Big Tail Elephant – Build and Resist

AUTHORS: edited by Xi Bei, Hou Hanru & Yu Hsiaohwei
PUBLISHER: les Presses du réel (2023)

SOFTCOVER: 560 pages
LANGUAGES: Anglais/Chinois, English/Chinese
ISBN13: 978-2-37896-398-9

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A retrospective of the performances, photographs, installations and videos of the avant-garde collective that disrupted the Chinese cultural scene in the 1990s.
Edited by the internationally renowned curator and former artistic director of MAXXI, Hou Hanru, and Paris-based senior art journalist Yu Hsiaohwei, Big Tail Elephant: Build and Resist was designed by Berlin-based graphic designer Jianping He (Hesign). In addition to a rich and diverse collection of documents and images, the book also includes five commissioned insightful essays by Hou Hanru, Nikita Yingqian Cai, Chen Tong, Hu Fang and Anthony Yung, fulling demonstrating the remarkably independent artistic thoughts, attitudes and practices of the four members of the Big Tail Elephant Working Group.
The idea for Big Tail Elephant: Build and Resist was born during the retrospective, Operation PRD – Big Tail Elephant: One Hour, No Room, Five Shows, curated by Hou Hanru and Nikita Yingqian Cai at the Guangdong Times Museum in 2016. The growing collection of gathered documents and images, as well as the interviews conducted with the artists and key participants in Pearl River Delta’s contemporary art scene during the preparations for the retrospective, laid the ground work of the project. Over the last three years of working on this book, TACB has benefited greatly from the Guangdong Times Museum as well as a constellation of individuals and institutions. The Big Tail Elephant Working Group was founded at the end of 1990 and existed until 2005, when the four members took part in an exhibition together for the last time (Liang Juhui and Chen Shaoxiong died in their prime, respectively in 2006 and 2016). Those 15 years also witnessed the drastic development and transformation of art and society in the Pearl River Delta region as well as in the whole of China. Big Tail Elephant stood out as a singular presence in the history of Chinese contemporary art, and even today, their artistic practices and thoughts still inspire us with their vision and vitality.
Big Tail Elephant (« Big Tail Elephants Working Group »), comprised of artists Chen Shaoxiong, Liang Juhui, Lin Yilin, and Xu Tan, was active during the 1990s in Guangzhou, the heart of the Pearl River Delta region. From 1991 to 1996, Big Tail Elephants self-organized five exhibitions in temporary spaces that varied from cultural palaces, to bars, as well as the basements of commercial buildings and outdoor venues. In 1998, collective presentations of the group’s recent works were staged at Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Kunsthalle Bern. After 1998, Big Tail Elephants received a number of invitations to participate in international exhibitions but stopped working together as a group. The decade from 1990 to 2000 saw distinctive developments arise within the once-peripheral contemporary art scene of the Pearl River Delta region, viewed in part as a result of the combined forces of China’s explosive economic growth also found throughout Asia in general—and the twin projects of modernization and urbanization. Witnessing and experiencing this complex set of realities, Big Tail Elephants strove for the autonomy and legitimacy of artists and artistic production, and made positive impacts on the cultural landscape of southern China in the 1990s.