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utopia 乌托邦[wu tuo bang]

怎么说呢?比方说我现在做的项目,是一个影片,叫《谁的乌托邦?》,这是一个问句也是一种陈述句。乌托邦是要我们共同建造的——或者说某一部分人确实还是需要乌托邦的,我觉得我自己就还是有一种乌托邦情结,我不是反乌托邦份子,虽然对这个前景不是非常地明确,但是总有一种力量在推进我,我就是按这个方向去走的。还有——就是说有一天,如果……仅仅是艺术的话,我是可以抛弃艺术家身份,而去做一些更有直接行动性的事情的,这是有可能的。

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.

(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.

useful 有用[you yong]

我觉得理想的艺术家,和他的艺术观人生观都有关系个人来说,我认为艺术应该是无用的,这是一个基本理念,我自己是这样认为的,最高级的艺术应该是没有用的艺术,但在这个前提下我们可以讨论别的事情,我们可以学以致用,艺术的功用性都是一样的,不管是社会政治性市场,把这些东西作为艺术的基本认识的话,我觉得是不正常心态艺术就是为艺术,不是为别的目的

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

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

Interviewed: Feng Shunhua

Time: Afternoon, January 30, 2007

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

 

 

made to order, custom orders 11

观众 audience 6 ,

大众 public 9

社会 social, society, sociality 21

媒体 media 10

媒介 medium 11

个人 personally, personal 11

美术馆 art museum, museum 6

古典 Classical 6

古典艺术 classical art 3

兴趣 interested, attention, interesting 22

创造性 1

 

自由 freedom 2

政治性politically 1

 

hot 4

市场 market 29

关系 relationship 22

收藏家 collectors 5

sell 7

do”, engage in 56

下(载)  download, downloading, downloaded 5

有用 useful 6

money 16

中国 China 19

刺激 stimulation 11

 

 

Source of keywords:

 

 

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

 

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

 

Q: What’s your take on contemporary art?

 

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

 

Q: Why?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Q: Is the market an issue in creating art?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

urban planning 城市规划[cheng shi gui hua]

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.

ruban 都市[du shi]

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.

understand 懂[dong]

我和你们不一样,你们是了以后才,但我是好了以后才,所以我也不愿意去和别人交流。

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.

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

Interviewed: Guo Danxia

Time: Afternoon, Jan. 27, 2007

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

 

 

 

理解 comprehend know 7

(画画 paint drawing 199

知道 know 22

文化 culture 12

文化层次 culture level 4

healing cure 11

understand 8

清楚 clear 8

感觉 feel 15

白血病 leukemia leukemic 6

白鳝 white eel 4

自己 self own 20

别人 other people others 18

感觉 feel 24

 

迷信 Superstition 2

 

中国 China Chinese 7

西方 the West Western 5

身体 health Body physically physical condition 8

Qi (energy) 6

spiritual 3

灵气 reiki 2

气功 Qigong 3

生殖器 genitalia 4

神秘 mysterious 3

科技 science 2

经济效益 1economic profit 1

女神 goddess 2

境界 level spiritual level 2

谋杀 murder 2

智(慧)     intelligence intelligent 4

开发 develop development 4

 

 

 

Q: How did you start painting?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

A: Please describe the process of your creation.

 

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

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