Visual art exhibitions and events with a platform for critical writing
Ideas? Technical issues?
» Feedback to a-n
By: Helen Kaplinsky
Curator Helen Kaplinsky is undertaking a residency from the 4th July - 10th August at 501 Art Centre, Chongqing, China. She has commissioned London-&-Berlin-based artist-&-DJ collective psychoanalYSL to produce new work for the exhibition. This blog documents Helen’s research, alongside thoughts from the artists and specialist in Chinese contemporary art/curating, Rachel Marsden.
The project is supported by Arts Council England, Svenska Kultur Fonden and Chinese Arts Centre.
# 20 [4 August 2011]
PRESS RELEASE side one
I DID IT MY WAY WAY
AN EXHIBITION BY
PREVIEW 6TH AUGUST 17:00-19:00
Preceeded by a psychoanalYSL
FREE SCHOOL event from 15:30
"Shit on your whole mortifying, imaginary and symbolic theater."
- Gilles Deleuze
Qincheng Prison, Changping District, Beijing, April 20th 2011; a dimly-lit room: hazy infinity seems to stretch in every direction as a persistent hissing sound fills the air, occasionally building to a menacing crescendo of mechanical destructioin. An imposing figure at the far end of the room, with red laser eyes throbbing in his head, is just visible through the fog. He stops dead in his tracks and turns to fix his gaze before declaring:
“This is not a political artwork.”
PRESS RELEASE side two
London/Berlin-based artist/DJ collective psychoanalYSL specialise in the disorientation of popular entertainment. For their first solo exhibition in China at Ceiling Space (in association with 501 Contemporary Art Centre and China and Chinese Art Centre, UK) the artists respond to the wrong-footed boycotting of Chinese cultural exchange in their home country and the way in which Chinese contemporary art is curated in the UK as novel political curio. Their presentation includes a mute-sensory installation and a series of quixotic prints.
The collective (Christopher Thomas, Benjamin Orlow and Joey Holder) make artworks which stockpile clichés. Their London exhibition The Emaciated Spectator at Apiary (London) earlier this year was immediately identified as urgent to current conversations concerning the professionalisation of art. Their hyperreal vision of the scene in London is now being exported to China, enveloping the Chinese art world in their own ideological smoke screen.
Spotlighting how activism has been co-opted, monetized and amalgamated by the marketplace, psychoanalYSL were fascinated by the festival of protest which followed the detention of Ai Weiwei. The artists planned to exhibit an artwork which responded to the market’s dependence on political cache in Chinese contemporary art; however the project faced two levels of censorship from both their hosts in China and supporters of the project in the UK. This exhibition reverberates these prohibitions.
Cultural exchange is often described as soft power: a reinforcement of Chinese authority, with a friendly face. This is the excuse of a number of UK organisations in culturally boycotting China. We refuse the principal of culturally boycotting China on the grounds that boycotting shuts down discourse.
The curatorial approach to Chinese contemporary art in the West can been associated with a wider phenomenon of “the collapsing distinction between marketing and activism” outlined by Micah White and others. Ai Weiwei’s sunflower seeds at Tate Modern provided not only mass entertainment but a satisfying moral soup. For their exhibition at Ceiling Space the collective utilise these surface observations to build a critical spectacle of the spirit of these international cultural relations. The artist’s process of observation and presentation studies and reflects capital’s operation that with one breath gives and another takes away the possibilities for art.
As Sontag purports “practically all metaphors for style amount to placing matter on the inside, style on the outside. It would be more to the point to reverse the metaphor. The matter, the subject, is on the outside; the style is on the Inside” (On Style, 1965). With this is mind, psychoanalYSL allows the matter to reveal itself by embodying and reflecting the preferred appearance for Chinese contemporary art in the West. The collective announce the conviviality of the apparently radical thematic in art; it is not that the politics is not present, but rather that simple resistance might be futile in our ‘Age of Complicity’ and maybe there is no easy oppositional solution.
- Helen Kaplinsky
# 19 [30 July 2011]
Only one day till the artists arrive. I’m trying to finish a short essay for the publication in oppressive heat. It’s impossible to concentrate. I have to play a careful game in the way in which I word things. When my text gets translated into Mandarin I know it will be changed, but not how much or in what way. Translation is such a delicate art. With the knowledge that the Mandarin text will not be my words, I try to keep my English text my own. It’s not just problem ‘key words’ which the translation will remove. I feel under pressure to create a diplomatic and bland statement about cultural exchange and partnership with Ceiling Gallery. This is not me.
The fog machines for psychoanalYSL’s installation have arrived. Yanyan had to spend four hours sorting out the delivery. There are so many practical things I would be arranging as a curator in UK which are just not possible here because of language. In some way this is great as it allows me to concentrate on the writing. For Yanyan this project is a lot more work than other residencies he has managed.
The packaging for the fog machine liquid is brilliant ***DJ~POWER***
We test them out but the space we’re in is 350sqm and the installation space only about 75sqm so it’s difficult to tell if they will suffice. They have fun remote controls with fake walnut detail. I fill Yanyan’s office with fog just as the head of culture for Chongqing province arrives for a meeting! She’s here to discuss the issues 102 artists have with the Huang Jueping Contemporary Art Gallery next to their studio block (see blog entry #14). The problem of the government controlling gallery spaces in Chongqing is coming to a head and Yanyan as one of the elders of the scene has been busy this week with meetings every second day in which he is asked to give advice to the younger artists in the 102 studios. Yanyan is the link to the council officials and landlords, the one who originally signed the agreement with the landlords at 501 studios and now manages negotiations at 102. He feels cornered when it comes to options as he knows he’s always on the outside of these negotiations. The council and landlords are in one another’s pockets.
I’ve also been working on the invitation and poster. I wanted psychoanalYSL to do the design as I knew the graphic design here would not be up to scratch from the other posters I’ve seen in the area. They could only do so much as the Mandarin needs to be inserted. Once the local graphic designer had done their work the original image by the artists had been taken down to a 50% transparency, blue and turquoise ugly squashed type stamped upon it. Those involved want their names centre stage, so the poster looks like an advertisement for a feature film rather than an exhibition “PRODUCER : ALEX ZHOU, EXHIBITION DIRECTOR : TIAN MENG, ACADEMIC SUPPORT … ETC Also the gallery insist upon using as many logos as possible to make the show look important. Yanyan has a folder of 10s of logos of different media companies; he randomly pulled about 8 to put on the poster shrugging his shoulders saying how silly this practice is. Plus the arbitrary media partners we’ve got those who have actually given support; Arts Council, Sveska Kultur Fonden, 501 Contemporary Art Centre, Chinese Arts Centre and Ceiling Space…so another 5! I can’t convince them to stop at the genuine 5 investors but I do have another go at the graphics, reinstating psychoanalYSL’s artwork to its intended hue, stripping down the amount of text and putting it in the most minimal font I can find.
It’s taken a whole week of backwards and forwards with the poster and it’s not even printed yet! We’ve also got a publication of 16 or so pages to put together. This is going to be interesting.
PsychoanalYSL prior boarding their plane to China have just installed work in
RIVE GAUCHE: South of the River
NULL/VOID’s inaugural exhibition for their project space. See: http://www.artlicks.com/events/2181/rive-gauche-south-of-the-river
# 18 [29 July 2011]
Skyping with artist in Chongqing last night:
[01:40:45] Helen Jiang: Helen, It's late, u r still working?
[01:42:00] Helen Kaplinsky: Yeah. Uk is 7 hours behind China so I just wait to talk to the artists on skype now. You/
[01:42:59] Helen Jiang: I talked with a friend on skype, before that, I check some information on internet
[01:43:45] Helen Kaplinsky: Did Max invite you to tonight? we had dinner and watched a film. I was sad you and your girls could not come.
[01:44:18] Helen Jiang: who is Max?
[01:44:22] Helen Jiang: I don't know that
[01:44:29] Helen Jiang: I'm so sorry
[01:44:48] Helen Jiang: I didn't know
[01:44:55] Helen Jiang: If I know I will come
[01:45:04] Helen Jiang: I stay at home whole day
[01:45:06] Helen Kaplinsky: It's his english name. I dont know his Chinese, he came to your flat with me
[01:45:26] Helen Kaplinsky: I told him to ask you and your friends...
[01:45:26] Helen Jiang: oh, I don't know his english name, hehe
[01:45:43] Helen Jiang: He didn't asked me
[01:46:18] Helen Jiang: last night I met him on the way, he didn't say
[01:47:06] Helen Kaplinsky: Oh. He chose I film to watch at my studio, and before we had food. I will invite you myself next time1
[01:47:09] Helen Kaplinsky: !
[01:47:14] Helen Kaplinsky: sorry
[01:47:28] Helen Jiang: thank you, Helen
[01:47:37] Helen Jiang: maybe he told to my friend
[01:48:04] Helen Jiang: but my friend visted me this afternoon
[01:49:22] Helen Kaplinsky: strange. Next time.
[01:49:33] Helen Kaplinsky: I'm here till the 12th of august
[01:49:43] Helen Jiang: and maybe Max doesn't know my English name
[01:49:50] Helen Jiang: ok, we still have time
[01:50:06] Helen Kaplinsky: What's your favorite chinese film?
[01:50:19] Helen Kaplinsky: we can do another film night
[01:50:33] Helen Jiang: I don't know how to translate
[01:50:46] Helen Jiang: maybe LET BULLETN FLY
[01:51:32] Helen Jiang: bullet
[01:51:38] Helen Kaplinsky: Wen Jiang? I just look it up but the site is blocked
[01:51:44] Helen Jiang: right
[01:52:04] Helen Jiang: very good, that movie
[01:52:36] Helen Kaplinsky: 1920s. Thats all the information I can get. wickipdia and imda is blocked
[01:52:37] Helen Jiang: whenever u are free, u can call me, or visit me
[01:54:02] Helen Kaplinsky: tonight we watched 'love in a puff'. A Hong Kong film chosen by max
[01:54:22] Helen Kaplinsky: What's your chinese name...again
[01:54:24] Helen Kaplinsky: ?
[01:54:54] Helen Jiang: Jiang Dong dong
[01:55:01] Helen Jiang: dong means winter
[01:55:14] Helen Jiang: http://www.qiyi.com/dianying/20110208/c400871a16e3...
[01:55:16] Helen Kaplinsky: oh yeah, I remember your email!
[01:55:30] Helen Jiang: maybe you can try this to watch bullet
[01:55:48] Helen Kaplinsky: thanks
[01:56:00] Helen Jiang: but speak Chinese
[01:56:15] Helen Kaplinsky: It says a message in mandarin. i think something is wrong but not sure what
[01:57:39] Helen Kaplinsky: I've been looking for falun gong and let the bullets fly, many things that are blocked on the internet tonight!
[02:00:35] Helen Jiang: oh, there is no English caption, what a pity
[02:01:07] Helen Kaplinsky: I will find a way to watch when I return to UK
[02:02:26] Helen Jiang: ok
[02:02:55] Helen Kaplinsky: Also, there is an exhibition preview on saturday
[02:03:10] Helen Kaplinsky: An austrian filmaker Axel Stockburger at organ haus
[02:03:22] Helen Jiang: oh, in ur studio
[02:03:23] Helen Jiang: ?
[02:03:31] Helen Kaplinsky: No, at 501
[02:03:52] Helen Kaplinsky: Different residency organised by yang shu
[02:04:05] Helen Jiang: ok, in the evening?
[02:04:44] Helen Kaplinsky:
Organhaus Art Space are holding Axel Stockburger（Austria）'s solo exhibition ——“JINGSHENFENXI”. （2011 Chongqing Organhaus Art Space Artists Residency Project 04#）
Opening: 7:30pm, July 30th, 2011
Exhibition days: July 30th –August 9
Venue: Organhaus Art Space exhibition hall #1(501 warehouse 1st fl).
Welcome to join us!And thank you for your support!
Organhaus Art Space
Address: Organhaus Art Space (first floor, 501)
Huanghjueping 126, Jiulongpo district
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
[02:04:50] Helen Jiang: I will go, and we can meet again.
[02:05:39] Helen Kaplinsky: I need to go as artists are calling! see you saturday
[02:06:08] Helen Jiang: see u
[02:06:43] Helen Kaplinsky: x
[02:06:49] Helen Kaplinsky: ;)
[02:07:01] Helen Jiang: (wave)
# 17 [28 July 2011]
BUILDING A MARKET IN CHONGQING
The general perception is that there are plenty of artists in Chongqing but no ‘art scene’ has developed as yet. By ‘art scene’ they refer to collectors and galleries. As anyone with an interest in Asian contemporary art will know, the main focus, due apparently to the concentration of fortunes is in Hong Kong. In fact with its booming property market Chongqing is not short of money, but it does lack a ‘cultured’ middle-class who might be cultivated into art buyers. Chongqing is known for it’s loud feisty women with supple skin (the humid weather they say keeps it peachy), and a rustic character that despite the persistent urbanisation allows it to retain an intimate charm. This has especially endured in Huangjue Ping, the area where I’m staying, with its night market and barbeques till 2am which according to locals the government will clear away and replace with sanitary shopping malls in their next round of development. Amazingly the soviet style architecture which lines the main shopping street in my area is only 10 years old. It looks more like 40. Poor quality concrete is used and so becomes dilapidated almost immediately. When I visited my friend’s 27th floor apartment yesterday, which was built only 1 year ago, he showed me where the wall had begun to crumble round the door frame. This sense of impermanence, get-rich quick building demonstrates the foundations on which the new money has been established. The market is being flooded with too much property development and the bubble will burst. Perhaps art could be a good investment for the future for the fragile new middle classes in Chongqing, if only they can be persuaded.
The closest city to Chongqing with a more developed ‘art scene’ is Chengdu about 350km away, then there is of course Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai which artists who are based here are constantly making jaunts to. The gallery we are exhibiting at, Ceiling Space is a new venture for Chongqing, programming only started in September last year. So far they have been working with local artists mostly but plan to bring over some international in the future through a partnership with Goethe Institute. Ceiling Gallery promotes conceptual art. From what I can see this is the first conceptual art gallery proper for the city and so it’s opening could beckon a new dawn for its art world reputation. When I met Meg Maggio in Beijing prior to coming to Chongqing she described Chongqing as the Boston to New York (when comparing it to Beijing). The reality left me disappointed. The curator Tian Meng comes across as loyal to the province and strong minded, I think you need to be to resist the pull to a bigger city or the constant refrain that “no exhibitions worth a thought ever happen in Chongqing”. This platitude which local artist Oliver Gosling quotes to me seems to go against not only Ceiling but longer term projects which have been taking place in the city. Organ Haus, run by prosperous local teacher and artist Yang Shu has been programming an international residency programme and providing opportunities for Sichuan artists for several years. Through a partnership with Triangle Arts Trust and Gasworks Gallery (London) he has bought prominent names such as Alexander de Cunah to Chongqing. However, this is not a commercial programme which has the forward planning to build an art market in Chongqing. This kind of activity is great for building an audience for art with events by artists from outside who bring a fleeting energy for the locals to enjoy.
# 16 [27 July 2011]
Back by popular demand, Rachel Marsden and others via email who have expressed their interest in Skype conversations I have with the artists.
Skype conversation 2, part 2/2
[16:18:32] Helen Kaplinsky: Can you confirm if it's upper or lower case, and is wording 'I DID IT MY WAY WAY'
[16:18:42] Joey Holder: yes upper case
[16:18:48] Joey Holder: and this is correct title
[16:19:02] Helen Kaplinsky: cool
[16:19:11] Joey Holder: i spoke to chris on the phone 20 mins agao
[16:19:12] Joey Holder: ago
[16:19:37] Joey Holder: and he said he could add the title etc, but not for another hour or so coz hes at embassey
[16:19:43] Joey Holder: sorry this is so fucking rushed
[16:20:18] Joey Holder: i m not good with type, just with images (sweat)
[16:20:31] Helen Kaplinsky: just wasted a day and know you guys will be travelling soon so need to get things sorted. I need images you want to put into publication before you leave also
[16:21:01] Joey Holder: ok
[16:21:34] Helen Kaplinsky: I know you guys are super busy too with other projects and working full-time so understandable x
[16:21:54] Joey Holder: its pretty crazy
[16:22:11] Joey Holder: busy I mean
[16:22:16] Joey Holder: but will get it all sorted
[16:23:07] Joey Holder: did you get the file?
[16:23:41] Helen Kaplinsky: yep, just downloading, think it will take some time
[16:25:40] Joey Holder: ok
[16:25:47] Joey Holder: i just spoke to chris on here
[16:25:54] Helen Kaplinsky: on another note I think my blog has been blocked
[16:26:08] Joey Holder: he is going to send you the flyer again with the title done, in the right font
[16:26:11] Joey Holder: he will do it now
[16:26:17] Helen Kaplinsky: WICKI
[16:26:23] Helen Kaplinsky: D
[16:26:36] Helen Kaplinsky: & COOL
[16:31:47] Joey Holder: :D
[16:31:50] Joey Holder: ok
[16:31:54] Joey Holder: gotta run
[16:31:57] Joey Holder: xxxxxxx
[16:31:57] Joey Holder: bye bye
[16:31:58] Joey Holder: x
[16:32:15] Joey Holder: chris is online if you need to speak to him....
# 15 [27 July 2011]
Back by popular demand, Rachel Marsden and others via email who have expressed their interest in Skype conversations I have with the artists.
Skyp conversation 2, part 1/2
[15:56:20] Helen Kaplinsky: End of the day and still not sure what's going on. Really need to give something to a graphic designer. Do you want psychoanalysl logo next to crystal or not? etc...which logo, I have different versions...
[15:58:22] Helen Kaplinsky: Confirm is the title 'I DID IT MY WAY WAY' capitalised etc...?
[16:01:11] Joey Holder: Hey Helen
[16:01:25] Joey Holder: Right
[16:01:36] Joey Holder: I am just re-doing the image now
[16:01:59] Joey Holder: as the measurement thing in the top right needs to go on the bottom left
[16:02:08] Joey Holder: will send it through in the next 15 mins
[16:02:23] Joey Holder: we are using the logo with the pyramid 'a's
[16:02:35] Joey Holder: do you need me to send the logo again?
[16:02:56] Joey Holder: Chris can send you a high res image of the logo in the next two hours
[16:03:02] Joey Holder: i ll see if I have one now....
[16:03:10] Helen Kaplinsky: Cool.
[16:03:35] Joey Holder: apologies for lateness
[16:03:36] Helen Kaplinsky: So, is the measurement for the graphic designer or part of the image you want to print.
[16:04:04] Helen Kaplinsky: You dont need to give this on the image if it's not part of the image
[16:04:04] Joey Holder: the measurement is part of the image
[16:04:34] Helen Kaplinsky: Hokay
[16:05:13] Helen Kaplinsky: So, if you design one side, we design the other? Then tell us if there is a font you want to use
[16:05:30] Helen Kaplinsky: Also, where you would like manadarin title if next to crystal?
[16:06:23] Joey Holder: Christopher is going to send you the font he would like to use for the title etc....
[16:06:53] Joey Holder: or he said alternatively if this needs to be done right now, you could do it and just send it to us for approval before print?
[16:08:53] Helen Kaplinsky: Ok. You need to be very quick about approving. We are behind.
[16:10:50] Helen Kaplinsky: As soon as I get material from you I will send to graphic designer. Then you can do font and other changes all in one, yes?
[16:11:31] Joey Holder: yes, i will tell Chris to get on it
[16:11:40] Joey Holder: he is at the Embassey now
[16:11:49] Joey Holder: but has his computer
[16:11:58] Joey Holder: i am sending the image now as a psd through yousendit
[16:12:57] Helen Kaplinsky: cheers doll
[16:14:10] Joey Holder: it is a psd, the logo etc is a layer which can be moved
[16:15:16] Joey Holder: sorry but i dont know what font christopher will want
[16:15:20] Joey Holder: he is the font man
[16:15:36] Joey Holder: and is very particular about fonts 8-|
[16:15:52] Helen Kaplinsky: have you shown the placement of title?
[16:16:17] Joey Holder: no
[16:16:26] Joey Holder: but happy for graphic designer to do this
[16:16:41] Joey Holder: i guess the only place would be top right
[16:16:53] Joey Holder: if our logo is top left
[16:17:03] Helen Kaplinsky: so you want it next to image, not on other side of flyer?
[16:17:41] Joey Holder: this
[16:17:42] Joey Holder: me and chris didnt relly discuss thios
[16:18:00] Joey Holder: hang on
# 14 [26 July 2011]
CONTROL AND OCCUPATION OF ART SPACE IN CHONGQING
Only now is the full story emerging of the problem with exhibition spaces which I faced when I first arrived. Yanyan offered me an exhibition space in a bar next to 501 Contemporary Art Centre. When I turned my nose up and asked about the spacious columned space in 501 I was promised when invited on the residency he muttered something about local government. I was left confused and alone, without explanation. Now I’ve witnessed this local politics escalate into possible confrontation next week as the artists plan to make their problems public.
Until yesterday the Huang Jueping Contemporary Art Museum, an impressive looking municipal building which sits opposite my studio block appeared abandoned and shunned. A vast air hanger style space, according to Yanyan and others it is under government control and suffers from a bad reputation for sparse and conventional programming. The day before yesterday I witnessed a flurry of activity; workers moving in and students with sketchbooks in hand. Yesterday it became clear what activity was taking place, a technical art training summer school.* 108 Gallery which belongs to the Sichuan Fine Art Institute suffers from a similar problem of government control and when I looked at it as a possible venue for my exhibition people warned me that it’s perceived as boring and no one would turn up if it had that venue’s name attached to it.
The local government, in a push of cultural regeneration following the opening of high speed rail links from Shanghai and Beijing have committed to ploughing 3 million RMB into restructuring the Huang Jueping Contemporary Art Museum. Yanyan and other artists who rent studios in my building are cynical about plans which follow from this policy. Money is always given to one person for each project, and these are not people who know anything much about contemporary art the local artists say. Yanyan used to rent the space for exhibitions every now and then but he has stopped bothering in recent years as his relationship with local government officials has deteriorated: they ask for more money and try to control programming. The same thing has happened 501, a block of studios through which he built the name ‘501 Contemporary Art Centre’ when he and other artists moved in, in 2006. Two years ago the owners of the 501 building from whom Yanyan rented, in cahoots with local government officials hiked up rents and attempted to control programming. Despite protests and long meetings no resolution has been found, more commercial artist such as designers have begun to occupy 501 and Yanyan et all have moved onto new pastures such as 102 where I’m staying. The recent activity of the temporary training school set up in the former Museum opposite 102 has really got up the noses of 102 artists. Yesterday they held a meeting. They have an enormous purpose built Museum space sitting on their doorstep which is wilfully mismanaged. I’m sorry for them but it’s quite exciting to be here at a time when everything is coming to a head. They seem to be plotting something dramatic and public.
*These training schools have proliferated in Chongqing in the last 10 years. As Sichuan Fine Art Institute has a very tough entrance exam the training schools enable students to build their portfolio of skills. Applications to the Institute are in excess of 60,000 every year, competing for only 1,500 places. For at the least 18,000 RMB (£1,713) and at the top end 30,000 RMB (£2855) you can undertake the crash course and get in with an increased (but far from guaranteed chance) of entry. These costs are only teaching, they do not include dormitories etc. Putting figures into context, you can live on 21000 RMB a year in Chongqing. This is a real money spinner. As well as these training schools being big business for the investors behind them they are also an importance source of employment for graduates from the Sichuan Fine Art Institute who become teachers at these training schools, and many teachers at the Institute earn supplementary wages acting as assessors.
# 13 [25 July 2011]
PROUD TO BE A LONDON GIRL IN CHONGQING
I’ve been doing some thinking about the discussions around cultural exchange with China and the position of activism.
Many UK organisations such as The British Museum and the V&A have been criticised for lending their collections for shows due to open in 2012 including “British Design 1948-2012” at Shanghai Art Museum. Our project suffered a loss of a major partner in the UK as a result of increasing criticism of cultural exchange following the detention of Ai Weiwei. The Art Newspaper reported “Anish Kapoor has cancelled plans to present his sculptures at the National Museum of China in Beijing, in protest against the continuing detention of Ai Weiwei” I tend to agree with the British Council’s commitment to continuing relations on the grounds that boycotting shuts down discourse. “British Council chief executive Martin Davidson believes in “freedom of cultural expression”, but is keen for the programme to go ahead. He commented: “It is through cultural exchange that we best demonstrate the benefits of free artistic expression and build supportive links between people in the UK and China.”
Perhaps Kapoor and others who see a cultural boycott of China as a viable and effective means of protest to the PRC are over estimating their influence. As if China will care. What better way to maintain such a regime than to keep the cultural door closed whilst enjoying the benefits of economic freedom. The delusion of this western perspective also rests on the long fought for principal of freedom of speech. However, over the past year Wikileaks have spewed forth excessive mounds of information not previously accessible, and the escalating events surrounding Newscorp in the UK have perhaps gone some way to exposing the self-censoring which occurs in the West as a result of interests which are bound to suppress information which might be interesting to the public.
Anish Kapoor and others believe that showcasing British work in China is immoral, but these same people seem to have no problem showing Chinese artists here. Tibet protestors condemned ‘The First Emperor: The Terracotta Army’ exhibition at British Musum but so called “critically engaged” practitioners such as Huang Yong Ping and Ai Weiwei and welcomed. The curatorial approach to Chinese contemporary art in the West can be associated with a wider phenomenon of “the collapsing distinction between marketing and activism” outlined by Micah White and others. Ai Weiwei’s sunflower seeds at Tate Modern provided not only mass entertainment but a satisfying moral soup.
When I return home after seeing the sunflower seeds to check emails my inbox is jammed with online petitions from 38degrees declaring.
Together, we are deciding what 38 Degrees does next. Thousands of us have shared our ideas and commented on each others' suggestions. We've analysed all the suggestions and now it's time to vote to decide what we focus on.”
So, activists who don’t even know what they’re fighting for! This is amazing!
Whilst in China I’ve been receiving messages about Murdoch from Ricken Patel of Avaaz.org (reportedly backed by George Soros) who claims their marketing/ online activism is responsible for bringing down the Murdoch media empire.
“Together, we took on the world's most powerful media baron, opposing the biggest deal of his career, and won!
After seven months of campaigning, 1 million online actions, 250,000 messages to official consultations, 2 polls, 8 stunts, legal threats and thousands of phone calls to our leaders”
According to White “digital activists have adopted the logic of the market place”. The operation of a mobius strip of activist news between blogs feeding one another, generating ‘clicks’ of support seems to be a passive and easily manageable format of insurgency. It reminds me of the idea of dependence of press upon press which is well demonstrated in Michelangelo Pistoletto’s work ‘Twenty-two less two’ at the 53rd Venice Biennial where press of the performance of smashing mirrors created the work.
The point I’m making is somewhere between the wider marketing of activism and the marketing of Chinese contemporary art. It occurs to me that in both cases politics should not be this easy.
# 12 [23 July 2011]
Today I gave a talk at T Art Space (bookshop, café, workshop, and gallery space) run by Wang Yingjie and Hanlan. The first audience members to arrive are three young Chongqing girls who hope to study at University of the Arts, London. They are derisive of the education system in China. They say they like the UK very much, but none of them have been there previously and when I ask for references they say they like British movies, but cannot translate the names of which ones. I tell them that Yanyan’s students are very complimentary about his teaching, and suggest perhaps that he takes individual responsibility. This gets me thinking that perhaps this is one good consequence of a sick system, individuals within the institution have to take responsibility. In the UK it occurs to me that no-one takes any responsibility, you can always shirk blame onto the institution.
This is the second talk I’ve given since arriving and it went much better than the first attempt due to shortening my presentation to allow more discussion as well as a better translator. In the poster I had welcomed the audience to bring material such as catalogues, images and writing to contribute to a discussion concerning the art scene in Chongqing. Nobody produced any material although luckily we were in a bookshop, and I had also bought half a suitcase of ephemera (press releases, pamphlets, flyers) from London, collected every press release in sight during my time in Beijing and artists and curators in both Beijing and Chongqing have been incredibly generous in gifting me catalogues of their work. I distributed the ephemera for people to browse through while we settled down ready for my presentation.
I began by discussing my initial interest in art education via working with autodidacts Islington Mill Art Academy in 2009, then how psychoanalYSL have performed a sincere and entertaining reflection of the trends which surround them whilst studying at Goldsmiths. I showed some images of this year’s graduate shows at Royal College of Art, Royal Academy and Slade all in London, my findings so far from research undertaken in China, and some thoughts on how Chinese contemporary art is curated in the west. I show images of the clay Ai Weiwei head made by psychoanalYSL and glance round for looks of disapproval, but I still haven’t got the hang of reading people.
I field some general questions but the real meat arrives when a British man working at Chongqing University asks me about regional difference. I reflect this question back at the audience, citing that I’ve found massive loyalty in Sichuan province but am not best qualified to answer. I was glad to see Tian Meng, curator at the gallery we will exhibit at sitting at the far side of the table from me take his cue to speak. He is a serious man, committed to the art scene in Chongqing and I sense he’s keen I feed back positive things about it when I return to the UK. Since his gallery in Chongqing, Ceiling Space opened just under a year ago in September 2010 he has worked mostly with artists from Sichuan Fine Art Institute, such as Li Young, the artist currently showing with him. He hopes to take risks and probe the 3,000 year history of the region by asking what the value of this history is for young artists.
A researcher of Arts Organisations in Chongqing has many questions for me, but I’m more interested in listening to what he has to say than answering them. He says Chongqing has only recently begun to develop organisations in the last 10 years and there is no clear policy concerning art education, so these discussions are important. Yanyan is questioned by this man concerning the government’s role in the cultural life of Chongqing. Yanyan says it’s difficult to create a mood for his organisation at the moment, but this is more the problem of people than the Government. Also, the media need to cooperate, and organisations need to collaborate with one another. Fairly obvious stuff but needless to say important.
We’re held up by a storm and have dinner in tunnel.
# 11 [21 July 2011]
Skype discussion part 3/3:
Helen: That's also why africa and afganistan is so messed up as the west want to impose their democracy, but it's tribal
Benjamin: true, but it must also relate to the lack of a big wealthy middle class
Benjamin: scandinavia, which is mainly middle class has had monarchys since the viking era but, England too
Helen: Yes, we had a series of reforms in our country so the constitution is not seperate like america, how does it work in scandinavia?
Benjamin: im not really sure, class divisions ended after the war when schools, health care etc became free
Benjamin: also urbanisation helped as population was so low that cities werent really divided into wealthy and poor areas
Benjamin: they were of course but not as properly as in big countrys
Helen: I reckon small countries are anomalies, the international pressures on the UK and China are different, as well as the domestic heirachy.
Helen: successful artists in China live like footballers in the UK
Helen: You sell one painting for £2,000 and that's a yearly income.
Benjamin: really? is the yearly income that low?
Benjamin: yes, your right about the sizescandinavia and swizerland + belgium and those guys always seem to get pretty good deals in politics
Helen: I've been living nicely on £8 a day for food and everything else. A nice flat is about £80 a month
Helen: switzerland is rolling in it. centre of european politics too
Benjamin: i was thinking
Benjamin: if they like blig over there
Helen: Can I put this on the blog?
Benjamin: posters sprinkled with diamond dust
Helen: V. Hirst
Benjamin: yes on my behalf
Benjamin: also vic muniz
Benjamin: and tons of other bigshots
Benjamin: wicky baby
Benjamin: theres tons of them
Benjamin: just google diamon dust print
Helen: what did you fins?
Helen: you seen the cobain one?
Benjamin: by muniz?
Benjamin: space with diamond dust.....
Helen: no, some lamo http://davidblakeart.com/archives/227
Benjamin: industrial diamons are dirt cheap
Helen: get on it.
Benjamin: diamond dust is apperently glass
Helen: on muniz?
Benjamin: cant be
Helen: arggghhhhh soooo tacky!!! http://www.artnet.com/artwork/426130535/black-mari...
Benjamin: could you ask just for fun if diamond dust would be able to get ahold of there
Benjamin: i can imagine those kinds of prints would do quite well if they like shiny expensive things
Helen: It's all about status.
Helen: and the market
Helen: So before anyone buys your work they will look at the market for it. This will be a problem to sell properly until your work has established itself, but tacky prints for people's homes less so.
Helen: I think decorative is a good route
Helen: for the prints
Benjamin: i agree
Benjamin: hip decorative
Helen Kaplinsky is a Curator based in London. She is currently completing a masters in Curating at Goldsmiths. In the last 12 months she has programmed and featured on multiple platforms including New Art Gallery Walsall, Flat Time House, Resonance FM and Axisweb and recently won the select.ac competition to curate the Arts Council Collection.
PsychoanalYSL is the unlikely collaboration between Joey Holder, Benjamin Orlow & Christopher Thomas, who began working together whilst on the Fine Art MFA at Goldsmiths, London. Taking hipness as form, psychoanalYSL is more like art than art itself. PsychoanalYSL is prosthetically hip, super-contemporary Mega-Art PLUS.