Zhu Yu: The “Education” of the “Avant-garde”—The Hidden Dialogue of the 20th Century

2023.05.14 Sunday 19:00


2F, The Cloister Apartments, 62 West Fuxing Road, Shanghai

Speaker: Zhu Yu

Creating shocks, rejecting kitsch, refusing to follow the crowd, provoking the 'establishment', using the medium 'freely', transforming 'work' into 'action' ...... The end of the "historical avant-garde" has made it live in irony within the art system, and one can easily discern the "avant-garde" in the soul of contemporary art. The "avant-garde" is easily discernible in the soul of contemporary art. This aesthetic term, originating in the 19th century, has a far more powerful equivalent in the 20th century - the political party as the 'vanguard' of the proletariat. Instead of repeating the clichés of the so-called 'political vanguard' and 'aesthetic vanguard', it is better to go back to the roots of the 'vanguard' problem and use 'education' to force a hidden dialogue. There should be a place for "education" in the whole puzzle of the "vanguard" - don't the "historical vanguards" want to recast the "audience"? Following this thread, the literary-artistic practices of twentieth-century socialist China can help us to move beyond the established devices of "vanguardist" understanding, and I will show how "speech" reset the roots of vanguardism, how the Great Leap Forward New Murals were an alternative implementation of vanguardist impulses, and how political lyric poetry transcended the usual "vanguardism". How political lyricism transcended the usual sense of 'imitation' and 'education'. In a sense, it is because of the socialist state's powerful mobilising and propaganda capacity that its implicit 'vanguard' dilemmas are more fully exposed, their cognitive significance even greater than the aesthetic actions of the vanguard. 
I will also address and discuss these dilemmas: the institutional inertia that resists the passion for innovation, the desire to "divide", the paradox of "where to raise" literature and art, what kind of taste the peasants should have, and so on. The "vanguard" is ultimately linked to the "governance" and "political" dilemmas - not only economic and social, but also aesthetic.

About the Speaker

Zhu Yu, born in 1981 in Shanghai, holds a PhD in literature and is an invited researcher at the China Modern Literature Museum. He now teaches at the Department of Chinese Language and Literature at Shanghai University. His main research areas are 20th century Chinese literature, culture and thought. In recent years, he has been particularly interested in the practice of new Chinese literature and art, as well as in the practice of contemporary Chinese literary criticism and literary theory.

About the Vortex

Vortex is a long-term project. We will update the content of performance lectures by artists and talks by experts both on- and offline. Following the fundamental approach of connecting local practice, theories, and context, we hope that this nonstandard art venue will become a place of torrents, flux, and confluence.

Macalline Center of Art (MACA) is a non-profit art institution located in the 798 Art District of Beijing and officially inaugurated its space on January 15, 2022. Occupying a two-story building with a total area of 900 square meters, MACA unites artists, curators, and other art and cultural practitioners from around the world. Through its diverse, ongoing, and collaborative approaches, the Center establishes a new site on the contemporary art scene. Guided by the “work of artists” and backed by interdisciplinary research, the Center aims to bring together a community passionate about art and devoted to the “contemporary” moment so as to respond proactively to our rapidly evolving times.