Tamen (他们) is an artist collective composed of two young artists, Lai Shengyu (赖圣予) and Yang Xiaogang (杨晓钢), who were born in Hunan Province in 1978 and 1979, respectively. The group is alternatively referred to as “Ta Men” and “They”, which is the English translation of their name. As a collective, they reject notions of self and individuality in art by co-painting each work and collaborating in a manner that draws attention away from the individual. Lai and Yang received post-graduate degrees from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in the Department of Printmaking, and are currently based in Beijing working at Beihang University (BUAA) in the Department of New Media Art. Tamen was founded based on the artists' common understanding and ideal of contemporary art. Expressing doubt at the overwhelming image of the self as advertised by their generation, they slough off these false notions, replacing ‘self’ with ‘they’ and seeking individuality via the collective. The two artists co-paint, co-operate, and co-practice, a wholly collective process that refuses to delineate between the artists – a lack of focus on the individual that distinguishes Tamen from the last and present generations of artists in China.
Tamen’s work focuses on the psychological effects of China’s new affluence and its contemporary state of being. Through works of oil on canvas or digital photography, scenes of big-city China or serene nature are flush with symbols to visually emphasize the tension and collisions that Tamen sees as the constant revolution in China’s society. Adopting both montage and Pop Art forms, Tamen plays with the spatial relationships between landscapes, architecture, objects and figures to highlight the curious simultaneity of China’s past and present. Reality is juxtaposed with illusion and tranquility with anxiety. Adding a healthy dose of ridicule and incredulity to the mix, Tamen criticizes the human appetence hiding behind images and falsehood and the sheen of modern affluence. By holding a mirror to the objects and symbols to which contemporary society has attached itself to, Tamen uses its novel visual language of surrealism and critical realism to offer a philosophical analysis of man’s inner feelings in this new world – those of bitterness, solitude, and distance. They have gained acclaim in China and abroad for their Same Room series of paintings, and have since shifted towards exterior scenes in natural landscapes, displaying Western-style painting techniques with a traditional Chinese ink aesthetic and thought-provoking conceptualizations.
The collective has been featured in publications such as Young Chinese Artists: The Next Generation, and their work can be found in the collections of the Central Academy of Fine Arts Museum (Beijing), Guangdong Museum of Art (Guangzhou), White Rabbit Collection (Sydney), and Essl Museum (Vienna). Major solo exhibitions include Forget Themselves (2013, Hunan Museum of Art, Changsha), Past and Present (2011, Beyond Art Space, Beijing), and The Lost Heaven (2009, Hunan Museum of Art, Changsha), and notable group exhibitions include and Pure Views: New Painting from China (2011, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco). Tamen’s 2014 Outside Within solo exhibition at Art+ Shanghai Gallery marked the collective’s first solo exhibition in Shanghai.