into the CityContemporary Ink Experimental Exhibition (1999) curated by Wang Huangsheng and Lu Hong at the Guangdong Art Museum discusses the possibilities and status quo of how ink can “enter” urban spaces, including real space and psychological space (31). Around the same time at Beijing Contemporary Art Gallery, an exhibition called Space and Vision: The Impression of Transmuting Daily Lives in Beijing (1998) curated by Huang Du also captures the changes occurring in the capital city by presenting the aesthetics grown from an urban landscape characterized by distinctive contrasts—a mixture of traditional and modern features in both public and private spaces.

Besides the reflection on urbanization, in an article Chen Tong wrote for StopOver Hong Kong, he criticizes that the collective presentation of Cantonese contemporary art in international exhibitions leaves an impression on people that Cantonese contemporary art emphasizes the expansion of group power. In addition, the investigation on contemporary art in Cantonese region easily falls into a conventional research direction, that is, using the summary of the cultural and political background to analyze the group power. However, it’s almost an inevitable tendency for the curator to explain how art reflects the society in this case:

I don’t think Hou Hanru insists a kind of realistic reflection theory in his critical and curatorial practices. On the contrary, I think his interests in Asia, especially China belongs to Pluralism, something like “Clamor in the East, Attack in the West” taken by Huang Yong Ping; while I appreciate his curatorial concept and implementation process, I sign that the most unenjoyable thing for a critic is that he has to articulate an indescribable thing. (32)

What is more questionable for Chen is the application of social deterministic theory into the interpretation of contemporary art practices. Especially the political and economic policies of developing PRD (including the establishments of Special Economic Zone) enforces a conclusion that art is reflecting its cultural atmosphere determined by the former conditions. In this way, It would be hard to get away from the proposition of "Economic base determines the superstructure", a modified Marxism applied as political ideology by the Communist Party of China. And fundamentally, art descends to “the barometer of state planning and policies.” (33)

Further, Chen Tong returns to query the profundity of Canton Express, as at all appearances, it is no more than a “symbolized substantive space” (34) encapsulating a community in a shared region. Therefore, Chen proposes to dismiss the concept of “space” in a favor of “time” by appraising the term Autonomous Zone Hou came up with in his exhibition Zizhiqu - Autonomous Regions (2013). (35) Through this way, Chen attributes the limited discourses of Canton Express to the problem of conceptualization, while remaining a question of whether or not spatial production is still effective within the existing institutional system. Especially, simulating urban sphere is a part of the curatorial strategy by Hou on struggling against systematization and stability of the white cube model at that time, which is to use the interior urbanization or architectural construction as an installation method.

If Canton Express is still worth being revisited, it is not just ascribed to its prompt reaction to the urban space within the megacity PRD, nor how much it stimulates cooperation inherently in art making or how it restages the interchangeability inherent in the artistic network which converges into local group power, then what else was left to further examine its lasting vitality? To sort out the continuous transformation of Canton Express is not to overstate its significance in the Cantonese art scene or how it provokes another narrative that distinguishes from other practices. The concept is forged each time after it gets renovated into another shape, between 2002 and 2006. It sustains a usage of various architectural forms to uphold a variety of spatial resolutions, no matter of Libreria Borges representing alternative art space in Gwangju or of an overline bridge mimicking the urban infrastructure in Venice. The linkage between this two spatial forms is to be discussed in the following chapters, however before that, I will trace back to Hou Hanru’s critical and curatorial paths started from 1990s, and argue about how Canton Express (including the Gwangju version) in general refers to a dialectic spatial concept when the notions of nation, region, city and place are replaced one after another around the turn of the millennium, as such space as a keyword.

II. Inside Out: From Third Space to Curating Regionality

The appearances of non-Euro-american art or art of the otherness in international exhibitions at Euro-american institutions started from the late 1980s and gained critical responses in a wide ranges, such as “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern (1984-1985), Magiciens de la Terre (1989), Documenta 9 (1992), and Venice Biennale (1993). For the artists who came from the third world country which doesn’t narrates a comprehensible process of modernization but an intricate trajectory intertwined with its colonial history or its encounter with globalism, their contributions to the history always appear to be a testimony of the formation of a modern nation-state, thus the cultural identity of artists oftentimes refers to the cultural identity of their nations. Accordingly, the increasing appearances of Chinese contemporary art in western institutions in late 1990s become something referable to the social-political status quo of the nation it belongs to. Especially the artists categorized as Political Pop and Cynical Realist started gaining attention in the early 1990s and created the scene of Chinese contemporary art opposed to the political propaganda in the history, further reflecting the transitional Chinese society from the advent of Communism to the modernized Socialism marked by market economy, hence the formation of nation-state. In an article Hou Hanru published in 1994, he listed several examples of biased exhibition reviews which project Chinese contemporary art as an exotic object combining the traditional cultural symbols and political senses rather than a constellation of individuals who contribute to international cultural exchanges (36). This shows that the identity forced on the artists in turn meets the Western ideological superiority, at that same time, the art is manipulable for the national power to gain its legitimacy during the social reforming. Hou’s critique of the receptions of Chinese contemporary art starts from a process of de-nationalization or de-ideologicalization (37) to the seek of an alternative to the nation-oriented narration.

A group of Chinese artists who migrated oversea since late 1980s complicates this interpretative modus that satisfies the outside imagination of the nation-state of being an oppressed other. Hou has pointed out the problem of nation-state appropriated by both the artists and the Westerners, and he proposed the strategy of the Beyond/In-between Space or the Third Space, a concept contributed by Homi K. Bhabha, which he found in the art works of diasporic Chinese artists in the 1990s, taking Huang Yong Ping as the most prominent example (38). The Third Space is an ambivalent site that blurs the existing boundaries, questioning the existing categorizations of cultural identity through hybridity, and eluding the oppositional positioning of East and West, nationality and individuality, self and other. Also it contributes to the internationally cultural exchange or internationalism, such as in the realm of immigrant culture in the West. Therefore, expanding cultural identity by exploring in-betweenness becomes a theme in the art practices, and the concept of Third Space is seen as a cultural strategy to counter the national identity for those non-Western artists living in the West.

"Today, many artists' works are unpredictable. They are not producing objects, but opening new spaces through negotiations with contemporary cultural reality. If there is an "aesthetics" of the 1990s, then it is an aesthetics of space. This is a fundamental characteristic of the art in 1990s." (Hou, Hanru, and Gao Minglu, “Strategy of Survival in the Third Space: A Conversation on the Situation of Overseas Chinese Artists in the 1990s,” Inside Out, 1998. P189.)

“Space” becomes a keyword regardless its inexplicit meanings at many aspects, including the ways the artists tackle physical spaces, their engagements with urban or social spaces, the spatial representations in exhibitionary contexts, and spatial design’s relation to institutional critique, in all, the spatiality of art practice has involved. In the context of Hou, the artworks by immigrant artists engender a negotiable space of cultural identity. To sort out the many layers embedded in the spatial aesthetics, there is a need to reexamine the contextualization of Third Space in the realm of art, especially how the concept of space transforms between Hou’s critical and curatorial practices.

Hou’s early curated shows in Paris or shows related to this city where he moved, including Landscape in the Potential Ruins (1992) (39), Rencontre dans un Couloir (Meeting in a Corridor) (1992-1993) (40), Parisien(ne)s (1997) (41), all deliver a messeage that immigrants are also Parisians. It is similar to the ideas of “Chinese are international” later on he argued in many articles, including Entropy; Chinese Artists, Western Art Institution, A New Internationalism (1994) and Out of Centre On the Mid-Ground: Chinese Artists, Diaspora and Global Art (1999). If we take Henri Lefebvre’s conceptual triad in the production of space as an example, in Hou’s argument of diasporic artists, space partially refers to a “representational space” or “lived space”, particularly the state of exile and unhomely caused by relocation of home. On the other hand, it refers to social contexts that the diasporic artists live in and reshape in turn. So identity becomes a multidimensional Third Space as it only exists when there is an active connection in between the individual and the environment, and physically it is manifested in the surroundings and especially, non-private sphere.

Mid-ground and “glocal” (42) are two words invented by Hou to adapt Bhabha’s idea in his understanding of Chinese artists overseas. The former renegotiates the centre and periphery and itself is a readaption of Bhabha’s Third Space by looking into the situation of immigrant artists. While the later suggests where the global and local overlaps and it is a spatial concept that demonstrates a leaning towards a geographical region or urbanscape. By engaging the questions like how the changes happened to people and how economy and culture are provoked by urbanization and the flow of new population -- immigrants, the Third Space by Bhabha finds its realistic territory in metropolis like Paris. This speaks to Saskia Sassen’s “global city”, yet she notes that nation-state also has multi temporalities and spatialities, not just as an unity. To bridge the in-between state of diasporic artists in the 1990s and the regional focus on urbanization that has been showed in Canton Express, we might still need to look further other discourses about global city, starting from Sassen, one of the most quoted scholar in Hou’s curatorial writing when he tries to contextualize the necessity of constructing urban space in museum.

Sassen mentions that Bhabha’s theorization of In-between space makes a large contribution to our understanding of borderlands, when she attempted to capture the spatialities of the global. Yet as a political economist, she emaphasizes the economic activities, especially those “regulartory fractures,” for example, financial operations that sit in the gray area without violating regulations and what’s imported by immigrants from developing countries, are repleted in global cities that include dense and complex borderlands marked by the intersection of multiple spatiotemporal (dis)orders. Third Space here is not exactly a space taken from the  “lived space” or “representational space” in Lefebvre’s triad, but a “strategic site” with complex boderlines where actual operations take place. This requires people to look into the infrastructures built by the state and the accumulated capitals that are visible in certain global cities and it offers useful tools for analyzing physical places as well as epitomises the interdisciplinary nature of spatial study. This theoretical influence is most conspicuous in Hong Kong, etc. in the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale in South Africa (1997) and the following Cities on the Move (1997-1999). The reason to have an exhibition in Johannesburg Biennale directly about a city is linked to Hong Kong’s return to China from United Kingdom in 1997. The exhibition took Hong Kong as a representative “strategic site” in a global network, meaning that the city served as a base of operations for leading international industries, finance, and other services, explained by Sassen in her contributing essay (43) for the show (44). Therefore, along the growing global status of the mainland cities in the Pearl River Delta, Canton Express transplants a metaphorically emerging megacity representing Guangdong Province, keeping its path with Hong Kong, as another strategic site. And this transplantation of Asian cities had already been rehearsed by Hong Kong etc. and Cities on the Move. When the exhibitionary space refers to a trategic site spoken by Sassen, it oftentime falls into a cliché of depicting the expansion of market with art materials sourced from the accumulation of merchandises and etc in a changing urban life in Asia. Therefore, for artworks like Zheng Guogu’s Model Room filled with kitchen products made in Cantonese small town in Canton Express and Surasi Kusolwong’s Freedom of Choice made of plastic junks in Cities on the Move, they find a hardtime to retrieve the artistic thinkings grounded in the orginal regions under the overarching curatorial theme.

If we run back over the circumstances where Canton Express were developed in Hou’s curatorial practices and critical writings, it is almost a turn of his focuses on the refusal of application of nation-state or resistance to an united cultural positioning to a landing on the sites which are consistently allowing pluralities, no matter Third Space as in-between state or strategic sites inhabiting in global cities. Since nation-state essentially acquiesces in a definite territory that legitimizes the status quo that it’s right to rule by the fact that it exists, de-nationalization is part of the process of deterritorialization. Internally, it’s a transit of a living experience, from experiencing the biased opinions of cultural identities that artists bear, to witnessing the “uneven geographical development” (45) particularly in Asian pacific regions as Asia as a previous peripheral region has been tested out in global expansion of capitalism.

For the 4th Gwangju Biennale and the 50th Venice Biennale, they both challenge the way how biennales are constructed as a state game by replacing the national divisions with some other approaches to measure spaces. By no means, technically, the curatorial insistance on including Canton artists as a group in biennales certainly has practical functions, as the significance of biennale “appears more clearly to depend on a cycle of competitive positions between states where works, artists, and curators may be inserted into an international circuit of display and influence.” (46) Actually, no matter the competitive postitions are between states or regions or alternative art spaces.

Notwithstanding the critique of obsolescene of national divisions, the big trend of looking at big continents is inevitable as it touches upon the essential issues of the unevenness of politics and economics. For example, Canton Express coincidently represents Chinese art at Z.O.U.Zone of Urgency (2003) in juxtaposition with other curatorial sections (47) presenting other regions under Francesco Bonami’s vision for the 2003 Venice Biennale called “exhibition of exhibitions.” In this situation, Canton Express becomes “Exhibition of Exhibitions of Exhibitions,” or “Region of Regions of Regions,” alienated from the state-sponsored arts infrastructure, embodied by the other national pavilions. This is meant to be a reflection on the “poorly represented” (48) artists from large regions in the 49th Venice Biennale curated by Harald Szeemann in 2001, and Bonami wished his project a major international survey like a “map” comprising different areas with its own identity and independence. Therefore, the turn from nation to region, favors a more or less democratic perspective in terms of how otherness and differences are generated beyond given structures. And in biennales, an undefined regional concept may be capable of incorporating resistance of the already-constructed structure. Even though it is almost impossible to draw the boundaries of the Third Space in an existing space, the theoretical practices of the Third Space contribute to the transition from nation to region.

The strategy of emphasizing region or emerging global megacities was used again in the second edition of Guangzhou Triennial titled Beyond: An Extraordinary Space of Experimentation for Modernization (2005), co-curated by Hou, Obrist and Guangdong Museum’s curator Guo Xiaoyan. The most innovative part of the Triennial is Delta–Lab or D-lab, a research and discussion section referring to the Pearl River Delta. The Triennale, constituting a high-profile group of participants contributes to an expansion of artistic and institutional practices based on this region. The triennial nourishes couple of key characters that would play a crucial roles in the future scene, such as Guangdong Times Museum. What is worth bring up is that it uses the reframing of the region as a experimental space beyond geographical border, and as a curatorial strategy, it’s essentially a continuation of a series of previous projects curated by Hou, especially it can be seen as a natural extension of Canton Express. However, rather than using architectural forms in installation design, the Triennial lands in the sites where the construction happens with the ambition of rejuvenating locality locally.

III. Outside in: Spatializing White Cube through Architectural Approach

For the need of building spatial containers to present distinctive curatorial projects segmentally in an international scale in biennales, the actual implementation of a concept always goes back to the concretization of a physical, oftentimes enclosed space, where the problem of static place rises up again. This makes a return of the Second Space (conceived space, conceptualized space or representation of space) in the ordinary mechanism of exhibition space, forming a seemingly paradox to the Third Space captured in art practices. Besides the discussions of how artistic self-organizations contribute to a creative city and artistic reactions to urbanity, there is another related spatial concept directly dealing with physical space, especially in the transdisciplinary realm of art and architecture. Canton Express is further developed to simulating urban space in museum by applying the fundamental urban structures containing streets, bridges and model rooms into the exhibition design. Even though infrastructure (bridges, streets etc.) belongs to civil engineering, not always refers to architecture, it resembles the planning, designing and constructing of physical structures or environment, thus it can be incorporated into architectural methods in a broader sense. In fact, Canton Express is not the only one which uses architectural design or urban design in exhibition installation at the 4th Gwangju Biennale and the 50th Venice Biennale, nor the earliest application of architecture in exhibition design in general. However, no matter for representing an alternative art space in Gwangju or mimicking the urban infrastructure in Venice, Canton Express sustains a usage of various architectural forms to uphold a variety of spatial resolutions. The linkage between this two spatial forms is to be discussed in the following two chapters.

Particularly, the installation parameter of the 4th Gwangju Biennale is to reproduce the architectural structures of all the participating artist-run spaces and independent spaces, which are supposed to be exact replicas of the floor plan of those buildings from Singapore and Beijing. Kith Tsang Takping, the curator of Para/Site who also attended Gwangju Biennale recalled: “each art space has its own site-specific role, function and value, which cannot be reconstituted out of their original context.” (49) The 4th Gwangju Biennale is not to recreate an urban structure, since there is no doubt that art spaces are only tiny constituents of the urban structure, but as what is put by Lucy Steeds, it speculates about constructing “an urban commonwealth of art—to temporarily realize a transnational city of independent art spaces.” (50) So it seems to be under the strategy of “urban design as exhibition,” whereas it ticks off an invisible network that might have been coming into force to cope with whatever could not be attained in the existing art institutions. The strategies of utilizing the original floor plan of those alternative spaces more or less reiterate each of them being of a complex community or a imaginary “city-state” per se in their local context rather than a showcase of artists that has no difference from what a commercial gallery or a museum does.

Critic and curator Alex Farquharson wrote a review (51) of the 50th Venice Biennale, captured many architectural approaches to the sub-exhibitions, including Josef Dabernig’s intervention on the section Individual System with cubes as intervals, Carlos Basualdo’s uses of steel structures and Gabriel Orazco’s cancelation of walls. However, besides individual artists’ architectural approaches to their own works, like Christoph Schlingensief’s Church of Fear and Wael Shawky’s Asphalt Quarter, Zone of Urgency is the only example of using architectural forms as the overall exhibition structures for many of the artists. It’s a recognizable distinction for Farquharson that, under a general impression on the spectacle of Asian megapolises conjured by Hou, Zheng Guogu’s shelters offered space solely for Canton Express, while Yung Ho Chang’s tilting floor primarily for the rest of immigrant Asian artists and artists from other part of Asia pacific regions. Though being “over-headed” for Farquharson’s personal liking, Hou’s “overkill” style is appraised as the most successful example of curating regional art.

Both of the installation strategies that Hou used in Gwangju and Venice had also been applied into his many other exhibitions, which are to internalize a likely urban experience in the isolated art institutional structure. His earlier projects since late 1990s include Hong Kong, etc. in the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale in South Africa (1997), Street Theater: Solo Exhibition of Atelier FCJZ (1999), Apex Art, New York, co-curated with Evelyne Jouanno; Cities on the Move (1997-1999), multiple sites, co-curated with Hans Ulrich Obrist; and My Home is Yours/Your Home is Mine (2001), Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery, co-curated with Jerome Sans. These curatorial concepts related to urban sphere are formalized with spatial structures of taking city or its infrastructural component as prototypes. For example, Street Theater (1999) at Apex Art, a solo exhibition of China’s first private architectural practice studio Atelier FCKJ, founded by Yung Ho Chang, puts up a street stage inside of the gallery and ramps it up to a screen on the top, as if it is a rising extension of the Church Street outside. A similar design by Chang to this street structure—a ramp-like mezzanine is used in the entrance of Zone of Urgency, which reaches the ground level in the middle of the space, and is followed up by Canton Express’s bridge (with model room underneath and stairs on the sides). At Apex Art, Chang imitates the process of creating condense multilayered architecture within one space to act out his architectural working methods as a supplement to the sketches and models in the show. However in Zone of Urgency, his ramp is one of the platforms to divide the artistic sections and to fulfill a tense urban experience, while having Japanese artist Tsuyoshi Ozawa’s stunted shelter cubes (his work Capsule Hotel Project) parallel to Canton Express’s bridge. Cities on the Move, the traveling exhibition in close collaborations with architects such as Chang, Rem Koolhaas, Ole Scheeren and Shigeru Ban, also becomes untenable for its design-led ambition to confound the nuanced need for individual artworks, not mention to the difficulties of capsulizing the conceptual Third Space widely explored by the exhibited artists.

Regardless of the distinction between urban infrastructure forms and architectural forms, there is a history of appropriating architecture in the spatial design of exhibitions, as early as 1920s when museum director Alexander Dorner collaborated with El Lissitzky to create “a contemporary, dynamic display” (52) at the Landesmuseum in Hannover, Germany, in 1920s. Hans Ulrich Obrist addresses this historical trajectory and develops it into a broader interdisciplinary curating afterwards. Ironically, when Hou Hanru’s interest in architecture coincides with Obrist, the show Cities on the Move he co-curated with Obrist is criticized as “the latest art historical Other seeking assimilation to the Western canon.” (53) Though Obrist’s approach to architecture is more relevant to the idea of placing museum as a laboratory for works in progress. Anyhow, the embodiment of architecture in both Obrist and Hou’s curatorial practices are not based on any specific architectural roles, theories or sociological data (54), but rather an interdisciplinary or internal participatory mode by giving further away the curatorial authorship to further elevate exhibition as a critical form. However, it is a question whether the critical form is a replica of the imaginative outside world or a performative space that is not based on any preexisting script or dichotomy ideology, and it is to be examined that what the

Canton Express is not the only one who struggles in the dilemma of collaborative or collective working method representing a region by having an encompassing architectural installation. A similar case to Canton Express is Para/Site. As an independent artspace since 1996, Para/Site convened its key members including artists, architects, curators, designers and critics, and formed as a collective to participate in Gwangju Biennale in 2002. Later on, Hong Kong Arts Development Council commisioned Para/Site to curate Hong Kong’s presentation in the 50th Venice Biennale. In Gwangju, the project Expansion/Extension was curated by Keith Tsang Takping, however, the curatorship didn’t ask for connections in between the artworks when the artists created their works in a shared space. In Venice, the final presentation decided by twelve members of Para/Site is called Navigating the Dot, composed of tubes with pillows inside, where the audience could take a break and listen to ambient sound. It is said that their motivation of creating this piece is “to contribute a little silence to intervene the sight and site of the Biennale.” (55) If the representation of one single work at Gwangju is still forgivable, only producing one integral work in Venice caused more disputes for Para/Site, since they were representative of the Special administrative region of China or Hong Kong as a region, not just on behalf of the space itself. In despite of the bureaucratic art administration that the Hong Kong Arts Development Council had been blamed for, the key concepts of Navigating the Dot (56) proposed by Para/Site still suggest some common goals that they shared with Canton Express, especially their concerns of creating a space that could break away from the regular museum presentations and the bond with regional awareness and its urbanity. The tube installation refers to the concrete pipes in the early housing estates, which seem to be another common infrastructural form that were visible in the rapid urbanization in the 1990s. The direct appropriation of urban infrastructure in a single artwork appears to be a whimsical solution to the housing shortage and tiny dwellings in Hong Kong, a somewhat stereotypical representation of people’s spatial experience in the so-called concrete jungle filled with skyscrapers. The inhabitable concrete tube installation might ward off the critiques that Canton Express received, that architectural structures could overshadow the diversity of artworks, despite of the truth that they didn’t actually show any individual works except for the tubes as one collaborative piece. Due to the minimal presentation caused by complicated administrative and financial restraints, people criticized it for not meeting up expectations of presenting art.

Nevertheless, the applications of the urban infrastructures in exhibition design, no matter in the forms of street, bridge, model room in Canton Express and Street Theater or concrete pipes in Navigating the Dot, are all spatial forms that are particular but also generic sites in urban areas. As such, how were the elements of urban infrastructures implanted in exhibition through installation design? How did the curatorial practice find its stance in the simulations of the abstract version of urban infrastructures when the ideologies of nationalities are replaced with the ideas of spaces, regions, cities, sites and places?

When Hou Houru suggests an aesthetics of space in the 1990s, it could be relevant to the relational aesthetics, which is a tendency observed by Nicolas Bourriaud at the same time. Relational art is an art taking its horizon to the realm of human interactions and its social contexts rather than a well-defined private space or a dedicated venue like cinema which solely presents one genre. The idea of art as a relation space stems from the urban culture or city model after the growth of towns and cities at the end of Second World War. With the collapse of aristocratic conception of the arrangements of artworks (including the spatial confinement, e.g. collector’s house), and the arising democracy to exquisite territory for its citizens, art making becomes practicable in urban sphere with greater individual mobility, and inversely, the experiences of daily life in the cities like street scene are brought into museums—a used-to-be dedicated venue to artworks on the wall. As such, it’s not hard to understand Hou’s interests in urbanization and architecture began in early 1990s (57) under the spatial turn on art or an aesthetics of space incorporating the diasporic scene and the social bend activated by urban life. And this trend echoes to the institutional criticism emerging in the art practices. Another alike emphasis on the concept of space, especially a space that derives from the mundane life is “profane space” spoken by Boris Groys in the early 1990s, which is a space outside of the archive of existing cultural values, thus the cultural economy takes places in the exchanges between the profane space and the archive to generate newness.

In another genre of spatial practices, building streets, bridges or other urban infrastructures in exhibitions reverses the spatial relation of the art and curatorial practices which intervene in public spaces, especially the site-specific art and curatorial practices that treat “the streets as the place for opposition, disruption, tactics and protests.” (58) This is further developed into the ideas of city as an exhibition space, especially in the urban setting of the biennial. And ironically, no matter how people tries to reduce the invisible walls of the white cube, biennales are oftentimes homogenized as a placeless sites just like white cube spaces. Some of them have taken the references from Henri Lefebvre, Michel de Certeau and others to assume the theoretical foundations of their works. Furthermore, it is to be assumed that art and curatorial practices can actually offer new resources for urban and spatial thinking and vice versa. However the dualistic division in between place (stable and given, representing the given structure or system, where the power is) and the space (anarchic and provisional, representing the resistance) is growing and rather merely demonstrating the given “nature” of the place which art resists to or reacts to than producing urban experiences. Additionally, the urban infrastructures like streets or bridges are deprived from the “Practice of Everyday Life” as a replica of the space.

David Harvey once concluded, “place” can refer to the generic qualities of place, such as locality, location and territory, or designate particular kinds like city, megalopolis and state.The collapse of spatial barriers caused by exchange, movement and communication gives “new material definition of place by way of exclusionary territorial behaviour.” (59) And territory place-based identity is related to the difference or otherness raised in the post-modern rhetoric. It referred as well to how spaces produced through urbanization might be key sites where the contradictions of capitalism are most evident (60), responding to what Sassen speaks for “strategic sites.” (61) The close relationship between the global economy and the new cityscape means that it matters to recover “place” as it is constituted in major cities. This responded to Rem Koolhaas’s sensitivity to specific types of place in his urban research and exhibition designs, such as specifically shopping malls and airports, or general places like streets, and also to other urban theories of that time.


(1) The Pearl River Delta, also known as PRD Zhujiang Delta or Zhusanjiao, is the low-lying area surrounding the Pearl River estuary, where the Pearl River flows into the South China Sea. However the dispute about the geographic formation of delta began in early 20 century, and the suspicion of the actual existence of delta once prevailed. This region is often considered an emerging megacity including a network of prefectures of Guangdong Province and the SARS of Hong Kong and Macau. The concept Pearl River Delta was brought up firstly as an economic zone by Chinese government in 1994. Its economic factors accelerate the formation of this concept in cultural realm. The first time the name Pearl River Delta (or Zhujiang Delta) was first used officially as a term to define artists engaging this region is in exhibition Citi-Slang: The First Annual Contemporary Art from Zhu Jiang Delta (2010) in He Xiangning Art Gallery.

(2) Operation PRD is a long-term project of Guangdong Times Museum. It started from the exhibition Big Tail Elephants: One Hour, No Room, Five Shows (2016-2017) with a open call Operation PRD: All the Way South Research Fund (2017-present).

(3) Include: Big Tail Elephants: Lin Yilin (1964, Guangzhou, China; lives and works in New York and Guangzhou), Chen Shaoxiong (1962, Shantou, Guangdong, China; lives and works in Guangzhou), Xu Tan (1957, Wuhan, Cina; lives and works in Guangzhou and Shanghai; collaboration with Jin Jiangbo), Liang Juhui (1959, Guangzhou; lives and works in Guangzhou); Vitamin Creative Space (founded in 2002 in Guangzhou by Hu Fang(1970, Zhejiang, China; lives and works in Guangzhou)); Yangjiang Group: Zheng Guogu (1970, Yangjiang, China; lives and works in Yangjiang), Sha Yeya (Yangjiang; lives and works in Yangjiang), Feng Qianyu (Yangjiang; lives and works in Yangjiang); Borges Libreria (Guangzhou, founded by Chen Tong (Hunan, China; lives and works in Guangzhou)); World Bookstore (Yangjiang, founded by Lu Yi (Yangjiang; lives and works in Yangjiang)); Utèque (Guangzhou): Ou Ning (1969, Zhanjiang, China; lives and works in Guangzhou), Cao Fei (1978, Guangzhou; lives and works in Guangzhou); Yang Jiechang (1956, Foshan, China; lives and works in Paris); Yang Yong (1975, Sichuan; lives and works in Shenzhen, China); Jiang Zhi (1971, Yuanjiang, Hunan; lives and works in Shenzhen, China); Liu Heng (Guangzhou; lives and works in Guangzhou and USA); Duan Jianyu (lives and works in Guangzhou).


(5) Works from the Canton Express were acquired by art collector Guan Yi and donated to M+ in 2013. “The act of restaging a complete project within a museum is destined to be a paradox. The dual mission of this Canton Express remake was to indicate the context of the artworks on display while putting them within the frame of the M+ collection: reflective of M+'s aim to be a museum that not only displays visual culture but also the unknown (hence, +). ”

(6) Others include the establishment of WuXing Association of Guangzhou Non-profit Art Initiatives (members include five non-profit organizations: Guangdong Times Museum, Borges Libreria Bookstore, Video Bureau, Huangbian Station (Contemporary Art Research Centre) and Observation Society) in 2016 and the long-standing Cantonbon founded by Chen Tong for his two Guangzhou-based spaces, Libreria Borges (1993-) and Libreria Borges Institut d’Art Contemporain (2007-) with his newly founded Bonacon Gallery.

(7) Such as Canton Art Trip (2018) and a proposal to host Canton Art Month along with The Sixth Guangzhou Triennial (tentatively 2018-2019).


(9) An example he raised is the transformation from "Pearl River Delta" to "Eurasia" and back to "King of Canton" in Yang Jiechang’s works.


(11) This spatial turn has been laid foundation by the theories of Homi Bhabha, Henri Lefebvre, Michel de Certeau, David Harvey and etc.

(12) CANTONBON: A Case Study of Locality, Autonomy and Hybridity since 1993


(14) For more information, see

In 1988, alongside Yang Jiechang, Chen Tong and Tang Songwu and others, Hou staged the performance Language, Communication, Man in the Sun Yat-Sen Library in Guangzhou. Other artist collectives in Guangdong include Cartoon Generation.

(15) “Chen Shaoxiong: We didn’t have a manifesto. Our principle was that we were a free collaboration.”

See Obrist, Hans U. The China Interviews. Hong Kong: Office for Discourse Enegineering, 2009. P46.

(16) However, I do believe that they represent a new type of model in terms of modern society and culture being invented in Asia art the moment.” Mid-ground17.From the interview with the author.

(17) From the interview with the author.

(18) As an alternative to Xin Hua Bookstore, the largest nation-owned bookstore brand in China.

(19) Book of Changes: Libreria Borges of Gwangju Biennale (Libreria Borges, 2002)

(20) Chen said it is not exactly correct to consider the participation of Gwangju Biennale as his artwork. As he puts it, "To participate in an exhibition as an artist versus as an organization, I think – of course when participating as an organization, I’ll have to pay more attention to the composite factors, for example, there can be a kind of explanatory nature for the organization’s works, so I’ll have to make that explanation a little more accurate relatively.” See Jing, Wang, Cantonbon: A Case Study of An Institution Model Since 1993, thesis submitted to the faculty of the graduate program at the center for Curatorial Studies in Partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Curatorial Studies. P32. Also in Zheng Guogu’s email with Hou Hanru, the purpose of inviting Libreria Borges is to show the overall view of Cantonese artists, so they would have better chances of showing internationally. See Book of Changes: Libreria Borges of Gwangju Biennale (Libreria Borges, 2002)

(21) Book of Changes: Libreria Borges of Gwangju Biennale (Libreria Borges, 2002)

(22) “Canton Mix Express: Continuous Decentralization of Power”, Book of Changes: Libreria Borges of Gwangju Biennale (Libreria Borges, 2002)

(23) Tong, Chen, “About Cantonese artists’ collective expedition to Gwangju Biennale in the name of Libreria Borges”, Book of Changes: Libreria Borges of Gwangju Biennale (Libreria Borges, 2002) Also in an interview Chen Tong took for exhibition Accumulation: Canton Express, Next Stop, he mentioned: “Unfortunately, the so called ‘strike’ came at critical juncture when dog fight wound up with chaos. However, the artists still cares about the collective cooperation.” See Chen, Tong. Accumulation : Canton Express, Next stop. Beijing: Beijing Tang Contemporary Art Gallery, 2006. P19.

(24) A phone call transcript recorded the bargain between Hou and Zheng becomes a famous anecdote in the Book of Changes, their catalogue documenting the process.

(25) This wording is from Zheng Guogu. During the preparation of Venice Biennale, he had to design the overall installation structure, draw blueprints, build models, make phone calls, send emails, hurry artists to send proposals and discuss proposals. See 118.

(26) The show is also to show gratitude to the owner of Hanart TZ Gallery Chang Tsong - zung, who sponsored the shipping fee of Canton Express.

(27) See Martina Koeppel-Yang, “Accumulation, Canton Express, the Next Stop,” Accumulation : Canton Express, Next stop. Beijing: Beijing Tang Contemporary Art Gallery, 2006. P9.

(28) Ibid.

(29) Ibid.

(30) Interview with Chen Tong.

(31) The other examples has been sorted out in different articles, such as 孫振華, 《珠三角的城市鏡像 -- 關於廣東當代藝術的地域性問題》(Zhenghua, Sun, “The Urban Mirror-Image of PRF -- About the Localistic Questions of Guangdong Contemporary art”).

(32) Chen, Tong, “The Express without Ending (沒有終點的快車),” StopOver Hong Kong(逗留香港), hanart TZ Gallery. 2004. P9-17

(33) Chen, Tong, “The Express without Ending (沒有終點的快車),” StopOver Hong Kong(逗留香港), hanart TZ Gallery. 2004. P14.

(34) Chen, Tong, “‘Autonomous Regions’ or Memories Regarding other Related Conceptual Terms,” Zizhiqu - Autonomous Regions, Guangdong Times Museum. P97.

(35) Ibid. Chen Tong addresses that if one wishes to interpret how Canton Express can carry so many Cantonese artists, one must perhaps return to Hou Hanru’s overall strategy he onced used before (e.g. Cities on the Move) and his powerful awareness of space.

(36) Hanru, Hou, “Chinese Artists, Western Art Institutions, A New Internationalism,”

Global visions: towards a new internationalism in the visual arts, A Kala Press Publication in association with the Institute of International Visual Arts. 1994.

(37) Hanru, Hou, “Towards an ‘Un-Unoffical Art: De-ideologicalisation of China’s Contemporary Art in the 1990s”, Third Text.34, Spring 1996, Hou Hanru, and Hsiao-Hwei Yu. On the Mid-Ground, Hong Kong: Timezone 8 Ltd, 2002, p40-53.

(38) Bhabha’s concept is firsty quoted in Hanru, Hou, “A Certain Necessary Perversion,” Heart of Darkness: Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, December 18, 1994 - March 27, 1995. Otterlo: Kröller-Müller Museum, 1997, and then discussed through in 1999 in Hanru, Hou, “On the Mid-Ground: Chinese Artists, Diaspora and Global Art,” Hou Hanru, and Hsiao-Hwei Yu. On the Mid-Ground.

(39) Co-curated with Evelyne Jouanno.“They used the opportunity of the imminent demolition of a friend’s studio to invite artists to put forward artistic projects for problems such as the effect of urbanisation on everyday life and environment protection.” Hou Hanru, and Hsiao-Hwei Yu. On the Mid-Ground.

(40) Co-curated with Evelyne Jouanno. “For Rencontre dans un Couloir each mont they invited a different artist to create a project in the corridor of their apartment building, which they then lived with for a month.” Hou Hanru, and Hsiao-Hwei Yu. On the Mid-Ground.

(41) This exhibition brings together the work of nine artists who live and work (or lived and worked) in Paris but whose cultural roots lie outside France: Absalon, Chen Zhen, Chohreh Feyzdjou, Thomas Hirschhorn, Huang Yong Ping, Tiina Ketara, Sarkis, Shen Yuan, and Tsuneko Taniuchi. Most were commissioned to make new works specifically for the exhibition. The result is a diversity of works, which overlap and interact through their investigations into location, dislocation and cultural identity within the contemporary metropolis.

(42) Hanru, Hou, “On the Mid-Ground: Chinese Artists, Diaspora and Global Art,” Hou Hanru, and Hsiao-Hwei Yu. On the Mid-Ground. P79.

(43) Saskia Sassen, “Hong Kong: Strategic Site/New Frontier,” in Hou Hanru and Hans Ulrich Obrist, Cities on the Move (Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany: Hatje, 1997), 99.

(44) Even though Hou didn’t refer to Edward W. Soja in his writings, Soja’s conceptualization of the term third space provides Bhabha’s theory a critical urban angle by incorprating

(45) David Harvey, Spaces of Global Capitalism: A Theory of Uneven Geographical Development (London: Verso, 2006).


(47) Include Fault Lines: Contemporary African Art and Shifting Landscapes curated by Gilane Tawadros, Contemporary Arab Representations by Catherine David and so on. “Half of the 10 projects within the ‘exhibition of exhibitions’ initiated by Francesco Bonami have a corresponding focus or show artists primarily from these parts of the world. Also, 5 of the 12 curators originally come from these regions (Carlos Basualdo, Hou Hanru, Gabriel Orozco, Gilane Tawadros, Rirkrit Tiravanija).”

(48) Biennale Report by Universes in Universe.

(49) Kith Takping, Tsang, “Pausing Dilemma of the 4th Gwangju Biennale,” PS no.19 visual arts and culture magazine. Hong Kong: Para/Site, 2002.

(50) P. 124.


(52) “Alexander Dorner who ran the Hannover Museum in the 1920s defined the museum as a ‘Kraftwerk.’ He invited artists such as El Lissitzky to realise a contemporary, dynamic display of a museum on the move.” Hans Ulrich Obrist, “Alexander Dorner,” Eyebeam, April 1, 1998, accessed April 17, 2016,

(53) Lucy steed, p.121

(54) John Clark, 

(55) Kith Takping, Tsang, “Playing Streetball in Venice,” PS special issue: Collectively: Returning from the 50th Venice Biennale. Hong Kong: Para/Site, 2003.

(56) Key points about NAVIGATING THE DOT: Hong Kong people’s sensitivity of urban space; Site specific work: to provide a resting place in the VB (Venice Biennale); Visitors to explore body experiences which cover audio and visual, physical and mental aspects; Visitors to explore space inside space—more space than what can be seen in the artwork; Connection of interior/personal+exterior/urban space. From Jaspar Kinwah, Lau, “An Anticipated Disaster: Reflections on Collective Experience,” PS special issue: Collectively: Returning from the 50th Venice Biennale. Hong Kong: Para/Site, 2003.

(57) Hou gained his interests in art history and architecture when he was studying in China Central Academy of Fine Arts. The subject for his degree in is medieval sculpture and churches, and it’s related to “how the relationship between visual arts and architecture evolved because of social change.” See Carolee, Thea, “The Extreme Situation is Beautiful: Interview with Hou Hanru,” Hou Hanru, and Hsiao-Hwei Yu. On the Mid-Ground. P250.


(59) David, Harvey, “From Space to Place and Back Again: Reflections on the Condition of Postmodernity,” Bird Jon. Mapping the Futures: Local Cultures, Global Change. London: Routledge, 2008. P3.

(60) David Harvey, “Globlization and the ‘Spatial Fix,’” geographiche revue 2 (2001): 28.

(61) Saskia Sassen, “Whose City Is It? Globalisation and the Formation of New Claims,” in Cities and Citizenship, ed. James Holston (Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 1999), 178.

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