An investigation into performative art practices in Chengdu from 1995 to 2001


In this presentation, curator and researcher Petra Poelzl discusses her field research on the overlooked performance art scene in Chengdu during the 1990s. 

According to Poelzl, the China/Avant-Garde Exhibition in 1989 was a turning point for performance art in Mainland China, with a series of notable performances—including ones by Beijing East Village artists who tested the limits of their bodies, and works by other artists in the late 1990s who used animal or human corpses to reflect on their sociopolitical circumstances. Around this time, performance art also started to become a popular form in Chengdu—where practitioners worked closely with the media and the government. The Chengdu artists generated awareness for local social and environmental problems through participatory and socially-engaged actions, providing a counterpoint to their peers in the capital city. 

Poelzl’s project focuses on two art events in Chengdu. The first is Keepers of the Waters (1995), a collaborative, art activist event initiated by the New York-based performance artist Betsy Damon. This collaboration, along with a series of events later organised by Chengdu artists, were influential on the local art scene and fostered a positive image of experimental art in China. The second focus is the formation of the 719 Artist Studio Alliance, composed of eight artists including performance artist Dai Guangyu. The group was active between 1997 and 2000, and organised exhibitions and performance events in public spaces following the unique trajectory of contemporary art in Chengdu.

Free and open to the public with registration.

Asia Art Archive Research Grant 2017 Grantee Petra Poelzl is a freelance curator, dramaturge, and researcher based in Berlin, Germany, and Graz, Austria. Her PhD research at the Free University in Berlin centres on performative art practices after the post–shock art boom in China. She has been involved in numerous projects focusing on Chinese contemporary art, including Zhou Bin: Nothing to Say, Museum of Contemporary Art Chengdu (2016); Corporate, Xu Zhen (Produced by MadeIn Company), Kunsthaus Graz (2015); and Up-On Performance Art Festival (2016 and 2017) in Chengdu. Poelzl was a dramaturge for steirischer herbst Festival for New Art in Graz (2014–16). Since 2016, she has been working closely with artist Tianzhuo Chen on his stage performances. In 2018, Poelzl will serve as the co-curator of ACUD gallery, a project space in Berlin.


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