Square (West) vs. Circle (China)

As I was frantically getting ready to leave the house on Thursday morning, to jump on a train to Liverpool for a 12.15pm meeting with Lewis Biggs (now ex-Director of the Liverpool Biennial), Paul Gladston, Associate Professor of Critical Theory and Visual Culture in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Nottingham, rang for a rather unexpectedly long conversation about an interview we are doing at the beginning of August…it is not explicitly PhD related either, this time for possible publication in a very well-known contemporary Chinese art magazine/journal. We spoke of various ideas such as the notion of criticality in contemporary Chinese art, interpretation and documentation of contemporary Chinese art, the recent perspectives surrounding the Ai Weiwei happening/event (it could be seen as this right? I’m sure he could manifest it into a performance of sorts), Paul’s’ new book, institutionalism in China, the effect of cultural translation on contemporary artistic and curatorial practice…many more topics. I also think it might be worth discussing a few things that were raised with Lewis Biggs later on that day and written about below. Paul also mentioned a few future (research) opportunities I might be interested in…I’ll keep you posted.

After this very fruitful conversation ended at just after 12pm, I went out the door unshowered with no make-up on, dressed (I thought) a little scruffy (apologies Lewis!), quick sharp across town to only just catch the train and I mean by seconds. I managed to make myself look presentable in the one hour journey, and do a little reading up…how contemporary art is based around three key elements – cash value, interpretive value and personal experience – where as a Western ideal they should all reinforce each other, an infrastructure which may not be possible in the realms of contemporary Chinese art. Another was:

“…cultural polemics produce cultural uniformity. Most of us believe that diversity is preferable to uniformity in every way, and so polemic exhibitions tend to be composed of poor quality art.”- Lewis Biggs (John Moores Painting Prize China 2010 catalogue)

Something that I definitely believe happens too often in curating exhibitions, especially exhibitions of contemporary Chinese art.

“A curator isn’t doing her job if she doesn’t know the (real) audience as thoroughly as she knows the art she presents” – Lewis Biggs (‘Touched’ Liverpool Biennial 2011 catalogue)

A belief that is the part of the whole basis to my PhD…how can you curate an exhibition about cultural contexts that are not familiar to you? In layman’s terms it’s what I’m trying to find out.

So I met Lewis at Café Tabac on Bold Street in Liverpool. It was an absolutely, stunningly beautiful day with super fresh sea air and clear blue skies…I wish it was like that today. I like Liverpool as a city, largely due to the fact I spent a lot of time there as a child as my Grandparents were local to the city. I like it even more now as it is twinned with Shanghai…funny right? Funny as in how the world works out for everyone…it makes me feel like I am supposed to go to Shanghai somehow because of this link. Anyway, I interviewed Lewis for an hour about his experiences with curating contemporary Chinese art as part of the Liverpool Biennial, and in his other gallery roles, we spoke of the John Moores Painting Prize China, my PhD research and exhibition proposal where he played devil’s advocate and really got me thinking. As he ticked certain boxes on the permission form, I cannot really publish anything here…however…

…Lewis did reference one theory coined by Ling Min (who I spoke about in a previous post) that I had to mention…that of round versus square thinking:

“Chinese round thinking and English square thinking…square thinking is what needs four years to make a show, round thinking is being flexible enough to make it tomorrow. Allowing a certain amount of round thinking as part of curatorial practice in order to accommodate this relationship.” – Ling Min (according to Lewis Biggs)

This idea has stuck with me ever since and I have already emailed Ling Min to see if we can discuss our comparable theories. I have a cyclical theory in development relating to the curatorial infrastructure in the West versus the East. I can see already it is going to provide some very interesting discussions.

After Liverpool, I jumped straight back on the train to get to Wolverhampton and a meeting at the Light House about being on the editorial board for a new online art and design magazine. That’s all I can really say about that…it seems this post has to be a little cryptic! If you haven’t already please take a look at the London-based curator, Helen Kaplinsky’s blog for her residency called ‘MEGA MODERN’ until 10th August at 501 Contemporary Art Centre, Chongqing, China…we are constantly in dialogue through this platform. Please join in the conversations about her research into the development of young artists’ networks in China, the emergence of potential house styles from Chinese art academies and schools, and the relationship of the art market to these educational establishments…alongside my research regarding the idea of “transcultural” curating, contemporary Chinese art infrastructures and “ecologies” and the differing processes of translation as part of artistic and curatorial practices. Get involved here.

A friend called Russ came to stay for a few nights at the end of last week. He is currently living and working in Dalian, China, but had returned to the UK for a few weeks for a family occasion. He came with Chinese treats – jasmine tea (mmmmm!) and peanut stuffed rice cakes. Yummy! I hadn’t had these in a while and I enjoyed the flashback familiarity. The photo below has made me realised how scratched the work surfaces are getting in my kitchen. Corian would not really have been my choice…it was there when I bought the house. It marks like crazy and hence drives me a little crazy.

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