The song Follow the feeling, originally sung by Taiwanese singer Julie Sue, became an instant hit in Mainland China after a cover at the 1989 Chinese state television’s Spring Festival Gala. In Sue’s music video, she is dressed in the latest fashion, jaunting between urban vistas and open highways, describing the increasingly carefree, vivacious individuals, compelled by nothing but the “feeling”. It was over upbeat earworm soundtracks like this, and an imagination of the outside world inspired by popular culture from Hong Kong and Taiwan, that the Mainland Chinese society at the time underwent a momentous gearshift from following the Party to following the feelings, heading towards dreams, love and modernisation.
The “modern individual” in China, conjured up by the ideas of freedom and love since the 1919 May Fourth have rediscovered their modernity with exuberant feelings and affection during the societal transformation near the century’s end. However, as the lyrics depict, that “feeling” was as if not an internal, natural, self-initiated energy, a push; but an external, synthetic one, a pull. Since the late 20th century, “feeling” has been multiplying and continuously shaping individual’s memories, dreams, and directions, be them the obsession with speed, the romantic dramas, the Hong Kong and Taiwanese pop, the highly addictive and affective short videos on social media. The exhibition Follow the Feeling thus attempts to examine the “feeling” in reform and post-reform-era China, around which the discourse of intimacy and love revolve. During the romantic pursuit of progress in the past three decades, the ever-intensifying rural–urban migration, the restructuring of family, the privatisation and commodification of emotion open a soft and rosy slit as an entrance to examine the tissues deep inside contemporary Chinese society.
The exhibition explores the production of “feeling” and its intimate relation with the individual, and contemplates the “emotional turn” in contemporary art-making, through a list of artworks and archives revolving around melodrama, pop music, as well as the texture and modern aesthetics that lie within, focusing on emotional patterns and their historical ripples.
* Follow the Feeling is a curatorial project conceived in 2022. It is currently under development and will be presented as a series of exhibition(s), artistic research, and writings.