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[”Bird and Flower Painting for the Proletariat,” Paintings and Installation, TOP Studios, 2010]
[”Bird and Flower Painting for the Proletariat,” Paintings and Installation, TOP Studios, 2010]
Accompanying his exhibition in 2012, artist Shi Qing published a few statements regarding his thoughts on his “Bird and Flower Painting for the Proletariat.” The following has been translated from Shi Qing’s blog.
Everything here is surplus, produced in the process of making other things, from other “undertakings”, these are not derivative materials, the conceptual relationship with the original artwork is severed. A fork in the road, where the branches are larger, thicker than the trunk.
Once alienated from relations of production (Produktionsverhältnisse), the production scale of contemporary art is a capitalist conspiracy: the creation chain linking concept to production and finally to interpretation is a type of manufacturing system, and art works are but a final product; we shouldn’t criticize the production of materials that can be traded, but art’s relations of production in institutionalized academia. The strategy of using surplus materials is intended to avoid this trap.
One should oppose the institutionalization of artists, which is the beginning of self-institutionalization, concepts have already become the most important tool in this kind of self-institutionalization. It acts as the elite political media, while in fact, is no different from the mass media, these two are parallel. Contemporary art production finally devolves into this type of political relationship: you are consumed by your own creation, which has become a kind of new system that controls you.
The form copies modernist aesthetics, and is a hand-made imitation of machine processes, ideas that imitate geometry. Nothing is more suitable for imitating minimalism because a smooth abstract surface will always be plagued by the traces of labor, I call this “breaking with obsessive-compulsive disorder.”
How do we identify the proletariat in China? Temporarily ignoring previous claims on the term, here it refers specifically to empty-handed people within the political system. Everywhere there are people in the service of temporary organizations and temporary aesthetics, they are unsatisfied, but have no other method.
Bird and Flower paintings, perfunctorily speaking, are the “superfluous emotions” of the literati class. Whether they are relishing their moods, or expressing their aspirations, it is clear that these ruminations are mere side dishes to a principal ideology, but as for the proletariat? However, learning art is a cautious undertaking, like a small interest group, or university for the elderly.
（上述说法排序不分前后; The above statements are in no particular order of importance)
Hadrien de Montferrand Gallery, a French-owned gallery devoted to works on paper, is currently exhibiting sketches from more than 20 iconic works, dating from 1950-1980, all master works in the NAMOC collection. Through the display of preparatory studies and sketches by the artists themselves, the show deconstructs the production methods of art in this unique period of Chinese history, and offers a first-hand look at valuable art historical documents. Here, Hadrien talks about his experiences putting the show together, how he developed his unique approach to historical Chinese works, and reactions from the community of artists. “History in the Making: Sketches for Iconic Paintings” “创造历史：经典绘画手稿” is on display in 798 until late June. See gallery website for details.
[Left,Xiao Feng & Song Ren, sketch for “Dr. Bethune,” 1974; Right: Jin Zhilin, study for “Chairman Mao in the Mass Production Movement,” 1959]
My interest in this period was actually sparked over a dinner conversation with Chen Danqing, where he told me a lot of things about the Mao era, like that the wife of Mao didn’t want the painters to sign the paintings, etc., he gave me some “appetizers” that made me wonder what had happened during this period. So I met the first artist, who talked to me about the period, about how artists were perceived, and I really wanted to do a show about it, because I had never seen anything about it, except for the 60 years of drawings exhibition at CAFAM.
So I met with other artists, perhaps 20-30 artists from this period, and it was first a discussion, I also told them about a show that I might be doing. Eventually I found a logical theme that could bring them all together, the first theme was “portraits.” The first show last year featured portraits from 1955-75, and it was a huge success, in the sense that we really had some very high quality people who came, and the artists were really happy; for many it was also the first time they were shown in a commercial gallery. We really tried to do our best to make it happen in a good way, with a nice catalog, a good exhibition layout.
So after the first show I asked, “what next?”, and our team lined up a few other themes, one was, of course, “landscapes” and the other one was “nature morte,” but at on the top of our list was to feature preparatory sketches for paintings in the national collection. And, yes, we worked for maybe a year and a half, to put together forty drawings or sketches for paintings that are in the Chinese national collection.
Like any work in a gallery, I discovered, it’s really a question of human relationships, people earning your trust and earning the trust of other people. Not just the artists, you also have collectors, the press, and they have to believe what you show and believe in your instincts. I could tell thousands of stories from this year and a half of work …. For example Jin Zhilin has been here many times, we have had wonderful talks, he loves France, it was also these human experiences that really taught me a lot about China.
I think that the families and artists were quite interested to see a foreigner doing this exhibition, and they are really, really close to their drawings. I could sometimes feel that after we would sign the contracts, and when I was taking the drawings out of the house, you could see something in their eyes… as if maybe they had made the biggest mistake of their lives. Sometimes you feel quite bad, but on the other hand, you know that you’re going to do something good for the work.
The Dong Xiwen sketches are actually not allowed to leave China, You have ten artists whose production is not allowed to leave China, like Li Keran, Dong Xiwen, etc. And when I was preparing the show, my only fear was that a Chinese museum director, or someone from the Cultural Bureau would come to see it, and there would be some problems because these works are in a foreign gallery. Not in the sense that “he’s cheating” or breaking the law, my concern was that there may be trouble because this is a French gallery. This was my only fear.
[Sun Xizi, sketch for “In Front of Tiananmen,” 1964]
I think that the role of a gallery is to show what you like, perhaps you like it for its aesthetics, or the historical value. I don’t think that it is our role to analyze what we show. In the case of these two shows, I really thought I should get an historian to help me, or to put together a nice catalog, but I want to keep to my role, and I’m here to show what I like. In the portraits show for example, I’m sure that I missed a lot of great artists—important in terms of art history, or historical value—but I could never put together an exhaustive show with a similar train of thought. So, I decided to focus on showing what I liked, and thus put together a show by making the most of the information I have, or can get. We’ve sent 5 students to the CAFA library to see if these images have ever been published, or if the sketches have ever been exhibited before, we do this kind of research, but research based on fact, not based on analysis.
Of course in the show you have artists who are well known, and I know that its very complicated in terms of their ranking or importance––the head of CAFA is important, the head of China Art Academy also, but how do you position them so? Maybe someone else is the son of whoever… so, shall I do it in alphabetic order, starting with the name of the artist? Should I start my catalog with the name of the painting? In both the gallery and the catalog presentation, we had quite a lot of issues in terms of how to present information in the most logical, fact-based way. We decided to go chronologically in the catalog, with the famous image coming before the sketch—first the painting, then the drawing. I was faced with questions that galleries don’t normally encounter.
Through the process, I think I’ve learned more about history than art history, and the most incredible thing has been meeting really great people, and having them share their history with me. It was really amazing. Also, when we opened the show, most of the artists who are still alive came, and some of them haven’t seen each other in 20 years, even though they even shared rooms in St. Petersburg, etc. When they saw each other again, it was really touching. Really touching. I know for a fact that the artists were really happy with the way things were presented, we had a good mix of artists, in the sense that they all belong on the same level. This would have never have succeeded if there had been two or three artists who weren’t famous at all.
What I often say about sketches and preparatory studies is that the painting is like writing your autobiography, you are writing it knowing that people will read it. Doing sketches is like writing for yourself, it’s like a diary. So you are much closer to the artist that any painting or finer work, because you don’t have a filter, it is much freer.
Interview with Lee Ambrozy; A Chinese version of this interview was posted here, on artforum.com’s Chinese edition.
The Archive of Modern Conflict is a photographic archive based in London and curated by Timothy Prus and Ed Jones. As a part of Caochangdi Photospring 2012, highlights from its collection and a selection of the AMC’s publications are featured in a rare exhibition organized by head of the Beijing office Thomas Sauvin 苏文. Here he discusses his work for the archive in Beijing, the exhibition, and their recent publication, Happy Tonite, which features the work of 12 contemporary Chinese photographers.
[Gordon Earl Adams and his Time Machine, UK, Twentieth Century © Archive of Modern Conflict]
“From 2006-2010 we were focusing on Contemporary Chinese photography, it resulted in the Happy Tonite publication that only showcases a tiny facet of the collection, 75 prints from 12 photographers. The collection now counts 55 Chinese photographers and a little more than 4000 prints. The AMC collects photographers from all over the world, although contemporary works are not the core of the collection.
But the AMC is open to any type of work, as long as it surprises them. I guess the game is how to surprise them. It’s not that easy, as they have been looking at images everyday for 35 years. Photography can be an amazingly boring medium. A lot of Chinese works, especially from the early 2000s, convey some sort of strange, twisted, dirty fairytale style of photography. It’s pretty unnatural, so the game was to put them together and see what happened. The photographers in Happy Tonite are all mixed together, its very hard to tell who took what.
Nein, Onkel: Snapshots From Another Front 1938–1945 is definitely their most important publication, it is actually why the AMC is called so, because in the beginning they were collecting material related to WW2. From 1993-2005 they were gathering private photo albums from German soldiers all around the world, the idea was to challenge the notion popular in that period, the “German killing machine,” and to challenge the collective memory with authentic images from the same period.
The Beijing office of the AMC has a physical space, and I’m pretty proud of it because it finally smells like Panjiayuan in there. I have bought enough dusty books, period publications, photo albums and all kinds of stuff. The archive is not public, but if I had to divide the archive into three branches, there would be the contemporary, which is still growing, period publications (mostly books), and personal photographs and albums. Two albums showing in the exhibition are the PLA clothes factory sample album, and the special effects make up artist.
If we want to build up a visual chain from 1949 to now, the only way to cover 1949-79 is through official propaganda period publications, and one must admit that pretty amazing books were made. A lot of time, money, energy and talent were spent on these huge publications, especially publications in 1959. Martin Parr is focusing on Chinese publications now, he is working with the Dutch photographer Ruben Lundgren in Beijing.
I try to go to Panjiayuan every week, but the main problem with Panjiayuan is that the sellers always think they know what has value. They have great things, but they never show them to me, because, being a foreigner, they think that I’m only obsessed with Mao or the Cultural Revolution, etc. AMC doesn’t try to dig out sensitive material, or to press where it hurts. A lot of people like to do that, especially in photography.
[Beauty and the Fridge (left); Lucha-Libre © Archive of Modern Conflict]
There are no themes that we collect by. We like to have something amorphous. You never know if something is the right thing to collect, but anything that generates an emotion, surprise, nostalgia, melancholy, amusement, is probably worth keeping. Things emerge organically. We don’t have a purpose that we try to illustrate. We try to take interest in all kinds of people and different visual universes. The best photo album I could imagine is by a real estate agent, he’s not an artist, but for years he’s been taking simple snapshots in a hardcore way—what is the price, what is the size (of real estate). I like when images are not taken for an artistic purpose, but when you decontextualize them and put them in such a space, they have another meaning.
We tend to like funny people and funny work, and a little bit of humor is very nice to find in photography. Photographers often try to convey very sad feelings and melancholia, and somehow it’s very hard to find funny work, but people really like it. So if there were one rule, it would be not to take photography too seriously, and not to pay too much attention to technique.
Most important is the history behind the image, and perhaps the great masterpiece of this exhibition is Gordon Earl Adams’ time machine. The images are not spellbinding, but the story behind them is: in the 1920s Adams’ started to build a time machine in his basement, and now both the time machine and the guy are impossible to find. So maybe it worked. We don’t know. I didn’t actually do the research myself, but AMC ended up with this huge manuscript he worked on, a huge photo album and handwritten diagrams based on Indian mythology on which the design of the machine is based. Adams was an engineer, a seeker of spiritual truth, and an unusual character. And that is all that’s left of the story. The machine––and you’ve seen it’s no small machine—and the man disappeared. Nobody seems to know, there are no records in cemeteries, and no one kept the machine. In this case, if you take the images individually they don’t say much, so we also wanted to feature his diagrams prominently in the exhibition. They were maps on how to build the machine, and showing the connection between infinity and eternity, the material universe and spiritual universe, hell and heaven.
Its always very hard to define the archive, the best way is to define what it is not. It is not a photo agency, it’s not a gallery, and it’s not a museum. It doesn’t look like anything we know.
“Photographic Oddities from The Archive of Modern Conflict” is on display from April 14 to May 6, 2012 at Chamber’s Fine Art in Caochangdi. A Chinese version of this interview was posted on artforum.com’s Chinese edition.
Little Movements [from January 2012 Artforum]
OCT CONTEMPORARY ART TERMINAL OF THE HE XIANGNING ART MUSEUM
“Little Movements: Self-Practice in Contemporary Art” is an ongoing project initiated by curator and critic Carol Yinghua Lu and her husband, curator and artist Liu Ding. Because the endeavor encompasses so many ideas simultaneously and has appeared in many incarnations, ranging from artworks to publications to exhibitions, its concept is perhaps best approached in terms of what it is not. The “Little Movements” of the title are not political movements, nor are they mini art movements. The practices referred to are not linked by a common ideology, and the curators don’t attempt to draw parallels between them. “Little Movements” is a collection of art practices whose autonomy is itself grounds for inclusion.
Some of the participants are engaged in work that speaks to the general public, such as the e-flux project unitednationsplaza, but others address very specific contexts. The “Zhuhai Meeting” organized by Wang Guangyi and Shu Qun in 1986 exemplifies this: Laying the groundwork for the 1989 “China/Avant-Garde” exhibition, this gathering brought together avant-garde groups across China to discuss their nascent practices for the first time. Represented here by a detailed chart of the participants and a 1986 newspaper report displayed like a relic in a glass case, it provides a necessary counterpoint to the fetishization and mythologizing of the birth of the Chinese avant-garde.
As an extension of Liu’s series of “Conversations,” 2010–, in which private discussions with artists, curators, and critics were recorded and then exhibited in the form of written, photographic, and sound documentation, the contemporary participants in “Little Movements” are featured in video-recorded roundtable discussions, one for each group, with the two curators, assistant curator Su Wei, and several others. In this exhibition, these recorded conversations were presented along with photographs and other documents. These discussions, recording the curators’ attempt to capture what they call a “spirit of self-practice” in art today, explore how each group in “Little Movements” maintains a sustained sense of self-questioning and reflexivity that allows it to exist in a self-sufficient enclave.
The curators seem concerned primarily with how new value systems can be established independently of existing power structures and, ultimately, how self-reflexive practice can engender new creative directions. Yet working within existing power structures wouldn’t disqualify these varied art practitioners from being seen as autonomous or critical. And though it includes artists’ groups ranging from Beijing’s HomeShop to Copenhagen Free University, the exhibition does not purport to be an all-encompassing examination of collectives today. In fact, Lu and Liu reject the notion of linear history altogether, as well as any pretense of objective methodological investigation; as the curators informally stated, the artists involved here are simply some of those they have come in contact with through their travels. But such a naked subjectivity, as it gains momentum and inevitably snowballs toward self-institutionalization, seems to come with its own trappings of power. How will “Little Movements” maintain the continuous critical self-inquiry and reflexivity that it esteems?
Although a museum show on the Chinese mainland (as opposed to Hong Kong) necessarily eschews overt politics, the curators seem to have subversive goals, searching for alternatives to existing art-world power structures or historical narratives, yet they are awkwardly aware of the pitfalls of establishing anything in its place. “The Anxiety of Self-Definition,” one of the four broad categories of “Little Movements,” encapsulates the ambiguity surrounding the exhibition itself, a work in progress, one that resists classification. (The other categories are “Individual Systems,” “Away from the Crowds: Unexpected Encounters,” and “What Is Knowledge.”) The exhibition at OCT was more like a tool kit than organized research, charting a loose theoretical framework that informs art practice, but is defined only through outside references. This collection of movements seems poised to legitimize certain practices, or to give way to something else entirely.
There is distance from A to B.
From turning on the switch to the light going on is a distance. Electricity arrives in its own speed. This notion of speed captivates me and there is a beautiful sensation in it.
I arrive in my own speed from scratch line to end point.
What is the connection between these speeds?
I attempt through my own speed to feel and catch the speed of electricity. I don’t compete with electricity but I try to find an intersection between my speed and the speed of electricity.
The following are images from Hu Qiangxian’s performance at Shanghai’s Rockbund Museum of Art on August 6th, a part of the “Taking the Stage Over” series, curated by Biljana Ciric. All photos are courtesy of the curator, to read more about the year-long series, check here.
It’s clear, the light illuminates even before he has taken his first step. The action of so ferociously attempting this futile race against electricity exhibits a strength that seems increasingly admirable in our age of apocalyptic fear-mongering.
It seems to be the epitome of what I find fascinating about Guangzhou artists in comparison to Beijing artists. Painter and intellectual Chen Tong, founder of Libreria Borges, calls it the “acte gratuite” (无动机）after Duchamp, and in her article “Accidental Conceptualism,” (e-flux) independent curator Carol Yinghua Lu uses a similar tone to discuss Hu Xiangqian’s controversial work, The Sun (2008), in which the artist tans himself over a consecutive two months, stopping at ”the point at which he became a black-skinned man.”
While the art world mourns the detention of one major artist, there seems to be only time enough for distraction. Following their opening at Long March last week, here are some photos of Madein’s corporate headquarters in Shanghai, I hope to follow soon with more on the Physique of Consciousness show, this is just a small primer to say, you have been warned.
[Right inside the main entrance, the ‘VIP waiting lounge’ sports a comfy leather chair; staff work behind the wall with the cloth collage.]
[Looks as if the MadeIn staffers are putting in some long days.]
[Where MadeIn’s felt objects are realized… a crafter’s dream.]
[Piecing together large, tactile collages from a print-out image.]
[”What is the most common site in this nation? Temporary difficulties. What is advantageous about this nation’s institutions? Successfully overcoming difficulties that wouldn’t exist in other social institutions.” Oil on canvas.]
[Small editions of felt creations on sale; this little guy was not priced at $1.]
[Another US dollar makes a cameo, a ‘Dead President’s Coupon,’ MadeIn style.]
8th Shanghai Biennale [from February 2011 Artforum]
The Shanghai Biennale is charged with a significant task: to harmonize the expectations of professional and international audiences with the tastes of a broader local public, all while conforming to Ministry of Culture’s requirements. By the time its eighth incarnation opened last year, the biennial had a reputation as China’s most significant international art show, the most important benchmark for China’s role in the global art-cultural sphere. This prominence was reflected last year in a new opening date, in October, that intentionally distanced the biennial from the commercial influence of the city’s art fair. This incarnation of the event bypassed “foreign” curators; it was curated instead by a team led by Gao Shiming, a young theoretician at the China Academy of Art and a cocurator of “Say Farewell to Post-Colonialism,” the final Guangzhou Triennial (the event is now defunct), in 2008. Gao’s thesis for the show was based on Brechtian notions of theatricality and the idea of the exhibition as a site of cultural production, facilitating multiple possibilities, with the ultimate aim of confronting the discursive dominance of global capitalism. The presiding metaphor of “rehearsal” lent the biennial its title.
[while these sculptures received no critical acclaim, they were prized photo ops]
The strongest feature of “Rehearsal” was, in fact, its theoretical basis—Gao’s earnest attempt to establish new ideas uniquely situated in an ascendant Asia. Also of interest were the preliminary events that took place across geographic-temporal boundaries, including installments in Vietnam and New York (via Performa) and projects with Indian artists and social thinkers as well as the Croatian curatorial collective WHW. The schizophrenic main exhibition at the Shanghai Art Museum was arguably the Achilles’ heel of the biennial; here, the clarity of Gao’s curatorial strategy was diluted by incongruent inclusions that can only be explained as results of coexisting agendas less noble than his attempt to advance Chinese art theory in the international sphere.
The exhibition was divided into four “acts.” Act 1, the Ho Chi Minh Trail project, was treated like a star-studded miniseries within the biennial: It involved several artists—among them MadeIn Company (represented by their “CEO,” Xu Zhen), Wu Shanzhuan, Chen Chieh-jen, and Wang Jianwei—walking the historic trail with Gao, discussing theory and collectively examining their own artistic practice in daily struggle sessions. The group of artists presented their artistic-intellectual output in Beijing’s Long March Space last September, and they were allotted the entire first floor in Shanghai, where they showed new works, made for this show, spread across the floor; the surrounding walls were hung with blown-up slogans such as we have yet to thoroughly examine the essence of action and taking on the burden of history is not an act of retracing historical memory, but a restless attempt to position the present in history. Prominent among these works, MadeIn’s forest of found images transferred onto canvas and displayed on wooden pickets made the most sense for me when I spied a visitor smiling for a head shot in front of a canvas painted with a pile of US dollars. Elsewhere, the sprawling polyhedronic wooden armatures of Liu Wei’s Merely a Mistake II, 2010, continued the artist’s formalist aesthetic, although a more striking prequel had previously been installed at the Long March Space.
Raqs Media Collective’s Fragments from a Communist Latento, 2010, neatly encapsulated this biennial’s impotent thrust: In this work, light boxes showing fragmented statements, as an antonym to the manifesto, were displayed in tandem with texts and diagrams contributed by Chinese intellectuals and artists (along with an introduction by Gao), the most fascinating of which was a contribution from Chan Koonchung, the author of the 2009 dystopian science-fiction novel Shengshi: Zhongguo 2013 (The Prosperous Time: China 2013). It begins: “Irony with Chinese characteristics—not only could contemporary art play safe by playing ‘revolutionary,’ it could also conveniently become a public relations ally to the official ideology.” His remains the keenest critical observation on “Rehearsal” in any language so far, and it hung in plain view amid the curatorial imbroglio, in English only.
[And this student seemed eager to take notes as well.]
On March 20, the Minsheng Art Museum in Shanghai threw open its doors on Liu Wei’s solo show, “Trilogy” 《三部曲：刘韡个展》. Who said there were no local art museums? Although I couldn’t make it for the show, and I can’t offer any critical analysis or interesting commentary, I decided, considering the popularity of previous posts on his works, to post the press images that arrived in my inbox. Here’s a link to a (very poorly translated) English press release. Qu’ils mangent de la brioche!
The above installation, “Merely a Mistake” 《仅仅是个错误》gets the gold star prize from me, find the rest of the images after the jump. (more…)
The above artwork, taken from Zhou Yi’s blog (that is “Yi” pronounced like hard “e”) seems to encapsulate many central and interlocking themes in my life right now.
In Zhou Yi’s “Brush Diary November” above (first page only, complete version here), “Lao Ai” maintains his likely pose, tweeting from his computer terminal, holding watch at the very spot where he sits for hours every day. Zhou Yi worked as his assistant until he left last year to work on his solo show.
These days, also working on analysis of a recent show that Zhou Yi also participated in, called “Will You Miss Me When I Burn“. This originally brought me to his blog. I have previously mentioned his work on artforum.com, as one of my favorite shows in 2010. A brief discussion of his solo show, “We are all wooden people” can be found in their archive here.
An interview with Zhou Yi on his recent book on Josef Albers’ color theory was also just posted on artforum.com.cn, (Chinese). The book is the first of its kind in Chinese, and he is actually the result of his teaching a unique color-theory class at CAFA.
In June last year, Long March mounted a solo exhibition for MadeIn Co., integral to which was a bit of media trickery. Its been a long time, but I thought it worth to write about here. The show was an interesting ruse best appreciated from within the local art machine.
The press release went out to press folk and mailing lists around the world, its photograph included what looked like a mud statue of Neanderthals mimicking the soviet realist frieze statues that sit outside the Mao mausoleum. It was photographed in a generic art space, with white, lofty ceilings. The image leads you to believe that there will be similarly shocking works, making similarly straightforward statements, on display. (Press release below)
When you walk into the hall, however, instead of epic sculptures, large photographic print images line the wall. The sculpture that expected, is missing, save of its “reproduced” image on the wall.
There are roughly three groups of images, the first look like digital paintings, in a frenetic aesthetic style similar to MadeIn’s fabric collages. A second type creates a double illusion in which classical Western sculptures appear to be sinking into an unstable ground, their “marble” appearance appear almost fleshy by the way their genitals contour to the floor. The third type shows improbable freestanding sculptures, “photographed” in generic, white spaces, and whose believability and existence seems to exist in a grey zone somewhere between the other two. The classical sculptures hint at the cultural mutability of fine arts traditions, the digital paintings invoke the “cheapness” and easily reproducibility of digitized images in a globalized anonymity. The trick with the images is, they are photographs of what purports to be an acrylic painting. (Effects not visible via digital photos.)
《团结化是一个减损的过程多于增益的过程，“忠诚信徒”永远不会觉得完整，永远不会觉得安全。》系列作品4, Solidarity is more a process of loss than a process of gain, “faithful believers” will never feel complete, never feel safe. Series #4, 绘画，布面丙烯，painting, acrylic on canvas, 150*212cm
《一只花花绿绿的巨兽——平民。它不知道自己的力量，只知道绝对服从。》作品 2, A colorful beast––civilian. He doesn’t know his own power, he only knows absolute obedience. #2, 装置，大理石, installation, marble, 140*70*50cm。
These sculptures, according to the oral explanation delivered to me by the gallery, and who we assume complicit to the “work,” were all physically realized, photographed, but then destroyed. Not only do we become suspicious of the photographic “evidence”, somewhere between visual and cultural perceptions, one might further question reality, a theme of Xu Zhen’s work prominent since he cut off the top of Mt. Everest (sorry, Mt. Qomolangma) in 2005.
These images raise interesting questions on the simulacra, authenticity, national stereotypes, and more. I’m sorry that the images here cannot fully capture the meaning of the works, or their environment. Hopefully this short synopsis offers something.
Please note, all image captions, images, press release, are taken from press materials from the exhibition. A few of the image English translations are my own.
《诗是生活的表现，或则说得更好一点，诗就是生活本身。还不仅此，在诗里生活比在现实本身里还显得更是生活。》Poetry is the expression of life, or better put, life is poetry itself. Not only this, living in poetry seems better than reality. 装置，黑色大理石、旋转灯、早餐, installation, black marble, barber shop poles, sunny-side up eggs, 300*500*300cm。
《民主是我们的目标，但国家必须保持稳定》Democracy is our goal, but the country must remain stable， 装置，钢制弹簧、花岗岩，installation, spring steel & granite, 1000*500*500cm
《理论与实际越是矛盾的群众运动，就越是热衷把自己的信仰加诸别人。》In mass exercise, the greater the conflict between theory and reality, the stronger its eagerness to impose beliefs on others, 装置， 蜡、军帽，installation, wax & military caps, 300＊800＊300cm
Belated New Year to all, and apologies for the protracted absence. Lots of travel in the late months of last year, and busy updating artforum.com.cn leaves little time to blog. But hopefully, this spring will afford more time to post, more love from the archives. For now, despite the danger of blocking Sinopop behind the firewall, I’d like to wish sinopop readers a happy new year, 拜年拜年 with this, a most inspiring piece of contemporary folk art, door gods designed by Ai Weiwei’s FAKE office in Caochangdi.
Read about the door gods here, on the Epoch Times site. Truly auspicious protectors for 2011, (protection from censorship and littered with Grass Mudhorses and River Crabs) I’m glad that I hung mine on the inside of my door!
The following are curatorial texts included with the 8th Shanghai Biennale press packet, written by the Curatorial Team. They are unedited, but blue highlights thoughts that raised my eyebrow and made me think, enjoy! For Chinese language original, click on 中文 to the right.
What Is Rehearsal?
A Curatorial Thinking of the 8th Shanghai Biennale
The last two years have witnessed the latest global crisis. As if on cue, almost concurrently, an unprecedented crisis also befell contemporary art on a global scale. This one is no spiritual crisis experienced by modernists in the depths of their individual creativity, but a malarial torpor endemic to today’s world, or alternatively, a malaise of the system – the fact that the creativity of individual artists fails to match that of the system of artistic production, and by a wide margin. Artists cannot rid themselves of the sinking feeling that they are in the system’s employment, made to order by society at large. Everywhere we look, artists are cosplaying their roles. The 8th Shanghai Biennale raises the following question: What is suppressing and constraining the power of the heart in the economic and political context of contemporary art? Is it because of the ‘invisible hand’ of the art world? Or is it because of ‘trends’ in the international art market? Should we blame all the identikit mega-exhibitions worldwide? Or the omni-present mass culture? Artists are becoming more and more constrained and boring and we are dragged into a ‘post-history’ malaise. So how should we describe this state clearly? How can we get out of the dilemma of creation in the context of an art system constituted by seamless and endless international dialogue, mega exhibitions, art fairs and transnational capital? How do we identify the internal frontiers of the ‘art world’ hijacked by global capitalism while we are ourselves part of it? Is contemporary artistic practice capable of generating a new Produktionsverhältnisse – system of production – beyond the throttles of institutional critique and social participation?
The 8th Shanghai Biennale defines itself as a ‘rehearsal’ and as a reflective space of performance. ‘Rehearsal’ is not only a strategy or a special form of exhibition. It’s traveling art and opening to all the audience. ‘Rehearsal’ focuses on the full process of exhibition and on creativity itself. The exhibition hall is not only the medium for the artworks, but also a changing space that can trigger creativity. As Brecht has noted, “Actors in rehearsal do not wish to ‘realize’ an idea. Their task is to awaken and organize the creativity of the other. Rehearsals are experiments, aiming to explore the many possibilities of here and now. The rehearser’s task is to expose all stereotyped, clichéd and habitual solutions.” The ‘rehearsal’ of the 8th Shanghai Biennale is a self-performative act by the art world, a wake up call to itself and an attempt at self-liberation. Rehearsal is wielded against ‘performance’, ‘production’ and ‘discursive practice’. The responsibility of the curators is to differentiate, organize and then mobilize. Today many exhibitions are restricted in the theatre, but for this biennale, the theatre and rehearsal are not only spaces for exhibition, but methods of creation, exhibition and communication. We hope that the biennale will be able to promote interaction between artists. The elements of venue, narration and social participation have become key concepts in contemporary visual art, so we also hope that we can explore these areas in the mode of ‘rehearsal’.
As the space of communication between art and the public, the exhibition is like an enclave transcending everyday reality. It’s located within the quotidian, yet goes beyond it. Its mode of existence is not unlike that of the theatre. The exhibition is the theatre of contemporary art. The exhibition not only reformulates/represents everyday life, but also provides a vehicle for its own representative polity. It is the autonomous region of art, within which artists are also legislators. This is surely the most precious legacy of modernism. But why do artists still harbor doubts about exhibitions, even while they crave the opportunity to exhibit? Why are we still somewhat perplexed by artists’ reliance on them? For artists, the exhibition is fast becoming the primary venue of creativity, hijacking their work and transforming it into something systematized and automated. In the last decade, even institutional critique has become a standard trope in this industrialized art production. Even more worryingly, the exhibition - once art’s autonomous enclave in the public domain – has turned into a hub for production, exposition and consumption of global capital…
On the other hand, if art is indeed ‘an everyday practice’, then where is the need for the exhibition? Art as a social activity is a nexus that connects and shares inter-subjective encounters. It therefore aims to pit the group against the public, neighborhood against propaganda, and the mutating quotidian against ‘pop culture’ - that nebulous construction tailor-made and co-opted by media and the establishment, consisting of almost pure ideology. So, can the exhibition be considered the battleground for this antagonism? Or on the contrary, is exhibition, as art’s autonomous dominion, merely a theme park of little import trapped in the much larger and more real everyday space of social communication?
But the exhibition is not solely intended for communication between disparate subjects. It is not just a space for networking, release or realization. It is primarily a creative space. (more…)
The 8th Shanghai Biennale “Rehearsal” began in June 2010, and will include four acts. Act I, the “Ho Chi Minh Trail” was in cooperation with the Long March Project, and will be implemented in Beijing from June through September, 2010.”Rehearsal Act I” takes the the Long March Project’s ongoing Ho Chi Minh Trail as a case study to verify the idea of “cultural creation” and explore the significance of paradigm shifts from “creation” to “rehearsal.”
This rehearsal will serve as a platform for artworks and ideas in China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The rehearsal will also provide an opportunity to discuss the role of art and ideas in redefining the combination of “ego-history-society.” The Ho Chi Minh Trail includes stages of research (2008-2009), an educational forum (July 2009), field trips (June to July 2010), Rehearsal Act I (September to November 2010), the “theatre” (October 2010 to February 2011) and a later archive of knowledge. The “rehearsal” and “theatre” components will be included in the Shanghai Biennale 2010.
(the above was excerpted from an article by Gao Shiming, it will be included in the forthcoming “Art in China” magazine, published in co-operation with Contemporary Art & Investment and Iberia Center for Contemporary Art.
Wu Shanzhuan 吴山专
The following essay will be printed in the catalog of the show “ZAOXING” an exhibition of artwork from the faculty of the CAFA School of Fine Arts. The exhibition is currently up at the CAFA Art Museum, and will be up until October 7th. Pan’s discussion of the inherited notion of the three-dimensional arts at CAFA gives a worthwhile and historical perspective on the subject from the perspective of inside the academy. Pan Gongkai is the president of the Central Academy, and vice-president of the Chinese Artists Association. He is an artist, historian and theoretician. Translation my own.
The Significance of “Zaoxing”
The use of the term “zaoxing yishu” (the three-dimensional, modeling, or plastic arts) was at its height in artistic circles of the 1950s and 1960s, a result of the Soviet art academy’s influence. It encompasses primarily the mediums of oil painting, printmaking, sculpture and mural painting in the Western tradition, and has definition similar to “easel art.” However, over different eras and across different forums the concept eventually came to incorporate architecture; Chinese traditional mediums were later brought within its parameters. In the beginning of this new century, the Central Academy of Fine Arts is in the midst of another round of reframing the disciplines taught at the academy. We still use the phrase zaoxing to identify the oil painting, print-making, sculpture and mural painting departments, but making a distinction from Chinese painting, have established separate School of Fine Arts and the School of Traditional Chinese Painting, and adding an experimental art department to the traditional zaoxing arts concept. Thus, our concept of “fine arts” in the new millennium is closer to the Western notion of “pure arts.”
These Western mediums enjoy long histories and the achievements made in each respective tradition are rich and generous, they are mankind’s great cultural heritage. But in the Twentieth Century, under the assault of modernism’s great revolution, the tradition of easel arts progressively disintegrated. Since the 1960s, the structure of these disciplines in Europe and North America underwent enormous changes, the fundamental regimen of realist techniques such as sketching slowly slackened and faded out, and were replaced with the analysis of artistic concepts and training and experimentation in creating new ways of thinking.
The significant motivation for the conceptual change in Western art education was this: the success of the various schools of modernism art in the Twentieth Century, which demonstrated that traditional art forms were already outdated. Revolt and innovation became invincible and resounding slogans of, and the intention of all new arts, while the easel arts, which take sketching, color and technical training in realism as their foundation, not only lost their significance, they became the shackles, a hindrance to new modes of thinking in a new era. Therefore, it naturally follows that they ought to be replaced with unrestrained, unfettered teaching methods––the theoretical origins of this concept takes the fast supplanting of different and various art schools in the Twentieth Century as the essential nature of art historical progression, and views it as a rather blind search for novelty, innovation, and understands the total function of art education as the eradication of outmoded ideas through enlightenment with creative thought.
Decades later, we look back and find those conceptual transitions were trends of the times; they aren’t without their principals, and they allowed for arts reform and the emergence of an unprecedented vigor and entirely new directions in the visual arts. However, because of their overindulgent implementation, partial concepts were overwhelmingly accepted as the whole, and now years later, at this late hour, we are able to observe these issues with a more discriminating gaze.
There are two significant issues within worthy of contemplation:
1) The relationship between limitations or restrictive conditions and the freedom to create. Artistic production, especially art production in the modern era, requires ample spiritual liberties, but this doesn’t suggest the utter elimination of all restraining factors. Easel assignments are one nature of restriction, the technicalities of painterly materials are another; rigorous drills in sketching are also a kind of restriction. Can removing all these restrictions be beneficial to creative potential? It might seem so at a first glance, but with more thought, this is not necessarily true. When we examine these from the perspectives of psychology and art history, a far more complex dialectical relationship is revealed between limitations and creation, one that is worthy of serious contemplation and study.
2) The relationship between artistry and transcendence. (more…)
The following paper was for a class on contemporary art criticism in China. It discusses the two articles “Globalization” and “Observations on and Predictions for ‘After Postcolonialism’” by Gao Shiming. The conclusion includes some of my own analysis, but the content is generally the same as the previous two “Readings” on Gao. (Going along the Silk Route this summer, but if I get some time when I’m back, I’ll translate.)
英国的左派文化批评者特里·伊格尔顿（Terry Eagleton） 评论著名后殖民理论家佳亚特里·斯皮瓦克 （Gayatri Spivak）的新书《在俗丽的超市里》时，描述了后殖民话语的特征：“在某处，一定存在着给一本后殖民批评家准备的手册，里面的第一条是“以拒绝后殖民主义的整体概念为开始。”
作为大展背后的观念和理论的先行本，三年展的重要文章之一《读本一》，本人将对高士明与许江合编的文章《‘全球概念’与中国当代艺术的境遇——写在卡塞尔文献展艺术策划人访华之际》（2000）进行概述 。此文已在不同杂志发表过多次，并且在网络上广泛传播。 上述文章认为，后殖民主义并不适用于中国，中国的艺术家需要在多文化的平台上展示出自身的创造力。二人的争论围绕了2000年第十一届卡塞尔文献展艺术总监奥奎（Okwui Enwezor）和六位国际知名艺术批评家、策划人杭州的杭州之行进行了讨论。他们第一站是中国美术学院，第一天的讨论会上，他们就问道：“西方意味着什么？”
西方的“全球化”概念与艺术界对身份的认同和对独特性、本土性、差异性的重视不一定是本土艺术界所关心的话题，但是这些因素引起了西方艺术界对“身份”、“他者”以及多文化主义的讨论。 策展小组从来没有提出最相关的问题：后殖民的话语究竟是否适用于中国的文化语境？ (more…)
“Observations on and Predictions for ‘After Postcolonialism’” was a Gao Shiming’s curatorial essay printed in the catalog for the 2008 Third Guangzhou Triennial. It collects and builds upon the rejection of Postcolonial interpretive strategies that was put forth in Xu Jiang and Gao Shiming’s “Globalization,” (see a post on that article here) and provides the framework for Gao’s curatorial strategies in the 3rd Guangzhou Triennial. Almost an decade lies between the first article, and this consequent official “farewell” to Postcolonialism, or what is perceived as Postcolonialism as a factor influencing the production of art. How has a prominent critical discourse in the West, likewise a broad field that might be effectively put to work in China, come to be rejected here? Perhaps more importantly, what comes next?
Key Concepts: Globalization, Postcolonialism, Westernization Key words: “After Postcolonialism,” “two-fold colonization,” “Self-Othering”
Anticipating the flurry of discussion surrounding the provacative exhibition title (“Farewell to Postcolonialism”), Gao rounds up a few key criticisms of his thesis in the introduction to his article: with no former colonization to speak of, why do the Chinese even need to bid farewell to postcolonialism? (From the Chinese side.) He nods to “multiculturalists,” who find the notion politically incorrect, reeking of a return to new forms of colonialism (with the colonizers being the Chinese), or who see the notion of rejecting Postcolonialism as a the rise of new forms of cultural superiority.
But Gao has no interest in debating Postcolonial theory or politics. His purpose here is to express his personal dissatisfaction with the politicization of art and the evident harm that this process (understand to be a by-product of Postcolonial) has done to art.
In his first footnote, Gao expounds on some interesting thoughts about “colonization” in China, stating that she has undergone a “two-fold colonization” (shuangchong zhimin): Westernization and then Anti-Westernization; a technological and then utopian colonization. “Social experiments eliminated “traditional” China, and the experience of the Cultural Revolution left deeper scars on the collective Chinese psychology than colonial memories ever could.” Thus, “Art in the 1980s was unrelated to the so-called Postcolonial experience, the Chinese were rising against the social system and the ‘new traditions’” created in this unique context that had been formulating over the past few decades.
To Gao, Postcolonial is a discourse that is available to everyone, but China’s local discourse is not based in a “Postcolonial reality” and neither does she have a historical experience with colonialism. (He says that China’s 20th century discourse is based in the battle of East-West cultures.) China is familiar with Postcolonialism through experiencing it as a framework, an ideology.
Postcolonialism in the visual arts is a “system for viewing” art (guankan zhidu), and it has its drawbacks: “As a mechanism, it is like a net, only catching that which it is able and willing to catch. Sometimes, it transforms into a productive mechanism, penetrating into the artist’s thoughts.” Later Gao states that his curatorial impetus is to collect the things that fall between the holes in the Postcolonial net, and outside of this “system for viewing.”
Here, in his second footnote, Gao makes some more important points: “China’s 20th Century context is the clash of Eastern and Western cultures. In the beginning of the 20th Century, Chinese intellectuals intermingled various “self-othering” terms into cultural discussions, such as Guocui, and New Confucianism. He asserts that Mao’s “Theory of New Democracy” was extremely similar to Postcolonialism, which he equivocates as the theory of postcolonialism in actual terms as being present in mainstream China much earlier than in the West.
And why should Chinese artists care about Postcolonialism? In a global context––doesn’t matter if you’ve heard of it or not––once an artist participates in any international exhibition, he/she is thrust into this “system for viewing.” To some degree, all artists are caught up in it. (more…)
Gao Shiming and Xu Jiang’s “‘Globalization’ and Chinese Contemporary Art –– written on the occasion of the Kassel Documenta curators’ visit to China”
读许江与高士明的《“全 球概念”与中国当代艺术的境遇——写在卡塞尔文献展艺术策划人访华之际》 的一些感受
The following are some thoughts and some translations while reading Xu Jiang and Gao Shiming’s essay, “‘Globalization’ and Chinese Contemporary Art” (The Chinese title translates more literally as “the notion of Globalization” and the circumstances of Chinese contemporary art.”) I hope to outline the framework of their argument. This text was first published in 2000, and reprinted in the 2008 Third Guangzhou Triennial “Farewell to Post-Colonialism” reader No. 1 (读本一), a Chinese version can be found on the exhibition’s homepage. This text has been circulated widely on the Internet, and the question is, is this a work of “criticism,” or a manifesto of sorts?
Authors Gao Shiming was a curator of the Third Guangzhou Triennial: Farewell to Post-Colonialism” (2008) and is currently on the curatorial team of the 2010 Shanghai Biennial, “Rehearsal.” Xu Jiang is the Dean of the China National Academy of Fine Arts, and one very lively orator.
关键观念：全球化、后殖民主义、 身份、文化多元化、文化他者、“中国性”、“西化”关键词：非西方的西方化，反思着的现代性，沉默的声 音
Key Concepts: Globalization, modernization, Westernization, Post-Colonialism, Multicultural, Identity, Cultural Other, Chineseness.
Key Words: non-Western Westernization, introspective modernity, silent voices
For the sake of brevity, Postcolonalism has been abbreviated to Po Co. The general idea is that Po Co is not applicable in China, and Chinese artists need to creatively assert themselves on a multicultural stage.
“Globalization has caused the West to introspectively reflect on its modernity, especially the various universalisms that this includes.”
“But, amidst the multiculturalism promoted by ‘globalization,’ the strategic misinterpretation and use of Po Co cultural theory to interpret and Chinese contemporary culture and art still exists.”
“Chinese art is facing fortunate opportunities for development like never before, and is likewise experiencing cultural circumstances both of unprecedented complexity and full of paradoxes. In view of the present world’s cultural pluralism, Chinese artists must devote themselves to establishing a new Chinese art rich in imagination and creativity, and not the characteristic monotony of a cultural other.”
So Po Co theory is not applicable in China ( a sentiment that I’ve heard echoed from some students at CAFA, who have said, “why should we apply foreign theories to what’s happening in China?”), and likewise Chinese artists need to make new art that defines them on a multicultural stage.
My reading of this statement sees art creation endowed with a mission to promote a “new Chinese art,” one free from the Western gaze, or free from the “West” as a determinant factor in establishing cultural value. This argument is not new, but here is placed within a framework of Po Co theory and globalization. One valid question that arises is whether or not the same terminology in translation is being interpreted or understood in the same ways across contexts. Po Co as an interpretive model has been looked upon with suspicion in Chinese academia, I believe that it falls outside what ever may be called the mainstream of critical literature, film, and cultural studies in China.
Their argument centers around Okwui Enwezor and the arrival of the Documenta 11 curatorial team in China, a now China-art-world-legendary encounter. Their first stop was the Hangzhou China Academy of Art, where they met with authors Xu Jiang and Gao Shiming, among others. Their question to them was: “What is the West?” The authors are shocked and seem insulted that upon arriving in China, their first question is West-centric (and we assume he should have asked what is ‘China’?) (more…)
Round two of the Beijing art fairs opened on April 30th, and the buzz in the art scene confirms, ArtBeijing has surpassed CIGE, providing a better show all around. While the unofficial theme at CIGE was “fear,” ArtBeijing has embraced the spirit of Shanzhai!
These skulls by Fang Shengyi 房圣易 seem to be popping up everywhere lately, a pyramid of at least 50 similar skulls was spotted at the young artists portion of 《Reshaping History 改造历史》 that opened last weekend. Each skull is mounted with 3700 Czech-crystal “diamonds” and took ten workers more than 45 days to complete all these crystal-studded metal alloy skulls.
Here they are again, lower mandibles disjointed and floating in a pile of red and white sand. The title of this installation is “Original Sin” 《原罪》. The artist’s statement reads “a lateral reconsideration towards the frantic pace of economic growth in a socialist motherland… The utilizing, plagiarizing and plundering of intellectual property of advanced civilizations by developing countries equals a bald-faced exploitation of developed culture under the premise of identification…”
Let’s embrace brevity: It’s Shanzhai contemporary art!
This random installation could be a commentary on the art fair, perhaps we could interpret it as the “shanzhai fair within a fair.” (more…)
The 2010 China International Gallery Exposition closed this afternoon. Although the critics were not impressed, I’ve shared a few personal highlights shared below, my interpretation of “fear” being loose.
Classic “horror flick” fear. For only ten RMB, you too can buy the respect you deserve as a collector of “Chinese art” (represented in vast majority at CIGE). Mr. Sigg’s eyeball-less mug could masks will send shivers up any seasoned “Freddy” fan and is sure to fool even the most experienced gallerist. (more…)
The title alone of Barbara Pollack’s part exposé, part romp through the Chinese art world seems enough to identify the author’s New Yorker status. But she wears her outsider status like a badge, humbly poising herself to profile art world power players and make a broad outline of the yet infantile Chinese art infrastructure. As an American art critic covering contemporary art from China since the late 1990s, but who remains physically and metaphysically rooted in the Western hemisphere, her observations strive to be impartial and critical, as she wields her pen not on Chinese art objects per se, but the people and the institutions that beget them.
Her reporting skills, and relatively guanxi-free status among what can seem like a tiny, and steamy art world in China help her to collect and present enough information to capture the complexity and scratch the surface of this microcosm. She dives into personal impressions of Ai Weiwei with relish and bares her astonishment at dubious museum shows––all in-between Benson & Hedges and ladies’ nights out with one of her gatekeepers to the Chinese art world, the gallerist Meg Maggio.
The Wild, Wild East isn’t quite a Seven Days in the Art World for the Chinese contemporary art scene, but Pollock smartly plays her “foreign journalist” credentials to work her way to the highest echelons of Beijing and Shanghai’s art world power structure. While every “insider” will surely find points to dispute, they are equally sure to take away something new; newcomers or casual readers will find it a highly readable introduction, especially with regard to the art market.
Pollock well knows, the laowai status within China can be a double-edged sword, and many people have obviously worked on maintaining their “face,” never quite withholding information, but surely not “airing their dirty linens” before the foreign journalist. Although she doesn’t address this directly, Pollock’s self-awareness and sensitivity to her dilemma is reflected in divulging portrayals of her translator, Zhang Fang (also the wife of artist Wang Qingsong, whose intermittent commentary was valuable and entertaining).
Approaching this behemoth––the very complex, very foreign rising art world in the East––takes moxie, which this native New Yorker indubitably reflects in her first book. The Wild, Wild East wavers between dish and reportage, and is unquestionably the most ambitious attempt to date at a narrative account of the light-speed developments in Chinese world of contemporary art, in either English or Mandarin.
Last sunday, Chart Contemporary invited Chen Ke to display “A Room of One’s Own,” a temporary installation that is the fourth in an on-going series of Open Houses, art interventions in some of Beijing’s unique spaces. Chen Ke’s room was a tiny closet of a room in a damp underground maze of dwellings near Lido Hotel. The space seemed perfect for Chen Ke, whose relentless and non-apologetic embrace of the dainty and quaint has come to personify the “cartoon” style of her age-group, but whose open embrace of feminism seems just as subverted as the room itself. Chen says that the idea was inspired by Virginia Woolf, but that the safe space atmosphere of cleanliness and respite was a reaction also to the city’s migrant population.The objects in the room were embroidered by “aunties,” who followed the artist’s instructions and sketches to the thread. (more…)
“Love in fact results from an excess of dopamine in the brain” by Madein from lee ambrozy on Vimeo.The above art work was produced by the artists’ collective Madein (also associated with artist Xu Zhen) and is currently on show at Beijing Caochangdi’s ShanghArt gallery.Their cartoonish rug canvases and plush sculptures notwithstanding, I fell in love with this behemoth made of discarded styrofoam, and held together entirely with bamboo skewers. Inside this half-Star Wars, half-garbage chamber is an automated spotlight which careens on its chassis and seems to be tweaked into permanent freak-out mode––it convulses 360 degrees, its colored lenses whirring in a hebephrenic frenzy.The title of the work is “Love in fact results from an excess of dopamine in the brain.”
NEGOTIATING DIFFERENCE –– What is the Academic Context for Chinese Contemporary Art? As contemporary scholarship integrates art from China into a broadening notion of art history, the growing list of important reasons for its study in the west are plagued by methodological fissures, differences between contexts and backgrounds, and a host of competing interests contending for the roles of gatekeepers in the interpretation and writing the history “Contemporary art from China.” This was evidenced in the May “China Contemporary Art Forum,” where real-time translation was not enough to make up for the different value orientations of scholars present. (Read a review by participants Hans Belting and Andrea Buddensieg) Western/foreign/“outsider” scholars who approach the subject must contend with numerous language and cultural differences, and China’s culture of introversion that is often defensive when confronted with Western criticism, is almost always suspicious of Western interpretations, and definitely rejects negative attention. East-West negotiations (more specifically framed as China-West 中西 within China) are arguably the most important issue in Chinese art during the entire 20th century, and compose a comparative framework that unfortunately still pervades all discussions on art production, theory, criticism and art appreciation in China today.In this regard, the study of Chinese art across cultures still lacks an accepted framework for discourse, and as the field expands, the already vast pool of variables will only increase: frames of reference, academic training and background, language skills, cultural fluency, one’s stake in their research and incorruptibility, level of participation and mother culture all contribute to our various competing and fluctuating perspectives. How to situate our research in authenticity? How to present art from China in a global context? The conference “Negotiating Difference” attempted to address some of these questions last October at Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt, looking at “Chinese” art in an international setting, and adapting English as the primary language at the conference, the main focus was on questions of methodology. Unique in the sense that it was directed at young scholars and graduate students, more than thirty people from diverse backgrounds convened in Berlin for the event. As the introduction reads: “Whether considered from a discursive, institutional or object-centered perspective, contemporary Chinese art always involves aspects of a globally informed locality and a locally affected globality,” [italics mine] organizers hoped to critically examine the predominant existing research frameworks that emphasize an essentialist “Chinese identity” or locate art from China within an entirely “Western” definition of art.Hans Belting and Gao Minglu were scheduled to attend, but were in absentia, and thus the only “senior scholar” in attendance at the conference was Prof. John Clark from University of Sydney. In his keynote address, the art historian posited three questions that set the tone for the conference: 1) Are ‘Chinese-style’ and ‘Western-style’ twentieth century art practices and their interpretive structures autonomous? 2) If we avoid or defer the bifurcation ‘Chinese’ / ‘Western’, what kinds of historical time is implicit in the development of modern Chinese art? 3) How does Chinese modern and contemporary art look different if we use certain international comparisons from other Asian contexts?Below, in an attempt to introduce to the conference as well as recent scholarship in the field, I’ve provided very short summaries (interpretations?) of each of the papers presented at the conference. Please accept apologies in advance for any cursory reviews, there was so much to discussion that a full summary of each one of them would be beyond the scope of my abilities. The summaries are divided into the eight panels that framed the discussion over the two-day conference, beginning below with “art the transnational and transcultural context.” Comments welcome.I. Contemporary Chinese Art in the Transnational and Transcultural Context.Dr. Juliane Noth, a professor at the Freie Universität Berlin and one of the organizers of the conference, presented on the No Name painters of the late 70s and early 80s, (more…)
Wang Wei manipulates spaces, most often building spaces in spaces. In “Historic Residence” he recreates the lavish bathrooms of cottage that was built for the Chairman and his wife Jiang Qing in the south of China. They are built into the gallery, tile floors and all; while the toilet, bathtub etc, are built to proper proportion, the space itself has been blown up to exaggerated proportions.
The cavernous spaces say something about the cult of personality, the fact that Mao himself only stayed there for a total of 10 days, while it was always kept pristine lends it a sacred air.
Highly recommended, in the new Space Station, now occupying the former space of the China Contemporary gallery in 798.
Until Nov 14