Chai-na/China Signs

Programs with Huang Rui and Ko Siu Lan exploring the social construction of the citizen through signs, languages, and ideology


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Artistic legacies
  • Memory
  • Performance

Organizing Institutions

Slought, Fine arts at PennDesign


Aaron Levy, Mimi Cheng


Department of English, School of Arts and Sciences, and Fine Arts Program, PennDesign, University of Pennsylvania


Pernot Hudson, Jane Irish, Melissa Lam, Joshua Mosley, Bridget Noetzel, Jean-Michel Rabaté, Karl Wellman

Opens to public



Campus Locations
and the Physical Lab
Morgan Building
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104

4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104


50% Formal - 50% Informal

Slought and the Department of Fine Arts at PennDesign are pleased to announce "Chai-na/China Signs," a series of public engagements with artists Huang Rui and Ko Siu Lan across multiple locations in West Philadelphia, beginning Tuesday, March 13, 2012 and continuing through April 18, 2012. The project begins with a public conversation and intervention on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, and continues at Slought Foundation through live and archived performances, as well as a concluding public conversation. The title of the project encompasses the themes foregrounded in their practices, and is derived from the titles of two featured works.

Though born into different periods of Chinese history, Huang Rui (b. 1952) and Ko Siu Lan (b. 1977) have constructed practices which negotiate similar tensions. Among these is the succinct and penetrating usage of political elements in their work, which is often cloaked in the language of conceptual art. Another similarity is the performative constitution of Chinese identity within China and the West, and the social construction of the citizen through signs, languages, and ideology.

The invitation to artists Huang Rui and Ko Siu Lan to work with us in Philadelphia arose out of an impromptu dinner in December 2010 at Huang Rui's studio in Beijing. The conversation that night referenced not only their own work, but also topics such as Huang Rui's advocacy for 798 and other arts districts, and the degree to which artistic life in China is overshadowed by commercial and political tensions that diverge from those faced by artists in the West. The conversation that began there now extends throughout the campus of the University of Pennsylvania and the galleries and public spaces of Slought.

Public Conversation
Tuesday, March 13, 6:00-8:00pm

Huang Rui and Ko Siu Lan in dialogue, moderated by Aaron Levy. Sweeten Alumni House, 3533 Locust Walk. Topics of conversation include Huang Rui's activities following the Cultural Revolution and specifically as co-founder of the Stars Group in 1979, as well as Ko Siu Lan's engagement with and inheritance of the work of a preceding generation.

Public Installation
Opens on Thursday, March 15, 5:00pm

China A China B / Ko Siu Lan Signs, a public space project throughout the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, will be on display March 15-24, 2012. The project takes the form of a series of signs that explore the im/possibility of translation across languages and cultures. Specifically, the project plays with the misunderstandings and contradictions that result from the co-existence of different cultures, languages and social systems, inspired by the artist's China East and/vs China West experiences. Contextualization of the project and documentation as it unfolds will be made available in the Physical Lab, Morgan Building. The project will commence with a public unveiling.

Live Performances
Begins promptly on Friday, March 16 at 5:30pm

I-Ching by Huang Rui and Love Me If You Can by Ko Siu Lan will be performed outside by the artists directly across from Slought, together with students from the MFA Fine Arts Program and the attending public. In the early 1980s, Huang Rui began exploring the I-Ching (Book of Changes) - a set of divination systems created in the Zhou Dynasty. During the interactive performance art piece I-Ching, Huang Rui will invite 64 volunteers to participate for 64 minutes. Love Me If You Can is a new work by Ko Siu Lan that will also engage the audience. At once a performance and an action, it will explore and question the dichotomies and boundaries between public/private and collective/individual.

Archived Performances
Opens after the Live Performances on Friday, March 16

An installation featuring documentation of performance works by Huang Rui and Ko Siu Lan and related materials, as selected by the artists, will be on display at Slought Foundation from March 16 through April 20, 2012. Huang Rui's selections include I-Ching Together (2010-2011); Warm Winter: Chai-na / China (2009-2010); Daily Attitude (2009); and a selection of earlier archived performances by the artist. Ko Siu Lan's selections are Waiting for Time (2006); Memory of Air (2006); Blue Sky and White Clouds Forever (2007); and 703 (2008).

Public Conversation
Wednesday, April 18, 6:30pm

What is the history of China's reception in the West? More specifically, how does Chinese performance art resonate in a U.S. context? What are the relationships among the idea of "China," human rights, and artistic encounters across cultures? Join professors David Eng (co-editor of the special 2012 Social Text issue, "China and the Human,") and Chi-ming Yang (author of Performing China: Virtue, Commerce, and Orientalism, 1660-1760) at Slought for "The Politics of Performing China," a conversation about these issues as they reflect upon the current Slought exhibits of Huang Rui and Ko Siu Lan. Moderated by Homay King, Bryn Mawr College.

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Huang Rui was born in 1952 in Beijing, China, and is regarded as one of the founding members of China's contemporary art movement. Beginning in 1978, Huang co-published the literary journal Today (今天) with writers and activists Bei Dao and Mang Ke. Although the influential magazine only lasted three years, the journal was considered one of the most radical publications in circulation after the Cultural Revolution. Huang Rui received some formal art education at the Beijing Worker's Cultural Center in 1979 before founding The Stars Group (Xingxing 星星画会), with Ma Desheng the same year. The Stars were one of the first publicly active art collectives to protest governmental censorship after the Cultural Revolution. Before taking part in the ground-breaking 1979 Stars exhibition outside the China Arts Gallery (now the National Art Museum of China), Huang participated in a number of secret art shows held at private homes. Often these impromptu exhibitions would spark considerable debate over issues such as artistic freedom and Western art trends. The artists who participated in these debates included Ai Weiwei, Bo Yun, Li Shuang, Ma Desheng, Mao Lizi, Qu Leilei, Shao Fei, Wang Keping, Yan Li, Yang Yiping, and Zhong Acheng. More recently, beginning in the early 1980s and into the present, Huang Rui has explored the I-Ching (Book of Changes), interpreting the divinatory symbols in a variety of visual forms and through a diverse body of works, some of which will be foregrounded in the installation at Slought. Huang left China in 1984 for Japan, but returned in 1992 hoping for greater freedom. Under government pressure he left again in 1994. In 2001 he was allowed to return to China with relative freedom. From 2004 to 2006, Huang Rui was intimately involved in the effort to save the 798 Factory from demolition and preserve it as an art district. He has since endeavored to preserve other threatened art districts in 2009 and 2010.

Ko Siu Lan was born in 1977 in Xiamen, China, and grew up in Hong Kong. She holds an MPhil in Sociology and worked for NGOs in China until 2007. She works in performance, installation, and other cross-medium projects. After completing the prestigious Program LaSeine of Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts of Paris in 2009, she is now based in Beijing and Toronto. The reinvention of everyday ready words and slogans are often at the center of her art process. One example is her controversial public installation exhibited on the façade of the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Inspired by the French president Nicolas Sarkozy's slogan, it consisted of two banners with four words 'Gagner' (earn) 'travailler? (work) 'Plus' (more) 'Moins' (less). Depending on the viewers? position (space) and movement, different sentences and meanings could be derived. More recently, her solo exhibition in Beijing entitled Don't Think Too Much consisted of words created with suspended T5 lights on a support steel substructure. The floating words and their connotation contribute to an environment of nostalgia and fear. Ko Siu Lan's works reflect on the control of body and mind in public space and architecture. Some of her performance works deal with the politics of memory and forgetting as well, and include Memory of Air (2006), in which she writes in the air '6' '4' amidst a bustling Hong Kong marketplace.