At the end of last week, it was the launch of the largest exhibition of Chinese contemporary art in the UK, ‘HARMONIOUS SOCIETY 天下無事’ as part of the Asia Triennial Manchester 2014 (ATM14) festival. As part of the programming for this project, was the one-day conference organised in conjunction with the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA) and the University of Salford. The day brought together leading international curators and academics with exhibiting artists from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, to review and examine the significance of Chinese contemporary art in the West, providing a unique opportunity to discuss practice-led curatorial research, which critically examines Chinese contemporary art, and the strategies for its curation, from cultural and socio-political perspectives.
Professor Allan Walker from the University of Salford introduced the day saying it is the first opportunity to celebrate the partnership between the University of Salford and the CFCCA in Manchester. He noted that the UK has gone through a tumultuous time at the moment, specifically the impact of Scottish referendum and the harmony (or non-harmonies) within that process, bringing forward forthcoming questions such as how democracy can contribute to (a) ‘Harmonious Society’? He stated that “this country is now at war, we are part of the coalition, the Royal Air Force are in strikes with an aggressor at the moment.”
“How do these political ideas and actions then play out on the ground? I say this in relation China. How are their superpowers balanced? How this is reflected through art and through a small nation like the UK?” – Prof. Allan Walker
It is institutions like us that have a massive role to play to support, culture the arts and thinking and creative activity to help change and betterment in what we are living of a global environment.
Sarah Fisher, acting Director of the CFCCA, then followed speaking of the University context, the increasing importance of thinking about the ways in which research and thinking inform practice where CFCCA is very keen to look at how we build a body of research, which the audience have access to…the main role is to work with artist across the world, and the Chinese diaspora.
“‘HARMONIOUS SOCIETY 天下無事’ shows some of the most current and well-known Chinese artists in the world. There is a huge shift East certainly in terms of economies, and artists are the way in which we understand some of the interrogations that are going into the contemporary experience. The discussions with ‘HARMONIOUS SOCIETY 天下無事’ have opened up further discussions into how do we translate one culture of China to the UK. How does this discussion and debate become useful to artists and audiences?” – Sarah Fisher
Professor Jiang Jiehong (lead curator for ‘HARMONIOUS SOCIETY 天下無事’ and Director of Studies for my PhD) introduced the exhibition saying through the conversations, discussions and debate we have learned from each other, responding to the theme itself and the venue, which has been challenging artistically, curatorially and culturally with efficient reflection. Today, is the chance to review and evaluate the show again and discuss the idea of ‘HARMONIOUS SOCIETY 天下無事’.
Here are my recordings, notes in full or part from the day, my comments and perspectives alongside some great thinkers and minds. Comments and responses to the day would be gratefully received.
The first keynote speaker was Professor Lu Xinghua, who sadly had to return to Hong Kong due to visa problems, so his paper was presented by CFCCA‘s curator Ying Tan. He is a leading Chinese philosopher in contemporary Chinese art. His paper ‘While waiting for Harmonious Society with the New Chinese Syndrome…How can Contemporary Art Help the West Audience in Embracing the China to Come?’ looked into the role of capitalism and anti-capitalism, specifically the condition of the working classes in England and Manchester, and how it was represented in Chinese propaganda posters in the 1970s – “it is all about people painting for the people”. The visit of the two revolutionary thinkers was set in the future, in the progressive tense…between the revolutionaries and the migrant female workers. The essence of Socialist Realism or Revolutionary Realism. No trace of the past on the surface, future Manchester workshop. The message for the working condition in the painting is where we’d want our sisters to be…portrayed as socialist subjects. People became an ensemble for dictatorship.
After the liberation in 1949, it was urgent to manage to paint people at the era of socialist mass production. It defines how painting was done from 1955 to 1985…painting became about the new heroes and heroins of state factories and farms. This methodology transferred from the Soviet Union and France, used to promote propaganda…”one is to what one wishes to be”…space and place they distribute to the masses and what they want them to look like…by going to the masses for inspiration means to find out what you want then to be in the future, to dream their dreams…you ignore what they really look like and try hard to mould their images into examples for others to look up to. Portraits of other people are for people to look up to not for reflection or gaze. To Mao it is quintessential political propaganda. Being an example, means a better me in front of others. The medium of art should be reformulated to represent a new political reality. Lu referenced Fang Zhenxian’s “revolutionary style”. When a Chinese painter turns to the West for execution, she should be aware of the Chinese undertone of brushes and ink manipulation. It is not Chinese traditional, but also not Western modernist.
Chinese artists in the second half of the 20th Century had a real chance to perform like an ideal artist in the vein of Western modernist or revolutionary avant-gardes…to transform and invent from scratch, a text-book for the next generation. The younger generation of them is fed up with such aesthetically revolutionary gesture and cannot wait to embrace the West way of doing contemporary art, for autonomy and identity…for art itself. It is impossible to know the contours of contemporary Chinese art if we ignore the entanglement of the Chinese revolutionary art years up to the 1980s. The struggle between the new and the old is class. We should learn from the revolutionary policy of art from Comrade Jiang Qing (Mrs Mao)! (quote by Jean-Lu Godard)…Who should be the protagonist in a revolutionary ballet or Beijing opera? It tests the limits of what a theatre does vis-a-vis regarding society, art and politics short circuits. Lu cites Alain Badiou, who asserts that the struggles on the stage of the revolutionary opera are no less that the state politics in its purest, and that revolutionary art is the statecraft.
The year of 1976 because a sensitive borderline between the Socialist world and the capitalist world, referencing Andy Warhol’s ‘Hammer and Sickle’ exhibition which occurred at the same time China opened up the world. Warhol’s picture of Mao becomes very relevant to us. The pop Mao is a double agent of the global cultural apparatus. Mao becomes an emblem of the global social order war, the permanent revolution, the global total war confronting us in the future. Warhol was the godfather of ironic realism who prospered in the new art market in China, such as artists Wang Guangyi, Zhang Xiao, Yue Minjun and so on. In 1983, when Warhol visited China, the country was fully open to enter the global market. The methodology of Pop became a way of appropriating the social iconic heritage. Ironic Realists were the protagonists, taking roots around 1995, maturing around 1993, when Chinese artists were at the Venice Biennale…spectacles of global capitalism and blaming the country for opening up the country too late. Wang Guangyi used the remnants of the revolutionary past, a cultural crime, revamping at a higher price to sell to the art market…art for arts sake. What they do is sell the socialist heritage to the contemporary market. For Ai Weiwei, practicing contemporary art is a way to secure his personal liberty, the freedom of press for everyone, and the future of democracy for China. The Western media is only too willing to cooperate. His post-dissident gesture is problematic. What Ai Weiwei and Wang Guangyi face in common is actually called China fallacy…could not make sense of what capitalism can do and that it can’t bring democracy to China. The Chinese situation as a paradox. Democracy is no longer from economic development but it is an obstacle…an obstacle to Europe.
“With authoritarian capitalism, will it be the way Europe will be ruled in 30 years time? Europe is bound to catch a new “Chinese syndrome” in the future.” – Lu Xinghua
‘The new spectre that haunts Europe if not communism but what could be called the new “Chinese syndrome”, according to which you could feel helpless in more ways than one – total lack of political freedom associated with the total domination by crony capitalism and total destruction of your lived environment, all in the name of radical modernisation.’ – Bruno Latour. How will china will function in global politics? For the Chinese, democracy and communism are the same thing and the struggles for both will be the same kind. The Chinese do not have to learn from the West for democracy. Democracy is communism and communism is democracy – the new coming into power of a totalitarian ruling class. Democracy as the power of the people comes into question.
“What does it really mean for us to do politics in the democracy we desire?” – Lu Xinghua
Communism is still a valid cause for the Chinese people, but it should now be based on the value of the intelligence. The culture of consensus?
“China is the weed in the human cabbage patch. … The weed is the Nemesis of human endeavor…. Of all the imaginary existences we attribute to plant, beast and star the weed leads the most satisfactory life of all. True, the weed produces no lilies, no battleships, no Sermons on the Mount…. Eventually the weed gets the upper hand. Eventually things fall back into a state of China. This condition is usually referred to by historians as the Dark Age. Grass is the only way out…. The weed exists only to fill the waste spaces left by cultivated areas. It grows between, among other things. The lily is beautiful, the cabbage is provender, the poppy is maddening—but the weed is rank growth …: it points a moral.” Which China is Miller talking about? The old China, the new, an imaginary one, or yet another located on a shifting map?” – Henry Miller (taken from Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, pp 18-19)
Is there an alternative to a Harmonious Society? Yes we’ll have an alternative with one condition – artists have to intervene, artists have a parallel role with science and politics in the future…supplementing or supporting teamwork. Art in the future is inventing the means of end to a political goal. Artists will be competing with politicians and scientist for new legislations. The exhibiting artists of ATM14 are testing us, how seriously should we take it when we are faced with the ideology of a Harmonious Society? Let’s take it dead seriously. The opposite of the existing civilisation, our life after we have twisted tendencies in our current way of life, a society ruled in a new lived in economy producing pleasure and desire for everyone. Referencing Roland Barthes, who sees the goal of Harmonious Society is,
“Neither to protect itself from conflicts, nor to reduce it but to exploit for the greatest pleasure of each and without lesion to anyone. How? by making all the conflictuals into a text.” – Roland Barthes
Re-think an art of living better – in their apocalyptic age the art of living becomes more important that politics itself. People and its artists are more experienced in the art of living in an uncertain future. Overcoming the new Chinese syndrome is the political goal in the future, it could be viable if there is participation from the people and the intervention of the artists.
After a short break it was time for the first panel discussion chaired by Jiang Jiehong with Lu Xinghua, Yang Zhenzhong and Zhang Peili:
Sarah Fisher: Developments in China and it’s impact on a Western democracy. How do you see the role of artists rivalling politics and science, and the meaning of earth politics and artists role within that?
Lu Xinghua: Artist as legislator, it somehow promises a better future. China will never have a formal democracy, so artist must act as legislators.
Jiang Jiehong: Lu Xinghua specifically wrote this essay for ‘Harmonious Society’. In his absence, it would be meaningful to raise a few questions. What do you mean by politics? What do you mean contemporary art?
Zhang Peili was asked his question that he asked to LX. What is formal democracy to you?
Zhang Peili: I find the idea of a formal democracy difficult. We have a fake sense of what a kind of democracy is, a certain freedom of expression and speech, we understand that kind of democracy…but formal democracy is a novel concept.
JJ: When he talked about the relevance of the cultural revolution in the contemporary art context, on the other hand, I completely disagree he was arguing that contemporary and politics are two very similar, parallel approaches toward a utopia. Why do we have the title of ‘Harmonious Society’…if you still think this is political, it is naive. Is it a political statement – what do you think? It is too simple to say that.
Yang Zhenzhong: We find it ridiculous that there are artists her talking about politics.
Zhang Peili: People of my generation and Chinese artists, experienced art or fine art as it was known there, saw art as a propaganda tool. Art and politics have been related and art as a form of propaganda can be powerful. 1970s and 1980s we had long seen this change of art as a tool for propaganda into something else. Because politics is everywhere in everyday life we sometimes have to use it, reference it in our practice. Art is related to politics but not always about politics. Politics is everywhere in everyday life, a global thing…politics and political events is globally, Democracy is a global lie of some sort…on a global scale. No absolute democracy, there are relative democracies all over the place. There is a basic fundamental democracy. In the 1950s a great number of lives got lost in the Cultural Revolution, I would not call that democracy, and it was called that…to me a number people call the Cultural Revolution as a democracy, as they view the political events from afar…”watching the fire from the opposite side of the river”…that is how a political event gets seen as turmoil. In the USA, he got in an argument about this with leftist Director who said Mao might be great, the Cultural Revolution might be great, it is Mao did not live to realise his greater democratic dream. There is no right and wrong between different faiths, and conflict on this level, on what means do you achieve your faith or realise your dream? There has been long a dream to reunite Europe…through what means did Mao try to reunite China.
Audience: Can you talk more about your work in the ‘Harmonious Society’ exhibition?
ZP: It is always difficult to achieve a political aim through artistic practice and to achieve an artistic aim through political practice. I try to be sarcastic and ironic at times in the environment in which the political situation is inevitable. An artwork should always be meaningful, sensations, that our point of departure should always be our visual experience. In the process of viewing my work, any perspective…I hope n viewing my work, any point of view will come to a right end. One of the works shown this time is an Ensemble of 6 Flags…numerous reasons for that, firstly a spatial reason, it is appropriate to make a work like this (because of Artwork’s warehouse space). Also, artistically, I am interested in the relationship between technology and art…I had a solo exhibition earlier this year. I did not present a video piece but a sound installation with videos involved…but my political sense is also involved. Quite often the audience mentally get lost in my works I guess because I don’t express to explicitly. (Jiang – that’s why I chose it). An artwork becomes a tool when you say it too explicitly and I try to avoid that, I try to guide a visitor through a series of imaginations. Again, artistic and political stances are related to each other but not directly. I only do what I can do in the realm of art, it can’t always make a political change.
YZ: I agree, we have discussed how art can be a tool for certain politics. ‘Long live the great union’ is a 3 dimensional installation, the point of departure for me is try to do something, to create a 2 dimension in the 3 dimension. In my education we always try to create a 3-dimensional illusion in the 2-dimensional space.’Long live the great union’ could be total flatness from a certain angle or perspective…I was aiming for the opposite, the imagery used for this work, of Tiananmen, was in its simplest form this time. In a similar fashion I created a previous work I created the legs of girls. Using the image of Tiananmen and of legs is the same, easily recognisable images. Art can be some sort of LSD, it can create hallucination, an illusion for the younger generation…capitalism, revolutionism and so on. I prefer that sort of art that use a political..it wants to make fun out of them. If there is a dichotomy between a revolutionary and counter-revolutionary, he likes to make fun of them, not take a side.
JJ: I think it’s important that we chose these two artists for the morning panel as their works are the most illustrative and indicative to ‘Harmonious Society’ as a phrase and concept. Their works are not politically critical…it is creative thinking with a sense of humour to allow the audience to think differently.
ZP: The political nature of the work of art can be changed by the viewing, say a work of Cezanne could be seen as totally politically in the time of the Nazi’s. Kandinsky, Malovich in the Soviet Union…retrospectively, viewing today they are not really political. There is one sort of art in which the political is fixed, such as political art of the revolution. The role of language, when the artist is reflecting in the role of language itself, there is a way of reflecting on the political through this.
Mei Huang: In Lu’s paper, he refer to the artists that Jiang invited to take part in the exhibition. The older artists have obviously experienced the Cultural Revolution, however the younger generation have not these experiences. What is their understanding of the show?
JJ: The older generation will see that as a disaster because they suffered through it…for he younger generation it is a carnival like festival. The Cultural Revolution is a fairy tale.
YZ: The Chinese society today is a direct reflection of the Cultural Revolution, that is why we are in the current situation.
John O’Shea (curator of the National Football Museum): One of the reason we wanted the work in the National Football Museum because it involves a level of interactivity, I am interested in a more nuanced politics in interactivity and the idea of interactivity in a museum?
YZ: Tiananmen Square in Beijing as it is today is a tourist spot…people walk through it take pictures on it. The artwork should be taken in the same way.
Me: I went to a China arts event yesterday and we were discussing how China is very interested (to engage) in non-Chinese contexts and how the UK and Europe is perhaps fearful of China as it is seen as s superpower. I wondered if the artists could talk about their own art education and what they think of art education in China today?
ZP: I have been teaching for three decades and there has not been much change in this time. I mean housing, student numbers, campus this is radical, I talk of the philosophy of education. The students are to serve the nation in the future. The education system, being creative or critical about or in your student’s life is not encouraged. More thinking as a concept is needed. Students are more focussed on earning a living. Many things are ridiculous…such as design and the art of copying, are not to be ashamed of. My son graduated in design from the Fine Art academy, telling me that the teacher has to accommodate the market. There were many direct copies of what’s in the market already. It made me a grumpy man, why do you want an academy if it already exists in the market. It is not leading the concept. It’s not there for anything.
I also wondered whether education should be placed alongside Wu Xinghua’s theory of politics, science and arts being at play to create a non-formalised democracy or a “harmonious society”….but there wasn’t enough time for this to be answered.
Audience: How do you define “harmony”?
JJ: It’s the idea again, that it’s coming from a political context…a philosophical proposition so it could allow more flexibility of artistic concepts. It’s artistically direct, not direct in an everyday sense.
SF: In hearing the relationship to design and the market. In the West, we hear a lot about contemporary art and the relationship to the market, what is Zhang Peili’s view?
ZP: The market for Chinese contemporary art is because it has gained more and more attention and has now become its preoccupation. Certainly there are many factors, and often many Chinese artists after a few years, their value rockets. its incredible. It’s unparalleled to its status in the Chinese contemporary art world or the global contemporary art world. The biggest factor is the art market for Chinese contemporary art is not healthy, operations plays a huge role in this. It varies from artist to artist. Many artists are popular in China, they don’t fall in the market list of artists. Ni body would be angry about somebody collecting your work.
Taiwanese curator Wu Dar-Kuen started the afternoon session with his keynote presentation ‘On the Political Aspects of the Moving Image’ where he discussed two of his exhibitions. The first showed he examined was ‘[
People’s Republic of China] – Republic without People’ established in Kaosiung Museum of Fine Arts in Taiwan. Its main axis, “Republic,” is a concept with multiple meanings. This exhibition sifts through the political undertones that are embedded throughout the contemporary art scene of Taiwan. The word, “People’s,” not only symbolizes the uncertain political future of the “Republic of China” and provides a taste of what is to come after its 100th anniversary, but also serves as a prediction of Taiwan’s future in light of the status quo . The concept behind “Republic without People” partially comes from one of my favorite novelists, George Orwell, who, in 1948, wrote a classic science fiction novel “1984”; the other part is from observation of the political realities of Taiwan and its international status. Although 1984 has long past and the world has not changed into the one described in the book, “1984” invoked much thought about the future among later generations. 2011, the year of ROC’s 100th anniversary, has come. The exhibition attempts to do the following to the “Republic of China”: By reflecting on Taiwan’s history as a reference to extrapolate the future, the blueprint for a hypothetical nation called the “People’s Republic of China” or simply, “Post-Republic of China,” is created. The other axis of this exhibition is based on the perspective of Futurology  to address political and historical issues, and to discuss the endless possibilities regarding the virtual nation of the “People’s Republic of China.” This hypothetical nation of the “Republic without People” reflects both reality and the imaginary world in terms of form. With the vivid imagining of a futuristic world, I depict a virtual nation that is infused with the exhibition’s subtopic: Republic without People.
Three years later he founded ‘Asia Anarchy Alliance (AAA)’ with the Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts (KdMoFA) focusing on new concepts proposed in the modern and contemporary art scene in the Asia region. “AAA takes a realistic stance to advocate the many beliefs that were force to be abandoned during the transformation of capitalism in post-colonization Asian societies. 25 artists from different regions in Asia included in this exhibition considered themselves without any particular identity to echo the subject from an artistic aspect. This has evolved into a minor movement in the contemporary scene in Asia that artistic fulfillment is closely tight to the real situations of their lives. Through their works, social issues faced in Asian societies today are revealed. The objective of AAA‘s aim is to trigger activities in various Asian regions to attack “globalization” by exercising “local-internationalism,” and at the same time leads to an “internal revolution” propelled by introspection of the Asia art world while we anticipate for this endeavour to open up a referential outlet for Asian contemporary art.” As part of the AAA’s practice they facilitated Boat Conference where three of the countries were invited to Tokyo to talk more, create more, let things happen.
“We are all somewhere…maybe a utopia. As an artist we are creating a new country.” – AAA
Participating artists were invited to take part in individual talks including discussion of the AAA whilst questioning the political and social issues of each country in Asia. He went onto cite the works of specific artists including Chang Li-Ren‘s animation ‘Battle City EP’ (2012), single channel video, 6′ 56″; Jompet Kuswidananto ‘National Crowds’ (2014), multi-media installation; Yasumasa Morimura ‘A requiem: Laugh at the Dictator’ (2007), HDTV; Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho ‘El Fin Del Mundo’ (2012), dual channel, HD film; Tu Pei-Shih‘s ‘The Adventure in Mount Yu (From Michel Foucault to Our Glorious Future’ (2010); Yuan Goang-Ming’s ‘The 561st Hours of Occupation’ (2014) and a new work ‘Landscape of Energy’ (2014)…that was simply beautiful…trying to find it online as I type; Yuken Teruya (2006)
“One day Asia can until like the EU, it won’e happen in recent years as it is a big area and big state and we face many big issues, where each county and each city have its own issues. So it won’t go to consult any time soon. It’s a utopia of the artist. I am an idealist. Artists think about there being no war, no more violence…To those idealists, dreamers who believe ART can change Asian for the better, Future say “I”, and let’s make things happen together.” – Wu Dar-Kuen
The second panel discussion chaired by Wu Dar-Kuen with Chen Chien-Jen, Yao Jui-Chung, and Chou Yu-Ling. Chou introduced the artists and their mutual histories who then went onto respond:
Chen Chien-Jeh: Taiwan’s history is so fragmented and fractured, we have to go back to historical Taiwan. We still talk very often about martial law and the time of martial law…to younger generations it is quite distant for them from the reality today,. The importance of martial law isn’t necessarily about a certain dictatorship. To use a concept you might be familiar with it is a transition from death politics to life politics. We also talk about the structure of the cold war. The US are supporting the dictatorship of Taiwan and at the same time promoting a liberalism a “light politics”. In 1984, Taiwan declared its new liberalism and new ideology and seemingly parliamentary reform. This brief recount of Taiwan in modern time…it still hasn’t been sorted out yet…we haven’t properly understood the martial law of Taiwan. We cannot just examine Taiwan as a space today. In relation to art, what we have to ask is where does our sense originate from? In Hegel’s discussion you see individuality that is the same time universality and singularity. Going even deeper of course you have to examine your gender, race and background. All of this impacts our sense and sensation. So my artistic practice is all about these questions.
Yao Jui-Chung: I’d like to show three short films to talk from martial law Taiwan to the liberalism of Taiwan. My practice is often interested in geopolitics as a discipline. So in the films we will be seeing things related to the traces of geopolitical events in the past. Post 1949, Taiwan and China has had various competition in arms even today. We will talk about the ongoing struggle between the two parties…
“In China you have one Ai Weiwei, in Taiwan all the artists are Ai Weiwei” – Yao Jui-Chung
The final panel discussion of the day had a Hong Kong focus, chaired by Ying Kwok with discussants Leung Chi Wo (Warren) and Pak Sheung Chuen (Tozer):
Tozer: I will start by talking about the current political situation happening in Hong Kong – ‘Occupy Central’ – where students and activists oppose Beijing’s decision to rule out fully democratic elections in 2017. Their current leader was chosen by 1,200 people and in 2017 it wants to control which candidates run. Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung said the demonstration was “illegal” and elections would go ahead as planned. It has now turned into violence and Hong Kong is decaying. I am not a political person but I do a lot of political work as I read the newspaper. You can use it as an issue within my artwork. Every time I work with the newspaper, I realise my work must be fast and accurate and respond to society immediately – it responds to that time, now. My work is not a type of propaganda…it is a form of interest for the public. I try to put myself in the window of imagination for the public. If you work from the political it is more and more narrow. This is the role of the artist to work the imagination. I try to show the direct feeling of the situation that I am facing, most recently with Hong Kong..the yellow ribbon on the gates of the Hong Kong government. The message is not really to the Hong Kong government, it is to the Chinese government. It speaks further. In Hong Kong you make a statement and it is ok, you do it in Beijing and you live in fear. This is the message I want to state to the newspaper reader that Hong Kong is safer, and that China is harder, more restricted. The imagination to go into the same political situation. What is the situation in Hong Kong now? The currency in China is changing…INTRODUCE new piece.
Warren: I also got caught up in the troubles in Hong Kong. I have been interested in the study of history. II got no chance to study the history of Hong Kong. I got experience in a publishing house with a strong historical background in China, it is now a state enterprise. It was such a opprtunity, I worked there before the handover 1992-95, where the chief had a vision before the handover. It was a re-education experience. It is interesting to learn all these things from Hong Kong, almost like a foreigner as it has all become remote. I teach in the university…I am interested in semiotics, how things can be read. To make works that address this foreign culture, it would be silly to pretend to be an expert. I try to see things from the surface…to get a superficial meaning, in a way, a breeding of the grand history. A laser engraving of the Hong Kong Standard, one of two Hong Kong papers (the other is the South China Morning Post)…16 June 1996. The other work was an image of the free trade port in Manchester taken in the 1930s, prior to the second world war. You will never know the full extent of stories in the newspapers, they are fragmented and fragmented histories.
YK: Tozer – you found a lot out through your workshops at CFCCA. Is your knowledge of the UK different to when you’ve been here? Has it changed?
Tozer: I was open to a project, with the help of others to finish it. A sense of nostalgia to the years before…thinking about the past. We can only depend on the past. The people are the linkage.
YK: Warren, I am interested in your research methodologies…your desk-based research, residencies…and how you tried to find a link with Manchester.
Warren: If you can be physically there it can help. What I find is reflection, what you’ve done there, referencing my interest, interest in fragments…how I was superficial in ways I didn’t think. It happens quite laterally. How do you perceive others? There is always a beginning with limited knowledge. Important if we allow ourselves to look at it.
SF: A question for Tozer. In relation to the Scottish referendum, and independence for Hong Kong. Is it about the relationship to history erasing the relationship to history metaphorically?
Tozer: I am trying to find a critical moment in history. Since Hong Kong was handed to China…cut-off. History in our past has already been divided by different angles…different parallels between Hong Kong – China and Hong Kong – UK, how can you bring it back together? The aims are a history in the past.
Audience: The Hong Kong local arts scene…you’re both very representative of Hong Kong international artists. How do you view your home arts scene now? How do you feels?
Warren: I am positive with anything growing as long as we can have the diversity. Somehow we can always complain. There are always hard-working artists. It’s difficult to say that artists today are doing better than the past.
YK: Where there is an opportunity we grab it. in Hong Kong there are 4-5 openings a night. For young artists there are more opportunities to show, somehow means artists and exhibitions are not that ready yet. Practice makes more improvement, therefore there is more opportunity to get mature.
Mei Huang: How did you select the artists for ‘Harmonious Society’?
YK: They were already selected. Samson/Tozer I had conversations with…how can we make it relevant to the situation and current to their practice? Lots of conversations of why, where in the location and space, and how to make it link to the theme of ‘Harmonious Society’. Annie, in John Rylands Library, I invited, who has a very consistent way of making work – a conceptual understanding – a bilingual system, the translation.
The plenary discussion at the end of the day involved as many of the artists and curators involved with the project that were still there. This is how the conversation unfolded:
JJ: We can’t avoid the Hong Kong issue. Art is useless in this situation. Do you agree?
Warren: Politics is one of the major subjects in history and contemporary art. That feeling of being helpless is obvious to me. When you use art to address politics I find it difficult…I do use a little politics in my work, but I think there are a lot of artists doing this – it’s the subtle differences in context. In the time of peace it is the time to ask how we are affected by politics. In real political struggles there is no time, only as propaganda.
JJ: 1949-1987 in Taiwan and the Cultural Revolution in China are both key things that are researched, artists try to find out what the best position is. Lu Xinghua in his discussion of art and politics, making an equal mark, is dangerous. Is there anyway art can be more useful in response to the current issue?
Tozer: Art is weak in a site of politics. Our way to train as an artist is making artwork for a space. The message will be in the form…gathering as an art form. There are so many grey areas.
Mei Huang: Art can be hopeful, it can show their understanding of their world…artists and people can then see a new point of view. Art as hope.
JJ: It’s about urgent need as a social response. Art is politics. Politics isn’t art. The core of art is creative thinking.
JJ: What is your definition of art?
Wu Dar-Kuen: Things don’t change…the same is a different way…government still doing what they want. A solution is the media, rise of the media in relation to these issues. We can’t change the reality…it is still a big boundary.
JJ: Contemporary art doesn’t have a definition. Whether the anxiety can be addressed in such an emergent happening.
Sarah Fisher: In relation to a historical situation, artists can give a reference on that moment, a nuanced reflection, our removal from something.
Me: I see art as the idea of translation. What translation did you all see or use as part of Harmonious Society?
Ying Tan: In relation to Yuan Gong’s piece, translation was the process, the process of the work was important. His studio was destroyed in Shanghai. Since opening the crates there has always been resistance. Pieces were kept to touch to engage with.
Lindsay Taylor: I found it difficult to communicate. I can’t communicate with the artists…so it was difficult to get that level of detail needed. Difficult but a positive experience.
JJ: I think Warren is special, and Tozer…the relationship to British culture and history. Their work is efficient. It doesn’t need a curator, the work translates for them. The work will work within a different set of political and cultural backgrounds.
Mei Huang: What have the artists learned from the experience?
YK: It was a special opportunity to work in a special venue – Manchester Cathedral and The John Rylands Library – it became public art. It comes down to communication…and architecture as much as the work.
Lindsay Taylor: Partnerships…ambitious…incredible.
JJ: I just want to thank CFCCA for the opportunity to work with the venues, the volunteers, the artists. To agree and disagree, agree and disagree, agree and disagree. We learn through these debates. And the power of Weixin as an app to communicate…