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China and Inner Asia
On the (Mis)Use of Criticality in the Production and Reception of China’s “Experimental Architecture”
Individual Paper Presenter(s)
University of Virginia, United States
This paper questions the criticality of the “experimental architecture” in postreform China as is conceived by foreign curators and scholars. While these experimentations are commonly perceived as critical, rebellious, marginal practices that symbolized the rise of criticism against the state-regulated production, this paper holds that the concept of “critical” predetermines a theoretical framework that stems from western traditions, and needs closer scrutiny in its Chinese appropriation. Criticality first burgeoned during the postreform time with the vast introduction of postmodern art and literature. A small community of young architects, fiercely influenced by the radically critical movements among modern Chinese artists, started to voice against the orthodox design ideologies by organizing forums, publishing short articles and participating in art exhibitions. While the imported western critical traditions partly formulated the ideological basis of the marginal practices in architecture during the 1990s, the architects were framed as “experimental”. Though “experimental” stood for a vague position and accommodated more diversified practices, the overseas curators and scholars abandoned this term for “critical” to describe the group, for it is more recognizable in the West. Integrating the history of critical architecture during the 1970s to ‘90s in western countries, this paper investigates postreform architectural production in China as a special case in the discourse of criticality. By analyzing the origins and development of “experimental architecture”’s criticality in a cross-cultural zone, this paper traces how contemporary Chinese architecture was legitimized and contained by the western discourse, and discusses the neglected, the distorted and the misinterpreted in the process.