The exhibition’s title references Deng Xiaoping’s program of reform and opening up that launched in 1979, particularly the case of Shenzhen, which transformed from a fishing village into an economic powerhouse in a matter of decades. Shenzhen’s dramatic rise upon receiving Special Economic Zone (SEZ) status, which provides financial and trade incentives to foreign investors, is sometimes seen as a case study in accelerationism, a unique pilot program by which China’s planned economy began integrating into the global capitalist system with astonishing results.
In Shenzhen, a city famous for industrial rather than artistic capacity, this process of economic opening sometimes led to tensions between artists and developers, a dynamic that is palpable in ’s The Fifth System
(2003-2007), a hanging sheet of construction material that the artist originally constructed for a 2003 exhibition in the city. In the piece, the Shenzhen exhibition’s title (“The Fifth System: Public Art in the Age of Post- Planning”) is painted in bold yellow characters on blue construction material emblematic of the cycles of demolition and rebuilding that have been a constant feature of China’s megacities as they’ve expanded.
When it was first installed, Yan’s intervention effectively walled off a small parcel of lucrative real estate in Shenzhen’s commercial and tourist zone known as Overseas China Town, preventing it from being developed for the two-year run of the exhibition. In the Long March installation, it hangs across a large corner of the white cube as both a protest against the speed of commercialization and a commodity absorbed by the very system it was built to critique.