28 April to 7 July 2012
SINOPTICON is now on display in a multi-sited exhibition across the city of Plymouth (until 7 July 2012). Four of the city’s major cultural venues are joining forces to present the work of thirteen contemporary artists.
Taking chinoiserie as a starting point this exhibition explores our relationship with China both historically and through contemporary eyes.
‘Chinoiserie’, a French term meaning ‘Chinese-esque’, derived from the Seventeenth Century as an entirely European style that was influenced wholly from China and the East. The China that was being emulated was in fact fictitious and very few real images of life in China had reached the west. Instead a Utopian land was described and repeated through the use of decorative motifs and styles. The influence and desire for China, it’s trade and culture, ramified in to the 19th century, opium wars, trade and colonialism.
The creation of chinoiserie in the West could be seen as a way of reigning in and controlling foreign influences. ‘Sinopticon’ is a construct of ‘Sino’ meaning China and ‘optic’s, meaning ways of seeing. For some of the artists involved in Sinopticon the lure of chinoiserie and the push-pull of its connotations, are manifest in their work. Emile de Brujin, the National Trust expert on chinoiserie describes the earliest interest in China in the c.16th as themed by ‘an attraction and revulsion of the East’; so too, in the c.21st, chinoiserie’s aesthetic allure, seduces us and its historical stereotypes and reverberations of trade and exploitation, repels us.
Through form and decorative narrative in chinoiserie we can discuss value and taste, fantasy, replication and stereotyping of images. So too, the darker elements of chinoiserie’s historical routes; identity politics, racism, trade and production values, authorship and the contested territory of exoticism. This exhibition looks to unpick these themes in a contemporary context to shed light on how pervasive Chinese culture, industry and aesthetics are in our everyday lives.
Sinopticon is part of the National Trust’s ‘Trust New Art’ programme, in partnership with Plymouth Arts Centre, Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery and Plymouth College of Art Gallery.
Eliza Gluckman, curator