Art Cologne 2022: Booth N26

16 - 20 November 2022 

Hua International is pleased to present a solo booth by Tong Kunniao. One of the most celebrated young artists working in China today, Kunniao has built a reputation for creating immersive worlds that bristle with dark humor. He uses found materials and freely samples aesthetic impulses from Chinese and Western art histories to articulate idiosyncratic, highly personal multimedia reflections upon our current state of social, ecological, and political crisis.


At Art Cologne he presents paintings from a new body of multi-media works that explore what he calls the “alternative natural person”—quasi-bionic hybrid figures that fuse together human, machine, and animal characteristics. Such figures are the protagonists of “wiltopia,” a fantastical universe—perhaps not so unlike our near future—in which human beings are increasingly divided, segregated, and controlled while their impact on nature begins to bite back. Although Kunniao does not explicitly identify as a “political” artist, his work nonetheless intensively grapples with systems of repressive social control, the quantification and mechanization of human experience, and the fragility of all life in the Anthropocene. 


The portrait series “The Controller Under Control” situates hyper-realistically painted disembodied female mannequin heads amidst a setting that resembles traditional Chinese landscape painting. Kunniao absorbs such formal resonances into his own eclectic artistic ecosystem but does not follow any sort of conventional techniques or criteria. In The Controller under Control 1, a synthetic female face blankly stares at the implements of her own bondage. Her head is encased within a copper-colored structure that resembles a kind of torture device, but quickly reveals itself to be a cheap vintage earring rack. Kunniao cheekily riffs upon the optics of domination in this work, festooning his captive automaton with objects like chains, racks, metal studs that call to mind instruments of restraint and punishment, but are actually painted depictions of actual cheap jewelry, bric-a-brac, and bondage gear that the artist found browsing Berlin flea markets and uses in his kinetic sculptures.  


In addition to paintings from “The Controller Under Control” series, Kunniao will also present a live performance at Art Cologne entitled Eggs Under the Four Tiles. In this work, two men roll in a tube comprised of tires embellished with belts, spikes, and studs. Gyrating haplessly back and forth, they attempt to roll over eggs that are placed in their perimeter. Bringing together symbols of fragility, new life, force, and pain, Eggs Under the Four Tiles playfully raises questions about our conceptions of strength, vulnerability, and power.


Tong Kunniao completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Sculpture Institute of the China Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA). Since then he has had exhibitions in museums like the Yuz Museum, Shanghai, the PowerLong Museum, Shanghai or Platform China Contemporary Art Institute, Peking. Tong lives and works in Beijing.