The Contemporary Art Ecosystem in the Pearl River Delta: A Case Study of Region-building and Worlding Practices

Project: Research project

Project Details


Since the 1990s urbanization of the Pearl River Delta (PRD) has accelerated. In 2003 Canton Express featured fourteen contemporary artists who critically reflected on that urbanization. Shown at the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003 and M+ pavilion, a visual culture museum in Hong Kong, the exhibition foregrounded the region’s prominent position in China’s economic development. In 2017 M+ restaged a smaller section of Canton Express. The timing coincided with the signing of the “Framework Agreement on Deepening Guangdong–Hong Kong–Macao Cooperation in the Development of the Greater Bay Area (GBA).” M+’s Canton Express (2017) was not merely an iteration of the older show. It had a new goal: to boost the construction of the PRD contemporary art ecosystem. The GBA is a government project that aims to rebrand the PRD as a global megalopolis, with the West Kowloon Cultural District, where this museum exhibition was located, as the core cultural infrastructure of the GBA. The literature on the relationship between global urbanism and contemporary Chinese art focuses on art produced and exhibited in Beijing and Shanghai. Artistic practices in “the most intense region of globalization and urbanization in China” (Pi 2017), remain unexplored. Furthermore, most studies place art in a reactive position, elaborating on the impact of global urbanism on contemporary Chinese art instead of tackling the dynamic relationship between art and global urbanism. To date, no studies comprehensively explore government policies, entrepreneurial motivations, and art professionals’ engagement in the cultural construction of the PRD’s regional identity, nor the relationships between these agents. Without such research, improvements to policy-making and the effective funding allocation by PRD governing authorities for arts development are hampered. For example, the findings from the proposed research will help ensure that funds such as the Hong Kong government’s HK$140 million allowance for Hong Kong artists’ participations in art events hosted in neighboring cities within the GBA (Gov HK 2019) will be efficiently allocated. To fill these gaps, the proposed research will identify the policies of different government parties in the PRD for arts development. It will analyze the main strategies nongovernmental agencies use to conform to/resist government agendas. This research asks: How do various stakeholders participate in this art ecosystem? How do contemporary art events, organized by institutions in the region, imagine and shape the PRD? How do visitors interpret such events? What is the relationship between contemporary art, region-building, and global urbanism? To answer these questions, the research is framed by worlding theory, which builds on the non-representational theory from human geography and defines “worlding” as an active, ontological process, useful when scrutinizing particular experiences (GBA and art), places (PRD and Hong Kong) or encounters (Canton Express) and encourages an active engagement with the materiality and context in which events and interactions occur. Worlding theory will be used in combination with the model of contemporary art ecosystem to analyze how the PRD identity is (re)generated through worlding practices of contemporary art. The research will: 1. analyze policy documents on arts development in the PRD region; 2. combine “web-scraping” tools and fieldwork to identify and categorize arts infrastructure and events in the PRD; 3. interview key stakeholders in the ecosystem; 4. conduct field visits and archival research and use contextual, visual, and discourse analyses to interpret the collected data on the art events featuring PRD cultural identity. This research contributes to the scholarship on creative industries and cultural policy in the context of East Asia. The research is also of value to policy-makers wanting to improve the policy-making and funding allocation of the PRD governing authorities in arts development, and extends both international and PRD public’s knowledge of Cantonese culture as realized in contemporary art forms.
Effective start/end date1/01/2331/12/25


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