Curated by Zian Chen (Season I) and Jenny Jiaying Chen (Season II), and supported by Pro Helvetia Shanghai, “Let 100 Reading Groups Bloom” attempts to understand the intimacy of knowledge and affect through organising reading groups in six different cities around China.
Curated by Zian Chen, the first season of “Let 100 Reading Groups Bloom” was held from September 2021 to June 2022. In this inaugural session, this project presented a series of reading and sharing sessions based on a list contributed by the Swiss artist duo Dorota Gawęda and Eglė Kulbokaitė, aka. Young Girl Reading Group (YGRG), enriched by the conceptual directions of Cahier d’Artistes 2021. The reading session was hosted by the institutions in Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Ningbo, and beyond. The travelling event was accompanied by book presentations from the reading group and the Collection Cahiers d’Artistes.
A Reading List from Swiss Artists
Back in 2015, South Korean economist Ha-joon Chang proclaimed a revisionist aspiration: “Let 100 flowers bloom and cross-fertilize.” In his adaptation of the Maoist exhortation, he suggested that no single economic theory could properly summarize the logic of a complex economic system in the contemporary world. When it comes to writing, Chang has also taken a cross-fertilizing approach, venturing into literary criticism, and even science fiction at times, in order to gain access to a wider readership and make sense of seemingly invisible economic machinations.
Fast forward to 2020, just before the European outbreak of Covid-19. During a reading session dedicated to protesting higher education in London, artist Hannah Black urged, “Let 100 reading groups bloom.” In welcoming collective forms of knowledge-sharing, the blooming reading groups can be hopeful to expose the materialization and capitalization of the current higher education system. In recent times, we have witnessed a rapid growth in Zoom reading groups due to prolonged global lockdowns.Text by Zian Chen
Venue: HBstation, Guangzhou
Theme: Neoliberal and the Weird
Led by: Zian Chen, de Art Center
Venue: Oyster Books, Hangzhou
Theme: Digestion and the Weird
Led by: Zian Chen, tabloid flâneur
Venue: Chronus Art Center (CAC), Shanghai
Theme: Ecology and the Weird
Led by: Zian Chen, Zhang Yuhang, Dai Zhanglun
Venue: Jiazazhi Library, Ningbo
Theme: Housework and the Weird
Led by: Zian Chen, Jiang Feiran
Venue: COMPOST, a publishing platform of the ICA at NYU Shanghai
Theme: Online screening of YGRG’s video Mouthless Part I (2020)
For the second season “Meeting Others Halfway”, Jenny Jiaying Chen has invited three Swiss artists to share their book lists and read them together in four different cities around China, from October to December 2022. The on-site display revolved around the artists, the book list, and the Cahiers d’Artistes supported by Pro Helvetia.
We began with a book list from artist Marie Matusz. The first reading took us back to our memories of homes from the lockdown, revisiting the uncanny of modern architecture and the unhomely of being stuck in a home that is unhome. Then we meet Edouard Glissant’s poetic words, which transform the gnawing wounds of the uncanny into the hinterland where the world’s archipelago grows within. The project hoped to let the context and the site, the strangers who encounter, and the situation of others meet halfway. In this way, we may be able to carve out a space in the intelligible domain, creolizing, cross-fertilizing, and compromising dissent.
In Hangzhou, « Let 100 Reading Groups Bloom » hosted a reading club at the By Art Matters Museum, based on a book recommended by Swiss artist Marie Matusz and in conjunction with the museum’s exhibition “Meet Us After Dark”. Matusz talked about the commonalities between the reader and artistic creation, hoping to realize the connection between people in physical space again in the field of co-reading and open more possibilities to observe and contemplate life.
On the occasion of the Topred Center for Contemporary Art presenting its annual project “Thinking Through Ocean,” the “Let 100 Reading Groups Bloom” hoped to read together with people who have gathered and explored the food culture and identity as it evolves with the ocean. It focused on Swiss artist Sandra Knecht’s artistic practice of “the taste of home” and unfold the collective culinary memory based on the maritime landscape. This event began with a reading at the Chizi (赤子) Space in Quanzhou. The public was invited to share their food memories and experience other’s foodlines through their taste buds. It then travelled to the TCCA in Xiamen, where Knecht and writer Xiao Chunlei montaged a culinary journey through Switzerland and southern China, drawing on the fluid memories constructed by food to trace the identity flowing with the river.
Meeting Others Halfway
Because truths we don’t suspect have a hard time
making themselves felt, as when thirteen species
of whiptail lizards composed entirely of females
stay undiscovered due to bias against such things existing,
we have to meet the universe halfway.
Nothing will unfold for us unless we move toward what looks to us like nothing:
faith is a cascade.
Group reading gathers people together over texts and exchanges intellect and emotion in an intimate atmosphere. It also extends a path encountering the others, along which the text and the reality, the speaker and the listener, you and I, the ordinary and the absurd, will all arduously journey. Therefore, the group reading is an attempt to explore the un-intersected part of our situation, embody the untouched emptiness of the other, and make emotions, words, and speech present, perceived, and heard.
This imagination of reading communion more or less links to ‘pockets’ discovered on a rainy day shortly after Samuel Delany’s marriage.
On that day, his wife returned home dripping wet. Delany hastily handed her a pair of his own jeans (the nearest thing he had at the time). As she quickly changed into the jeans and slid her hands into the pockets, she instantly exclaimed: “The Pockets! …… They’re so big!”
This triviality records a moment of the pocket at dawn. Before then, the idea that pockets in men’s clothes were functional had never occurred to Delany’s wife. The idea that pockets in women’s clothing were basically decorative had never occurred to Delany. They are pockets that matter, and the unisexual reproductive lizards in verse once rejected by bigotry, hiding in the darkness in unimaginable plural numbers.
While the performativity of cyberfeminism, anti-identity, and ecologism, almost convince us that the future is within our reach, the world grows in reverse, challenging our ‘post-world’ with one uncanny event after another. They turn out to be many ‘pocket’ moments in 2022, reminding us of the existence of ‘pockets’ hidden beneath our arguments.
Then, can an art project based around group readings approach ‘pockets’ or ‘whip-tailed lizards’? For this edition of “Let 100 Reading Groups Bloom”, we hope to make a small effort to do so under the title “Meeting Others Halfway.”
Text by Jenny Jiaying Chen
Venue: Special edition Project, Shanghai
Theme: The Architectural Uncanny, Treatise on the Whole-World
Led by: Jenny Jiaying Chen, Suchao Li
Venue: By Art Matter, Hangzhou
Theme: Meet Us After Dark
Led by: Jenny Jiaying Chen, Sun Man
Guest speaker: Marie Matusz
Venue: Chizi Space, Quanzhou
Theme: Meeting Others on Foodlines
Led by: Jenny Jiaying Chen, Chen Min
Venue: Topred Center for Contemporary Art (TCCA), Xiamen
Theme: Meeting Others on Foodlines
Led by: Sandra Knecht, Xiao Chunlei, Jenny Jiaying Chen, Chen Min
Zian Chen works as contributing editor for Ocula. As a writer and researcher, he collaborates with artists and writers to develop alternative frameworks for thinking and speculation.
Jenny Jiaying Chen, Doctor of Philosophy, Curator and Writer. Currently the Art Director of the Longlati Foundation. Winner of the « Hyundai Blue Prize 2019 ». She focuses on the frontiers of the body, new materialism, and the metaphysics of sex.