In an art scene with more than its fair share pretension and ego, Double Fly Art Center (双飞艺术中心) stands gleefully outside the mainstream. Its nine members are former new media students at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou. Graduating in 2008 just as the Chinese art market was collapsing, Double Fly’s artists found themselves unemployed and seemingly without any prospects within the art world. Rather than despair, they embraced their non-commercial, outsider position, staging a series of puerile performances that incorporate video, photography, painting, animation, music, and video games.
Many of Double Fly’s works call into question norms of art and sociality while always keeping tongue pressed firmly in cheek—confident and confrontational, but never self-serious. They have staged music videos and mock economic summits, battled other artist collectives to the “death”, and created an evil version of Spiderman who runs around Hangzhou spraying people with super soakers. They are rarely fully clothed.
Battle of the Osage Economic Summit, 2001
Many of their performances go beyond giddy pranks into blatant crime. In “Bootleg Pollack”(《山寨波洛克》),
the group makes a set of impromptu Pollack-esque drip paintings by splashing buckets of paint at canvases on sale in front of an art supply store, only to flee and leave behind the bemused shop owner (they later were forced to “collect” these paintings). For “Double Fly Bank Robbery” (《双飞抢银行》), the collective rents a minibus to raid an ICBC bank that is under renovation, emerging triumphant with their haul—building materials.
In March 2014, the collective took part in the Armory Show in New York as part of the fair’s focus: China section. Represented by Space Station gallery, the group funded their trip through an art auction on WeChat. Double Fly transformed their gallery’s space into a carnival booth, including a lottery, a ring-toss, a darts and balloons game, and a lucky draw (which involved punching through one of the group’s photographs to reach the hidden loot). For just 50 USD, spectators could try and win an authentic Double Fly work. By playfully subverting fair-goers’ expectations of elegance, the collective raises an uncomfortable truth about the art market—for many of Armory’s target audience, art is multimillion-dollar entertainment. It is no coincidence that art fairs often seem more like massive parties than cultural exhibitions.
Kill the Hostage in Art Way, 2012
It’s tempting to ask why Double Fly does what it does, and it’s equally tempting to categorize it with some overwrought explanation of the discontent nihilism of youth and its aesthetic, from the Romantics to Dada to punk. Considering the group’s demonstrated resistance to art institutions, this seems inappropriate. Instead, it’s perhaps better to see them as an anarchic correction to the pompous intellectualism prevalent in Chinese (and international) contemporary art—insisting that their absurdity has a value unto itself.