Skip to main content


Sinopticon is a multi-sited exhibition located across Plymouth that investigates Chinese influence in contemporary art.

"Taking chinoiserie as a starting point this exhibition explores our relationship with China both historically and through contemporary eyes.

‘Chinoiserie’, a French term meaning ‘Chinese-esque’, derived from the Seventeenth Century as an entirely European style that was influenced wholly from China and the East. The China that was being emulated was in fact fictitious and very few real images of life in China had reached the west. Instead a Utopian land was described and repeated through the use of decorative motifs and styles. The influence and desire for China, it’s trade and culture, ramified in to the 19th century, opium wars, trade and colonialism.

The creation of chinoiserie in the West could be seen as a way of reigning in and controlling foreign influences. ‘Sinopticon’ is a construct of ‘Sino’ meaning China and ‘optic’s, meaning ways of seeing. For some of the artists involved in Sinopticon the lure of chinoiserie and the push-pull of its connotations, are manifest in their work. Emile de Brujin, the National Trust expert on chinoiserie describes the earliest interest in China in the c.16th as themed by ‘an attraction and revulsion of the East’; so too, in the c.21st, chinoiserie’s aesthetic allure, seduces us and its historical stereotypes and reverberations of trade and exploitation, repels us.

Through form and decorative narrative in chinoiserie we can discuss value and taste, fantasy, replication and stereotyping of images. So too, the darker elements of chinoiserie’s historical routes; identity politics, racism, trade and production values, authorship and the contested territory of exoticism. This exhibition looks to unpick these themes in a contemporary context to shed light on how pervasive Chinese culture, industry and aesthetics are in our everyday lives".

Eliza Gluckman, curator

Sinopticon is part of the National Trust’s ‘Trust New Art’ programme, in partnership with Plymouth Arts Centre, Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery and Plymouth College of Art Gallery.

Plymouth College of Art showcased the work of Erika Tan and Tsang KinWah.

Erika Tan's film 'Sensing Obscurity' explores the way that histories and stories are told. Set in Saltram House, an English Manor House, the film takes place ‘some point in the not so distant future'. China's, dominance as a global power, allows for history to be re-visited differently. Using a mixture of documentary and narrative film tropes and the cut and paste aesthetics of hip hop and chinoiserie, the history of Saltram House as we know it, under-goes a slippery transition.

Students and staff from Plymouth College of Art worked together with Erika to create this new commission which the team filmed on location at Saltram House. See some images of the team in action here:

The Sinoptican exhibition also featured the work of:
Suki Chan (UK) – Gayle Chong Kwan (UK) – Stephanie Douet (UK) – Christian Jankowski (Germany) – Isaac Julien (UK) – Tsang KinWah (HK/China) – WESSIELING (UK) – Grayson Perry (UK) – Ed Pien (Canada) – Meekyoung Shin (Korea) – Karen Tam (Canada) – Erika Tan (UK) – Laura White (UK)

Works were displayed at the following four venues:
Saltram House, National Trust
Plymouth Arts Centre
Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery
Plymouth College of Art Gallery

To find out more about the exhibition and the many events that will be run across the city please check:

The College hosted a number of events during the Sinopticon exhibition including:

Sinoptican Exhibition Launch
Friday 27th April / 5.30 – 8.00
Come and join us for a glass of wine and to celebrate the launch of the Sinoptican exhibition.

Ang Lee Double Bill (Sense and Sensibility & Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)
Wednesday 2nd May / 5.30 – 9.00 (including a short break).
Plymouth college of Art pays homage to Ang Lee by screening two of his most well known films in a double bill. Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility and Erika Tan’s ‘Sensing Obscurity’ (showcased at Plymouth College of Art) are both set in Saltram House, an English Manor House in Plymouth. Tan makes reference to Lee’s adaptation, by recreating a scene from the film mixed with elements of the original. Come and experience Ang Lee’s versioning of a classic and Tan’s re-mix.

Paul Scott Master Class
This workshop is hosted by Arts Matrix, workshop fees are £25 for non members, £20 for members
Wednesday 9th May / 1-5pm
Paul Scott’s master class will explore simple tissue print techniques and tissue transfer technology used within Chinese ceramic print processes. The workshop will use the principles of tissue transfer, concentrating on low-tech techniques utilising tissue, paper, stamped mono-prints and a selection of pre-printed Chinese transfers.

Paul Scott Artist Talk
Willows, Patterns and Promiscuity
Wednesday 9th May / 6-7pm
Ceramic artist Paul Scott examines the confectionary story of the Willow Pattern, its evolution into other tableware landscape designs, their worldwide dissemination, association with a sense of place and cultural identity. Paul’s talk will feature historical and contemporary ceramics, including his own appropriation of the genre.

Paul Scott is an artist best known for his research into ceramics and print. He creates individual pieces that are exacting and critical, blurring the boundaries between fine art and design. His practice is diverse, so as well as making individual artworks, installations and artefacts for exhibition, he also works to commission, writes, teaches and curates.

Eliza Gluckman Curator Talk
Wednesday 16th May 6-7pm.
Eliza, curator of Sinopticon, will discuss the exhibition and selected artists work in more detail.

Eliza Gluckman is a freelance contemporary art curator, consultant and project manager. Graduating from a five year Fine Art MA from Edinburgh University (1999) she joined SPACE and became a Project Officer and later head of Marketing and Events helping to launch new studios and digital facilities as well as coordinate artist-led projects in Hackney Wick. She left SPACE to take the MA in Curating Contemporary Art at the Royal College of Art (2001-2003) where she developed a specialised knowledge of South East Asian contemporary art, later receiving a research grant from the Arts Council to travel to China

Ai Weiwei, Fairytale
Tuesday 22nd May, 5.30 – 8.00
A rare screening of the documentary ‘Fairytale’ made by one of the most influential artists of our time.

“Fairytale documents Ai Weiwei’s project for the five-yearly art event Documenta held in Kassel, Germany. In 2007, at the last iteration of Documenta, Ai Weiwei invited 1001 Chinese citizens of different ages and from various backgrounds to Germany to experience their own fairytale for 28 days.

The 152-minute film documents the whole process beginning with the preparations for the project, through the challenges that the participants had to face, up to the actual journey to Germany, as well as the artist's ideas behind the work”.

The film is 2.5 hours in duration, so feel please free to bring a cushion and a blanket!

Laura White, artist talk
Thursday 31st May / 6-7pm.
Sinoptican artist Laura White talks about her practice. Laura says of her work:

“Exploring the language of sculpture I use a range of materials from everyday objects to constructed matter. I am interested in a relationship and negotiation with the ‘stuff’ of the world, from the readymade to the handmade, image to objects, the representational to the abstract, playing with ideas of value, profile, association and meaning of individual and collections of objects. These objects/arrangements occupy a fluid space, on one hand demanding critical discourse, and on the other its own ambiguous and intuitive logic”.

Laura White is an artist based in London, UK. Laura has exhibited widely in the UK and internationally; has participated in international residencies in Japan, Germany and France; curated several exhibitions including STUFF presented by V22, London in 2008 and has published Laura White: The Stuff of Images.Laura has a studio at Cubitt Gallery and Studios in central London, is the chair of the gallery committee, and a Lecturer at Goldsmiths College, University of London.

Neil Rose, Art Bite, including a screening of Erika Tan’s film Sensing Obscurity
Weds 30th May, 12-1
Neil Rose, Sonic Art Lecturer at Plymouth College of Art, will give a short introduction to Erika Tan’s film Sensing Obscurity, on which he worked as sound composer. Neil will focus on discussing the idea of chioiserie linked to sound.

Andrew Brewerton, Art Bite, including a screening of Erika Tan’s film Sensing Obscurity
Weds 13th June 12-1
Andrew Brewerton, principal of Plymouth College of Art will give a short introduction to Erika Tan’s film installed in the College Gallery. Andrew will focus on discussing the idea of Chinoiserie, referring to his personal connections with China, before inviting visitors to view the film.

Guilty pleasures: Chinese cinema
Weds 20th June, 5.30-7.30pm
Guilty pleasures: Chinese cinema is a surprise screening of a classic Chinese film with a special introduction by Neil Rose, Sonic artist, lecturer and secret Asian cinema aficionado. Rose will first introduce and discuss three shortlisted films, before introducing his chosen film, which will then be screened. The three shortlisted films (Enter the Dragon, Once Upon a Time in China and Hard Boiled) have been selected along the theme of Chinoiserie and are key examples of Western breakthrough or faux Chinese cinematic works.

Family weekend - Sinoptican Celebration
Sat 23rd June / 12-4pm.
Family Friendly printmaking workshop
Come and join in this family friendly printmaking workshop run by Catherine Cartwright, printmaker, artist and co-director of Double Elephant Print workshop, based in Exeter. The workshop will respond to the themes of the Sinoptican exhibition, using the Chinese wallpapers housed at Saltram House as inspiration.

In this workshop you will create roller stamps to produce your own wallpaper, making large prints onto lining paper to create your own sample of printed wallpaper.

Chinoiserie Sonic Art Performance
Thursday 5th July / 5.30 – 8.30 (live performance 7-8pm)
Sonic art composer Neil Rose, who produced the sound for Erika Tan’s film Sensing Obscurity, will create a live sound and film performance in response to the theme of Chinoiserie in cinema, media and popular Western/Eastern culture. This one of performance is a collaboration between Neil Rose and special guests Mark Vernon and Shaun Lewin.

Neil Rose is a sound artist who specialises in electroacousic composition, sound design and film. He is a prolific collaborator working with contemporary and live artists. Neil Rose’s solo works are published by OneC, Café Concrete (as Neil Rose and ELM-K), and 9Productions (as an occasional member of The Old Ones)

Mark Vernon is a sound artist and radio producer based in Glasgow, he is involved in numerous solo and collaborative projects under a variety of names including 'Vernon & Burns' and 'Hassle Hound' who have records out on Gagarin, Staalplaat, Pickled Egg, Textile and Staubgold.

Shaun Lewin is a producer and performer and one half of The Oddstep Deployment Unit, who has works published by Cafe Concrete.

  • Exhibition / Gallery