Simon Leung, Squatting Project/Guangzhou, installed at the 2008 Guangzhou Triennial, “Farewell to Postcolonialism,” Guangzhou, China., Credit: Simon Leung, 2008 Guangzhou Triennial

Squatting in Non-Spaces: Queering Art and Identity in Global China’s Guangzhou

By Jenny Lin

An Other Triennial

Under the provocative title, “Farewell to Post-Colonialism,” the curators of The Third Guangzhou Triennial – Johnson Chang Tsong-zung, Gao Shiming, and Sarat Maharaj – announced their lofty goal: to free post-colonialism from ossified institutionalization and overly academic or token political correctness.[2] Now we may doubt the ability of a triennial (or biennial, or any other large-scale spectacular art world event) to liberate a radical intellectual discourse such as post-colonialism.[3] Yet, despite valid critiques of “biennialization as banalization,” the 2008 Guangzhou Triennial succeeded in taking seriously post-colonialism’s limits through a series of relevant symposia, publications, and artworks that confronted shifting post-colonial conditions vis-à-vis issues of globalization foregrounded by the exhibition’s eminence as an international art event and situatedness in one of the world’s primary manufacturing capitals. Resisting any hasty bid farewell, this paper aims to refresh the discourse of post-colonialism by examining the queer identity and spatial politics of the Guangzhou Triennial, and in particular the featured work, Squatting Project/Guangzhou, by Hong-Kong born United States-based artist Simon Leung. Squatting Project/Guangzhou, I argue, queers language and bodily gestures to expose the constructedness and fluidity of identity, and crafts a non-space that mimics, with disobedience, the non-space of Guangzhou and the cosmopolitan mythologies rampant in both the city and global art exhibitions.[4]

Squat and Show Me

Squatting Project/Guangzhou, an eighteen-minute long, two-channel video installation created specifically for the Guangzhou Triennial, critically engages the “Farewell to Post-Colonialism” theme, while problematizing the exhibition’s global status. The work appropriates a scene from Hong Kong director Stanley Kwan’s 1991 film, Center Stage (Ruan Lingyu), which details the life and tragic demise of beloved 1920s-30s era Chinese movie starlet, Ruan Lingyu. Addressing class hierarchies through the bodily position of squatting, the appropriated scene features Ruan Lingyu, played by actress Maggie Cheung (Zhang Manyu), squatting with film director, Cai Chusheng, played by Tony Leung Ka-fai (Liang Jiahui). The director comments, “Two thirds of people in China [squat]. They can’t help doing it. They squat to wait for the mandarins and landlords to slap them from behind. They squat to get insulted or for help.”[5] Ruan Lingyu adds that people also squat for rest, while admitting that she herself has not squatted since becoming a movie star. “Don’t sit on high,” the director says, “squat and show me.”[6] Squatting Project/Guangzhou translates the scene’s dialogue to and from English, Cantonese, and Mandarin, and into traditional and simplified Chinese characters. The onslaught of linguistic signifiers incorporates both the film’s original subtitles and the artist’s own translations, which collectively become illegible for most viewers.

For Leung, translations and resultant miscommunications queer language by exposing language’s cultural constructedness and limitations; squatting similarly queers the body by underscoring how our physical positioning is embedded in and shaped by cultural and socio-economic conditions and power dynamics. Squatting is a position commonly embodied by working class people in Asia. The squatter is driven by economic necessity, by the need to wait, and to always be on call. Workers squat in fields or on city streets to rest, but the squatter’s rest is always temporary. To squat is to remain perpetually ready to spring into action upon demand. If one elevates their social standing, they may cease squatting, and instead “sit on high,” as the actress of Center Stage confesses to do after becoming a movie star.

Squatting Project/Guangzhou offers diasporic reflections on class, gender, and cultural performativity by looping additional scenes of various squatting scenarios: Chinese security guards and workers squatting on a sidewalk in Vietnam, young white people squatting in front of an artificially constructed cityscape, ethnically Chinese children squatting in a cruise ship elevator and for a photo shoot, practicing Cantonese phrases (drawn from Center Stage) with their grandmother, a group of Asian American twenty and thirty-somethings who recite lines from Center Stage’s squatting scene before squatting collectively in a plaza in Los Angeles’ Chinatown, a drag performer squatting alone in a nightclub. Through filmic appropriation and adaptations, intentionally contaminated translations, and a constructed center stage set that divides the installation and makes it difficult to see both channels at once, Squatting Project/Guangzhou fashions a queered non-space that unravels the mechanisms of identity construction and critically parallels the global site of the Guangzhou Triennial.

Figure 1. Simon Leung, Squatting Project/Guangzhou, installed at the 2008 Guangzhou Triennial, “Farewell to Postcolonialism,” Guangzhou, China. Image courtesy of artist.

Dislocated Guangzhou

The case of the Guangzhou Triennial in Mainland China, which was never fully colonized, but much of which was forcefully occupied by British, US, German, French and Japanese powers from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century (still referred to in the People’s Republic of China as the country’s “Century of Humiliation”), poses a set of unique questions when it comes to issues of post-colonialism and art’s globalization. In a publication produced in conjunction with the 2008 Guangzhou Triennial, curator Maharaj offers a telling indication of the differing views on post-colonialism held by the exhibition’s participants and spectators. Opinions diverge widely, Maharaj writes:

On whether China had colonized itself first with communism and then with global capitalism. On whether this made [China] unlike other colonial subjects of Empire. On whether China was simply swapping roles from underdog to top dog. On whether unease with the ‘other’ and the unlike was about the incapacity to recognize difference without assimilating it to ‘our norms.’[7]

It seems fitting that many of the Guangzhou Triennial’s exhibited works, like Squatting Project/Guangzhou, deal with place and placelessness, since the critical potential of “Farewell to Post-Colonialism” was heightened by Guangzhou’s location and distinct urban identity.[8] Far from Beijing, the country’s political capital, the southeastern city of Guangzhou neighbors Hong Kong, which, because of its emergence as one of Asia’s thriving post-World War II “Tiger Economies” under Britain’s capitalist system, became a model within leader Deng Xiaoping’s post-Mao (post-1976) era economic reforms. Developing at breakneck speed in the past two and a half decades of China’s so-called “post-socialist” (post-1989) present, Guangzhou constitutes a liminal space, home to the transitory and a city itself in constant transition. Located in Guangdong Province, Guangzhou was positioned as one of China’s earliest Special Economic Zones, a city open to free market trade and placed under much fewer economic restrictions from the central Chinese Communist Party. An industrial manufacturing capital, Guangzhou is a city that many people living outside of China have never heard of, but which likely produced many of their belongings, including clothes, shoes, appliances, food products, electronics, books, and stationery.

Since the late 1980s, Guangzhou has become an epicenter of China’s so-called “floating population,” a term used to describe the millions of migrant workers, many of them young women who come from rural towns to work in factories, in the country’s eastern coastal cities and Special Economic Zones. Journalist Leslie Chang details migrant workers’ lives in the manufacturing cities of China’s Guangdong Province:

The city does not offer them an easy living. The pay for hard labor is low – often lower than the official minimum wage, which ranges between fifty and eighty dollars a month. Work hours frequently stretch beyond the legal limit of forty-nine hours per week. Get hurt, sick, or pregnant, and you’re on your own….But suffering in silence is not how migrant workers see themselves. To come out from home and work in a factory is the hardest thing they have ever done. It is also an adventure. What keeps them in the city is not fear but pride…To go out and stay out…is to change your fate.[9]

Today, Guangzhou houses millions of floating migrant workers. Denied the same rights as urban locals because of their lack of a city residency card (hukou), these floaters fuel Guangzhou’s mind-boggling fast-paced global and civic expansion by laboring in factories and on construction projects.[10]

In 2008, the speed of the city’s construction was highlighted by the construction of Times Museum (Shidai meishu guan), one of the Guangzhou Triennial’s annex spaces. Times Museum, which showed Squatting Project/Guangzhou in its lobby, was still being built just one day before the exhibition’s opening (as illustrated in one of Leung’s subsequent video projects).[11] In addition to this down-to-the-wire construction, the museum’s name (the use of the plural Times in English signifies both up-to-datedness and coexisting temporalities) and architecture (designed by starchitect Rem Koolhaas, Times Museum occupies different floors of a soaring residential high-rise, and intends to structurally intervene in the living space) exemplify the unprecedented rates of change, accelerated senses of time, grand scale, and all pervasiveness of development in China’s mega-cities. Guangzhou, with its constant influx of migrants, steady flow of globally exported goods, and never-ceasing urbanization operates as a non-space, a nexus of incessant temporal and cultural collisions.

This non-space is epitomized in the city’s ubiquitous Karaoke, or KTV bars. Imported from Japan via Taiwan, Guangzhou’s KTV bars are popular venues for businessmen and high-ranking officials to entertain and make deals. Inside many of these KTV bars work hostesses, who in some cases double as prostitutes, many of whom started out as migrant factory workers. In 1999, cultural anthropologist Aihwa Ong observed that Guangzhou’s KTV bars, with their pop videos from Taiwan and Hong Kong, provide “the first step into the glamorous overseas-Chinese world of wealth, modern sexuality, and sophisticated fashion.”[12] Going to KTV bars can be very expensive (exceeding a worker’s monthly wage), but, as Ong writes, people still go because, “it is viewed as an investment in a different future and an expression of many people’s desire to leave socialist China and enter the world of overseas Chinese modernity.”[13] However, for many people in KTV bars, and especially the hostesses who staff them, the TV screens playing foreign pop videos in private rooms are their only, un-opening windows to an outside world. While the quantity of goods produced in and exported from Guangzhou daily is so vast that it nears the unfathomable, most Chinese people living in Guangzhou have far less flexibility when it comes to border crossing.

Figure 2. Simon Leung, Squatting Project/Guangzhou, installed at the 2008 Guangzhou Triennial, “Farewell to Postcolonialism,” Guangzhou, China. Image courtesy of artist.

Drag and Disobedience

One of Squatting Project/Guangzhou’s most striking sequences is set in a nightclub that resembles the central dance floors of Guangzhou’s KTV bars, with their “strobe lights and blaring disco music accompanying gyrating dancers.”[14] Empty aside from a lone performer, the nightclub in Squatting Project/Guangzhou also conjures the more private singing rooms of KTV clubs. The scene features a squatting drag performer, enacted by part-Chinese, United States-based transgender artist Wu Tsang. Clad in a skimpy costume, high-heels and make-up, Wu dances, mostly while squatting, to throbbing disco music. He then squats in stillness while the music continues to pulse. This sequence was shot in the Silver Platter, a Latino drag bar in Los Angeles, where Wu hosted numerous art events in the mid-late 2000s and which was featured in his subsequent film, Wildness (screened at the 2012 Whitney Biennial). In Squatting Project/Guangzhou, the Silver Platter, shot after hours, becomes a kind of private disco. The black and white checkered floor serves as both dance floor and squatting platform; the windows and walls are covered in shiny copper-colored paper and strings of red lights. Here, the nightclub, like a KTV singing room, appears as an insular interior, offering no more than glimmers of an outside world.

In their respective inner worlds, both drag performer and KTV hostess perform gender, adorning, for instance, typical signifiers of female sexuality and commodity fetishism, such as high-heeled shoes. Yet, the KTV hostess, unlike Squatting Project/Guangzhou’s drag performer, would never squat while entertaining clients on the dance floor. The hostess is forbidden from being seen in this base position; a worker squats to wait, a woman squats to pee, people squat to defecate. Guangzhou’s KTV hostess, while likely a migrant worker, must appear to inhabit a social standing higher than that of the city’s common factory girl. Her bodily posturing must uphold the illusion that she is part of the glamorous, cosmopolitan hyper-reality deceptively offered by Guangzhou’s KTV bars and discos. The KTV hostess, like the movie starlet of Center Stage, is trained by patriarchal society to “sit on high.”

In contrast, Squatting Project/Guangzhou’s drag performer squats, rejecting and rendering constructed the female performer’s expected position. By squatting, Wu Tsang, who already has a trans-body, is doubly subverting normative gender expectations. Inhabiting a position that the female performer would typically be disciplined out of, Wu performs gender parodically and with what queer theorist Judith Butler calls “disobedience.” Butler warns against the feminist denunciation of drag as “a colonization in reverse,” recognizing that parodying identity with disobedience can effectively unsettle oppressive expectations regarding uniform subjecthood, while giving voice to those who are often voiceless.[15] The squatting drag performer of Squatting Project/Guangzhou, like the installation’s colliding nexus of languages and varied images of squatters in multiple contexts, exposes the performativity and cultural constructedness of identity, fashioning a queer non-space that exists within and in resistance to the non-space of Guangzhou.

Figure 3. Simon Leung, Squatting Project/Guangzhou, installed at the 2008 Guangzhou Triennial, “Farewell to Postcolonialism,” Guangzhou, China. Image courtesy of artist.

Splitting the Difference

At the Guangzhou Triennial, Squatting Project/Guangzhou’s double projections were installed in a room with a painted red interior. Viewers entered the room through a set of stairs, onto a raised stage. This center stage, which ran down the middle of the room, was coupled with the lowly positioned projections, prompting some viewers on the platform to squat to see the projections, while also making it impossible, whether one stayed on the stage or descended the stairs to each side, to view both screens at once. This dual viewing impossibility parallels the impossibilities of a universal art viewer, of a universal squatter, and of language, especially when translated, to ever completely communicate. The center stage design pushes viewers to make their own meaning of the double projections, which, because of their varied settings and multiple languages, amplify viewers’ own social, cultural, and linguistic limitations.

Throughout Squatting Project/Guangzhou, viewers encounter intentionally complicated Chinese and English translations of fragmented texts that queer normative understandings of cultural identity as inherent and fixed.[16] The video installation reveals that language, like bodily gesture, is not constructed by individual subjects, but rather constructs subjecthood and identities, which in turn remain in flux. One related translated sequence from Squatting Project/Guangzhou discusses a listener’s response to a radio program, which problematically details what are assumed to be inherent differences between Chinese and western artists:

The difference, according to the experts, is that western artists are driven by interior motivations; while Chinese artists, because of the rapid changes in China in recent years, are influenced by external forces. The metaphors of “the internal” and “the external” are dependent on the picturing of physical bodies as the grounding for psychological life. Alone in his car, in traffic that does not move, he conjures these bodies…The first is an expansion of an abstract shape, like a red glowing flame from the center of a torso, outward, until it fills the entire picture in his mind. The second is a cacophony of flashing electronic neon colors and sounds, spinning around and then compressing a man’s head. He doubts the ability of these images, and the ideas that inspired them, to withstand serious scrutiny.[17]

The accompanying projections, the first shown with English text and the second with Chinese characters, consist of 1) a darkened outdoor café with no people, but the ambient noise of pouring rain, street traffic, and muffled speech in an indiscernible language, and 2) a solitary white man walking through and squatting in sunlit nature.

The juxtaposition of these scenes is intentionally jarring, as each image projection departs radically from the other (darkened urban café vs. bright outdoors). The inability to fully read these scenes (even if viewers are bilingual in Chinese and English, they are unable to make out the muffled conversation in the café or to penetrate the inner thoughts of the solitary man) and the impossibility of watching both at once (because of the installation’s center stage) underscores that gesture and speech are not complete within themselves, and do not emerge from some internal source like a mythical glowing flame in the western artist’s torso. Viewers’ intentionally limited experiences with Squatting Project/Guangzhou’s dual projections, translations, and various squatting sequences serve as reminders that languages and bodies are always culturally embedded, shifting (like pronouns) depending on the speaker and receiver, and capable (whether through translating, conjugating, or squatting) of being queered.

Squatting Project/Guangzhou’s multiple translations respond to Leung’s own linguistic disorientation in Guangzhou where his native tongue, Cantonese, was frequently not understood by the city’s increasing numbers of Mandarin-speaking denizens. While Cantonese has traditionally been the language of Guangzhou and all of Guangdong Province, this has shifted in recent years because of the recent influx of migrant workers, many of whom speak their own local dialects, and speak Mandarin as a common language upon arriving in Guangzhou. These linguistic shifts have become a source of contention in an already tense climate, where acrimonious clashes between local urban natives and migrants are common.

“Can the Squatter Speak?” asks Leung at a symposium held in conjunction with “Farewell to Post-Colonialism.” In his talk referencing Gayatri Spivak’s foundational post-colonial text, “Can the Subaltern Speak,” Leung describes the complications associated with the multiple languages at work during the Guangzhou Triennial – English, the lingua franca of the art world, Cantonese, the local language of Guangzhou, Mandarin, the common language of Mainland China and its millions of migrant workers who also speak local dialects, simplified Chinese characters, used in Mainland China, and traditional Chinese characters, used in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Pointing to the limits of translation and his purposeful creation of a project that cannot be entirely read by any one viewer, Leung concludes:

What I give up here…is the ‘ideal viewer’ – the assumption that art, seen under the rubric of the international exhibition, can produce a ‘cosmopolitan we.’… To address, simultaneously, local, national, and international viewers is to neither assume that they can come together as ‘one,’ or are mutually excluded from one another, but like the internal difference that situates one form of Chinese from another, to perform an ethos of proximity in difference.[18]

Squatting Project/Guangzhou images the complications and limitations of language and bodily gesture, and the ability of translation and squatting to queer post-colonial identity formation. This queering serves as a critical strategy illuminating the stakes of globalization, while demanding, in the context of the Guangzhou Triennial, that viewers return to post-colonialism and reflect on the potentials of a queer post-colonial art to create a non-space that protests fixed identities and maps displaced urban subjectivities and shifting formulations of collectivity and difference.

Figure 4. Simon Leung, Squatting Project/Guangzhou, installed at the 2008 Guangzhou Triennial, “Farewell to Postcolonialism,” Guangzhou, China. Image courtesy of artist.

Coda: Umbrellas of Occupation

As I wrote this essay, Hong Kong was experiencing the longest and most heated series of pro-democracy protests since the city’s 1997 handover from British colonial to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule. Throughout the summer and autumn of 2014, tens of thousands of student-led protesters assembled publically to critique Beijing’s policies, and especially the recent announcement that Hong Kong will hold direct elections in 2017, but that voters must choose from a list of CCP-approved candidates. In the final days of September 2014, protesters under the “Occupy Central” movement flooded Hong Kong’s primary financial district, and riot police responded with tear gas and pepper spray. Images and footage of the protests show crowds of people shielding themselves from billowing clouds of gas with colorful umbrellas. In gestures of linguistic queering, protestors utilized Cantonese puns and wrote signs in traditional Chinese characters, defying the Mandarin and simplified characters commonly used in Mainland China. The Hong Kong protests stirred great anxiety, especially amongst those who recall Beijing’s 1989 pro-democracy movement and the Tiananmen Square protests’ violent conclusion on June 4th that solidified the CCP’s ironclad rule. Hong Kong, unlike Beijing, holds a unique position as a former British colony that previously afforded certain civil liberties and voting rights that many citizens now resist relinquishing. The current unrest in Hong Kong reveals the complexity of the city’s post-colonial condition, and provides a haunting backdrop for this essay’s consideration of the Guangzhou Triennial, held in a Mainland Chinese city that neighbors Hong Kong and epitomizes China’s post-1989 CCP-supported global capitalist expansion.

Squatting Project/Guangzhou features a brief choreographed dance sequence that is critical, but easy to miss. On one screen a single figure performs the simple dance, while the other screen showcases two parallel dancers, who finally squat in unison. The dancing figures are seen only from behind. They wear street clothes and hold plastic bags in each hand. They step to the left, step to the right, and make wide arm circles, swinging their bags. All of these dance movements, aside from the squatting, mimic the movements of Beijing’s so-called Tank Man, the lone figure who blocked an oncoming line of military tanks near Tiananmen Square on the day following the June 4th, 1989 crackdown. While Tank Man became the most widely internationally circulated image of this failed pro-democracy movement, all footage of the tense standoff and photographs of Tank Man were forever banned within Mainland China. Squatting Project/Guangzhou’s parodic performance of Tank Man’s small but radical gesture of protest marks a simple but provocative act of disobedience. Like the protester armed with only a plastic bag or umbrella, the squatter occupies a queer position in a non-space, a position poised to sharpen post-colonialism’s critical edge by unsettling the authority of the globalizing command.

[1] This essay grew out of a conference paper I delivered at the 2014 Association for Art Historians conference, in a panel entitled, “Colour Me Queer.” I am very thankful to the session’s conveners, Natasha Bissonauth and Alpesh Kantilal Patel, and participants for their initial feedback.

[2] Wang Huangsheng, Director of the Guangdong Museum of Art, the Triennial’s primary host, introduced the curatorial theme as such, “‘Farewell to Post-colonialism’ is not a superficial denial of the importance …of this intellectual tradition…The severe political conditions under post-colonialism have not receded, but in many ways are even further entrenched under the machinery of globalization. However, as a leading discourse in curatorial practice and criticism, post-colonialism is showing its limitations in being increasingly institutionalized 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,” Wang Huangsheng, “Preface to The Third Guangzhou Triennial,” in Farewell to Post-Colonialism: The Third Guangzhou Triennial, eds. Johnson Chang Tsong-Zung, Gao Shiming, and Sarat Maharaj (Guangzhou: Guangdong Museum of Art, 2008), 30-31.

[3] For critical analyses of art’s globalization, see, amongst others, George Baker, “The Globalization of the False: A Response to Okwui Enwezor,” Documents 23 (2004): 20-25, Saloni Mathur, “Museums and Globalization,” Anthropological Quarterly 78.3 (2005): 697-708, and Julian Stallabrass, Art Incorporated: The Story of Contemporary Art (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

[4] My use of the term non-space follows Judith Butler’s theorization in “Gender is Burning: Questions of Appropriation and Subversion,” wherein Butler writes, “There is no subject prior to its constructions, and neither is the subject determined by those constructions; it is always the nexus, the non-space of cultural collision, in which the demand to resignify or repeat the very terms which constitute the “we” cannot be summarily refused, but neither can they be followed in strict obedience. It is the space of this ambivalence which opens up the possibility of a reworking of the very terms by which subjectivation proceeds – and fails to proceed,” Judith Butler, “Gender is Burning: Questions of Appropriation and Subversion,” in Theory in Contemporary Art since 1985, 2nd ed., eds. Zoya Kocur and Simon Leung (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 238.

My adherence to Butler’s queer theory here, and my paper’s considerations of queered art, and identity and spatial politics aim to contribute to the burgeoning discourse surrounding queer Chinese cultural studies, established by important texts such as, Chris Berry, Fran Martin, and Audrey Yue, Mobile Cultures: New Media in Queer Asia (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), David L. Eng, “The Queer Space of China: Expressive Desire in Stanley Kwan’s Lan Yu,” Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique 18.2 (2010): 459–87, and Petrus Liu, “Why Does Queer Theory Need China?” Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique 18.2 (2010): 291–320. I see my focus on queering art and identity in the context of the Guangzhou Triennial as an intervention into and way of linking the relatively distinct fields of contemporary art theory, Chinese studies, and urban studies.

[5] Cai Chusheng Center Stage, directed by Stanley Kwan and performed by Tony Leung Ka-fai (Hong Kong: Golden Way Films, 1992), DVD.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Sarat Maharaj, “Counter Creed: Quizzing the Guangzhou Triennial 2008 according to James Joyce’s ‘Catechetical Interrogation,” Printed Project: ‘Farewell to Post-Colonialism,’ Querying the Guangzhou Triennial 11 (2008): 9.

[8] Other related works include Trinh T. Minh-ha’s Old Land New Waters, a video installation that responds to the fraught histories and mythologies of Vietnam, while picturing the everyday contributions of Vietnamese women to rebuilding a society in the aftermath of war, Wu Shanzhuan’s The Yellow Flight, a faux-waiting room and proposed itinerary for a passenger departing from Beijing and flying backwards around the world, transferring at every international airport before arriving in Hong Kong, and Maria Thereza Alves’ relocation of a patch of earth from Guangzhou’s Liwan District, a concentrated area of migrant workers, into the courtyard of the Guangdong Art Museum.

[9] Leslie T. Chang, Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2008), 11.

[10] In the early 1990s, amidst the city’s rapid development, Guangzhou-based avant-garde art collective, Big Tail Elephant Group, created works and performances that critiqued the city’s so-called progress. Big Tail Elephant member Lin Yilin, for instance, took hours to slowly and laboriously move bricks in the formation of a wall across Lin He Road, a busy street in Guangzhou. Blocking traffic with this Sisyphean task of destruction and construction, Lin mimics Guangzhou’s urbanization while resisting it through blockage and slowness.

[11] Leung documents the rapid construction of Times Museum in the video project Time Museum Time (2008-2010), shown in the 2010 exhibition, “Spectral Evidence,” curated by Steven Lam, in Hong Kong’s 1a Space.

[12] Aihwa Ong, Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999), 50.

Ong’s text was written as Mainland China was in its relatively early stages of opening up and economic reforms. At this time, overseas culture appeared as something particularly desirable and out of reach. Nowadays, the wealth and financial opportunities within Mainland China and especially its Special Economic Zones have in many cases overtaken their overseas counterparts. Economic disparity, nonetheless, remains a huge problem and defining feature within Mainland China.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Butler, “Gender is Burning,” 240-243.

[16] Art historian Virginia Soloman discusses Leung’s Squatting Project/Guangzhou as “appropriating forms of queer sociality to structure [a] consideration of how speech, understood broadly as both verbal and non-verbal communication, interpolates a politicized public. Queer sociality functions within…Leung’s performances,” Soloman argues, “as a mode of everyday living that is always already political. It presents a critique of autonomous identity and fixed and whole subjectivity, and also insists upon the collective possibility offered by performative, contingent identification,” Virginia Solomon, “Politics of Queer Sociality Music as Material Metaphor,” in Farewell to Post-Colonialism, 314.

[17] Simon Leung, Squatting Project/Guangzhou, video installation exhibited at “The Third Guangzhou Triennial/Farwell to Post-Colonialism,” Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, 2008.

[18] Simon Leung, “Can the Squatter Speak,” Printed Project: ‘Farewell to Post-Colonialism,’ Querying the Guangzhou Triennial 11 (2008): 43.


Baker, George. “The Globalization of the False: A Response to Okwui Enwezor.” Documents 23 (2004): 20-25.

Butler, Judith. “Gender is Burning: Questions of Appropriation and Subversion.” In Theory in Contemporary Art since 1985, 2nd ed., edited by Zoya Kocur and Simon Leung, 235-251. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.

Chang, Johnson Tsong-Zung, Gao, Shiming, and Maharaj, Sarat, eds. Farewell to Post-Colonialism: The Third Guangzhou Triennial. Guangzhou: Guangdong Museum of Art, 2008

Chang, Leslie T. Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2008. Print.

Kwan, Stanley. Center Stage. Hong Kong: Golden Way Films, 1992. DVD.

Lam, Steven. Introduction to Simon Leung, “Can the Squatter Speak.” Printed Project: ‘Farewell to Post-Colonialism,’ Querying the Guangzhou Triennial 11 (2008): 41-47. Print.

Leung, Simon. “Can the Squatter Speak.” Printed Project: ‘Farewell to Post-Colonialism,’ Querying the Guangzhou Triennial 11 (2008): 41-47.

_____. Squatting Project/Guangzhou. Video installation. Guangzhou: Guangzhou Triennial/Farwell to Post-Colonialism, 2008. DVD.

Maharaj, Sarat. “Counter Creed: Quizzing the Guangzhou Triennial 2008 according to James Joyce’s ‘Catechetical Interrogation.” Printed Project: ‘Farewell to Post-Colonialism,’ Querying the Guangzhou Triennial 11 (2008): 5-11.

Mathur, Saloni. “Museums and Globalization.” Anthropological Quarterly 78.3 (2005): 697-708.

Ong, Aihwa. Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999.

Solomon, Virginia. “Politics of Queer Sociality Music as Material Metaphor.” In Farewell to Post-Colonialism: The Third Guangzhou Triennial, edited by Gao Shiming, Johnson Chang Tsong-Zung, and Sarat Maharaj, 314-317. Guangzhou: Guangdong Museum of Art, 2008.

Stallabrass, Julian. Art Incorporated: The Story of Contemporary Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Wang, Huangsheng. “Preface to The Third Guangzhou Triennial.” In Farewell to Post-Colonialism: The Third Guangzhou Triennial, edited by Gao Shiming, Johnson Chang Tsong-Zung, and Sarat Maharaj, 30-31. Guangzhou: Guangdong Museum of Art, 2008.

Author Bio

Jenny Lin is assistant professor of contemporary art in University of Oregon’s Departments of Art and History of Art and Architecture. She received her MA and PhD (Art History) from UCLA, and BA (Architectural Studies) from Brown University. She researches the relations between 20th and 21st century art and design praxes and phenomena such as colonialism, urbanization, and globalization. Her writings have appeared in Frieze, X-Tra, Shanghai Culture, and ARTMargins. Lin recently curated Picturing Global China, an exhibition featuring recent Chinese photography and experimental video art. Her current book project focuses on contemporary art and design from cosmopolitan Shanghai.

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Alex White-Mazzarella, Namrata Mehta and Soaib Grewal
Windows on an Urban Village: Participation and Antagonism in Shaina Anand’s ‘KhirkeeYaan’
Rattanamol Singh Johal
invisible Zürichs: Multiplicity of Knowledges in Socially-engaged Artistic Practice
Cecilie Sachs Olsen
Seeing in the Dark: Unearthing Batumi’s Hidden Backyard Treasures
Lydia Matthews
Basketball Now!
Layla Nova Forrest-White
Assemblages of Difference: Place-making and Utopian Agonism on the Open-Air House Music Dance Floor
Kavita Kulkarni
‘O collective Happening’ in Shanghai: “Loose Space,” Participation, and what Sustains between Instantaneity and Permanence
Chiayi Seetoo
Squatting in Non-Spaces: Queering Art and Identity in Global China’s Guangzhou
Jenny Lin
Negotiating Informality: Social and Economic Strategies of Latino Food Vendors in San Francisco’s Mission District
Ginette Wessel and Sofia Airaghi
Beyond Bottom-Up in San Francisco: Public-Private Initiatives and the Potential for Proactive Citizenship
Antje K. Steinmuller