UCCA Beijing

“Andy’s Quarter” Series: Critical Camp


Location:  UCCA Auditorium
Language:  中文

In 2019, the Metropolitan Museum of Art signed up for a fierce parade when it hosted its annual fundraising event, the Met Gala, under the theme ‘Camp: Notes on Fashion.’ Inspired by a decidedly American mode of aesthetic sensibility and stimulated by Susan Sontag’s short essay ‘notes on camp,’ the evening set out on a fabulous journey to kitsch couture. No one could have better epitomized this than pop singer Lady Gaga, who, in her somewhat clichéd, Warholian 15min of super-fame-entrée, had unmistakably set the camp tone for the night.

But is declaring her performance as archetypically camp not inevitably neglecting and obscuring the complexities of its subject matter? And does that not lead us to the question: What defines camp? Admittedly, grasping camp is no facile endeavor. As much as its aestheticism immediately colonizes our attention, it substantially evades any intelligible definition. This rests on the unanimity that camp reveals itself as a sensibility. And as such, it can’t be “crammed into the mold of a system, or handled with the rough tools of proof […].”1 Sontag even goes so far as to caution: “to talk about camp is to betray it.”2

And yet, there is a specific apparatus of objects, practices and discourses which have unequivocally informed the camp sensibility. Originally a slang term, camp first entered linguistic usage during the Victorian era and was commonly construed as “actions and gestures of exaggerated emphasis.”3 Later, a number of novelists took it up, above all Oscar Wilde, whose stylization as a dandy significantly influenced the camp imagery. Indeed, Wilde can be viewed as a pop camp figure avant la lettre. Not only because of his penchant for the

extravagant but also due to his, at the time, unconventional sartorial tastes. From then on, camp was instilled in the collective psyche of the frivolous urban class. Later, authors ranging from Christopher Isherwood to Susan Sontag and Esther Newton (Isherwood 1954, Sontag 1966, Newton 1972) would further investigate the camp sensibility and process its characteristics intellectually. While Andy Warhol not only personified but also produced pop queer camp in the age of mass consumerism on a visual level. 

Progressively, this has led to various camp modalities, not only expressed as a sensibility but as aestheticism, taste, style, cultural industry and subcultural discourse alike. Making camp an ever more pervasive yet impalpable form of representation. Similar to its original meaning, camp, to this day, is most commonly characterized as that which coquettes with the artificial, the surplus, the frivolous, the playful. Camp, therefore, is the most radical antithesis to nature. It always already comes in the form of an exaggeration, which implies that camp requires normativity and normalcy as its dialectical fellow. That is a standard norm from which camp can and must dissociate itself. At the same time, camp also, as Sontag detects, is a “good taste of the bad taste.”4 In other words, it signals a petty-bourgeois flirtation with trash. Then again, camp, in subcultural contexts at least, once served as a subversive tool to undergird the feeling of ‘difference’ as an asset, not a detriment. The difference here is understood as subject to the dynamic process of constant transformation and performativity. Perhaps, it’s precisely this “philosophy of transformation” 5 that renders camp a highly emancipatory factor for subjectivation processes - essentially suggesting that subjectivity and history are deeply informed by the transitional power of performance. Following that logic, subjects or identities are never stagnant fixtures but instead follow the logic of transformation, performativity, and continuous movement.

Seemingly, Warhol was aware of camp’s performative potentialities. Thus, role-play and his vicinity to flamboyant characters played a centrally important role in his oeuvre.

Whether it was the simple fact that he dreamed of nightclubs’ heterotopic tendencies (his factory serving as a prototypical club space) or that he continuously worked with stage performers, Warhol was clearly fascinated by camp’s ‘seductive mode.’6 On the other hand,

Warhol was also a close accomplice of pop culture’s market mechanisms. Thus, helped advance camp to become a “capitalist fetish.”7 Therefore, we must ask what sense we can still make of camp if it has become a cipher for the vested interest of global capital. What if camp can’t be read under the banner of a social movement anymore but has instead become a market segment? And if the masochist business elites co-opted camp as a marketable tool for product lines, isn’t camp then stripped off its subversive force? Already in the 1960s Herbert Marcuse famously coined the culture industry’s tendency to render subversion harmless a repressive desublimation.

Although scholarship has since partially reversed Marcuse’s pessimist stance, it’s up to debate what remains of the camp sensibility. Substantially a Western intervention, we need to ask ourselves if we can make camp a potent factor for the lived realities of Chinese artists and performers. Differently put, can we find comparable aesthetic articulations in China? Can we, otherwise, rearticulate camp for the Chinese context or do we need to discard it altogether and find a new language? Together with our guests, we want to ponder on the potentialities of camp under the aegis of global capital and ask if it can still serve as a potent reference system for identity political desires practiced from below.


15:00-17:15Conversations: Critical Camp



Academic researcher, Be a Dodo podcast host Podcast’s anchor

Alexwood is a Ph.D. in Sex and Gender Studies and Master of Psychology at University of Auckland, New Zealand. In 2018, the all-gender platform BIE Girls (BIE vertical channel) and the podcast Be a Dodo were created. In 2020, as a co-planner, he founded the Beijing party brand G2G. She also founded Sugar Bomb Media in 2021. At present, she is engaged in podcast production, event planning, interview, writing, curating, hosting, lectures, and also participates in some art/academic/public welfare projects.

Hongwei Bao

Associate professor of media and cultural studies at the University of Nottingham

Dr. Hongwei Bao is the Associate Professor in Media Studies at the University of Nottingham, UK, where he also directs the Centre for Contemporary East Asian Cultural Studies. He holds a Ph.D. in Gender and Cultural Studies from the University of Sydney, Australia. His research primarily focuses on queer media and culture in contemporary China. He is the author of Queer Comrades: Gay Identity and Tongzhi Activism in Postsocialist China (NIAS Press, 2018), Queer China: Lesbian and Gay Literature and Visual Culture under Postsocialism (Routledge, 2020) and Queer Media in China (Routledge, 2021).   

Shaonan Xi

Curator, writer

Shaonan Xi is an independent writer based in Shanghai. His writings about art, queerness, and club culture have appeared in Heichi Magazine (forthcoming), Resident Advisor (forthcoming), LEAP , Untitled FolderCode 52, and InReview. He studied art history, critical theory, and French at Macalester College in the United States with a semester in the department of philosophy at the University of Paris 8. 

Shaonan was formerly curatorial assistant at ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries and helped prepare the exhibition “Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A.” He was also program manager at the Beijing independent art space I: project space, and fellow at the residency platform China Residencies.


Alvin Li

Curator, writer

Alvin Li is a curator and writer based in Shanghai, China. He currently serves as The Adjunct Curator, Greater China, Supported by the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation, at Tate, London; and a contributing editor of frieze magazine. He has curated exhibitions at UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing; ParaSite, Hong Kong; chi K11 Art Museum, Shanghai; and Antenna Space, Shanghai, among others. Li’s writing on contemporary art and culture has appeared in international publications such as friezeArtforum, e-flux Architecture, Mousse, Art Agenda, Spike Art Quarterly, and ArtReview Asia, as well as in catalogues and anthologies published by the New Museum, New York; MIT Press; and Sternberg Press, among others. As a fiction writer, he has featured in Spike Art Quarterly and held readings at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in 2020 and at the CURRENT: LA Public Art Triennial in 2019. Li is the co-founder of CINEMQ, a Shanghai-based queer film and publishing collective that organizes monthly screenings focusing on East Asian queer independent productions.

Carmen Herold

Cultural theorist, curator, and club programmer

Carmen Herold is a cultural theorist, club owner, host, and curator based between Berlin and Beijing.

Formerly employed in the cultural department of the Goethe-Institut Beijing, she has been intimately engaged in the Sino-German cultural landscape for years. Besides co-curating and coordinating the 4th and 5th Festival for German Cinema, she also hosted a number of talks on topics such as club culture and gender politics, supervised exhibition projects, and actioned large-scale theatre performances. In 2017, she co-founded the electronic music club and cultural space Zhao Dai(招待所) in Beijing, where she acts as music director and event programmer. Following the venue’s successful establishment, she also helped initiate its very own music festival Zhao Dai on Leave (招待会) as well as the queer cultural platform East Palace West Palace (东宫西宫). Currently, Carmen Herold is terminating a year-long research stay at New York University, where her main focus is on questions surrounding the micropolitics of Chinese popular culture, intellectual history, and post-colonial subjectivity. Her publications have been featured in international scientific magazines such as SFRA Review and others. 

Based on her multidirectional orientation, Carmen Herold consolidates a unique synthesis of practical and theoretical realms, emanating at the intersection of popular culture, artistic practice, and academic research.



EAST PALACE WEST PALACE (also known locally as Dong Gong Xi Gong 东宫西宫) is a platform that lies at the intersection of dance club, queer culture(s), and visual and performative arts. 

Availing itself of a critical approach and a keen observation of the current state of affairs in each of the aforementioned fields, 东宫西宫 contextualizes these arenas while enabling spaces for political and aesthetic forces to collide in order to hopefully produce change and emancipation, if not ultimately just bliss, should everything else fail.

The platform builds around all-inclusive, fundraising club nights where performance art meets club culture, installations, exhibitions, talks, workshops, and last but not least, editorial—with a penchant for academic background—content under its banner, penned by their committed collective members. 

东宫西宫 aims at fostering solid regional and transnational queer solidarity networks while developing at the same time a supportive community for local queer artists, DJs, and grassroots organizations in mainland China.

EAST PALACE WEST PALACE has welcomed to its dreamlike queer palatial paradise so far a large group of DJs, artists, and performers, among others equally talented artists: Eris Drew, Octo Octa (T4T LUV NRG, USA), DJ Bezier (Honey Soundsystem, USA / Taiwan), MEDUSA (Elevator, Shanghai), Hao (TAG, Chengdu), Mr. Ho (Minh Club, Hong Kong), Miss Meatface, Alejandria Cinque, Inntya, YIHAO, Frozen Lolita, POPCORN (Spectrum Formosus, Taiwan), Huang Jiaqi, Yang Su, Manbo Key. 

The Collective

Carmen Herold (Cultural theorist, curator and club programmer)

Geisel Cabrera (Cultural projects coordinator, curator)

Geisel Cabrera is a cultural projects coordinator and curator based between Nantes and Beijing. 

Emerging from the independent art spaces community in Beijing where he helped developing programs hand in hand with local and international artists and curators, passing by larger institutional festivals such as the European Union Film Festival in China where he helped curating and producing the program, his experience lays at the intersection of visual arts, music. and cinema initiatives with a special focus on a wide array of LGBTQI+ related preoccupations. 

Currently he co-curates and programs for the queer cultural platform East Palace West Palace (东宫西宫) and Nantes-based queer festivals CinéPride and Pride’n’Art, while developing cultural projects as part of PULSE, an agency that, in partnership with sister institutions, aims at expanding and questioning the understanding and discourses around queerness and nightlife  cultures with a focus on regions less represented in current global discourses.