ASIA?!

[2008/08/16 17:17 | 分类: Articles | by lizhenhua ]
ASIA?!


Geographical Outlook
Asia, or Yazhou in Mandarin, is located in the northeast part of the eastern hemisphere. To the east it borders the Pacific Ocean; to the south it adjoins the Indian Sea; to the north it abuts the Arctic Sea; and to the West it reaches the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea, which belong to the Atlantic Ocean.  Asia’s land area extends from Cape Dezhnyov in the east (169.40°W, 60.5°N) to Baba Bumu [Turkey] in the west (26.3°E, 39.27N); from Cape Chelyuskin in the north (104.18°E, 77.43N) to Cape Piai in the south (103.30°E, 1.17°N) . Covering greater latitude than any other continent, it extends from the arctic to the equatorial zone, comprising nearly every climactic and ecological zone on the way. It embraces a broader longitude than any other continent, covering eleven time zones. To the northwest its boundary with Europe is marked by the Ural Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian Sea, the Caucasus Range, the Bosphorus Strait, and the Dardanelle Strait; to the southwest it is divided from Africa by the Suez Canal and the Red Sea; to the southeast it faces Australia across the ocean; to the northeast it faces North America, only 86,000 meters away, across the Bering Strait. Asia’s land area of 44,000,000 square kilometres (including islands) takes up 29.4% of the world’s total land, making it the largest continent. Asia is continuous with Europe, and together they comprise the world’s largest land mass—Eurasia, with an area of 50,700,00 square kilometres, of which Asia makes up four-fifths.

Preliminary Thoughts
Having passed through the cry for “creative freedom” of 1979, followed by the 85 New Wave’s broad ferment and hunger for émigré experience in the 1980s, China’s contemporary art in the 90’s, while calling for engagement with the rest of the world, pioneered experimental, conceptual, new-media and multi-disciplinary modes of art. The 45th Venice Biennial (1993) and the 10th Kassell Documenta (1997), along with other international exhibitions, brought the parallel lines of Chinese and international art into gradual convergence. At the same time, the first wave of new émigré artists returned to China, whereupon began a thorough renewal in everything from concepts to methodology.

This exhibition has chosen the pictures of Wang Guangyi, Zhang Xiaogang and Fang Lijun as a case study in contemporary art, not for reasons of historical taxonomy. If we can speak of any common ground among these pictures, it is the challenging mode and historicist attitude of their response to deep-seated changes occurring in our current life and historical predicament. Moreover, they have caused this change to proceed in a more humanistic, nativist direction. These works, with their  high degree of sensitivity and originality, have enriched contemporary Chinese art through their unstinting tension between reality and ideals. In this sense we can say, “Pictures are power.”
--“Pictures Are Power: The Art of Wang Guangyi, Zhang Xiaogang, and Fang Lijun”/ Curators: Huang Zhuan, Pi Li. Nov.20, 2002 at Hexiangning Art Center

In 2002, capital and power from the civil sector began examining the role of painting within contexts of society, internationalization, and identity. This had the effect of reinforcing native tendencies.  

The MAAP (Multi Media Art Asia Pacific) Director Kim Machun: “The MAAP has been held annually beginning in 1998. It chiefly explores how to use more and newer techniques to create works of art, while exhibiting new multi-media artworks from Australia and the Asian-Pacific region. It is establishing a new network for introducing such works to audiences. In our past exchanges, we have seen fairly rapid development in China’s multi-media art, with far-ranging prospects. Thus we chose Beijing as the first venue for the festival outside of Australia. Through this activity, we hope to strengthen exchanges and collisions among multi-media artists in the Pacific-Asia region.”

Fan Di’an, chief curator, MAAP: “The development of multi-media art in China, drawing on a fair number of young and middle-aged artists, has built up considerable momentum. But overall, whether in terms of technique or concepts for media art, there is still need for more international exchanges. That’s is why we are gathering and showing works by media artists from various Asia-Pacific countries. I feel this is a genuine interaction.”
----Fifth MAAP Exhibition 2002, Millennium Monument Museum of China, Beijing

The year 2002 also saw art festivals, artists and art organizations—with both official and international backgrounds—relocating to Beijing. This gradually led to deep interchanges and collisions among China’s contemporary society, culture and art.

Since 2005 China’s contemporary art has become a player in local and international capital markets. It has been estimated that 44 billion active investment dollars are in play within Asian and Chinese art markets as of 2008. The artist Yue Minjun brought annual auction receipts of 60 million RMB  (2007, Sotheby’s auctions). Liu Xiaodong’s sales at the Mary Boone Gallery in America were even more impressive ($700,000 to 3 million apiece, sold out, 2008. In view of its role in China’s economy, art is no simple question of an isolated, native aesthetic, for China in the context of Asian and other nations poses an economic and relational aesthetic.  

Why Speak of Asia?
Asia is a shifting topic, a methodology undergoing constant conversion. As we discuss Asia, we discover its indefiniteness. When we face particular nations that make up Asia, this indefiniteness becomes all the more obvious. Questions come up, such as how to define persons embracing various religious faiths and bloodlines in Asia? Asia has been the seedbed of Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. Is it correct to think of Asia as a religious sphere? A geographical sphere? Or perhaps the question to ask is what “Asia” offers us!? Then again we can posit Asia as a massive concept (a hypothetical entity), a region to be discussed in relation to Europe, Africa, the Americas, or perhaps the Islamic world.  

Do these questions themselves constitute our reasons for discussing such a huge topic? How is such a huge topic to be presented at the 3rd Nanjing Triennial?!

Why we discuss Asia and a methodology for Asia: These questions gradually take on the dimensions of a real-world strategy, as at the Istanbul Biennial. Curators and artists tend to speak of topics that bring about intellectual clashes, rather than focusing on constructive thought, discussion and the promise of ongoing development.

Often the emergence of a theme proves to be no more than a gambit for filling space. Is discussion of “Asia” to be no more than this?

Along with the upsurge of the Asian economy, Asia has established itself as a space for art in which autonomous cycles and exchanges can occur. Asia’s reading of itself has gotten underway. The 1960s saw the emergence of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea and Singapore as the four economic tigers. Also in the 60s, Yoko Ono and Yayoi Kusama of Japan wielded influence on American and European art trends. At the same time, Zen, meditative disciplines and yoga found acceptance within a broad spectrum of intellectuals. Asia and the mysteries of the Orient, merging with magical Magical Realism魔幻现实主义currents from Latin America, helped to shape the psychedelic culture of the 1970s.

Developments in the sphere of culture cannot be separated from the influences from within Asia. In the 20s and 30s, when many intellectuals pursued advanced study in Japan and Korea was a colony of Japan, Asia’s center of gravity shifted toward Japan under the Meiji Restoration. Classical Tang traditions left their mark in Japan, Korea, Laos, India, Thailand and Malaysia, where we can still see preserved aspects of China’s classic culture (as artefacts and traditions). The spread of Buddhism set Asia on the path toward commonality in overall patterns of thought, albeit filtered through varying social environments and political needs. At some point, a pan-Asian cultural paradigm began to operate. The current set-up is something new, constituted in the midst of economic change. By virtue of processing industries, nations with huge labor reserves have taken shape as new centers over the four decades from the 60s to the 00s. Under influence of the European Union’s integrated economic structure and through efforts by 10 member nations in Asia, a new Asian league is gradually taking shape.    

Dialogue
In my work, questions which span media and fields of knowledge are what draw my interest. My projects usually have a certain predetermined orientation; the topics I devise originate in long-term engagement with certain questions. As for my curatorial projects “Sustainable Imagination” 1999-2007 (ARARIO Gallery, Beijing 2007) and “Multiple Archaeologies,” (Palazzo Strozzi, Firenze 2008) the former (1999) came from my interest in integrating research findings about media art, and the latter came from my conversations in 2005 with the artist Wu Ershan. Often my work grows out of conversations with artists. Especially during conversation with artists whom I like and admire, certain questions become clear and precisely defined.

The question which now engages my thinking, one that probably grows from concepts in economics and media technique, has to do with neural connections and how to energize groups. This boils down to the idea of shared enjoyment and shared undertaking. Through these dialogues, one would hope to accomplish conversion of knowledge among different experiences and contexts. Primarily, this method acts to dissolve absolutist tendencies coming from our systems of knowledge.  Through confluence of differing knowledge and experience, a certain commonality can gradually be extracted. For example “Multiple Archaeologies,” (Palazzo Strozzi, Firenze 2008) was influenced by Wu Ershan, who narrated to me many fascinating stories touching on the Secret history of Mongols. These stories clarified my ideas on the hybridization of cultures. In the “Outside the Window” exhibition(Japan 2004), I drew parallels between [the historical novel] Three Kingdoms and the relations among China, Japan and Korea, thereby giving rise to a complex, open-ended system. From 2004 to 2008, the questions I worked with, by virtue of this system, gradually took shape as an archaeological approach to decoding cultures. That is, one proceeds from a social issue—a stage of sensitive cultural information—and gradually moves toward a stage of cultural archaeology.  At the stage when artists partake in development of this inquiry, the issues become increasingly clear.    

Shen Shaomin’s, in his “I Am Chinese,” began photographing(filming) Russian (Czarist Russia) immigrants along the Chinese-Russian border. This pocket of immigrants has a century-long history. Issues of ethnicity, sociology and archaeology are presented through Shen Shaomin’s works. The inception of this conversion [of knowledge] goes back to Shen Shaomin’s early sculptures (installations), in which he made extensive use of the idea of genetic mutation.  

Jiang Zhi’s “Primordium” appeared as an aftermath of two prior series—“Rainbow” Series and “Add Some Light.” The vista made by the effects of fireworks, along with auditory effects, serves to model the formation of a universe. The artist’s intelligence and humour are highlighted once again in this piece.

Wang Yuyang’s “Tonight I Will Consider What I Am Made Of” 今夜我将考虑我为何物marks the conclusion of his project titled “Recreated Moon Landing Project,” which he began in 2006. Many of the props come from “Recreated Moon Landing Project,” The overall project began by calling into question and re-enacting the American moon landing of 1969. In “Man-Made Moon” he fabricated a purely lunar installation; the “Dust is Dust” picture series shows a microcosm composed of dust. Now, with this piece, the project ends with reversion to oblivion.

Zheng Yunhan’s “Sunflower Plan” is an extension of his “Jixi Project.”(ARARIO Gallery, Beijing 2007) Beginning with the MTV format of “Singing with Me”(Japan, 2003) and the interactive media format in “Jixi Project” the artist has progressed in “Sunflower Plan” to an engagement with the processes of urban studies and social research. In the “The Sunflower Project,” the artist engages with a setting where urban and rural social systems are mixed together. The “plan” as a whole is a socially oriented project conceived and executed by the artist with his entire family.

In Peng Hongzhi’s “200 Years,” as in his earlier series of conceptual works, “Monk Dog,” weaves sound and written words into his video treatment, always concentrating on the artist’s unflinching, intent gaze. This intentness reminds us of American films (Nashville 1975) from the mid-Seventies. The artist does not treat his personal identity as fundamental to the work, but simply offers juxtapositions with cultural phenomena that are only possible in a major nation. He hits upon a dangerous metaphor.

Du Zhenjun’s “Human Dog” (1996), at the Shanghai eArts Festival used a large ball of fire (Fireball, eARTS, Shanghai 2007). When the spectators flicked their lighters, the entire space (360° around) began burning. Thick smoke and writhing snakes of flame covered the space above, evoking a scene of great danger such as the detonation of an atom bomb. Since 1996 Du Zhenjun’s works have focused on the relatedness of media and the human body. “Human Dog” is highly representative of Du’s participatory works; perhaps it can be counted as the earliest interactive media artwork as a Chinese artist.

Cao Kai’s “Tale of Two Cities,” a new project that follows after his “1968,” superimposes Nanjing and Tokyo projected in a single videographic space. Cao Kai’s works have always been concerned with the relations constituting politics. In “1968” the Great Yangtze River Bridge was treated as metaphor, a deserted spectacle, a temporal extension with inception but no terminus. “Tale of Two Cities” provides a unique native’s eye view of Nanjing.

Nicholas Bonner’s “The Game Of Their Lives” (2002), shot in North Korea for BBC, narrates the lives of soccer players in North Korea going back to 1966. The film presents a rounded picture of a closed society, touching on the now-forgotten glories of the athletes’ careers. The film contains valuable footage of when the players went abroad to play in Middlesbrough, England (World Cup 1966), and interviews in which they recall this segment of history.

Perter Regli’s “Reality Hacking #240”: Peter’s work revolves around a voluminous body of visual symbols (Buddha images, snowmen, architecture); at the same time, it is concerned with latent dangers in Western culture. His pieces often juxtapose irreconcilable images, resulting in subtle and humorous connections. The iconicized reading of images makes for ridicule which in itself is an enactment of violence.

Extensive talks and interchanges with these artists has led me to multiple readings of the topic “Asia.” I originally hoped to invite Matthew Barney to participate in the exhibit with his work “Drawing Restrain 9,” (film) to provide a perspective from America. “Drawing Restrain 9” deals with post-war years of the 50s and 60s in Japan and America. Included are many visual elements relating to the past and present, such as “whaling vessel,” “tea ceremony,” “bathing,” “body cutting,” “shaving,” “seashell gathering,” “grace (petroleum jelly, wax, plastic resin),” “packaging”—all placed within Barney’s personal theological system. Starting from the artist’s own perspective, these things touch upon cultural geography, definitions of race, political relations; they also touch upon self and cosmos, on imagination made visible, on alienation of the body. Artistic creations from many perspectives will set up a platform where discussion becomes possible, and self-understanding often needs to draw on interpretations from other cultural backgrounds.

Concerning the Triennial
Repeated readings of Qiu Zhijie’s “Archaeology of the Future,” written for the Second Triennial (2005), have left a deep impression on me. The part which touches on the concept of time (future) is especially trenchant, with its elucidation of “future” as conceived by various cultures, using perspectives of theology and philosophy. “Archaeology of the Future,” rather than being a metaphor about the future, offers a view of an ongoing present. That essay, with its “rolling triennial,” its “1+1 plan” and its “in-school experiments,” has provided a valuable methodology for our current work.  

The “rolling triennial” selects curators for intervals of time (Qiu Zhijie, Zuojing, Zhu Tong) and sends them into campuses and art zones to conduct in-depth surveys, lectures and exchanges, thus constituting a thread linking these spaces together. The “rolling triennial” provides resources to art spaces; it also provides educative strategies to campuses. The “rolling triennial” provides possibilities of a sociological method for art workers.

The “1+1 plan” is a joint exhibition whereby a famous artist is paired in mandatory fashion with a student. This is consistent with Qiu Zhijie’s educational method. A famous artist like Xu Bing or Wang Guangyi, in the course of a mandatory pairing, will gradually change his entrenched creative forms. Given a joint exhibition, another artist (the student) will get a chance to experiment and take risks. At the same time, the connection has an effect of mutual validation, and of holding up a mirror to each other.

The “in-school experiments” can be seen as a national exhibition of experimental education. An experimental performance troupe organized by Qiu Zhijie will present a special happening for the opening ceremony. There will also be numerous works of video, on-site installations, stage designs and performance art.

In view of these perspectives, the Triennial is no longer the site for pre-defined standards of value. It is turning into an experimental site for promoting the development of contemporary art. This is the current state of contemporary art, which is ceaselessly changing its identity, experience and values. Curators and artists are boldly breaking the rules for exhibitions. An exhibition is not just a show—it is something which provides possibility for experiment and discussion.

Everything Is Unconfirmable?!
Contemporary Chinese art, developing along lines of new media and experimental art, takes personal experience as its point of departure. The situation in current China, as many intellectuals have remarked, is that “there are people who know what they shouldn’t do, but very few people know what they should do.” There is a common ground among new media and experimentalism: that is, the medium which has already emerged is like the experiment which has already been done: such a medium cannot be called “new,” and such an experiment does not exist.

Contemporary China is a China which has arisen through comparison with its own history. Contemporaneity is a perennial topic. Today’s China, in a perspective of Asian and global realities, presents a unique aspect of contemporaneity. China is a major nation in the midst of an economic surge, a major political and military power, a key player in culture and technological fields which is now caught up in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and preparations for a world exhibition (2010, Shanghai). Aside from these positive descriptions, China is also perceived as a threat because of its size.

China’s contemporary art in the 70s and 80s provided a picture to the world of China as a self-oppressed, democratically hindered country where individuality was effaced. From the 90s to 2008, China has furthermore been defined by the west as an economic shell without any art. Judging from today’s documents of contemporary art history, along with survival-seeking strategies of playing up to Western expectations, one can also find one-sided narratives which are means of seeking advantage. The true state of contemporary art, like the state of contemporary China, has been screened off behind a zone of profit seeking and accommodations to power. The emergence of new media and experimental art is more of a gray area, because in a political sense, these two areas are independent: they provide nothing to fit the definition of correctness as conceived by the West or by a certain interest group on native soil. Thus these two areas are absent both from China’s contemporary art history and from the West’s experience of China.

Contemporary Asia, like China’s new media and experimental art—like China’s guise as a major nation—has been screened from view.  There has not yet been a truly trenchant mode of portraying contemporary Asia that conveys its full intricacy and peculiarity, despite all the work done by Asian (or Oriental or Chinese) scholars. Contemporary Asia has remained invisible, both to China and to the West.  Contemporary Asia is not a whole. The Asian nation of Japan has been imagined as the source of some inscrutable oriental quality (Van Gogh’s creative work was influenced by Japanese woodcuts.) China is a leftist, socialist haven; Vietnam is a former French colony and tropical paradise.  The intra-Asian influences of countries on each other, and their interconnectedness, is a subject seldom spoken of since WW II. Colonialism and colonial mentality have left unforgettable hatred, planted deeply in the political culture of Asia.

The need for identity and sense of security—these things have acted as driving forces in Asia’s development. They have also become predominant mental obstacles for Asia. This is true to the point that “Asia” no longer offers much possibility in a cultural sense, and dual standards [in thinking about Asia] have become a wall that blocks our understanding. In the 70s, 80s and 90s, we have discovered common qualities in artists from Asia (China): firstly, the works project a definite identity, and secondly we can see an iconic quality, whether in architecture or in the features of painted figures. Another characteristic is the cultural display (/appropriation) of folk elements. This has caused Asian (Chinese) artists to be seen right from the start as something other than Western artists. Yet at the same time these aspects rely on methodology and superficial diagrammatic technique from Western art to achieve their aims.

Asia is a massive theme that does not yield to elucidation. Chinese artists are currently situated at the margins amidst drastic change. Yet cultural innovation from within and methodologies from without have come together to allow a certain self-confidence. To interpret Asia, one first returns to native ground; to interpret native ground, one returns to individual experience. Interpretation of one’s own experience requires sufficient time and the accumulation of materials. It requires testing of information sources against each other. In this way, perhaps we can obtain a microcosmic picture of Asia which is not so defined as merely personal and typological. Even if we stumble across a single painting in this vein, it will be precious.

The important thing is that no one (artists, curators) can represent Asia, and that “Asia” is an experimental, dynamic, conceptual beginning.

Not-Yet-Realized Plans

About the Documents
We have an abundant array of documents in five parts. Our chief limitation lies in the exhibition of experimental art and new media, yet these too will present a picture of contemporary humanities and culture.

Among these, AAA—the Asian Artefacts Archive--provides nearly 18 hours of footage documenting interviews and on-site events of the 80s. Because we will not have a chance to see this plan exhibited, the actual material will be preserved in the AAA database as before.

“40+4”—to be provided by Arthub and filmed by le Dadou Davide Quadrio (Bizart, Shanghai) is an interview series still in progress. It captures the attitudes and ideas of current artists (curators, critics and art managers) in a fairly comprehensive way. It includes interviews with many eminent artists on the current scene.
Two items will be provided by LAB, the art laboratory. One is a survey on Post-Sense Sensibility, and one is a survey on new media in Hangzhou. These surveys focus on an unfolding stage of experimental art (1998-2005) and new media (1989-…). This is to involve extensive video documentation of exhibits and presentation of works.

The exhibition history to be provided by ionly Oriental Visual Arts is an interactive web-based project. In a manner something like the Wikipedia, it organizes information about past exhibitions.

It is regrettable that the documentation plan could not be carried out. The documents in question are not ossified materials about the past; rather, they embody living histories. These histories touch on our own experience, and on experience we did not have. Documentary databases are a new development in the past decade which has emerged because of current innovations in the study of art history and culture. Moreover, contemporary art has reached a scale that is beyond any mere individual’s attempts to document, codify or conduct research. The idea of neural storage and retrieval, along with means to allow shared enjoyment, is what this sort of documentation project can provide.

About Post-Sense Sensibility
Post-Sense Sensibility, which had its inception in 1999 (Alien Body and Illusion), drew its active members from the China Fine Arts Institute of Hangzhou and the Central Fine Arts Institute of Beijing. As it developed it became a form of on-site art, combining elements of improvisational theatre, spatial art and performance art. Our original plan was to present “Nemesis or Retribution,” a project which began in 2001. Restaging this project is chiefly a way of discussing the artists’ changes in physique, identity and attitude in the intervening eight years. Going back to the methods of 2001, the artists will be called on to improvise with the space. Corresponding to this on-site project will be a project of documentation, namely a survey on Post-Sense Sensibility, providing a connection to context.

About Wang Jianwei’s “Screen or Paravent”
One could describe Wang Jianwei’s “Screen” as a confluence of new media and experimental art. Work on this project began in 2000, with a new style comprising interrogation of artefacts, theatre, performance art, and multiple film images. This has had influence not only on the development of contemporary art, but also on the development of contemporary theatre. Renewed presentation of this piece will not only be an affirmation of Wang Jianwei’s work, it will provide alternative evidence of current art phenomena.

The non-realized projects are divided into three parts which taken together with the realized projects can compose an entire system. The non-realized projects in themselves are a system. If this portion were given up, the entire system would lack relations of correspondence and context.  

Afterword
Allow me to propose a thread of aesthetic inquiry. I hope it is permissible for me to inject relevant knowledge into this exhibition, and to draw a connection with the previous triennial. If permitted I would like to express doubts about the concept of “Asia” as handled by other curators! This is because I do not believe we can do justice to such a large topic through an exhibition. However, this challenge originates from previous curatorial work and experience, and what we make of it inductively can be taken in an alternate direction. Impelled by a welter of complex forces, we have been led to a result that I may not have wished for, Yet I have definitely refrained from the urge to sum it all up. I leave a number of unfinished matters to be summed up later, perhaps at a fitting time some years later. For this reason some things I arranged and undertook to do at the request of friends were somewhat rushed and reckless. I realize that in some cases I may have incurred resentment. The fitting time has not come, so I leave a fuller explanation of these matters to a later time.

Li Zhenhua
August 8, 2008

Translated into English by Denis Mair
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