Religion and raves are two cultural phenomena foreign to Chen’s parents’ generation, and increasingly distant even to the new guard of Chinese youth born after 1990. In Chen’s telling, individuality is the defining trait of his 1980s-born cohort: “I think my generation of artists is more individual…We are more free to deal with different topics, and more brave to be individual.” He remarked that there are hardly any similarities among the practices of his peers showing abroad today; and they’re likely to be found in group shows with artists from around the world, rather than just Chinese artists. “I think that’s progress,” Chen added.
This situation is being eroded, however, as the political and social atmosphere slips backward into a state of cultural homogenization. “I thought the younger generation was going to be really exciting, because they’re younger, they have more access, they learn things faster,” Chen said of the generation following his. “But I’ve found that in recent years, there are fewer interesting artists coming up.” He reckons that while the “most explosive” art was emerging around four or five years ago, “there’s not so much individuality right now.”
This constriction might be attributed to an increased government attention on club culture and the fringe art spaces that were critical in cultivating Chen’s early work. As his star has risen, Chinese authorities have launched a steady extirpation of art spaces
along Beijing’s suburban edges, and local police departments have intensified an anti-drug crackdown
affecting clubs in Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, and Shenzhen. At the same time, Chen asserts, artists born in the ’90s have fallen into a pattern of internet-mediated similitude. “The visuals you’re seeing, all these 3D-rendered party posters, look almost the same,” he said. “All this Instagram aesthetic, 3D stuff, looks like it’s made by the same designer.”