Farewell to Post-Colonialism——1st circular of The Third Guangzhou Triennial

The Third Guangzhou Triennial will run from September 6th to November 16th, 2008. Opening preview will be on September 6th, 2008. Curators are Gao Shiming, Sarat Maharaj and Johnson Chang Tsong-zung.

Farewell to Post-Colonialism

For the curatorial discourse of this Triennial, we propose to say “Farewell to Post-Colonialism”. This represents the theoretical basis from which we hope to explore our critical vision. “Farewell to Post-colonialism” is not a denial of the importance and rewards of this intellectual tradition; in the real world, the political conditions criticised by post-colonialism have not receded, but in many ways are even further entrenched under the machinery of globalisation. However, as a leading discourse for art curatorial practice and criticism, post-colonialism is showing its limitations in being increasingly institutionalised as an ideological concept. Not only is it losing its edge as a critical tool, it has generated its own restrictions that hinder the emergence of artistic creativity and fresh theoretical interface. To say “Farewell to Post-Colonialism” is not simply a departure, but a re-visit and a re-start.

2008 will be forty years since the heady days of 1968. In these forty years, waves of new social movement and multi-cultural theories have woven a tapestry of rich and clashing colours out of the world’s changing social realities. International contemporary art has also benefited from the attention to socio-political issues surrounding identity, race, gender and class. But in fifty years, revolutionary concepts have also transformed into leading discourses safely guarded by “political correctness”. Post-colonial discourse’s analysis of the power structure within cultural expressions has triggered a series of cultural resistance, as well as the construction of the self as the Subject in relation to the Other. However, this kind of analysis and construction have also adversely developed an institutionalised pluralistic landscape (a multi-cultural “managerialism”) that has today turned into a new form of stereotyping. In this Triennial we wish to draw attention to the “political correctness at large” that is the result of the power play of multi-culturalism, identity politics and post-colonial discourse. Urgent issues facing curatorial practice today are: How do we establish an “ethics of difference” within the framework of difference in cultural production? How do we prevent a “tyranny of the Other” without sacrificing the grounds already gained against the power status quo?

For some years major international contemporary exhibitions around the world have worked towards building up “discursive sites for a cacophony of voices” and “negotiated spaces of diverse values”, emphasising “correctness” in cultural politics; these have inadvertently succeeded to the neglect of independent pursuit of artistic creativity and alternative imaginative worlds. Concepts of identity, multiplicity and difference are now slowly losing their edge to become new restrictions for artistic practice. In response to this, the curatorial team of The Third Guangzhou Triennial wants to bring attention to the “limits of multi-culturalism”, and say “Farewell to the Post-Colonialism”.

By saying “Farewell to Post-Colonialism” we call for the renovation of the theoretical interface of contemporary art, to depart from its all pervasive socio-political discourse, and work together with artists and critics to discover new modes of thinking and develop new analytical tools for dealing with today’s world. The curators hope this Triennial will be a process of discovery for ourselves; not just the fulfilling of preconceived ideas. Instead of claiming what this Triennial “is”, we wish to find out what it should not be. This Triennial may be understood as a locus of questions for the international art world, starting with an Exercise in Negation and a Questionnaire about art. We hope artists and critics will works with us to discover what new modes and imaginative worlds are possible for art beyond the boundaries of socio-political discourses.

The Self Imagining of The Third Guangzhou Triennial:
An Exercise in Negation …

Neither Western nor non-western; neither global nor local; neither international nor national; neither left nor right; neither the third world not the third space; neither tourist spectacle nor ethno-scape.

Not cosmopolitanism; Not multi-culturalism, Not tribalism; Not post-colonialism; Not identity politics; Not sociological report; Not relational aesthetics; Not regime of the Other; Not alternative modernity; Not hybridity; Not showcase of new stars; Not metropolis of art; …

In addition, the Triennial has prepared a platform for a Questionnaire Exercise, through which artists can approach curators, critics and fellow artists to discuss the predicament of contemporary artistic production. It is hoped that through the concerted effort of the art world we can clarify many false issues and presumptions embedded in art practices, thereby permitting fresh questions to surface.

The Third Guangzhou Triennial Questionnaire (a suggestion):

- What is your view on international curators and international exhibitions?
- Are you satisfied with the institution of biennials and triennials? Can you suggest better alternatives?
- Do you consider cultural identity important to your creative work?
- Are discourses on “global-local” useful for your work? If so, in what ways?
- Are issues about pluralism such as sexual politics and race important for you?
- Do you feel political correctness has turned into a form of oppression?
- Should artists seek to dominate artistic discourses?
- What does “international” mean to you?
- Is it possible to write a “world art history”?
- Is a universal basis of knowledge and value critical for creativity?
- Under the aegis of diversity of multi-culturalism, how may artists construct a common cultural ground of knowledge and sensibilities?
- How should we discuss creativity within the discourse of multi-culturalism?
- Do you have any expectations or suggestions for The Third Guangzhou Triennial?
Through the Exercise in Negation and the Questionnaire, the Triennial invites all colleagues in the art field to help imagine ways to realise the 2008 Triennial. For the curators, the important thing is to liberate discourse through discourse, and to liberate artistic production by scrutinising our intellectual tools. It is our wish to bring curators and artists together in order to think through the visual.


The Third Guangzhou Triennial will continue the initiative of D-Lab (Delta Laboratory) started three years ago. The first D-Lab opens in November 2007, activities include:

A. International Symposium: “Limits of Multi-Culturalism”, to discuss the ideological tendencies and institutionalisation of multi-culturalism and post-colonial discourse; and to investigate issues of “plurality” and “difference” from the point of view of individual lived experience.
B. Round-table forum: “Re-starting from Asia: Fatigue of large international exhibitions, and case study of Asia”, to discuss opportunities for large international exhibitions within the Asian context under the general fatigue for such events today.

Introducing the Curators of The Third Guangzhou Triennial

GAO Shiming, Director of the Visual Culture Research Center of the China Art Academy, associate professor. His subject is visual culture research, contemporary art studies and curatorial practice. He has participate in many large exhibitions of academic standing, including the research project “The Migration of Asian Contemporary Art and Geo-politics” 2002-2004, “Techniques of the Visible” the 5th Shanghai Biennial 2004, “In the Depth of Reality: Contemporary Chinese Art” and “Asian Time: New Media Art” in 2005, “Micrology: Micro-politics in Chinese Contemporary Art” and “The Yellow Box: Contemporary Art and Architecture in a Chinese Space”. He has edited the publications “Visual Thinking”, “Edges of the Earth: Asian Contemporary Art and Geo-politics”. Curatorial practice for Gao is neither presentation nor re-presentation, but a creative process. He firmly believes in the contemporary significance of bringing together action and subjective knowledge. He also firmly believes in curatorial work as a form of “writing in practice” within the dark room of history. Since 2002 his work has been guided by a special form of cultural thinking, which is: how to start afresh from intellectual discourse, depart from the habits of identity politics and contextual studies, and seek inspiration from the depth of Chinese contemporary reality, in order to stimulate creativity, and find a form of interventional narrative for contemporary art and visual culture.

Sarat MAHARAJ was born in South Africa and educated in one of the segregated universities of the Apartheid era. He is currently Professor of Visual Art and Knowledge Systems, Lund University, Sweden and Visiting Professor, Goldsmiths’ College, London. He was the first Rudolf Arnheim Professor, Humboldt University, Berlin (2001-02) and Research Fellow at the Jan Van Eyck Akademie, Maastricht (1999-2001). In 2007, he is Visiting Professor of Art History & Theory at the Institut de l’art histoire, Paris. His specialist research covers Marcel Duchamp, James Joyce and Richard Hamilton. His current research spans Visual Art as Knowledge Production & Non-Knowledge – and the concept of “thinking through the visual”. His expanded research, writing and publications cover, Visual Art as Knowledge Production, Textiles, Cultural Translation and Difference in the global system—and the contemporary “convergence” of image, sound and movement and consciousness studies curated in (Knowledge Lab 2005 & 2006. Berlin and New Media Art Lab, Banff Canada 2007). Sarat Maharaj is a theoretical armoury of contemporary curatorial practices. He was co-curator of Documenta 11, 2002. With Ecke Bonk and Richard Hamilton, he curated retinal.optical.visual.conceptual……on Marcel Duchamp, 2002. He is curator of the Knowledge Lab (Haus der Kulturen der Welt), 2005 and Berlin/Munich 2006, as well as sound/image/movement experiments with Liu Sola (Beijing/NY) and Kofi Koko (Benin/Paris). Maharaj’s publications include Modernity & Difference (INIVA. London) and A Strife of Tongues: Richard Hamilton/Marcel Duchamp/James Joyce (Typosophic Society). In 2008 he will publish his new book Work in Pregross: Collected Writings (MIT. Cambridge. 2008). Maharaj's theoretical competence, combined with his willingness to bring the concepts of cultural, diversity and difference to a more public forum, makes him a key intellectual voice on the Continent today.

Johnson CHANG Tsong-zung, curator, founder of the Asia Art Archive in Hong Kong, founder of the Hong Kong chapter of AICA, guest professor of China Art Academy. He has been active in curating Chinese exhibitions since the 1980s; he pioneered participation of Chinese art in international exhibitions, and was instrumental in establishing the international image of Chinese contemporary art of the 1990s. As a curator with strong attachments to the literati tradition, he firmly believes that contemporary art should have unique responsibilities under different contexts and take diverse paths. One of his main interests is the type and manner of contribution Chinese art may open up to the world. In recent years, his activities have centred around the theme: “revival of Chinese visual and material culture” through the intervention of curatorial practice. These projects involve artefacts, space and ritual, forming a special and unique chapter in Chinese contemporary art. His exhibitions include “China’s New Art Post-1989” in 1993, Special Exhibitions at the Sao Paulo International Biennial in 1994 and 1996, Hong Kong participation at Sao Paulo Biennial 1996 and Venice Biennial 2001, the “Power of the Word” series of exhibitions, “Strange Heaven: Chinese Contemporary Photography”, “Open Asia International Sculpture Exhibition” in Venice 2005, “Yellow Box” series of research projects about contemporary art practice and Chinese space.