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Image: Grandville, J. and Forest, E. (1839-1842). Commerce Anglais. Lithograph, asset no. 106779001. © The Trustees of the British Museum. Translation: “You must buy this poison immediately. We want you to really poison yourselves, so that we will have enough tea to comfortably digest our beefsteaks!”

Artist Jack Tan has been commissioned by the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA) and the University of Salford Art Collection to create Tale As Old As Time, a series of Bone China afternoon tea sets inspired by a 19th century tradition of British ceramics that commemorated major public disasters on functional pottery. As a contemporary iteration, this work highlights particular moments of disaster in Chinese civil rights history that tend to be overlooked in the broader Black and Asian histories as well as the official canons of Chinese history in the United Kingdom.

The tea set designs are inspired by a selection of tragic events from Chinese civil rights history in the UK over the last 200 years, notably: the Opium (or Tea) Wars (1839-60); the deported and disappeared Chinese seamen from Liverpool (late 1940s); the violent murders of takeaway workers Simon Tang (2013) and Migao Chen (2005); the mass Chinese deaths at Morecambe Bay (2004), Dover (2000) and Essex (2019); and the racialised response to the Foot & Mouth (2001) and Covid-19 (2020) epidemics.

Drawn together in this work, Tale As Old As Time makes visible a number of consistent themes and stresses experienced by the Chinese community over the years: isolation, vulnerability, rural racism, subjection to racist legislation, racial violence and murder, disposability of Chinese bodies and labour, and the association of Chineseness with disease. While these disasters do not exist in isolation from the struggles of the wider British Black and Asian communities, they draw attention to how overt and institutional racism manifests particularly for the Chinese in the UK.

The work will be activated later this year at Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art in a ‘Chinese Civil Rights Tea Party’. Acting as conversation starters, the tea sets will invite participants into a performativity of tea-drinking and discussion which investigates contradictions in British politics, law and society today.

Artist Jack Tan says:

“Very often Chinese, East and Southeast Asian communities are viewed as trouble-free and inoffensive in Britain. We are good minorities because we work hard and ‘keep ourselves to ourselves’ I’ve heard it said. But our experience of racism is no less fraught or tragic or long; it is one where this inoffensiveness or politeness becomes both how we are perceived and also the manner through which we experience discrimination.”

An element of the work will be shared on the CFCCA and the University of Salford websites on the 31st of July 2020. The final artwork will be displayed in the New Adelphi Exhibition Gallery, University of Salford at a date to be confirmed.

Zoe Dunbar, CFCCA Director, says:

“We are extremely excited to be working with Jack Tan for this co-commission with the University of Salford Art Collection. Tale As Old As Time is a pertinent and timely work that explores the struggles and civil rights of the Chinese community in the UK through the colonial history of tea culture. The activation of this work through the format of a civil rights tea party will create a space for much needed conversation, challenge and debate on wider issues of discrimination and equality.”

Lindsay Taylor, University of Salford Art Collection Curator, adds:

“When building the Collection our aim is to tell a story of now to future generations. Covid-19 has been, and indeed remains a challenging time for all, and we want to reflect a number of stories of this time within our Collection. Jack’s work will encourage audiences to consider some of the important and uncomfortable histories within the UK. The work will be a valuable addition to our Collection.”

Jack’s work will be acquired into the University of Salford Art Collection.

Spring Assembly: The Living Planet

I will be speaking at FACT Liverpool and Edge Hill University’s symposium ‘Spring Assembly: The Living Planet’ about Four Legs Good, non-human personhood and legal rights.

“As society starts to grasp the magnitude of climate change, the FACT Spring Assembly invites you to join this year-long cultural inquiry. We will explore some of the questions that underpin the exhibition And Say the Animal Responded? and look at the role and function of art and film for representing, challenging and intervening in the environmental challenges we face.

Speakers include: Professor Claire Parkinson, Co-Director of the Centre for Human Animal Studies at Edge Hill University, Dr Nicola Triscott, CEO of FACT and curator of And Say the Animal Responded?, Professor Susanne Shultz, Evolutionary Ecology and Conservation Research Group at the University of Manchester, artist Kuai Shen Auson, and artist Jack Tan.”

Date And Time: Thu, 19 March 2020, 14:00 – 18:00


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Animal Justice Court information stand at the V&A

I am doing a shift for the lovely (human and non human) people at the ANIMAL JUSTICE COURT’s Education Unit next week, looking after their information stand at the Victoria and Albert Museum Friday Late (26 July, 6.30-9.30pm).

Going to be handing out some useful leaflets about what to do if you are called to the Animal Justice Court as a witness, or what kind of support we can give you if you are attending court as a vulnerable or nocturnal animal, an animal with a learning disability, and more. Also come and learn about the AJC’s cutting edge animal-human legal research projects such as animal-based dispute resolution, and even watch a video of a recent sheep-worrying trial.

#FridayLate #legalaesthetics #posthumanism #fourlegsgood #liveart #CompassFestival #diverseactions #artandlaw #legalaccess #legalliteracy

The Vulnerable Society reading group

From_Guantanamo_v-mbradfield2(Jack Tan, From Guantanamo, 2013, still from performance. Photo: Marsha Bradfield)

On Thurs 13 Dec, as part of Jade Montserrat’s exhibition ‘Instituting Care’ at Bluecoat Liverpool, I will be facilitating a discussion about ‘vulnerability’ as an organising concept for artistic practice, law/policy and institutions. We will be reading Martha Fineman’s seminal article ‘The Vulnerable Subject’ (Yale Journal of Law & Feminism, Issue 1, 2008):

‘I argue that vulnerability is–and should be understood to be–universal and constant, inherent in the human condition … the “vulnerable subject” must replace the autonomous and independent subject asserted in the liberal tradition. …Currently, dominant political and legal theories … presume the liberal subject is a competent social actor capable of playing multiple and concurrent societal roles: the employee, the employer, the spouse, the parent, the consumer, the manufacturer, the citizen, the taxpayers, and so on.’

‘The vulnerability subject does what the one-dimensional liberal subject approach cannot: it embodies the fact that human reality encompasses a wide range of differing and interdependent abilities over the span of a lifetime… that individuals are anchored at each end of their lives by dependency and the absence of capacity… Contemplating our shared vulnerability it becomes apparent that human beings need each other, and that we must structure our institutions in response to this fundamental human reality.’

QUESTION: Alongside the Entrepreneur, the Sporting Hero, the Rebel, is the Artist not one of the most successful metaphors for the competent, capable, self-made and self-sufficient liberal subject?

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Compass Festival commissions FOUR LEGS GOOD



Jack Tan

Leeds Town Hall
Corridor installation 17 – 24 November
Day of live hearings 24 November

1pm – Snoopy the Jack Russell charged with two counts: sheep worrying and aggravated sheep worrying contrary to the Protection Of Livestock (Worrying) Act 2013.

3pm – Crayfish murder appeal, a challenge to R v Dudley and Stephens (1884) 14 QBD 273.

5pm – Marla the Staffie charged with 1 count of ‘being a dangerous dog’ under the Crimes By Animals Act 1928.

Commissioned by Compass Festival

Four Legs Good is a contemporary revival of the medieval animal trials which took place in Britain and throughout Europe, where animals who had been accused of committing crimes were brought to court, provided defence counsel and prosecuted in full hearings before a judge.

For Compass 2018, artist Jack Tan will reimagine Leeds Town Hall as the site of a fictional Department of Animal Justice and stage a series of live ‘moot’ animal trials where practising barristers will argue claims brought by or against animal clients, before a judge and jury at the old Victorian courtroom in Leeds Town Hall.

Exploring the legal framework which surrounds humans, animals and our shared environment, the work invites us to reconsider our understanding of the position of humans in relation to animals and the environment. Leeds Town Hall users will encounter what appears to be a working Animal Court evidenced by signage, court leaflets, legal heritage displays and a court website. This culminates in a day of live hearings of animals belonging to and nominated by local animal charities and organisations, where the animals will also be bringing cases of their own against humans.

Compass 2018 runs 16 – 25 November 2018 throughout Leeds.


Photos: Lizzie Coombes