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intervention involvement 介入[jie ru]

我觉得社会可能是在选择一些靠边的、异于大众准则的东西,我最开始排斥这个社会,按理说我也是被排斥的,但是特别奇怪,也许就因为我在做艺术社会最终把我从特别边缘的地方拉回来找回来了,但如果我是从事一种对社会介入非常高的职业,可能我很早就已经被淘汰掉了。

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.

(摘自徐坦对胡小玉的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Hu Xiaoyu)

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.

interpersonal relationship 人际关系[ren ji guan xi]

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.

interesting 有意思[you yi si]

做艺术最开始对我来说实际上是一个存在方式、理由,觉得比别的有意思。现在带来一些认同之后,就刺激你——因为在做很多事情的过程中慢慢会失去兴趣刺激你就会把这个兴趣的时间延长,就好像一个抛物线,有这些东西介入之后,它可能拉得更长。

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.

(摘自徐坦对胡小玉的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Hu Xiaoyu)

nterviewed: 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.

intelligence, intelligent 智(慧)[zhi hui]

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.

institutions, organizations 机构[ji gou]

我觉得现在中国当代艺术发展正处在一个比较好时期,很热门,很多机构收藏家都非常关注当代艺术。从这一点来讲,它是一个比较事情。但是就这两年来看,作品反而出得,不多,有人就觉得现在是中国当代艺术最低潮的时候,

这要做到也挺难的,因为我觉得,对于很多艺术家来说,他们需要卖画社会诱惑力太了。以前大家还关注怎么去制作一件好作品,关注学术;现在讨论的全是拍卖拍卖价格的问题、市场问题

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.

(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.

influence 影响(作用)[ying xiang(zuo yong)]

相信这种角色,但是我觉得作为艺术家,这种影响绝对是有限的、是很无力的,是很小范围里面的影响,除非是很有效地动用各方面的资源,或者要特别富于冒险行动性、富于社会行动性,而不是单从艺术角度出发的行动性。我觉得我的角色是,尽可能地作为一个桥梁——甚至哪天如果不做艺术,是不是可以做其他事情,能够更直接地刺激到我的想法?就是我尽可能地把这个桥梁的角色做得更稳定、更明确

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.

(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.

individual 个人[ge ren]

我觉得信息时代是人类遇到的最的一个时代,是第一次给所谓的自由个人意志技术上提供了可能,在这之前,人类一直是在黑暗当中或者是在独木桥上,或者是在一个必由之路上,那么这个信息时代第一次让人有可能自己玩或者和愿意一起玩的人,这在过去是没有的,所以我觉得我们应该是很有兴致和很有机会进去这么一种状态,就是说它有几点是非常重要的:自由地表达个人方式。这听上去虽然很俗套,但是这个是很重要的事情,包括交流可能,包括把社会的力量重新地施以影响吸收运用可能,这是很了不起的一件事情。

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.

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

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.

independence 独立[du li]

在这里,人觉得比较塌实,这里不像徐家汇和南京西路,物质诱惑特别多,每天要逛街按摩做脸,很多活动要

People are down to earth here. Different from Xujiahui or Nanjing West Road,   whick is full of material distractions, where you do shopping, massage or facial every day.

(摘自徐坦对秦晋的访谈   Excerpt from Interview with Qin Jin)

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.

indecency 猥琐[wei suo]

观众有时会跟你谈论艺术的很多……这个艺术是做什么的?你画过人体没有?你画人体什么感觉呀?或者你这个画还能卖吗?反正公众的那种猥琐感是最……就是普通人猥琐感比艺术家显得强烈得多,就是喜欢问来问去的。

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.

(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.

images 形象[xing xiang]

Q:你的作品想以一个怎么样的形象呈现给别人

A:每年都不一样,现在可能会稍微集中一点,不像近几年作品会有很多种,不同形象的,不同面貌的,可能做录像……等,但用的很多种材质很多种,想法都是不一样的。

Q: What kind of image do you want your work to present to people?

A: It varies from year to year. Maybe it’s more focused now, unlike the last few years, where you see different images, different outlook, like videos, etc… using many kinds of material, with all different concepts.

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

Interviewed: Liu Renhua

Time: Afternoon, Jan. 14, 2007

Location: Eudora Station Cafe, Beijing

 

 

生活 life live 15

低级趣味 vulgar taste vulgar 5

自己 self own 22

态度 attitude 6

社会 society social 7

别人 others other people other 5

接受 accept take 6

大众 public 14

大众审美 popular aesthetics 3

审美 aesthetics 7

时尚 fashion 15

消耗 drain (exhaust)               5

关系,联系, 关联 relationship relation related connections 6

不同,不一样 different 10

 

制度 system 1

 

take 7

circle 6

sell 5

发展 development develops 6

无聊 boring bored 5

商业 commercialization business commercial 4

国外 foreign countries 4

中国 China 3

形象 images 5

 

Source of keywords:

 

 

Q: First of all, would you please generally talk about the current state of contemporary art in China?

 

A: 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.

 

Q: What kind of image do you want your work to present to people?

 

A: It varies from year to year. Maybe it’s more focused now, unlike the last few years, where you see different images, different outlook, like videos, etc… using many kinds of material, with all different concepts. But now I want to be more focused – what kind of work do I want to do in this one year? Installation, perhaps. Which means, your concerns are more focused, and you even consider letting go of some of the works; whereas previously you do whatever comes to your mind. Now you might not do something even if the idea comes up, because it might affect the overall image of your work. Sometimes, the strategic aspects will also be reckoned with. For example, a work of art will put aside when it’s completed. One year later, it takes effect. But sometimes, you start with a good feeling and then find the work losing its effect a year later. Put all your work aside, good or bad, wait for a year or two and check if they are still effective. If so, then it means they are related to your previous development.

 

A: Visual impact is certainly essential, but not that kind of strong outward impact deliberately made. I’m interested in a basic sensation that people see everyday but fail to perceive. It’s an impact through a different medium – perhaps volume, perhaps something else.

 

Q: What, in your opinion, is the relationship between your art and social reality?

 

A: I don’t know what kind of relationship it is. I’m only searching for a point of excitement. I get an idea only when I see or feel something that excites me; I don’t get ideas out of the blue. Maybe some people come up with an idea first and then realize it. But my work comes from something I see and think about. It’s never a rational process of making works of art.

 

Q: Then, are there any obstacles in the communication between your art and the public?

 

A: Yes, of course. But it’s not too bad, and I know what the reasons are. When you have a conversation with someone, you cannot communicate with each other due to totally different values. You still know what the other person is thinking, which is totally different from your own thinking, and vice versa. From the public‘s point of view, sometimes they see the work and feel good, feeling that they can take it, because contemporary art still contains something that is most explicit. No matter how art develops, how conceptual it becomes, the explicit visuality, like beauty, always exist. That will never change.

 

As with communicating with the public, television is what the public likes. I don’t think there is much worth viewing on TV; it’s all just bullshitting and awful. Of course I can watch it too, but I think it’s just vulgar taste. Perhaps the more vulgar is, the more attractive to most people.

 

Q: And this is the difference between popular and elite culture?

 

A: Nothing is elite. I don’t like such mentality of regarding himself as infallible.

 

Q: What sort of influence does Beijing have on your art.

 

A: Maybe the climate, and something else. Beijing is not a very pleasant city. It can be summed up in one word – dark, which is pretty bad due to the climate like sand storms, etc. Usually I don’t have to go out during the day, and you have nowhere to go at night, unlike some cities in the south, where you can walk around comfortably at night. You can’t do this in Beijing, all you can do is stay home during the day, and go to entertainment spots, like pubs and teahouses at night. Basically there is nowhere you can go to enjoy something natural. But I’ve gotten used to this; maybe it’s related to aesthetics. I’ve completely accepted this grayish, somber landscape. I don’t think it ugly – it’s even rather pretty sometimes. Beijing is faster in pace, and creates more stress compared to other cities. It has more fun here. There’s all sorts of people here; any kind of people can survive here. There exist good idea and bad idea. You can do anything you like. They can all co-exist. Perhaps this is the tradition or customs here.

 

Q: A lot of artists think too many exhibitions in Beijing, many of which are too superficial.

 

A: Right. I usually don’t go to exhibitions, except those by very close friends. I don’t go to any other exhibitions.

 

Q: What’s your view on the art organizations like museums of art?

 

A: Basically I don’t have any connections with them. That’s PR activities, not what we do.

 

Q: So you don’t think art should engage into society, into life?

 

A: It’s not that. Some artists do it that way, and it’s fine, just not my style.

 

Q: Then what do you think is the role of the artists in society?

 

A: Never thought about that. I don’t know what sort of role it is; I don’t know. I’m not different from other people, we’re the same. We are all doing our own work, with different ideas and subject-matters. Sometimes you feel you’re exhausting yourself, but everyone is the same. From close by, you see yourself doing something different from others; from afar, it’s all the same. You do certain things to maintain your level of energy, and then you keep draining it. You can’t live your life energetically every single day. It’s insignificant and boring most of the time.

 

Q: Many other artists also feel negative.

 

A: It’s not negative. Being bored is not negative; perhaps it’s a state of being. Many things in this society are in this state, this current state. Maybe it has to do with your own judgment – on society, on life. But it’s not the state of nihility and negativity that make you not want to live anymore.

 

For example, popular aesthetics, just like TV and movies, is just boring beyond words. But everybody likes it. That’s why it can exist. It’s something with an extremely vulgar taste, but people like vulgarity. You can’t run away from it no matter what.

 

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

 

A: Fashion is more popular, more real-life, and more guiding. Mostly it’s about this guidance – guiding your life – about what is good. It’s a sort of guidepost, leading the public to develop towards the direction it sets. Ultimately there is something good leading the popular aesthetics, whereas art has no such attribute. It doesn’t have to have an impact on everyone. It works by itself. It has an impact on a minority of people. It doesn’t rely on the public.

individual expression 个人表达[ge ren biao da]

我觉得可能像是这样,因为现代艺术这一块实际上时间也是很短的,中国实际上虽然有它的现代生活,但这个现代生活在很大程度上是已经由政治的经济的特征定下来的,是一个已经是什么样的体制下的国家了,那么这种个人表达自由政治背景生活条件,以及文化艺术社会中的作用可能,我觉得基本上都是已经限定下来的了。

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.

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

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.

ideology, ideologism 意识形态[yi shi xing tai]

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.

ideology, ideologism 意识形态[yi shi xing tai]

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.

identity 身份[shen fen]

1.我觉得这个在北京还是比较明显的,就有的时候会具体地分配到穿衣、抽哪种烟、戴哪种眼镜,都有一种文化身份在里边,我觉得文化身份也是致命的,有的时候你的态度止于文化身份上。

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.

2.当你只满足于你代表了某一种文化身份的时候,其实你也就停止你再往下思考的一个机会

when you become satisfied with your representing certain cultural identity, you actually for thinking any further.

(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.

IT行业[IT hang ye] IT industry

This movie requires Flash Player 9

采访对象:姚宇(张江某广告公司设计师)

采访时间:2006818

 

发展 develop development 9

气氛 ambience 5

高科技 hi-tech 3

园区 garden zone 5

科技 technology technological 10

产业 industry business 6

创意产业 creative industry 3

感觉 feeling felt 3

文化 culture 9

文化产业 culture business 1

生活 life 6

busy 2

行业 industry 2

都市 metropolitan 2

公交 bus 1

IT行业 IT industry 1

白领 white-collar 1

特色 characteristics 1

规划 layout 1

高端 high-end 1

自动化 automatic 1

电子化 electronic 1

科技化 scientific 1

人性化 humanized 1

理想 ideal 2

知识 knowledegs 1

环境 surroundings 1

家居 home 1

田园风光 pastoral 2

 

 

 

刚来张江时,给我总体的感觉来说,My first feeling when I just came here,

就是早上很,大量的人在等班车, was its busy morning.Lots of people were waiting for the bus.

工作的节奏气氛很强烈,很有都市工作的气氛。Here is the tense working ambience,quite metropolitan.

随后当我在张江工作了一段时间,后来对张江的感觉,After a period of working here, I felt something else.

就是在张江这里的餐饮等方面行业,都集中在地铁站附近,Restaurants in Zhangjiang are centered near the subway station,

或是在产业园区内,or in the industry garden.

交通不方便啦,只有几趟公交车,Its transportation is inconvenient with only a few bus routes.

大部分来张江工作的人,都是IT行业的领导和白领,Most of the people working here are leaders or white-collar employees of IT industry,

都拥有自己的交通工具,这也是张江的一大特色,who have their own cars, which is one of the characteristics of Zhangjiang,

车比较多,人也比较繁,with abundant vehicles and crowded people.

我来张江后,对张江的感觉,基本上很满意。Basically I am satisfied since I came here,

特别是对园区规划气氛,整体的建设,以及文化。 especially with its zone layout, ambience and the overall construstion and culture.

我们是做文化产业的,We do culture business.

我们中国艺术设计联盟,整体上是创意产业的门户, Our China Art Design Union is basically the portal of creative industry.

主要是要对文化各个方面的气氛进行感受,Primarily we sense various aspects of cultural ambience.

创意产业文化基地,在张江建立以后,Since the establishment of the creative industry culture base,

文化气氛十分强烈,the cultural ambience is getting stronger.

周围也建立了文化素养较高的基地,如美院电影学院,Around have been built bases with higher cultural accomplishment like the Art College and the Film College,

整个文化科技素质都提高了,raising the overall cultural and technological quality

很适合我们创意产业的精神,which just fits our concept of creative industry.

文化加科学,一个很明确的整体的发展目标Culture and science make an explicit target of development as a whole.

 

我对生活理想化想象,希望今后生活自动化电子化、更科技化人性化,My imagination of the ideal life is a more automatic, electronic, scientific and humanized one,

自己拥有一些站在科技高端尖端情况下的生活设施,with some latest hi-tech life facilities

比如说家居环境,用一些最科技,最新的产品来美化,完善自己的生活。like the home surroundings, decorated and improved with the latest technology and products.

 

 

社会是一个机械化的大熔炉, The society is an automatic melting pot.

社会在不断发展,我们自身也在不断进步, With its consistant development, we are developing ourselves, too.

发展是肯定的目标, Development is the target for sure,

发展,就会被社会和历史淘汰, or we would be  washed out.

张江是立足于IT高科技园区的理念。Zhangjiang is based on the idea of IT hi-tech zone.

我希望张江今后的发展多元化多极化的。I hope its development be multipolized,

不光在科技领域,也可以在其他领域进行尝试,one in technological area as well as many others.

尝试将张江建设成文化科技各方面知识溶和在一起的园区, The attempt to built a zone involving all the knowledegs including culture and technology,

这更利于张江的发展。would be more profer for it.

田园风光似的生活不是年轻人的生活理想,The pastoral life is not ideal for the young,

年轻人应该充分发挥积极性,充分溶入社会,推动社会发展,who should make full use of their energy and develop our socity.

如果年纪稍长,也经历了自身的发展,生活也已精彩过了,Those senior ones who have experienced enough,

可以考虑过一种安逸的,田园风光似的生活。could think about an easy pastoral life.

 

推动社会发展的力量是科技。 Science and technology is the force to make society develop forward.

张江,高科技产业的快车。Zhangjiang, an express train of hi-tech industry,

高科技,高精尖技术的发源地。 a cradle of hi-tech and advanced technology.

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