Invisible art or invented reality. Artistic strategies of Chinese socially engaged art in the 21st century

Start - End 
2015 - 2020 (ongoing)
Department of Art, music and theatre sciences
Research Focus 



This research  focuses on the artistic strategies of Chinese socially-engaged art in the 21st century, which is conducted through an interdisciplinary methodology combining visual arts theories and performance studies.

From the 1990s, Western art scholars such as Claire Bishop, Shannon Jackson have begun to theorize a new art genre that has grown up in the West throughout the 20th century, ‘Socially Engaged Art’. It is an art form that does not only reflect society but also intervene in society. In this new century, this tendency of art-making has also contributed to a crucial influence in the art world of China, as increasing Chinese artists have devoted themselves to socially engaged projects. The subjects of these projects are various, such as environmental protection, folk history, rural reform, wealth gap, spiritual and physical healing. Based on the existing academic studies worldwide, this paper attempts to explore some up-to-date developments and geographical specialties of this branch of art in the 21st century.

In a nutshell, this research covers a frame of Socially Engaged Art as below. Firstly, the art should aim at critical interventions within existing social systems to inspire debate or catalyze social exchange/change. Secondly, the evaluating system of the art values the process of a work over any finished product or object. Lastly, the art is often created through collaboration with individuals, communities, and institutions in the creation of participatory art. The core research questions are: What are the crucial artistic strategies employed by Chinese socially engaged art projects in the 21st century? Is it possible, and with what methods can we interpret the effect of a socially engaged artwork? How to frame the specific structure and content of a socially engaged artwork? To answer these questions, four key artistic strategies are discussed throughout the thesis, ‘Constructed Situation,’ ‘Relational Aesthetics,’  ‘Invisible Performance,’  and ‘Invented Ritual.’




Phd Student(s)


Helena De Preester

KASK/Faculty of Fine Arts

Bo Zheng

School of Creative Media City - University of Hong Kong