UCCA Beijing

"Drifting Realities: The Archipelago of Food Discourses" Series Session 5
Panel Talk | Digest First, Then Keep on Consuming?


Location:  Online
Language:  Chinese

In the fifth session of “Drifting Realities: The Archipelago of Food Discourses” we finally reach the table—and related topics including ways of dining, dietary habits, and consumer culture—after previous installments passing through agriculture, planting, ecology, and community practice; microbial fermentation as related to the sense of taste and cultural identity; and myths of food and health in families arising from social and economic status and local customs.


In contemporary society, globalization serves as an engine for improving living standards around the world. As global capitalism continues to accelerate the disparity between the rich and the poor, and fuels social injustice, does the overall improvement of material life also heighten differention between the personal taste of “winners” or those left behind when they meet at the table? How can we be conscious of the hard work and pain of the unknown Others hidden within processes of production when we enjoy delicious food? Can we analyze what makes us linger in advertisements and audiovisual images? At what point does consumer desire in daily life halt due to fear of the unknown? Could travel give us insight into the global food chain, and can we find a way of life that is different from what came before?

For this discussion, we have invited four artists and curators who have focused on food and food-related issues in their artistic practices and research. They will share their reflections and experience to assist the audience in furthering their own thinking. In Ran Zhang’s “Chiral” series (2017–2020), food is placed on a plate under a microscope, a defamiliarized representation that pushes away from tempting commercial images; Doreen Chan has recorded the natural transformation and decay of fresh fruits and vegetables hoarded during the self-isolation period of the pandemic, transforming these and other food residues into bleak static sculptures, reflecting repetitive actions in daily life tied to our dietary habits; in her series “Floating Events” (2019), “It’s Nice to See You” (2017), and other photographic projects, Liu Shiyuan combines her own creations with examples from film and television to explore food racism as expressed by various social phenomena in heterogeneous cultures; and Wu Jianru will speak about the movement of the body during travel and culinary experiences along the way, analyzing and discussing these issues within the context of a broader global food chain.

Overall, the session will focus on issues of consumption, combining the diverse artistic practices, research approaches, and personal experience from Chinese art practitioners with a wealth of international experience and perspectives. It will also draw upon social science theory which may be illustrative in this case, for example how Jean Baudrillard pointed out the servitude of human beings within the context capitalist consumerism in his works The System of Objects (1968) and The Consumer Society (1970). If the sudden and (seemingly) temporary outbreak of the pandemic creates a situation allowing for self-reflection, then in the possible return to normalcy in daily life afterwards, how can we understand the present and situate ourselves within it more deeply. Does the “feast” continue?

Event Schedule

20:00–20:10   Introduction

20:10–20:30   Ran Zhang: Seeing and Eating: Making a Draft Together

20:30–20:55   Doreen Chan: No Escape from the Everyday, or Relationships

20:55–21:20   Liu Shiyuan: You Must Live Twice

21:20–21:50   Wu Jianru: A Vagabond's Food Tour

21:50–22:15   Discussion and Q&A


Doreen Chan (Artist)

Doreen Wing Yan Chan (b. 1987, Hong Kong) is an artist who currently lives in Hong Kong and Chicago. She has received training in visual communication and photography. Chan’s artistic practices focus on the investigation of personal perception, materiality, and daily details that are often overlooked. Key elements in her works include interpersonal relationships, personal memories, and fragmentary moments of daily life in the city. As a lens-based and site-specific artist, Chan believes that images are merely raw materials. She integrates images with various media to re-examine the tensions between herself and the surrounding world.

Chan has held solo exhibitions at Lianzhou Foto Festival 2013 (Lianzhou, China), Kigoja (Seoul, South Korea), Charbon (Hong Kong), and HB Station: Contemporary Art Research Centre (Guangzhou, China). She has also exhibited her works in Beijing, Gwangju, Macau, Hong Kong, New York, and several cities in the UK. Chan was one of finalists in the 2015 Three Shadows Photography Award and the 2019 Art Sanya Huayu Youth Award.

Liu Shiyuan (Artist) 

Liu Shiyuan (b. 1985, Beijing) lives and works in Beijing and Copenhagen. She received her MFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts, New York, in 2012, and BFA from the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, in 2009. The scope of Liu Shiyuan’s art practice comprises domains such as photography, video, stage performance, and spatial installations, through which she exposes a visual language that is unaffected by regional boundaries. In her early works, Liu Shiyuan put an emphasis on an intentional questioning of these limits and borders. She makes exaggerated use of symbolic, unassuming objects to satirize the contradictions between the way businesses are operated and our beliefs. Recently, in the context of her living in a multicultural society, her art has become more geared towards the individual's comical misreading of the relations between different historical civilizations and the status quo of the natural world. It is difficult to pigeonhole Liu Shiyuan's artworks as either photography or video. Whether static or dynamic, every one of her works reaches beyond the contexts and mediums used to produce it, and is able to come into existence independently.

Her work has been shown in solo and group exhibitions in art museums around the world. Recent solo exhibitions include “Opaque Pollination (Frost Art Museum, Florida International University, Fort Lauderale, USA, 2020) and “As Simple As Clay” (Yuz Museum, Shanghai, 2015). Recent group exhibitions include “The Mesh” (K11 Art Foundation, 2019); “Lunar Phases” (UCCA Lab, Beijing, 2019); “Floating 2019 - Cry Me a River” (Vejle Art Museum, Denmark, 2019); “FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art” (2018); “Art Patrons” (Qiao Space and Tank Shanghai, Shanghai, 2018); “Welcome to the Jungle” (Kunsthalle Dusseldorf, 2017); “Cold Nights” (UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, 2017); Visual Questions (Guangdong Museum of Art, 2017); “.com/.cn” (K11 Art Foundation co-presented with MoMA PS1, Hong Kong, 2017); “Yinchuan Biennale - For an Image, Faster Than Light” (Museum of Contemporary Art Yinchuan, China, 2016); and “Bentu: Chinese Artists in a Time of Turbulence and Transformation” (Foundation Louis Vuitton, Paris, 2016).

Wu Jianru (Editor, Curator)

Wu Jianru is an editor and curator, currently working as Media Lab Director at Guangdong Times Museum, Guangzhou. She has curated exhibitions including “One (Illegitimate) Child” (ISCP, New York); “Forget Sorrow Grass: An Archaeology of Feminine Time” (co-curated with Zhang Sirui) (Guangdong Times Museum); “Re/Sentiment” (A+ Contemporary, Shanghai); “Call Me A Shi” (OCT Contemporary Art Terminal, Xi’an); and more. She worked as senior editor of LEAP magazine from 2012 to 2017, and has organized talks, screenings, and public programs since 2011. She has also edited books and other publications for artists and museums. Her writing has appeared in publications including Artforum.com.cn, Ocula, and The Art Newspaper China, among others. She received an Asian Cultural Council fellowship in 2017, and was a visiting scholar of the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College in April 2018.

Ran Zhang (Artist)

Ran Zhang (b. 1981, Tianjin, China) lives and works in Rotterdam and Berlin. She graduated from Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam in 2010, and was selected twice for the artist residency program in Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten in Amsterdam from 2011 to 2013. Experimenting with combining painting, drawing, printing and photography, Ran Zhang builds up images through layering these techniques, and constantly reworking these layers. Through this process she has become interested in shuffling and reversing the roles of content, form and technique, to create a “super image” that functions as an interface where the process is not finalized into form and the subject is not finalized into content. This image remains open and keeps questioning itself, rather then creating an illusion or narration. The idea is to highlight the relation between our drive to create images, and us being shaped by them at the same time. Zhang’s recent process is based on photographing arrangements of objects frame by frame with a microscopic camera, and subsequently digitally rendering those frames into single images. The result is the only way to see the assembly as a whole. This process emphasizes the act of making an image and thereby speaks about its necessity. The textures and details that arise from this process distort the bigger whole, and thereby take away our ability to identify what is shown, forcing the objects to lose their meanings and remain only materials to construct an image. In her new work, the long term process of observing microscopic subjects turns the action of seeing into a type of content in its own right, a behaviour, or a ritual. It develops into a sense of self awareness of the biochemical body that makes this process possible. The work imprints a visualization of reality that goes beyond the visual threshold. It uses knowledge to synthesize an “emotional” reaction in the formation of an image, in which certain questions arise: how to see and visualize non-perceivable reality? How does knowledge replace direct experience and become the mere pathway to encounter the invisible? How does scientific knowledge condition us to compose mental images? And how are fiction/imagination and truth synthesized through an “emotional” reaction to knowledge, yet entangled when we simply process visual information?


Yan Fang (Curator of Public Programs, UCCA)

Yan Fang is an art critic and curator of public programs at UCCA Center for Contemporary Art. She graduated from University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne with a Master’s degree in History of Art: History of Art and Philosophy, and has previously worked at the Musée national d'Art moderne/Centre Pompidou.