Meet The Bro Generation

Hangzhou art collective Double Fly on what it means to be bohemian in China

There's something brewing in Hangzhou. Much of the most interesting, thought-provoking, enticing and downright bewildering art being made in China today comes from a tight group who graduated over the last several years from the Chinese Academy of Art in the famously beautiful southern city, and specifically from its New Media Department. Many of these young artists live online – Miao Ying, for example, is best known for her Chinernet Plus series, which exists primarily as a feverishly evolving html page. Lu Yang, another alumnus, creates surreal, 3D-animated videos that shove sacred ideas about the human body through a brutally digital meat grinder, to thrilling effect.

If you want to sample what’s been cooking in Hangzhou offline, however, you can do so until Sunday 10 September at De Sarthe Beijing in Caochangdi, which is currently hosting a group show for the Double Fly Art Center, a collective of nine classmates who banded together after their graduation show in 2008 and have been existing ambiguously across Shanghai, Beijing and Hangzhou ever since. The collective’s current exhibition, The Bro Generation – Double Fly are all dudes – seeks to establish a notion of 'brotherhood' and solidarity with migrant workers across China, a group of which they see themselves to be a part. The exhibition itself actually resembles a dorm room, with sculptures strewn around like a typical undergraduate’s daily detritus, and a nest of nine bunk beds which were inhabited by the artists themselves for an opening performance.

We spoke with Double Fly Art Center about new media, migrants and what it means to be 'Bohemian' in 21st- century China.

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You all met as students in the New Media Art department at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, right? What attracted you to each other’s work?
Our graduation show took place on the same day as the Wenchuan Earthquake on May 12, 2008. Before this day, we were working hard towards the preparation of the show. We were all familiar with the veins and demands behind each other’s plan. It was a pleasure to finish the final stages of art-making in such a beautiful environment by the West Lake. The joy during the creative process was what drew us together.

Another answer: What attracted us to each other’s work? It’s such a poetic question. We are not attracted to each other’s work, but as humans and as bodies. We all share the same rotten tastes, which made us all become porridge inside the Double Fly bowl.

This department has produced some of the most interesting young contemporary artists working in China today. Many, like Lu Yang, Miao Yang and Lin Ke (a member of Double Fly), work within the so-called 'post- internet' field, and heavily utilise digital media. What media do you prefer to use? How do you mix traditional media (like the sculptures in your current show at de Sarthe) with 'new media'?
All the members in Double Fly used to be in the same class. We neither had the opportunity to practice the techniques in drawing or painting, nor explored the deeper fields of the language of sculpture. We majored in New Media, which literally means everything. But there are contemporary examples that exist for us to refer to as well. Through studying under this major, work created by Double Fly appears to be in a state of floating in nowhere.

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What does 'new media' mean to you in practice?
'New media means contemporary art.' – Zhou Bo.

I read that the title of your exhibit, The Bro Generation, is inspired by China’s 'current migrant generation.' In this context the word ‘migrant’ brings to mind the millions rural labourers who have moved to large cities to participate in the economic construction boom of the last decade. Obviously you are not this kind of migrant, but cultural migrants, experiencing different people and ideas as art students at university. What similarities do you think your experience has with the migrant labourer’s experience?
As people who are not locals here, no matter how different we are culturally and intellectually from the labourers, we are still very similar to a great extent. Take the Spring Festival travel season as an example. During that time, no matter what kind of train ticket you hold, everyone is moving in one direction, experiencing one path, dreaming about the one thing – home.

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Elsewhere you say 'artists should be migrant workers with bohemian complexities'. Do you think there is potential for the development of a 'Bohemian' counterculture in China? If so, how, and what forms does it take? What are the challenges or barriers against the forming of a bohemian artist culture in China? Does the word 'Bohemian' – which derives from a mid-19th century word for gypsies and peaked in its cultural meaning in the 1950s and ’60s counterculture in the United States – even make sense to use in China today?
'Bohemian' originated from the Gypsies, now it refers to being highbrow and artsy. Artistic youth are the new generation of art-lovers in China, and they are the ones who pay for gallery tickets to take selfies with the work. As artists and an art centre, Double Fly wants our project to fulfill these people’s expectations
of contemporary art, and make their entertainment life richer.

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