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‘Zombie Romance’ at Cheng Centre for Contemporary Art, 798 Art District, Beijing China

Opening 26th November – 19th December 2016, new and existing works will be shown in an exhibition curated by Charlie DuttonThe British Society Of Self-Deprecation- PART 1 – Works on Paper by Contemporary British Artists) will showcase works on paper by British Artists introducing a range of drawing practices to a new and predominantly Chinese audience at Cheng Centre for Contemporary Art in the 798 Art District of Beijing.

Alison Gill, Andrew Seto, Anne Lydiat, Antonia Manoochehri, Celyn Bricker, Charlie Dutton, Clare Price, Covadonga Valdes, David Dipré, David Webster, Emma Talbot, Geraldine Swayne, Hamish McLain, Harry Pye, Hedley Roberts, Howard Dyke, Iona Jackson, Jake Clark, Kirsten Glass, Laurence Noga , Marianne Basualdo, Martyn Simpson, Mick Finch, Paul Housley, Phillip Allen, Richard Elliot, Roshni Bhagotra, Selma Parlour, Virginia Verran, Wendy Anderson

“Times they are a changin'”

Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature with words like that. He sent notice to Stockholm to say he can’t make the ceremony. London will soon write to Brussels to say it has better things to do too. Trump Christmas cards from Trump Tower will land in people’s hands, and they will try and laugh when they find a voucher for one of those steaks tucked inside, but they’ll know it’s not funny anymore. Paper flying around the world carrying messages of self-righteousness, self-delusion, self-doubt, self-hate and round again.

So what to do? Self-deprecation has always been a very British way of coping, but they never really meant it. They had Empire, Marmite, Shakespeare, Churchill, Marks & Spencer’s, the Beatles and a proper cup of tea. But things are fragmenting. They’ll have to learn to criticize themselves without the jokes. Ideas and structures are fragile. They seemed fixed because they were written down in big strong buildings with expensive pens on nice paper. But the ground can shake and the buildings can fall down. There are gold-plated pens and bits of panic-scented paper waiting to be taken seriously. The rules are pieces of confetti tossed up in to the wind. It’s going to be difficult to get them all back in the box. Self-confidence becomes self-harm. British humour like that in the show might also prove useful. Irony, sarcasm, intelligence and expressiveness are equally on display. But as we are finding in countries all over the world, what is said and what is felt can be different things. British qualities might have changed this time next year.

To express yourself on paper requires a certain self-belief to commit your work to the blank page, and a certain amount of self- criticism to get it right. Plenty of words and images and photos, pictures and notes and songs, never leave the screen, travelling without landing. Pixels trump paper. A material surface is something to touch, and to know is really there, a sense of security. This show uses paper, which we are sure exists, but it is a little ephemeral, easily ripped, light, should be recycled. Transient safety.

Artists can be guardians of the tactility that we crave through their making. Some produce their final works on paper, some use it for preliminary pieces. Paint, inks, pencil and felt tips sketch and collage. In the British Society of Self- Deprecation, Harry Pye’s work is fun and funny incorporating a childlike use of felt tips. He usually collaborates, like a comedy double act, this time with his young nephew. Kirsten Glass reminds us of the innocent and macabre patterns that can be formed on paper, while the complexity of Antonia Manoochehri’s work juxtaposes against the simplicity of the material. Howard Dyke usually works on a large grandiose scale with rigorous energy layers of macho power and an iconoclastic look at politics. Geraldine Swayne uses a miniature scale, producing sexually charged images by painting with enamel on copper, like secret little Victorian possessions. Alone amongst the painters is sculptor Alison Gill works which venture into uncanny spaces, creating imaginary worlds and romantic fictions.

Scroll Down is a grandiose project that will run alongside and within the British Society of Self-Deprecation exhibition. A large drawing on paper will cascade through the exhibition, rolled down like an ancient tapestry or a seismograph measuring the movements of the Earth. For two weeks Celyn Bricker and Charlie Dutton will draw on this Scroll creating a new work of art, attending to it with a daily religious devotion. The epic drawing will be exhibited and they sold off piecemeal at the behest of the consumer. Free-market economics will determine how the whole is carved up, breaking it down. It will be measured and priced accordingly. Nothing will be sacred and anything can be cut away.

Change is a constant and the way we use and interact with materials and each other will never be static. The 798 gallery was a weapons factory not so long ago. But tangible expressions of moments such as these will live on, and are resting places as we all strive to define our new identity in our new world, and create a self-portrait we can live with.

Text by Kate Saffin