Drawing Lines, Spinning Time: Textile Histories at a River’s End

Drawing Lines, Spinning Time: Textile Histories at a River’s End

A research project initiated by Ho Rui An and Zian Chen

in collaboration with Feng Haoxin, Liew Xiao Theng, Sun Jiyuan, Wang Ruohan, Xiong Xin, Yan Jiayue, Zeng Yuting, Zhang Tianyu, Zhang Yilin, and Zhou Feiyang

Community Center East Wing (CCTE)

Duke Kunshan University

Exhibition: 22 November – 8 December 2023

Public program: 22 – 24 November 2023

Organized by: DKUNST Art on Campus

Supported by: Division of Arts and Humanities | Humanities Research Center, Duke Kunshan University

Drawing Lines, Spinning Time: Textile Histories at a River’s End, traces an over-hundred-year history of the Chinese textile industry and its many extensions since the emergence of industrial capitalism within the Yangtze River Delta region. Initiated by Ho Rui An and Zian Chen, the exhibition and public program draws upon materials gathered over a six-month process of fieldwork, archival research, and workshops organized as part of Duke Kunshan University’s (DKU) DKUNST Art on Campus program and with the participation of DKU undergraduates. The program at DKU follows the first large-scale public presentation of the research at Ming Contemporary Art Museum in Shanghai earlier this year.

The exhibition is organized into two sections, each providing a distinctive artistic framework to probe into the historical development of the textile industry in the region. The first, “Drawing Lines”, focuses on material culture and draws upon cartographic and archival methods to trace the networks of labor, technology, and capital that connect the industrial centers of the region to its agrarian peripheries and beyond. The second, “Spinning Time”, centers the embodied experience of labor and its representations by examining films set in textile mills and real-life accounts by retired textile workers. Through the public program, the objects and images on display are further articulated through a curated film program and one-day live program that includes a lecture, guided tour, and a mapping exercise.

The DKUNST Art on Campus program is curated by Prof. Zairong Xiang.

Public Program

Wednesday, 22 November

1700 Exhibition opening

Location: 1F CCTE

1900 Screening and discussion: Huang Baomei

Location: Performance Cafe

A rarely seen gem made by the renowned Third Generation Chinese director Xie Jin, Huang Baomei (1958) is a docudrama based on the real-life experiences of the national model worker of the same name. Set at Shanghai No. 17 Cotton Mill, the film focuses on how the workers collectively resolve the problems posed by their aging machines as they strive for a technical breakthrough. As an exemplar of the genre of “artistic documentary” advocated by Premier Zhou Enlai during the Great Leap Forward, the film is known for its collective scripting process and predominantly female cast of actual cotton mill workers playing themselves.

The screening will be followed by a discussion with Prof. Qian Zhu.

Note: Due to the lack of international distribution, the film is only available in Mandarin without subtitles.

Thursday, 23 November

1900 Screening and discussion: A Single Spark

Location: Performance Cafe

A Single Spark (1959) is a Shanghainese opera film based on a violent confrontation between indentured laborers and their managers at the Japanese-owned Naigaiwata Company No. 7 Cotton Mill in 1925. Reflecting the dominant tropes of Chinese socialist cinema of the period, the film follows the trials and tribulations of a villager fighting to extricate her daughter from the despotic system of contract labor as well as the collective action taken by her fellow workers that eventually catalyzed the May Thirtieth Movement.

The screening will be followed by a discussion with Prof. Kim Gordon.

Note: Due to the lack of international distribution, the film is only available in Shanghainese with Chinese subtitles.

Friday, 24 November

1400 Screening and discussion: Red Skirt Popular in the Street

Location: CCT E1011

Set in the fictitious Shanghai-based Dafeng Cotton Mill, Red Skirt Popular on the Street (1984) follows the story of an enterprising model worker as she navigates the challenges of young adult life, from workplace conflicts to choosing what clothes to wear on her days off. A landmark of the early years of the Reform era, the film shows the growing consumer consciousness among the working class amidst the transition to the market economy, as best observed in the spellbinding array of colors seen in their sartorial choices—a reflection of the fashion trends being introduced into the country through trade fairs and catwalks at the time.

The screening will be followed by a discussion with Prof. Andrew Field.

Note: Due to the lack of international distribution, the film is only available in Mandarin without subtitles.

1630 Guided tour

Location: 1F CCTE

1700 Mapping exercise: Object and Network

Location: 1F CCTE

Using a selection of objects as its starting point, this student-led cartographic exercise attempts to connect the lines between different objects, people, and sites across the Yangtze River Delta region as a way to visually represent the material networks that constitute the region’s modern textile industry.

1730 Discussion moderated by Prof. Zairong Xiang

Location: 1F CCTE

1800 Break and refreshments

Location: 1F CCTE

1900 Lecture: Spinning Time

Ho Rui An and Zian Chen

Location: Performance Cafe

In this lecture, the networked lines of labor, technology, and capital that make up one river delta region flow into another river delta region as the textile histories along the Yangtze River are woven with those of its southern double: the Pearl River. Drawing upon their research across Shanghai, Nantong, Hong Kong and Guangzhou, Ho Rui An and Zian Chen construct a timeline that inquires into the displacements and returns that characterize China’s modern textile history as much as it reflects on the time of history itself.

Curator Nikita Yingqian Cai in Residence

Nikita Yingqian Cai is Artistic Deputy Director and Chief Curator of Times Museum. She has curated exhibitions such as Times Heterotopia Trilogy (2011, 2014, 2017), Jiang Zhi: If This is a Man (2012), Roman Ondák: Storyboard (2015), Big Tail Elephants: One Hour, No Room, Five Shows (2016) , Pan Yuliang: A Journey to Silence (Villa Vassilieff in Paris and Guangdong Times Museum, 2017), Omer Fast: The Invisible Hand (2018), Zhou Tao: The Ridge in the Bronze Mirror (2019), Neither Black/Red/Yellow Nor Woman (Times Art Center Belin, 2019) , Candice Lin: Pigs and Poison (2021) and One song is very much Like another and the boat is always from afar (2021). She initiated the para-curatorial series in 2012 and launched “All the Way South” research network in 2016. She was awarded the Asian Cultural Council Fellowship in 2019.

Public Lecture: When a Trebuchet Met a Museum
Tuesday 25th April 15:00 – 17:15 | AB 3107

Over the past five years, Nikita Yingqian Cai has been focusing on curating an interdependency in the evolving network of Times Museum. By referring to a case of how a trebuchet entered a contemporary art museum, how it was fabricated and contextualized in an exhibition she curated in time of the pandemic, Cai maps the variety of human agencies and non-human actors in the network of a museum, and unpacks the disparate tools of ‘curating’ and the expanded field of ‘the curatorial’.

In Candice Lin: Pigs and Poison, the artist offers a speculative archaeology of the ‘Black Death’. Rather than being an inert object, the ‘trebuchet’ (used by the Mongol army to siege the town of Caffa in 1347) materializes how the Asiatic ‘other’ might have become associated with disease and condemnation in the fourteen century European context, connects the administrative activities of exhibition-making with the formative events of the curatorial to tell a history of the present. By inserting things into already existing conditions and setting up a friction between them, a shadowed context is activated and may subsequently change what we think it is all about. In this sense, the curatorial allows us to blur boundaries and categorizations thus challenging their constraining powers, and forms a constellation of meanings. So when a trebuchet met a museum, it sent off a recurring process of unlearning which inquires what might have or could have been.

In this public lecture, Nikita will also share some insights into different career paths in the broad field of museum, exhibition making, and contemporary art.

(organized by prof. Zairong Xiang, with support of AH, HRC, and DKUNST Art on Campus)

Artist Ho Rui An and Curator Zian Chen in Residence at DKU

The Artist-in-Residency program is organized by DKUNST Art on Campus curated by prof. Zairong Xiang, co-sponsored by the Division of Arts and Humanities and the Humanities Research Center.

On Tuesday April 11th, internationally renowned artist Ho Rui An will give a public lecture on his artistic practice; together with his collaborator Zian Chen they will also introduce their current research project titled “Drawing the Lines: Politics and Technology in China’s Industrial History.” Students will have opportunity to join their team as research assistants. Curious about how artists do research and what is a “research-based artistic practice”? Interested in the history of textile industry in our own Yangtze River Delta region? Join us on Monday!

Time: 3:45 to 5:50 Tuesday, April 11th 2023
Location: AB 3107


Ho Rui An is an artist and writer working in the intersections of contemporary art, cinema, performance and theory. Across the mediums of lecture, essay and film, his research examines systems of governance in a global age. He has presented projects at the Bangkok Art Biennale; Asian Art Biennial; Gwangju Biennale; Jakarta Biennale; Sharjah Biennial; Kochi-Muziris Biennale; Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; Kunsthalle Wien; Singapore Art Museum; Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; and Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media, Japan. In 2019, he was awarded the International Film Critics’ (FIPRESCI) Prize at the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, Germany. In 2018, he was a fellow of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program.

Zian Chen collaborates with artists and writers to develop alternative frameworks for thinking and speculation. He is one of the founding members of Pailang Museum of Settler Selves (2022–), an editor-in-residence for Compost in ICA NYU Shanghai (2021–2022), as well as one of the editors for Made in Public (2022) and Arrow Factory: The Last Five Years (2020). He has also curated Production Fever 2008: Study Materials in Nida Art Colony, Nida (2022). In 2020–21, he was one of the founding editors for Heichi Magazine, an online journal for contemporary art published weekly in Chinese and English.


PART I: Ho Rui An’s Artist Talk (3:45 – 4:45 pm)

Title: Ways of (Not) Seeing “the Economy”

In recent years, the projects of Ho Rui An have sought to understand what it means to observe the thing we call “the economy”. Through works that have examined such seemingly abstract and expansive phenomena as financial capitalism and the so-called socialist market economy in Reform-era China, his artistic practice seeks to produce knowledge and make arguments that returns them to the body. This presentation explores the ways that economic abstractions come to be embodied and proposes embodied modes of observation that question what it is exactly we talk about when we talk about “the economy”.

PART II: Presentation of the Research-based Art Project at DKU (5:00 – 5:50 pm)
Title: Drawing the Lines: Politics and Technology in China’s Industrial History

Since 2018, Ho Rui An and Zian Chen have collaborated across various projects researching the material networks and geopolitical imaginaries that have animated the regions of East and Southeast Asia. Expanding the narrative developed in Ho’s recent film, Lining (2021), which examines the rise and decline of the textile industry in Hong Kong, their residency at Duke Kunshan focuses on the development of the industry within the Yangtze River Delta before its displacement to Hong Kong in the late 1940s as well as the subsequent “return” of industrial capitalism to the mainland following the launch of China’s economic reforms.

In this presentation, they will share their preliminary observations gathered from their ongoing archival and field research. In considering the shifting historical relations between labor, technology, and capital in China, they identified a recurrent theme especially present in the textile industry: the politicization and depoliticization of technology. From the import of Western machinery as a means of national salvation in the early twentieth century to Maoist-era experiments in collapsing the distinction between manual and technical labor to the restructuring of state-owned enterprises under the pressures of technological displacement during the Reform era, the lines of politics and technology continually meet and part along a historical trajectory that has culminated in China’s deeply unsettled postsocialist condition.

The speakers will also share details for an open call for participants to join their research between August and September this year.

Lining (2021), Ho Rui An, 4K video (Courtesy of the Artist)

Remembering “Beauty Salon 2” from Artist in Residence 2022

Over the three days of “Beauty Salon 2,” the artists in residence, who referred to themselves as “老妖精 (_ao_ao_ing)” created a temporary living room on DKU campus where DKU community members could participate in the happenings, in the name of art. Here’s a recap of the event filmed by Zhixian Zhang (Class of 2023) and Junyi Yu (Class of 2025), and filmed and edited by Yuzhe Zhong (Class of 2025).

Artist-in-Residence at DKU is supported by Humanities Research Center, Division of Arts and Humanities, and DKUNST Art on Campus, convened and organized by DKU’s Associate Director of Arts, Professor Zairong Xiang.


Video Footage of 2021 Artist in Residence at DKU

Video by Xiaoyi Kuang, Class of 2025. 

In case you missed 2021’s Artist in Residence, here’s a short video of the bustling event at DKU.

Learn more about DKU’s first Artist in Residence at DKU. 

Artist-in-Residence at DKU is supported by Humanities Research Center, Division of Arts and Humanities, and DKUNST Art on Campus, convened and organized by DKU’s Associate Director of Arts, Professor Zairong Xiang.



Student Report: _ao_ao_ing (老妖精) Working Wonders on DKU Campus

Reported by Yongkun (Vicky) Wu, Class of 2026

Established in 2018, _ao_ao_ing (老妖精) is a Shanghai-based performance ensemble that is continuously morphing and finding its shape. With six core members from different disciplines and backgrounds, the ensemble uses contemporary experimental theatre as their main medium, but their creation also includes participatory performances, city walks, workshops, online interactive programs, and happenings, which revolve around strong action. _ao_ao_ing makes performances that juggles the line between theatre and everyday life and create real happenings that cannot be replicated. Continue reading “Student Report: _ao_ao_ing (老妖精) Working Wonders on DKU Campus”

A Quiet Farewell to DKU and Beauty Salon from the Artists in Residence

What’s up people? We have quietly bid farewell to DKU and Beauty Salon has finished its second installment at DKU, full of surprise and laughter. In the three days of its operation, we gathered at the living room in the name of art. Together we shared our stories, for example, choices of our favorite toilet on campus; we explored the definitions of art; we celebrated the birthday for a girl we just met; we knitted sweaters, played electric guitar, then we left the AB lobby and went to the square in front … Through this process we have understood that such a space for creativity and conviviality is not to be found elsewhere on campus; we have also seen the infinite potential this glass room now called “Beauty Salon” has brought and can bring, moving forward. We are asking: how can you continue to inhabit this artistic project and creative space after the so-called artists have left? Will “Beauty Salon” become an autonomous space continuously created and cared for by everyone, which will become an integral part of the DKU campus? Continue reading “A Quiet Farewell to DKU and Beauty Salon from the Artists in Residence”

Artist in Residence at DKU

_ao_ao_ing(老妖精)is a performance ensemble that is continuously morphing and finding its shape. Founded in 2018 and based in Shanghai, it has six core members from different disciplines and backgrounds. It is a non-hierarchical group that believes in art through collaboration. _ao_ao_ing makes performances that flirt with the line between theatre and everyday life; and create real-life happenings that cannot be replicated. They have been making works in and out of theatre –  on public bus, in open streets, rural villages, sex shops, cafes, art museums, online and so on.

“妖精符aoaoing incantation” – Woodblock prints by the artists

Continue reading “Artist in Residence at DKU”