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culture level 文化层次[wen hua ceng ci]

Q:那你在不在意你的画是否被别人理解?

A:不在意。每个人的文化层次不一样,很多文化层次的人看得我的文化层次高的人反而看。新加坡的一个院长,说我的是生殖器,但我都不知道生殖器怎么的;我希望把中国的文化宣传出去,我是一个受过现代教育的人,我的就是当代,我没搞封建迷信

Q: Then do you care whether your art is understood by others?

A: I don’t. Everyone comes from a different cultural level. Some people of lower cultural levels can understand my painting, whereas those from higher cultural levels cannot. A director of an academy in Singapore once said that what I painted was genitalia, but I don’t even know how to paint genitalia. I hope to spread Chinese culture out to everywhere. I am someone with modern education; what I paint is contemporary painting. I’m not playing with feudalistic superstition.

(摘自徐坦对郭丹霞的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Guo Danxia)

Interviewed: Guo Danxia

Time: Afternoon, Jan. 27, 2007

Location: The artist’s residence, Xi’an.

 

理解     comprehend  know  7

(画画  paint  drawing    199

知道  know         22

文化  culture      12   

文化层次 culture level  4

  healing    cure   11

  understand     8

清楚  clear         8

感觉    feel   15

白血病    leukemia  leukemic   6

白鳝   white eel   4

自己   self  own   20

别人  other people   others  18

感觉   feel   24

迷信 Superstition 2

中国     China Chinese 7

西方     the West Western  5

身体     health Body  physically  physical condition   8

       Qi (energy) 6

       spiritual   3

灵气     reiki  2

气功     Qigong  3

生殖器   genitalia  4

神秘     mysterious   3

科技     science  2

经济效益   1economic profit    1

女神    goddess  2

境界    level spiritual level   2 

谋杀    murder  2

智(慧)     intelligence  intelligent  4

开发   develop development   4

Q: How did you start painting?

A: May 21, 1989 – before that I had often been sick due to bad health. I had heard that even illiterates could write prescriptions, which amazed me, so I wondered if I could paint. That was how I started painting, ever since that day. What I painted was stuff related to healing: how do you cure leukemia? How do you cure toothache? How do you cure moodiness? I painted them out, and those works are still there. When painting leukemia, I felt I painted all the leukemic cells – that’s how it felt. I went to school in the 1950s; we were among the first group of students to wear the red scarf, and what we paint now are really interesting stuff. After that I could paint whatever comes to mind, and I’ve never put down my brush in the past 18 years. Now I paint whatever I want; I follow no rules; and sometimes I would even realize it after I finish the painting. I stopped going to work when I was forty, as I was always sick. I couldn’t help it, and then I opened a painting and calligraphy parlor to relax myself. Originally I was trained in chemical experiments chemical analysis; later I painted on paper and fabric scrolls. In 1991, there was an international imagery expo; they wanted to me participate, but I didn’t go. I later brought a few paintings over; and they were stunned, but I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t even know what I was painting myself; but sometimes you could figure it out, after you’ve finished painting it.

Q: Do you think there is any meaning to be discussed in your paintings?

A: There are some that I cannot explain, and some I do can explain. I used to think all the time about bodily spasm, about how to cure illness. Eventually I painted fetuses and the way the human body develops… Those paintings are composed with digits. So, since over ten years ago, I started to believe that the human body is made up of digits. And it was only recently that people started to say that chromosomes are made up of digits.

Q: Is your art influenced by tradition, or by something else?

A: I practiced Qigong before, which is a very good Chinese tradition. It helps develop your intelligence. Practicing Qigong is practicing the brain; but not everybody can succeed. I think I’m talented at this, because I’m totally honest – I’m not interested in ripping people off or making money; I just want to get into shape, and my body is in good shape now. To paint under such circumstances, I feel I could realize a lot. No matter what [people] others say, I feel I could paint the most important thing in my life. If I wanted to paint a brain, eventually I would finish painting a brain. I feel I’m too intelligent – learning by nurture is also a way to develop one’s intelligence. I never see this as superstition. It is a science.

Q: What kind of concept do you think contemporary art is?

A: I see contemporary art as very progressive, unlike painting from the past. I feel that they are all full of life, even though I don’t know much about traditional pedagogy in the field of art. But Western paintings of the nudebefore I painted, I felt that they were uncivilized. But after I painted myself, I understood that they were beautiful. More precisely, they reveal both the good and the bad.

Q: What do you think is the relation between art and society?

A: I feel we should study art with a tolerance towards all, whether it is traditional culture or anything else. As long as it exists in this society, it has value. I see this as the promise. I’m different from you guys: you people paint after you understood, and yet I understand only after I painted; that’s why I’m not interested in communicating with others. I paint whatever I want, especially things I don’t know about, which I paint best. I often watch science channels on television – those things that exist already in the West but not in China, I paint them. A guy from Taiwan once said that my paintings are frozen art, belonging to the highest level in art. I think there are very nice art in painting, but its value lies not in art, but something much better and deeper than art. For example, I paint whatever is in Xi’an, and I study whatever I paint; once a painting is done, there are still lots to be studied in the painting. When I painted Empress Wu Zetian’s tomb, the Shao Tomb, I painted a clown sitting on her navel, because “Shao Tomb” used to be “Xiao Tomb” (“Tomb of Laughter”), where a homophone was used to cover up the reality. Was this site chosen by her, or was it simply meant for her burial in the first place? I think there is a lot to study in this.

Q: What role do you think an artist should play?

A: I think an artist should cover all different aspects in his art. If you only paint the surface, without expressing the spirit, it’s not a good painting. I believe myself to be someone with multiple personalities, not simply a painter. Like I can diagnose myself; I can cure other people‘s illness through painting. I can also strengthen myself physically. I’m sixty-seven now, and in great shape. Many artists remain in good physical condition once they reach a certain spiritual level, and can live very long. They are also practicing the Qi (energy) to dredge their mind; that’s why painters have high spiritual levels.

Q: What function do you think artists have in a society?

A: Artists can express their own thoughts through painting, which propels the society forward. Stuff like contemporary art in particular, which I go see sometimes – I ask people, “What is Utopia“? They say it’s beautiful things. I feel my paintings represent eastern culture; they not only belong to me personally, but also to everyone else.

Q: Then do you care whether your art is understood by others?

A: I don’t. Everyone comes from a different cultural level. Some people of lower cultural levels can understand my painting, whereas those from higher cultural levels cannot. A director of an academy in Singapore once said that what I painted was genitalia, but I don’t even know how to paint genitalia. I hope to spread Chinese culture out to everywhere. I am someone with modern education; what I paint is contemporary painting. I’m not playing with feudalistic superstition.

A: Please describe the process of your creation.

Q: Like my painting a portrait of someone. I can paint someone just by writing his name once. With just a few strokes, I can paint with great resemblance, even people who I have never seen before. After I finish painting, I can even talk about that person. I can feel all these with my brush. These are what I receive from my subject. It’s not out of the blue. The world is too grand. Painting should include many things, including the universe. I want to paint everything that I know about, and after painting them I get to know something deeper about them, although not all. I’m curious to know about various things, especially things aesthetic. For example, the goddess in Hongshan culture – I’d like to know what that goddess looks like. We have is a long cultural history in Xi’an, and after the archeological site was discovered in Lintong, I did this whole series of paintings, to see whether it was really mysterious. Some painters really hate people asking questions, but not me. Whatever you want me to paint, I can do it; the less I know about something, the better I can paint it. For example, the pyramid in Egypt – only after painting it did I know that it was where the pharaohs were buried. I never knew that before painting it.

culture 文化[wen hua]

通过可以表达自己意思推动社会前进,像现在的东西,特别是当代艺术,我也去看——我问“乌托邦”是什么?他们说是美好的东西。我感觉我的是代表东方文化,不仅仅是我个人的,也是属于大家的。

Artists can express their own thoughts through painting, which propels the society forward. Stuff like contemporary art in particular, which I go see sometimes – I ask people, “What is Utopia“? They say it’s beautiful things. I feel my paintings represent eastern culture; they not only belong to me personally, but also to everyone else.

(摘自徐坦对郭丹霞的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Guo Danxia)

Interviewed: Guo Danxia

Time: Afternoon, Jan. 27, 2007

Location: The artist’s residence, Xi’an.

 

理解     comprehend  know  7

(画画  paint  drawing    199

知道  know         22

文化  culture      12   

文化层次 culture level  4

  healing    cure   11

  understand     8

清楚  clear         8

感觉    feel   15

白血病    leukemia  leukemic   6

白鳝   white eel   4

自己   self  own   20

别人  other people   others  18

感觉   feel   24

迷信 Superstition 2

中国     China Chinese 7

西方     the West Western  5

身体     health Body  physically  physical condition   8

       Qi (energy) 6

       spiritual   3

灵气     reiki  2

气功     Qigong  3

生殖器   genitalia  4

神秘     mysterious   3

科技     science  2

经济效益   1economic profit    1

女神    goddess  2

境界    level spiritual level   2 

谋杀    murder  2

智(慧)     intelligence  intelligent  4

开发   develop development   4

Q: How did you start painting?

A: May 21, 1989 – before that I had often been sick due to bad health. I had heard that even illiterates could write prescriptions, which amazed me, so I wondered if I could paint. That was how I started painting, ever since that day. What I painted was stuff related to healing: how do you cure leukemia? How do you cure toothache? How do you cure moodiness? I painted them out, and those works are still there. When painting leukemia, I felt I painted all the leukemic cells – that’s how it felt. I went to school in the 1950s; we were among the first group of students to wear the red scarf, and what we paint now are really interesting stuff. After that I could paint whatever comes to mind, and I’ve never put down my brush in the past 18 years. Now I paint whatever I want; I follow no rules; and sometimes I would even realize it after I finish the painting. I stopped going to work when I was forty, as I was always sick. I couldn’t help it, and then I opened a painting and calligraphy parlor to relax myself. Originally I was trained in chemical experiments chemical analysis; later I painted on paper and fabric scrolls. In 1991, there was an international imagery expo; they wanted to me participate, but I didn’t go. I later brought a few paintings over; and they were stunned, but I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t even know what I was painting myself; but sometimes you could figure it out, after you’ve finished painting it.

Q: Do you think there is any meaning to be discussed in your paintings?

A: There are some that I cannot explain, and some I do can explain. I used to think all the time about bodily spasm, about how to cure illness. Eventually I painted fetuses and the way the human body develops… Those paintings are composed with digits. So, since over ten years ago, I started to believe that the human body is made up of digits. And it was only recently that people started to say that chromosomes are made up of digits.

Q: Is your art influenced by tradition, or by something else?

A: I practiced Qigong before, which is a very good Chinese tradition. It helps develop your intelligence. Practicing Qigong is practicing the brain; but not everybody can succeed. I think I’m talented at this, because I’m totally honest – I’m not interested in ripping people off or making money; I just want to get into shape, and my body is in good shape now. To paint under such circumstances, I feel I could realize a lot. No matter what [people] others say, I feel I could paint the most important thing in my life. If I wanted to paint a brain, eventually I would finish painting a brain. I feel I’m too intelligent – learning by nurture is also a way to develop one’s intelligence. I never see this as superstition. It is a science.

Q: What kind of concept do you think contemporary art is?

A: I see contemporary art as very progressive, unlike painting from the past. I feel that they are all full of life, even though I don’t know much about traditional pedagogy in the field of art. But Western paintings of the nudebefore I painted, I felt that they were uncivilized. But after I painted myself, I understood that they were beautiful. More precisely, they reveal both the good and the bad.

Q: What do you think is the relation between art and society?

A: I feel we should study art with a tolerance towards all, whether it is traditional culture or anything else. As long as it exists in this society, it has value. I see this as the promise. I’m different from you guys: you people paint after you understood, and yet I understand only after I painted; that’s why I’m not interested in communicating with others. I paint whatever I want, especially things I don’t know about, which I paint best. I often watch science channels on television – those things that exist already in the West but not in China, I paint them. A guy from Taiwan once said that my paintings are frozen art, belonging to the highest level in art. I think there are very nice art in painting, but its value lies not in art, but something much better and deeper than art. For example, I paint whatever is in Xi’an, and I study whatever I paint; once a painting is done, there are still lots to be studied in the painting. When I painted Empress Wu Zetian’s tomb, the Shao Tomb, I painted a clown sitting on her navel, because “Shao Tomb” used to be “Xiao Tomb” (“Tomb of Laughter”), where a homophone was used to cover up the reality. Was this site chosen by her, or was it simply meant for her burial in the first place? I think there is a lot to study in this.

Q: What role do you think an artist should play?

A: I think an artist should cover all different aspects in his art. If you only paint the surface, without expressing the spirit, it’s not a good painting. I believe myself to be someone with multiple personalities, not simply a painter. Like I can diagnose myself; I can cure other people‘s illness through painting. I can also strengthen myself physically. I’m sixty-seven now, and in great shape. Many artists remain in good physical condition once they reach a certain spiritual level, and can live very long. They are also practicing the Qi (energy) to dredge their mind; that’s why painters have high spiritual levels.

Q: What function do you think artists have in a society?

A: Artists can express their own thoughts through painting, which propels the society forward. Stuff like contemporary art in particular, which I go see sometimes – I ask people, “What is Utopia“? They say it’s beautiful things. I feel my paintings represent eastern culture; they not only belong to me personally, but also to everyone else.

Q: Then do you care whether your art is understood by others?

A: I don’t. Everyone comes from a different cultural level. Some people of lower cultural levels can understand my painting, whereas those from higher cultural levels cannot. A director of an academy in Singapore once said that what I painted was genitalia, but I don’t even know how to paint genitalia. I hope to spread Chinese culture out to everywhere. I am someone with modern education; what I paint is contemporary painting. I’m not playing with feudalistic superstition.

A: Please describe the process of your creation.

Q: Like my painting a portrait of someone. I can paint someone just by writing his name once. With just a few strokes, I can paint with great resemblance, even people who I have never seen before. After I finish painting, I can even talk about that person. I can feel all these with my brush. These are what I receive from my subject. It’s not out of the blue. The world is too grand. Painting should include many things, including the universe. I want to paint everything that I know about, and after painting them I get to know something deeper about them, although not all. I’m curious to know about various things, especially things aesthetic. For example, the goddess in Hongshan culture – I’d like to know what that goddess looks like. We have is a long cultural history in Xi’an, and after the archeological site was discovered in Lintong, I did this whole series of paintings, to see whether it was really mysterious. Some painters really hate people asking questions, but not me. Whatever you want me to paint, I can do it; the less I know about something, the better I can paint it. For example, the pyramid in Egypt – only after painting it did I know that it was where the pharaohs were buried. I never knew that before painting it.

creative, creativity 创造(性)[chuang zao(xing)]

比如说,意识形态商业明确可以最简单方式理解社会,这些东西已经潜在于我们内部的一种对这个世界的认知,就是唯一世界观,对我来讲,我认为这叫新意识形态主义,就是商业标准和政治标准天衣无缝的合作,垄断一切,那么我觉得当代艺术对一个不确定性判断的思维方式,在这样的语言环境里几乎是无法生存的,而且我觉得最要命的是——你知道一个民族要最大地进步……最大的就是你对可能性有要求,可能性只能建立在不确定的领域,这个世界什么东西你都可以把握住了……它对你没有任何可能性的时候,你觉得你还拥有创造吗?

For instance, through the clarity of commercialization and ideology (we) can understand the society in the simplest way. These have become our internalized way of recognizing the world, i.e., the only Weltanschauung. For me, I call this “New Ideologism,” which is a perfect collusion between commercial standards and political standards. It has a monopoly on everything. In that case, I think the way that contemporary art judges the uncertainties, can hardly survive in such a language context. And what is most fatal, I believe, is that when an ethnic group wants maximum progress… The maximum lies in your demands for possibilities. And possibility can exist only in uncertain domains. When everything in this world is within your grasp, when it offers you no possibilities, do you think you still have creativity?

(摘自徐坦对汪关征的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Wang Guanzheng)

Interviewed: Sun Jin, Peng Yao

Time: Noon, January 29, 2007

Location: Sun & Peng Studio, 798, Beijing

社会                   society  social  socially   24

反应                   reaction (feedback  response  respond)  8

(不)接受             accept  acceptance  (take in rejected)    7

普通(人,观众)       ordinary (people / audience)  general public  9

公众                   general public     2

观众                   audience(s)       22

关系                   relation  relationship  has something to do with  11

机制                   system  mechanism    8

机构                   organization      5

美术馆                 museum    8

独立 independence    2

政府  government    5

政治 political        3

自由 free            3

和谐社会  harmonious society    9

       do  make           40

       do  engage in tackle   1

中国      China  Chinese      31

西方      the West  western     19

发展      development  drifting     5

成功      success  successful     10

商业()  commercialization  commercial  commercially    4

游戏     game    4

舒服     comfortable   3

学术     academic  academics  academically    11

农民     farmer       5

强奸     rape  raped    2

通奸     adultery     2

生效     effectiveness   effective   2

市场     market  marketing    5

投机份子  opportunitists   1

Source of Keywords:

Q: You just mentioned the public perception of your works and the natural influence thereof, I have the feeling that most of your early works are not as socially-conscious as the newer ones.

A: (Sun) Actually all the materials come from the society, it’s just that some of them come from the relatively private aspect of social life, and some are better-known materials, such as news subjects, social topics. Actually all topics are social topics, it’s just that the attention they draw are of different levels. Also, I don’t think I would go with the idea that currently all subjects derive from the society, I think a lot of them can still find roots in ourselves, but when they are confronted with the society, you’ll need an appropriate translation and conversion system, and then you’ll end up choosing relatively typical materials. It seems to me that you just can’t take the problem separately.

(Peng) In the early days when we were young, our relation with the society are not so complicated, or, shall we say, we were not yet an integrated part of the society, therefore the works we did and the materials we used are not so socially-conscious. But I reckon that anything could be used as material, and you are going to engage in the society more and more as you grow up, eventually you’ll choose those materials in the society that interest you. So I don’t think that subject is the key issue here.

Q: A lot of your works in the exhibitions are focused on the relationship with the society. Do you perceive any differences in China and the West in terms of audience’s acceptance and feedback?

A: (Sun) Yes, but I think the differences were more typical a few years ago, before and around 2000. The opening-up of China was still in its early phase back then, and most people did not accept what is called contemporary art, they were too impatient when watching. Now there seems to be a unified consensus, western and Chinese audience are aware of this (Chinese) contemporary art thing, they know there is a bunch of people doing weird stuff, and their first reaction towards them are “Ah! Another performance art! “Thus art is reduced to a term, when someone puzzles over something; he would call it performance art. He has this category in his mind, and can group it, and then it’s easy for him to take in.

(Peng) At that time the West was more interested in the political confrontational aspect, it has something to do with the whole Chinese ideology. The country was not open enough back then, and biennale still didn’t emerge in Shanghai……all the western audiences would interpret your work from the political perspective. There were two kinds of Chinese audience, and this is particularly interesting, the first kind is artistically-informed people, or people somewhat related to art and culture; and the other kind is people who has no relationship whatsoever with culture. As it turned out, the culture-savvy part happened to find our works incomprehensible, they even made a lot of protests or accusation against them. On the other hand, those who have no relationship with art or culture, including policemen……one of my exhibitions was banned, and I chatted with many ordinary people like policemen and persons in Residents’ Committee, you know, ordinary people, they all went to see the exhibition and found it super interesting.

And now governments are organizing biennales, contemporary art has become a card in their hands, something that everyone can and should take advantage of. So it’s like a slogan, a presentation used to impress the international community, and here’s when the game with the official starts.

A: (Peng) In the ’90s, before 2000, when something happens, you can calm down to observe your surroundings, to perceive the changes of everybody in detail. But now, especially in recent years, the whole atmosphere in the art scene is volatile. It has become difficult for me to try to understand the changes outside, and the situation is complicated now……take our studio in 798 for example, this place is so touristy now, it’s hard to position yourself. But we do work here as of today. Now the government is into contemporary art too, a lot of opportunitists are into this, and there’s the gallery frenzy, a dozen of new galleries would turn up here every day. You also witness the price of Chinese contemporary art skyrocketing on the international market, I have the feeling that many artists have lost themselves, they have become less pure; in the old days, underground is underground, the artists make art, and that’s it. Nowadays everyone collaborates with everyone, and you participate in their game more frequently, the game is getting more and more complex, Stage Two!

Q: So do you think that general public has become better connoisseurs of contemporary art?

A: (Peng) I think maybe they do find it easier to accept, but what art offers them, on the contrary, has decreased. Back then they would try to understand why these people do what they’re doing, now they get themselves a concept, like I tell you this word, ‘performance art‘, they go ‘Ah, so this is performance art!’, and there it is. Something is missing for the general public, the minute they are given a safe explanation, they are deprived of the thinking process.

(Sun) There are actually two sides of the coin. For the artist, I think they are also trying to figure out what kind of audience they have. In the ’90s there was this cynic group, you may want to call them early [Chinese] contemporary artist, they were the enfant terrible, going to the extreme when rejected by the public. By now, however, many artists have come to realize that in order to play the enfant terrible card you need to first have the endorsement by the audience. So both sides were moving towards each other, when the two reach a point of coordination, by which I mean they can work together seamlessly and feel free at the same time, that’s what you may call the harmonious society. Back then reform and opening were everything, people would do anything for breakthrough. Things have changed, now the overall structure is fixed, it’s a matter of coordination. This is in synch with the general situation of the country, the concept of harmonious society has posed a big question to art as well. Of course every era has its own issues, but the issues we are facing now in a harmonious society is of not much difference with those in the western countries. This is because harmonious society is commonplace in the West, and artists there feel free and suffocated at the same time. This is gonna happen in China at some point in the future, we’ll see.

(Peng) For instance, I’m initially exciting upon learning that certain large foreign organization is coming to Beijing to open a museum, because it means there will finally be a decent museum showcasing contemporary art in Beijing and in China. But soon I come to realize the potential crisis; I don’t know whether this thing would do any good to Beijing and to Chinese contemporary art as a whole, will it help pushing the scene towards the good or bad, healthy or unhealthy direction? There are two sides to these things. What the foreign museums try to do is to port the whole prestigious western museum system to Beijing, but if you take a look at exhibitions in the West, you’ll see how the corrupted museum system stifles the whole art scene. This explains all the buzz about the whole lot of Chinese artists participating in the Venice Biennale that year; they witnessed the potential of Chinese contemporary art in the West. But is there really any potential? Granted, you can’t say there’s zero potential, but the point is westerners realized that they could find new possibilities in China, and these possibilities are potential, energy, frightening stuff. While in the West, the whole system has provided a, in Sun Yuan’s word, harmonious society for everybody, people have to play by the rules and to strive for breakthrough in between. After some time, everybody ends up playing tricks, for me this is really not the ideal way of life. So I think the western museum system‘s coming into China will be a double-edged sword for the artists. Wouldn’t you kill a lot of possibilities if you bring in something lifeless? It helps us to operate under the rules and procedure, that’s for sure, and of course an oft-heard criticism on Chinese artists or the whole Chinese art market by western museums is the lack of rules and procedure, but this is precisely the characteristic and charisma of China. I prefer a lifestyle with lots of accidents, if Chinese contemporary art is drifting towards a completely expected, accident-free direction, I think it’s time for the artists to think about what they can do to stimulate the scene.

Q: Economic changes will have an influence on art and the relation between artists and the audience, but there are a lot of artists seem to ignore the audience, aren’t there?

A: (Sun) This is about knowledge being in synch with the government, in other words, a harmonious society is the end result of a peaceful evolution process. Commercialization and the participation of economics contribute to the realization of a harmonious society. There are rules, economic rules, that you would want to follow and to refer to as a kind of artist who cares not only about yourself, but also about the audience. One can’t deny the fact that all people regard economical success as the measurement of success in general, even artists themselves, so do the audiences. It’s a point of reference. So economics actually works as the coordinator and thus triggers the peaceful evolution. I’ll say that artists and audiences are not the sole driving force of the harmonious society, there must be some other interfering factors. So how to maintain consistency? How to reach the same coordinated point? Economics is being used as a reference point in many cases.

(Peng) Market and academic studies call for different approaches. Marketing guys take care of the market, scholars take care of academic studies, so it won’t do any good to have people like us to talk about issues without our range.

(Sun) Sometimes people say ‘academic is itself’, I’m not sure I agree with them on that: do you think about the question of success when doing academic works? If the question crosses your mind, then there shall be a point of coordination somewhere. When all the factors are mixed together in the optimized proportion, it will appear to be something successful and will generate some momentum for your academic studies. Here, the word successful means not only commercial success, but success in every dimension. Without this all-dimentional success as the point of reference, academic studies will be of no direction or value – it has no coordinated platform. Actually academics all work on a platform, there is the standard for measuring success, which is effectiveness, [commercial-wise and academic-wise] effective commercially or academically. There’s a certain value in it.

Q: Do you care about the negative part in the audiences’ feedback?

A: (Sun) The audiencesfeedback are exactly the thing I care about.

(Peng) But it’s not important how they respond to our works, as long as there is response at all. We don’t really care whether they are positive or negative, we care about the fact that they do have reaction.

(Sun) Or shall we say the best case is that we have mixed response; rape mixed with adultery, if you will. Being raped and yet reaching orgasm, committing adultery but with a bit of passiveness, that’s a good mixture. I’m not into pure compulsory stuff, but reaction is a must.

Q: I think one of the major differences between Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou is the different level of consciousness towards power. It’s the strongest in Beijing, weaker in Shanghai, and the weakest in Guangzhou. Do you have anything to say about this?

A: (Sun) I don’t particularly feel that way, this power thing you mentioned. I don’t know if there’s power or not, but the way I see it, power is of no relevance as long as you feel comfortable and happy. Because you are in the lower tiers of others’ power mechanism, you are not the top guy, you feel good being here, and you stay here, I think that’s enough. It’s not necessarily the same thing as the farmer‘s corporation, in which power is above everything, even daily meals are related to power, if you can’t get hold of this power, you are not able to survive……by power I mean a kind of dominate/subordinate relation, not necessarily political power.

crackdowns 严打[yan da]

Q:你刚才是否说这个社会状况对你的创作没有什么影响

A:怎么说呢?有些东西不一定有直接的影响,但有的东西也会有很直接的影响,……比如说北京有时到了那种紧张的时候,类似于严打这样的情况,就开始有点白色恐怖的感觉了,你就会觉得有影响。除此以外,影响是间接的。

 

Q: Did you just say that the state of the society has no impact on your art?

A: How shall I put it… Certain things don’t influence you directly, but some other things do. For example, sometimes Beijing goes into a state of tension, like during government crackdowns. Then you start to feel a bit like “white terror”. Then you feel you are influenced. Other than that, the influence is indirect.

(摘自徐坦对谢方明的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Xie Fangming)

Interviewed: Xie Fangming

Time: Afternoon, Jan. 29, 2007

Location: Cave Cafe, 798 Art District, Beijing

集体  group 15

利益  profit  4

社会  society social  13

生活  life  5

公众  public 6

大众  the masses  2

普通人 ordinary person 6

别人   others other people  someone else somebody else 15

自己  self  22

关系  connection (relationship) to do with relations  20

有关  related 9

当代  the state of contemporary  contemporary   17

严打  crackdowns   1

政府  government   2

    do”  engage in  5

兴趣  interest interested  9

    prosperous  hyped   3

    circle  8

圈子  circle  2

过瘾  high  3

流行  popular  trendyfad  trendiness    3

    money   4

猥琐   indecency   2

Source of keywords:

Q: First, what’s your overall impression of the current state of contemporary art in China?

A: It’s hard to talk about the entire situation. I just feel it’s a little hyped. There is a lot of group activity. Other than that, there is nothing special I want to say, because what we usually see are just very trendy things.

Q: What do you think is the relation between the fashion and art?

A: Art… at first we didn’t exactly know what art is. It’s just taking advantage of one another. People know there’s such a thing called art, and then use it do certain things related to profit. If everybody aims at the same thing… Other than that, there is no conflict between art and fad, it’s the same thing. In other words, after profit and art make a connection, trendiness is the result.

Q: You said earlier that you feel contemporary art in China is very hyped. What aspects were you referring to?

A: It’s a matter of external factors, and has little to do with internal factors. It’s other people’s demands. Other people‘s profit has made a certain impact on contemporary Chinese society. Sometimes, something from overseas pays a lot of attention to the contemporary Chinese art. And more and more people are managing the circulation of the works of contemporary art in China. Now, everyone is talking about China, or Chinese art. In fact, this is the same thing as mining – where is suitable for mining? It’s not certain whether you can mine something good. As for internal factors, I think contemporary Chinese art is far, far away from being capable on such a level. It doesn’t have that energy. We can only say that it’s the external factors that make it run. It’s like a laundry machine – you throw your clothes in, and it’s only the tumbler that makes the laundry appear to be spinning so fast. The fact is, it doesn’t have that momentum in itself.

Q: What’s your view on the art circle in Beijing?

A: There are lots of circles in Beijing. But I found that the main circle is a group of close friends with good friendship. I think that’s probably the main group. Another possible group is the one [that's closer to] in close relations with the critics and curators – there’s some possible motives involved. Or there is a group that’s closer to the galleries, like a few gallery owners and agents. And some artists have a good relationship or collaboration with them, which is in fact a profit relationship. And in Beijing, many artists here are migrants. People need mutual support when in solitude. If seen from this angle, there forms a group that’s like an administration office for non-locals. Those are the two types of groups.

Q: So you’re saying that under most circumstances here in Beijing, each artist is merely a member of a group, and unimportant in himself?

A: I feel this is the best state, that is, no one feels himself to be really formidable, not a single one. Because when resources come, it dissolves immediately… just like water poured into sand – it’s gone right away. You can’t see anything.

Q: You are living, as a matter of fact, in art circle?

A: More or less. If you really go to other circles, you’ll find that their game ruled are not suitable for you, and it’s not really a matter of acceptance. For example, the film circle that I saw; I feel that kind of weakness is even much more severe than any one of us artists. I just couldn’t bear listening to the kind of stories they tell. And if they even talked about film – for Christ’s sake, it got me really impatient, even more impatient than a complete outsider. So, in comparison, artists are somewhat more like intellectuals, although… Because artists are concerned about how he is structured, how to shape himself. I think this at least is good. Artists are relatively nice, and have more fun.

Q: Did you just say that the state of the society has no impact on your art?

A: How shall I put it… Certain things don’t influence you directly, but some other things do. For example, sometimes Beijing goes into a state of tension, like during government crackdowns. Then you start to feel a bit like “white terror”. Then you feel you are influenced. Other than that, the influence is indirect.

Q: You said that the general public in China can’t easily understand your art, and you don’t really care for such interaction, right?

A: No, not only my work. Most artists’ works are not understood. That is very normal. First of all, you’re not an ordinary person – no, I can’t put it that way – you’re not someone else, so you cannot create something that would fully interest somebody else. You can only see if others are interested in something you make. It can only be like this; that is, others are active, and you are passive. All you can do is to do a performance in nude, and the question remains whether people are interested in your nudity. That’s all.

Q: You have been doing painting before coming to Beijing, right? Over years, the social circumstances and the public have changed their views on contemporary art. Please comment on this from a more emotional vantage point.

A: This is a good question. Actually, I feel the audience has been well trained over all these years. In Beijing there is still audience who likes art. They are influenced because there are more exhibitions here, including government sponsored exhibitions, such as the exhibition from American museums, the exhibition on Italian Renaissance, and the exhibition on 19th-century Russian painting – all this hodgepodge of exhibitions. So the audience comes to accept them gradually – he might not really enjoy them, but he accepts the situation. He feels its richness. He might not understand it better, but he is more tolerant. In contrast, in the realm of contemporary art, the audience simply cannot be trained. Because under this particular social system and social condition at the present moment, it’s difficult for people to understand what is “contemporary.” First, put aside the question of what contemporary art is. Just as a person, an ordinary person, he doesn’t even know what he needs in this society. How can he know what contemporary art is? Now in China we see more and more training in the quasi-occupational social labor. The average young people getting prepared for the dedication into these 12-hour work day situations, either quasi-occupational or those of pyramid selling. He has no imagination about his own life, he is a stranger to art, yet one thing is good – he can accept whatever you give him.

There are lots of audience who talks to you about art… What is this art for? Have you painted the human body before? What do you feel when painting the human body? Can you make money at all with this painting? Anyway, the public‘s appetite for [triviality] indecency is much stronger than that of the artist. They really enjoy asking about everything.

Q: The art market is very “prosperous” now. How does it affect your art creation?

A: If I were to accept that many orders for works, then it’ll certainly have an impact. Of course, by then, when you have so much money, will you still want to paint? You’ll feel painting is such a clumsy job. When you have so much money, you wouldn’t need to paint yourself; you could totally have someone else do it for you. Because by then, it’s the other things that get you high. You would no longer get high on your painting; you’d get high on money.

country, state 国家[guo jia]

1.其实我才不在意这件事,我也不搭理它,比如这个国家是死是活,我也不太在乎,只不过你问到这个问题,就像你问我今天的天气如何,什么沙尘暴啊或者刮风啊,但是这种事又不是你能控制的,这只是国家的一个现状

But after all, I don’t really care, and concern. For example, this country lives or dies, I don’t really care either. It’s just that you asked me, like you ask me anything such as weather, windy or sandstorm comes, it’s something out of your control. It’s just what this country is.

(摘自徐坦对艾东明的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Ai Dongming)

2.我觉得欧洲艺术家好像已经过了经济高速发展时期中国当代艺术可能在开始的时候受了他们的观念艺术影响,但是我觉得这几年,我们的艺术家慢慢地会找到跟自己社会生活、国家合适的一种表达方式、一种语境。我们早期会看到很多形式上的取巧——很西方的工作方法,但是我觉得每个国家的变化是不一样的……不同国家的艺术家对他们的艺术现状和他们的社会现状直接反应和行动是不一样的。我也很能理解和很欣赏那个德国艺术家的作品。

It seems to me that European artists have already gone through the high speed economic development period. Chinese contemporary art was probably influenced by European conceptual art in the very beginning, but I think we are gradually developing our own expression and context, which fit better in this country and its social life. In the early days we saw a lot of tricks played with forms – typical western working method. But I think the changes in every country are different, artists of different countries respond and react differently to their social and artistic reality. I fully understand and appreciate the works of that German artist.

(摘自徐坦对曹蕾的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Cao Lei)

Interviewed: Ai Dongming

Time: Afternoon, January 31, 2007

Location: Ai’s place at Caochangdi, Beijing

    “do”  engage in   25

可能  maybe possibility impossible perhaps  may  21

社会  society  social   19

问题  problem question  17

兴趣  fascinated interested uninterested interest 12 

个人  individual  12

方式  ways approaches  10

市场  market  9

价值  value   7

政治的   political  1

国家     country  state  4

自由    freedom  free 7

个人表达 individual expression

地下 underground

民主    democratic  2

    circle   3

    money  5

时代  (information/Internet) age  5

    play   3

资金  capital  1

    poor poverty  4

弱智  retarded   2

    face  3

Source of keywords:

Q: What’s your understanding or impression about the current situation of contemporary art in China?

A: I wouldn’t pretend to know much. In spite of the fact that I’ve been living in Beijing all along and always partaking in curating, that we have the Chinese Art Archives & Warehouse, and make friends in the art circle, still I’m not sure I really understand it. Recent two years it seemed hot and bustling, but not very long before nobody apparently cared to take a look at it, so it feels to me more like a state of sudden ups and downs. Maybe put it this way: because contemporary art as a matter of fact has a quite short history [in China], and the modern life in China [this country] – although it did exist – was characterized to a great extent by political and economic patterns. In a highly institutionalized [environment] country as such, the freedom of individual expression, political background and living conditions, as well as the functions and possibilities of art and culture in the society, were basically limited, therefore the surfacing of the so called contemporary art in China didn’t occur until five or six years ago. Before that there were people doing a lot of things, but only in a semi-underground way – that is, it happened in a small circle, out of the sight of the public discourse, and its social impact was in fact also only limited to a small sphere. Once it surfaces, its major scene is in overseas exhibitions, foreign media or even in overseas auctions. It does look exciting somehow, but has nothing to do with the environment where the art originated, its social patterns and its meanings. Few people have tried to discuss and probe into these questions, so it’s still a strange structure. But we can’t say any structure is reasonable or not. Be it a tree, a vine, a ferocious beast, or a parasite, it each has its own reasons. Although Chinese contemporary art did not self-consciously try to build a connection with this society, it still somehow reflects a few problems of the past decades.

Q: What problems do you think it reflects?

A: The fundamental collapses of Chinese philosophy, aesthetics, ethics in the past decades, and the possibility of discussion is yet to be established for the new. Because this large scale or large part of the society is still denying, or disagreeing some basic facts, and debating of many problems in these areas is almost [out of the question] impossible. Democratic society is still a long way to go. There is much freedom in there, but it’s the freedom based on the collapse of the old, a freedom out of control, but proactive [one] freedom. The art is characterized by all these problems.

Q: What do you think of the public reception of contemporary art?

A: I don’t think there is real reception. It only becomes part of fashion. When magazines and newspapers talk about art, you see, they always miss the points, and are never capable of understanding it in any depth. I think it’s pathetic, somewhat like retarded. Chinese contemporary art is really acting [an under-developed] a retarded role. Of course there are pretty good artists, there are artists doing interesting stuff all along, but what they do and the way they do it never got acknowledged or understood by the mainstream society. Basically it’s all messed up.

Q: Do you think your curating activities could be of any help to this mess?

A:There are many exhibitions in China now, but hardly helping with anything and making any sense. They are just peddlers, the peddlers you see on streets where everybody hucksters the same thing and provoke and compete against one another. It’s designed completely for the market, and has nothing to do with art. All those exhibitions, and their curators – take a close look and you see few that are half decent, all with their evil and varied intentions. This in particular is what makes me look down upon Chinese academia and the intelligentsia. [The total shamelessness. The out-and-out and open shamelessness,] They don’t care for face, literally and openly declare that they don’t care for face, which is so rare even here and now. A Chinese old saying goes, poverty stifles ambition, which makes a very good point here. But it’s more than just being poor, those people are actually degenerate. Poverty is just an excuse.

Q: Since you mentioned market, please comment on the art market.

A:Anything can sell, and the exquisite thing as art is no exception. Art sells in that it decorates the [rich] homes of people with lots of money, so it becomes commodity, which is quite normal. The question is the percentage. I mean, in the whole cultural environment, is commodity the only role to play or not? Is it so fragile that once it becomes commodity, it can’t be anything else? I think that’s a major problem in Chinese contemporary art. The way I see it, it’s kind of funny, because it’s like that even the reason why you do art in the first place got changed, the reason and principles of your life got changed, and eventually transformed into some other value. Too much attention and discussions have been driven to the market – of course, if you are not an artist but a speculator, there’s nothing wrong with talking about market too much, but if you are someone still creating works, or if you got into art because you felt like to express yourself, or fascinated with certain ways of expression, instead of just money, capital or status, then there is something deeply wrong. Now it seems to me that everybody is talking about market, which is bothering me. From stock market to the pricing of brand names, there’s nothing to blame market itself about. You sell something for five cents of money, five thousand Yuan of money, or fifty thousand, and it’s fine. But behind this market, behind the pricing of a certain product, are other values diluted by this market price? This is a question.

Q: What interests you then?

A:Honestly, I’m not interested in anything in particular. I’m not particularly uninterested in commercial stuff or some other things. Really there are not too many things that interest me; perhaps I am passive. But generally speaking, art is a profession that I have some interest in. What interests me there is the people who are less utilitarian and more characteristic, and living some sorts of self-conscious lives. But what about now? You see no difference between [this art] people in this art circle and their neighbor who peddle. It becomes boring. But after all, I don’t really care, and concern. For example, this country lives or dies, I don’t really care either. It’s just that you asked me, like you ask me anything such as weather, windy or sandstorm comes, it’s something out of your control. It’s just what this country is.

Q: Say something about your blog.

A: Blog is fun. I will upload the pictures I took for you right away. I don’t know anything about my viewers, even though they are just a click away from me – this is what I feel so straightforward, so real and at the same time delusional, so I keep doing it.

Q: You mean it’s a way to communicate your own information.

A:I think the information age is the best time for human being so far. Before this, mankind was in the dark or on a chosen path, and now for the first time it provides technical possibilities for the so called freedom and individual will. You [can] may choose to play alone or with those whom you like to play with, which is hard to imagine before. I think everybody should be welcoming this new situation allowing free expression and individual approaches – sounds cliché but still very important. Things like new possibilities of communication, including the possibilities of reshaping, absorbing and utilizing the power of the society, are great things.

Q: Speaking of art, do you think there is a distinction between geographical center and margin?

A:I think not, especially not in this information age and Internet age. In fact this is for the first time that mankind has an opportunity and possibility to topple the traditional value system of central power. This possibility springs up suddenly after a long history of human struggle, and it’s such a great thing.

contemporary, the state of contemporary 当代[dang dai]

Q:你刚才说觉得中国当代艺术很,指的是一些什么方面的东西?

A:那是外因的问题,跟内因没有太多的关系,也就是别人需要别人利益在中国当代社会里边发生了一些作用,有时候是国外的或者什么东西,它就会投入很多的关注经营这个东西的人也了,然后现在好像没有什么人不中国或中国的艺术,哪都谈,其实这个就跟谈开矿——哪儿适合开矿是一个道理,但是能不能开出什么东西来就不好说,但是作为内因呢?我觉得中国当代艺术自己内部远远不到那个能力,就是没有这个能量,只能说是一个外因使它起来的,就好像是一个洗衣机一样,把衣服扔进去,实际上是靠外边的那些滚筒在,然后里边的衣服看起来才得这么快,实际上就是自己没有动力

Q: You said earlier that you feel contemporary art in China is very hyped. What aspects were you referring to?

A: It’s a matter of external factors, and has little to do with internal factors. It’s other people’s demands. Other people‘s profit has made a certain impact on contemporary Chinese society. Sometimes, something from overseas pays a lot of attention to the contemporary Chinese art. And more and more people are managing the circulation of the works of contemporary art in China. Now, everyone is talking about China, or Chinese art. In fact, this is the same thing as mining – where is suitable for mining? It’s not certain whether you can mine something good. As for internal factors, I think contemporary Chinese art is far, far away from being capable on such a level. It doesn’t have that energy. We can only say that it’s the external factors that make it run. It’s like a laundry machine – you throw your clothes in, and it’s only the tumbler that makes the laundry appear to be spinning so fast. The fact is, it doesn’t have that momentum in itself.

(摘自徐坦对谢方明的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Xie Fangming)

Interviewed: Xie Fangming

Time: Afternoon, Jan. 29, 2007

Location: Cave Cafe, 798 Art District, Beijing

集体  group 15

利益  profit  4

社会  society social  13

生活  life  5

公众  public 6

大众  the masses  2

普通人 ordinary person 6

别人   others other people  someone else somebody else 15

自己  self  22

关系  connection (relationship) to do with relations  20

有关  related 9

当代  the state of contemporary  contemporary   17

严打  crackdowns   1

政府  government   2

    do”  engage in  5

兴趣  interest interested  9

    prosperous  hyped   3

    circle  8

圈子  circle  2

过瘾  high  3

流行  popular  trendyfad  trendiness    3

    money   4

猥琐   indecency   2

Source of keywords:

Q: First, what’s your overall impression of the current state of contemporary art in China?

A: It’s hard to talk about the entire situation. I just feel it’s a little hyped. There is a lot of group activity. Other than that, there is nothing special I want to say, because what we usually see are just very trendy things.

Q: What do you think is the relation between the fashion and art?

A: Art… at first we didn’t exactly know what art is. It’s just taking advantage of one another. People know there’s such a thing called art, and then use it do certain things related to profit. If everybody aims at the same thing… Other than that, there is no conflict between art and fad, it’s the same thing. In other words, after profit and art make a connection, trendiness is the result.

Q: You said earlier that you feel contemporary art in China is very hyped. What aspects were you referring to?

A: It’s a matter of external factors, and has little to do with internal factors. It’s other people’s demands. Other people‘s profit has made a certain impact on contemporary Chinese society. Sometimes, something from overseas pays a lot of attention to the contemporary Chinese art. And more and more people are managing the circulation of the works of contemporary art in China. Now, everyone is talking about China, or Chinese art. In fact, this is the same thing as mining – where is suitable for mining? It’s not certain whether you can mine something good. As for internal factors, I think contemporary Chinese art is far, far away from being capable on such a level. It doesn’t have that energy. We can only say that it’s the external factors that make it run. It’s like a laundry machine – you throw your clothes in, and it’s only the tumbler that makes the laundry appear to be spinning so fast. The fact is, it doesn’t have that momentum in itself.

Q: What’s your view on the art circle in Beijing?

A: There are lots of circles in Beijing. But I found that the main circle is a group of close friends with good friendship. I think that’s probably the main group. Another possible group is the one [that's closer to] in close relations with the critics and curators – there’s some possible motives involved. Or there is a group that’s closer to the galleries, like a few gallery owners and agents. And some artists have a good relationship or collaboration with them, which is in fact a profit relationship. And in Beijing, many artists here are migrants. People need mutual support when in solitude. If seen from this angle, there forms a group that’s like an administration office for non-locals. Those are the two types of groups.

Q: So you’re saying that under most circumstances here in Beijing, each artist is merely a member of a group, and unimportant in himself?

A: I feel this is the best state, that is, no one feels himself to be really formidable, not a single one. Because when resources come, it dissolves immediately… just like water poured into sand – it’s gone right away. You can’t see anything.

Q: You are living, as a matter of fact, in art circle?

A: More or less. If you really go to other circles, you’ll find that their game ruled are not suitable for you, and it’s not really a matter of acceptance. For example, the film circle that I saw; I feel that kind of weakness is even much more severe than any one of us artists. I just couldn’t bear listening to the kind of stories they tell. And if they even talked about film – for Christ’s sake, it got me really impatient, even more impatient than a complete outsider. So, in comparison, artists are somewhat more like intellectuals, although… Because artists are concerned about how he is structured, how to shape himself. I think this at least is good. Artists are relatively nice, and have more fun.

Q: Did you just say that the state of the society has no impact on your art?

A: How shall I put it… Certain things don’t influence you directly, but some other things do. For example, sometimes Beijing goes into a state of tension, like during government crackdowns. Then you start to feel a bit like “white terror”. Then you feel you are influenced. Other than that, the influence is indirect.

Q: You said that the general public in China can’t easily understand your art, and you don’t really care for such interaction, right?

A: No, not only my work. Most artists’ works are not understood. That is very normal. First of all, you’re not an ordinary person – no, I can’t put it that way – you’re not someone else, so you cannot create something that would fully interest somebody else. You can only see if others are interested in something you make. It can only be like this; that is, others are active, and you are passive. All you can do is to do a performance in nude, and the question remains whether people are interested in your nudity. That’s all.

Q: You have been doing painting before coming to Beijing, right? Over years, the social circumstances and the public have changed their views on contemporary art. Please comment on this from a more emotional vantage point.

A: This is a good question. Actually, I feel the audience has been well trained over all these years. In Beijing there is still audience who likes art. They are influenced because there are more exhibitions here, including government sponsored exhibitions, such as the exhibition from American museums, the exhibition on Italian Renaissance, and the exhibition on 19th-century Russian painting – all this hodgepodge of exhibitions. So the audience comes to accept them gradually – he might not really enjoy them, but he accepts the situation. He feels its richness. He might not understand it better, but he is more tolerant. In contrast, in the realm of contemporary art, the audience simply cannot be trained. Because under this particular social system and social condition at the present moment, it’s difficult for people to understand what is “contemporary.” First, put aside the question of what contemporary art is. Just as a person, an ordinary person, he doesn’t even know what he needs in this society. How can he know what contemporary art is? Now in China we see more and more training in the quasi-occupational social labor. The average young people getting prepared for the dedication into these 12-hour work day situations, either quasi-occupational or those of pyramid selling. He has no imagination about his own life, he is a stranger to art, yet one thing is good – he can accept whatever you give him.

There are lots of audience who talks to you about art… What is this art for? Have you painted the human body before? What do you feel when painting the human body? Can you make money at all with this painting? Anyway, the public‘s appetite for [triviality] indecency is much stronger than that of the artist. They really enjoy asking about everything.

Q: The art market is very “prosperous” now. How does it affect your art creation?

A: If I were to accept that many orders for works, then it’ll certainly have an impact. Of course, by then, when you have so much money, will you still want to paint? You’ll feel painting is such a clumsy job. When you have so much money, you wouldn’t need to paint yourself; you could totally have someone else do it for you. Because by then, it’s the other things that get you high. You would no longer get high on your painting; you’d get high on money.

concept 概念[gai nian]

艺术家跟大众永远在形成一种独特的关系,这是问题的第一个,所以说这个问题本身一上来就是个很概念问题

The artist and the public are always form a special relationship. This is the first question, which in itself is very conceptual.

(摘自徐坦对汪关征的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Wang Guanzheng)

 

nterviewed: Sun Jin, Peng Yao

Time: Noon, January 29, 2007

Location: Sun & Peng Studio, 798, Beijing

社会                   society  social  socially   24

反应                   reaction (feedback  response  respond)  8

(不)接受             accept  acceptance  (take in rejected)    7

普通(人,观众)       ordinary (people / audience)  general public  9

公众                   general public     2

观众                   audience(s)       22

关系                   relation  relationship  has something to do with  11

机制                   system  mechanism    8

机构                   organization      5

美术馆                 museum    8

独立 independence    2

政府  government    5

政治 political        3

自由 free            3

和谐社会  harmonious society    9

       do  make           40

       do  engage in tackle   1

中国      China  Chinese      31

西方      the West  western     19

发展      development  drifting     5

成功      success  successful     10

商业()  commercialization  commercial  commercially    4

游戏     game    4

舒服     comfortable   3

学术     academic  academics  academically    11

农民     farmer       5

强奸     rape  raped    2

通奸     adultery     2

生效     effectiveness   effective   2

市场     market  marketing    5

投机份子  opportunitists   1

Source of Keywords:

Q: You just mentioned the public perception of your works and the natural influence thereof, I have the feeling that most of your early works are not as socially-conscious as the newer ones.

A: (Sun) Actually all the materials come from the society, it’s just that some of them come from the relatively private aspect of social life, and some are better-known materials, such as news subjects, social topics. Actually all topics are social topics, it’s just that the attention they draw are of different levels. Also, I don’t think I would go with the idea that currently all subjects derive from the society, I think a lot of them can still find roots in ourselves, but when they are confronted with the society, you’ll need an appropriate translation and conversion system, and then you’ll end up choosing relatively typical materials. It seems to me that you just can’t take the problem separately.

(Peng) In the early days when we were young, our relation with the society are not so complicated, or, shall we say, we were not yet an integrated part of the society, therefore the works we did and the materials we used are not so socially-conscious. But I reckon that anything could be used as material, and you are going to engage in the society more and more as you grow up, eventually you’ll choose those materials in the society that interest you. So I don’t think that subject is the key issue here.

Q: A lot of your works in the exhibitions are focused on the relationship with the society. Do you perceive any differences in China and the West in terms of audience’s acceptance and feedback?

A: (Sun) Yes, but I think the differences were more typical a few years ago, before and around 2000. The opening-up of China was still in its early phase back then, and most people did not accept what is called contemporary art, they were too impatient when watching. Now there seems to be a unified consensus, western and Chinese audience are aware of this (Chinese) contemporary art thing, they know there is a bunch of people doing weird stuff, and their first reaction towards them are “Ah! Another performance art! “Thus art is reduced to a term, when someone puzzles over something; he would call it performance art. He has this category in his mind, and can group it, and then it’s easy for him to take in.

(Peng) At that time the West was more interested in the political confrontational aspect, it has something to do with the whole Chinese ideology. The country was not open enough back then, and biennale still didn’t emerge in Shanghai……all the western audiences would interpret your work from the political perspective. There were two kinds of Chinese audience, and this is particularly interesting, the first kind is artistically-informed people, or people somewhat related to art and culture; and the other kind is people who has no relationship whatsoever with culture. As it turned out, the culture-savvy part happened to find our works incomprehensible, they even made a lot of protests or accusation against them. On the other hand, those who have no relationship with art or culture, including policemen……one of my exhibitions was banned, and I chatted with many ordinary people like policemen and persons in Residents’ Committee, you know, ordinary people, they all went to see the exhibition and found it super interesting.

And now governments are organizing biennales, contemporary art has become a card in their hands, something that everyone can and should take advantage of. So it’s like a slogan, a presentation used to impress the international community, and here’s when the game with the official starts.

A: (Peng) In the ’90s, before 2000, when something happens, you can calm down to observe your surroundings, to perceive the changes of everybody in detail. But now, especially in recent years, the whole atmosphere in the art scene is volatile. It has become difficult for me to try to understand the changes outside, and the situation is complicated now……take our studio in 798 for example, this place is so touristy now, it’s hard to position yourself. But we do work here as of today. Now the government is into contemporary art too, a lot of opportunitists are into this, and there’s the gallery frenzy, a dozen of new galleries would turn up here every day. You also witness the price of Chinese contemporary art skyrocketing on the international market, I have the feeling that many artists have lost themselves, they have become less pure; in the old days, underground is underground, the artists make art, and that’s it. Nowadays everyone collaborates with everyone, and you participate in their game more frequently, the game is getting more and more complex, Stage Two!

Q: So do you think that general public has become better connoisseurs of contemporary art?

A: (Peng) I think maybe they do find it easier to accept, but what art offers them, on the contrary, has decreased. Back then they would try to understand why these people do what they’re doing, now they get themselves a concept, like I tell you this word, ‘performance art‘, they go ‘Ah, so this is performance art!’, and there it is. Something is missing for the general public, the minute they are given a safe explanation, they are deprived of the thinking process.

(Sun) There are actually two sides of the coin. For the artist, I think they are also trying to figure out what kind of audience they have. In the ’90s there was this cynic group, you may want to call them early [Chinese] contemporary artist, they were the enfant terrible, going to the extreme when rejected by the public. By now, however, many artists have come to realize that in order to play the enfant terrible card you need to first have the endorsement by the audience. So both sides were moving towards each other, when the two reach a point of coordination, by which I mean they can work together seamlessly and feel free at the same time, that’s what you may call the harmonious society. Back then reform and opening were everything, people would do anything for breakthrough. Things have changed, now the overall structure is fixed, it’s a matter of coordination. This is in synch with the general situation of the country, the concept of harmonious society has posed a big question to art as well. Of course every era has its own issues, but the issues we are facing now in a harmonious society is of not much difference with those in the western countries. This is because harmonious society is commonplace in the West, and artists there feel free and suffocated at the same time. This is gonna happen in China at some point in the future, we’ll see.

(Peng) For instance, I’m initially exciting upon learning that certain large foreign organization is coming to Beijing to open a museum, because it means there will finally be a decent museum showcasing contemporary art in Beijing and in China. But soon I come to realize the potential crisis; I don’t know whether this thing would do any good to Beijing and to Chinese contemporary art as a whole, will it help pushing the scene towards the good or bad, healthy or unhealthy direction? There are two sides to these things. What the foreign museums try to do is to port the whole prestigious western museum system to Beijing, but if you take a look at exhibitions in the West, you’ll see how the corrupted museum system stifles the whole art scene. This explains all the buzz about the whole lot of Chinese artists participating in the Venice Biennale that year; they witnessed the potential of Chinese contemporary art in the West. But is there really any potential? Granted, you can’t say there’s zero potential, but the point is westerners realized that they could find new possibilities in China, and these possibilities are potential, energy, frightening stuff. While in the West, the whole system has provided a, in Sun Yuan’s word, harmonious society for everybody, people have to play by the rules and to strive for breakthrough in between. After some time, everybody ends up playing tricks, for me this is really not the ideal way of life. So I think the western museum system‘s coming into China will be a double-edged sword for the artists. Wouldn’t you kill a lot of possibilities if you bring in something lifeless? It helps us to operate under the rules and procedure, that’s for sure, and of course an oft-heard criticism on Chinese artists or the whole Chinese art market by western museums is the lack of rules and procedure, but this is precisely the characteristic and charisma of China. I prefer a lifestyle with lots of accidents, if Chinese contemporary art is drifting towards a completely expected, accident-free direction, I think it’s time for the artists to think about what they can do to stimulate the scene.

Q: Economic changes will have an influence on art and the relation between artists and the audience, but there are a lot of artists seem to ignore the audience, aren’t there?

A: (Sun) This is about knowledge being in synch with the government, in other words, a harmonious society is the end result of a peaceful evolution process. Commercialization and the participation of economics contribute to the realization of a harmonious society. There are rules, economic rules, that you would want to follow and to refer to as a kind of artist who cares not only about yourself, but also about the audience. One can’t deny the fact that all people regard economical success as the measurement of success in general, even artists themselves, so do the audiences. It’s a point of reference. So economics actually works as the coordinator and thus triggers the peaceful evolution. I’ll say that artists and audiences are not the sole driving force of the harmonious society, there must be some other interfering factors. So how to maintain consistency? How to reach the same coordinated point? Economics is being used as a reference point in many cases.

(Peng) Market and academic studies call for different approaches. Marketing guys take care of the market, scholars take care of academic studies, so it won’t do any good to have people like us to talk about issues without our range.

(Sun) Sometimes people say ‘academic is itself’, I’m not sure I agree with them on that: do you think about the question of success when doing academic works? If the question crosses your mind, then there shall be a point of coordination somewhere. When all the factors are mixed together in the optimized proportion, it will appear to be something successful and will generate some momentum for your academic studies. Here, the word successful means not only commercial success, but success in every dimension. Without this all-dimentional success as the point of reference, academic studies will be of no direction or value – it has no coordinated platform. Actually academics all work on a platform, there is the standard for measuring success, which is effectiveness, [commercial-wise and academic-wise] effective commercially or academically. There’s a certain value in it.

Q: Do you care about the negative part in the audiences’ feedback?

A: (Sun) The audiencesfeedback are exactly the thing I care about.

(Peng) But it’s not important how they respond to our works, as long as there is response at all. We don’t really care whether they are positive or negative, we care about the fact that they do have reaction.

(Sun) Or shall we say the best case is that we have mixed response; rape mixed with adultery, if you will. Being raped and yet reaching orgasm, committing adultery but with a bit of passiveness, that’s a good mixture. I’m not into pure compulsory stuff, but reaction is a must.

Q: I think one of the major differences between Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou is the different level of consciousness towards power. It’s the strongest in Beijing, weaker in Shanghai, and the weakest in Guangzhou. Do you have anything to say about this?

A: (Sun) I don’t particularly feel that way, this power thing you mentioned. I don’t know if there’s power or not, but the way I see it, power is of no relevance as long as you feel comfortable and happy. Because you are in the lower tiers of others’ power mechanism, you are not the top guy, you feel good being here, and you stay here, I think that’s enough. It’s not necessarily the same thing as the farmer‘s corporation, in which power is above everything, even daily meals are related to power, if you can’t get hold of this power, you are not able to survive……by power I mean a kind of dominate/subordinate relation, not necessarily political power.

comprehend, know 理解[li jie]

感觉当代艺术很超前,不像以前,我感觉它们都是有生命的,虽然我对美术界里一些传统教育方法不是很理解,但西方裸体绘——在我没画画以前我就感觉不文明;自从我画画以后,就知道那很;更进一步地说,能把好的一面、坏的一面都呈现出来。

I see contemporary art as very progressive, unlike painting from the past. I feel that they are all full of life, even though I don’t know much about traditional pedagogy in the field of art. But Western paintings of the nudebefore I painted, I felt that they were uncivilized. But after I painted myself, I understood that they were beautiful. More precisely, they reveal both the good and the bad.

(摘自徐坦对郭丹霞的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Guo Danxia)

Interviewed: Guo Danxia

Time: Afternoon, Jan. 27, 2007

Location: The artist’s residence, Xi’an.

 

理解     comprehend  know  7

(画画  paint  drawing    199

知道  know         22

文化  culture      12   

文化层次 culture level  4

  healing    cure   11

  understand     8

清楚  clear         8

感觉    feel   15

白血病    leukemia  leukemic   6

白鳝   white eel   4

自己   self  own   20

别人  other people   others  18

感觉   feel   24

迷信 Superstition 2

中国     China Chinese 7

西方     the West Western  5

身体     health Body  physically  physical condition   8

       Qi (energy) 6

       spiritual   3

灵气     reiki  2

气功     Qigong  3

生殖器   genitalia  4

神秘     mysterious   3

科技     science  2

经济效益   1economic profit    1

女神    goddess  2

境界    level spiritual level   2 

谋杀    murder  2

智(慧)     intelligence  intelligent  4

开发   develop development   4

Q: How did you start painting?

A: May 21, 1989 – before that I had often been sick due to bad health. I had heard that even illiterates could write prescriptions, which amazed me, so I wondered if I could paint. That was how I started painting, ever since that day. What I painted was stuff related to healing: how do you cure leukemia? How do you cure toothache? How do you cure moodiness? I painted them out, and those works are still there. When painting leukemia, I felt I painted all the leukemic cells – that’s how it felt. I went to school in the 1950s; we were among the first group of students to wear the red scarf, and what we paint now are really interesting stuff. After that I could paint whatever comes to mind, and I’ve never put down my brush in the past 18 years. Now I paint whatever I want; I follow no rules; and sometimes I would even realize it after I finish the painting. I stopped going to work when I was forty, as I was always sick. I couldn’t help it, and then I opened a painting and calligraphy parlor to relax myself. Originally I was trained in chemical experiments chemical analysis; later I painted on paper and fabric scrolls. In 1991, there was an international imagery expo; they wanted to me participate, but I didn’t go. I later brought a few paintings over; and they were stunned, but I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t even know what I was painting myself; but sometimes you could figure it out, after you’ve finished painting it.

Q: Do you think there is any meaning to be discussed in your paintings?

A: There are some that I cannot explain, and some I do can explain. I used to think all the time about bodily spasm, about how to cure illness. Eventually I painted fetuses and the way the human body develops… Those paintings are composed with digits. So, since over ten years ago, I started to believe that the human body is made up of digits. And it was only recently that people started to say that chromosomes are made up of digits.

Q: Is your art influenced by tradition, or by something else?

A: I practiced Qigong before, which is a very good Chinese tradition. It helps develop your intelligence. Practicing Qigong is practicing the brain; but not everybody can succeed. I think I’m talented at this, because I’m totally honest – I’m not interested in ripping people off or making money; I just want to get into shape, and my body is in good shape now. To paint under such circumstances, I feel I could realize a lot. No matter what [people] others say, I feel I could paint the most important thing in my life. If I wanted to paint a brain, eventually I would finish painting a brain. I feel I’m too intelligent – learning by nurture is also a way to develop one’s intelligence. I never see this as superstition. It is a science.

Q: What kind of concept do you think contemporary art is?

A: I see contemporary art as very progressive, unlike painting from the past. I feel that they are all full of life, even though I don’t know much about traditional pedagogy in the field of art. But Western paintings of the nudebefore I painted, I felt that they were uncivilized. But after I painted myself, I understood that they were beautiful. More precisely, they reveal both the good and the bad.

Q: What do you think is the relation between art and society?

A: I feel we should study art with a tolerance towards all, whether it is traditional culture or anything else. As long as it exists in this society, it has value. I see this as the promise. I’m different from you guys: you people paint after you understood, and yet I understand only after I painted; that’s why I’m not interested in communicating with others. I paint whatever I want, especially things I don’t know about, which I paint best. I often watch science channels on television – those things that exist already in the West but not in China, I paint them. A guy from Taiwan once said that my paintings are frozen art, belonging to the highest level in art. I think there are very nice art in painting, but its value lies not in art, but something much better and deeper than art. For example, I paint whatever is in Xi’an, and I study whatever I paint; once a painting is done, there are still lots to be studied in the painting. When I painted Empress Wu Zetian’s tomb, the Shao Tomb, I painted a clown sitting on her navel, because “Shao Tomb” used to be “Xiao Tomb” (“Tomb of Laughter”), where a homophone was used to cover up the reality. Was this site chosen by her, or was it simply meant for her burial in the first place? I think there is a lot to study in this.

Q: What role do you think an artist should play?

A: I think an artist should cover all different aspects in his art. If you only paint the surface, without expressing the spirit, it’s not a good painting. I believe myself to be someone with multiple personalities, not simply a painter. Like I can diagnose myself; I can cure other people‘s illness through painting. I can also strengthen myself physically. I’m sixty-seven now, and in great shape. Many artists remain in good physical condition once they reach a certain spiritual level, and can live very long. They are also practicing the Qi (energy) to dredge their mind; that’s why painters have high spiritual levels.

Q: What function do you think artists have in a society?

A: Artists can express their own thoughts through painting, which propels the society forward. Stuff like contemporary art in particular, which I go see sometimes – I ask people, “What is Utopia“? They say it’s beautiful things. I feel my paintings represent eastern culture; they not only belong to me personally, but also to everyone else.

Q: Then do you care whether your art is understood by others?

A: I don’t. Everyone comes from a different cultural level. Some people of lower cultural levels can understand my painting, whereas those from higher cultural levels cannot. A director of an academy in Singapore once said that what I painted was genitalia, but I don’t even know how to paint genitalia. I hope to spread Chinese culture out to everywhere. I am someone with modern education; what I paint is contemporary painting. I’m not playing with feudalistic superstition.

A: Please describe the process of your creation.

Q: Like my painting a portrait of someone. I can paint someone just by writing his name once. With just a few strokes, I can paint with great resemblance, even people who I have never seen before. After I finish painting, I can even talk about that person. I can feel all these with my brush. These are what I receive from my subject. It’s not out of the blue. The world is too grand. Painting should include many things, including the universe. I want to paint everything that I know about, and after painting them I get to know something deeper about them, although not all. I’m curious to know about various things, especially things aesthetic. For example, the goddess in Hongshan culture – I’d like to know what that goddess looks like. We have is a long cultural history in Xi’an, and after the archeological site was discovered in Lintong, I did this whole series of paintings, to see whether it was really mysterious. Some painters really hate people asking questions, but not me. Whatever you want me to paint, I can do it; the less I know about something, the better I can paint it. For example, the pyramid in Egypt – only after painting it did I know that it was where the pharaohs were buried. I never knew that before painting it.

commercialization business commercial 商业[shang ye]

我认为有一个发展趋势,也存在很多问题,比如商业上有点太厉害了,导致有很多东西,根本不会去考虑做什么怎样做,因为经常受到市场影响,关于商业方面的一些东西,可能会造成作品质量上出现很多问题,但也是的,时间长了大家会很冷静的想这件事情,想怎么。我没什么太大的看法,没怎么想这个问题,比如对制度的看法,对于制度我们是没办法的,因为很多事情事先就是这样的,没有像国外那么完整的一个艺术机制中国现在的机制肯定会对艺术的发展产生影响,没有基金会等的一些机构艺术家还是要一些商业方面的东西,国外的一些艺术家可以不依靠作品,可以先申请到基金来进行创作,而中国艺术家必须要靠自己作品填补创作上的需要,就是自己作品掉了来支付下一个作品的费用,存在这样的一个问题。

I think there is a healthy trend of development, but there are also many problems. For example, commercialization has gone a bit too far. Consequently, people often don’t even think about what to do or how to do it, because of the influence of the market. Perhaps this commercialization leads to many problems in the quality of the work. But it’s also good – in time, people will reflect on this issue, reflect on how to do things. I don’t have much of an opinion on this. I haven’t really thought about it that much. Take the view on the system for example. There is nothing we can do about the system, because a lot of things are pre-existent; we don’t have a well-built mechanism of art as foreign countries. The existing system in China certainly has an impact on the development of art. Without certain organizations, such as foundations, artists here still depend on commercial activities. Artists in foreign countries can apply for the funds to maintain their creation. They don’t have to depend on selling their works. But the artists in China have to rely on his own works to meet his needs in creation, that is, he must sell his work in order to pay for the production fees of his next work of art. That is the problem.

(摘自徐坦对刘仁华的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Liu Renhua)

Interviewed: Hu Xiaoyu

Time: Afternoon, February 1, 2007

Location: Dushixin Hai’an Yayuan, Futong Xi Da Jie, Beijing

     woman female  41

女性     female  32

女性主义   feminism  4

       man   24

男性      male  18

男性艺术家   male artists   8

社会    society  38

生活(活着)  life   living    lifestyle   33

个人   personal individual    21

感觉 (觉得)  feeling     21

兴趣    interest    10

不一样(不同)  different  difference   9

责任    responsibility  9

关系   relationship    7

生命   life    5

感情(ganqing)  emotion   3

情感(qinggan) emotion emotional   4

方式   way approaches   19

自己   self own personal   13

现实   reality   3

介入   intervention involvement   7

时政 political  1

自由 freedom 1

无聊   bored   3

空虚    empty (spiritually)   2

 addicted   2

打交道  deal with      3

有意思  interesting    8

没意思  out the meaning   5

刺激    stimulation  stimulated  2

Source of keywords:

Q: Talk about your life, society, and sociality.

A: Art and life do not necessarily have so many conflicts, and you don’t have to think of it as being logical and sensible. [A ] I feel that a lot of things should be allowed to evolve naturally so that they will straighten out in the best way. I think maybe the society is choosing marginal things, things in the outer limit of social norm. I started out rejecting the society. Granted, I myself am supposed to be rejected but the strange thing is, my role as an artist has probably prompted the society to pull me back from the margin. If I were in a profession in which people are required to frequently deal with the society, I might as well get filtered out. After you gain from the society, despite your unwillingness, [it's time] you are bound to take some responsibilities, which means compromise: I begin to move closer to the society, which, in turn, offers me more. But I’m not sure about the future. First I rejected the society, maybe I’m still rejecting it a little bit now, but it’s not rejecting me, this is really subtle relationship. What I don’t know is, if one day I start to embrace the society, would it reject me then? It’s hard to tell, everything is random. I’m especially afraid of having too much contact with the society. I never work with assistant, if I have an assistant does all the work, what’s the point of living? I have to be hands-on in order to figure out the meaning of my life during that period of time. I don’t have social skills and I fear dealing with people. I had depression a while ago. If I can choose my destiny at will, I think maybe nunnery is the best for me, but I can’t. Also, like I haven’t chosen to live the life I’m having now, but I ended up like this anyway, so I was forced to accept something I rejected, after a while, I got addicted to it. This is just weird and contradictory. But I believe everything will straighten themselves out in the end, so now I just try to go with the flow and be less sensitive, letting myself being pushed by other things. I try to be passive, just sitting at home waiting, and when something comes, I work with it as long as I like it. In the very beginning, making art was a way and reason of existence for me, I felt it’s more interesting than other things. Now that I have gained some recognition, you’ll need stimulation. Because your interest wears off during the process, so you need to be stimulated in order to extend it. It’s like a trajectory which will be extended by external intervention.

Q: [Market.]Does market have any influence on your artistic creation?

A: Not interested. If someone comes to me and offers to buy my stuff, I will have to consider whether I should sell or not, and that’s it. I haven’t studied the market systematically, and I don’t really care. I’m doing [okay] with my living state for now, and that’s enough.

Q: The object of your works.

A: I think they are directly connected to my personal emotion and feeling. A large portion of them share a lot of similar things, after all they are all done by myself. But the emotional sources of each work are complicated, it’s not a simple thread. Usually, when there’s a certain point in life that touches me deeply, I would create a work based on that experience. So it’s not something could be easily explained in words, what can be say for sure is that my art works are all related to my personal life. Sometimes I’m also quite puzzled, like a while ago a male friend questioned me, he thought a lot of “female artists” – of course I never call myself that – have a narrow range of concerns: emotion, pedigree, etc. We had some serious quarrel. Speaking of myself, most of my works derive from my own life experience. If you have to accuse me of that, the only reason I can think of is that I am female, so that I’m only concerned with, work on, and interested in those stuff, all the recognizable references in my works have their roots in my personal life. I didn’t think about these in the very beginning. I don’t know what’s going on with others, but I take a look at myself and I know what’s with me. A lot of male artists say that they don’t understand my works. Without having studied the history of Chinese feminism in details, I nevertheless think that women go through a lot of development and changes in a given period of time. For instance, me and my brother are all that’s in my mum‘s mind, children and husband are all that’s in my grandma’s mind, but I feel I don’t want kids now: I don’t even understand what life is about, how can I take the responsibility of have a child? I’ve been thinking what’s the meaning of life, this is perhaps a primary driving force of my art. There has to be meaning (in my works), so I keep searching for it every day. This is a male-centric society, female artists usually have normal and objective view on male ones; the opposite is rarely true, male artists always say they don’t understand our works, there is really no surprise here. Women always choose their ways of expression passively, as the range of their life experiences is limited, so the above judgment is unequally-based. Men‘s involvement in social, political and economic issues are much deeper than women, so of course they are confident in expressing their viewpoint. Women, for sure, are not confident and afraid to talk about those topics, they can only talk about themselves and their emotion. That’s why works by female artists tend to be more personal and intimate, thus difficult for men to understand. Many of my favourite Chinese female artists are very traditional, they have inherited a lot of fundamentally ‘Chinese‘ nature. The problem is not technique but what you are trying to communicate, whether you have a complete system of your own, and whether you manage to touch upon my heart. In most cases, these feelings exist only between women and are hard to describe with words. But I can feel them, they are too personal, detailed, and trivial, they are to be felt, not thought. The society is changing, there are currently many male artists (or non-artist men) paying attention to female approaches, they begin to think about those approaches they failed to understand before. I believe things will be a lot more [different] changes fifty years from now, maybe the demographic proportion would then be in favour of women, who would have more involvement in social life. When that day comes, we can expect the adjustment of social proportion or the right of ownership.

Q: The function of the artist?

A: I don’t have the sense of responsibility, don’t know how it feels to be functioning. But I’m sure a lot of people hope to function in the society, it’s about ambition. But what kind of function? That’s hard to tell. Artists have different way of expression, or shall we say different way of existencedifferent not only from the average people, but also from each other. Those whom I would consider good, who has touched me, are usually artists that base their works upon slices of personal life. From this aspect, I think all people are the same, the difference is that they have gone through different kind of life, thus coming out with different result.

communication 交流[jiao liu]

中国的变化太了,今天在中国摇滚已经不时尚了,玩的是另一种电子音乐了,淘汰的机制特别,对的东西及其厌恶。所以我觉得,对于中国人,这是本性。或是因为经历了很多运动,害怕落后,就会把所有的东西都做得有过之而无不及,我觉得倒挺彻底的……同时代交流?艺术家好像已经丧失了对社会信任,甚至有时候连一些创作欲望都没有了,他们也发现了艺术对这个社会无力感。无力,没有力量,没有帮助,他们觉得做了这个作品跟没有做这个作品的反应一样的,丧失了存在愿望,一种厌倦

But China is simply moving too fast, rock is out-of-fashion now, people are more into electronic music, things get eliminated very fast, old stuff are despised. So I think this is rooted in the nature of Chinese people. We have gone through a lot of political campaigns so we are afraid of falling behind. As a result, we over-do a lot of things. It’s radical, really……and the communication with our time? It seems that artists have lost faith in the society, sometimes they even have no desire in creating art works. At the discovery of art’s helplessness and powerless against the society, they figure that it doesn’t really matter either you make this work or not, and they lack the desire of existence, a kind of boredom.

(摘自徐坦对曹蕾的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Cao Lei)

Interviewed: Cao Lei

Time: Evening, January 31, 2007

Location: The blue building, SOHO New Town, Beijing

社会   society social 23

关系   relationship involved with 16

珠三角  Pearl River Delta 12

成长 长大   grew up    12

     love     11

年青   young     10

合作   collaboration  9

影响 (作用)  influence  9

普通人,观众,村民average (people, audience, villager)  7

环境   surrounding    11

自己    self    30

自我    myself     1

乌托邦  utopia   5

艺术圈  art circle   4

交流  communication    6

现实 现状 reality  (realism)    12

现实主义  reality  realism     2

国家   country   5+

   fast   3

招安 sold souls      1

独立  independence        6

个人()   individual  personal    12

中国   China  Chinese      10

西方  the West     4

情感qinggan)    emotion    10

感情(ganqing)    feeling      3

年代 时代 age   14

时尚 hippest fashion      7

流行  popular      5

周星驰  Stephen chow    1

都市  urban    1

政府 government    1

城市规划   urban planning     1

刺激    stimulate, excitement, stimulating     3

 

Source of keywords:

Q: Your works cut deeply into life in a direct fashion. Do you consider this intervention to be important? Is it an overriding characteristic of Chinese contemporary art or the art of the new generation?

A: We’ve heard a lot of discussions about the social aspect of contemporary art, but sometimes being social doesn’t necessarily mean making a piece of work to express his concerns about the society, or to emphasize the social pressure of the work’s concept, because it hasn’t really advanced social life. Maybe the artist has indeed cut into reality, but I’m looking forward to seeing the influence and dialogue to be more direct.

Q: I find your point very interesting, so you have a very positive attitude towards contemporary art.

A: I don’t mind artist being personal. Sometimes artists would try to isolate themselves from the society, and most of them have introverted personality, but I think there is room for other type of people or direction. Like Ou Ning and I, we do urban planning- and architecture-related projects, and we are even deeply involved with the residents in front of our camera, I think these are all interesting. So I think contemporary art should be more open and embracing. At the absence of an appropriate term to describe our works, we temporarily put up with ‘contemporary art’. But it might well be something else, [something freer] with a freer title.

Q: Let’s get back to the topic of engaging with other people, how do you see your relation when collaborating with someone else?

A: Gradually I come to realize that reality or realism is still powerful in China at present, and documenting is another focus and a way to approach the reality. It seems to me that European artists have already gone through the high speed economic development period. Chinese contemporary art was probably influenced by European conceptual art in the very beginning, but I think we are gradually developing our own expression and context, which fit better in this country and its social life. In the early days we saw a lot of tricks played with forms – typical western working method. But I think the changes in every country are different, artists of different countries respond and react differently to their social and artistic reality. I fully understand and appreciate the works of that German artist.

Q: How does the current social reality of China affect your art and Chinese contemporary art in general? What does it offer you? Does it obstruct you? How?

A: My generation doesn’t seem to like to go abroad, instead we prefer to spend time in our own cities or countries to observe. This is a time of drastic changes, and there are a myriad of information to stimulate your creation, that’s why I’m willing to stay in this city. The city has been accumulating and changing as I grew up, and I’m used to the speed and excitement of it. For me, it’s like a well deeply rooted in the residence. When we were making San Yuan Li and Dazhalan Project, we were more or less getting ourselves into sensitive topics such as demolition and forced eviction. Ideologically we were standing against government. We think these topics are about the development of the society. We have a difficult environment for this kind of artistic expression. In the early days of contemporary art we still find a kind of risking – the confrontation with government ideology, but today is a different story. How to put this……in old terms we said artists have sold their souls to the government. I think these days are witnessing the decrease of venturing spirit of that kind. Today’s venture is no longer the behaviouristic or conceptual ones, it’s rather about a way to probe deep into the core of the problems: the deeper and more difficult. This is a working method and direction chosen by the artists, and it’s the environment we are facing now.

Q: You are quite sensitive to the changes of contemporary art, and your experience and attention to them are rather unusual. Do you have other judgments towards contemporary art besides the change-focused one?

A: Let’s take my documentary Father for example. My father has been a sculptor for many years, after I have grown up, I started to looking for connection between me and his sculptures. I made a documentary on him, I documented how he made sculptures of Deng Xiaoping, and he traveled a lot of counties and towns and accepted larger and larger orders. Father is now making sculptures of Confucius, and there’s a large market for it currently. Although not a contemporary artist, he has a close tie with reality, and you can learn about the near future direction of the country from sculpture: Deng Xiaoping this year, Confucius the next, and the one after……all these are explicitly visible on the older generation of artists, you see the destiny of China and its development in their art, and how artists of that age compromise with daily life. They were more closely connected with reality than the younger contemporary artists. The real face of our society is better reflected by my father as an artist. I submitted the documentary on my father to Taipei Biennale.

Q: Why do you think that there’s insufficient love in Chinese contemporary art?

A: First there are social factors, which I just mentioned. We are living in a society without love, or one in which love is not advocated. This value is not proposed by the whole society. The education we had from the early years was only fake respect and fake love, so I don’t think art should take the blame – because the whole society is simply going into a wrong direction, the moral system is collapsing, I’m a little desperate in this regard. It’s not only in the art circle, but all walks of life. So sometimes I feel the reason of art‘s existence is to rub smooth the social cracks. As an artist, I will try my best in this direction, instead of producing more phony things.

Q: This is exactly the belief that is in short in this society, with consumerism culture and fashion prevailing. Do you think they have any influence on the value of our society?

A: Sure they do, both show biz and fashion industry have casted an influence on the younger generation and the society as a whole. In America and Europe, although show biz and entertainment occupy a certain portion of the whole culture, they also manage to preserve the traditional elements. For instance, New York has the hippest events, but there are also poetry reading sessions or traditional rock concerts every night. But China is simply moving too fast, rock is out-of-fashion now, people are more into electronic music, things get eliminated very fast, old stuff are despised. So I think this is rooted in the nature of Chinese people. We have gone through a lot of political campaigns so we are afraid of falling behind. As a result, we over-do a lot of things. It’s radical, really……and the communication with our time? It seems that artists have lost faith in the society, sometimes they even have no desire in creating art works. At the discovery of art’s helplessness and powerless against the society, they figure that it doesn’t really matter either you make this work or not, and they lack the desire of existence, a kind of boredom.

Q: What do you think should be an artist’s conscious to his/her social role? Do you really believe that art can function in the society? To which degree? Is this just a hope?

A: I believe as an artist, you can definitely have only limited and weak influence on the society, and it functions only within a small circle unless you really take advantage of all kinds of resources, be adventurous and work like an activist and not just an artist. I see myself mainly as a bridge, even I stop being an artist one day, maybe I can do something more intellectually stimulating? So it’s really about getting this role as a bridge more stable and focused.

Q: Last question: would you please offer us your statement as an artist? What are some of the key concepts of your artistic creation?

A: How should I put this……like the project I’m doing now, it’s a film called Who’s Utopia?. This is both an interrogative sentence and a simply statement. Utopia should be built by us in collaboration, or shall we say some of us do need a utopia. I think I’m the kind of person who still has this ‘utopia complex‘, I’m not into the dystopia thing. Although I can’t really see the future clearly, but there has always been a force pushing me forward towards Utopia. What’s more, it’s not impossible that, one day, I would ditch this identity as an artist in favor of that of an activist.

commercial 商业的[shang ye de]

我认为有一个发展趋势,也存在很多问题,比如商业上有点太厉害了,导致有很多东西,根本不会去考虑做什么怎样做,因为经常受到市场影响,关于商业方面的一些东西,可能会造成作品质量上出现很多问题,但也是的,时间长了大家会很冷静的想这件事情,想怎么。我没什么太大的看法,没怎么想这个问题,比如对制度的看法,对于制度我们是没办法的,因为很多事情事先就是这样的,没有像国外那么完整的一个艺术机制中国现在的机制肯定会对艺术的发展产生影响,没有基金会等的一些机构艺术家还是要一些商业方面的东西,国外的一些艺术家可以不依靠作品,可以先申请到基金来进行创作,而中国艺术家必须要靠自己作品填补创作上的需要,就是自己作品掉了来支付下一个作品的费用,存在这样的一个问题。

I think there is a healthy trend of development, but there are also many problems. For example, commercialization has gone a bit too far. Consequently, people often don’t even think about what to do or how to do it, because of the influence of the market. Perhaps this commercialization leads to many problems in the quality of the work. But it’s also good – in time, people will reflect on this issue, reflect on how to do things. I don’t have much of an opinion on this. I haven’t really thought about it that much. Take the view on the system for example. There is nothing we can do about the system, because a lot of things are pre-existent; we don’t have a well-built mechanism of art as foreign countries. The existing system in China certainly has an impact on the development of art. Without certain organizations, such as foundations, artists here still depend on commercial activities. Artists in foreign countries can apply for the funds to maintain their creation. They don’t have to depend on selling their works. But the artists in China have to rely on his own works to meet his needs in creation, that is, he must sell his work in order to pay for the production fees of his next work of art. That is the problem.

(摘自徐坦对刘仁华的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Liu Renhua)

Interviewed: Sun Jin, Peng Yao

Time: Noon, January 29, 2007

Location: Sun & Peng Studio, 798, Beijing

社会                   society  social  socially   24

反应                   reaction (feedback  response  respond)  8

(不)接受             accept  acceptance  (take in rejected)    7

普通(人,观众)       ordinary (people / audience)  general public  9

公众                   general public     2

观众                   audience(s)       22

关系                   relation  relationship  has something to do with  11

机制                   system  mechanism    8

机构                   organization      5

美术馆                 museum    8

独立 independence    2

政府  government    5

政治 political        3

自由 free            3

和谐社会  harmonious society    9

       do  make           40

       do  engage in tackle   1

中国      China  Chinese      31

西方      the West  western     19

发展      development  drifting     5

成功      success  successful     10

商业()  commercialization  commercial  commercially    4

游戏     game    4

舒服     comfortable   3

学术     academic  academics  academically    11

农民     farmer       5

强奸     rape  raped    2

通奸     adultery     2

生效     effectiveness   effective   2

市场     market  marketing    5

投机份子  opportunitists   1

Source of Keywords:

Q: You just mentioned the public perception of your works and the natural influence thereof, I have the feeling that most of your early works are not as socially-conscious as the newer ones.

A: (Sun) Actually all the materials come from the society, it’s just that some of them come from the relatively private aspect of social life, and some are better-known materials, such as news subjects, social topics. Actually all topics are social topics, it’s just that the attention they draw are of different levels. Also, I don’t think I would go with the idea that currently all subjects derive from the society, I think a lot of them can still find roots in ourselves, but when they are confronted with the society, you’ll need an appropriate translation and conversion system, and then you’ll end up choosing relatively typical materials. It seems to me that you just can’t take the problem separately.

(Peng) In the early days when we were young, our relation with the society are not so complicated, or, shall we say, we were not yet an integrated part of the society, therefore the works we did and the materials we used are not so socially-conscious. But I reckon that anything could be used as material, and you are going to engage in the society more and more as you grow up, eventually you’ll choose those materials in the society that interest you. So I don’t think that subject is the key issue here.

Q: A lot of your works in the exhibitions are focused on the relationship with the society. Do you perceive any differences in China and the West in terms of audience’s acceptance and feedback?

A: (Sun) Yes, but I think the differences were more typical a few years ago, before and around 2000. The opening-up of China was still in its early phase back then, and most people did not accept what is called contemporary art, they were too impatient when watching. Now there seems to be a unified consensus, western and Chinese audience are aware of this (Chinese) contemporary art thing, they know there is a bunch of people doing weird stuff, and their first reaction towards them are “Ah! Another performance art! “Thus art is reduced to a term, when someone puzzles over something; he would call it performance art. He has this category in his mind, and can group it, and then it’s easy for him to take in.

(Peng) At that time the West was more interested in the political confrontational aspect, it has something to do with the whole Chinese ideology. The country was not open enough back then, and biennale still didn’t emerge in Shanghai……all the western audiences would interpret your work from the political perspective. There were two kinds of Chinese audience, and this is particularly interesting, the first kind is artistically-informed people, or people somewhat related to art and culture; and the other kind is people who has no relationship whatsoever with culture. As it turned out, the culture-savvy part happened to find our works incomprehensible, they even made a lot of protests or accusation against them. On the other hand, those who have no relationship with art or culture, including policemen……one of my exhibitions was banned, and I chatted with many ordinary people like policemen and persons in Residents’ Committee, you know, ordinary people, they all went to see the exhibition and found it super interesting.

And now governments are organizing biennales, contemporary art has become a card in their hands, something that everyone can and should take advantage of. So it’s like a slogan, a presentation used to impress the international community, and here’s when the game with the official starts.

A: (Peng) In the ’90s, before 2000, when something happens, you can calm down to observe your surroundings, to perceive the changes of everybody in detail. But now, especially in recent years, the whole atmosphere in the art scene is volatile. It has become difficult for me to try to understand the changes outside, and the situation is complicated now……take our studio in 798 for example, this place is so touristy now, it’s hard to position yourself. But we do work here as of today. Now the government is into contemporary art too, a lot of opportunitists are into this, and there’s the gallery frenzy, a dozen of new galleries would turn up here every day. You also witness the price of Chinese contemporary art skyrocketing on the international market, I have the feeling that many artists have lost themselves, they have become less pure; in the old days, underground is underground, the artists make art, and that’s it. Nowadays everyone collaborates with everyone, and you participate in their game more frequently, the game is getting more and more complex, Stage Two!

Q: So do you think that general public has become better connoisseurs of contemporary art?

A: (Peng) I think maybe they do find it easier to accept, but what art offers them, on the contrary, has decreased. Back then they would try to understand why these people do what they’re doing, now they get themselves a concept, like I tell you this word, ‘performance art‘, they go ‘Ah, so this is performance art!’, and there it is. Something is missing for the general public, the minute they are given a safe explanation, they are deprived of the thinking process.

(Sun) There are actually two sides of the coin. For the artist, I think they are also trying to figure out what kind of audience they have. In the ’90s there was this cynic group, you may want to call them early [Chinese] contemporary artist, they were the enfant terrible, going to the extreme when rejected by the public. By now, however, many artists have come to realize that in order to play the enfant terrible card you need to first have the endorsement by the audience. So both sides were moving towards each other, when the two reach a point of coordination, by which I mean they can work together seamlessly and feel free at the same time, that’s what you may call the harmonious society. Back then reform and opening were everything, people would do anything for breakthrough. Things have changed, now the overall structure is fixed, it’s a matter of coordination. This is in synch with the general situation of the country, the concept of harmonious society has posed a big question to art as well. Of course every era has its own issues, but the issues we are facing now in a harmonious society is of not much difference with those in the western countries. This is because harmonious society is commonplace in the West, and artists there feel free and suffocated at the same time. This is gonna happen in China at some point in the future, we’ll see.

(Peng) For instance, I’m initially exciting upon learning that certain large foreign organization is coming to Beijing to open a museum, because it means there will finally be a decent museum showcasing contemporary art in Beijing and in China. But soon I come to realize the potential crisis; I don’t know whether this thing would do any good to Beijing and to Chinese contemporary art as a whole, will it help pushing the scene towards the good or bad, healthy or unhealthy direction? There are two sides to these things. What the foreign museums try to do is to port the whole prestigious western museum system to Beijing, but if you take a look at exhibitions in the West, you’ll see how the corrupted museum system stifles the whole art scene. This explains all the buzz about the whole lot of Chinese artists participating in the Venice Biennale that year; they witnessed the potential of Chinese contemporary art in the West. But is there really any potential? Granted, you can’t say there’s zero potential, but the point is westerners realized that they could find new possibilities in China, and these possibilities are potential, energy, frightening stuff. While in the West, the whole system has provided a, in Sun Yuan’s word, harmonious society for everybody, people have to play by the rules and to strive for breakthrough in between. After some time, everybody ends up playing tricks, for me this is really not the ideal way of life. So I think the western museum system‘s coming into China will be a double-edged sword for the artists. Wouldn’t you kill a lot of possibilities if you bring in something lifeless? It helps us to operate under the rules and procedure, that’s for sure, and of course an oft-heard criticism on Chinese artists or the whole Chinese art market by western museums is the lack of rules and procedure, but this is precisely the characteristic and charisma of China. I prefer a lifestyle with lots of accidents, if Chinese contemporary art is drifting towards a completely expected, accident-free direction, I think it’s time for the artists to think about what they can do to stimulate the scene.

Q: Economic changes will have an influence on art and the relation between artists and the audience, but there are a lot of artists seem to ignore the audience, aren’t there?

A: (Sun) This is about knowledge being in synch with the government, in other words, a harmonious society is the end result of a peaceful evolution process. Commercialization and the participation of economics contribute to the realization of a harmonious society. There are rules, economic rules, that you would want to follow and to refer to as a kind of artist who cares not only about yourself, but also about the audience. One can’t deny the fact that all people regard economical success as the measurement of success in general, even artists themselves, so do the audiences. It’s a point of reference. So economics actually works as the coordinator and thus triggers the peaceful evolution. I’ll say that artists and audiences are not the sole driving force of the harmonious society, there must be some other interfering factors. So how to maintain consistency? How to reach the same coordinated point? Economics is being used as a reference point in many cases.

(Peng) Market and academic studies call for different approaches. Marketing guys take care of the market, scholars take care of academic studies, so it won’t do any good to have people like us to talk about issues without our range.

(Sun) Sometimes people say ‘academic is itself’, I’m not sure I agree with them on that: do you think about the question of success when doing academic works? If the question crosses your mind, then there shall be a point of coordination somewhere. When all the factors are mixed together in the optimized proportion, it will appear to be something successful and will generate some momentum for your academic studies. Here, the word successful means not only commercial success, but success in every dimension. Without this all-dimentional success as the point of reference, academic studies will be of no direction or value – it has no coordinated platform. Actually academics all work on a platform, there is the standard for measuring success, which is effectiveness, [commercial-wise and academic-wise] effective commercially or academically. There’s a certain value in it.

Q: Do you care about the negative part in the audiences’ feedback?

A: (Sun) The audiencesfeedback are exactly the thing I care about.

(Peng) But it’s not important how they respond to our works, as long as there is response at all. We don’t really care whether they are positive or negative, we care about the fact that they do have reaction.

(Sun) Or shall we say the best case is that we have mixed response; rape mixed with adultery, if you will. Being raped and yet reaching orgasm, committing adultery but with a bit of passiveness, that’s a good mixture. I’m not into pure compulsory stuff, but reaction is a must.

Q: I think one of the major differences between Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou is the different level of consciousness towards power. It’s the strongest in Beijing, weaker in Shanghai, and the weakest in Guangzhou. Do you have anything to say about this?

A: (Sun) I don’t particularly feel that way, this power thing you mentioned. I don’t know if there’s power or not, but the way I see it, power is of no relevance as long as you feel comfortable and happy. Because you are in the lower tiers of others’ power mechanism, you are not the top guy, you feel good being here, and you stay here, I think that’s enough. It’s not necessarily the same thing as the farmer‘s corporation, in which power is above everything, even daily meals are related to power, if you can’t get hold of this power, you are not able to survive……by power I mean a kind of dominate/subordinate relation, not necessarily political power.

comfortable 舒服[shu fu]

1.就是说不管有没有权力,你感觉很舒服愉快就行了,因为你处在别人的权力机制,你不是处在最高层上。

Power is of no relevance as long as you feel comfortable and happy. Because you are in the lower tiers of others’ power mechanism, you are not the top guy.

(摘自徐坦对孙原,彭禹的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Sun Yuan, Peng Yu)

Interviewed: Wang Guanzheng

Time: Noon, Feb. 3, 2007

Location: Grass Green 2607, SOHO Modern City, Beijing

 

 

 

整体  totality  total picture overall     12

集体(主义)  collectives collectivity   11

一致   homogeneity homogenous   7

时间  time period  period of time     15

社会  society  social  societal  26

个人   individual individualistic  30

经验  experience  13

公共  public  11

大众  public (populace)   15

倾向()  tendency inclination  7

语言  language   9

怀疑  doubt  suspicion   5

质疑  suspicion  question  questioning  10

方法   method way  17

方式   manner way  43

(有)问题   problem  questionable  issue  54

()   change become modification   8

状态   status   8

秩序   order   8

判断   judgment  judges   20

创造()   creative  creativity   4

知识(分子)   knowledge  intellectuals   11

明确()   clarify clarity clear   20

针对   focus    9

角度   angles    5

态度   attitude stance   9

身份   identity  22

后身份  post-identity  9

可能性 possibilities   14

话语    discourse    5

权力    power    5

实验    experiment   6

国家    nation    6

概念   concept

独立         independent      1

意识形态    ideology  ideologism     11

安全       safe  unsafe  safety    4

审批制度    censorship system    1

市场    market    8

传统    traditional   5

中国    China     31

      money   wealthy  2

机会    opportunity   8

诱惑   temptation    1

      post       33

关系   relationship  39

生存谋生   survive  living    4

商业的   commercial    2

Q: Could you please first talk about your view on the current state of contemporary art in China?

A: On a macro level, I think we are now in the middle of a process of development. And this is a process of undergoing a transition from seeing the total picture to getting to know individual artists and individual arts, a stage from which I feel we are still very far away. There are pros and cons when a country‘s contemporary art scene appears as a group. The good part is that it attracts more audience and more attention, and the negative part is that it can only appear as a totality. And that, to me, is a problem, which also points to the difference between traditional art and contemporary art. Think about it – over a decade ago, the image that Europe had about Chinese art was an overall impression. If we were to continue our insistence on this totality, it could end up replacing materials or images of one kind with those of another kind– for example, dragon, phoenix, bamboo, porcelain, silk were used in a certain period, which were, eventually, replaced by some other materials. This is the risk you have to take when you present yourself as a totality. I myself am frightened by collectives, because I used to serve in the military, and I lived together with over 60 persons for many years. I’m left with two aftereffects from that experience. The first one is my hatred for homogeneity. I think I’m naturally immune to all things homogenous, either internally or externally. Basically I think a positive view on homogeneity is itself questionable. The second one is my suspicion for collectives.

Q: What then should an artist focus on, in your opinion?

A: That would be different to each artist. For myself, what I’m interested in is, simply speaking, possibilities. Like I just said, my suspicion for the existing order, and if I question order, which includes any form of order: governmental order, societal order, knowledge order and rules, if you [think this way] take this attitude, then what we often discuss, insofar as   where art is now, is no longer important. What’s important is [how] the way you display your method of questioning such orders.

For instance, through the clarity of commercialization and ideology (we) can understand the society in the simplest way. These have become our internalized way of recognizing the world, i.e., the only Weltanschauung. For me, I call this “New Ideologism,” which is a perfect collusion between commercial standards and political standards. It has a monopoly on everything. In that case, I think the way that contemporary art judges the uncertainties, can hardly survive in such a language context. And what is most fatal, I believe, is that when an ethnic group wants maximum progress… The maximum lies in your demands for possibilities. And possibility can exist only in uncertain domains. When everything in this world is within your grasp, when it offers you no possibilities, do you think you still have creativity?

Q: In these exhibitions, do you care about the communication between your work and the audience?

A: As a matter of fact… this involves a lot of questions. The first one is what we discussed earlier: whether the public exists or not. We always talk about art and the public. But first of all, does the public exist? Take our talking for example, are you the public or am I the public? If you are and I’m not, then why? On the other hand, if I am and you’re not, then what is that based upon? If neither of us can find a clear basis, then we both are the public. Then it does not exist a kind of…The artist and the public are always form a special relationship. This is the first question, which in itself is very conceptual.

The second question is, if there really exists a relationship between the artist and the public, then in fact the public is not communicating directly with the artist. The public and the artist…If we are to discuss relationship, then we need to talk about the system that underlies the relationship. The first system is the education system. Yet our educational system does not support any education on contemporary art… And secondly, in China, strictly speaking, we do not have any art museums – all our museums are organizations that rent spaces in order to survive. And such spaces do not bear any responsibility to educate the public. Consequently, our media always interpret the art experiences as a kind of public voice. Now think about it, the principal relationship between the public and the artist is formed under such circumstances. As a matter of fact, the relationship is produced by these three different systems. If the systems cannot be established, then you can imagine what the relationship will be look like. The third question is that I don’t think there exist a stable relationship between artists and the public.

Q: Do you have any views on your living conditions?

A: Take our views on cities for example. Artists, intellectuals, and even architects, all talk about cities, but what makes it absurd is not the criticism on cities, but the way of criticizing cities that has become completely homogenous. Sometimes criticism on this city becomes very homogenous, without any characteristics and distinctions. What’s more interesting is, the language and method of criticism have become more homogenous. I’ve attended many symposia on cities, which are essentially “criticizing galas”. And suddenly I noticed two things here: first, it’s very safe to criticize the city, from whatever angles. You can criticize it fiercely or call it bullshit. Because it’s very safe, because it does not involve any people, nor anything concrete things, and at the same time it declares your critical stance. This, to me, is opportunistic way. So, in such contexts, I always refuse to criticize in this manner, because it turns into a collectivity, a way of proving your stance – if you don’t criticize, you’re not… So, now I think another question arises. To criticize cities, but why? The English word “Why?” What is your stance? I hope to see you speak in your own manner, instead of in a public manner, even though what you criticize is a public space. With such an attitude, I think you can have your own judgment on this city. As a matter of fact, to me, cities are man-made landscapes, a product of our Utopian spirit. Idealism and Fascism are on this line, this steel wire; in fact, our entire city is built on this steel fire, its Utopian spirit and Fascist inclination just have a little distance. On this issue, what exactly is your attitude? Whether you’re an artist, a writer, you would use your own language and your own way to present your attitude. And it’s not just a declaration of attitude, because I’ve been hearing a lot – about this “attitude decides everything” thing, which is actually full of problems itself. Because “attitude decides everything” means it all depends on whether you raise your hand or not on every issue. That means going back to a public… In fact, when I worked on “Production” in 1996, I did an investigation on this issue. Why did I go to a lot of sites and public spaces? Why did they sit there all day and listen to the others talking about themselves? They are in fact sharing a daily discourse. In other words, certain individuals have become unimportant in such voices, or that they think it unsafe, so that through this collective site and collective discourse, certain individualistic things are transformed into a public voice with some [attitude] tendency. Thus, everyone shares this safety of public discourse. It’s the same with different ways of living. I think, first of all, living is not a kind of conceptual living; you don’t have to be lured by some hidden temptation, or challenged by some hidden theory. You put your life on a certain hint, and this hint reveals your cultural attitude of some sort. I think this is quite obvious in Beijing, and this is realized concretely in dressing, cigarettes you smoke, eyeglasses you wear – they are all injected with some kind of cultural identity. And I think cultural identity is also lethal: sometimes your attitude is determined by your cultural identity; when you become satisfied with your representing certain cultural identity, you actually stop thinking any further… This is how I feel I am living.

Q: Does the generalization of the Chinese art scene by those outside China have something to do with the situation in China now? And, apart from the external forces, does the strong similarity among artists actually have its internal reasons?

A: Well, actually I think, to me at least, this question… Like just now you wanted me to talk about my judgment on this thing at the present moment and what the basis of my judgment is. For example, sometimes we say a day is a long period of time, but that depends on specific events, such as brushing one’s teeth once, having a meal, which might take an hour. That is the relationship between time and events. But when something cultural is judged, or judged precisely, I think the time involved here is very long. Actually it’s like our show in 1997… all the way up to now. As you just said, this overall judgment on contemporary art in China, it’s still going on strong. I feel that this process takes more than ten years to finish; it might continue, because of the relationship between China and the world, such development…  So actually culture development is very very slow, especially in this country, where you see sometimes on the streets very fashionable cars and very fashionable cellphones, but many of our cultural institutions and regulations in fact date back to more than 20 years ago, without any modification in between. I’ll give you a simple example – films. Our censorship system on film has stayed virtually the same, and perhaps even more… Therefore, there is a large amount of things this society.. in fact, what have not changed do not show up, so what we do see are those that have changed. Then, seen from this angle, this society has in fact let certain things return to a basis where there are no such huge differences, which takes a very long time (to change). On the other hand, I think contemporary Chinese art is facing this same problem. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, when we were in the Netherlands, after the exhibition, I remember clearly, we felt shows of such large scale wouldn’t be happening ever again. Then, ten years later, to our great surprise, there are shows even more shocking than that one. There might be two factors at work here: the first one is that more countries, or more organizations, or more wealthy people have become interested in China, maybe then, partially… for instance, a certain genre of art, a certain foundation, started to get interested in the overall contemporary Chinese art. Now, due to the myth of China, more people and organizations have focused on China from various different angles. This might be another kind of change. Second, as more people get involved in this field, more artists would… they would make a relationship with it. This is a process that we must undergo; and I have noticed at the same time, that many artists have already started their work, who I think outnumber those of ten years ago.

collectors 收藏家[shou cang jia]

以前这个定做是,哪个画得好、得好,我们就按照哪个画,我们就不动,不管别人怎么说我们就这样,因为这是市场,虽然没有点名说是和哪个顾客,哪个收藏家进行商量画面的内容,但实际这都已经是商量好的,所以不敢变化,现在我们就还不如和收藏家商量,没准还有变化,其实古代的画都是定做的,不管是私藏品还是其他,西方的更不用说了,教堂、宫廷,都是定做的,定做本身不一定束缚创造力,所以我觉得不妨一试怎么按照工厂方式法来

In the past, made to order means we do exactly like the one that does well, the one that sells well; we follow it exactly, no matter what others say, because this is the market. Even though we don’t spell out that the content of the painting was agreed upon between so-and-so customer and so-and-so collector, in fact it was all agreed upon and must be followed with exactness. So we did not dare to change. Now, it’s perhaps better to discuss with the collector, because, who knows, you might get to change a few things. Actually all ancient paintings were made to order, whether private or otherwise. Not to mention western paintings– churches, courts – all made to order. Being made to order itself doesn’t necessarily constrain creativity, so I think it might as well give it a try and see how things are done according to the way of factories.

(摘自徐坦对冯顺华的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Feng Shunhua)

 

Interviewed: Feng Shunhua

Time: Afternoon, January 30, 2007

Location: Digital Media Studio, Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing

made to order,  custom orders   11

观众 audience  6   ,

大众 public  9 

社会 social, society, sociality    21

媒体 media 10

媒介 medium   11

个人 personally, personal   11

美术馆 art museum, museum   6

古典  Classical  6

古典艺术 classical art  3

兴趣 interested, attention, interesting    22

创造性  1

自由 freedom    2

政治性politically  1

        hot   4

市场      market  29

关系      relationship 22

收藏家    collectors  5

        sell  7

       “do”, engage in    56

下(载)  download, downloading, downloaded   5

有用      useful  6

        money   16

中国      China   19

刺激      stimulation    11

Source of keywords:

Q: In your point of view, how to define an artist?

A: I think an ideal artist bears some relationship with his view on art and life. Personally, I believe that art should be useless. This is a basic belief; at least I think so. The highest –level art should be useless art. But with that said, we can go on to discuss other things. We can put what we’ve learned into use. The practical functions of art are all the same, whether social, political, market – it’s an abnormal mindset to take these as the basis of your understanding of art. Art is for art’s sake; nothing else.

Q: What’s your take on contemporary art?

A: Contemporary art is gradually turning into something of a microscope – taking every detail to magnify, and dissemble into all types of possibilities. It has become very extreme, or shortsighted in certain degree. That’s the situation. How interested am I in contemporary art? If I go to an art museum, it must be one about ancient art. Personally, I’m not that interested in the current contemporary art. I’d be more interested in technology or other developments. I’m pretty pessimistic about the development of art in the present age. I don’t think it’s a big deal.

Q: Why?

A: Personality, I guess. I’ve seen exciting stuff, but they’re just so-so. I still prefer quieter things, which are ever-lasting like classical art. That’s more exciting to me.

Q: Then what do you think are the characteristics of contemporary art?

A: I don’t think I’m able to sum it up. If I had to, I’d say it’s pretty extreme, whether in its form of presentation or its desired goals – both appear to be very extreme. Of course, there are works in contemporary art that are stunning, or exciting, or works with long lasting meaning. No doubt about that; it’s just that they are really small in number. The masterpieces in classical art are the result of so many years’ accumulation; whereas most works of contemporary art seem particularly shortsighted. I participate frequently in contemporary art exhibitions; I have seen enough. So, if I go to a show, if I had the choice, I’d definitely go to a classical art exhibition. I don’t want to get anything. I just enjoy looking at classical art.

Q: Is the market an issue in creating art?

A: It’s a good thing for me. I kind of like it. Previously I never really thought about this market thing, and sometimes I even went against it. Now I think that was not the way to do it, because with the market so hot now, I feel it’s more interesting to take advantage of the market and do something. It’s better to make use of it rather than avoid or neglect it. In the past, when artists talk about creating, they invariably mention freedom – which has always been self-deceiving. An artist must have an imaginary market – I don’t necessarily mean money, but he must have an imaginary audience. Many artists have their own imaginary customers, and think about money. It’s not only in China, but also abroad; only nobody wants to admit it. I just make it clear; there is no need to hide it, to tuck it in. Market is market; made to order is made to order. In the past, made to order means we do exactly like the one that does well, the one that sells well; we follow it exactly, no matter what others say, because this is the market. Even though we don’t spell out that the content of the painting was agreed upon between so-and-so customer and so-and-so collector, in fact it was all agreed upon and must be followed with exactness. So we did not dare to change. Now, it’s perhaps better to discuss with the collector, because, who knows, you might get to change a few things. Actually all ancient paintings were made to order, whether private or otherwise. Not to mention western paintings– churches, courts – all made to order. Being made to order itself doesn’t necessarily constrain creativity, so I think it might as well give it a try and see how things are done according to the way of factories.

Q: What influence does the market have on your creativity?

A: It’s easy to make money, but custom orders for the market is only one of my projects. I have other projects too, such as media art projects, which have nothing to do with market concerns. So I have several directions, and market is only one of them.

Q: What kind of cultural symbol is useful to your art?

A: It’s like a filter. We all take in similar information – we go to the same websites for news – what kind of information attracts your attention? We go to museums, we read, we watch films – what’s being filtered out? What’s being kept? As for electronic games, that’s another filter. Whatever passed the filter and stayed are especially interesting. Electronic games are games first of all. I have been particularly interested in games ever since I was a child. These things are part of human nature; and not only humans, but all creatures, all animals love to play – provided that you play after filling your stomach. To be able to do something enjoyable once the hunger is satisfied is really a high state of ideal life, which I think is very natural. Playing game play is a very important thing for a child’s growing up. I have preserved this natural tendency, and ever since electronic games came out, I have felt it to be very natural. It’s a large toy, so there must be many different ways of playing, and many ideas came out; and then I thought wouldn’t it be fun if I could do something with it? So, starting from 1992 up till this day, my art pieces have basically centered on electronic games. This is such a filter; whatever is expressed through the medium of electronic games must have been sifted. Maybe some things like philosophy masterpieces and relatively sensitive and subtle emotional things are not suitable for such expression. But actions, images, sounds and rhythms – these coarse, more sensory things are more suitable for this medium, and that’s the rough-and ready filter I have been using over the years.

Q: So you make virtual things real – not only art, even contemporary culture is also heading towards this direction. Is this what drives you into such a role?

A: We are actually all sensory animals. All our pleasures, according to the idealists, are nothing but sensory stimulation; while according to the materialists, these things all exist. According to the idealists, everything is abstract. We all rely on our senses to feel this world. Of course, these senses can be real or false. Like now I see you here, but maybe you’re not here. I think our future world will develop more in the direction of the virtual. To put it simply, it’s similar to drugs. Like putting a [zinc tablet] CMOS chip in your body, and you might feel it to be a drug. Like you eat a piece of bread, but I tell you that it’s a fish, because I have injected you with this program; then how can you not believe it? There is no doubt that these things will be realized. Let me give you an extreme example: can you download a baby? You’d say, no. Because you wouldn’t think of just a baby, you would pat it on its head, talk to it and see it go to sleep at night – then how can you be sure about all this? Through language, touch and hearing? If we give you all of these, then you have it. We say “download a piano,” and nobody would believe us. But now, what’s the big deal with downloading a piano? We can even download an eighteenth-century piano from a famous concert hall, which is totally possible. You can download a piano even at work. Because it’s the sound of the piano that you want, not the wood which makes the piano, because you’re not a collector. As an audience, what you consume is the sound of the piano, and this sound is now digitized, so of course it can be downloaded. So, why can’t a baby be downloaded? You would think that this is creepy, and it’s impossible. This is about feeling. If you live in these feelings everyday, and receive stimulation from these feelings, this process will slowly guide the baby towards growth, going to school and returning from school, day in, day out, and you’ve lived like this for ten years… From this point of view, I think the whole world is quite sad.

Q: Does that mean many art organizations in the traditional sense of the word are declining in certain aspects?

A: Hard to say. But I have a personal wish: I wish that art museum can live on forever. Very likely, everything will be digitized in the future, but I hope art museum will still be there. I’m not talking about five or ten years from now… I’m talking about far, far into the future… about words, language, and so forth…

Q: Actually, either contemporary art or traditional art invariably involves commonly existing issues in the mundane society, are you interested in any of these issues?

A: Not interested at all. I really don’t have any interest at all regarding the so-called ethnic or national art. Art cannot cover these things, and it’s not the purpose of art, nor is it something art can achieve. Art can’t change anything. Instead of trying to change randomly with no success, one should rather just do one’s own thing, and solve one’s own problem. In terms of a piece of art work, just take care of that piece of work. That’s more interesting. You can have all kinds of excuses. Sociality? Eventually, this artist must be responsible for this single piece of work. We can talk about communication only under this premise. If you cannot even solve your own problems, how can you communicate with others?

collectives, collectivity 集体(主义)[ji ti(zhu yi)]

1.我对集体是很恐惧的,因为我曾经当过兵,跟60多在一起过好几年,我觉得它给我带来的遗产有两个,一个就是痛恨一致,我认为所有的东西,无论是内在的还是形式上的一致,对我来讲好像心里上都有一种天生的免疫,我基本上觉得这个肯定就是有问题的,第二个就是对集体保持一种怀疑

I myself am frightened by collectives, because I used to serve in the military, and I lived together with over 60 persons for many years. I’m left with two aftereffects from that experience. The first one is my hatred for homogeneity. I think I’m naturally immune to all things homogenous, either internally or externally. Basically I think a positive view on homogeneity is itself questionable. The second one is my suspicion for collectives.

(摘自徐坦对汪建伟的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Wang Jianwei)

Interviewed: Sun Jin, Peng Yao

Time: Noon, January 29, 2007

Location: Sun & Peng Studio, 798, Beijing

社会                   society  social  socially   24

反应                   reaction (feedback  response  respond)  8

(不)接受             accept  acceptance  (take in rejected)    7

普通(人,观众)       ordinary (people / audience)  general public  9

公众                   general public     2

观众                   audience(s)       22

关系                   relation  relationship  has something to do with  11

机制                   system  mechanism    8

机构                   organization      5

美术馆                 museum    8

独立 independence    2

政府  government    5

政治 political        3

自由 free            3

和谐社会  harmonious society    9

       do  make           40

       do  engage in tackle   1

中国      China  Chinese      31

西方      the West  western     19

发展      development  drifting     5

成功      success  successful     10

商业()  commercialization  commercial  commercially    4

游戏     game    4

舒服     comfortable   3

学术     academic  academics  academically    11

农民     farmer       5

强奸     rape  raped    2

通奸     adultery     2

生效     effectiveness   effective   2

市场     market  marketing    5

投机份子  opportunitists   1

Source of Keywords:

Q: You just mentioned the public perception of your works and the natural influence thereof, I have the feeling that most of your early works are not as socially-conscious as the newer ones.

A: (Sun) Actually all the materials come from the society, it’s just that some of them come from the relatively private aspect of social life, and some are better-known materials, such as news subjects, social topics. Actually all topics are social topics, it’s just that the attention they draw are of different levels. Also, I don’t think I would go with the idea that currently all subjects derive from the society, I think a lot of them can still find roots in ourselves, but when they are confronted with the society, you’ll need an appropriate translation and conversion system, and then you’ll end up choosing relatively typical materials. It seems to me that you just can’t take the problem separately.

(Peng) In the early days when we were young, our relation with the society are not so complicated, or, shall we say, we were not yet an integrated part of the society, therefore the works we did and the materials we used are not so socially-conscious. But I reckon that anything could be used as material, and you are going to engage in the society more and more as you grow up, eventually you’ll choose those materials in the society that interest you. So I don’t think that subject is the key issue here.

Q: A lot of your works in the exhibitions are focused on the relationship with the society. Do you perceive any differences in China and the West in terms of audience’s acceptance and feedback?

A: (Sun) Yes, but I think the differences were more typical a few years ago, before and around 2000. The opening-up of China was still in its early phase back then, and most people did not accept what is called contemporary art, they were too impatient when watching. Now there seems to be a unified consensus, western and Chinese audience are aware of this (Chinese) contemporary art thing, they know there is a bunch of people doing weird stuff, and their first reaction towards them are “Ah! Another performance art! “Thus art is reduced to a term, when someone puzzles over something; he would call it performance art. He has this category in his mind, and can group it, and then it’s easy for him to take in.

(Peng) At that time the West was more interested in the political confrontational aspect, it has something to do with the whole Chinese ideology. The country was not open enough back then, and biennale still didn’t emerge in Shanghai……all the western audiences would interpret your work from the political perspective. There were two kinds of Chinese audience, and this is particularly interesting, the first kind is artistically-informed people, or people somewhat related to art and culture; and the other kind is people who has no relationship whatsoever with culture. As it turned out, the culture-savvy part happened to find our works incomprehensible, they even made a lot of protests or accusation against them. On the other hand, those who have no relationship with art or culture, including policemen……one of my exhibitions was banned, and I chatted with many ordinary people like policemen and persons in Residents’ Committee, you know, ordinary people, they all went to see the exhibition and found it super interesting.

And now governments are organizing biennales, contemporary art has become a card in their hands, something that everyone can and should take advantage of. So it’s like a slogan, a presentation used to impress the international community, and here’s when the game with the official starts.

A: (Peng) In the ’90s, before 2000, when something happens, you can calm down to observe your surroundings, to perceive the changes of everybody in detail. But now, especially in recent years, the whole atmosphere in the art scene is volatile. It has become difficult for me to try to understand the changes outside, and the situation is complicated now……take our studio in 798 for example, this place is so touristy now, it’s hard to position yourself. But we do work here as of today. Now the government is into contemporary art too, a lot of opportunitists are into this, and there’s the gallery frenzy, a dozen of new galleries would turn up here every day. You also witness the price of Chinese contemporary art skyrocketing on the international market, I have the feeling that many artists have lost themselves, they have become less pure; in the old days, underground is underground, the artists make art, and that’s it. Nowadays everyone collaborates with everyone, and you participate in their game more frequently, the game is getting more and more complex, Stage Two!

Q: So do you think that general public has become better connoisseurs of contemporary art?

A: (Peng) I think maybe they do find it easier to accept, but what art offers them, on the contrary, has decreased. Back then they would try to understand why these people do what they’re doing, now they get themselves a concept, like I tell you this word, ‘performance art‘, they go ‘Ah, so this is performance art!’, and there it is. Something is missing for the general public, the minute they are given a safe explanation, they are deprived of the thinking process.

(Sun) There are actually two sides of the coin. For the artist, I think they are also trying to figure out what kind of audience they have. In the ’90s there was this cynic group, you may want to call them early [Chinese] contemporary artist, they were the enfant terrible, going to the extreme when rejected by the public. By now, however, many artists have come to realize that in order to play the enfant terrible card you need to first have the endorsement by the audience. So both sides were moving towards each other, when the two reach a point of coordination, by which I mean they can work together seamlessly and feel free at the same time, that’s what you may call the harmonious society. Back then reform and opening were everything, people would do anything for breakthrough. Things have changed, now the overall structure is fixed, it’s a matter of coordination. This is in synch with the general situation of the country, the concept of harmonious society has posed a big question to art as well. Of course every era has its own issues, but the issues we are facing now in a harmonious society is of not much difference with those in the western countries. This is because harmonious society is commonplace in the West, and artists there feel free and suffocated at the same time. This is gonna happen in China at some point in the future, we’ll see.

(Peng) For instance, I’m initially exciting upon learning that certain large foreign organization is coming to Beijing to open a museum, because it means there will finally be a decent museum showcasing contemporary art in Beijing and in China. But soon I come to realize the potential crisis; I don’t know whether this thing would do any good to Beijing and to Chinese contemporary art as a whole, will it help pushing the scene towards the good or bad, healthy or unhealthy direction? There are two sides to these things. What the foreign museums try to do is to port the whole prestigious western museum system to Beijing, but if you take a look at exhibitions in the West, you’ll see how the corrupted museum system stifles the whole art scene. This explains all the buzz about the whole lot of Chinese artists participating in the Venice Biennale that year; they witnessed the potential of Chinese contemporary art in the West. But is there really any potential? Granted, you can’t say there’s zero potential, but the point is westerners realized that they could find new possibilities in China, and these possibilities are potential, energy, frightening stuff. While in the West, the whole system has provided a, in Sun Yuan’s word, harmonious society for everybody, people have to play by the rules and to strive for breakthrough in between. After some time, everybody ends up playing tricks, for me this is really not the ideal way of life. So I think the western museum system‘s coming into China will be a double-edged sword for the artists. Wouldn’t you kill a lot of possibilities if you bring in something lifeless? It helps us to operate under the rules and procedure, that’s for sure, and of course an oft-heard criticism on Chinese artists or the whole Chinese art market by western museums is the lack of rules and procedure, but this is precisely the characteristic and charisma of China. I prefer a lifestyle with lots of accidents, if Chinese contemporary art is drifting towards a completely expected, accident-free direction, I think it’s time for the artists to think about what they can do to stimulate the scene.

Q: Economic changes will have an influence on art and the relation between artists and the audience, but there are a lot of artists seem to ignore the audience, aren’t there?

A: (Sun) This is about knowledge being in synch with the government, in other words, a harmonious society is the end result of a peaceful evolution process. Commercialization and the participation of economics contribute to the realization of a harmonious society. There are rules, economic rules, that you would want to follow and to refer to as a kind of artist who cares not only about yourself, but also about the audience. One can’t deny the fact that all people regard economical success as the measurement of success in general, even artists themselves, so do the audiences. It’s a point of reference. So economics actually works as the coordinator and thus triggers the peaceful evolution. I’ll say that artists and audiences are not the sole driving force of the harmonious society, there must be some other interfering factors. So how to maintain consistency? How to reach the same coordinated point? Economics is being used as a reference point in many cases.

(Peng) Market and academic studies call for different approaches. Marketing guys take care of the market, scholars take care of academic studies, so it won’t do any good to have people like us to talk about issues without our range.

(Sun) Sometimes people say ‘academic is itself’, I’m not sure I agree with them on that: do you think about the question of success when doing academic works? If the question crosses your mind, then there shall be a point of coordination somewhere. When all the factors are mixed together in the optimized proportion, it will appear to be something successful and will generate some momentum for your academic studies. Here, the word successful means not only commercial success, but success in every dimension. Without this all-dimentional success as the point of reference, academic studies will be of no direction or value – it has no coordinated platform. Actually academics all work on a platform, there is the standard for measuring success, which is effectiveness, [commercial-wise and academic-wise] effective commercially or academically. There’s a certain value in it.

Q: Do you care about the negative part in the audiences’ feedback?

A: (Sun) The audiencesfeedback are exactly the thing I care about.

(Peng) But it’s not important how they respond to our works, as long as there is response at all. We don’t really care whether they are positive or negative, we care about the fact that they do have reaction.

(Sun) Or shall we say the best case is that we have mixed response; rape mixed with adultery, if you will. Being raped and yet reaching orgasm, committing adultery but with a bit of passiveness, that’s a good mixture. I’m not into pure compulsory stuff, but reaction is a must.

Q: I think one of the major differences between Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou is the different level of consciousness towards power. It’s the strongest in Beijing, weaker in Shanghai, and the weakest in Guangzhou. Do you have anything to say about this?

A: (Sun) I don’t particularly feel that way, this power thing you mentioned. I don’t know if there’s power or not, but the way I see it, power is of no relevance as long as you feel comfortable and happy. Because you are in the lower tiers of others’ power mechanism, you are not the top guy, you feel good being here, and you stay here, I think that’s enough. It’s not necessarily the same thing as the farmer‘s corporation, in which power is above everything, even daily meals are related to power, if you can’t get hold of this power, you are not able to survive……by power I mean a kind of dominate/subordinate relation, not necessarily political power.

collaboration 合作[he zuo]

Q:回到刚才你和他人发生关系的方面,你在跟人合作之中,是怎样看待这种关系?

A:慢慢的我觉得有时候现实或者是现实主义中国如今还是一个强有力的东西。记录也是一个关注点所在,是关注的一个方式。我觉得欧洲艺术家好像已经过了经济高速发展时期中国当代艺术可能在开始的时候受了他们的观念艺术影响,但是我觉得这几年,我们的艺术家慢慢地会找到跟自己社会生活、国家合适的一种表达方式、一种语境。我们早期会看到很多形式上的取巧——很西方的工作方法,但是我觉得每个国家的变化是不一样的……不同国家的艺术家对他们的艺术现状和他们的社会现状直接反应和行动是不一样的。我也很能理解和很欣赏那个德国艺术家的作品。

Q: Let’s get back to the topic of engaging with other people, how do you see your relation when collaborating with someone else?

A: Gradually I come to realize that reality or realism is still powerful in China at present, and documenting is another focus and a way to approach the reality. It seems to me that European artists have already gone through the high speed economic development period. Chinese contemporary art was probably influenced by European conceptual art in the very beginning, but I think we are gradually developing our own expression and context, which fit better in this country and its social life. In the early days we saw a lot of tricks played with forms – typical western working method. But I think the changes in every country are different, artists of different countries respond and react differently to their social and artistic reality. I fully understand and appreciate the works of that German artist.

(摘自徐坦对曹蕾的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Cao Lei)

Interviewed: Cao Lei

Time: Evening, January 31, 2007

Location: The blue building, SOHO New Town, Beijing

社会   society social 23

关系   relationship involved with 16

珠三角  Pearl River Delta 12

成长 长大   grew up    12

     love     11

年青   young     10

合作   collaboration  9

影响 (作用)  influence  9

普通人,观众,村民average (people, audience, villager)  7

环境   surrounding    11

自己    self    30

自我    myself     1

乌托邦  utopia   5

艺术圈  art circle   4

交流  communication    6

现实 现状 reality  (realism)    12

现实主义  reality  realism     2

国家   country   5+

   fast   3

招安 sold souls      1

独立  independence        6

个人()   individual  personal    12

中国   China  Chinese      10

西方  the West     4

情感qinggan)    emotion    10

感情(ganqing)    feeling      3

年代 时代 age   14

时尚 hippest fashion      7

流行  popular      5

周星驰  Stephen chow    1

都市  urban    1

政府 government    1

城市规划   urban planning     1

刺激    stimulate, excitement, stimulating     3

 

Source of keywords:

Q: Your works cut deeply into life in a direct fashion. Do you consider this intervention to be important? Is it an overriding characteristic of Chinese contemporary art or the art of the new generation?

A: We’ve heard a lot of discussions about the social aspect of contemporary art, but sometimes being social doesn’t necessarily mean making a piece of work to express his concerns about the society, or to emphasize the social pressure of the work’s concept, because it hasn’t really advanced social life. Maybe the artist has indeed cut into reality, but I’m looking forward to seeing the influence and dialogue to be more direct.

Q: I find your point very interesting, so you have a very positive attitude towards contemporary art.

A: I don’t mind artist being personal. Sometimes artists would try to isolate themselves from the society, and most of them have introverted personality, but I think there is room for other type of people or direction. Like Ou Ning and I, we do urban planning- and architecture-related projects, and we are even deeply involved with the residents in front of our camera, I think these are all interesting. So I think contemporary art should be more open and embracing. At the absence of an appropriate term to describe our works, we temporarily put up with ‘contemporary art’. But it might well be something else, [something freer] with a freer title.

Q: Let’s get back to the topic of engaging with other people, how do you see your relation when collaborating with someone else?

A: Gradually I come to realize that reality or realism is still powerful in China at present, and documenting is another focus and a way to approach the reality. It seems to me that European artists have already gone through the high speed economic development period. Chinese contemporary art was probably influenced by European conceptual art in the very beginning, but I think we are gradually developing our own expression and context, which fit better in this country and its social life. In the early days we saw a lot of tricks played with forms – typical western working method. But I think the changes in every country are different, artists of different countries respond and react differently to their social and artistic reality. I fully understand and appreciate the works of that German artist.

Q: How does the current social reality of China affect your art and Chinese contemporary art in general? What does it offer you? Does it obstruct you? How?

A: My generation doesn’t seem to like to go abroad, instead we prefer to spend time in our own cities or countries to observe. This is a time of drastic changes, and there are a myriad of information to stimulate your creation, that’s why I’m willing to stay in this city. The city has been accumulating and changing as I grew up, and I’m used to the speed and excitement of it. For me, it’s like a well deeply rooted in the residence. When we were making San Yuan Li and Dazhalan Project, we were more or less getting ourselves into sensitive topics such as demolition and forced eviction. Ideologically we were standing against government. We think these topics are about the development of the society. We have a difficult environment for this kind of artistic expression. In the early days of contemporary art we still find a kind of risking – the confrontation with government ideology, but today is a different story. How to put this……in old terms we said artists have sold their souls to the government. I think these days are witnessing the decrease of venturing spirit of that kind. Today’s venture is no longer the behaviouristic or conceptual ones, it’s rather about a way to probe deep into the core of the problems: the deeper and more difficult. This is a working method and direction chosen by the artists, and it’s the environment we are facing now.

Q: You are quite sensitive to the changes of contemporary art, and your experience and attention to them are rather unusual. Do you have other judgments towards contemporary art besides the change-focused one?

A: Let’s take my documentary Father for example. My father has been a sculptor for many years, after I have grown up, I started to looking for connection between me and his sculptures. I made a documentary on him, I documented how he made sculptures of Deng Xiaoping, and he traveled a lot of counties and towns and accepted larger and larger orders. Father is now making sculptures of Confucius, and there’s a large market for it currently. Although not a contemporary artist, he has a close tie with reality, and you can learn about the near future direction of the country from sculpture: Deng Xiaoping this year, Confucius the next, and the one after……all these are explicitly visible on the older generation of artists, you see the destiny of China and its development in their art, and how artists of that age compromise with daily life. They were more closely connected with reality than the younger contemporary artists. The real face of our society is better reflected by my father as an artist. I submitted the documentary on my father to Taipei Biennale.

Q: Why do you think that there’s insufficient love in Chinese contemporary art?

A: First there are social factors, which I just mentioned. We are living in a society without love, or one in which love is not advocated. This value is not proposed by the whole society. The education we had from the early years was only fake respect and fake love, so I don’t think art should take the blame – because the whole society is simply going into a wrong direction, the moral system is collapsing, I’m a little desperate in this regard. It’s not only in the art circle, but all walks of life. So sometimes I feel the reason of art‘s existence is to rub smooth the social cracks. As an artist, I will try my best in this direction, instead of producing more phony things.

Q: This is exactly the belief that is in short in this society, with consumerism culture and fashion prevailing. Do you think they have any influence on the value of our society?

A: Sure they do, both show biz and fashion industry have casted an influence on the younger generation and the society as a whole. In America and Europe, although show biz and entertainment occupy a certain portion of the whole culture, they also manage to preserve the traditional elements. For instance, New York has the hippest events, but there are also poetry reading sessions or traditional rock concerts every night. But China is simply moving too fast, rock is out-of-fashion now, people are more into electronic music, things get eliminated very fast, old stuff are despised. So I think this is rooted in the nature of Chinese people. We have gone through a lot of political campaigns so we are afraid of falling behind. As a result, we over-do a lot of things. It’s radical, really……and the communication with our time? It seems that artists have lost faith in the society, sometimes they even have no desire in creating art works. At the discovery of art’s helplessness and powerless against the society, they figure that it doesn’t really matter either you make this work or not, and they lack the desire of existence, a kind of boredom.

Q: What do you think should be an artist’s conscious to his/her social role? Do you really believe that art can function in the society? To which degree? Is this just a hope?

A: I believe as an artist, you can definitely have only limited and weak influence on the society, and it functions only within a small circle unless you really take advantage of all kinds of resources, be adventurous and work like an activist and not just an artist. I see myself mainly as a bridge, even I stop being an artist one day, maybe I can do something more intellectually stimulating? So it’s really about getting this role as a bridge more stable and focused.

Q: Last question: would you please offer us your statement as an artist? What are some of the key concepts of your artistic creation?

A: How should I put this……like the project I’m doing now, it’s a film called Who’s Utopia?. This is both an interrogative sentence and a simply statement. Utopia should be built by us in collaboration, or shall we say some of us do need a utopia. I think I’m the kind of person who still has this ‘utopia complex‘, I’m not into the dystopia thing. Although I can’t really see the future clearly, but there has always been a force pushing me forward towards Utopia. What’s more, it’s not impossible that, one day, I would ditch this identity as an artist in favor of that of an activist.

clear 清楚[qing chu]

有些我说清楚,有些我可以说清楚……因为我以前老人体痉挛,想着怎么?最后我就出了小胎儿人体走向……那些都是数字组成的,所以在十几年前,我就认为人是由数字组成的,而直到不久之前人们才说染色体是由数字组成的。

There are some that I cannot explain, and some I do can explain. I used to think all the time about bodily spasm, about how to cure illness. Eventually I painted fetuses and the way the human body develops… Those paintings are composed with digits. So, since over ten years ago, I started to believe that the human body is made up of digits. And it was only recently that people started to say that chromosomes are made up of digits.

(摘自徐坦对郭丹霞的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Guo Danxia)

Interviewed: Guo Danxia

Time: Afternoon, Jan. 27, 2007

Location: The artist’s residence, Xi’an.

 

理解     comprehend  know  7

(画画  paint  drawing    199

知道  know         22

文化  culture      12   

文化层次 culture level  4

  healing    cure   11

  understand     8

清楚  clear         8

感觉    feel   15

白血病    leukemia  leukemic   6

白鳝   white eel   4

自己   self  own   20

别人  other people   others  18

感觉   feel   24

迷信 Superstition 2

中国     China Chinese 7

西方     the West Western  5

身体     health Body  physically  physical condition   8

       Qi (energy) 6

       spiritual   3

灵气     reiki  2

气功     Qigong  3

生殖器   genitalia  4

神秘     mysterious   3

科技     science  2

经济效益   1economic profit    1

女神    goddess  2

境界    level spiritual level   2 

谋杀    murder  2

智(慧)     intelligence  intelligent  4

开发   develop development   4

Q: How did you start painting?

A: May 21, 1989 – before that I had often been sick due to bad health. I had heard that even illiterates could write prescriptions, which amazed me, so I wondered if I could paint. That was how I started painting, ever since that day. What I painted was stuff related to healing: how do you cure leukemia? How do you cure toothache? How do you cure moodiness? I painted them out, and those works are still there. When painting leukemia, I felt I painted all the leukemic cells – that’s how it felt. I went to school in the 1950s; we were among the first group of students to wear the red scarf, and what we paint now are really interesting stuff. After that I could paint whatever comes to mind, and I’ve never put down my brush in the past 18 years. Now I paint whatever I want; I follow no rules; and sometimes I would even realize it after I finish the painting. I stopped going to work when I was forty, as I was always sick. I couldn’t help it, and then I opened a painting and calligraphy parlor to relax myself. Originally I was trained in chemical experiments chemical analysis; later I painted on paper and fabric scrolls. In 1991, there was an international imagery expo; they wanted to me participate, but I didn’t go. I later brought a few paintings over; and they were stunned, but I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t even know what I was painting myself; but sometimes you could figure it out, after you’ve finished painting it.

Q: Do you think there is any meaning to be discussed in your paintings?

A: There are some that I cannot explain, and some I do can explain. I used to think all the time about bodily spasm, about how to cure illness. Eventually I painted fetuses and the way the human body develops… Those paintings are composed with digits. So, since over ten years ago, I started to believe that the human body is made up of digits. And it was only recently that people started to say that chromosomes are made up of digits.

Q: Is your art influenced by tradition, or by something else?

A: I practiced Qigong before, which is a very good Chinese tradition. It helps develop your intelligence. Practicing Qigong is practicing the brain; but not everybody can succeed. I think I’m talented at this, because I’m totally honest – I’m not interested in ripping people off or making money; I just want to get into shape, and my body is in good shape now. To paint under such circumstances, I feel I could realize a lot. No matter what [people] others say, I feel I could paint the most important thing in my life. If I wanted to paint a brain, eventually I would finish painting a brain. I feel I’m too intelligent – learning by nurture is also a way to develop one’s intelligence. I never see this as superstition. It is a science.

Q: What kind of concept do you think contemporary art is?

A: I see contemporary art as very progressive, unlike painting from the past. I feel that they are all full of life, even though I don’t know much about traditional pedagogy in the field of art. But Western paintings of the nudebefore I painted, I felt that they were uncivilized. But after I painted myself, I understood that they were beautiful. More precisely, they reveal both the good and the bad.

Q: What do you think is the relation between art and society?

A: I feel we should study art with a tolerance towards all, whether it is traditional culture or anything else. As long as it exists in this society, it has value. I see this as the promise. I’m different from you guys: you people paint after you understood, and yet I understand only after I painted; that’s why I’m not interested in communicating with others. I paint whatever I want, especially things I don’t know about, which I paint best. I often watch science channels on television – those things that exist already in the West but not in China, I paint them. A guy from Taiwan once said that my paintings are frozen art, belonging to the highest level in art. I think there are very nice art in painting, but its value lies not in art, but something much better and deeper than art. For example, I paint whatever is in Xi’an, and I study whatever I paint; once a painting is done, there are still lots to be studied in the painting. When I painted Empress Wu Zetian’s tomb, the Shao Tomb, I painted a clown sitting on her navel, because “Shao Tomb” used to be “Xiao Tomb” (“Tomb of Laughter”), where a homophone was used to cover up the reality. Was this site chosen by her, or was it simply meant for her burial in the first place? I think there is a lot to study in this.

Q: What role do you think an artist should play?

A: I think an artist should cover all different aspects in his art. If you only paint the surface, without expressing the spirit, it’s not a good painting. I believe myself to be someone with multiple personalities, not simply a painter. Like I can diagnose myself; I can cure other people‘s illness through painting. I can also strengthen myself physically. I’m sixty-seven now, and in great shape. Many artists remain in good physical condition once they reach a certain spiritual level, and can live very long. They are also practicing the Qi (energy) to dredge their mind; that’s why painters have high spiritual levels.

Q: What function do you think artists have in a society?

A: Artists can express their own thoughts through painting, which propels the society forward. Stuff like contemporary art in particular, which I go see sometimes – I ask people, “What is Utopia“? They say it’s beautiful things. I feel my paintings represent eastern culture; they not only belong to me personally, but also to everyone else.

Q: Then do you care whether your art is understood by others?

A: I don’t. Everyone comes from a different cultural level. Some people of lower cultural levels can understand my painting, whereas those from higher cultural levels cannot. A director of an academy in Singapore once said that what I painted was genitalia, but I don’t even know how to paint genitalia. I hope to spread Chinese culture out to everywhere. I am someone with modern education; what I paint is contemporary painting. I’m not playing with feudalistic superstition.

A: Please describe the process of your creation.

Q: Like my painting a portrait of someone. I can paint someone just by writing his name once. With just a few strokes, I can paint with great resemblance, even people who I have never seen before. After I finish painting, I can even talk about that person. I can feel all these with my brush. These are what I receive from my subject. It’s not out of the blue. The world is too grand. Painting should include many things, including the universe. I want to paint everything that I know about, and after painting them I get to know something deeper about them, although not all. I’m curious to know about various things, especially things aesthetic. For example, the goddess in Hongshan culture – I’d like to know what that goddess looks like. We have is a long cultural history in Xi’an, and after the archeological site was discovered in Lintong, I did this whole series of paintings, to see whether it was really mysterious. Some painters really hate people asking questions, but not me. Whatever you want me to paint, I can do it; the less I know about something, the better I can paint it. For example, the pyramid in Egypt – only after painting it did I know that it was where the pharaohs were buried. I never knew that before painting it.

classical art 古典艺术[gu dian yi shu]

当然,当代艺术里面有非常震撼,或激动人心的,或具有永恒意义的作品,当然是有的,但真的是特别古典艺术是积累了那么多年以后才有这些杰作的,当代艺术,有大部分作品尤其显得短视的这种感觉。因为我经常参加当代艺术的展览,我已经看够了,所以如果要去看展览,如果我有选择,我肯定是去古典的,我不想得到什么,我只是享受古典艺术

Of course, there are works in contemporary art that are stunning, or exciting, or works with long lasting meaning. No doubt about that; it’s just that they are really small in number. The masterpieces in classical art are the result of so many years’ accumulation; whereas most works of contemporary art seem particularly shortsighted. I participate frequently in contemporary art exhibitions; I have seen enough. So, if I go to a show, if I had the choice, I’d definitely go to a classical art exhibition. I don’t want to get anything. I just enjoy looking at classical art.

(摘自徐坦对冯顺华的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Feng Shunhua)

Interviewed: Feng Shunhua

Time: Afternoon, January 30, 2007

Location: Digital Media Studio, Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing

made to order,  custom orders   11

观众 audience  6   ,

大众 public  9 

社会 social, society, sociality    21

媒体 media 10

媒介 medium   11

个人 personally, personal   11

美术馆 art museum, museum   6

古典  Classical  6

古典艺术 classical art  3

兴趣 interested, attention, interesting    22

创造性  1

自由 freedom    2

政治性politically  1

        hot   4

市场      market  29

关系      relationship 22

收藏家    collectors  5

        sell  7

       “do”, engage in    56

下(载)  download, downloading, downloaded   5

有用      useful  6

        money   16

中国      China   19

刺激      stimulation    11

Source of keywords:

Q: In your point of view, how to define an artist?

A: I think an ideal artist bears some relationship with his view on art and life. Personally, I believe that art should be useless. This is a basic belief; at least I think so. The highest –level art should be useless art. But with that said, we can go on to discuss other things. We can put what we’ve learned into use. The practical functions of art are all the same, whether social, political, market – it’s an abnormal mindset to take these as the basis of your understanding of art. Art is for art’s sake; nothing else.

Q: What’s your take on contemporary art?

A: Contemporary art is gradually turning into something of a microscope – taking every detail to magnify, and dissemble into all types of possibilities. It has become very extreme, or shortsighted in certain degree. That’s the situation. How interested am I in contemporary art? If I go to an art museum, it must be one about ancient art. Personally, I’m not that interested in the current contemporary art. I’d be more interested in technology or other developments. I’m pretty pessimistic about the development of art in the present age. I don’t think it’s a big deal.

Q: Why?

A: Personality, I guess. I’ve seen exciting stuff, but they’re just so-so. I still prefer quieter things, which are ever-lasting like classical art. That’s more exciting to me.

Q: Then what do you think are the characteristics of contemporary art?

A: I don’t think I’m able to sum it up. If I had to, I’d say it’s pretty extreme, whether in its form of presentation or its desired goals – both appear to be very extreme. Of course, there are works in contemporary art that are stunning, or exciting, or works with long lasting meaning. No doubt about that; it’s just that they are really small in number. The masterpieces in classical art are the result of so many years’ accumulation; whereas most works of contemporary art seem particularly shortsighted. I participate frequently in contemporary art exhibitions; I have seen enough. So, if I go to a show, if I had the choice, I’d definitely go to a classical art exhibition. I don’t want to get anything. I just enjoy looking at classical art.

Q: Is the market an issue in creating art?

A: It’s a good thing for me. I kind of like it. Previously I never really thought about this market thing, and sometimes I even went against it. Now I think that was not the way to do it, because with the market so hot now, I feel it’s more interesting to take advantage of the market and do something. It’s better to make use of it rather than avoid or neglect it. In the past, when artists talk about creating, they invariably mention freedom – which has always been self-deceiving. An artist must have an imaginary market – I don’t necessarily mean money, but he must have an imaginary audience. Many artists have their own imaginary customers, and think about money. It’s not only in China, but also abroad; only nobody wants to admit it. I just make it clear; there is no need to hide it, to tuck it in. Market is market; made to order is made to order. In the past, made to order means we do exactly like the one that does well, the one that sells well; we follow it exactly, no matter what others say, because this is the market. Even though we don’t spell out that the content of the painting was agreed upon between so-and-so customer and so-and-so collector, in fact it was all agreed upon and must be followed with exactness. So we did not dare to change. Now, it’s perhaps better to discuss with the collector, because, who knows, you might get to change a few things. Actually all ancient paintings were made to order, whether private or otherwise. Not to mention western paintings– churches, courts – all made to order. Being made to order itself doesn’t necessarily constrain creativity, so I think it might as well give it a try and see how things are done according to the way of factories.

Q: What influence does the market have on your creativity?

A: It’s easy to make money, but custom orders for the market is only one of my projects. I have other projects too, such as media art projects, which have nothing to do with market concerns. So I have several directions, and market is only one of them.

Q: What kind of cultural symbol is useful to your art?

A: It’s like a filter. We all take in similar information – we go to the same websites for news – what kind of information attracts your attention? We go to museums, we read, we watch films – what’s being filtered out? What’s being kept? As for electronic games, that’s another filter. Whatever passed the filter and stayed are especially interesting. Electronic games are games first of all. I have been particularly interested in games ever since I was a child. These things are part of human nature; and not only humans, but all creatures, all animals love to play – provided that you play after filling your stomach. To be able to do something enjoyable once the hunger is satisfied is really a high state of ideal life, which I think is very natural. Playing game play is a very important thing for a child’s growing up. I have preserved this natural tendency, and ever since electronic games came out, I have felt it to be very natural. It’s a large toy, so there must be many different ways of playing, and many ideas came out; and then I thought wouldn’t it be fun if I could do something with it? So, starting from 1992 up till this day, my art pieces have basically centered on electronic games. This is such a filter; whatever is expressed through the medium of electronic games must have been sifted. Maybe some things like philosophy masterpieces and relatively sensitive and subtle emotional things are not suitable for such expression. But actions, images, sounds and rhythms – these coarse, more sensory things are more suitable for this medium, and that’s the rough-and ready filter I have been using over the years.

Q: So you make virtual things real – not only art, even contemporary culture is also heading towards this direction. Is this what drives you into such a role?

A: We are actually all sensory animals. All our pleasures, according to the idealists, are nothing but sensory stimulation; while according to the materialists, these things all exist. According to the idealists, everything is abstract. We all rely on our senses to feel this world. Of course, these senses can be real or false. Like now I see you here, but maybe you’re not here. I think our future world will develop more in the direction of the virtual. To put it simply, it’s similar to drugs. Like putting a [zinc tablet] CMOS chip in your body, and you might feel it to be a drug. Like you eat a piece of bread, but I tell you that it’s a fish, because I have injected you with this program; then how can you not believe it? There is no doubt that these things will be realized. Let me give you an extreme example: can you download a baby? You’d say, no. Because you wouldn’t think of just a baby, you would pat it on its head, talk to it and see it go to sleep at night – then how can you be sure about all this? Through language, touch and hearing? If we give you all of these, then you have it. We say “download a piano,” and nobody would believe us. But now, what’s the big deal with downloading a piano? We can even download an eighteenth-century piano from a famous concert hall, which is totally possible. You can download a piano even at work. Because it’s the sound of the piano that you want, not the wood which makes the piano, because you’re not a collector. As an audience, what you consume is the sound of the piano, and this sound is now digitized, so of course it can be downloaded. So, why can’t a baby be downloaded? You would think that this is creepy, and it’s impossible. This is about feeling. If you live in these feelings everyday, and receive stimulation from these feelings, this process will slowly guide the baby towards growth, going to school and returning from school, day in, day out, and you’ve lived like this for ten years… From this point of view, I think the whole world is quite sad.

Q: Does that mean many art organizations in the traditional sense of the word are declining in certain aspects?

A: Hard to say. But I have a personal wish: I wish that art museum can live on forever. Very likely, everything will be digitized in the future, but I hope art museum will still be there. I’m not talking about five or ten years from now… I’m talking about far, far into the future… about words, language, and so forth…

Q: Actually, either contemporary art or traditional art invariably involves commonly existing issues in the mundane society, are you interested in any of these issues?

A: Not interested at all. I really don’t have any interest at all regarding the so-called ethnic or national art. Art cannot cover these things, and it’s not the purpose of art, nor is it something art can achieve. Art can’t change anything. Instead of trying to change randomly with no success, one should rather just do one’s own thing, and solve one’s own problem. In terms of a piece of art work, just take care of that piece of work. That’s more interesting. You can have all kinds of excuses. Sociality? Eventually, this artist must be responsible for this single piece of work. We can talk about communication only under this premise. If you cannot even solve your own problems, how can you communicate with others?

Classical 古典[gu dian]

当然,当代艺术里面有非常震撼,或激动人心的,或具有永恒意义的作品,当然是有的,但真的是特别古典艺术是积累了那么多年以后才有这些杰作的,当代艺术,有大部分作品尤其显得短视的这种感觉。因为我经常参加当代艺术的展览,我已经看够了,所以如果要去看展览,如果我有选择,我肯定是去古典的,我不想得到什么,我只是享受古典艺术

Of course, there are works in contemporary art that are stunning, or exciting, or works with long lasting meaning. No doubt about that; it’s just that they are really small in number. The masterpieces in classical art are the result of so many years’ accumulation; whereas most works of contemporary art seem particularly shortsighted. I participate frequently in contemporary art exhibitions; I have seen enough. So, if I go to a show, if I had the choice, I’d definitely go to a classical art exhibition. I don’t want to get anything. I just enjoy looking at classical art.

(摘自徐坦对冯顺华的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Feng Shunhua)

 

Interviewed: Feng Shunhua

Time: Afternoon, January 30, 2007

Location: Digital Media Studio, Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing

made to order,  custom orders   11

观众 audience  6   ,

大众 public  9 

社会 social, society, sociality    21

媒体 media 10

媒介 medium   11

个人 personally, personal   11

美术馆 art museum, museum   6

古典  Classical  6

古典艺术 classical art  3

兴趣 interested, attention, interesting    22

创造性  1

自由 freedom    2

政治性politically  1

        hot   4

市场      market  29

关系      relationship 22

收藏家    collectors  5

        sell  7

       “do”, engage in    56

下(载)  download, downloading, downloaded   5

有用      useful  6

        money   16

中国      China   19

刺激      stimulation    11

Source of keywords:

Q: In your point of view, how to define an artist?

A: I think an ideal artist bears some relationship with his view on art and life. Personally, I believe that art should be useless. This is a basic belief; at least I think so. The highest –level art should be useless art. But with that said, we can go on to discuss other things. We can put what we’ve learned into use. The practical functions of art are all the same, whether social, political, market – it’s an abnormal mindset to take these as the basis of your understanding of art. Art is for art’s sake; nothing else.

Q: What’s your take on contemporary art?

A: Contemporary art is gradually turning into something of a microscope – taking every detail to magnify, and dissemble into all types of possibilities. It has become very extreme, or shortsighted in certain degree. That’s the situation. How interested am I in contemporary art? If I go to an art museum, it must be one about ancient art. Personally, I’m not that interested in the current contemporary art. I’d be more interested in technology or other developments. I’m pretty pessimistic about the development of art in the present age. I don’t think it’s a big deal.

Q: Why?

A: Personality, I guess. I’ve seen exciting stuff, but they’re just so-so. I still prefer quieter things, which are ever-lasting like classical art. That’s more exciting to me.

Q: Then what do you think are the characteristics of contemporary art?

A: I don’t think I’m able to sum it up. If I had to, I’d say it’s pretty extreme, whether in its form of presentation or its desired goals – both appear to be very extreme. Of course, there are works in contemporary art that are stunning, or exciting, or works with long lasting meaning. No doubt about that; it’s just that they are really small in number. The masterpieces in classical art are the result of so many years’ accumulation; whereas most works of contemporary art seem particularly shortsighted. I participate frequently in contemporary art exhibitions; I have seen enough. So, if I go to a show, if I had the choice, I’d definitely go to a classical art exhibition. I don’t want to get anything. I just enjoy looking at classical art.

Q: Is the market an issue in creating art?

A: It’s a good thing for me. I kind of like it. Previously I never really thought about this market thing, and sometimes I even went against it. Now I think that was not the way to do it, because with the market so hot now, I feel it’s more interesting to take advantage of the market and do something. It’s better to make use of it rather than avoid or neglect it. In the past, when artists talk about creating, they invariably mention freedom – which has always been self-deceiving. An artist must have an imaginary market – I don’t necessarily mean money, but he must have an imaginary audience. Many artists have their own imaginary customers, and think about money. It’s not only in China, but also abroad; only nobody wants to admit it. I just make it clear; there is no need to hide it, to tuck it in. Market is market; made to order is made to order. In the past, made to order means we do exactly like the one that does well, the one that sells well; we follow it exactly, no matter what others say, because this is the market. Even though we don’t spell out that the content of the painting was agreed upon between so-and-so customer and so-and-so collector, in fact it was all agreed upon and must be followed with exactness. So we did not dare to change. Now, it’s perhaps better to discuss with the collector, because, who knows, you might get to change a few things. Actually all ancient paintings were made to order, whether private or otherwise. Not to mention western paintings– churches, courts – all made to order. Being made to order itself doesn’t necessarily constrain creativity, so I think it might as well give it a try and see how things are done according to the way of factories.

Q: What influence does the market have on your creativity?

A: It’s easy to make money, but custom orders for the market is only one of my projects. I have other projects too, such as media art projects, which have nothing to do with market concerns. So I have several directions, and market is only one of them.

Q: What kind of cultural symbol is useful to your art?

A: It’s like a filter. We all take in similar information – we go to the same websites for news – what kind of information attracts your attention? We go to museums, we read, we watch films – what’s being filtered out? What’s being kept? As for electronic games, that’s another filter. Whatever passed the filter and stayed are especially interesting. Electronic games are games first of all. I have been particularly interested in games ever since I was a child. These things are part of human nature; and not only humans, but all creatures, all animals love to play – provided that you play after filling your stomach. To be able to do something enjoyable once the hunger is satisfied is really a high state of ideal life, which I think is very natural. Playing game play is a very important thing for a child’s growing up. I have preserved this natural tendency, and ever since electronic games came out, I have felt it to be very natural. It’s a large toy, so there must be many different ways of playing, and many ideas came out; and then I thought wouldn’t it be fun if I could do something with it? So, starting from 1992 up till this day, my art pieces have basically centered on electronic games. This is such a filter; whatever is expressed through the medium of electronic games must have been sifted. Maybe some things like philosophy masterpieces and relatively sensitive and subtle emotional things are not suitable for such expression. But actions, images, sounds and rhythms – these coarse, more sensory things are more suitable for this medium, and that’s the rough-and ready filter I have been using over the years.

Q: So you make virtual things real – not only art, even contemporary culture is also heading towards this direction. Is this what drives you into such a role?

A: We are actually all sensory animals. All our pleasures, according to the idealists, are nothing but sensory stimulation; while according to the materialists, these things all exist. According to the idealists, everything is abstract. We all rely on our senses to feel this world. Of course, these senses can be real or false. Like now I see you here, but maybe you’re not here. I think our future world will develop more in the direction of the virtual. To put it simply, it’s similar to drugs. Like putting a [zinc tablet] CMOS chip in your body, and you might feel it to be a drug. Like you eat a piece of bread, but I tell you that it’s a fish, because I have injected you with this program; then how can you not believe it? There is no doubt that these things will be realized. Let me give you an extreme example: can you download a baby? You’d say, no. Because you wouldn’t think of just a baby, you would pat it on its head, talk to it and see it go to sleep at night – then how can you be sure about all this? Through language, touch and hearing? If we give you all of these, then you have it. We say “download a piano,” and nobody would believe us. But now, what’s the big deal with downloading a piano? We can even download an eighteenth-century piano from a famous concert hall, which is totally possible. You can download a piano even at work. Because it’s the sound of the piano that you want, not the wood which makes the piano, because you’re not a collector. As an audience, what you consume is the sound of the piano, and this sound is now digitized, so of course it can be downloaded. So, why can’t a baby be downloaded? You would think that this is creepy, and it’s impossible. This is about feeling. If you live in these feelings everyday, and receive stimulation from these feelings, this process will slowly guide the baby towards growth, going to school and returning from school, day in, day out, and you’ve lived like this for ten years… From this point of view, I think the whole world is quite sad.

Q: Does that mean many art organizations in the traditional sense of the word are declining in certain aspects?

A: Hard to say. But I have a personal wish: I wish that art museum can live on forever. Very likely, everything will be digitized in the future, but I hope art museum will still be there. I’m not talking about five or ten years from now… I’m talking about far, far into the future… about words, language, and so forth…

Q: Actually, either contemporary art or traditional art invariably involves commonly existing issues in the mundane society, are you interested in any of these issues?

A: Not interested at all. I really don’t have any interest at all regarding the so-called ethnic or national art. Art cannot cover these things, and it’s not the purpose of art, nor is it something art can achieve. Art can’t change anything. Instead of trying to change randomly with no success, one should rather just do one’s own thing, and solve one’s own problem. In terms of a piece of art work, just take care of that piece of work. That’s more interesting. You can have all kinds of excuses. Sociality? Eventually, this artist must be responsible for this single piece of work. We can talk about communication only under this premise. If you cannot even solve your own problems, how can you communicate with others?

clarify, clarity, clear 明确(性)[ming que(xing)]

明确()   clarify clarity clear   20

每个艺术家是不一样的。我觉得对我来讲我感兴趣的,实际上简单的说就是可能性,像我刚才说的我对现存秩序质疑,而且我觉得如果质疑秩序的话,它包括任何秩序政府秩序社会秩序知识秩序,还有就是规则,如果你是这种态度的话,其实我们通常说的艺术到底在什么地方就已经变得不重要了,重要的是你以什么样的方式展示质疑秩序的这种方法。比如说,意识形态商业明确可以最简单方式理解社会,这些东西已经潜在于我们内部的一种对这个世界的认知,就是唯一世界观,对我来讲,我认为这叫新意识形态主义,就是商业标准和政治标准天衣无缝的合作,垄断一切,那么我觉得当代艺术对一个不确定性判断的思维方式,在这样的语言环境里几乎是无法生存的,而且我觉得最要命的是——你知道一个民族要最大地进步……最大的就是你对可能性有要求,可能性只能建立在不确定的领域,这个世界什么东西你都可以把握住了……它对你没有任何可能性的时候,你觉得你还拥有创造吗?

That would be different to each artist. For myself, what I’m interested in is, simply speaking, possibilities. Like I just said, my suspicion for the existing order, and if I question order, which includes any form of order: governmental order, societal order, knowledge order and rules, if you [think this way] take this attitude, then what we often discuss, insofar as   where art is now, is no longer important. What’s important is [how] the way you display your method of questioning such orders.

For instance, through the clarity of commercialization and ideology (we) can understand the society in the simplest way. These have become our internalized way of recognizing the world, i.e., the only Weltanschauung. For me, I call this “New Ideologism,” which is a perfect collusion between commercial standards and political standards. It has a monopoly on everything. In that case, I think the way that contemporary art judges the uncertainties, can hardly survive in such a language context. And what is most fatal, I believe, is that when an ethnic group wants maximum progress… The maximum lies in your demands for possibilities. And possibility can exist only in uncertain domains. When everything in this world is within your grasp, when it offers you no possibilities, do you think you still have creativity?

(摘自徐坦对汪关征的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Wang Guanzheng)

Interviewed: Sun Jin, Peng Yao

Time: Noon, January 29, 2007

Location: Sun & Peng Studio, 798, Beijing

社会                   society  social  socially   24

反应                   reaction (feedback  response  respond)  8

(不)接受             accept  acceptance  (take in rejected)    7

普通(人,观众)       ordinary (people / audience)  general public  9

公众                   general public     2

观众                   audience(s)       22

关系                   relation  relationship  has something to do with  11

机制                   system  mechanism    8

机构                   organization      5

美术馆                 museum    8

独立 independence    2

政府  government    5

政治 political        3

自由 free            3

和谐社会  harmonious society    9

       do  make           40

       do  engage in tackle   1

中国      China  Chinese      31

西方      the West  western     19

发展      development  drifting     5

成功      success  successful     10

商业()  commercialization  commercial  commercially    4

游戏     game    4

舒服     comfortable   3

学术     academic  academics  academically    11

农民     farmer       5

强奸     rape  raped    2

通奸     adultery     2

生效     effectiveness   effective   2

市场     market  marketing    5

投机份子  opportunitists   1

Source of Keywords:

Q: You just mentioned the public perception of your works and the natural influence thereof, I have the feeling that most of your early works are not as socially-conscious as the newer ones.

A: (Sun) Actually all the materials come from the society, it’s just that some of them come from the relatively private aspect of social life, and some are better-known materials, such as news subjects, social topics. Actually all topics are social topics, it’s just that the attention they draw are of different levels. Also, I don’t think I would go with the idea that currently all subjects derive from the society, I think a lot of them can still find roots in ourselves, but when they are confronted with the society, you’ll need an appropriate translation and conversion system, and then you’ll end up choosing relatively typical materials. It seems to me that you just can’t take the problem separately.

(Peng) In the early days when we were young, our relation with the society are not so complicated, or, shall we say, we were not yet an integrated part of the society, therefore the works we did and the materials we used are not so socially-conscious. But I reckon that anything could be used as material, and you are going to engage in the society more and more as you grow up, eventually you’ll choose those materials in the society that interest you. So I don’t think that subject is the key issue here.

Q: A lot of your works in the exhibitions are focused on the relationship with the society. Do you perceive any differences in China and the West in terms of audience’s acceptance and feedback?

A: (Sun) Yes, but I think the differences were more typical a few years ago, before and around 2000. The opening-up of China was still in its early phase back then, and most people did not accept what is called contemporary art, they were too impatient when watching. Now there seems to be a unified consensus, western and Chinese audience are aware of this (Chinese) contemporary art thing, they know there is a bunch of people doing weird stuff, and their first reaction towards them are “Ah! Another performance art! “Thus art is reduced to a term, when someone puzzles over something; he would call it performance art. He has this category in his mind, and can group it, and then it’s easy for him to take in.

(Peng) At that time the West was more interested in the political confrontational aspect, it has something to do with the whole Chinese ideology. The country was not open enough back then, and biennale still didn’t emerge in Shanghai……all the western audiences would interpret your work from the political perspective. There were two kinds of Chinese audience, and this is particularly interesting, the first kind is artistically-informed people, or people somewhat related to art and culture; and the other kind is people who has no relationship whatsoever with culture. As it turned out, the culture-savvy part happened to find our works incomprehensible, they even made a lot of protests or accusation against them. On the other hand, those who have no relationship with art or culture, including policemen……one of my exhibitions was banned, and I chatted with many ordinary people like policemen and persons in Residents’ Committee, you know, ordinary people, they all went to see the exhibition and found it super interesting.

And now governments are organizing biennales, contemporary art has become a card in their hands, something that everyone can and should take advantage of. So it’s like a slogan, a presentation used to impress the international community, and here’s when the game with the official starts.

A: (Peng) In the ’90s, before 2000, when something happens, you can calm down to observe your surroundings, to perceive the changes of everybody in detail. But now, especially in recent years, the whole atmosphere in the art scene is volatile. It has become difficult for me to try to understand the changes outside, and the situation is complicated now……take our studio in 798 for example, this place is so touristy now, it’s hard to position yourself. But we do work here as of today. Now the government is into contemporary art too, a lot of opportunitists are into this, and there’s the gallery frenzy, a dozen of new galleries would turn up here every day. You also witness the price of Chinese contemporary art skyrocketing on the international market, I have the feeling that many artists have lost themselves, they have become less pure; in the old days, underground is underground, the artists make art, and that’s it. Nowadays everyone collaborates with everyone, and you participate in their game more frequently, the game is getting more and more complex, Stage Two!

Q: So do you think that general public has become better connoisseurs of contemporary art?

A: (Peng) I think maybe they do find it easier to accept, but what art offers them, on the contrary, has decreased. Back then they would try to understand why these people do what they’re doing, now they get themselves a concept, like I tell you this word, ‘performance art‘, they go ‘Ah, so this is performance art!’, and there it is. Something is missing for the general public, the minute they are given a safe explanation, they are deprived of the thinking process.

(Sun) There are actually two sides of the coin. For the artist, I think they are also trying to figure out what kind of audience they have. In the ’90s there was this cynic group, you may want to call them early [Chinese] contemporary artist, they were the enfant terrible, going to the extreme when rejected by the public. By now, however, many artists have come to realize that in order to play the enfant terrible card you need to first have the endorsement by the audience. So both sides were moving towards each other, when the two reach a point of coordination, by which I mean they can work together seamlessly and feel free at the same time, that’s what you may call the harmonious society. Back then reform and opening were everything, people would do anything for breakthrough. Things have changed, now the overall structure is fixed, it’s a matter of coordination. This is in synch with the general situation of the country, the concept of harmonious society has posed a big question to art as well. Of course every era has its own issues, but the issues we are facing now in a harmonious society is of not much difference with those in the western countries. This is because harmonious society is commonplace in the West, and artists there feel free and suffocated at the same time. This is gonna happen in China at some point in the future, we’ll see.

(Peng) For instance, I’m initially exciting upon learning that certain large foreign organization is coming to Beijing to open a museum, because it means there will finally be a decent museum showcasing contemporary art in Beijing and in China. But soon I come to realize the potential crisis; I don’t know whether this thing would do any good to Beijing and to Chinese contemporary art as a whole, will it help pushing the scene towards the good or bad, healthy or unhealthy direction? There are two sides to these things. What the foreign museums try to do is to port the whole prestigious western museum system to Beijing, but if you take a look at exhibitions in the West, you’ll see how the corrupted museum system stifles the whole art scene. This explains all the buzz about the whole lot of Chinese artists participating in the Venice Biennale that year; they witnessed the potential of Chinese contemporary art in the West. But is there really any potential? Granted, you can’t say there’s zero potential, but the point is westerners realized that they could find new possibilities in China, and these possibilities are potential, energy, frightening stuff. While in the West, the whole system has provided a, in Sun Yuan’s word, harmonious society for everybody, people have to play by the rules and to strive for breakthrough in between. After some time, everybody ends up playing tricks, for me this is really not the ideal way of life. So I think the western museum system‘s coming into China will be a double-edged sword for the artists. Wouldn’t you kill a lot of possibilities if you bring in something lifeless? It helps us to operate under the rules and procedure, that’s for sure, and of course an oft-heard criticism on Chinese artists or the whole Chinese art market by western museums is the lack of rules and procedure, but this is precisely the characteristic and charisma of China. I prefer a lifestyle with lots of accidents, if Chinese contemporary art is drifting towards a completely expected, accident-free direction, I think it’s time for the artists to think about what they can do to stimulate the scene.

Q: Economic changes will have an influence on art and the relation between artists and the audience, but there are a lot of artists seem to ignore the audience, aren’t there?

A: (Sun) This is about knowledge being in synch with the government, in other words, a harmonious society is the end result of a peaceful evolution process. Commercialization and the participation of economics contribute to the realization of a harmonious society. There are rules, economic rules, that you would want to follow and to refer to as a kind of artist who cares not only about yourself, but also about the audience. One can’t deny the fact that all people regard economical success as the measurement of success in general, even artists themselves, so do the audiences. It’s a point of reference. So economics actually works as the coordinator and thus triggers the peaceful evolution. I’ll say that artists and audiences are not the sole driving force of the harmonious society, there must be some other interfering factors. So how to maintain consistency? How to reach the same coordinated point? Economics is being used as a reference point in many cases.

(Peng) Market and academic studies call for different approaches. Marketing guys take care of the market, scholars take care of academic studies, so it won’t do any good to have people like us to talk about issues without our range.

(Sun) Sometimes people say ‘academic is itself’, I’m not sure I agree with them on that: do you think about the question of success when doing academic works? If the question crosses your mind, then there shall be a point of coordination somewhere. When all the factors are mixed together in the optimized proportion, it will appear to be something successful and will generate some momentum for your academic studies. Here, the word successful means not only commercial success, but success in every dimension. Without this all-dimentional success as the point of reference, academic studies will be of no direction or value – it has no coordinated platform. Actually academics all work on a platform, there is the standard for measuring success, which is effectiveness, [commercial-wise and academic-wise] effective commercially or academically. There’s a certain value in it.

Q: Do you care about the negative part in the audiences’ feedback?

A: (Sun) The audiencesfeedback are exactly the thing I care about.

(Peng) But it’s not important how they respond to our works, as long as there is response at all. We don’t really care whether they are positive or negative, we care about the fact that they do have reaction.

(Sun) Or shall we say the best case is that we have mixed response; rape mixed with adultery, if you will. Being raped and yet reaching orgasm, committing adultery but with a bit of passiveness, that’s a good mixture. I’m not into pure compulsory stuff, but reaction is a must.

Q: I think one of the major differences between Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou is the different level of consciousness towards power. It’s the strongest in Beijing, weaker in Shanghai, and the weakest in Guangzhou. Do you have anything to say about this?

A: (Sun) I don’t particularly feel that way, this power thing you mentioned. I don’t know if there’s power or not, but the way I see it, power is of no relevance as long as you feel comfortable and happy. Because you are in the lower tiers of others’ power mechanism, you are not the top guy, you feel good being here, and you stay here, I think that’s enough. It’s not necessarily the same thing as the farmer‘s corporation, in which power is above everything, even daily meals are related to power, if you can’t get hold of this power, you are not able to survive……by power I mean a kind of dominate/subordinate relation, not necessarily political power.

citizens, residents 老百姓[lao bai xing]

1.我以前曾经做过一个作品方案,就是想先把胡同大杂院里的老百姓全部都请出来,给他们一个楼房,然后我们把院子重新装修

I made a project plan once, in which I would evacuate all the residents from a certain Hutong alley and courtyard. I rent a building for them to stay in. Then I renovate their housing, without changing the exterior structures. And I would employ top interior designers to plan a new interior decoration.

2.现在政府的这种做法,实际上是派遣性迁移,就是说老百姓是一个弱势群体,他们没有办法去面对政府开发商时,就只能搬家,搬得很

The method used by the government now is really assigned migration. In other words, the citizens are an under-privileged group. When they cannot face up to the government and the developers, they would have to move, far away.

(摘自徐坦对卢昊的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Lu Hao)

 

Interviewed: Lu Sichen

Time: Afternoon, Jan. 30, 2007

Location: Fansi(Fancy) Restaurant, 4th Ring Road, Beijing

社会 social     18

市场 market    11

机构 institutions  organizations   11

边缘 periphery    7

居住 housing living          5

北京 Beijing        63

邻居 neighbors      5

符号 symbol      10

中国符号 China symbol     6

胡同 Hutong  alleys      10

国家    country    5

弱势群体   under-privileged groups     7

日本    Japan      6

热门  hot  3

老百姓 citizens residents 5

环境  context  13

拍卖  auction 8

价格  price, worth   5

价值  value  8

关系  relationship  21

人际关系  interpersonal relationship   2

拆迁  demolishing and rebuilding  3

西方  the West  4

建筑  building  9

位置  status  4

装修  decoration project interior decoration  3

  circle   1

Source of keywords:

Q: Could you please first comment on the current state of contemporary art in China?

A: This is quite a big question. I think contemporary art in China is now in a relatively good phase; it’s hot, and many institutions and collectors are very concerned contemporary art. Seen from this point, it’s a hot thing. But on the other hand, judging from the past two years, there have been very few really good works; so some people even think that we’ve reached the bottom point in contemporary Chinese art. This is rather difficult, because, for many artists, they really need to sell their works; while the social temptation is just too strong. Before, people would still care about how to produce good works and they would care about the academic side of things. Now, people talk about nothing but auctions, auction sale prices, and the market.

Q: Please describe what your art is mainly concerned with.

A: I think my work is mostly about the relationship between neighbors in residential quarters in old Beijing, the changes in the city, and learning about interpersonal relationship through the observation of these changes. There are so many artists in Beijing, but not many local professional artists. As a professional artist in Beijing, I‘m not saying I want to be an international artist. Living in Beijing, with all the surroundings, the neighbors in the Hutong alleys, the friends and relatives all around me, the street hawkers – all of these are sources of inspiration for my work. I have emotions towards all of them, so I see things under this context when working on my art.

Q: You care about relationship with the surroundings. Then, how is the interaction between your work and the audience?

A: I don’t even know. Even though I’ve worked so many years in Beijing, I feel that Beijing natives who have seen my work are quite few; the ones who really come to see my work are the persons in art circle. For example, when I do indoor or outdoor installation, the Beijing natives see them as decoration project. So I always feel like I’m doing decoration project whenever I start an installation piece. I have finished many related works in Beijing, but I think their impact has been limited.

Q: How do you think the West is regarding all these developments in contemporary Chinese art?

A: I’ve talked to some people about this. They feel that the present phenomenon is horrible. The price for art is very high, higher than what the market can take. It’s like a stock market.

Q: You’ve emphasized the close relationship with your surroundings. As an artist, what role do you play in the society?

A: Under-privileged group. All artists basically all belong to under-privileged groups. Maybe due to the recent market hype, or the higher prices at auctions, people have started to pay attention to artists, but nobody had any such concepts before. Contemporary art had no social status in the past, and it’s only because of the market prices in the past couple of years… People all care about one thing ultimately – how much [is it] does it worth? This is the level of artistic appreciation in China today.

Q: So, from your point of view, this society actually still has a very limited acceptance of contemporary art.

A: My feeling is that contemporary Chinese art, including the entire painting profession, has always occupied a decorative position in the Chinese society. A well-to-do family needs something to decorate their house, but the wealthy owners don’t know about the value of the art works, and they don’t need to know. They have the money; they can buy the paintings. So they hold the same right of speech as the artists. Other than that, they care about nothing. I think many people have gained various kinds of benefits from all this. Songzhuang is a typical example. It was previously a very poor village. Then some artists moved there, and the village leader gradually found out them. Then this thing became an event. Yet this leader was promoting art for his career gains. Now many private collectors and collecting organizations abroad have all gone there. And now that village has expanded its influence, and then this local leader became, overnight, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. When contemporary art links with certain things on the international level, it gets exciting. But do these people really care that much about culture? I think not.

I made a painting recently. I always find a topic interesting: “China symbol.” Many have debated on whether Chinese artists should deploy the “China symbol.” Its antithesis is the globalization symbol – I have no idea what that might be like; I only know of the concept. My feeling is that there is nothing wrong with the China Symbol. The Americans are flaunting their Symbol everyday, and nobody has any problem with that. Then why would you have problem with the Chinese using their own Symbol? I think I’m the kind of person who will take the China Symbol to the end. As a Chinese artist, what is your goal? To promote your own culture or to extinguish your own culture? That is the question. So I decide to do contemporary art using the most traditional Chinese methods. I painted a long scroll, about 50 meters in length, of the scenery along the Chang’an Boulevard in Beijing, recording each building alongside. The Chang’an Boulevard is about 15 kilometers in length, and I painted it at the scale of 1:300, so it turned out to be 50 meters. And at the same time, with the traditional way of ancient Chinese painting, I carved many seals, displaying the names of the Hutong alleys that have disappeared in Beijing. That is my latest work.

Q: And how did you turn it into an installation piece?

A: You can’t turn it into an installation. One of my installation pieces is one made in 2002 – a large sand table, about 100 meters; it’s roughly a model of the Second Ring Road in Beijing. I got this idea while looking at lots of apartment sales centers. They have all these models of high-rises, really beautifully made. So I made this sand table as a symbol for traps – a pit, a huge pit, where many people’s life-long savings are thrown in. I thought this trickery in the form of a sand table was really fun, so I made a sand table of the entire city of Beijing, because at that time Beijing was bidding for the 2008 Olympic Games.

In fact, I think that the government is using the “renovate and improve the citizens[living] housing conditionslogan to justify their massive scale of demolishing and rebuilding. I wrote a project plan once, in which I would evacuate all the residents from a certain Hutong alley and courtyard. I rent a building for them to stay in. Then I renovate their housing, without changing the exterior structures. And I would employ top interior designers to plan a new interior decoration. Then I invite all the residents back to their homes. So I think it is indeed possible to improve their living condition without changing their living habits. The method used by the government now is really assigned migration. In other words, the citizens are an under-privileged group. When they cannot face up to the government and the developers, they would have to move, far away. The government settles them by paying tens of thousands yuan as moving expenses, and thus throws them to the periphery of the city. I think a more ideal way of doing this is to do it as if it were a work of art – we find investors to invest some money, and then we change the living conditions of these courtyard residents completely. I used to have such a project proposal; it was something I really wanted to do at that time. If this work had been realized and had succeeded, then we’d be raising a question to the city planning committee. I thought that would be fun.

circle 圈[quan]

1.      之前很多人做了很多事情实际上都是处在一种半地下的状态的,就是说只是一个很小的圈子,没有被公众话语所关注,对社会影响实际上也只是在非常小的范围内的.

Before that there were people doing a lot of things, but only in a semi-underground way – that is, it happened in a small circle, out of the sight of the public discourse, and its social impact was in fact also only limited to a small sphere.

(摘自徐坦对艾未未的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Ai Weiwei)

2.你真的想要跑到别的圈子里面,其实你会觉得他们的那种玩法不是你——不是接受不接受的问题。

If you really go to other circles, you’ll find that their game ruled are not suitable for you, and it’s not really a matter of acceptance.

(摘自徐坦对谢南星的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Xie Nanxing)

 

Interviewed: Ai Dongming

Time: Afternoon, January 31, 2007

Location: Ai’s place at Caochangdi, Beijing

    “do”  engage in   25

可能  maybe possibility impossible perhaps  may  21

社会  society  social   19

问题  problem question  17

兴趣  fascinated interested uninterested interest 12 

个人  individual  12

方式  ways approaches  10

市场  market  9

价值  value   7

政治的   political  1

国家     country  state  4

自由    freedom  free 7

个人表达 individual expression

地下 underground

民主    democratic  2

    circle   3

    money  5

时代  (information/Internet) age  5

    play   3

资金  capital  1

    poor poverty  4

弱智  retarded   2

    face  3

Source of keywords:

Q: What’s your understanding or impression about the current situation of contemporary art in China?

A: I wouldn’t pretend to know much. In spite of the fact that I’ve been living in Beijing all along and always partaking in curating, that we have the Chinese Art Archives & Warehouse, and make friends in the art circle, still I’m not sure I really understand it. Recent two years it seemed hot and bustling, but not very long before nobody apparently cared to take a look at it, so it feels to me more like a state of sudden ups and downs. Maybe put it this way: because contemporary art as a matter of fact has a quite short history [in China], and the modern life in China [this country] – although it did exist – was characterized to a great extent by political and economic patterns. In a highly institutionalized [environment] country as such, the freedom of individual expression, political background and living conditions, as well as the functions and possibilities of art and culture in the society, were basically limited, therefore the surfacing of the so called contemporary art in China didn’t occur until five or six years ago. Before that there were people doing a lot of things, but only in a semi-underground way – that is, it happened in a small circle, out of the sight of the public discourse, and its social impact was in fact also only limited to a small sphere. Once it surfaces, its major scene is in overseas exhibitions, foreign media or even in overseas auctions. It does look exciting somehow, but has nothing to do with the environment where the art originated, its social patterns and its meanings. Few people have tried to discuss and probe into these questions, so it’s still a strange structure. But we can’t say any structure is reasonable or not. Be it a tree, a vine, a ferocious beast, or a parasite, it each has its own reasons. Although Chinese contemporary art did not self-consciously try to build a connection with this society, it still somehow reflects a few problems of the past decades.

Q: What problems do you think it reflects?

A: The fundamental collapses of Chinese philosophy, aesthetics, ethics in the past decades, and the possibility of discussion is yet to be established for the new. Because this large scale or large part of the society is still denying, or disagreeing some basic facts, and debating of many problems in these areas is almost [out of the question] impossible. Democratic society is still a long way to go. There is much freedom in there, but it’s the freedom based on the collapse of the old, a freedom out of control, but proactive [one] freedom. The art is characterized by all these problems.

Q: What do you think of the public reception of contemporary art?

A: I don’t think there is real reception. It only becomes part of fashion. When magazines and newspapers talk about art, you see, they always miss the points, and are never capable of understanding it in any depth. I think it’s pathetic, somewhat like retarded. Chinese contemporary art is really acting [an under-developed] a retarded role. Of course there are pretty good artists, there are artists doing interesting stuff all along, but what they do and the way they do it never got acknowledged or understood by the mainstream society. Basically it’s all messed up.

Q: Do you think your curating activities could be of any help to this mess?

A:There are many exhibitions in China now, but hardly helping with anything and making any sense. They are just peddlers, the peddlers you see on streets where everybody hucksters the same thing and provoke and compete against one another. It’s designed completely for the market, and has nothing to do with art. All those exhibitions, and their curators – take a close look and you see few that are half decent, all with their evil and varied intentions. This in particular is what makes me look down upon Chinese academia and the intelligentsia. [The total shamelessness. The out-and-out and open shamelessness,] They don’t care for face, literally and openly declare that they don’t care for face, which is so rare even here and now. A Chinese old saying goes, poverty stifles ambition, which makes a very good point here. But it’s more than just being poor, those people are actually degenerate. Poverty is just an excuse.

Q: Since you mentioned market, please comment on the art market.

A:Anything can sell, and the exquisite thing as art is no exception. Art sells in that it decorates the [rich] homes of people with lots of money, so it becomes commodity, which is quite normal. The question is the percentage. I mean, in the whole cultural environment, is commodity the only role to play or not? Is it so fragile that once it becomes commodity, it can’t be anything else? I think that’s a major problem in Chinese contemporary art. The way I see it, it’s kind of funny, because it’s like that even the reason why you do art in the first place got changed, the reason and principles of your life got changed, and eventually transformed into some other value. Too much attention and discussions have been driven to the market – of course, if you are not an artist but a speculator, there’s nothing wrong with talking about market too much, but if you are someone still creating works, or if you got into art because you felt like to express yourself, or fascinated with certain ways of expression, instead of just money, capital or status, then there is something deeply wrong. Now it seems to me that everybody is talking about market, which is bothering me. From stock market to the pricing of brand names, there’s nothing to blame market itself about. You sell something for five cents of money, five thousand Yuan of money, or fifty thousand, and it’s fine. But behind this market, behind the pricing of a certain product, are other values diluted by this market price? This is a question.

Q: What interests you then?

A:Honestly, I’m not interested in anything in particular. I’m not particularly uninterested in commercial stuff or some other things. Really there are not too many things that interest me; perhaps I am passive. But generally speaking, art is a profession that I have some interest in. What interests me there is the people who are less utilitarian and more characteristic, and living some sorts of self-conscious lives. But what about now? You see no difference between [this art] people in this art circle and their neighbor who peddle. It becomes boring. But after all, I don’t really care, and concern. For example, this country lives or dies, I don’t really care either. It’s just that you asked me, like you ask me anything such as weather, windy or sandstorm comes, it’s something out of your control. It’s just what this country is.

Q: Say something about your blog.

A: Blog is fun. I will upload the pictures I took for you right away. I don’t know anything about my viewers, even though they are just a click away from me – this is what I feel so straightforward, so real and at the same time delusional, so I keep doing it.

Q: You mean it’s a way to communicate your own information.

A:I think the information age is the best time for human being so far. Before this, mankind was in the dark or on a chosen path, and now for the first time it provides technical possibilities for the so called freedom and individual will. You [can] may choose to play alone or with those whom you like to play with, which is hard to imagine before. I think everybody should be welcoming this new situation allowing free expression and individual approaches – sounds cliché but still very important. Things like new possibilities of communication, including the possibilities of reshaping, absorbing and utilizing the power of the society, are great things.

Q: Speaking of art, do you think there is a distinction between geographical center and margin?

A:I think not, especially not in this information age and Internet age. In fact this is for the first time that mankind has an opportunity and possibility to topple the traditional value system of central power. This possibility springs up suddenly after a long history of human struggle, and it’s such a great thing.

China symbol 中国符号[zhong guo fu hao]

最近画了一张。我觉得有个话题挺有意思的,叫“中国符号”,很多人谈论中国艺术家应不应该用“中国符号”这个问题,它相对的是全球化的符号——我也不知道全球化符号大概是什么东西,就只有一个概念。我的感觉是,中国符号没什么不好的,……美国人每天到处都在他们的符号,也没有问题,那为什么中国人用符号就有问题呢?我觉得就是有志于中国符号进行到底的那种人……作为一个中国艺术家,目的是什么?是张扬自己的文化还是消灭自己的文化?这是一个问题。所以我想用最传统中国方式去做当代艺术。我画了一幅长卷,这长卷大概有五十米长,是长安街的街景,把长安街每一个建筑都同时记录在里边,因为长安街大概是十五公里长,我是按1300的比例做,就正好五十米长。同时我按中国画以前方式——我了好多个图章,那些图章都是北京消失胡同名字。这就是我最近做的东西。

I made a painting recently. I always find a topic interesting: “China symbol.” Many have debated on whether Chinese artists should deploy the “China symbol.” Its antithesis is the globalization symbol – I have no idea what that might be like; I only know of the concept. My feeling is that there is nothing wrong with the China Symbol. The Americans are flaunting their Symbol everyday, and nobody has any problem with that. Then why would you have problem with the Chinese using their own Symbol? I think I’m the kind of person who will take the China Symbol to the end. As a Chinese artist, what is your goal? To promote your own culture or to extinguish your own culture? That is the question. So I decide to do contemporary art using the most traditional Chinese methods. I painted a long scroll, about 50 meters in length, of the scenery along the Chang’an Boulevard in Beijing, recording each building alongside. The Chang’an Boulevard is about 15 kilometers in length, and I painted it at the scale of 1:300, so it turned out to be 50 meters. And at the same time, with the traditional way of ancient Chinese painting, I carved many seals, displaying the names of the Hutong alleys that have disappeared in Beijing. That is my latest work.

(摘自徐坦对卢思沉的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Lu Sichen)

Interviewed: Lu Sichen

Time: Afternoon, Jan. 30, 2007

Location: Fansi(Fancy) Restaurant, 4th Ring Road, Beijing

社会 social     18

市场 market    11

机构 institutions  organizations   11

边缘 periphery    7

居住 housing living          5

北京 Beijing        63

邻居 neighbors      5

符号 symbol      10

中国符号 China symbol     6

胡同 Hutong  alleys      10

国家    country    5

弱势群体   under-privileged groups     7

日本    Japan      6

热门  hot  3

老百姓 citizens residents 5

环境  context  13

拍卖  auction 8

价格  price, worth   5

价值  value  8

关系  relationship  21

人际关系  interpersonal relationship   2

拆迁  demolishing and rebuilding  3

西方  the West  4

建筑  building  9

位置  status  4

装修  decoration project interior decoration  3

  circle   1

Source of keywords:

Q: Could you please first comment on the current state of contemporary art in China?

A: This is quite a big question. I think contemporary art in China is now in a relatively good phase; it’s hot, and many institutions and collectors are very concerned contemporary art. Seen from this point, it’s a hot thing. But on the other hand, judging from the past two years, there have been very few really good works; so some people even think that we’ve reached the bottom point in contemporary Chinese art. This is rather difficult, because, for many artists, they really need to sell their works; while the social temptation is just too strong. Before, people would still care about how to produce good works and they would care about the academic side of things. Now, people talk about nothing but auctions, auction sale prices, and the market.

Q: Please describe what your art is mainly concerned with.

A: I think my work is mostly about the relationship between neighbors in residential quarters in old Beijing, the changes in the city, and learning about interpersonal relationship through the observation of these changes. There are so many artists in Beijing, but not many local professional artists. As a professional artist in Beijing, I‘m not saying I want to be an international artist. Living in Beijing, with all the surroundings, the neighbors in the Hutong alleys, the friends and relatives all around me, the street hawkers – all of these are sources of inspiration for my work. I have emotions towards all of them, so I see things under this context when working on my art.

Q: You care about relationship with the surroundings. Then, how is the interaction between your work and the audience?

A: I don’t even know. Even though I’ve worked so many years in Beijing, I feel that Beijing natives who have seen my work are quite few; the ones who really come to see my work are the persons in art circle. For example, when I do indoor or outdoor installation, the Beijing natives see them as decoration project. So I always feel like I’m doing decoration project whenever I start an installation piece. I have finished many related works in Beijing, but I think their impact has been limited.

Q: How do you think the West is regarding all these developments in contemporary Chinese art?

A: I’ve talked to some people about this. They feel that the present phenomenon is horrible. The price for art is very high, higher than what the market can take. It’s like a stock market.

Q: You’ve emphasized the close relationship with your surroundings. As an artist, what role do you play in the society?

A: Under-privileged group. All artists basically all belong to under-privileged groups. Maybe due to the recent market hype, or the higher prices at auctions, people have started to pay attention to artists, but nobody had any such concepts before. Contemporary art had no social status in the past, and it’s only because of the market prices in the past couple of years… People all care about one thing ultimately – how much [is it] does it worth? This is the level of artistic appreciation in China today.

Q: So, from your point of view, this society actually still has a very limited acceptance of contemporary art.

A: My feeling is that contemporary Chinese art, including the entire painting profession, has always occupied a decorative position in the Chinese society. A well-to-do family needs something to decorate their house, but the wealthy owners don’t know about the value of the art works, and they don’t need to know. They have the money; they can buy the paintings. So they hold the same right of speech as the artists. Other than that, they care about nothing. I think many people have gained various kinds of benefits from all this. Songzhuang is a typical example. It was previously a very poor village. Then some artists moved there, and the village leader gradually found out them. Then this thing became an event. Yet this leader was promoting art for his career gains. Now many private collectors and collecting organizations abroad have all gone there. And now that village has expanded its influence, and then this local leader became, overnight, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. When contemporary art links with certain things on the international level, it gets exciting. But do these people really care that much about culture? I think not.

I made a painting recently. I always find a topic interesting: “China symbol.” Many have debated on whether Chinese artists should deploy the “China symbol.” Its antithesis is the globalization symbol – I have no idea what that might be like; I only know of the concept. My feeling is that there is nothing wrong with the China Symbol. The Americans are flaunting their Symbol everyday, and nobody has any problem with that. Then why would you have problem with the Chinese using their own Symbol? I think I’m the kind of person who will take the China Symbol to the end. As a Chinese artist, what is your goal? To promote your own culture or to extinguish your own culture? That is the question. So I decide to do contemporary art using the most traditional Chinese methods. I painted a long scroll, about 50 meters in length, of the scenery along the Chang’an Boulevard in Beijing, recording each building alongside. The Chang’an Boulevard is about 15 kilometers in length, and I painted it at the scale of 1:300, so it turned out to be 50 meters. And at the same time, with the traditional way of ancient Chinese painting, I carved many seals, displaying the names of the Hutong alleys that have disappeared in Beijing. That is my latest work.

Q: And how did you turn it into an installation piece?

A: You can’t turn it into an installation. One of my installation pieces is one made in 2002 – a large sand table, about 100 meters; it’s roughly a model of the Second Ring Road in Beijing. I got this idea while looking at lots of apartment sales centers. They have all these models of high-rises, really beautifully made. So I made this sand table as a symbol for traps – a pit, a huge pit, where many people’s life-long savings are thrown in. I thought this trickery in the form of a sand table was really fun, so I made a sand table of the entire city of Beijing, because at that time Beijing was bidding for the 2008 Olympic Games.

In fact, I think that the government is using the “renovate and improve the citizens[living] housing conditionslogan to justify their massive scale of demolishing and rebuilding. I wrote a project plan once, in which I would evacuate all the residents from a certain Hutong alley and courtyard. I rent a building for them to stay in. Then I renovate their housing, without changing the exterior structures. And I would employ top interior designers to plan a new interior decoration. Then I invite all the residents back to their homes. So I think it is indeed possible to improve their living condition without changing their living habits. The method used by the government now is really assigned migration. In other words, the citizens are an under-privileged group. When they cannot face up to the government and the developers, they would have to move, far away. The government settles them by paying tens of thousands yuan as moving expenses, and thus throws them to the periphery of the city. I think a more ideal way of doing this is to do it as if it were a work of art – we find investors to invest some money, and then we change the living conditions of these courtyard residents completely. I used to have such a project proposal; it was something I really wanted to do at that time. If this work had been realized and had succeeded, then we’d be raising a question to the city planning committee. I thought that would be fun.

China, Chinexe 中国[zhong guo]

1. 中国艺术家必须要靠自己作品填补创作上的需要,就是自己作品掉了来支付下一个作品的费用

But the artists in China have to rely on his own works to meet his needs in creation, that is, he must sell his work in order to pay for the production fees of his next work of art.

(摘自徐坦对刘韡的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Liu Wei)

2. 整体来说中国现实汹涌,太了,中国艺术家创作在里面,整体来说就是在做无用功,非常的

The reality in China as a whole is too powerful, Chinese artists are doing useless job, they are too weak.

(摘自徐坦对徐震的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Xu Zhen)

Interviewed: Cao Lei

Time: Evening, January 31, 2007

Location: The blue building, SOHO New Town, Beijing

 

社会   society social 23

关系   relationship involved with 16

珠三角  Pearl River Delta 12

成长 长大   grew up    12

     love     11

   young     10

合作   collaboration  9

影响 (作用)  influence  9

普通人,观众,村民average (people, audience, villager)  7

环境   surrounding    11

自己    self    30

自我    myself     1

乌托邦  utopia   5

艺术圈  art circle   4

交流  communication    6

现实 现状 reality  (realism)    12

现实主义  reality  realism     2

国家   country   5+

   fast   3

 

招安 sold souls      1

独立  independence        6

 

 

个人()   individual  personal    12

中国   China  Chinese      10

西方  the West     4

情感qinggan    emotion    10

感情(ganqing)    feeling      3

年代 时代 age   14

时尚 hippest fashion      7

流行  popular      5

周星驰  Stephen chow    1

都市  urban    1

政府 government    1

城市规划   urban planning     1

刺激    stimulate, excitement, stimulating     3

 

 

 

 

Source of keywords:

 

 

Q: Your works cut deeply into life in a direct fashion. Do you consider this intervention to be important? Is it an overriding characteristic of Chinese contemporary art or the art of the new generation?

 

A: We’ve heard a lot of discussions about the social aspect of contemporary art, but sometimes being social doesn’t necessarily mean making a piece of work to express his concerns about the society, or to emphasize the social pressure of the work’s concept, because it hasn’t really advanced social life. Maybe the artist has indeed cut into reality, but I’m looking forward to seeing the influence and dialogue to be more direct.

 

Q: I find your point very interesting, so you have a very positive attitude towards contemporary art.

 

A: I don’t mind artist being personal. Sometimes artists would try to isolate themselves from the society, and most of them have introverted personality, but I think there is room for other type of people or direction. Like Ou Ning and I, we do urban planning- and architecture-related projects, and we are even deeply involved with the residents in front of our camera, I think these are all interesting. So I think contemporary art should be more open and embracing. At the absence of an appropriate term to describe our works, we temporarily put up with ‘contemporary art’. But it might well be something else, [something freer] with a freer title.

 

Q: Let’s get back to the topic of engaging with other people, how do you see your relation when collaborating with someone else?

 

A: Gradually I come to realize that reality or realism is still powerful in China at present, and documenting is another focus and a way to approach the reality. It seems to me that European artists have already gone through the high speed economic development period. Chinese contemporary art was probably influenced by European conceptual art in the very beginning, but I think we are gradually developing our own expression and context, which fit better in this country and its social life. In the early days we saw a lot of tricks played with forms – typical western working method. But I think the changes in every country are different, artists of different countries respond and react differently to their social and artistic reality. I fully understand and appreciate the works of that German artist.

 

Q: How does the current social reality of China affect your art and Chinese contemporary art in general? What does it offer you? Does it obstruct you? How?

 

A: My generation doesn’t seem to like to go abroad, instead we prefer to spend time in our own cities or countries to observe. This is a time of drastic changes, and there are a myriad of information to stimulate your creation, that’s why I’m willing to stay in this city. The city has been accumulating and changing as I grew up, and I’m used to the speed and excitement of it. For me, it’s like a well deeply rooted in the residence. When we were making San Yuan Li and Dazhalan Project, we were more or less getting ourselves into sensitive topics such as demolition and forced eviction. Ideologically we were standing against government. We think these topics are about the development of the society. We have a difficult environment for this kind of artistic expression. In the early days of contemporary art we still find a kind of risking – the confrontation with government ideology, but today is a different story. How to put this……in old terms we said artists have sold their souls to the government. I think these days are witnessing the decrease of venturing spirit of that kind. Today’s venture is no longer the behaviouristic or conceptual ones, it’s rather about a way to probe deep into the core of the problems: the deeper and more difficult. This is a working method and direction chosen by the artists, and it’s the environment we are facing now.

 

Q: You are quite sensitive to the changes of contemporary art, and your experience and attention to them are rather unusual. Do you have other judgments towards contemporary art besides the change-focused one?

 

A: Let’s take my documentary Father for example. My father has been a sculptor for many years, after I have grown up, I started to looking for connection between me and his sculptures. I made a documentary on him, I documented how he made sculptures of Deng Xiaoping, and he traveled a lot of counties and towns and accepted larger and larger orders. Father is now making sculptures of Confucius, and there’s a large market for it currently. Although not a contemporary artist, he has a close tie with reality, and you can learn about the near future direction of the country from sculpture: Deng Xiaoping this year, Confucius the next, and the one after……all these are explicitly visible on the older generation of artists, you see the destiny of China and its development in their art, and how artists of that age compromise with daily life. They were more closely connected with reality than the younger contemporary artists. The real face of our society is better reflected by my father as an artist. I submitted the documentary on my father to Taipei Biennale.

 

Q: Why do you think that there’s insufficient love in Chinese contemporary art?

 

A: First there are social factors, which I just mentioned. We are living in a society without love, or one in which love is not advocated. This value is not proposed by the whole society. The education we had from the early years was only fake respect and fake love, so I don’t think art should take the blame – because the whole society is simply going into a wrong direction, the moral system is collapsing, I’m a little desperate in this regard. It’s not only in the art circle, but all walks of life. So sometimes I feel the reason of art‘s existence is to rub smooth the social cracks. As an artist, I will try my best in this direction, instead of producing more phony things.

 

Q: This is exactly the belief that is in short in this society, with consumerism culture and fashion prevailing. Do you think they have any influence on the value of our society?

 

A: Sure they do, both show biz and fashion industry have casted an influence on the younger generation and the society as a whole. In America and Europe, although show biz and entertainment occupy a certain portion of the whole culture, they also manage to preserve the traditional elements. For instance, New York has the hippest events, but there are also poetry reading sessions or traditional rock concerts every night. But China is simply moving too fast, rock is out-of-fashion now, people are more into electronic music, things get eliminated very fast, old stuff are despised. So I think this is rooted in the nature of Chinese people. We have gone through a lot of political campaigns so we are afraid of falling behind. As a result, we over-do a lot of things. It’s radical, really……and the communication with our time? It seems that artists have lost faith in the society, sometimes they even have no desire in creating art works. At the discovery of art’s helplessness and powerless against the society, they figure that it doesn’t really matter either you make this work or not, and they lack the desire of existence, a kind of boredom.

 

Q: What do you think should be an artist’s conscious to his/her social role? Do you really believe that art can function in the society? To which degree? Is this just a hope?

 

A: I believe as an artist, you can definitely have only limited and weak influence on the society, and it functions only within a small circle unless you really take advantage of all kinds of resources, be adventurous and work like an activist and not just an artist. I see myself mainly as a bridge, even I stop being an artist one day, maybe I can do something more intellectually stimulating? So it’s really about getting this role as a bridge more stable and focused.

 

Q: Last question: would you please offer us your statement as an artist? What are some of the key concepts of your artistic creation?

 

A: How should I put this……like the project I’m doing now, it’s a film called Who’s Utopia?. This is both an interrogative sentence and a simply statement. Utopia should be built by us in collaboration, or shall we say some of us do need a utopia. I think I’m the kind of person who still has this ‘utopia complex‘, I’m not into the dystopia thing. Although I can’t really see the future clearly, but there has always been a force pushing me forward towards Utopia. What’s more, it’s not impossible that, one day, I would ditch this identity as an artist in favor of that of an activist.

change, become, modification 变(化)[bian (hua)]

1. 这个社会也在改变,现在有很多艺术家,或除去男性艺术家以外的一些男性,开始关注女性的一些方式,开始考虑自己不能理解的一些女性的方式;我觉得50年以后肯定有更大的改变,可能人口比例也变得更有利于女性,女性的关注和介入可能会更多,这个社会的比例或者占有的权利就会相对调整

The society is changing, there are currently many male artists (or men) paying attention to female approaches, they begin to think about those approaches they failed to understand before. I believe things will be a lot more changes fifty years from now, maybe the demographic proportion would then be in favour of women, who would have more involvement in social life. When that day comes, we can expect the adjustment of social proportion or the right of ownership.

(摘自徐坦对胡晓媛的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Hu Xiaoyuan)

2. 我觉得在不改变他们生活习性的情况下来改变居住条件,是有可能的。

So I think it is indeed possible to improve their living condition without changing their living habits.

(摘自徐坦对卢昊的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Lu Hao)

 

Interviewed: Sun Jin, Peng Yao

Time: Noon, January 29, 2007

Location: Sun & Peng Studio, 798, Beijing

社会                   society  social  socially   24

反应                   reaction (feedback  response  respond)  8

(不)接受             accept  acceptance  (take in rejected)    7

普通(人,观众)       ordinary (people / audience)  general public  9

公众                   general public     2

观众                   audience(s)       22

关系                   relation  relationship  has something to do with  11

机制                   system  mechanism    8

机构                   organization      5

美术馆                 museum    8

独立 independence    2

政府  government    5

政治 political        3

自由 free            3

和谐社会  harmonious society    9

       do  make           40

       do  engage in tackle   1

中国      China  Chinese      31

西方      the West  western     19

发展      development  drifting     5

成功      success  successful     10

商业()  commercialization  commercial  commercially    4

游戏     game    4

舒服     comfortable   3

学术     academic  academics  academically    11

农民     farmer       5

强奸     rape  raped    2

通奸     adultery     2

生效     effectiveness   effective   2

市场     market  marketing    5

投机份子  opportunitists   1

Source of Keywords:

Q: You just mentioned the public perception of your works and the natural influence thereof, I have the feeling that most of your early works are not as socially-conscious as the newer ones.

A: (Sun) Actually all the materials come from the society, it’s just that some of them come from the relatively private aspect of social life, and some are better-known materials, such as news subjects, social topics. Actually all topics are social topics, it’s just that the attention they draw are of different levels. Also, I don’t think I would go with the idea that currently all subjects derive from the society, I think a lot of them can still find roots in ourselves, but when they are confronted with the society, you’ll need an appropriate translation and conversion system, and then you’ll end up choosing relatively typical materials. It seems to me that you just can’t take the problem separately.

(Peng) In the early days when we were young, our relation with the society are not so complicated, or, shall we say, we were not yet an integrated part of the society, therefore the works we did and the materials we used are not so socially-conscious. But I reckon that anything could be used as material, and you are going to engage in the society more and more as you grow up, eventually you’ll choose those materials in the society that interest you. So I don’t think that subject is the key issue here.

Q: A lot of your works in the exhibitions are focused on the relationship with the society. Do you perceive any differences in China and the West in terms of audience’s acceptance and feedback?

A: (Sun) Yes, but I think the differences were more typical a few years ago, before and around 2000. The opening-up of China was still in its early phase back then, and most people did not accept what is called contemporary art, they were too impatient when watching. Now there seems to be a unified consensus, western and Chinese audience are aware of this (Chinese) contemporary art thing, they know there is a bunch of people doing weird stuff, and their first reaction towards them are “Ah! Another performance art! “Thus art is reduced to a term, when someone puzzles over something; he would call it performance art. He has this category in his mind, and can group it, and then it’s easy for him to take in.

(Peng) At that time the West was more interested in the political confrontational aspect, it has something to do with the whole Chinese ideology. The country was not open enough back then, and biennale still didn’t emerge in Shanghai……all the western audiences would interpret your work from the political perspective. There were two kinds of Chinese audience, and this is particularly interesting, the first kind is artistically-informed people, or people somewhat related to art and culture; and the other kind is people who has no relationship whatsoever with culture. As it turned out, the culture-savvy part happened to find our works incomprehensible, they even made a lot of protests or accusation against them. On the other hand, those who have no relationship with art or culture, including policemen……one of my exhibitions was banned, and I chatted with many ordinary people like policemen and persons in Residents’ Committee, you know, ordinary people, they all went to see the exhibition and found it super interesting.

And now governments are organizing biennales, contemporary art has become a card in their hands, something that everyone can and should take advantage of. So it’s like a slogan, a presentation used to impress the international community, and here’s when the game with the official starts.

A: (Peng) In the ’90s, before 2000, when something happens, you can calm down to observe your surroundings, to perceive the changes of everybody in detail. But now, especially in recent years, the whole atmosphere in the art scene is volatile. It has become difficult for me to try to understand the changes outside, and the situation is complicated now……take our studio in 798 for example, this place is so touristy now, it’s hard to position yourself. But we do work here as of today. Now the government is into contemporary art too, a lot of opportunitists are into this, and there’s the gallery frenzy, a dozen of new galleries would turn up here every day. You also witness the price of Chinese contemporary art skyrocketing on the international market, I have the feeling that many artists have lost themselves, they have become less pure; in the old days, underground is underground, the artists make art, and that’s it. Nowadays everyone collaborates with everyone, and you participate in their game more frequently, the game is getting more and more complex, Stage Two!

Q: So do you think that general public has become better connoisseurs of contemporary art?

A: (Peng) I think maybe they do find it easier to accept, but what art offers them, on the contrary, has decreased. Back then they would try to understand why these people do what they’re doing, now they get themselves a concept, like I tell you this word, ‘performance art‘, they go ‘Ah, so this is performance art!’, and there it is. Something is missing for the general public, the minute they are given a safe explanation, they are deprived of the thinking process.

(Sun) There are actually two sides of the coin. For the artist, I think they are also trying to figure out what kind of audience they have. In the ’90s there was this cynic group, you may want to call them early [Chinese] contemporary artist, they were the enfant terrible, going to the extreme when rejected by the public. By now, however, many artists have come to realize that in order to play the enfant terrible card you need to first have the endorsement by the audience. So both sides were moving towards each other, when the two reach a point of coordination, by which I mean they can work together seamlessly and feel free at the same time, that’s what you may call the harmonious society. Back then reform and opening were everything, people would do anything for breakthrough. Things have changed, now the overall structure is fixed, it’s a matter of coordination. This is in synch with the general situation of the country, the concept of harmonious society has posed a big question to art as well. Of course every era has its own issues, but the issues we are facing now in a harmonious society is of not much difference with those in the western countries. This is because harmonious society is commonplace in the West, and artists there feel free and suffocated at the same time. This is gonna happen in China at some point in the future, we’ll see.

(Peng) For instance, I’m initially exciting upon learning that certain large foreign organization is coming to Beijing to open a museum, because it means there will finally be a decent museum showcasing contemporary art in Beijing and in China. But soon I come to realize the potential crisis; I don’t know whether this thing would do any good to Beijing and to Chinese contemporary art as a whole, will it help pushing the scene towards the good or bad, healthy or unhealthy direction? There are two sides to these things. What the foreign museums try to do is to port the whole prestigious western museum system to Beijing, but if you take a look at exhibitions in the West, you’ll see how the corrupted museum system stifles the whole art scene. This explains all the buzz about the whole lot of Chinese artists participating in the Venice Biennale that year; they witnessed the potential of Chinese contemporary art in the West. But is there really any potential? Granted, you can’t say there’s zero potential, but the point is westerners realized that they could find new possibilities in China, and these possibilities are potential, energy, frightening stuff. While in the West, the whole system has provided a, in Sun Yuan’s word, harmonious society for everybody, people have to play by the rules and to strive for breakthrough in between. After some time, everybody ends up playing tricks, for me this is really not the ideal way of life. So I think the western museum system‘s coming into China will be a double-edged sword for the artists. Wouldn’t you kill a lot of possibilities if you bring in something lifeless? It helps us to operate under the rules and procedure, that’s for sure, and of course an oft-heard criticism on Chinese artists or the whole Chinese art market by western museums is the lack of rules and procedure, but this is precisely the characteristic and charisma of China. I prefer a lifestyle with lots of accidents, if Chinese contemporary art is drifting towards a completely expected, accident-free direction, I think it’s time for the artists to think about what they can do to stimulate the scene.

Q: Economic changes will have an influence on art and the relation between artists and the audience, but there are a lot of artists seem to ignore the audience, aren’t there?

A: (Sun) This is about knowledge being in synch with the government, in other words, a harmonious society is the end result of a peaceful evolution process. Commercialization and the participation of economics contribute to the realization of a harmonious society. There are rules, economic rules, that you would want to follow and to refer to as a kind of artist who cares not only about yourself, but also about the audience. One can’t deny the fact that all people regard economical success as the measurement of success in general, even artists themselves, so do the audiences. It’s a point of reference. So economics actually works as the coordinator and thus triggers the peaceful evolution. I’ll say that artists and audiences are not the sole driving force of the harmonious society, there must be some other interfering factors. So how to maintain consistency? How to reach the same coordinated point? Economics is being used as a reference point in many cases.

(Peng) Market and academic studies call for different approaches. Marketing guys take care of the market, scholars take care of academic studies, so it won’t do any good to have people like us to talk about issues without our range.

(Sun) Sometimes people say ‘academic is itself’, I’m not sure I agree with them on that: do you think about the question of success when doing academic works? If the question crosses your mind, then there shall be a point of coordination somewhere. When all the factors are mixed together in the optimized proportion, it will appear to be something successful and will generate some momentum for your academic studies. Here, the word successful means not only commercial success, but success in every dimension. Without this all-dimentional success as the point of reference, academic studies will be of no direction or value – it has no coordinated platform. Actually academics all work on a platform, there is the standard for measuring success, which is effectiveness, [commercial-wise and academic-wise] effective commercially or academically. There’s a certain value in it.

Q: Do you care about the negative part in the audiences’ feedback?

A: (Sun) The audiencesfeedback are exactly the thing I care about.

(Peng) But it’s not important how they respond to our works, as long as there is response at all. We don’t really care whether they are positive or negative, we care about the fact that they do have reaction.

(Sun) Or shall we say the best case is that we have mixed response; rape mixed with adultery, if you will. Being raped and yet reaching orgasm, committing adultery but with a bit of passiveness, that’s a good mixture. I’m not into pure compulsory stuff, but reaction is a must.

Q: I think one of the major differences between Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou is the different level of consciousness towards power. It’s the strongest in Beijing, weaker in Shanghai, and the weakest in Guangzhou. Do you have anything to say about this?

A: (Sun) I don’t particularly feel that way, this power thing you mentioned. I don’t know if there’s power or not, but the way I see it, power is of no relevance as long as you feel comfortable and happy. Because you are in the lower tiers of others’ power mechanism, you are not the top guy, you feel good being here, and you stay here, I think that’s enough. It’s not necessarily the same thing as the farmer‘s corporation, in which power is above everything, even daily meals are related to power, if you can’t get hold of this power, you are not able to survive……by power I mean a kind of dominate/subordinate relation, not necessarily political power.

censorship system 审批制度[shen pi zhi du]

但是我们很多文化制度包括规定,实际上延续到20多年前……没有任何变化,比如我举个简单的例子,电影,电影的审批制度到现在完全一样,而且可能还比以前……所以说这个社会有一大批东西……实际上……没有变化的东西没有展现出来,所以说有的时候我们看见的是变化的东西……

but many of our cultural institutions and regulations in fact date back to more than 20 years ago, without any modification in between. I’ll give you a simple example – films. Our censorship system on film has stayed virtually the same, and perhaps even more…

(摘自徐坦对汪关征的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Wang Guanzheng)

Interviewed: Sun Jin, Peng Yao

Time: Noon, January 29, 2007

Location: Sun & Peng Studio, 798, Beijing

社会                   society  social  socially   24

反应                   reaction (feedback  response  respond)  8

(不)接受             accept  acceptance  (take in rejected)    7

普通(人,观众)       ordinary (people / audience)  general public  9

公众                   general public     2

观众                   audience(s)       22

关系                   relation  relationship  has something to do with  11

机制                   system  mechanism    8

机构                   organization      5

美术馆                 museum    8

独立 independence    2

政府  government    5

政治 political        3

自由 free            3

和谐社会  harmonious society    9

       do  make           40

       do  engage in tackle   1

中国      China  Chinese      31

西方      the West  western     19

发展      development  drifting     5

成功      success  successful     10

商业()  commercialization  commercial  commercially    4

游戏     game    4

舒服     comfortable   3

学术     academic  academics  academically    11

农民     farmer       5

强奸     rape  raped    2

通奸     adultery     2

生效     effectiveness   effective   2

市场     market  marketing    5

投机份子  opportunitists   1

Source of Keywords:

Q: You just mentioned the public perception of your works and the natural influence thereof, I have the feeling that most of your early works are not as socially-conscious as the newer ones.

A: (Sun) Actually all the materials come from the society, it’s just that some of them come from the relatively private aspect of social life, and some are better-known materials, such as news subjects, social topics. Actually all topics are social topics, it’s just that the attention they draw are of different levels. Also, I don’t think I would go with the idea that currently all subjects derive from the society, I think a lot of them can still find roots in ourselves, but when they are confronted with the society, you’ll need an appropriate translation and conversion system, and then you’ll end up choosing relatively typical materials. It seems to me that you just can’t take the problem separately.

(Peng) In the early days when we were young, our relation with the society are not so complicated, or, shall we say, we were not yet an integrated part of the society, therefore the works we did and the materials we used are not so socially-conscious. But I reckon that anything could be used as material, and you are going to engage in the society more and more as you grow up, eventually you’ll choose those materials in the society that interest you. So I don’t think that subject is the key issue here.

Q: A lot of your works in the exhibitions are focused on the relationship with the society. Do you perceive any differences in China and the West in terms of audience’s acceptance and feedback?

A: (Sun) Yes, but I think the differences were more typical a few years ago, before and around 2000. The opening-up of China was still in its early phase back then, and most people did not accept what is called contemporary art, they were too impatient when watching. Now there seems to be a unified consensus, western and Chinese audience are aware of this (Chinese) contemporary art thing, they know there is a bunch of people doing weird stuff, and their first reaction towards them are “Ah! Another performance art! “Thus art is reduced to a term, when someone puzzles over something; he would call it performance art. He has this category in his mind, and can group it, and then it’s easy for him to take in.

(Peng) At that time the West was more interested in the political confrontational aspect, it has something to do with the whole Chinese ideology. The country was not open enough back then, and biennale still didn’t emerge in Shanghai……all the western audiences would interpret your work from the political perspective. There were two kinds of Chinese audience, and this is particularly interesting, the first kind is artistically-informed people, or people somewhat related to art and culture; and the other kind is people who has no relationship whatsoever with culture. As it turned out, the culture-savvy part happened to find our works incomprehensible, they even made a lot of protests or accusation against them. On the other hand, those who have no relationship with art or culture, including policemen……one of my exhibitions was banned, and I chatted with many ordinary people like policemen and persons in Residents’ Committee, you know, ordinary people, they all went to see the exhibition and found it super interesting.

And now governments are organizing biennales, contemporary art has become a card in their hands, something that everyone can and should take advantage of. So it’s like a slogan, a presentation used to impress the international community, and here’s when the game with the official starts.

A: (Peng) In the ’90s, before 2000, when something happens, you can calm down to observe your surroundings, to perceive the changes of everybody in detail. But now, especially in recent years, the whole atmosphere in the art scene is volatile. It has become difficult for me to try to understand the changes outside, and the situation is complicated now……take our studio in 798 for example, this place is so touristy now, it’s hard to position yourself. But we do work here as of today. Now the government is into contemporary art too, a lot of opportunitists are into this, and there’s the gallery frenzy, a dozen of new galleries would turn up here every day. You also witness the price of Chinese contemporary art skyrocketing on the international market, I have the feeling that many artists have lost themselves, they have become less pure; in the old days, underground is underground, the artists make art, and that’s it. Nowadays everyone collaborates with everyone, and you participate in their game more frequently, the game is getting more and more complex, Stage Two!

Q: So do you think that general public has become better connoisseurs of contemporary art?

A: (Peng) I think maybe they do find it easier to accept, but what art offers them, on the contrary, has decreased. Back then they would try to understand why these people do what they’re doing, now they get themselves a concept, like I tell you this word, ‘performance art‘, they go ‘Ah, so this is performance art!’, and there it is. Something is missing for the general public, the minute they are given a safe explanation, they are deprived of the thinking process.

(Sun) There are actually two sides of the coin. For the artist, I think they are also trying to figure out what kind of audience they have. In the ’90s there was this cynic group, you may want to call them early [Chinese] contemporary artist, they were the enfant terrible, going to the extreme when rejected by the public. By now, however, many artists have come to realize that in order to play the enfant terrible card you need to first have the endorsement by the audience. So both sides were moving towards each other, when the two reach a point of coordination, by which I mean they can work together seamlessly and feel free at the same time, that’s what you may call the harmonious society. Back then reform and opening were everything, people would do anything for breakthrough. Things have changed, now the overall structure is fixed, it’s a matter of coordination. This is in synch with the general situation of the country, the concept of harmonious society has posed a big question to art as well. Of course every era has its own issues, but the issues we are facing now in a harmonious society is of not much difference with those in the western countries. This is because harmonious society is commonplace in the West, and artists there feel free and suffocated at the same time. This is gonna happen in China at some point in the future, we’ll see.

(Peng) For instance, I’m initially exciting upon learning that certain large foreign organization is coming to Beijing to open a museum, because it means there will finally be a decent museum showcasing contemporary art in Beijing and in China. But soon I come to realize the potential crisis; I don’t know whether this thing would do any good to Beijing and to Chinese contemporary art as a whole, will it help pushing the scene towards the good or bad, healthy or unhealthy direction? There are two sides to these things. What the foreign museums try to do is to port the whole prestigious western museum system to Beijing, but if you take a look at exhibitions in the West, you’ll see how the corrupted museum system stifles the whole art scene. This explains all the buzz about the whole lot of Chinese artists participating in the Venice Biennale that year; they witnessed the potential of Chinese contemporary art in the West. But is there really any potential? Granted, you can’t say there’s zero potential, but the point is westerners realized that they could find new possibilities in China, and these possibilities are potential, energy, frightening stuff. While in the West, the whole system has provided a, in Sun Yuan’s word, harmonious society for everybody, people have to play by the rules and to strive for breakthrough in between. After some time, everybody ends up playing tricks, for me this is really not the ideal way of life. So I think the western museum system‘s coming into China will be a double-edged sword for the artists. Wouldn’t you kill a lot of possibilities if you bring in something lifeless? It helps us to operate under the rules and procedure, that’s for sure, and of course an oft-heard criticism on Chinese artists or the whole Chinese art market by western museums is the lack of rules and procedure, but this is precisely the characteristic and charisma of China. I prefer a lifestyle with lots of accidents, if Chinese contemporary art is drifting towards a completely expected, accident-free direction, I think it’s time for the artists to think about what they can do to stimulate the scene.

Q: Economic changes will have an influence on art and the relation between artists and the audience, but there are a lot of artists seem to ignore the audience, aren’t there?

A: (Sun) This is about knowledge being in synch with the government, in other words, a harmonious society is the end result of a peaceful evolution process. Commercialization and the participation of economics contribute to the realization of a harmonious society. There are rules, economic rules, that you would want to follow and to refer to as a kind of artist who cares not only about yourself, but also about the audience. One can’t deny the fact that all people regard economical success as the measurement of success in general, even artists themselves, so do the audiences. It’s a point of reference. So economics actually works as the coordinator and thus triggers the peaceful evolution. I’ll say that artists and audiences are not the sole driving force of the harmonious society, there must be some other interfering factors. So how to maintain consistency? How to reach the same coordinated point? Economics is being used as a reference point in many cases.

(Peng) Market and academic studies call for different approaches. Marketing guys take care of the market, scholars take care of academic studies, so it won’t do any good to have people like us to talk about issues without our range.

(Sun) Sometimes people say ‘academic is itself’, I’m not sure I agree with them on that: do you think about the question of success when doing academic works? If the question crosses your mind, then there shall be a point of coordination somewhere. When all the factors are mixed together in the optimized proportion, it will appear to be something successful and will generate some momentum for your academic studies. Here, the word successful means not only commercial success, but success in every dimension. Without this all-dimentional success as the point of reference, academic studies will be of no direction or value – it has no coordinated platform. Actually academics all work on a platform, there is the standard for measuring success, which is effectiveness, [commercial-wise and academic-wise] effective commercially or academically. There’s a certain value in it.

Q: Do you care about the negative part in the audiences’ feedback?

A: (Sun) The audiencesfeedback are exactly the thing I care about.

(Peng) But it’s not important how they respond to our works, as long as there is response at all. We don’t really care whether they are positive or negative, we care about the fact that they do have reaction.

(Sun) Or shall we say the best case is that we have mixed response; rape mixed with adultery, if you will. Being raped and yet reaching orgasm, committing adultery but with a bit of passiveness, that’s a good mixture. I’m not into pure compulsory stuff, but reaction is a must.

Q: I think one of the major differences between Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou is the different level of consciousness towards power. It’s the strongest in Beijing, weaker in Shanghai, and the weakest in Guangzhou. Do you have anything to say about this?

A: (Sun) I don’t particularly feel that way, this power thing you mentioned. I don’t know if there’s power or not, but the way I see it, power is of no relevance as long as you feel comfortable and happy. Because you are in the lower tiers of others’ power mechanism, you are not the top guy, you feel good being here, and you stay here, I think that’s enough. It’s not necessarily the same thing as the farmer‘s corporation, in which power is above everything, even daily meals are related to power, if you can’t get hold of this power, you are not able to survive……by power I mean a kind of dominate/subordinate relation, not necessarily political power.

capital 资金[zi jin]

如果你不是一个艺术家,只是一个投机商,这个就很正常了,如果你还是一个创作的人,或者说你本来是一个觉得有话可才去从事这个行业,觉得对一种方式兴趣——而不是说简单的钱财资金地位可以替换你的那些最早的东西,就不正常和奇怪了。

If you are not an artist but a speculator, there’s nothing wrong with talking about market too much, but if you are someone still creating works, or if you got into art because you felt like to express yourself, or fascinated with certain ways of expression, instead of just money, capital or status, then there is something deeply wrong.

(摘自徐坦对艾未未的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Ai Weiwei)

Interviewed: Ai Dongming

Time: Afternoon, January 31, 2007

Location: Ai’s place at Caochangdi, Beijing

    “do”  engage in   25

可能  maybe possibility impossible perhaps  may  21

社会  society  social   19

问题  problem question  17

兴趣  fascinated interested uninterested interest 12 

个人  individual  12

方式  ways approaches  10

市场  market  9

价值  value   7

政治的   political  1

国家     country  state  4

自由    freedom  free 7

个人表达 individual expression

地下 underground

民主    democratic  2

    circle   3

    money  5

时代  (information/Internet) age  5

    play   3

资金  capital  1

    poor poverty  4

弱智  retarded   2

    face  3

Source of keywords:

Q: What’s your understanding or impression about the current situation of contemporary art in China?

A: I wouldn’t pretend to know much. In spite of the fact that I’ve been living in Beijing all along and always partaking in curating, that we have the Chinese Art Archives & Warehouse, and make friends in the art circle, still I’m not sure I really understand it. Recent two years it seemed hot and bustling, but not very long before nobody apparently cared to take a look at it, so it feels to me more like a state of sudden ups and downs. Maybe put it this way: because contemporary art as a matter of fact has a quite short history [in China], and the modern life in China [this country] – although it did exist – was characterized to a great extent by political and economic patterns. In a highly institutionalized [environment] country as such, the freedom of individual expression, political background and living conditions, as well as the functions and possibilities of art and culture in the society, were basically limited, therefore the surfacing of the so called contemporary art in China didn’t occur until five or six years ago. Before that there were people doing a lot of things, but only in a semi-underground way – that is, it happened in a small circle, out of the sight of the public discourse, and its social impact was in fact also only limited to a small sphere. Once it surfaces, its major scene is in overseas exhibitions, foreign media or even in overseas auctions. It does look exciting somehow, but has nothing to do with the environment where the art originated, its social patterns and its meanings. Few people have tried to discuss and probe into these questions, so it’s still a strange structure. But we can’t say any structure is reasonable or not. Be it a tree, a vine, a ferocious beast, or a parasite, it each has its own reasons. Although Chinese contemporary art did not self-consciously try to build a connection with this society, it still somehow reflects a few problems of the past decades.

Q: What problems do you think it reflects?

A: The fundamental collapses of Chinese philosophy, aesthetics, ethics in the past decades, and the possibility of discussion is yet to be established for the new. Because this large scale or large part of the society is still denying, or disagreeing some basic facts, and debating of many problems in these areas is almost [out of the question] impossible. Democratic society is still a long way to go. There is much freedom in there, but it’s the freedom based on the collapse of the old, a freedom out of control, but proactive [one] freedom. The art is characterized by all these problems.

Q: What do you think of the public reception of contemporary art?

A: I don’t think there is real reception. It only becomes part of fashion. When magazines and newspapers talk about art, you see, they always miss the points, and are never capable of understanding it in any depth. I think it’s pathetic, somewhat like retarded. Chinese contemporary art is really acting [an under-developed] a retarded role. Of course there are pretty good artists, there are artists doing interesting stuff all along, but what they do and the way they do it never got acknowledged or understood by the mainstream society. Basically it’s all messed up.

Q: Do you think your curating activities could be of any help to this mess?

A:There are many exhibitions in China now, but hardly helping with anything and making any sense. They are just peddlers, the peddlers you see on streets where everybody hucksters the same thing and provoke and compete against one another. It’s designed completely for the market, and has nothing to do with art. All those exhibitions, and their curators – take a close look and you see few that are half decent, all with their evil and varied intentions. This in particular is what makes me look down upon Chinese academia and the intelligentsia. [The total shamelessness. The out-and-out and open shamelessness,] They don’t care for face, literally and openly declare that they don’t care for face, which is so rare even here and now. A Chinese old saying goes, poverty stifles ambition, which makes a very good point here. But it’s more than just being poor, those people are actually degenerate. Poverty is just an excuse.

Q: Since you mentioned market, please comment on the art market.

A:Anything can sell, and the exquisite thing as art is no exception. Art sells in that it decorates the [rich] homes of people with lots of money, so it becomes commodity, which is quite normal. The question is the percentage. I mean, in the whole cultural environment, is commodity the only role to play or not? Is it so fragile that once it becomes commodity, it can’t be anything else? I think that’s a major problem in Chinese contemporary art. The way I see it, it’s kind of funny, because it’s like that even the reason why you do art in the first place got changed, the reason and principles of your life got changed, and eventually transformed into some other value. Too much attention and discussions have been driven to the market – of course, if you are not an artist but a speculator, there’s nothing wrong with talking about market too much, but if you are someone still creating works, or if you got into art because you felt like to express yourself, or fascinated with certain ways of expression, instead of just money, capital or status, then there is something deeply wrong. Now it seems to me that everybody is talking about market, which is bothering me. From stock market to the pricing of brand names, there’s nothing to blame market itself about. You sell something for five cents of money, five thousand Yuan of money, or fifty thousand, and it’s fine. But behind this market, behind the pricing of a certain product, are other values diluted by this market price? This is a question.

Q: What interests you then?

A:Honestly, I’m not interested in anything in particular. I’m not particularly uninterested in commercial stuff or some other things. Really there are not too many things that interest me; perhaps I am passive. But generally speaking, art is a profession that I have some interest in. What interests me there is the people who are less utilitarian and more characteristic, and living some sorts of self-conscious lives. But what about now? You see no difference between [this art] people in this art circle and their neighbor who peddle. It becomes boring. But after all, I don’t really care, and concern. For example, this country lives or dies, I don’t really care either. It’s just that you asked me, like you ask me anything such as weather, windy or sandstorm comes, it’s something out of your control. It’s just what this country is.

Q: Say something about your blog.

A: Blog is fun. I will upload the pictures I took for you right away. I don’t know anything about my viewers, even though they are just a click away from me – this is what I feel so straightforward, so real and at the same time delusional, so I keep doing it.

Q: You mean it’s a way to communicate your own information.

A:I think the information age is the best time for human being so far. Before this, mankind was in the dark or on a chosen path, and now for the first time it provides technical possibilities for the so called freedom and individual will. You [can] may choose to play alone or with those whom you like to play with, which is hard to imagine before. I think everybody should be welcoming this new situation allowing free expression and individual approaches – sounds cliché but still very important. Things like new possibilities of communication, including the possibilities of reshaping, absorbing and utilizing the power of the society, are great things.

Q: Speaking of art, do you think there is a distinction between geographical center and margin?

A:I think not, especially not in this information age and Internet age. In fact this is for the first time that mankind has an opportunity and possibility to topple the traditional value system of central power. This possibility springs up suddenly after a long history of human struggle, and it’s such a great thing.

创意[chuang yi] creative idea

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创意
 
大家都知道中国市场很大,中国怎么在这方面获得大的蛋糕,实际上是如何结合中国的特点,把中国动漫事业创意事业做大、做强。

We all know that China is a huge market. To gain a bigger share in China, is to take the Chinese characteristics into consideration and to develop a bigger and stronger animation industry or creative industry.

(摘自徐坦对陈斌的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Chen Bin)

采访对象:陈斌张江某动漫产业公司的高级管理人员)

采访时间:2006815

 

国外 abroad foreign

动漫 animation 3

市场 market 3

事业 产业 industry business 5

创意事业 creative industry 3

生活)      live living life(residential zone) 9

技术 科技 technology technological

高科技 Hi-tech 4

发展 开发 拓展 develop development 9

开发区 园区 zone garden 14

高科技开发区 Hi-tech Development Zone(garden) 6

科技园区 technological zone (garden) 4

朝阳 Blooming 3

外教 foreign teachers 4

培训 train 7

交通 transportation traffic 3

中国的特点 Chinese characteristics 1

国际化 international 1

操作 operate 1

韩国人 Korean 1

招商 to invite investment 1

先进 advanced 1

交流 exchange 2

机会 chance 1

平台 platform

经验 experience 2

品牌区 zone brand 1

挑战性 challenging 1

原创 original 1

定位 orientation 1

高端 high-end 1

孵化 incubating 1

 

 

 

 

非常有挑战性他是一个朝阳产业有许多未知的东西,As a blooming industry it is quite challenging, with many unknown things.

包括技术方面国外已经很成熟了,The technology aspect has been fully developed abroad.

但如何发挥中国的优势做出一些中国的动漫市场,The point is how to develop the animation market with Chinese characteristics.

大家都知道中国市场很大,We all know that China is a huge market

中国怎么在这方面获得大的蛋糕,To gain a bigger share in China,

实际上是如何结合中国的特点,is to take the Chinese characteristics into consideration,

把中国动漫事业创意事业做大、做强,and to develop a bigger and stronger animation industry or creative industry.

朝阳事业有很多未知的东西,The blooing industry has many uncertain things,

也需要很多一些相关的服务,一些孵化、一些推动作用,and needs many supporting services and incubating forces.

我们平台有多个原创项目在进行。On our platform many original programs are going on.

我们基本采用国际化操作模式,Basically we operate in an international mode,

包括现在正做的一个项目,也是与动漫相关的产品,like one program going on now, also an animation-related program,

也是我们孵化的整个项目,带头人是一个韩国人,is initiated by us as a whole, with a Korean head.

我们采用了一些先进国外理念,甚至好的一些国外项目,We have used some advanced foreign ideas, and even some foreign programs.

国外结合起来,我们定位比较高端,Our orientaion is an international high-end one,

这也符合我们张江集团的目标。which also fits the target of our Zhangjiang Group company.

包括文化产业公司的招商,并不是谁都可以进来的,Like the invitation investment of cultural business was not given easily.

他也有很多的条条框框,It has many restrictions too.

他的目的就是既然要做这个文化创意事业就要把他做好,做到前沿 The aim is do the best, advanced cultural creative industry.

这就是区别。This is the difference.

 

我们本身对这一块有制作培训,We have manufacture and training to this.

培训主要是针对技术培训,That’s mainly technological training,

因为艺术很难在短的时间内得到好的培训,For art cannot be trained in a short time,

除非科班出身或慢慢熏陶,but after academic education or long time edification.

它那边主要是针对技术层面上,We have already had three terms of training class,

我们现在已经办了三期培训班,which maily aims at technological aspect.

每一期是有两个外教,两周直接上课,Each term there are two foreign teachers for two-week teaching,

而不像国内, different from many other cases home.

国内现在培训现在很多,他们说是外教,Many of the native training classes boast foreign teachers,

最多也就给你上几个课时也就不错了,but only have a few hours give by them.

但是我们实打实每一期 有两个外教,While we honestly have two foreign teachers each term,

就是想把国外的一些先进经验、方法尽快的引到国内来,in order to introduce the foreign advanced experience and methods as soom as possible.

毕竟国内出去也不方便得到交流机会也不是很多,After all, it is not easy to get chance go abroad for exchange,

出去的话手续办理很麻烦, with troublesome procedures.

所以我们就把它引进来了,So we introduce it home.

目前都是针对社会, Later will be some enterprises and colleges,

下一步我们会针对一些企业、院校,Up to now the training is targeted at the society, and school.

他们来培训的同时也带一些讲座来进行交流,who will bring their own lectures for exchange while receive training.

 

我感觉张江更多是在做成一个科技园区,I think Zhangjiang is more like a technological zone,

它提供了很多的交通,which provides much traffic systems,

但是目前来说,它不是给你提供一个完全生活环境,but not fully a living place for now.

相关的基本的生活设施是有的,It has the basic living facilities,

但它走的路子不是要创造一个很好的生活,but does not mean to be a perfect residential zone.

它提供一个很方便的创业环境,It provides a convenient surrounding for entrepreneurship,

但它不是一个生活, not for living.

我没有做过这方面的比较。I have not compared in this way.

我认为张江高科技园区也是借了国外的一些特点,I think Zhangjiang Hi-tech park learned from the foreign experience,

来这样发展起来,during its development.

现在发展市场也很不错,Now the development has a quite good market.

原来是叫上海张江高科技园区,It used to be the Shanghai Zhangjiang Hi-tech Garden,

现在是叫上海张江高科技开发区, but now the Shanghai Zhangjiang Hi-tech Development Zone.

把上海几个不同方向的开发区统一命名。To combine several development zones with various orientations in Shanghai together and name it,

为上海张江高科技开发区,the Shanghai Zhangjiang Hi-tech Development Zone,

把他作为一个品牌区推广,and publicize it as a zone brand,

至少到目前为止,它是很成功的, is quite successful, at least up to now.

所有的科技园区也好、开发区也好,我认为这一点都是有一个共同的,All the technological gardens and development zones have one thing in common,

它不是给你提供一个很丰富的生活区,It provides not a rich residential zone,

因为它的周边也在建一些居住区 for it has residential zones around.

,但我感觉它不是纯粹的为了生活交通方便,It is not for purely convenience of life or transportation.

开发区开始之前首先就有了一个地铁站,At the very beginning the development zone build its subway stop,

各方面就是为了能很方便出行,for a convenient outing.

我认为如果一个开发园区,又配备了一个很好的生活园区的话。I think a development zone together with a wonderful living garden,

我认为它会削弱一些开发区的一些拓展,would weaken its progress as a development zone.

因为你的生活很好、园区方便,If you live well, have a convenient garden,

交通又相对的好,路也很宽,车也很少空气, easy transportation, wide roads, few cars and fresh air,

如果这几点都有的话,很多人会来,自然会影响科技园区一开始的定位,then many would come and affect the original orientation of the technological zone.

您能否给我两三个关键词? Can you name two or three key words for me?

朝阳激情踏踏实实Blooming, passion, down-to-earth.

吃(喝)[chi (he)] eat, drink

 

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1.比如说他的交通,还有,因为我们在这里工作中午很难到东西,我们这里有一句话 “你在市中心上班,肚子饿了可以到东西,在张江肚子饿了是利于减肥”。

Then the add-ons, like the transportation and the food here, for we have little to eat at working noon. Here we have a saying, “If you work downtown, you can eat when you are hungry, while in Zhangjiang you are on diet.”

(摘自徐坦对胡薇的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with HuWei)

 

2.了就很容易把老底端出来了。

It’s all about alcohol! Once you get drunk, you can talk about even the most intimate things.

(摘自徐坦对郑国谷的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Zheng Guogu)

采访对象:郑广

采访时间:2007120日晚上

采访地点:于阳江郑家

 

设计 design 12

建筑 architecture buildings 15

drink 6

换(交换) exchange 11

(用地 基地 根据地) land(for certain purpose) base 11

朋友 friend 15

关系 relation 29

公共关系 public relation 8

搞关系 developing relation 6

generation 30

一代 their days 4

需要 need 5

游戏 game 7

部门 department industries

地方 provincial 13

 

违章(建筑) unauthorized (architecture) 3

平等 equality equal 5

自由 freedom 3

gambling 3

 

 

个人 indivi