Shanghai-based artist duo Xiao Ke × Zi Han attempts to create a temporary contact zone for “Chinese” identity by exploring different regions and collecting documentary portraits of ordinary people on site. “Our name is given, but we try to explain who we are.” How is “Chineseness” defined? Its meaning shifts depending on the context, and its influence on contemporary geopolitics is felt on an everyday level. How does the young generation in China perceive Chineseness? What about diasporic Chinese outside China? In this tangled web of perceptions, the artists pose the question: “What is Chinese – is it an imagined community or is it real?”
From 2018 to 2020, Xiao Ke × Zi Han conducted over 150 interviews in more than fifteen countries on three continents, producing various artistic outcomes including a lecture-performance, photographs, films, installations and an upcoming final performance.
The works of the duo XIAO KE × ZI HAN emerge from the artists’ respective approaches and the interweaving of their expertise: Xiao Ke is a performer and choreographer of contemporary dance by training, Zi Han is a photographer and visual artist. Since 2011, Xiao Ke and Zi Han have developed five stage projects in a profoundly interdisciplinary process, which have also been shown internationally.
Based on conceptual guiding questions, their works often have a clear social and also documentary dimension. In 2018, the three-year artistic research project CHINAME began, which explores the question of cultural identity of Chinese people around the world. The result is a multifaceted artistic panorama on the question of the “I” in a globalised, cosmopolitan society.
In addition to their own artistic practice, XIAO KE × ZI HAN use “artivism” to promote the community of freelance performing arts in China; various festivals and artistic events they have initiated serve as a platform. In addition, with the founding of the iPanda network, they bring artists together and enable them to connect with potential partners abroad.