Disappearance of Average
Jun 10 - Aug 05, 2023

Press Release

Disappearance of Average

Opening Time : 2023.6.10 (Sat.)  15:00
Curator: LEE Janguk
Artists: CHEN Wenji, HONG Hao, LIU Jianhua, 
TAN Ping, YAN Lei, ZHU Jinshi
Whitebox Art Center

The biggest change in 2023, that is, how our society will change in the future, personally, this year will be the first of the "age of average disappearance" due to the influence of the pandemic during the last three years.

As the population ages, goods become polarized, tastes and values of life become N-polarized, the average life we often speak of disappears. It is fair to say that the response is already in progress. Health and welfare policies in advanced Western countries are changing from cradle to grave to embryo to memorial.

And labor policies are being transformed into policies that can readily accept foreign workers to address labor shortages caused by lower birth rates and an aging population. Each country’s policy emphasizes on the establishment of a "living population" in the "population based on legal qualifications". With these policies actively counteracting the disappearance of the average, the existing system which was optimized for the "average age" moves on to the "disappearance of the average”.

What changes will take place in art if, as stated above, the taste and value of life become N-polarized?Existing stability strategies are becoming difficult to find and consumers are becoming increasingly sub-divided. It is time to ask yourself whom you will choose as the target and how to spark aspiration against them.

Throughout this exhibition, the Curator would like to show an example of how art should change and reactin a way that corresponds to our tastes and values from the perspective of some of us who have been N-polarized.

The exhibition " Disappearance of Average " is on view from Jun 10 - Aug 5, 2023. Through this exhibition, we explore the coping methods of N-polarized people under the background of the "age of average disappearance".

Curator Article

[Disappearance of Average]
: The Change of Art in the ‘Age of average disappearance’

LEE Janguk(李章旭)

Vanishing Mean
Faced with a rapidly changing situation from the Pandemic to the Endemic, the world whispers hope as though a promise was made universally. However, in the midst of chaotic international affairs and poor international economic indicators that rarely trigger a rebound, this year's direction is far from clear. Given a number of leading indicators, including stock prices, business survey index, short and long-term interest rate differences, and purchasing management index, the global economy appears to be entering a complete downturn or recession. Indeed, most economists have predicted that economic growth in countries around the world will decline this year, that growth will be weak, and that prices will be high. In other words, it will be difficult for the economy to improve during 2023.

However, in the meantime, there is a market that is "rising on its own". It is a specialized product for a small number of people or a service that meets detailed needs on a case-by-case basis. It clearly differs from consumption during the recession so far, which we thought was a "pattern". There has been a certain pattern of consumption during the recession. Consumption expenditure has fallen and demand for cheap products has increased. In 2008, during the financial crisis, rational consumption was an important keyword. These days, the world looks exactly alike like a decalcomania. The no-expenditure challenge, the craze for half-price series and home meals instead of eating out are also consumer habits that focus on convenience and rationality.

The pattern of consumption reflects the typical pattern of consumption throughout the recession. If so, should economic agents (producers) concentrate on ‘low-cost products’ that unconditionally reduce prices for consumers’ wallets that close? I don't think so. No, I guess the answer was yes back then but 'it's different now' would be more accurate. Around the time of the pandemic and the endemic when the recession hit the global community, clear choice and concentration were prominent in consumption. People extremely weighed the cost-effectiveness of products that needed to be purchased for survival, but it seemed they mobilized all savings for the things they longed to buy. Meanwhile, out of this phenomenon, the middle, or 'average', was disappearing.

Increased level of clear choices and concentration
The word average has a dictionary meaning ‘the quality or amount of various things that are made uniformly even’, and also means ‘the number with an intermediate value’. It has been called in other words such as plain(平凡) standard(基準), ordinary(通常), normal(普通), and mass(大衆). That ‘average’ is now disappearing. Specifically, the average value representing the group is in the process of vanishing. The average value, which was taken for granted by the marketplace, society, and individuals, has disappeared in the past, but the speed has grown more rapidly in recent years. Behind this trend lies the intensification of capitalism, the pandemic caused by COVID-19, and the economic crisis that followed after.

Capitalism has intrinsically the property to provoke an imbalance between the rich and the poor. Although the world economy has been developed on the basis of a huge efficiency based on its attributes, efficiency has not been spread evenly across all. The polarization of capitalism has spread the imbalance which is more rapidly tilted to one side as it responds to the unprecedented pandemic and global economic crisis. Traditionally, in times of recession, people have looked for super savings(超節約) products. But now we have a different situation. It's not just very cheap products that sell well. The luxury market at very high prices also tends to grow as a whole.

What is shrinking is the ‘medium’ mass market. Therefore, the term ‘the age of average disappearance’ is coming up. One of the biggest changes in our society these days is that ‘typicity’ is disappearing. Until now, we have understood the society to which we belong on the basis of what is called the 'normal distribution(正規分布)'[1) The normal distribution is a statistically representative continuous probability distribution and is very commonly used. It is also referred to as a Gaussian distribution. The frequency distribution curve shows a symmetrical bell shape on the left and right around the average value. The normal distribution curve has a bell shape that gets infinitely closer to the X axis as it moves away from the average to the left and right.
]1), which exists in larger numbers in the middle. For a long time, the average has been the safest and surest direction, and if we match this average well in economic activity, the probability of securing a large number of customers was high. 

Futurist Daniel Pink, author of <Drive (2009)> and <A Whole New Mind (2005)>, says we have followed average grades, average grades and average talent and severely underestimated the human potential. Based on research results and actual cases in various fields such as psychology, science, and economics, his works predict social change and present a lucid(明澄) future. He says ‘crisis destroys the existing order and creates a new order. In a new era, a new human being, a new enterprise, arises.’ 

The average is losing ground in our society, and this is due to three factors. The first is ‘polarization(兩極化)’ where the middle disappears. Aside from the economic polarization caused by the pandemic, the rapidly changing international situation, and the economic recession, the phenomenon of polarization of learning and information levels is also intensifying. The second is the 'N polarization(N極化)' which propagates in various ways. As we enter a hyper-personalization society, the needs of consumers also lose their common denominator and are subdivided into ‘nano’ units. The third is ‘unipolarization(單極化)’ which is centered upon one. It refers to a situation where a few large companies that can cope with rapid change wisely monopolize the market and attract everyone to one place.
Age of average disappearance, how should we live?
There is no guarantee that the average will be safe anymore. Signs of rupture in the average is already appearing everywhere, centered on the MZ Generation[2) ‘Millennial Generation’ and ‘Z Generation’ themselves are concepts for generation classification from the West based on changes in social structure and technological development. However, the term "MZ generation", which combines them, refers to generations born between 1980 and 2010 to capture the trends of the next generation without too much academic discussion. They have a strong knowledge of the digital environment and are characterized by the pursuit of the latest trends and unique experiences that are different everyone else.]2), where to them, ‘trendy means the absence trend.’ What the average disappearing tendency suggests to us is serious. The standard of ordinary goods, ordinary lives, ordinary opinions, and normal standards that can be expressed in the form of averages are changing. If it's normal, it doesn’t survive, it falls behind. So, the specialty is required. It can be said that it is only when one is armed with extraordinary intensity above the average, that one can survive a period of unpredictable uncertainty.

Now there isn't any moderately good medium. There's an old saying, "Just go in the middle," but the word that underlines moderation is not a virtue anymore. The various changes brought about by the pandemic have put our lives in a completely different phase from the previous one. Digital transformation has accelerated and the way consumers choose has changed. Value consumption, which prioritizes eco-friendliness, is activated, while new technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality and metaverse have dug deep into everyday life. People are willing to go with the virtual world as a natural future. Technology has already infiltrated more widely throughout the life cycle, from the birth, life, and death of humans. It is larger and faster than ever, and unforeseeable changes are taking place.

It's the same recession, but the biggest difference from 2008 is that technology has gone through a remarkable development and there has been a tremendous generational change in economic activity and consumption. Technologies that were unthinkable 15 years ago have become essential to survive beyond the convenience of human life. The survival game, which is ferociously played around the MZ generation, clearly affects society in general. As can be seen in the cases of virtual currency, NFT art, and art investments, which have been a hot topic for the past two to three years, they are more sensitive than anyone else to acquiring information for survival, and are more involved than anyone else in the use of the information for their own benefit.

Age of average disappearance, how will art change?
The economic series discussed above is intimately connected with our lives. In other words, the existence of art apart from everyday life is impossible. Art has been with us, and is not something special and unusual. An era where the average pattern response has vanished from these standards. Thus, what is the demand in the art market? And which artworks will be recognized?

Pierre Bourdieu mentioned in his paper, 「The Historical Genesis of a Pure Aesthetic」 that in order for a work of art to have value and meaning, a person with considerable knowledge and cultural superiority within the so-called Art World should pay attention, introduce the work in a specific place, and be recognized within the art system.[3) Pierre Bourdieu, "The Historical Genesis of a Pure Aesthetic", The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol.46.(1987), pp. 202~203.]3) In addition to this perspective, he declared in 「Distinction」(1984) that art is not the expression of man's unique creative spirit. but a place(Champ, Pierre Bourdieu) of distinction in which different tastes clash and debate. Taste produces the unique Habitus[4) Pierre Bourdieu's concept, Habitus, refers to a system of tendencies, thinking, cognition, judgment, and behavior acquired by a particular social environment. However, this is not just a mechanism to mechanically reproduce thoughts and actions caused by the social environment, but a concept with relative autonomy depending on the situation.]4) of the individual who produces and consumes art, and internalized in social relationships has a great influence on the ‘distinction’ of classes. Like everyone's taste, it connects and disconnects people. According to Bourdieu's argument, those who are ahead of their time prefer things that can only be appreciated only by investing a certain amount of time and learning in the choice of art and music. One of their important features is the feeling of choosing what is unpopular and what stands out from others. They tend to focus on the few artists or works that have become renowned on the international art market and that can satisfy their individual tastes. In modern society, the artistic system not only representatively contributes to the reproduction of the class culture of the artistic elite, but it also ultimately maintains perpetual influence (dominant power). The exhibition system is also repeatedly injected as their values and order are passed down to obtain social consent and biennales and art galleries can be regarded as part of these systems.

In the past, if economic actors aimed at tone and manner for a large number of consumers, the average round consumer, what paradigm would they need to address the problem now? And how should that be applied to art? This should be addressed with a custom paradigm for 'pointed' targets. “There's only one way to stay alive in this age. We ought to be sharper." As the average disappears, extreme forms of consumption and values became more prominent. In other words, no matter how expensive one may pay as much for the work they really want, and in the opposite case they will turn an extreme blind eye to those that aren’t. The future has arrived where excellence, differentiation, and irreplaceable diversity come into play. Through this exhibition, I would like to show a sharp example (section) of artists of individual tastes from the planner of this exhibition. We hope that the viewing audience will also have an opportunity to reflect on one another's preferred tastes and values.

As the saying [The future is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed. (William Gibson)]. 


    CHEN WenjiHONG HaoLIU JianhuaTAN PingYAN LeiZHU Jinshi

Installation View


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