Born in 1980, Zhang Ding belongs to the most recent generation of Chinese video artists, growing up beyond the shadow of the Cultural Revolution and in a world saturated with images of the West and a new aspirational China. Rather than commenting on China’s history, or even its recent economic reforms, Zhang’s work is marked by feelings of alienation from contemporary society, a sense of retreat into fantasy, and an ongoing struggle with desire. For Zhang the political is personal, and highly mediated. Mixing video art and installation, Zhang creates worlds of light and sound, surreal cinematic dreamscapes, and intimate performance pieces. Originally from the Western province of Gansu, Zhang now lives and works in Shanghai, a city he has made something of a muse for his work.
Mongolian band, Hanggai, are at the forefront of China’s folk-rock musical scene – a movement that has been gathering pace since the early 2000s and has been covered in previous posts (see Dawanggang and Zhu Xiaolong). Inflecting their native folk songs with the energy of rock and roll, Hanggai provides a unique take on traditional Mongolian music, maintaining the presence of Mongolian culture as a contemporary force in Beijing.
Internationally, Hanggai’s success is growing, and they now play some of the largest music festivals. They are regular performers at WOMAD, have played Roskilde and even Wacken, the world’s biggest metal festival. I caught them in Sydney Festival’s beguiling Spiegeltent, which they filled with the rousing sounds of throat singing, the morin khuur (a horsehair fiddle), the tobshuur (two-stringed lute), banjos and electric guitars. The crowd was hankering for more, and word is they might be touring Sydney later this year.
Later I spoke with the band’s leader, Ilchi, about China’s contemporary music scene, the commercialisation of ethnicity, and the essence of Mongolian music.