The CCVA at CAFA – Part One

I forgot to take my camera down to breakfast with me. Thankfully, there is always tomorrow, as I wouldn’t want you all to miss out on seeing what treats the Beijing hotel has to offer in the morning. I woke up seven times in the night…a few times because of my silly overactive renal system not that you need to know that (I think my whole body and mind is overactive sometimes, it never stops going) and then the other times were because my body was confused. “Why are you trying to sleep? Wake up, it’s the middle of the afternoon!” Frustrating. I must have slept ok as I’ve woken up on this Thursday morning feeling vaguely human, although still tired. If I remember from last time I was here, jet lag didn’t hit me until day three or four, which will be just before I start teaching at AIVA. I’m hoping I can get myself into a good routine straight away. I want to go running, but I’m worried I’ll get lost. Also I’m not sure if running anywhere near a main road in Beijing is a good idea because of the crazy smog factor. Maybe I’ll just go for long walks instead whilst here. In Shanghai I’ll tread concrete. As I opened the curtains in the hotel this morning, I saw rain…heavy, pelting rain clearing the sky…I could see blue! This doesn’t happen very often. Even Tianran, my PhD colleague from BIAD, said that rain was very rare. It made me smile as the air felt fresh.

For breakfast, there was an array of Chinese foods on offer and then some obvious, compulsory Western offerings – cereal, toast, croissants. The pictures tomorrow will show you better of what was there rather than me describing it in words here… I had a fried egg, well one mouthful of it as I realised there was no yolk which confused me, some sesame pancake, again only a few mouthfuls as it was incredibly oily, and then a small bowl of cheerio like cereal with hot soya milk, this was nice. I’m sure there was Chinese tea and juice going around but I had a few cups of Peppermint before I went downstairs. I didn’t have much breakfast as I don’t usually eat it until later on in the day, and I also remembered that in China they have lunch at 12pm. No delay either, it happens at 12pm on the dot, its like they all have an in-built timer telling them to stop and eat. I’m used to working through lunch or eating mid to late afternoon, so again I’m going to have to change my routine to the Chinese way.

Onto today…it was The Fifth Annual Conference of the Centre for Chinese Visual Arts (CCVA) at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) shown above on the theme of “Yingxiang Today”, where I presented the paper ‘Yingxiang Online: Translating Contemporary Chinese Art in the West’. I asked Joshua, my PhD supervisor, to schedule me in as early as possible as I’ve always, always, ALWAYS been put at the end of the day at every other conference I’ve presented at…so what happened? Well, I presented at 3.30pm, second to last. Seriously, it always happens, so I’m going to expect it from now on. I think it’s the context and thematics of my research that means I get scheduled later on in the day. Perhaps “transcultural” curatorial practice and interpretive translation isn’t a good opener. It is incredibly specific so I think they want to open with someone who is more context specific. I had many hats on during today’s conference – PhD student, Coordinator for the CCVA and jet-lagged slightly irritable Rachel. Although Rachel is part of the first two, somehow. There was no wifi access at CAFA (there was in the CAFA restaurant), so blogging couldn’t happen instantly, which would have saved a lot of time, therefore, I had to write everything in a word document and transfer it over. I will only mention some of the conference here, however, if you want to read more comprehensive information about it, please look at the CCVA blog here, as I will post a more extensive version of the conference’s proceedings later on next week.

The conference included 12 speakers (Professors, scholars and PhD candidates) from the partnership institutions CAFA, CAA, BIAD and the CCVA’s new partner, the RCA. Keynote speakers’ sessions lasted an hour, whereas PhD students were only 45 minutes, and the whole day was very kindly translated into English.The morning began with introductions from the President of CAFA, Mao Jianbo (CAA), Xu Ping (CAFA), and Joshua. They all spoke of how ‘”yingxiang” is now part of contemporary society ‘because the rhythm of society today is more expressed by images…Comparing to world language, image or “yingxiang” as media can work more quickly and directly to the audience, in a second. It is a much more functional media to express sensitive information or knowledge.’ The conference will discuss the level of PhD study and the function of photography in terms of cultural inspiration, its broadcast and influences. “Yingxiang” was chosen as a topic for two reasons. Last year, CAFA ran a big research programme on photography resulting in two key photography exhibitions, therefore “yingxiang” has already become a major focus within the major art institutes and members. The conference does not only review our previous work but our understanding of it.

The morning speakers included Professor Darren Newbury, my second PhD supervisor presenting ‘Photography and Research: Towards a Visual Scholarship’, and Wang Chuan (CAFA) presenting ‘Photography Education in the Context of Yingxiang Popularisation in China’. More information about these papers will be available on the CCVA blog later on next week. Translation of the Chinese speakers in the morning was somewhat disjointed…it meant you had to use your sense of interpretive translation to understand what was being said.  Always a little literal lost in translation. It made me talk slower and more clearly when presenting my paper so the translator had more time to process it all. There was a good attendance from CAFA students, which made an immediate difference as you feel as though you are really getting your research to pastures new…out into the world for contemplation and discussion. I immediately noticed that nearly every students had a high-grade camera…whether it be a compact or digital SLR…but I suppose it was a conference on photography, so its inevitable the photography students would have amazing tech…I noticed this previously with all my students at AIVA last year too. Just before I presented my paper, I realised my in-house photographer RJW wasn’t with me (sad face Rachel)…he would have taken some fantastic shots of me speaking.

Lunch was provided for conference delegates on the CAFA campus…a six-course feast…for me it could be seen as seven as they replaced the meat course with a Chinese carrot dish. The first course was a leaf salad with a very spicy chilli dressing that made my lips burn, it came with small slices of beef, which I obviously didn’t eat…the second course was an egg soup…the third was some sort of meat on the bone, that for me was replaced by this huge chunk of Chinese carrot that tasted a lot like cauliflower…the fourth course was fish pieces in broth…the fifth was some sort of fried vegetable in balls with an oil spice dip…and the six and final course was a few small pieces of broccoli on a huge white plate, perfectly sculpted and placed. A very creative lunch, artistically constructed, almost food architecture, though I suppose we were eating in an art school. If every meal I have in China is like this one then I’ll be a very happy young lady! No repercussions whatsoever.

Tiredness and slight delirium kicked in straight after lunch…on quite a high level. I wanted to nap, nap to the max, anywhere and everywhere. The conference desk in front of me looked so inviting…and the sunshine outside beaming onto the harsh, grey concrete architecture in the courtyard looked like it would make a lovely warm blanket. It couldn’t happen though and by the time I was on stage, adrenaline had taken over…good old adrenaline. The translator had changed by the afternoon session, and he hadn’t been given my paper, so the afternoon break prior to my session consisted of trying to iron out any untranslatables – oh the irony considering I was talking about translation. It ended up ok though as he was a really articulate in conceptual artistic terminologies (apparently). Before I went on stage, Rut Blees Luxemberg (RCA) presented ‘Stones: On the Photographic Articulation of the City’ and finally, Gao Shiqiang (CAA) presenting ‘Moving Image: A Personal Visual Production’.

In my paper ‘Yingxiang Online: Translating Contemporary Chinese Art in the West’, I placed “yingxiang” in the context of the Internet and thus “online”, as a form of accessible mass media,  transcultural translation. I reference the work of the DSL Collection and their new online curatorial platform and go on to talk about two artists from the collection – Jiang Zhi and Ai Weiwei. Initially, I was only going to talk explicitly about Ai Weiwei, however Joshua became concerned about the political nature of the paper so I had to re-write half of it to place Ai Weiwei more broadly within the collection and concept of “yingxiang online”. If I had presented the original version, I would have had no reason worry as discussion after the first afternoon session went far beyond Ai Weiwei’s level of political concern…in addition to Tang  Xiaolin’s paper on ‘Copy-Select-Create-Starting from Three Artworks’, which was after mine.

The panel session ended up being a question Rachel session…all aimed at my research, which was absolutely fine, and quite refreshing to be honest. It is good to get your work critiqued otherwise how else are you supposed to grow? Questions included don’t online collections and galleries create a paradox as more information is offered online and could thus stop the audience from viewing the artworks in person? As I stated in the paper, they are meant to supplement the real experience of viewing the art, and give access to those who are unable to travel. I also pointed out copyright issues and how in China they are not so concerned with this, whereas I believe in the West we are very aware of how images of artworks are distributed and controlled. An enthusiastic CAFA student had many questions for me…the first being is “yingxiang” the killer of an artwork? What do you think translation is in the global domain? Who will do this translation? Do you think collections like the DSL Collection act for marketing/profiteering purposes in an approach to cultural colonisation? This was only question one of three…I answered these by saying does colonialism to post-colonialism even apply to China as it is often questionable. Galleries, collections, artists are all responsible for (self-)promotion and thus, trying to profit where they all have the power to be the translators today. The second set of questions asked who is producing/providing the text of translation? Has this emergence of contemporary Chinese art brought about a bottle neck in the creation of Chinese artists? Has contemporary Chinese art entered the Western art scene though platforms like the DSL Collection? I replied stating that this was definitely not the case. Contemporary Chinese art is still selling well. In fact, the reality is artists have more prominence in the global art world so it is harder for them to gain an initial profile. Again, anyone has the power to produce texts of translation, or interpretation. Final questions from him asked who is consuming? When the exoticism in the West has gone, do you think the prosperity of contemporary Chinese art will continue? Do you think the West can ever see the inner spirit of China? Some very good questions…I stated unless you invest time in China or any other culture you want to engage with, exhibit, curate etc. then you will never see this “inner spirit” as personal experience creates understanding. This applies to the understanding of any culture, not just China. The prosperity of contemporary Chinese art will continue as the Chinese are now investing in their own creativity, specifically the youth culture and younger generation who see purchasing contemporary art gives them social kudos. These are only notes from the Q&A session I had…I’m sure I no doubt waffled on about my point of view. The student came up to me afterwards to thank me for my time and my answers, so I must have done OK. Tang  Xiaolin, the speaker as part of my panel, also presented some interesting points in reflection of my paper. She stated how the CIA used to purchase American art to boost commercial production, where abstract American art would raise the profile of companies such as McDonald’s that were iconically presented within these artworks, therefore is there really much difference between the CIA and the DSL Collection.

She also referenced Ai Weiwei’s sunflowers seeds and the 1600 workers that were used to produce the seeds. What pleasure and creativity do they have? Has this changed investment, production and sale? Tang saw it as ironic that he is so iconic in the West. I made a comparison the production of any major artists works…such as Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons who barely have a hands on approach anymore. Tang goes on to say that contemporary Chinese artists only produce “social commissions”, producing whatever the West like going on to question to what extent do contemporary Chinese artists have freedom of expression? I said this notion of freedom is changing everyday where I see contemporary Chinese artists becoming more involved with the self, the individual, with the personal and the soul. Typing all this out has made me realise it was quite an intense panel session, but incredibly fruitful!

Onto dinner at the CAFA restaurant with the conference organisers and delegates…I’ll let the photographs speak for themselves…just a few foods to note…below on the first photograph is a plate of jellyfish, spinach and mushroom, with a Chinese carrot soup, below that you can see a bowl of jellyfish that was actually quite delicious. The rest of the photos just show you what a feast it was…there will be another one tomorrow evening…

I couldn’t finish the post without showing a little “lost in translation” – a sign from the ladies bathroom in the CAFA restaurant. I love the literal-ness of this!

And doesn’t CAFA look amazing at night? An architectural force and I’ve only just noticed the differently coloured glass tints on the windows…that simple design intervention changes the complete look of a building don’t you think? Attention to detail.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s