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jun, by Cao Wei ntributions g Choy, hael Lee. Co Hou Hanru, Lee Wen ic M d an a ay n, z, in an ue m íg fm Fo of dr z H Ro ue Jens tor varo Rodríg nfrew, Héc in Gleeson, ung Yang. Edited by Al Magnus Re an Ford, Er , Ye m d ng or an Fa N e u , in H an or naw ist and Valerie C. D p, Philip Ye . Ulrich Obr an, June Ya rolee Thea idet, Hans itmatter-Tr inaya and Ca re Cédric Mar m St d Fo z ar ue ch íg , Ri dr er Ro or St ro l va el Al Russ xing, by Hu Yuan Interviews

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ISBN 978-988-98963-9-3

Published by Para/Site Art Space with Studio Bibliothèque and seed | projects

First published 2010 in an edition of 1000 in conjunction with the Para/ Site Art Space–Hong Kong Jockey Club Curatorial Training Programme

Library of Congress Cataloguing-inPublication Data

Who Cares? 16 Essays on Curating in Asia / co-edited by Alvaro Rodríguez Fominaya and Michael Lee. p. cm –

Includes bibliographical references. ISBN 978-988-98963-9-3 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. Curating in art. 2. Arts, Modern21st century. 3. Arts, Asia. I. Alvaro Rodríguez Fominaya II. Michael Lee

© 2010 Para/Site Art Space, Studio Bibliothèque and seed | projects Texts © the contributors, unless otherwise stated Text (pp. 99–113) © Carolee Thea

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without the written permission of the publishers.

Commissioning Editor: Alvaro Rodríguez Fominaya Project Editor: Michael Lee Art Direction: Brendan Goh Coordination: Sherona Chan (Hong Kong) Layout and Design: seed | projects Copyediting: Genevieve Chua Proofreading: Tang Ling Nah Transcription: Mo Xiaofei (pp. 82–95) Printed in Hong Kong

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Supported by 支持機構

PARA/SITE藝術空間為藝發局資助團體 PARA/SITE ART SPACE is financially supported by the ADC


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ideas everywhere

seed | projects SingPost Box 880146 Singapore 919191 Tel: (+65) 9673 6958 Email: the.postman@seed.sg Url: www.seed.sg

Para/Site Art Space is a non-profit art organisation in Hong Kong. It produces, exhibits and communicates local and international contemporary art. Para/ Site was involved in various overseas exhibitions such as the Gwangju Biennale 2002 and the Venice Biennale 2003. It is supported by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council as well as vital contributions from patrons and Founding Friends of Para/Site.

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Contents

Preface

Alvaro Rodríguez Fominaya

Introduction Michael Lee

To Curate is to Take Care of Yeung Yang

The Magician of Crosses

Cao Weijun

Uncured Lunatics: Sounds are still bleeding

Cédric Maridet

Mutualism for the Future

erin gleeson

The Ethics of Wonder: Art and natural history

Lee Weng Choy

Why do it (Chinese edition)?

(A conversation between Hans Ulrich Obrist and Hu Fang) interviewed BY HU YUANXING

The Extreme Situation is Beautiful

(A conversation with Hou Hanru) interviewed BY CAROLEE THEA

A Plea for Exhibitions

Jens Hoffmann

1 5

11 21 46 58 73 85 99 114


Curating the 6th Asia Pacific Triennial

125

Fragments for a Future Present

136

(A Conversation with Russell Storer) interviewed BY ALVARO RODRÍGUEZ FOMINAYA Richard Streitmatter-Tran

What is the New in Curating Today?

Magnus Renfrew

You Are Not in China Anymore, Or, Handing Over and Over and Over

Norman Ford

Zero Gravity—Nothing Seems to Have Changed, But Everything is Different

June Yap

Considering Audiences

Philip Yenawine

Human Resources: A documentary project

Héctor Rodríguez

Some Thoughts on the Locus of Encounter

Valerie C. Doran

Biographies

141 145 154 161 165 169 177


Preface: Curating in Asia, or Stories of the Micro-space Alvaro RodrĂ­guez Fominaya

Is curating in Asia any different from curating in Europe? This question is probably as unlikely as: Does the water taste different in both continents? Beneath the surface of the bizarre question, lie some issues that when analysed in depth reveals some surprising findings. Asia feels like a curatorial Wild West where the curator becomes an art dealer or agent for the artist, and also where the editor becomes an agent/consultant/dealer, and in this way deconstructs all preconceptions that I had arrived with from Europe. The result is a departure from how the 1


Preface: Curating in Asia, or Stories of the Micro-space

curatorial enterprise is viewed and performed. There are other key differences that are related to the dynamics, organisation and nature of the art venues involved. In this case, at least in China, the art scene follows a unique model. Three types of organisations compete for the same space: collector-owned art museums, non-profit organisations that partly perform the same role as commercial galleries, and state-owned art museums, where some of them are still championing “socialist realism� whilst others have embraced a contemporary discourse. Of course, the full picture is more complex than this, but I believe that this offers a relevant characterisation of the basic traits of the art scene. Then again of course, Hong Kong sits in a different place with a Museum of Art and a few contemporary art micro-spaces, but nothing in between. A characterisation of mediation art institutions in Mainland China unveils the aforementioned models, which are exemplified by organisations like True Color Museum (Suzhou), Shanghai MOCA (Shanghai) or Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (Beijing), in the case of collector-owned museums. As for museums that exhibit art anchored in the political past, we could include the Hangzhou Museum of Art, whereas institutions like the Guangdong Museum of Art or the Shanghai Museum of Art are pushing for innovative languages. Three Shadows Photography Art Centre exemplifies the model of nonprofit organisations that perform a commercial role embedded in its operational model. On the other hand, a number of commercial galleries operate by appropriating the discourse of non-profit alternative or independent organisations, of which Vitamin Creative Space (Guangzhou/ Beijing) and Long March (Beijing) are good examples. 2


Alvaro Rodríguez Fominaya

In this context, to define, design and implement a curatorial studies programme, is to say the least, challenging. Challenging as, in the midst of commercial interests, until now the job of the curator has not been valued in terms of honorarium nor in conceptual terms. There hasn’t been a sense of the fact that someone could build a career as a curator, or go beyond self-organisational artist structures when approaching a curatorial project. These coordinates have provided a unique framework for the development of our training programme. Firstly, we aimed towards bringing into Hong Kong, first-class art professionals who would facilitate knowledge exchange with the local art professionals, and be a precursor of a radical change in the art community. As part of this struggle, we invited Philip Yenawine, co-founder of VUE Foundation, Rose Candelaria, senior registrar of SFMOMA, Charles Merewether and Jens Hoffmann. Several initiatives helped us implement this strategy connected to the idea of public, either through public lectures or public workshops that complemented the training received by the students enrolled in our Curating Training Programme (CTP). Secondly, the focus was to gain an in-depth regional knowledge. Part of this effort was the involvement of curators and art professionals like Hu Fang, Cao Weijun, June Yap, Richard StreitmatterTran, Ellen Pau, Norman Ford, Hou Hanru, Mimi Brown, Héctor Rodríguez, Cédric Maridet, Valerie C. Doran, Yana Peel, Erin Gleeson, Jeff Leung, Invisible Academy (Surasi Kusolwong), Zhang Li, Lee Weng Choy, Yeung Yang, Magnus Renfrew, Guo Xiaoyan, Russell Storer and Robert Bernell. Para/Site Art Space has pushed through its history for the development of a ‘curatorial profile’ and it has contributed to the current level of maturity that the Hong Kong art 3


Preface: Curating in Asia, or Stories of the Micro-space

scene is achieving. As part of this curatorial effort it seemed appropriate to spearhead a Curatorial Training Programme within the context of Hong Kong, and the broader context of East and Southeast Asia. It is the only programme in the global arena that has this specific regional focus. This publication fills the regional gap in the lack of publications that bring some theorisation in the field. Since we wanted to make some good use of the pool of excellent lecturers who have contributed to the success of this programme, the idea of this book was rapidly taken by co-editor Michael Lee and he has made sense of the wide range of contributors involved. Throughout the three years that this course has been running, we have trained nine curators who are now ready to develop their own careers. But also we have created a programme that is unique in this part of the world, in terms of both its scope and its depth. This course is part of our exhibitions and direction in terms of international networking, and facilitating inter-Asia dialogue and discourse. Today, after three years, we could not imagine the Para/Site Art Space without the critical discourses generated by the CTP. I would like to thank everyone who has made it possible, including lecturers, artists, board members and Para/Site team. And above all, Jockey Club Charities as funder of this initiative.

4


Introduction: Who Cares? Michael Lee

Who Cares? arose from wondering. Who are curators? What makes them tick? Why bother with curators in Asia, or, for that matter, with curators anywhere at all? Among the countless exhibitions and art projects, what is the new in curating? How may the work of contemporary curators today influence the conception, production, presentation and reception of art tomorrow? What limits and potentials of curating have yet to be explored? What particular challenges and opportunities await curators working in and on Asia? 5


Introduction: Who Cares?

We asked our contributors for a text that embodies their philosophy, perspectives and issues of concern with regards to curating. We wanted them to share their vision of how curating could be today, if not in the future. We were interested in aspects of curating that have relevance and ramification beyond their time and place. We did not limit ourselves to curators who work, or have worked, with institutions but also those who work independently outside of sustained institutional backing. We were equally open to hearing from those whose main preoccupation is curating and from those for whom curating is one of various modes of engaging creativity (as in the case of the artist-curator). We were as interested in different genres and styles of expression as a diversity of foci, concerns and contextual frameworks. We envisioned that the practitioner of art, writing or curating, especially with regards to the Asian context, will find, among the pages in this volume, traces of the driving forces behind some of the most groundbreaking and influential curatorial projects of the past decade, and into the next. ‘Caring’ has long been a de facto premise in defining the role of the curator. With its Latin origin cura (care), ‘curator’ referred, during Ancient Rome, to an official in charge of public duties like sanitation and transportation. In the Middle Ages, a curator meant a clergy with a spiritual ‘cure’ or ‘charge,’ especially of a child or lunatic. Later, from the 1660s, the word meant the caretaker of an institution’s collection of heritage value, before its meanings and roles expanded, beginning with the West in the 1960s, through the birth of independent curators like Harald Szeemann and Walter Hopps. Today a curator is expected, or may choose, to take on multiple tasks like conception, artistic direction, 6


Michael Lee

administration, project management, programming, publicity, dealership and writing. On curatorial writing, an example would be Cao Weijun’s longitudinal study on a specific series by artist Ding Yi. Cédric Maridet refers to the traditional object of curating when he argues for the care, or more specifically, the preservation of the ‘amateur’ perspective, not unlike nurturing the childlikeness and lunacy of a ward. In so doing, he proposes to turn a conventional ‘problem’ into a curatorial ‘aesthetic.’ Yeung Yang and Erin Gleeson assert the importance of solidarity between the artist and the curator in slightly different ways. Yeung uses a romance metaphor, in saying that a fulfilling relationship between an artist and a curator involves “not the two sides looking into each others’ eyes, but towards the same direction.” For Gleeson, ‘mutualism,’ the biological phenomenon of reciprocal cooperation, provides a model for the artist-curator relationship to thrive, not least so in the case of a first-world curator working in a transforming (Gleeson’s term in lieu of ‘developing’) city. What marks a successfully curated exhibition? Positive feedbacks, including rave reviews and an endlessly ringing cash register, are always welcome. But the visionary curator may be less interested in pleasing the public than taking extraordinary risks in the course of pursuing the new. By referring to natural history, Lee Weng Choy proposes that a sense of wonder is both a prerequisite and a deliverable, whether in creative or critical inquiry. To that end, Lee suggests, the art museum could learn a thing or two from the natural history museum. Citing the examples of Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), he applauds the latter’s progressiveness in putting research speculations and uncertainties on display 7


Introduction: Who Cares?

rather than hiding them behind a perfect story of art history, as the former appears to do. While Hou Hanru celebrates risks as fundamental to the pursuit of the beautiful and the extreme, Hu Fang and Hans Ulrich Obrist, as evident in their conversation included in this book, rejoice in continual growth, spontaneity and surprise. In the expanded field of curating, the presentation format of a curator’s work is no longer limited to the exhibition in a gallery space. It may be staged outside the gallery or inside a book, or shared in a broadcast media. Jens Hoffmann, through his roundup of innovations in recent curatorial projects, makes his plea to, as it were, think within the box, and not abandon the exhibition too soon as a format of curatorial endeavour. Though the concept of “New Asia” is as much a social construct as that of “The West,” the globalisation of today (as with that during the Ancient Rome) continues to pose challenges and offer opportunities for the stakeholders of art, perhaps more for some than for others. The collaborative model, such as that adopted in the ongoing, if viral, do it book series edited by Obrist (with Hu on the Chinese edition), becomes a particular manifestation of managing and leveraging on such a reality. Russell Storer discusses how he and the other curators of the Asia Pacific Triennial sought the expertise and experience of an artist (Richard Streitmatter-Tran), a filmmaker (Nicholas Bonner) and a broadcaster (Brent Clough) as co-curators to reach out to different geographic regions and cultural disciplines. Such long-distance cooperative model would probably have taken a lot more resources in the past than now, if not for advances in transportation and communication technology. Richard Streitmatter-Tran himself has contributed a text to this volume—using a quasi-Q&A structure that perhaps 8


Michael Lee

performatively engages his hybrid roles as artist, curator and educator—to share his experiences and reflections on some of the potentials and pitfalls of maneuvering in the international arts scene today. Reflecting on the little ironies that arise in staging an exhibition, Norman Ford shares his experience of curating the Hong Kong pavilion for the Venice Biennale in 2007, reflecting on the meeting of different places and histories. Taking a more tentative than carnivalesque stance towards curating in this globalised milieu, June Yap cautions that “traffic does not [always] translate to access, and circulation and flows are not necessarily symmetrical,” a condition that may lead to, or require, a sense of what Magnus Renfrew calls “‘cultural ADD’ (Attention Deficit Disorder).” If the identification of an audience is key to aesthetic development, then it follows that the care of the targeted audience is basic to the development of one’s artistic or curatorial practice. The audience is the primary subject of concern for a number of contributors as they reflect on their wishes for the future. Through his experience in staging public exhibitions, Philip Yenawine has found that special care and strategies in presenting artworks and accompanying information can aid different types of audiences develop an in-depth aesthetic appreciation and critical thinking skills. Héctor Rodríguez presents his vision of the future in the form of a research project brief, one that downplays the strict division between artist, subject and audience. If well-facilitated, such participatory projects potentially foster fruitful encounters. Citing, among other examples, the performance by the artist Hwang Chih-Yang for which he sprawled grass on the highly contested open space at Times Square, Hong Kong, for passers-by to use, Valerie C. Doran argues that the participation of the audience in encountering 9


Introduction: Who Cares?

an artwork can potentially restore cosmic balance in the social sphere: “From a cultural point of view, the most radical thing about this event was not the simple notion of creating a resting place for shoppers, but the reciprocal presence of artist and public combining to create a positive, mutually meaningful space: a kind of cultural yin-yang.” The contributions in this book do not exhaust ways of defining, understanding and thinking about the role of curator in relation to art and life in 21st-century Asia and beyond. In compiling the reflections by practitioners of art and curating based in Asia, who have interacted with Asia, or researched on Asia, this book is an attempt to plug the gap in published discussions about curating in the Asian context. The urgency of attuning to the demands of particular curatorial contexts, of local needs, of looking beyond “The West” and beyond art for ideas, of taking time to think and look, of pulling resources together and of seeking new ways of doing things—have recurred among the contributions. Rather than being given quick and dirty tips on successful curation, the readers are nudged to ask new questions and seek refreshing answers to old ones about the potential and influence of curating in art. All we ask of our audience is that they ask for more.

10


To Curate is to Take Care of Yeung Yang

I begin by deciding to think about curating at a certain distance from how contemporary art presents itself today, not only because I am an outsider to the field, having had no formal training and only several years of experience practicing it, but also because I presume this thinking as an exercise may benefit from the temporary suspension of the polemical discourses that have come to regulate and rigidify the relationship between artists and curators. I must quickly add, however, that this distance is always watched over by a proximity to art itself, so that the distance is not cleared of its vested interest. 11


To Curate is to Take Care of

The etymology of the word ‘curate’ conveys care— the care of minors and lunatics, and the care of souls.1 Curating as caring, therefore, should not be evaluated on the scale of originality and creativity, which has been one of the most frequently cited, though highly contestable, criteria of evaluating works of art. Even when caring entails creativity (by that I mean flexibility of thinking in terms of an idea, issue, problem and its solution), one is not defined and fulfilled by the other: Caring does not fulfil its obligation by being creative. Curating must be evaluated on a different scale from that of art—the quality and nature of the care required and provided. Caring presupposes an object or objects to be taken care of. One may be inclined to say that the curator-carer takes ‘exhibitions’ or ‘shows’ as her proper objects of care. I would like to propose otherwise. While the curator-carer declares the exhibition open and present with the statement ‘curated by,’ the exhibition is something that has culminated over time and as an occasion upon and in terms of which the curatorcarer announces her performative presence2. This way of engaging with the exhibition is always already preceded by caring, a broader and more primary promise, even if it remains silent and invisible. This is the caring of the material and symbolic conditions that make the exhibition itself and the curator-carer’s presence as possible engagement. It is not primarily the exhibition, but these conditions that offer themselves as objects of care for the curator-carer. She therefore, must first and foremost take care of the works of art, for without them, the exhibition would not have been. The declaration of ‘curated by’ may then be qualified as ‘curated by, for and after these works of art.’ That is, the works of art always already have a life (duration, location, presence) that 12


Yeung Yang

is in excess of the exhibition, a culturally and historically contingent way of displaying art3. This life is indifferent to the exhibition, has lived before it and will continue to despite it. When particular works of art are content with upholding an integrity relevant to the artist only, as personal expression and need to materialise that expression for himself/herself4, the carer is the artist. There will be no social role for the curator-carer. There are works of art, however, that seek a public life. This public life can be a place, fixated on a form, which could be archivable, or be part of an existing discourse or productive of a new one. The moment the art acquires this life or seeks to do so, the opportunity of a different kind of care than the one that is relevant to the artists’ own worlds arises. To take care of the works is also to take care of their public life. The care of the public life of artworks, however, does not exclusively belong to the curator-carer, for public life in general is much more diverse than what she can delineate and master. By public life, I mean both the physical space and the conceptual space the works are situated in, refer and relate to. The public life of works of art always already intersects with the public lives of other things, processes, people, and events, as well as ideas, dreams, fears and hopes. Together, in their diversity and difference, they constitute the public. Ideally, the public life of works of art should be the object of care for everyone participating in public life. Ideally, works of art demand the public concern themselves with and take an interest in the works. Ideally, works of art always already engages in or produces a certain relationship with the public they encounter. The public becomes the carer for the public life of the art—the art is its public life. The quality and nature of this public in which works of art find themselves are embedded have come under much 13


To Curate is to Take Care of

scrutiny in recent years. John Dewey says the intimacy between the works of art, their producers and whoever comes into contact with them is lost in the “impersonality of the world market.” As a result, an “esthetic ‘individualism’” emerges. He says, “In order not to cater to the trend of economic forces, [artists] often feel obliged to exaggerate their separateness to the point of eccentricity. Consequently artistic products take on to a still greater degree the air of something independent and esoteric.”5 The circulation of exchange value is not only firmly and long-established, but sped up. Pierre Bourdieu warns that the hard-won independence of the artistic field as a form of cultural production is being “subject to the verdicts of those who dominate mass media production, especially by way of the hold they exert over major channels of distribution,” which are in turn governed by “laws of profit” and “the rule of money and interest.”6 In Hong Kong, art practitioners find the public “not so caring”7 and “shrinking”8, in face of which art asserts strongly the “private” and its right to display it as a demonstration of disapproval of the violation of art’s “privacy”9. In face of an existing undesirable public life, art faces the risk of accelerated death. How would the caring react under these circumstances? In face of threat, one ducks or becomes defensive, building a fortress around what she wants to take care of in the name of ‘protecting’ it. But the carer is not just a caretaker who guards entrances and exits, scanning for and barring undesirable elements that put Security under threat, by routinely closing the doors. The measure of ‘protection’ in effect deprives the works of art the public life they seek, which originally is the proper area of care for the curator-carer. To take care of the public life of works of art requires giving time to 14


Yeung Yang

that which is being cared for. Giving time requires slowing down; slowing down requires discipline. It is only in time that the significance (affective, intellectual, aesthetic) of the works of art for the public and vice versa would become free to reveal itself. The work of the carer is to make the works the significant other of the public and vice versa. Artists may not like to have themselves or their works taken care of, for, among other reasons, they have reasons to believe to be taken care of today means to be institutionalised. (Consider the prevalence of the institution of the hospital as the ‘proper’ carer!) To refuse it, on the other hand, is to trash benevolence. (There are serious problems in authority disguising itself as benevolent, but I will not digress here.) These forms of institutionalised care have been historically identified with the material and symbolic power of white male supremacy. The discourses of competing authorship, territorial disputes, frontier breaking, and compulsory rationalistic approaches of curating are all masculinist discourses. To contest these terms of defining curating is to return care of the emotional to it. This is not to subsume the work of care back to the line of ‘femininity’ in order to justify the unequal social division of labour between the male and female. My point is that if curating abides by caring, and this aspect of curating has not been part of the discourse because of its apparent “feminine” hence lesser character, it may benefit from being organised in imagination and practice in different ways. Institutionalisation organises art in certain ways, but organisation does not necessitate institutionalisation. Caring requires not only the unilateral contribution of the carer, but also that of those being taken care of, who must learn to enjoy slightly stepping back, and live with a certain suspension of autonomy. This suspension 15


To Curate is to Take Care of

is not submission to as the result of subjugation by an overpowering authority, for to regard the moment of caring as such is precisely to fix and strengthen that very authority. Rather, suspension of autonomy is an active surrendering10 to the Other. It is about having to say yes in the most genuine way before being able to say no11. To take care of implies the hand in a gesture of embrace. I have learnt from one curator in Hong Kong that one must avoid serving red wine in exhibition openings because it could cause permanent stains on artworks if spilled. I see this as an example of good practice of what Martin Heidegger terms as ‘the hand.’ According to Martin Heidegger, “(the hand) does not only grasp and catch, or push and pull. The hand reaches and extends, receives and welcomes—and not just things: the hand extends itself, and receives its own welcome in the hands of others. The hand holds. The hand carries.”12 After all, “to take care of” consists of legwork, and lots of it—running around inspecting the exhibition site, making sure the light bulbs are working, that the proof-reading is done, the signage is clear, and that the artists are not hungry. What is inscribed in the hand is precisely care, hence the common phrase ‘to be placed in good hands.’ To subsume care of the hand under the ideology of manipulation is to reduce the meaning of care into instrumental thinking. Caring also implies a particular way of attending as not applying a hierarchical and controlling eye, but, according to another curator, a comportment of “not being too close to artists.” I believe he doesn’t mean refusing friendship to maintain a kind of aloof disinterested objectivity—an impossible and unrealistic and undesirable goal. It could mean, though, in the context of that collaboration (in an 16


Yeung Yang

exhibition or other forms of public life of the art), a kind of opening is always maintained by the carer, to assert the possibility of the works of art beyond how the artists prefer them to be approached or beyond their being mere extensions of the artists’ lives. This special attending is consisted in the ability to disidentify and defamiliarise with the works, despite liking and appreciating them so much. Lastly, as if this is already not too much to ask for, the carer must regard herself as the primary conservationist of the artworks. To conserve is not to accumulate without discrimination. Instead, it is to be able to secure the art first, in order that the possibility of conservation driven by an empathy of the future is kept open. We have seen how little care has been applied to heritage conservation, that of the built environment and that open space it hews out. The same with the caring of art—not only are the works made objects of care and conservation, but also the possibilities they refer to, the open space they hew out. The carer doesn’t know all, but by being close to the works, he/she is in one of the best positions to safeguard the future possibilities of the works, to keep them open. Instead of the guardian of closed doors, he/she is the carer of the open path. To take care of what is dearly cherished, one gets, understandably, extremely and excessively nervous. To take care of, one must make sure this endearing does not suffocate that which is under its care. This is a relation that requires not the two sides looking into each others’ eyes, but towards the same direction. The carer therefore finds herself balancing between making oneself extremely small, even unnoticeable, but not so small as to lose one’s foothold, and making oneself very big, as big as with a stretch of arms, the expansive field of the 17


To Curate is to Take Care of

specific defensible position is still in reach, but not so big as to end up encountering only oneself. It is holistic care, not compartmentalised duties, that curating entails. Caring is not governed by the same kind of freedom as making art, hence will not acquire freedoms as power by claiming or demanding it from art. The reverse is also true. But by acknowledging their own frames of reference, they empower themselves by keeping open, for themselves, an honest space, which will, in the long run, allow each other to be honest, too. No one is anyone else’s victim. No one is anyone else’s object of nostalgia. I say without shame what I have outlined here is partly based on some dreamy ideal. I also propose without shame that without peregrinations in thinking, beginning again may not have been possible.

This paper was presented in the International Conference on Globalization: Cultures, Institutions and Socioeconomics, Chinese University of Hong Kong and University of Washington in St Louis, 2008. An abridged version of this essay was first published in the exhibition catalogue of Talkover/Handover (Hong Kong: 1a space, 2007). Notes

1 Douglas Harper, “Curate,” One Etymology Dictionary, accessed 8 Sep 2010, http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=curate.

2 By “performative,” I mean that which constitutes itself. What I could have elaborated here is the understanding of the “I” in the declarative moment gathered in the curatorial statement. This would warrant another paper. Of interest to this issue, however, is Jacques Derrida’s “Declaration of Independence” in Negotiations, Interventions and Interviews, 1971-2000 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002).

3 One may propose that the exhibition as more than the sum of the works of art included in the exhibition has a life of its own. My focus, however, is what precedes this relationship, how the exhibition is derived from works of art and dependent on them. 18


Yeung Yang

4 One could argue, as Arjun Appadurai does, that art as object has a social life, whereby art today is trash tomorrow and vice versa. See “The Thing Itself” in Public Culture, 18:1 (2006). My emphasis here is not the passage of art into other kinds of objects, but rather, the vested interests of precisely upholding the “objecthood” of art as art. 5

John Dewey, Art as Experience (New York: Penguin, 2005), 8.

6 Pierre Bourdieu, “Culture is in Danger,” Firing Back, Against the Tyranny of the Market 2 (New York: New Press, 2001), 67–70.

7 Benny Chia, “Restricted Exposure: The Book,” private content: public view, opinions on Hong Kong art and documents from the exhibition Restricted Exposure, compiled by Eric Otto Wear and Lisa Cheung (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Fringe Festival, 1997), 4.

8 Leung Po Shan wrote in the article “Hong Kong art yet to be radical” (original in Chinese,「未能激進的香港藝術(修訂中)」28 Jul 2007, accessed 8 Sep 2010, http://www.inmediahk.net/public/article?item_id=247037&group_ id=59), “the shrinking of public space… renders ‘private talks’ no longer subversive.” In response, she argues, one must not “hide in a small mansion in order to construct a monolith, because this is to voluntarily give up one’s arms.” (my translation, original in Chinese:「公共空間的收縮成為新語境(殺港 台、賣領匯、版權法),『私密說』不單失去原有的顛覆性,如果『躲進小樓 成一統』的心態變本加厲,將會等同於自動繳械。」) 9 While I agree partly with Chang Tsong-Zung’s observation that there is a tendency for some works in the exhibition Restricted Exposure (Fringe Festival 1997) to assert “private worlds,” I do not agree that this tendency could be generalised into such a thing as “Hong Kong art,” as if the questions of the meaning of “Hong Kong” are resolved, and as if art (or “Hong Kong art” in its particularity and “peculiarity”?) is merely a direct translation of the social reality of space artists experience. I also question on what grounds this tendency becomes “detrimental for communication,” and for whom. To further argue that the “private worlds” are materialised as “womb-like spaces” is to represent and determine Hong Kong art as essentially “feminine.” Considering the still prevalent inequalities in the distribution of gendered representations, Chang’s comments can be read as participating in the existing dominant discourses of producing and circulating the “feminine” as a dark abyss impossible to understand and articulate, but attracts attention precisely because of its apparent mystery. In all, the viability and validity of naming art in terms of a simple private/ public dichotomy warrant further discussion. See Chang’s “The Secret Artist. Is Hong Kong art the true underground?” in private content: public view, opinions on Hong Kong art and documents from the exhibition Restricted 19


To Curate is to Take Care of

Exposure, compiled by Eric Otto Wear and Lisa Cheung (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Fringe Festival, 1997).

10 Jeanette Winterson describes powerfully her experience of encountering true art. She says of her first encounter of falling in love with a painting as not about liking it or not, but as the experience of “the ecstasy of the privileged moment.” She says, “I really believe that human beings can be taught to love what they do not love already and that the privileged moment exists for all of us, if we let it. Letting art is the paradox of active surrender.” See Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery (London: Vintage, 1996), 6. I find the notion of active surrender most apt for describing the relation between the carer of art and art. I am indebted to Winterson’s insight. 11 Elizabeth Rottenberg writes, in the Introduction to Jacques Derrida’s Negotiations: “One will always have had to say ‘yes’ in order to say ‘no’,” which is primary to any negotiation. See Derrida (2002), 3.

12 Martin Heidegger, “The Hand,” The Body, Classic and Contemporary Readings, ed. Donn Welton (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), 112–114.

20


The Magician of Crosses Cao Weijun

The virtues of painting, therefore, are that its masters see their works admired and feel themselves to be almost like the Creator. —Leon Battista Alberti1

In many people’s eyes, Ding Yi is a simple person: In his name, there are simply three brushstrokes.2 In his works, he simply uses cross-shaped symbols; and in his artistic career, some say, he has simply never changed his style. ‘Simple,’ then, becomes something like a pronoun representing 21


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Ding Yi’s unique spirit of self-discipline. In his paintings, the cross-shaped symbol is the only visual element that he has allowed himself to use. Within the square inch of these symbols, he deposits his personal power on the canvas, stroke by stroke, layer upon layer. This power originates in his personal understanding and perception. The crossshaped symbol that densely covers his canvases has, after twenty years of intense experimentation, been roundly accepted by people as a symbol that epitomises Ding Yi. Yet it seems that the dimensionality of these simple, and even boring, cross-shaped symbols, as well as of the backgrounds that support them, is constantly evolving. And it seems that this constantly evolving dimensionality, coupled with the spiritual power that accumulates therein, expresses Ding Yi’s profound reflections on the era in which he lives. Since 1988, Ding Yi has repeated this simple labour in his studio every day, this labour that still remains extremely challenging to his body and mind. He has never disrupted or changed his personal artistic language. Ding Yi clings to this belief: Painting is a gate that opens onto the contradictions of the real world; yet truth is, in fact, impossible to attain. So the only thing that he can do, and the thing that he must do, is to experiment with a myriad of possible methods in order to seek a means of approaching truth.3 The crossshaped symbol, then, is the “fundamental doctrine” that he has chosen to employ in opening the gates to truth. The truth that Ding Yi’s heart seeks is a certain emotion that can only be attained through the complete liberation of the free will of the individual. Thus, for the past twenty years he has persisted in painting every possible variety of the crosshair, while dedicating his life to pursuing this emotion. 22


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Artistic Attitudes in the 1980s

When he was seven years old, Ding Yi, a naturally introspective person, began to develop an interest in art. In 1980, at the age of nineteen, he entered the Shanghai Arts and Crafts College. At that time, Chinese society was already being exposed to exhibitions of Western art, which allowed the public to gain some understanding of modern art of Europe and America. For example, it was at the exhibition American Paintings from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston that Ding Yi first saw works of American abstract art.4 Painting for the ’80s, an exhibition organised by the Shanghai “Grass Grass” group at the Luwan District Cultural Hall in February 1980, made apparent the desires of Shanghai society for new artistic styles.5 Joan Cohen has written that “this exhibition was remarkably strong; (as) it included both Cubist and Expressionist experimental works, based on styles the artists had seen in books… (the exhibition) showed the germ of a new Chinese style.”6 Around that era, Ding Yi once reminisced, “At the beginning of the 1980s, I was studying at the Shanghai Arts and Crafts College. My classes were beginning to include a few imported elements of Western modern design. Naturally, some ideas of modern art also filtered in. This had an impact on me.”7 At that time, art groups were spontaneously forming throughout China. The members of these groups were filled with illusions about the West—about Western ideologies, Western lifestyles, and Western artistic concepts. Wu Hung has noted that “the exhibitions of the Star group in 1979 and 1980 marked the beginning of post-Cultural Revolution experimental art by defining an unofficial position in the Chinese art world.”8 From that moment, the influence of Western 23


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art, in conjunction with the influx of new ideologies and transnational capital, began to inundate Chinese society like the waters of a tidal wave. What Ding Yi felt was not merely excitement; in fact, to an even greater degree, he experienced perplexity, a perplexity derived from the conflict between the burdens of tradition and the self-expressive style of the West. He desired to possess a personal language that would allow him to express his spirit’s deep affection for art. Over the course of both the history of modern China and the urbanisation of the country, Shanghai has always assumed the role of pacesetter in the reception of Western culture. At the end of the 1970s, under the influence of the political and economic policies of opening to the West, Shanghai regained its past splendour. In reviewing the easy development of Shanghai over the course of history, we find that it became, during its time as a semi-colonial city, the most ‘international’ metropolis in Asia. The modernist qualities that it then began to accrue were never completely buried; they were merely waiting to be developed. The consciousness fostered by this city’s civil society—which is tender and self-controlled, which excels at assimilating foreign cultures, and which is a product of colonial culture— has given rise to a cultural environment of independence and plurality among the city’s intellectuals and artists.9 In truth, in Ding Yi’s works, which manifest the artist’s different emotions regarding urban culture, the rapid transformations of the outer world come together with the artist’s own inner experience of these transformations, creating a precise, comprehensive response to these phenomena. From the time when, as a youth, he was influenced by the cityscapes in the works of Maurice Utrillo, Ding Yi has constantly been studying Shanghai’s peculiarities 24


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both present and past. This research foreshadowed his later works that take the city as their subject. The Early Melodies of  ‘Crosses’

Besides those painter-peers who often discuss their artistic viewpoints with him, there are two people who have had a particularly important effect on Ding Yi’s artistic practice. They are Yu Youhan and Hans van Dijk.10 In 1981, when Ding Yi was studying at the Shanghai Arts and Crafts College, he met Prof. Yu Youhan. It was in borrowing a painting catalogue from Prof. Yu that Ding Yi first learned about the art of Utrillo. He immediately became fascinated with this French painter. Yu Youhan was, without a doubt, a torchbearer on the path of the development of Ding Yi’s early art. For several years, Ding Yi was profoundly attracted to the depth and desolation of Utrillo’s works; for through Utrillo’s brushwork, common Parisian street scenes were given profound interpretations. If Ding Yi’s study of the paintings of Utrillo allowed him to gain a deeper understanding of painting and urbanism, then it was Yu Youhan’s interpretation of the works of Paul Cézanne that opened the door to modern art in Ding Yi’s mind. Ding Yi has noted that Yu Youhan “taught us to figure out what Cézanne was. At that time, to be able to understand Cézanne was a watershed. It was extremely important.” The artistic style that mixed Chinese and Western influences—a style developed by Chinese artists of the previous generation, such as Zao Wou-ki, Guan Liang, Wu Dayu, and others who travelled to France—strongly impacted Ding Yi. Heroism, an important early abstract work that he created in 1983 and that was infected with the rebellious spirit of Latin 25


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American revolutionary films, constituted an attempt to create a stirring atmosphere of fearlessness and valour. In this work, however, the painterly elements taken from Utrillo and Cézanne were already beginning to vanish. Coming to know the masters of Western art was far from a simple process. It was only through much concrete practice that Ding Yi came to experience the deep meaning of Cézanne’s paintings and of his philosophy of art. Studying and researching the art of Utrillo and Cézanne was something that many Chinese artists did when pursuing a manner of creation that would combine materials and philosophies both Chinese and Western. Ding Yi, who has always maintained a certain distance from the mainstream, began to notice that the form of mainstream works being produced at that time (1980–1985) and the questions about which he himself most cared were becoming uncomfortably close.11 Always independent, Ding Yi began to grow weary of following the well-trodden paths of others, be they the paths of Chinese tradition or of the West. He decided to rid himself of these burdens, resolving instead to use the simplest means of thinking and expression to communicate his inner perceptions. During the early 1980s, Ding Yi struggled intensely with his confusion about his philosophy and practice of art. This was a moment when everything from his inner reflections to his artworks was filled with experimentation. To speak precisely, while his first Appearance of Crosses painting was not exhibited until the Shanghai Art Museum’s Exhibition of Today’s Art in 1988, the crosshair symbol had, at its earliest, already been revealed in his 1985 work, Taboo, a hint of things to come.13 This was quite an important year in Ding Yi’s artistic career, for he completely abandoned 26


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his adherence to Utrillo and Cézanne, having experienced a certain despair regarding the illusion of creating a combined style of Chinese and Western art. In the fall of the following year, Ding Yi began preparing sketches for his Appearance of Crosses series. As Ding Yi was studying traditional painting, he completed his discovery of the crossshaped symbol, clarifying too, his personal creative path. Equivocation about Painterliness

The developmental path of Chinese contemporary art after 1979 is inseparable from the transformations that have taken place in Chinese society and politics. The principal goals pursued at that moment were demands for social change and for freedom of speech. Meanwhile, in Chinese new art, the insanity of the ‘Cultural Revolution’ was quickly transformed into another sort of feverish emotion. During the post-1979 period, artists uncritically accepted foreign culture; more precisely, they began to accept blindly Western modern art theory and practice as their ultimate point of reference. In an interview after the Stars Exhibition, Wang Keping summarised, “Kathe Kollwitz [1867–1945] is our bannercarrier; Picasso is our herald.”14 The first critical turn in the history of Chinese avant-garde art after the economic reforms of the 1970s was the China/Avant-garde exhibition held in early 1989. “Almost all major styles of Western modern art invented over the past century could be found in this exhibition.”15 Ding Yi’s works, too, were included there. The two paintings that he displayed were seemingly the calmest works in the whole exhibition. Although it was this sort of dynamics that Ding Yi faced, he was always able to maintain a distance from the centre of art movements and trends. 27


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His adherence to using the cross-shaped symbol developed in the mid-1980s, when he discovered the coordinate crosshair used in the process of confirming chromatic accuracy. Ding Yi chose to use the crosshair as the most basic and sole element on his canvases. Certainly, the fact that the crosshair is pure, allowing almost no space for associative interpretation, was a major reason for his choice of this motif. Beyond this, however, his motivic choice was also derived from his study of design, which caused him to take a greater interest in the study and interpretation of the structure of things. Ding Yi opposed the Symbolist and Expressionist art forms that were popular at the time because he did not approve of the emotion that permeated these two styles of art. He hoped that his own works would, both in their conceptual and visual aspects, exhibit a greater sense of rationality. Caught between Chinese traditional art and the myriad styles of art ‘imported’ from the West, Ding Yi experimented extensively with everything from pencil on paper to ink painting to performance art. Yet having done this, he decided that he would “simply [seek to] return painting to the essential quality of form, of form as spirit.”16  

The Origin of Appearance of Crosses

Ding Yi has recalled, “at that time, I was pondering two questions. One was the question of breaking through the Expressionist style that was popular then; the other was the question of transforming inner energy.” He continued, “The possibility of breaking through was to make art in a manner that was not art-like, to sift away all skill, all narrativity, all painterliness. That most familiar printer’s mark, the crosshair, then became my symbol. People often 28


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ask me what its meaning is. Actually, in my paintings, it has no meaning.”17 In Monica Dematté’s opinion, the use of the crosshair constitutes a sort of accident that was made theoretical by Ding Yi. He has transformed the simplicity and practicality of the cross design into a colourful and visually rich material.18 He has gotten rid of the complication and burden of cultural meanings and forms, and he has begun anew from that which is simplest and meaningless. Ding Yi has said, “When I began to paint Appearance of Crosses, I chuckled to myself, for no one understood my paintings. They thought this was mere fabric design. But this was exactly what I wanted. Hans [van Dijk] understood my work. He saw that exhibition [in 1988], and in 1989, he explicitly came to my studio and extensively discussed with me the structure and spirituality of my works. This had a great impact on my later development.”19 In an interview, Li Xiaofeng once asked, “Over the course of Chinese avantgarde art, it almost seems that there has been a certain taboo—namely, [a taboo against] the craft-like nature of works… Is this accidental? Or is this a result of deep consideration?” Ding Yi replied, “Only art that isn’t artlike is art. I am convinced that breakthrough requires that I make use of other elements.”20 Ding Yi is a person who succeeded in breaking through in the 1980s by concentrating on studying and copying Western modern art forms. Appearance of Crosses: The Period of Technical Precision

A starting point not adopted by his peers is something that brings joy to Ding Yi. Non-painterly painted works were something inconceivable for almost everyone at the time. But in Ding Yi’s mind, painterliness was something that had already 29


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been eradicated. From conception to execution, he held nearly impossible demands for the simplicity and precision of his works. In his manifesto-like first work Appearance of Crosses I, the picture plane was divided into three strips—red, yellow, and blue, respectively. The cross-like design element that he had appropriated from the printing industry filled the canvas with its black form. In order to ensure the greatest precision in his lines and colours, he made use of a ruler, tape, and drafting pen. The process of completing each of his works during this period was like the working process of a graphic designer. Ding Yi forcefully controlled the pictorial effect of the painted canvas, making his paintings as precise as if they were to be printed, clearing away any possible stray traces left on the canvas. The dimensions of most of his works were rather large. Given the demands of such a precise manner of creating, the burden of such intense work is hard to imagine. After more than four years of experimentation during this early period, the language of rational art that Ding Yi emphasised, a language that took as its foundation an oppositional stance toward Symbolism and Expressionism, found full embodiment on the canvas. In an unprecedented manner, his art thus approached what he understood as the spirit of the times. However, the question of whether or not the precision of his technical execution would be able to aid in giving greatest expression to spiritualism quickly confronted him. On the one hand, excessively careful execution almost inhibited the production of the aleatory—yet the aleatory was precisely that which Ding Yi unconsciously sought to see in his canvases. On the other hand, the greater freedom that “precision within freedom” brought to the expression of spirituality also attracted Ding Yi. Hence, he decided to abandon extreme technical precision 30


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in his canvases, bidding farewell to the harsh, cold colours and the rigid lines that he had been employing, throwing out the tapes and rulers and other tools, and deciding instead to use only his hands to create his paintings. Appearance of Crosses: The Period of Hand Creation

The emergence of brushwork in Ding Yi’s works is the most important characteristic that differentiates this second phase from the ‘period of precision.’ Ding Yi has said that “the paintings from the precision period look more solemn, as though one were using diplomatic language to speak. The phase of hand creation is more like a colloquialised period.” It is not difficult to imagine the hands of the Ding Yi of the precision period grasping paintbrush and ruler; now, during this second phase, this body which had once worked eight hours or more per day could be more relaxed, more natural. Appearance of Crosses 91-4 was the first work of the period of hand creation. On the canvas, there obviously appeared a great force of attraction. All straight lines were shattered. Nevertheless, the absolute verticals and horizontals of the past works still existed; now, however, these lines formed a structure that was periodically revealed and periodically hidden. In the sketch Appearance of Crosses 89-B of 1989, the diagonal lines angled at 45 degrees were obviously preserved behind the crosshairs. This not only greatly increased the richness of the colour and the sense of the space of the painted surface, but also it differentiated the work’s visual effect from the more silent, stable effect of earlier works. The insertion of such diagonal lines caused the layered space of the painting to become richer; the tonality of the work also becoming relatively softer. The implicit, but more profound, power of 31


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the painted surface of the works of this period may be seen as their principal characteristic. In Appearance of Crosses 92-4 and Appearance of Crosses 92-15, one can clearly see that in these surfaces underpainted with red, blue, and grey, Ding Yi has created greater meaning in the relationship between the hues of the colours and their complements. Moreover, he has simultaneously diversified and unified the relationship between the lines and colours of the paintings. The “colloquialised” style of this period of hand creation brought unprecedented relaxation to Ding Yi’s heart and limbs. This was the result of two factors. One was that the means of painterly execution employed during the “precision period” had saturated his body with challenges to his well-being; this unhealthy state inevitably gave Ding Yi misgivings. The second factor was his new philosophical understanding of “spiritual quality” in painting—namely, the notion of using direct brushstrokes to enunciate clearly, letter by letter and phrase by phrase, the problems that he was facing.21 Above all, it was mentioned that with regard to technical execution and to the expression of emotions, strict and precise control was his preferred painterly means during his beginning period. But after entering the period of “hand creation,” calmly painting over every crosshair became Ding Yi’s most obvious pleasure in creating his works. His formerly clear, straight lines began to warp slightly, and at times they even became very vague. By the second half of 1992, it was already difficult to make out the crosshair shapes on his canvases. We might, moreover, consider the differences in the colours that he employed. If we were to say, for example, that the two Appearance of Crosses works that he produced at the beginning of 1988 were produced under the premise of his idea of “automatic colour selection,” then the works of his hand-creation period might be said to 32


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have attained an extreme degree of freedom in their usage of colour. Ding Yi, who has always been a strict self-disciplinarian, gradually began to feel anxious about the feelings of relaxation and of life displayed in these hand-created works. He once considered returning to using a ruler when painting, but this sort of notion merely constituted a means of giving himself more restrictions, for he feared to “paint sloppily.”24 This almost threatened to be a self-imposed crisis for himself. Ding Yi’s true period of “colloquialisation” was one based on experimentation with a variety of materials as a means of seeking new possibilities for creation. This period might also be called the “phase of material sampling.” It was the result of Ding Yi’s enriching his concept of “precision in freedom.” At the same time that he was sampling new materials, he did not forget the problems manifested in his recent works. What he first sought to correct were the frivolous colours employed on his canvases. In a letter to Bo Xiaobo, he wrote, “Now, I feel that I can no longer float along in this habit of using light blue, light green, and fire-red.” He continued to remark that “after fire-red, I paused while painting the canvas and created two small sketches on paper, which had the feeling of free line drawings, as the picture surfaces were relatively pure.”25 At first, he arbitrarily used a crayon to draw directly on the surface of the painting, sensing, with surprise, a sort of spirit of the “vestigial.” Ding Yi decided to continue to experiment with this. Appearance of Crosses: The Period of Material Experimentation

The “purity” mentioned above was no longer the sleekness and hardness of the Industrial Era, which was reflected in the works of Ding Yi’s manifesto period. Having made 33


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use of the crosshair in Appearance of Crosses for nearly six years, Ding Yi’s desire to experiment with materials began to become even stronger. The introduction of charcoal, corrugated paper, and chalk no different from that used in schools established a new point of departure for Ding Yi. The use of a variety of materials brought different pictorial effects. In truth, this sort of appreciation for materials had already made a deep impression on Ding Yi’s sketches on paper of the previous several years. It was precisely the leisureliness and openness of the sketch period, which sometimes resulted in a sort of rough pictorial effect, which allowed Ding Yi to enter the frame of mind unique to the practice of writing characters. He decided to transfer this inspiration directly to the canvas and to transform his large panels into spaces for the process of “direct writing.” At the same time, Ding Yi hoped to make use of the greater randomness that the materials gave to his canvases as a means of engaging in a sort of dance with his inner spirit. His series of material experiments began with the use of canvas untreated with the mixture of glue and water with which he usually treated his canvases. It was in 1993 that Ding Yi began to desire to use all his power to transform every link in the creative process. First, he randomly dripped paint onto the surface of stretched canvas; but the dry, coarse texture of the canvas caused the moving brush to become dry and rough, inhibiting its smooth, easy motion. He suddenly recalled the feeling of writing on blackboards with chalk. Without hesitation, he picked up the powder that he used to drive cockroaches from his study and began to draw. He quickly discovered that charcoal and chalk, when used together to draw on untreated linen, looked extremely natural, complementary, even having a bit of a 34


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primeval feel. Having abandoned oil and water, as well as the attempt to harmonise pigments, he let go of the glossy appearance of his paintings; what replaced it were the diffuse, powdery margins around every brushstroke. On the surface of the coarse linen there emerged an atmosphere of uncontrollable blurriness, creating a painting that appeared more random and lively. New materials and techniques caused the paintings of that period to resemble, to a certain extent, ‘silk manuscripts’ or antique textiles; they seemed especially to have the air of excavated objects. In order to emphasise this pictorial effect, he even left the four sides of the canvas blank, while still allowing the chalk to make marks outside of the principal area. This resulted in an effect like that of uncut paper around the four edges of the canvas. The whole work thus appeared very much like an ancient textile just excavated from a tomb. For Ding Yi, this was not only a process of coming to know new materials but also of becoming reacquainted with traditional art forms. During his “hand-creation phase,” Ding Yi used dozens of different supports for painting. These included linen, finished canvas, cardboard, watercolour paper, and corrugated paper; he even painted on the surface of furniture. The media he used included pencil, marker, chalk, watercolour pen, ball-point pen, charcoal, oil paint, acrylic paint, and other pigments that he could buy in the market. With all of these he conducted experiments. After coming to recognise the light feeling that characterised the works from the later part of his hand-creation phase, he attempted a return to greyscale. Ding Yi’s appreciation of this experiment aroused a desire to reconstruct traditional painting. The display forms of traditional painting are many: Besides the single hanging scrolls, album leaves, 35


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and other forms with which many people are familiar, sets of scrolls, fans, and screens are also formats that allow viewers to appreciate the traditional painted arts. With regard to their function in real life, fans and screens may be seen to be a bit like articles for daily use. Meanwhile, the calligraphy and painting that they bear on their surfaces often have a certain narrativity and readability. In Appearance of Crosses 97-B21/B-24, which adopts the classical Chinese format of a set of four hanging scrolls, Ding Yi “premeditated” the creation of a panoramic view of the “vestiges” of Chinese traditional attitudes. This 1997 work was based on the complex appreciation of tradition that he had developed since his time studying Chinese traditional painting in college in 1986. Importantly, this appreciation involved everything from the grand historical tradition of Chinese painting to the use of painstaking techniques such as the creation of “atmospheric rhythm” and the employment of the “five shades” of ink. But in these four scrolls, which compose a complete entity that is 260 centimetres tall by 320 centimetres wide, this appreciation was completely “pulverised,” made “vestigial.” On all four sides, the smoky grey corrugated paper still revealed its original colour, creating a frame-like effect. Scorched by Ding Yi’s ardour and charred by the charcoal and chalk he wielded, motifs and genres were carbonised—motifs such as The Four Gentlemen, namely, the plum, orchid, bamboo, and chrysanthemum which often appear in traditional sets of scrolls; and genres such as landscape painting and depictions of birds and flowers. Even the genre of human-figure painting, with its portrayals of Zhong Kui, beautiful women, and others, was not spared. Ding Yi has written that “the integrality of traditional culture is currently being challenged 36


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by the essence of contemporary society.… The deepest significance of this culture is being deconstructed, rendering it unreal in real life. It has already been transformed into a sort of spiritual memory or a material trace.… To care about the vestiges of concepts supported by non-mainstream, traditional culture is to adopt an archaeological position as a means of cutting into the traces left behind by history… to reconsider their inexpressible material meaning.”26

Checked Cloth—The Introduction of Readymades

What Ding Yi has called the “harsh” joy of “directly writing” on canvas and paper underwent new changes in 1997. He replaced linen with finished fabric. For him, the introduction of Scottish tartan was not merely a change in material; even more so it constituted a new point of conceptual origin. The use of Scottish tartan reflects the cultural pertinence of his thought, as well as the new direction of developments within his conception of this idea. In particular, the use of a “finished” fabric brought about changes to this concept, remoulding it as a means of pursuing an investigation of corresponding relationships between cultures. Scottish tartan has been upheld as the true banner of Scotland, the various patterns of tartan having once been used as symbols to differentiate clans. In China, however, tartan is simply a textile produced in factories; it carries no culturally symbolic meaning. At first, Ding Yi simply intended to use the colour and patterning of the fabric as a ground, for the fabric’s structure and his own cross-shaped symbol possess a certain formal affinity. Yet after his work was completed, the original appearance of the fabric, all of which had been covered in pigment, was almost impossible to discern. But 37


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because of variations in the density of the crosses on the canvas and in the thickness of the layering of paint, one could still vaguely make out the plaid’s original pattern, almost as though it were the background of the painting. “The colour and patterning of the fabric itself became a sort of restriction on Ding Yi’s creation, yet this sort of restriction has also provided him with a new direction.”27 The concept of using finished, gridded fabric represents an important moment in the process of the transformation of Ding Yi’s art. According to Ding Yi’s understanding, the gridded fabric functions not merely as a piece of canvas. What is more important are the cultural positions that the fabric symbolises, as well as the struggles that occur within the new contexts intimately related to these cultural positions. Ding Yi believes that the realities created through cultural fantasies and misunderstandings occupy positions of principal importance within history. For example, the course of the establishment and development of Chinese contemporary art is a process of misinterpreting Western modern art, that art form which serves as the primary point of reference for Chinese contemporary artists.28 The superposition and melding of cultures has become an essential point explored in the works that Ding Yi created during this period. Ding Yi’s considerations of tradition and contemporaneity are undoubtedly accurate; and in his canvases, he grasps both in a focused, lively manner. Although the crosshair is the only expressive element that he has permitted himself, through the precise and nuanced exploration of the potentialities of everything from materials to forms, he has given fullest expression on his canvases to the questions about which he is concerned. Only like this can he give visual form to his artistic thinking and to the strength of the spiritual meaning 38


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of his works. Indeed, the pursuit of spirituality was precisely Ding Yi’s original intention in beginning the Appearance of Crosses series. Moreover, Ding Yi’s evaluation of the “vestiges” of Chinese traditional art during his early period of material experimentation have made us appreciate the wisdom that he has left in the margins of his works. In his later large-scale works, which address themes of urbanism, he has continued to use this method. Because of Ding Yi’s skillfully conceived margins, the background provided by the tartan allows a resplendence to shine forth without anything being concealed. The primary element of these works—namely, a true vision of Chinese social life, made abstract by the artist—is placed atop this foundation. Is this the intercultural “hybridity” that Homi Bhabha often mentions in his cultural critiques?29 Or should we use Samuel Huntingon’s concept of “band-wagoning” to interpret these profound hints accumulated atop Ding Yi’s canvases?30 This is the reality that has been made visual by Ding Yi. One might say that during the first ten years of his career, Ding Yi made use of Appearance of Crosses in his attempt to find an interpretation for certain questions that have long been accumulating in his heart—that is, he combed through topics ranging from the Industrial Revolution in the West, to the interpretation of modern art history, to experimentation with materials for painting, and he also engaged in a transformation of the crosshair and an investigation of material. During the past ten years, then, Appearance of Crosses has participated in a discussion of contemporary questions—questions of cultural politics, survival conditions, and urbanisation, among other things. It is especially the upheaval that has transformed Shanghai which has caused Ding Yi to reconsider his fascination 39


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with the works of Utrillo in the early 1980s and to examine his infatuation with the cityscape of Shanghai. But the contrast between the contemporary moment and the past is difficult to articulate. In another respect, it is precisely the great space opened up by this contrast that can give Ding Yi space in which to wander, to savour repeatedly the history of Shanghai, as well as his personal memories and feelings of his life in this city. In a certain regard, Ding Yi’s crosshair and the city of Shanghai are alike: As concepts, they have never changed, yet they are now completely different from what they were in the past. The Smog of the City—The New Subject in the Background of Appearance of Crosses

To evaluate and to represent the cultural configurations forming around oneself is not an easy task. Yet Ding Yi has noted that “to adopt a neutral viewpoint and record the traces left behind by this historical period during which the city in which I live has been developing at an extreme speed—this is exactly what I am supposed to do as an artist.”31 During the 1980s, Ding Yi engaged in a theoretical investigation of the process of perceiving the artistic forms and ideologies of Western and Chinese traditional art. In a certain sense, however, he had a feeling of observing all of this with indifference. So beginning in the mid-1990s, Ding Yi observed and experienced his body’s every pore and his life’s every facet being influenced and stimulated by the upheaval in this city. This current trend of societal development, which takes as its referent the course of urbanisation and industrialisation in Western modern history, is infinitely more convulsive than the path of Western art history. In 40


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all respects, the experience and memory of the 1980s is something that cannot be compared to Ding Yi’s sense of this contemporary phenomenon. With full vigour, Ding Yi is now pouring his perceptions and his understanding onto his canvases. Yet he is still using the crosshair symbols to interpret the strength of the Chinese spirit in this age of flux. Ding Yi’s post-1997 works might be interpreted as indicative of his going beyond his inner spirit, of his beginning to observe the phenomena of the world around him with determination and earnestness. He has carefully surveyed every tiny spot within this city that he so loves. Ding Yi recently recalled, “I have lived in Shanghai for more than forty years, and every day I have looked at her appearance. Beginning in the mid-1990s, you could clearly feel that this city was changing and expanding at an alarming speed.… Thanks to this ‘urbanisation movement,’ nothing is left of the [city’s] Utrillo-like, gloomy, elegant grace.” Instead, he continued, “what this metropolis now gives us are neon lights, streams of cars, crowds of buildings, display screens for stock reports, and billboards everywhere.”32 Certainly, in the life of today’s metropolitan China, the relationships among people, as well as between people and society, are changing. So how can artists in this historical period express the particular quality of this sort of atmosphere, of this sort of flux? It was more or less at the turn of the millennium that Ding Yi’s works began to brighten. While still painted on checked cloth, glaring fluorescent and metallic colours appeared in his paintings. The psychedelic visual effect of the excess, the wantonness, the chaos, the disorder, the stimulation, and the trends of urban life entered his paintings. The colours and compositions of his recent works are all very different from his earlier paintings. Until this 41


The Magician of Crosses

moment, there existed in his canvases a precise, stable structure, which he had developed over more than ten years. Yet this structure has begun to fall apart. What has replaced it are asymmetrical designs in which there exist “paintings within paintings”; or serrated forms of brilliant, commingled colours, coupled with irregular, curvilinear images. The carefully defined, rectangular outline of the canvas impeded Ding Yi’s releasing the power of the city from within his heart. Thus, as a means of displaying the strength and brilliance radiated by the core of the city, he combined six canvases of different sizes. Because of the changes in the colours and compositions, the paintings have become richer, filled with dynamism. Irregular principal forms have appeared in these paintings in which there are so many more layers of crosses. Shanghai is no longer a calm, drizzly city. Ding Yi’s works have begun to reflect and to interact increasingly with the environment, people, and things that surround him. In his recent works, he hopes to echo the noise and excitement of the city. But behind the crosses, one can still sense the chaos and emptiness of cultural rootlessness. Such is Ding Yi’s interpretation of the primary stage of this urban phenomenon. Like a magician, Ding Yi continues to build his world of crosses today. Independently, he strides along the path towards truth. This essay was first published in 2007 by ShanghART Gallery, http://www. shanghartgallery.com/galleryarchive/texts/id/893. Notes

1 Leon B. Alberti, On Painting, trans. Cecil Greyson (London: Penguin Books, 1991), 61. 42


Cao Weijun

2 Ding Yi「丁乙」was originally named Ding Rong「丁荣」. He has called himself Ding Yi since 1985. This could be a reflection of his obsession with simple forms in art, which began during the mid-1980s.

3 Hou Hanru, “An Excessive Minimalist,” Ding Yi: The Appearance of Crosses, catalogue for Ding Yi’s solo exhibition at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (Manchester: Cornerhouse, 2005), 21.

4 In October 1981, the Shanghai Museum exhibited works from the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Here, Ding Yi saw for the first time, original works by American abstract expressionists Jackson Pollock and Hans Hoffmann.

5 In the fall of 1979, Qiu Deshu initiated and organised the “Grass Grass” group in Shanghai. In February 1980, he opened an exhibition, Painting for the ’80s at the Luwan District Cultural Hall in Shanghai. The exhibition included the works of Qiu Deshu, Chen Juyuan, Yuan Songmin, and 8 other artists, all of whom painted in styles strongly influenced by Cubism and Expressionism.

6 Joan Lebold Cohen, The New Chinese Painting 1949–1986 (New York: Abrams, 1987), 67.

7 Li Xiaofeng, “Undercurrent of Calm Water: Interview with Ding Yi,” Xiandai Yishu [Modern Art], No. 4 (2001): 22. 8 Wu Hung, Chinese Experimental Art at the End of the Twentieth Century (Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago, 1999), 17. 9 Hou Hanru, 17.

10 Hans van Dijk, known in Chinese as Dai Hanzhi, was born in Deventer, Holland, in 1946. In order to conduct research on Chinese contemporary art, he began taking Chinese language classes at Nanjing University in 1986. He collected, organised, and founded the largest archive of materials about Chinese contemporary artists at the time. In 1993, he opened the New Amsterdam Art Consultancy in Beijing. That same year, Andreas Schmid and himself organised the China Avantgarde exhibition at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin. This was the first exhibition of Chinese contemporary art of such a large scale to be held in the West. In 1998, he co-founded the China Art Archives and Warehouse with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, and Belgian collector Frank Uytterhaegen. Hans van Dijk died on April 29, 2002, at the Peking Union Medical College Hospital. 11 Zhao Chuan, “Yu Youhan he ta de xueshengmen [Yu Youhan and His Students],” Shanghai chouxiang gushi [The Story of Shanghai Abstraction], (Shanghai: Shanghai renmin meishu chubanshe, 2006), 49. 43


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12 The Chinese art world of the 1980s was more or less divided into two camps: One was that of the mainstream style, which received official government support and which included both traditional Chinese painting and the Socialist Realism that originated in the Soviet Union; the other was a type that took Western modern art styles (everything from Post-Impression to Abstract Expressionism, for example) as its inspiration, which received almost no official support. It was under these circumstances that pushed individuals to greater expression and a desire for freedom. 13 This exhibition, which was organised by the Shanghai Art Museum in May 1988, included 9 abstract painters. They were Yin Qi and Meng Luding of Beijing; Yu Youhan, Ding Yi, Pei Jing, and Xu Hong of Shanghai; and Liu Anping, Tang Song, and Yan Lei of Hangzhou. 14 Li Xianting, Zhongyao de bu shi yishu [What Is Important Is Not Art], (Nanjing: Jiangsu Meishu Chubanshe, 2000), 198. 15 Wu Hung, 14-15.

16 Ding Yi, Jiedu chouxiang [Decoding Abstraction] (Shanghai: Shanghai shuhua chubanshe, 2007), 25.

17 Introduction by Hans van Dijk, interview with Ding Yi, 15 Dec 1997, Beijing International Art Palace. 18 Monica Dematté, “Appearance of Crosses: The Process of Making Chance Theoretical,” Ding Yi (Shanghai: ShanghART and New Amsterdam Art Consultancy, 1997), 2. This catalogue accompanied two exhibitions: Ding Yi: Crosses, ’97 at the Shanghai Art Museum in 1997, and Ding Yi: Crosses, ’89–’ 98 at the International Art Palace, Beijing, in 1998.

19 Interview between Cao Weijun and Ding Yi, Oct 2007, Ding Yi’s studio at 50 Moganshan Road.

20 Li Xiaofeng, “Undercurrent of Calm Water: Interview with Ding Yi,” Xiandai yishu [Modern Art], No. 4 (2001): 22. 21 Interview between Cao Weijun and Ding Yi, Oct 2007. 22 Interview between Cao Weijun and Ding Yi, Oct 2007.

23 This word appeared in a letter that Ding Yi sent to Bo Xiaobo, published in “Zai chouxiangzhong yintui de ren [A Person Who Retires into Abstraction],” Shanghai chouxiang gushi [The Story of Shanghai Abstraction], (Shanghai: Shanghai renmin meishu chubanshe, 2006), 72. 44


24 Bo, 72.

Cao Weijun

25 Notes in Ding Yi (2007).

26 Qian Naijing, “Ding Yi: ‘Shi shi’ de duanzhang [Ding Yi: Short essay on the ‘Appearance of Crosses’],” Dangdai yishujia congshu [Contemporary Artists Series], ed. Lü Peng (Chengdu: Sichuan meishu chubanshe, 2007), 16. 27 Wu Hung, 15.

28 Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), 219.

29 Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Touchstone Book, 1996), 236. 30 Ding Yi (2007).

31 Interview between Cao Weijun and Ding Yi, Oct 2007.

45


Uncured Lunatics: Sounds are still bleeding Cédric Maridet

As commonly read, the history of curating is brief1. However the topic does make quite some noise, as evident by numerous publications and forums worldwide. Regular questions relate to the definition and role of curator, not only regarding the nature of their work but also its context as revealed by the dichotomy of institutional versus independent curators. Questions such as, “What is a curator,”2 or “Curating what?”3 are the usual conundrums. Facing the impossibility to assert any definite statements apart from saying that they are exhibition-maker as Harald Szeemann 46


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would call himself, numerous analogies serve to enumerate different functions with more or less precision4. Etymology gives a view on the two main usages of the term. It dates back from the mid-14th century and curator in Latin refers to an overseer, a manager or a guardian. The history here is linked to the stories of minors and even of lunatics. From the 1660, it referred to an officer in charge of museum, library, etc. I write here as one of these lunatics with an artistic practice that revolves around the act of listening, which can resonate for both sonorous and silent works. A seemingly regain of interest in the past few years about works which purely deal with sound or incorporate sound as an important element might cope with the usual unbalanced sensory engagement with the world through expression such as the primacy of the sight. Philosopher Casey O’Callaghan refers to “the tyranny of the visual” and of the term “visuocentrism,” a common tradition where vision is the common paradigm for perception.5 The question remains open or unsolved about how sound inhabits these exhibition spaces that are commonly at the disposition of artists, and how sound works can be presented in the context of galleries—a relevant question for both art practitioners and art specialists such as the curators. I will take here a particular point of view of exhibiting sound art in order to draw attention to what I believe to be important for the curator, artist and audience. The fixation of sound on a medium is a crucial new element as it changed the form of engagement of humans with sounds. Adorno5 emphasises that the same historical process of men is at work behind new technologies and new aesthetics. Filteau recalls the changes brought by technologies of recording as studied by Katz6 as they 47


Uncured Lunatics: Sounds are still bleeding

“have affected our relation in the matter of tangibility, temporality, portability, invisibility, receptivity, repetition and manipulation of music.�7 Particular elements of sound mentioned might be more crucial here such as its invisibility, in cases where sound is used as the sole medium and does not support a bi-modal perception like in audio-visual work for instance, where sounds are usually referred to as events. Most importantly, the separation of the sound and its source brings a new situation, referred to as an acousmatic situation, in which source and sound are separated. In this new acousmatic situation, new listening intentions can be discovered through a first-person enquiry of the listening act to define the heterogeneity of listening intentions as I have studied elsewhere8. The experience of sound could be then framed along several axes: the recognition or not of the source, contextualisation or decontextualisation of sound, the axis of found sound versus processed sounds, and the degree of fiction. Each of these axes, can be treated in various ways, relayed and enhanced by clear choices on compositional and listening strategies to adopt. The degree of attention required to fully appreciate and deeply engage with a work of sound is certainly demanding and may come as an obstacle. Listening is also a very intimate act, which can call upon many haunting moments. David Toop9 also recalls a peculiar relation one can have with sound as he characterised sound as uncanny, based on Freud’s text10. Sound can be familiar yet frightening. Being a child I remember laying down in bed in a particular position where my heart beatings would resonate through the mattress as my ear was pressed against the pillow. Always an oppressive, yet wanted feeling resulted from such an experience, even 48


Cédric Maridet

knowing the source of the sound. My mind was imagining steps of unknown persons. A return of the unconscious lunatics. This example shows how particular sounds and situations can trigger the most evocative and reminiscent response, when all the listening conditions are present. How about the listening conditions in a gallery context? How one experiences sound in a gallery? One of the common characteristic of sound that work against a successful exhibition is the fact that sound bleeds; it cannot be framed and displayed here or there, consumed through a glance before the next eye candy. However, it propagates and fills the space, exposing itself to the attentive ears as it unfolds. How many times has one entered a gallery to hear the sound of a video over there, then another sound from a different work just there, ending up in some sort of cacophony. In addition, while the gallery is the usual white cube, or video black box, to make sure that the work is set off, it is extremely rare that the acoustic properties of the space is taken into account and designed. Most of the time, there is obviously a lack of proper equipment. Consequently, it is common that soundworks end up presented with headphones to avoid interference with other works, or to cope with an absence of a sound system. Headphones totally transform the listening experience as it is no longer a whole body experience, but the whole activity is inward, only expanding through the mind. As Toop expresses, “external spatial characteristics of hearing are reduced by the construction of a predominantly imaginative space for sound to inhabit.”11 This particular spatialisation of sound can actually be used as an essential compositional element like in Leitner’s Headscapes, where synthetic sounds are placed within the space in-between the ears through a special spatialisation 49


Uncured Lunatics: Sounds are still bleeding

format. To directly compose for headphones was a strong incentive in my work Back Into the Ether12 as a reaction to the common situation of exhibitions. Too often, exhibitions and exhibition spaces are not thought out for sounds. Maybe one of the solutions is to get out of the gallery, in a similar fashion as Max Neuhaus’ work Listen (1966), as he brought his audience on soundwalks under Brooklyn Bridge with the word “Listen” printed on each participants’ hand. Thus, sound can gain back its connection to the environment and the listening body, similarly as in some site-specific sound installations. On certain occasions, headphone listening might still allow a certain connection of the listening with the direct environment, in cases where headphones are not used as simple isolating devices but as a particular interface to reach other kinds of sonic realities of a space. Such a state of dual listening, with the ears under a pair of headphones, and the rest of the body still directly connected to the outside world of sonic vibration and events is at work in some of the works of Janet Cardiff and Christina Kubisch, for instance. To work within a gallery probably requires a certain understanding from the gallerist and curator in order to avoid too fast compromises, unless the gallery is dedicated to sound art like Diapason Gallery in New York, which functions as a real dedicated sound art listening room. Similarly, one way to exhibit sound work in a gallery space could be to develop a particular work that could take into account the acoustic signature and sonic architecture of the space, in order to compose and articulate space through diffusion of sounds, like in Robin Minard’s works. Otherwise, the curator might have to compose with the cacophony of different sonorous works. This option has 50


Cédric Maridet

been retained by David Toop, the curator of Sonic Boom13— the first major sound art exhibition in UK—who becomes more a composer of an always changing soundscape from all the different soundworks. Although the approach might be controversial as some works operating in the range of small sounds might be totally masked and remain unheard among the forest of sounding objects from the exhibition. Another way to compose an exhibition is illustrated in the exhibition 23’17’’14 in Mains d’Œuvres, in Saint-Ouen in 2009. Kerwin Rolland explains how he collaborated with the artists to deliver an exhibition working in the realm of both visual and sound, where each work functions within the space as a sculptural object, and also requires particular ways of listening. While each work is carefully presented within the space, their sounds work as a sequence, one work after the other, probably defining a certain path for the audience, but above all, preventing each work from bleeding into the other one: “the interest of that show lay[s] in the juxtaposition of pieces that were at once visual and acoustic, autonomous while at the same time present within one and the same space. In 23’17’’, the risk of ‘pollution’ from one work to another was done away with, and the autonomy of the work was guaranteed while developing within a collective context.”15 To curate such a show thus requires the ability to be sensitive and to balance the different aspects of such works, especially developed for a context and a space, whether they have bi-modal characteristics or are simply sonorous. If in all my examples the curator seems to be defined through the analogy of the composer, I would like to add the analogy of the listener and of the amateur as Szeemann liked to use as well. The analogy of the listener is easily 51


Uncured Lunatics: Sounds are still bleeding

explained, as the curator is in the position of compositing with his ears, and not only with floor plans and sketches. He is in the position of one who cares about the works in all its aspects, as an amateur of art, and an amateur of sound. The notion of the amateur is interesting for several aspects. First of all, I need to clarify that this notion is relevant to the artist, the audience and curator alike. Moreover, in this game of analogy, it seems that the term of amateur can be etymologically and historically related to some of the roles of a curator. Today the word ‘amateur’ is commonly used in its pejorative sense, when it refers directly to the dichotomy between amateur and professional. However, there are other meanings of the term, which might be fruitful. This is what Jacqueline Lichtenstein clarifies through her participation in a recent series of seminars organised by the Institute of Research and Innovation, Centre Pompidou.16 In her typology of the term amateur, she shows the evolution from a “nominative, qualifying, descriptive and evaluative”17 point of view. Its first nominative usage designates a general state of being and as a synonym of a dandy, a dilettante (etymologically from Latin delectare, “to delight”). This acceptation developed in the 19th century is no longer active. The second definition can be illustrated by one being an “amateur of art.” The complement of the noun that follows the term amateur designates a class of object toward which the attention is directed. An art amateur does not have taste for only one particular artwork, but for art in general or for one genre of art, as a class of object. It conveys the cultivation of a taste for the arts without any necessary artistic practice involved. Knowledge is gained through 52


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experience of art and the authority of artists. Lichtenstein recalls the suggestion of Count Caylus: There are no painters from which the amateur cannot find elements in order to “form, nourish, and augment his or her taste, as the basis, the foundation and the only resource of the true amateur.”18 The idea of developing tastes is thus the central idea of this definition. It is a way to perceive the experience of art only for its aesthetic pleasure, and as disconnected from an aesthetic practice. This usage is illustrated through the Academy of Painting and Sculpture founded in 1648, where amateurs were elected as members of the Academy, like Count Caylus or Roger de Pile, as being legitimate figures for aesthetical judgment. The word becomes thus a qualification. Even if their status does not refer to any practice, it was not marking any hierarchal difference with artists themselves. The third and fourth definitions identified by Lichtenstein are probably the most used in daily life and are based on the dichotomy: amateur versus professional. Taken in the beginning as a simple descriptive difference of status, it shifted toward a pejorative evaluative definition. According to Lichtenstein, only the second definition, purely qualifying, remains positive in an evaluative angle without any pejorative meaning connoted. This is also the most relevant analogy matching some characteristics of a curator. Both terms ‘amateur’ and ‘curator’ seem to connect etymologically (from Latin amore, the one who loves, and curare, to take care of), as well as historically through the idea of the status of the amateur of the Academy, a position from which art critics comes as well. The second definition of amateur refers to a particular subject–object relationship. It is characterised as follows: First, the object is not a particular object, but a class of object, like artworks. 53


Uncured Lunatics: Sounds are still bleeding

What matters here is not a single object, but the common properties of all the objects constituting a class of objects. They constitute the founding elements of the relationship subject–object (or class of objects). Their appreciation is based on knowledge, and in that sense, the amateur is clearly a connoisseur. The consequences are that an amateur is thus able to first distinguish and identify the particular qualities that are appreciable, and then to discriminate the objects into a hierarchical system. These operations are realised through the collection of the different experiences of the object. An art amateur will thus encourage any occasion to experience art. The motivation is not the desire of the object itself but from the pleasure that comes from experiencing it. The experience is thus the source of both knowledge and pleasure, and supposes a reflective attitude upon one’s own experience. Hennion underlines as well these elements as he defines: … the amateur is a virtuoso of aesthetic, technical, social, mental and corporal experimentation. Far from being the “cultural dope” evoked by Garfinkel, the great amateur, on whom we will focus, is the model of an inventive, reflective actor who is closely linked to a collective, forced to continuously challenge the determining of the effects being looked for; being from the side of the works or products, of social determinism and mimetic of tastes, of the conditioning of the mind and body, of the support on the collective, a vocabulary and social practices, and finally of the material apparatus and of the access practices and of invented usages to intensify his or her sensations.19 54


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Through a practice developed over time, the amateur constantly recreates, challenges and invents his or her relation to the world. The subject–object relationship is a “composed activity supported by numerous heterogeneous elements.”19 Hennion identifies different actors in the process: the collective as a general framework, from which the definition of a particular taste can emerge; situations, or the spatio-temporal conditions that might be required for the emergence of a particular taste or experience of the object, like a specific ritual, or ways of doing things; and of course the object itself and his effects, not as being contained in the object, but as being discovered by the attention of the amateur, in a performative meaning. All these elements are certainly the focus for curators to experiment in their task to engage with artists in setting up an exhibition. Taking into consideration the common difficulties of soundwork to be properly set up in gallery spaces, it is important that curators work with artist to really become these “virtuoso of aesthetic, technical, social, mental and corporal experimentation,” as Hennion has stated above. There are certainly strategies like the ones I have briefly described and the ones that have to be imagined. Xenakis’ sonic architectural works through his collaboration with Le Corbusier or his Polytopes are also major directions in order not to ensure an engaging experience of sound works, in which new audiences could also turn into amateurs, developing a long-term form of engagement to sound, and art as a whole, and thus redefining their form of engagement to the world. Otherwise one might end up like Calvino’s Mr Palomar20 in the Ryoanji Zen garden in Kyoto, unable to engage with the world with heightened attention and deep focus. 55


Notes

Uncured Lunatics: Sounds are still bleeding

1 Hans Ulrich Obrist, A Brief History of Curating (Zurich: JRP Ringier and Dijon: Les Presses du Reel, 2008).

2 David Levi Strauss, “The Bias of the World: Curating after Szeeman and Hopps,” in Cautionary Tales: Critical Curating, eds. Steven Rand and Heather Kouris (New York: Apexart, 2007), 15–23.

3 Curating What? Open Forum, held in conjunction with The 17th Biennale of Sydney, 15 May 2010. Venue: Art Gallery of New South Wales. Chair: David Elliott, Speakers: David A. Bailey, Ekaterina Degot, Hu Fang, Simon Njami, James Putnam and Pier Luigi Tazzi.

4 Strauss, 18. Several analogies have also been developed in the open forum of the 17th Biennale of Sydney, personal communication from Janet Chan, Research Coordinator at Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong. 5 Theodor W. Adorno, 1969, in Bernard Stiegler, “L’armement des oreilles: devenir et avenir industriels des technologies de l’écoute,” Circuit, Musiques Contemporaines 16, No. 3 (2006): 33.

6 Mark Katz, Capturing sound. How technology has changed music (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004). 7 Pierre Filteau, “Un historique des formats de reproduction.” Circuit, Musiques Contemporaines 16, No. 3 (2006): 17–31.

8 Cédric Maridet, Acoulogy as a Framework for Environmental Sound, unpublished Phd dissertation (Hong Kong: City University of Hong Kong, 2009). 9 David Toop, Sinister Resonance, The Mediumship of the Listener (New York: Continuum, 2010). 10 Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny, trans. David McLintock (London: Penguin Books, 2003). 11 Freud, 44.

12 Sound compostion, 12’48 , stereo in HRTF, 2007. Presented in Hong Kong Visual Art Centre, IG Bildende Kunst (Vienna), Tate Modern, Turbine Hall (London).

13 Sonic Boom—The Art of Sound, Hayward Gallery, South Bank Centre London 27 Apr–18 Jul 2000. Curated by David Toop. 56


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14 23’17’’, Mains d’Œuvres, Saint Ouen, France, 4 Sep–25 Oct 2009. Group Show with Dominique Blais, Pascal Broccolichi, Dominique Petitgand and Jérôme Poret, four artists working with sound. Each of these artists used the exhibition space at Mains d’Œuvres to propose a new creation, each of which is conceived with the specificity of this space in mind. The show was curated by Isabelle Le Normand with the help of Annabel Rioux and Kerwin Rolland. See press release of project, accessed 21 Aug 2010, http://www.mainsdoeuvres. org/article761.html. 15 Kerwin Rolland interviewed by Raphael Brunel & Anne-Lou Vicente, translated by Simon Pleasance & Fronza Woods, Volume, a contemporary Art Journal about Sound (Dijon: Les Presses du Reel, May 2010).

16 Available at L’Institut de recherche et d’innovation, accessed 30 Jul 2010, http://web.iri.centrepompidou.fr/fonds/seminaires/seminaire/detail/1. 17 First seminar by Jacqueline Lichtenstein: “introduction to the seminar: essay of ontology of the amateur,” Centre George Pompidou, 22 Jan 2008. 18 Count Caylus, Dissertation on the Amateur, quoted by Lichtenstein.

19 Antoine Hennion, “Pour une Pragmatique du Goût” (2005), CSI Working Papers Series, my translation, accessed 21 Aug 2010, http://halshs.archivesouvertes.fr/docs/00/09/08/19/PDF/WP_CSI_001.pdf, 5.

20 Italo Calvino, Mr Palomar (Orlando, Austin, New York, San Diego, Toronto and London: Harcourt Books, 1985).

57


Mutualism for the Future Erin Gleeson

The role of the curator and the structures in which we work continue to diversify. The increasingly dense and shifting constellation of options includes but is not limited to working independently, within a gallery, museum, for a biennale or festival, on publications, and in a myriad of public forums. Within these structures are different curatorial agendas that require different levels of engagement or relations between curator and artist. Some curators prioritise an intimacy with artist and processes, while others require less or even no engagement with the artist to fulfill their agendas. 58


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It is this topic of curator-artist relations that was part of the workshop I gave at Para/Site for the 2009 Hong Kong Jockey Club Curatorial Training Programme. At that time I had been working as an independent curator based in Cambodia’s capitol Phnom Penh for nearly a decade. Considering the international art platform’s recent turn to, or attempted inclusion1 of, peripheral or transforming countries like Cambodia2, the training was titled Curating Cambodia and how this relates to curating anywhere. During the training I had time to give specific examples of different curatorial approaches to working with Cambodian artists for exhibitions both domestically and internationally, and explored to what effects. In this essay, however, I will concentrate more generally on some conditions and concerns in transforming countries and offer a categorisation model for thinking about the future of curating. I want to begin by historicising the landscape that informed my thoughts while maintaining applicability beyond Cambodia to other countries that struggle to negotiate adequate power to produce and take ownership of their cultural and economic continuum. Cambodia’s forced and regulated dependency reaches well beyond a colonial century of Indochina and was magnified by the murder of 90% of its educated population during the Khmer Rouge’s radical communist agrarian revolution from 1975–1979. With few surviving cultural scholars, religious leaders and artists to consult, survival and recovery of national and cultural identity was largely shaped by foreigners once again. Until 1992, it was a Vietnamese-backed government after which the United Nations Transitional Authority took full control through 1995. Since then, a Cambodian constitutional monarchy has maintained power, remaining totally dependent on 59


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foreign aid and investment. During these ‘recovery’ decades, in particular the past decade of globalisation, both the reality and image of Cambodia’s unique living traditions and language have been altered. Ancient agrarian, courtly, and Buddhist and animist religious foundations have been subverted, simplified or exoticised by and for a tourist market, a host of standardised socio-political labels (however true) are sensationalised for the aid and development industry—the more common ones being: post-colonial, postcommunist, post-genocidal, post-traumatic, and cleptocratic. Cambodia has a small number of local contemporary artists and unlike neighbouring countries, only a few delocalised artists3 with Western education have returned to practise in the country.4 Most are not accustomed to or choose not to theoretically elaborate on their work and rather prefer to tell stories from their life, traditions, and processes. There are very few contemporary cultural publications by Cambodian scholars or catalogues from exhibitions, and even fewer translated into dominant languages.5 There is not one active Cambodian curator, but there are small groups working together to promote one another’s work. Working in the absence of Western-minded art schools, contemporary art institutions, and until recently, the art market, a good description of the circumstances for Cambodian artists can be located in curator Vít Havránek’s description of eastern Europe’s exposure to new economic, artistic, social and moral systems in 1989. Havránek states: “The reality that we were suddenly exposed to was governed by laws about which we had no clue. We had experiences with a different type of reality.”6 These circumstances of art and economy naturally encourage a focus on relations between people and the role of art in society. With each project and over the years I was able 60


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to reevaluate my ways of thinking in light of local knowledge systems I was being introduced to. As I am not Cambodian, it was necessary to cultivate a close interaction with artists in order to understand and communicate their intentions, which were being expressed through locality, language, materials, narratives, everyday practices, and history that I was only slowly learning. I began to teach and practice what I believed to be culturally relevant approaches to contemporary art production, exhibition and reception. At the same time I became more sensitive to curatorial approaches that seemed to cultivate a wide range of negative effects, such as a perpetuation of ‘speechlessness’ by exclusion in South East Asian group exhibitions both regionally and internationally, government-sponsored and therefore censored inclusion, a sensationalising of Khmer Rouge history by foreign curators, and more generally misrepresentations or siphoning of local artist’s concepts, capacities or narratives. I realised, on the one hand, that a curator’s influence could subsume diverse realities into homogenous rhetoric. On the other hand they could help to present, preserve and inspire continuity of diversity from the periphery. To illuminate these different curatorial approaches, during the Para/Site training, I used the basic biological model of symbiosis. Symbiosis defines different interactions or relationships between unlike organisms (read: curator and artist). The disparity between the roles and needs of the different organisms results in a range of outcomes, which can be understood in three subcategories: parasitism, commensalism, and mutualism. The more one reads in detail about these three subcategories, the more recognisable the uncanny associations to interdependent relationships in the art 61


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world become. In general, a parasitic relationship is one in which one member benefits while the other is harmed. A parasite cannot live independently and must take nourishment from another organism. Commensalism describes a relationship in which one member benefits and the other is not significantly harmed or helped, such as using another for transportation or housing, or using something another created, sometimes posthumously. Mutualism describes a relationship (whether reciprocal exploitation or reciprocal cooperation) in which both individuals derive a benefit, enhancing their survival, growth, or fitness. It may be obvious that the beneficiary in the parasitic and commensal model is the curator, while the ‘harmed’ parties are therefore the artist and the audience, as well as a national narrative or art history. Unless deliberately communicated as the curatorial agenda, parasitic and commensal curatorial approaches are processes and events that prioritise the progression of the curator’s theme or career and/or a commodification system over the intentions of the artist and artwork. Mutualism, on the other hand, is a clearly different approach in that the artist and public are held in highest regard as a curator develops exhibitions, texts, talks, or other related programming. Rather than maintain strict boundaries between the categories, a Venn diagram of the three catagories best demonstrates that inherent to all relationships and collaborative experiences (however parasitic), there are benefits and losses, successes and failures that continue to progress thought and understanding. Indeed it is often due to parasitic experiences that mutualistic initiatives begin. For a mutualistic approach to working with artists in peripheral countries, curators need to put more effort in 62


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understanding and communicating context and content, whether for emerging domestic audiences or established international audiences. We must move beyond our desks, computers and smart phones, as well as beyond our existing knowledge to better understand an artist and place. A recent opinion in The Art Newspaper states that “if [curators] are to offer a truly cosmopolitan view of today’s art world, they will have to devote far more energy and more resources to establishing links with those parts of the world that they have for so long largely ignored.”7 A statement supporting this view comes from the artistic director of this year’s Biennale of Sydney: “Quality in art has many faces and can be found in different manifestations across the world.”8 That such a statement is even needed today is surprising, however seemingly important to reiterate. While it may seem like curators are getting out there given the propensity of individuals following the globetrotting Hans Ulrich Obrist’s methodology of Cairo today, Beijing tomorrow, this approach has mostly assumed a ubiquitous, globalised world in which curators believe their rhetoric can be applied wherever they are. When we do visit artists, I believe we should arrive not simply on our terms like many journalists do to collect what they feel is urgent or essential information. It is unfortunate that we—influenced by the structures in which we learn and work—seem to have forgotten to leave space for wonder; to not understand is necessary before we can understand. An applicable Khmer proverb translates as “The intellectual needs to keep his or her instincts like a big ship still needs its small rescue boats.” In the humble words of another globetrotter, photojournalist Raymond Depardon, “what one must do is get lost and watch people live.”9 This reminds me of a 63


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sincere rhetorical question Cambodian artist Vandy Rattana asked well into a discursive residency amongst artists and curators from Vietnam, Cambodia and China at the Long March Project in Beijing, 2009. He wondered why he repeatedly heard concepts and supportive arguments based more on Western philosophy—based on lived experience in another time and culture—over what was happening in the participants’ cultures, on their streets, and in their homes. To ensure a mutualistic approach that offers audiences diversity from the periphery, representational platforms like residencies, international or regional biennales, or public collections should include local artists. Already relationships and sentiments between local and delocalised artists have become complicated as most curators maintain a practice of prioritising the latter’s perspective on an international platform. These perspectives and ideas are usually more complimentary to the existing knowledge and available time of curators, as well as more easily packaged and consumable by audiences. By saying this I don’t mean to occlude the importance of delocalised voices, which not only serve as accessible symbols of the periphery but also the increasing divergence between ethnicity and nationality. Re/presentation by nation has become tricky and will only escalate in the future as more and more people/ narratives are uprooted from the local by choice or force. When local and delocalised artists reach a similar level of exposure or validation both domestically and internationally, is it the role of the curator or the artist to clarify their ‘national positioning’ to audiences? Since Cambodian artists have not yet publicly differentiated themselves, I will use an example I recently heard from exiled Iranian-American artist Shirin Neshat and collaborator Shoja Azari.10 When 64


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asked a specific question about Iran, Neshat strictly claimed, “I cannot be the ambassador of anyone. I have no authority.” She used the words “closer to the truth, inside, from-thestreet, authentic” to describe artists working in Tehran and mentioned the differentiation of “pure cultural expression” versus the Bhabha-inspired concept of hybrid or “inbetween” expression.11 Azari continued, “Dislocation allows you to cut through colloquial binding that a home promotes. We are always looking from a distance.” Neshat added that exiled people are people of fiction, mostly concerned with memory, adding a crucial question: “If more artists choose to move out of Iran, who will the stories come from?” Where understandings of art and creativity remain anchored in traditional knowledge systems (and understandably so), how do artists confronted with globalisation—which ignores the nuances that allow distinctive cultural aspects to persist—negotiate a relevant cultural continuum? How can a globalised curator enable an environment that simultaneously respects and progresses the understanding of these diverse living traditions? How can the curatorial agenda authentically enliven the intentions of artists working in less globalised locales without a curatorial filter that favours overbearing or dominant art theory, rhetoric, or trends that the artist has no prior knowledge of or active concern with? Concepts and trends in contemporary art remain a “foreigner’s language” in most parts of the world. For example, it is a great challenge to translate such concepts in the Khmer language, proving that the thoughts are not in use. This is not to say the thoughts are not useful in certain contexts; however their absence implies that other systems of knowledge are in use, and it is these other means 65


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of expression that curators should seek to understand and prioritise when visiting artists and translating their ‘conclusions’ for the public. A recent essay title about the work of Israeli-born, Berlin-based artist Omar Fast, “Truth Bends and Decays As It Travels,” illuminates the sensitivity needed by curators as they pass stories “from one host body to the next.”12 His live performances begin with an original story that is then by memory retold by a number of others until it becomes far removed from the original. To apply cultural theorist Paul Virilio’s words, we move “from memory to hallucination.”13 While Fast’s audiences can watch how an interpreter’s subjectivity can drastically alter meaning, most contemporary art audiences do not get to hear the artists’ original story or experience the context in which they work. As information passes from artist through curator to audience, it is important that “the true meaning of the most minor comments [...] be called into question.”14 To capture this “true meaning” as well as to exercise emerging local voices, I always ask artists to contribute their own texts (often collected orally and then transcribed) so not only my curatorial voice is present, then place their ideas in an appropriate context in the exhibition and/ or publication. With this gesture, I don’t mean to devalue the curatorial role and voice; divergence between curator and artist are necessary. However I predict I will always remain more inspired by the artist’s voice, so I would like to conclude with the words of some local Cambodian artists with whom I have been fortunate to work and whose voices have recently been supported by exceptionally mutualistic curators on international platforms. ••• 66


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Statement by the artist Svay Ken for his final series of paintings Sharing Knowledge (2008), used for catalogue and exhibition wall text at Bophana Audiovisual Resource Centre, Phnom Penh, 2008:

I made many paintings in my life. I also wrote some stories. Painting is easier than writing. I am now 76 years old and close to leaving this world. I have to pass down what I know. So I made these paintings for the young generation in Cambodia. The Khmer alphabet is complicated because the letters curve and twist. The words in the paintings are sophisticated, auspicious and rhythmic. They are not my words. I can’t compose such good words. I’m not a savant. I’m an artist. The words in the paintings are extracted from the Buddha’s teachings and the learned people who borrowed the Lord’s lessons to make proverbs and poetry. I didn’t choose to share many lessons on prosperity. I want the young people to know more the causes of self-ruin. Sometimes one’s nature is good, but one commits sins absent-mindedly. I studied many of the Buddha’s teachings. I remember learning that the Lord Buddha said: “O monks! To be born as a human being is rare! So before you leave this world, do good things for your own interest and others’ interest.” Take me as an example. I make paintings; it’s my interest. The paintings give me money for medicines, food, my son’s education, my family, and for giving alms. At the same time, they give knowledge to the audience. To follow the knowledge in the paintings depends on the viewer. The Buddha says sharing your knowledge with others brings you happiness. Not all people follow the Buddha’s advice. His task is just 67


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to teach. If you like it, you practise it. Today, people are free to practise the moral principles or not. Cambodia is a Buddhist country. But in reality, Khmer people may not know the Buddha’s teachings. I know very little about them, but I think I must share what I know with others. In Buddhist terms, we call it dhamma dāna. Dhamma means ‘universal laws’ and dāna means ‘sharing’. If you spread dhamma, you will be an intelligent person in your next life. Excerpt from Russell Storer for the 6th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art catalogue, Queensland Art Gallery/ Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, first published in 2009:

The Sharing Knowledge series was also conceived as a message for the future. It illustrates Buddhist religious and moral statements, offering guidance to the young for living a good and honest life. The works reflect Svay’s early temple education and lifelong ethos, and indicate his concern with the decline of morals and tradition in contemporary Cambodian society. They warn against greed, selfishness, and the neglect of parents and those in need, as well as affirming the importance of respecting elders.... Svay Ken’s selected statements are painted in a flat, structured format evoking traditional temple murals. The elaborate Khmer script forms a distinctive and central feature of each work, and the images are comprised of [sic] group portraits and tableaux. Set against monochromatic backgrounds of deep greens and blacks—and, in one startling work, sickly yellow—the paintings communicate the artist’s moral advice directly and assertively. While located in time-honoured religious teachings, they are 68


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also deeply grounded in contemporary life; a recurrent theme is the growth of a wealthy urban middle class in Phnom Penh, who often come from farming families and increasingly leave their poorer rural relatives behind. As with all of Svay’s paintings, the apparent simplicity and immediacy of the Sharing Knowledge series is underpinned by keen observation, a deep understanding of the function of painting in Cambodian society, and a belief in the role of the artist as witness and storyteller. •••

Diary entry by the artist Vandy Rattana, included in The Bomb Ponds catalogue:

I’m standing with my three cameras—two around my neck and one in my hand. It is 12:30pm and I am at a rubber plantation in Kompong Cham just east of Phnom Penh. The grass and other wild greenery have grown thickly over a pond spanning five metres by five metres. As I stand here contemplating this body of water, the voice of a young farmer suddenly calls out to me as he is preparing his lunch, “It is a bomb pond; it is getting smaller now.” I begin to wonder what has happened here in the middle of this beautiful land, surrounded by pure serenity. From primary school to high school and even through university, the history of Cambodia has been put into silent mode for the next generation. Yet a silence created by a mighty sound is still a sound. It is a sound that has been muted. When I was young I never knew that this sound already existed in my head and body, and that gradually, it would amplify if I didn’t find understanding. Perhaps 69


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others have had the same experience. I don’t know. My parents told me that this sound stays with us forever once we are affected. They told me that as long as we enjoy the sunrise and the bird’s song in the glorious early morning whilst celebrating our noble humility and forgiveness, then this sound would fade away—receding back to where it came from. But, still, I do not understand why this sound exists. I do not know why its echo spins in my head and rushes through the veins of my body. Perhaps, I do not really enjoy the bird’s song in the early, glorious morning or perhaps I am not humble enough. And maybe I have not yet learned enough about forgiveness and still insist on the value of revenge.  I do truly wish I could enjoy the bird’s song, to finally end this silent sound reverberating through me. Excerpt from the exhibition wall text for The Bomb Ponds, Hessel Museum, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, 2010 by independent curator Francesca Sonara:

In October, 2009 photographer Vandy Rattana travelled to the ten Cambodian provinces most severely bombed by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. The goal of this journey was to reopen dialogue with local villagers about this traumatic history and document the scarred landscape, as it exists today. Between 1964 and 1975 the U.S. military dropped approximately 2,756,941 tons of bombs across Cambodia. This figure—five times the generally accepted number— was not acknowledged until the fall of 2000, when Bill Clinton travelled to Vietnam and quietly released previously classified Air Force data on American bombings in Indochina during the Vietnam War. Unsatisfied with 70


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the level of documentation produced on the subject, Vandy has produced a series of landscape photographs and a documentary video testifying to the existence of the craters created by the bombings, known today as the “bomb ponds.” Accompanying these photographs is a film in which villagers were asked to describe their memories of the bombings or their present relationship to the history symbolised by the craters. The resultant work is being exhibited with the hope that the audience will reconsider this historical thread and the extent of America’s actions during the Vietnam War. Notes

1 Recent exhibitions include: The Third Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art/ Against Exclusion, 2009; The 17th Biennale of Sydney/ The Beauty of Distance: Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age, 2010; as well as the inclusion of self-taught, local voices such as China’s Guo Fenghi, Cambodia’s Svay Ken, or Ivory Coast’s Frédéric Bruly Bouabré. 2 I deliberately use  ‘transforming’ over ‘developing’ to situate Cambodia today. I see developing as a gradual and collective change as it is defined in the Penguin Book of Facts timeline: ‘The developing world’ is all land masses on earth from their potential origins 10,000 million years ago to our barely existent base line as humans during ‘recent and contemporary industrialisation’. In contrast, transforming is like changing the voltage on the development of a culture or way of life in a way that makes its appearance and character different—thus defining what is ‘happening’ to Cambodia this century due to myriad globalising movements.

3 Following, I use the words ‘local’ and ‘delocalised’ after cultural theorist Paul Virrilio’s ideas of ‘identity’ and ‘traceability’ to differentiate between artists who stay and those who leave. Identity (local) refers to sedentary connectedness to a place: “the fact of being here and not elsewhere, of being settled in a region, in a nation.’’ Traceability (delocalised) refers to being on a journey and includes the many complexities of leaving whether by choice or force. 4 A generous number of local contemporary artists is 50, while around 10 delocalised artists have returned to Cambodia to practise full or part-time. 71


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5 Most of these publications are produced by and available at Reyum Institute of Art and Culture, Phnom Penh. For more information, see http:// www.reyum.org.

6 Maria Lind and Hito Steyerl, “The Documentary Ontology of Forms in Transforming Countries,” The Greenroom: Reconsidering the Documentary and Contemporary Art #1, eds. Maria Lind and Hito Steyerl (New York: Sternberg Press, 2008), 129.

7 David Barrie, “Curators need to become truly global; Instead of following the market, curators need to provide leadership,” The Art Newspaper, Issue 214 (Jun 2010). Article is based on the Arthur Bachelor lecture, accessed 15 May 2010, http://cdobarrie.wordpress.com/2010/05/15/a-bigger-picture-whycontemporary-art-curators-need-to-get-out-more/. 8 David Elliot, “The Beauty of Distance: Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age,” Artistic Director’s text for 17th Biennale of Sydney in 2008, accessed 28 Aug 2010, http://www.bos17.com/page/theme.html. 9 Raymind Depardon and Paul Virilio, “Conversation between Raymond Depardon and Paul Virilio,” Native Land: Stop Eject (Paris: ACTUS SUD / Foundation Cartier pour l’artcontemporain, 2009), 18.

10 Discussion following the screening of Women Without Men, part of Views From Iran 2010 at the Walker Art Center, 17 Apr 2010. 11 Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London; New York: Routledge, 1994), passim.

12 James Trainor, “Truth Bends and Decays As It Travels,” ArtAsiaPacific 68 (May/Jun 2010): 124–129. 13 Depardon and Virilo, 26. 14 Trainor, 126.

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The Ethics of Wonder: Art and natural history Lee Weng Choy

1. natural history In his book, The Vehement Passions, Philip Fisher asks: “Could any pair of words seem as natural together as the words ‘dispassionate knowledge’?” It is as if knowledge were a pursuit solely of the intellect, while the emotions just get in the way. Fisher analyses a history of Western thought that both idealises the dispassionate inquiry into the world and self, and excludes from wisdom the high-spirited passions like anger, fear and grief. “[T]he word ‘pathology’, which 73


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would exactly suit the study of the passions (páthema, in Greek), serves instead, when we look in a medical dictionary, for the study of abnormality, the study of diseases.” What Fisher argues for, in contrast, is an understanding of how “each of the strong emotions or passions designs for us an intelligible world and does so by means of horizon lines that we can come to know only in experiences that begin with impassioned or vehement states within ourselves.”1 For me, it is not “dispassionate knowledge” but the words “natural history” that make an ironical if not exactly unnatural couple. As an art critic concerned with the sociopolitical dynamics of art and culture, one of the things I continually maintain is that what is deemed or justified as “natural” is historically and socially constructed and contested. This is not to say there aren’t any “natural” bases to human behaviour, rather, that nature doesn’t explain culture adequately. The “natural” and the “historical,” in this particular view of life, might seem at odds with each other. But to read “natural history” simply as a contradiction is to gloss over the concept’s own history, and overlook its once radical assertions. While the staple of my adult reading diet has been the humanities—philosophy, criticism, history, and so on—lately I’ve become a fan of natural history books. I have found the combination of reading about both human and natural history has given me a far fuller appreciation of what an ethical and politically progressive attitude towards history and knowledge entails. Let me elaborate by looking at three accomplished natural history writers, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould and Edward O. Wilson. Dawkins is perhaps most famous for his book The Selfish Gene. Gould, I am very sad to say, died in 2002. He is one of my favourite writers, of 74


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any genre. He was prolific, never missing his monthly “This View of Life” column over the course of 300 uninterrupted issues of Natural History magazine, from January 1974 to January 2001. Many of these essays have been collected in anthologies like Ever Since Darwin. The name of his column derived from the last sentence of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species: “There is grandeur in this view of life... from so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”2 Both Gould and Dawkins engaged in fierce debates about the workings of natural selection and the nature of science. Nevertheless, what they agreed upon constitutes a cornerstone of the scientific consensus on “natural history.” As Kim Sterelny notes: “They agree that all life, including human life, has evolved over the last four billion years from one or a few ancestors, and that those first living things probably resembled living bacteria in their most crucial aspects. They agree that this process has been wholly natural; no divine hand... has nudged the process one way or another. They agree that chance has played a crucial role in determining the cast of life’s drama.... the great machine of evolution has no aim or purpose. But they also agree that evolution, and evolutionary change, is not just a lottery. For natural selection matters too. Within any population of life forms, there will be variation. And some of those variants will be a touch better suited to the prevailing conditions than others.”3 Darwin’s ideas about evolution were highly controversial when they first appeared in the 19th century. Conservative theologians labelled him the most dangerous man in England. The idea that “humans” had descended from “animals” was considered extremely demeaning, not to mention scandalous. Thus, Darwin’s insistence that there 75


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is grandeur in the view that humans are animals. (It may surprise readers that evolution is not entirely accepted today in the world’s most powerful nation; a recent Gallup poll found that only about 28 percent of Americans believe in evolution.)4 Only in the nineteenth century, with the discoveries of things like dinosaurs, and the rise of new theories of geology and evolution, did Western society finally accept that the age of planet earth was eons older than the biblical six thousand years. The Darwinian revolution was instrumental in ushering our modern age when scientific explanations gained almost complete prominence over religious explanations of the world. And so we do “natural history” injustice if we think that “nature” as evidence and explanation was not once a radical idea. But what happens when we use “nature” to explain human “culture” and “society”? Edward O. Wilson came to fame, or for some, notoriety, in 1975 with the publication of Sociobiology: The new synthesis.5 Wilson began his career in myrmecology, the study of ants. For many of today’s readers, Wilson is best known for championing ecology and biodiversity. For others, he will remain a controversial figure for his sociobiology. As Ullica Segerstråle explains: “Wilson defined sociobiology as a new discipline devoted to the ‘systematic study of the biological basis of all social behaviour’. Among animal species Wilson explicitly included our own species Homo sapiens, and the final chapter of his work looked exclusively at humans.... Wilson suggested that human sex role divisions, aggressiveness, moral concerns, religious beliefs, and much more, could be connected to our evolutionary heritage, as it is represented today in our underlying genetic dispositions.”6 Sociobiology was strongly defended as well as attacked by fellow scientists. Some of 76


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the attacks—directed mainly at the last chapter—came from Wilson’s colleague at Harvard University, Stephen Jay Gould. My purpose here isn’t to discuss the debates on sociobiology; nor do I have the expertise to elucidate the arguments over genetic selection and determinism, one of the points of contention. Let me raise just one question—is sexual orientation genetically determined? If I had never read a book on natural history or evolution, I would still feel perfectly equipped to criticise the way this question has been framed. In this crude form, genetic determinism looks at vastly complex social phenomena, then portrays them in exceedingly reductive terms. What it means to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual or transsexual is no simple thing that has been agreed upon by people, gay, straight or otherwise. Therefore how could something that is itself not clearly defined as a phenomenon be so definitively determined by a chain of causes directed from a genetic script. To repeat, I do not dispute any “natural” bases to human behaviour—none of our actions defy any “natural” laws (people with kinky sex lives don’t do anything physically impossible). Rather, the question of sexuality is not about biology but about how humans understand, construct and contest certain behaviours and attitudes. The debate between Gould and Dawkins is not, at any rate, over a crude form of genetic determinism. Theirs is a debate about the details of evolution and natural selection, and what these scientific findings mean for humans. It is a debate that is rich and exciting, but one I follow as an amateur. Why I should take the reader along an excursion into genetics (in an art publication) when I have no authority on the subject is precisely because I believe it is important to engage with debates that one is not expert in. One has a 77


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political-intellectual stake in expert discourses like science, even if one isn’t involved in them. And I would add, even if one isn’t really interested in them either (for instance: we all have stake in the way the world’s financial system is run, even if one can’t afford to invest in the stock exchange, or if one’s reflex is to change the television channel when the business news comes on). This is the political-intellectual disposition behind the questioning of the “natural” that I began with: to question that which is explained as “natural” when it has a social history that is constructed and contested. While I’m cautious of overextending my reach on debates of scientific evidence, I do feel more competent to comment on matters of the philosophy of science. This is why I feel a strong alliance with Gould rather than someone like Wilson. Gould often wrote about the social history of science—that science is hardly immune from politics. I don’t know what Gould thought about Jacques Derrida, but I do know that Wilson has lashed out at the French philosopher and his theories on deconstruction. Wilson finds deconstruction’s skepticism of the Enlightenment, its insistence on unpacking the social construction of truth, to be anathema to his own belief in the unity of science. I couldn’t disagree more with Wilson on this issue. What I find inspiring in the writings of Gould is how he advocates a historical questioning of science, yet at the same time respects its hard-won advances and marvels at the worlds it opens up for him. In his writing I find one of the best examples of the unity of the humanities and the sciences. Which brings me back to Fisher and the passions: “The passion of wonder has always been described by scientists and mathematicians as the heart of the experience of the search for new knowledge.... Wonder occurs at the horizon line of what is potentially knowable, but not yet known. We 78


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learn about this horizon line when we find ourselves in a state of wonder.”7 Gould’s recognition of the limits of science does not leave him with a world that is any less intelligible or any less wonderful. There is grandeur in this view of life. 2. art history

Gould dedicates his book Ever Since Darwin to his father: “Who took me to see the Tyrannosaurus when I was five.”8 Like many people, I had a fascination with dinosaurs when I was a child. I can remember borrowing all the dinosaur books in the library of my elementary school. And like many people, this fascination passed as I got older. Growing up where I did, where there were no natural history museums, I never did get to see exhibitions of dinosaur fossils. That would have to wait until I was an adult in my late thirties visiting the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Who knows if this fascination might have led to something, a different career even, had I visited the American Museum of Natural History alongside my first visit to the Museum of Modern Art about twenty years ago. These two great New York institutions have become my favourite museums. I can’t recall exactly how many times I’ve been to MoMA—about as many times as I’ve visited the city, which must be over a dozen. But I’ve only been to the AMNH once, in 2002. I didn’t even seen the whole thing, focusing mainly on the dinosaur exhibits, yet the experience ranks as one of the most wonderful museum experiences I have ever had. The AMNH and MoMA have, of course, fantastic collections, though that alone is not what makes them so impressive. They each tell powerful stories about their collections—about evolution and about modern art. My 79


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sense of the AMNH dinosaur story is that it represents some of the best contemporary thinking on the subject, with all its unresolved uncertainties and open speculation. One can see a triceratops exhibition with the creature’s forelimbs in two different positions: one similar to a mammal’s; the other splayed like a lizard’s. Or the improbably long-necked barosaurus precariously rearing up on its hind legs to ward off a predatory allosaurus away from its offspring. The debate over dinosaur posture and biomechanics is on display. It’s interesting to note that, in contrast, as compelling as I find the permanent exhibition at MoMA, I also always have the feeling of how incomplete and incorrect it is. This is the old story of modernism that so many of my colleagues and I have come to view as problematic and in need of critique. Yet it persists, not only because of authoritative institutions like MoMA, but because understanding modernism is a problem that won’t go away; indeed, as at least one of my friends would concur, the problems of modernism continue to define our present moment. Although, for me, the MoMA narrative in particular is a “historical” one—in the sense that it doesn’t so much give us an accurate picture of the past, as it gives us a picture of how we used to depict that past. The art historian James Elkins wrote an essay entitled, “How Close Can We Come To Admitting We’re Really Writing Mostly About Ourselves?” To which he answers: “I really do think we are all writing mostly about ourselves, and if I needed to prove that, I would just unfurl one of those long cartoon scrolls, inscribed with the endless list of names of art historians who are no longer read by people who want to know about the past. No one reads Winckelmann to learn about the Greeks. Vasari is read, but as a document of his own times: No one takes him seriously 80


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as a historian of Roman and medieval art. No one reads Rumohr to find out about the Renaissance. And so on. “As a general rule, only two kinds of art historical texts seem to be infused with truth: those written in the last three decades or so, and those written back in the time of the artists we’re studying. Most of us don’t read sources more than thirty years old to find out about our subjects.... “Like a chameleon, older art history takes on the colours and patterns of its surroundings. Soon enough after this conference is over, we are all going to be read—if we’re read at all—as evidence of the art world of the late 1990s. The historical truth will bleed out of our essays, and they will become pale records of our lives and times....”9 The art history text as destined to become a fossil for future historians. I think Elkins is right about this. However, the MoMA story isn’t the same as an art historian’s text— that’s the difference between a book and an institution that evolves—so I don’t mean to suggest that MoMA is merely a time capsule of the 20th century. The museum has changed a lot, and is undergoing an intense period of change as I write: the building is being renovated, and the permanent exhibition being rethought. One thing I am sure of is that the new hang will continue to inspire criticism. If anything, that is the destiny of the cathedral of modernism on West 53rd Street, for its authority to be perennially challenged by critics and historians, whether specialists in Western modern art or not. My comparison of the AMNH and MoMA may seem to turn on the irony that a modern art museum is more dated than a museum that showcases fossils tens of millions of years old. It may also seem obvious that because I’m an art critic rather than a researcher in natural history, I might experience unbridled wonder in a dinosaur exhibition, whereas an 81


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“establishment” art museum would provoke my criticism. But what I really want to suggest is something more fundamental that these institutions share; as I said, they are my two favourite museums. Whenever I visit MoMA, I always want to experience the exhibitions in sequence. So I start at the room with the Cézannes, and work my way through the Picassos and onward, up to the next floor, continuing to wend my way around the larger and smaller rooms. It’s happened a number of times—I will turn a corner and come upon Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World, which I should know very well is in the museum, but it catches me by surprise. The painting, rather, a reproduction thereof, is perhaps the first that I can remember from having seen as a child. While I think it’s a good painting, it’s also a sentimental favourite. MoMA’s narrative, which I know quite well, is therefore experienced as a combination of the anticipated and the forgotten remembered. The surprises aren’t only of this kind, though. For all the anticipation of looking at the Jackson Pollocks, seeing them has never been a predictable encounter; there is always something new in seeing them again. All this may sound rather typical. And why not? Being a critic of modernist myths—wanting to unpack the naturalisation of modernism—should not mean that I find its best works any less wonderful. Moreover, I would insist that what is at stake here is not the seduction by the aura of famous paintings. There is a difference between aura and wonder. In late 2003, the Hong Kong Arts Centre hosted several staff from MoMA for a “cultural exchange”, inviting a number of curators and writers from the region, myself included. Among other things I learned about the museum is that it has what are apparently excellent family and educational programmes. Next time I’m in New York city, I’ll try to 82


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borrow a kid, if I can, and enroll in their family programme— it would be a great way to revisit the museum. Would I share the sense of awe that the child might have, or would it be the other way around, that my admiration would influence the youngster? In Hong Kong, I asked the MoMA family programmes coordinator if she thought about the difference between wonder and aura. She hadn’t, unfortunately, and I didn’t get her educationist’s insight on the matter. If psychoanalysis teaches us anything, it’s that children are not innocent, and that socialisation starts remarkably early. Even young children can be readily indoctrinated into the ways of “aura”; their trips to the museum at an early age may very well be about precisely that. The educators at MoMA told stories of how during school trips, the teachers almost always discipline the kids to act as if they are in front of precious, indeed, sacred objects. Aura is the reverential, sometimes ecstatic, recognition of high cultural value. From what I could gather, to the credit of the MoMA educators, they take pains to place wonder—although they may not use the term—in the midst of the students’ encounters with art. I had thought to call this essay, “the aesthetics of wonder,” but quickly realised that that would not be right; what is at stake is more than just the judgement of appearances. The word “ethics” seemed more fitting, as it expresses the most important dimension of the human encounter with the world. If, in the first section of this essay, I argued that wonder is foundational to scientific enquiry, to the discovery of knowledge itself, then, in this concluding section, I want to argue that wonder is also foundational to the process of critical enquiry. Too much contemporary writing about art (and not just about “contemporary art” but about art of all times) suffers from want of rigour and forcefulness of 83


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critique. But even the best of today’s writing seems not worth keeping, certainly not for more than the thirty years that Elkins uses as a benchmark. I think one of the main tests for longevity has to do with, not reverence for the object of study, but a sense of being precariously on the horizon line of insight and judgement. I’d like to suggest that the most lasting art criticism has as its central object the experience of wonder. This essay was published in Broadsheet, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Feb–May 2004), CACSA. Portions of this essay first appeared in ish magazine 4.2 (2003). Notes

1 Philip Fisher, The Vehement Passions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 1–2, & 4.

2 Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species (New York: Modern Library, 1998; first published 1859), 64–49. 3 Kim Sterelny, Dawkins vs. Gould: Survival of the fittest (Cambridge: Icon Books, 2001), 4; the italics are mine.

4 Cited in Nicholas Kristof, “God, Satan and the Media”, The New York Times, (3 Mar 2003). 5 Edward O. Wilson, Sociobiology: The new synthesis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975).

6 Ullica Segerstråle, Defenders of the Truth: The sociobiology debate (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 13. 7 Fisher, 1–2.

8 Stephen Jay Gould, Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in natural history (New York: Penguin Books, reprinted 1991, first published 1977).

9 James Elkins, “How Close Can We Come To Admitting We’re Really Writing Mostly About Ourselves?”, lecture given at the College Art Association meeting, New York, Feb 2000, accessed 30 Jul 2010, http://www.jameselkins.com/ index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=220. 84


Why do it (Chinese edition)? (A Conversation between Hans Ulrich Obrist and Hu Fang)

Interviewed by Hu Yuanxing

PART ONE: In the cab from the SOHO Building to Timezone 8 Bookshop, 798 art district, Beijing, 1610– 1635hrs, November 13, 2007 Hans Ulrich Obrist: So here is the do it Chinese edition. We are in a cab. This is an interview on the move.

Hu Yuanxing: I would like to know about the initiation of this edition of do it. In the preface of do it Chinese edition, you mentioned it began at a dinner in 2004. 85


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HUO: Are we recording already?

Hu Fang : Yes. I remember that you introduced the English version of do it to me during a dinner in Guangzhou. At that time I had just finished a project together with Zhang Wei called Object System: Doing Nothing, and you actually invited me to make a contribution to the English version. We talked about the idea of “doing nothing,” which is a kind of Chinese perspective on do it from a philosophical level in that “doing” actually could be “doing nothing”…. So we were exchanging many different ideas, then we decided that we should first of all translate and introduce at least a part of the English version of do it in Art World magazine.

HUO: Exactly. You started it all with Art World. It is interesting because a learning system that can change with time is almost in the DNA of do it. It’s sort of at the core of do it. So it’s an exhibition that will continue all my life. It started, you know, in the mid-1990s. In 1993, there was a conversation with Christian Boltanski and Bertrand Lavier and we were thinking about how we could do exhibitions made by instructions and recipes. I was in my mid-20s at the time and I had just started as a curator of my kitchen shows and a couple of other exhibitions. I was wondering how I could do an exhibition that would continue my whole life. Wherever I go, whatever I do, it will always continue to evolve, and I will gain knowledge and become maybe, hopefully, more intelligent. 86


(A Conversation between Hans Ulrich Obrist and Hu Fang)

When I started to do exhibitions, I was still very much immersed in a kind of Western art paradigm because I lived in Paris, in Switzerland, and I grew up with an education in Western art. However, it started to become clear already then, in the 20th century, to be polyphony-centred. Huang Yong Ping, Yan Pei-Ming and Chen Zhen were the first Chinese artists I met, and because I had a grant from the Cartier Foundation in 1990 and 1991, Huang Yong Ping was my neighbour. So that was my first contact with China. Ever since, there has been an increasing interest in Chinese art. And the idea emerged for me that we need to develop exhibitions that could include my own research as well as local research. Wherever do it is exhibited, local artists are invited, not only to realise the instructions but also to add new instructions to the project. So then, around 1996, we translated the instructions of do it, which was then quite small, into about eight languages, and sent the book through AFAA, a branch of the French Ministry of Culture, to many countries all over the world. It was picked up by the University of Bangkok. We did it together with artists Chitti Kasemkitvatana, Surasi Kusolwong and Rirkrit Tiravanija. In the exhibition do it Bangkok in 1996, which was very important to my whole trajectory, the dynamics of Bangkok’s art scene came clear to me. And do it is almost always continuing, do it never stops. So basically, after Bangkok it started happening in Australia, all over Europe, in northern Europe and southern Europe, in Italy, in Sweden, and then we started around 2000 a big do it version in the United States. It was 1998 87


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or 1999 and it toured to thirty museums in the U.S. and Canada. So after this the archive grew because each time it happens somewhere, I add new artists.

It was in 2003 or 2004 when the English book came out, and Hu Fang started to discuss with me why it had never happened in China. This was somehow a paradox because it has been in so many places. It was from discussion with Hu Fang that the idea really emerged. It is interesting because when you do a group exhibition, you put it in a box and send it to the next city. It is somehow a homogenising approach. But do it is the opposite of imposition, do it is always self-organised; it only happens if local organisers or local curators or local artists want to do it. Like the time in Bangkok or ten years later in China, somebody wants to do it, and then local artists get invited. This time Hu Fang, Chinese artists, and artists of Chinese descent provided the instructions. So it’s producing a whole new chapter in the story of do it. Actually, in this sense, I’m very excited because since there are twenty-five new instructions, it’s almost the most significant and biggest edition that we have produced so far for do it. In addition, this book will produce another book because the Chinese instructions have yet to be translated into English. So we are going to translate it into English and make a little book of the new Chinese instructions next year. As you see, the process never stops; it has only just begun.

HF: Considering all these philosophical approaches to do it, it’s extremely interesting to see how do it 88


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is integrated into different contexts. And within the Chinese context, it’s interesting to see how the do it proposals open a door to different kinds of performances, and thus open a door to different understandings of life’s processes, that is to say, they are proposals for the ‘possibility of life.’ I think there are lots of performative elements within the conceptual approach of do it that are quite connected to the Chinese philosophical achievement of the integration between thought and practice. I think this is a very interesting issue in our discussion; it is very much linked to life itself, and step by step we have achieved the publication of do it (Chinese edition).

HUO: The readers make up fifty percent of the work, following Marcel Duchamp. I did the first twelve instructions in the mid-90s. They were also translated into Russian and Chinese, but the Chinese translator made a mistake with my text. I said do it was already a readymade, like a Marcel Duchamp, who was in Argentina and communicated with his sister who was in France. And there is an instruction piece that is somehow related to Marcel Duchamp’s origin. The Chinese translator got it wrong and said it was already made and created by Paul Cézanne. That was a funny translation mistake in the first do it in the mid-90s. do it is a bit like when you have a musical score where you can basically interpret it. John Cage talked about an open score. At the same time we have a closed score. We have all kinds of scores. If we think about exhibitions and art in a moment of material 89


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reality, everything can become integrated. Nothing lasts forever. Even a canvas does not last forever. Perhaps a canvas is the longest lasting art object. With installations, objects, and photography there is a limited lifespan with a decided moment when the material disintegrates; this is true even with buildings in architecture. If a building became invalid, we would have to rebuild according to the instructions and plans of the architect. So in fifty or one hundred years people could redo it. It’s in the archives. Now this book is out with a couple of thousand copies, and you can imagine that in fifty years somebody might decide to do it. It’s a different way of how art can travel—through time and through objects. We drew our idea from the way that music travels. I’m not saying that this is the only way that art can travel; it’s just one way of travelling. This is a parallel method. The interesting thing is that when we did the first version of do it in the 90s, the poet Seamus Heaney, a very famous Irish poet who won the Nobel prize, sent back a fax with my invitation which he just crossed out in handwriting, and said “nothing doing.” Then I invited Hu Fang. The invitation was based on his novel, Shopping Utopia, which I see very much in the way of Georges Perec. I always think Hu Fang is sort of the new Georges Perec of China. Oulipo was a movement in France in the 1960s that also included Raymond Queneau and Harry Matthew who was the only American participant. His poems basically reinvent literature by proposing new 90


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rules of the game. It is very much related to what do it is, which, also in some kind of way proposes different rules of a game or an exhibition. Oulipo is always in our minds. I invited Hu Fang to do it and he came up with this contribution to the book that is “doing nothing.” It created the beginning of the dialogue. It’s an interesting paradox that out of “doing nothing” the result was such a big book.

HF: It’s truly an interesting paradox. I like the energy when art projects function not only as conceptual experiments, but also raise constructive proposals for the actions. Especially when the whole Chinese society has been transformed by the consumption ideology so rapidly, there are lots of things that urgently need to be reconsidered. In the meantime, this kind of awareness should not only remain at the conceptual level, but also should lead to certain ways of “do it.” I feel a kind of urgent sense that we should “do it.” It was the feeling at the very beginning of our discussion and I think it steered the direction of the Chinese edition.

HUO: I also want to say that we live in a moment of event-culture. Usually things move very fast. We welcome something, and then we move on to the next thing, and then we do something else. What’s interesting with do it is that we are working for ten or twenty years on the same thing, so I want to resist this one-time event-based thing. We give it time. It’s like layers, like stratification, like a growth to some extent if we think about it in material terms. We just spoke to Zheng Guogu who is building his own land. It’s 91


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something which is very slow growing and has organic layers that span over ten or twenty years on his land. This is suggesting a material way. So I would say that, in an immaterial way, do it is similar to that; do it is an immaterial growth. Because it exists for so long, it evolves layer by layer. Artists react to other artists. Obviously artists are also changing their instructions. For example, Rosemarie Trockel says, “See page 48, 72 and 88 and 168 and do it again.” The idea is that art can reflect other artists and it becomes somehow a system that can continue to grow. Hu Fang has a very interesting local interpretation of what do it means in China. In Latin America, when do it went to Mexico City, it again meant something very different. Because in Latin America it was of significance that do it was related to the core of performance art. The instruction art in the 1960s in the Latin American context was also very much related to the idea of a performative score. So to some extent, each time do it happens it takes on different meanings locally and it also gets interpreted locally in different ways. In this sense, making an exhibition is like negotiating between the local and the global. Because we live in the context of globalisation, it’s the homogenising forces of globalisation that are very dangerous to the individual art, and it’s the homogenising forces of globalisation that lead to effect disappearance of difference. I think it’s very important to embrace the global dialogue and the possibility to produce, raise, and embrace difference. So do it is kind of a system. On the one hand, it’s about globalisation. This exhibition could not have happened before globalisation. What it means is that 92


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art today happens in all these different continents and it’s all connected by email. But in a critical way, what Edouard Geissou calls Mondialité does not eliminate the differences but instead multiplies and produces differences. It’s an entry to producing difference.

HF: I think it’s perfect that we are having a conversation around the 798 art district, so much that you actually could feel this kind of cultural industry sphere in China under the global impact. So it is really interesting if we also think about the environment that we are currently in.

HUO: By the way, do it also has a long history in Italy. There are two versions of do it in Italy. There is a very interesting anecdote about Michelangelo Pistoletto who was invited to join the project when do it was in Italy. He actually discovered the possibility that if somebody realises a do it instruction at home or at an institution, it’s for free; but if somebody wants to exhibit it publicly afterwards in a permanent space, one has to acquire the right to do so. So here we have different economies: it’s not an economy of the object, but an economy of rights, of royalties. Again, it’s almost like in music. In music you pay royalties. These are all things I am interested in, and they are almost completely unexplored.

HF: In the meantime, we can also find many interesting perspectives from the Chinese contributions, which somehow are quite connected to what you have just mentioned. 93


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HUO: Shall we go on to see the exhibition? And then go to the cafe for part two. This is the end of part one. The conversation has only just begun. PART TWO: In Timezone 8 Cafe & Bookshop

HYX: I’m curious to know how do it corresponds with its transformation into other contexts. It was initiated in 1993, and you pointed out that do it is like a musical score, or even the archive as a score. So how does the project adapt to its transformation within a Chinese context?

HUO: That’s a very interesting question.

It’s not the first time that we have had globalisation. During the Roman Empire there was globalisation, and there have been globalisations since.... Now, globalisation is particularly strong. So this is one way the project changes with time. Then there is the resistance against homogenised globalisation; hence the version in Beijing is very different from other cities. The other thing is the emergence of the Internet. During the last five or six years, there has been an online version of do it. And the online version allows feedback. So with the instructions on the Internet, users can propose their own interpretations. do it is always very much driven by the local organisers, and with Hu Fang and Zhang Wei we 94


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have together selected twenty-five artists. For example, the book sold out a year after it came out, so we reprinted it, but in the meantime we have new instructions. So you can basically say that was book one and this is the Chinese update. Today alone we have three new instructions (from the interviews I had with Chinese artists), and everyday is a process of more being made. Thinking is very much inspired by the update, and the backup. To some extent, do it is following the model of 1960s conceptual exhibitions. Seth Siegelaub and Lucy Lippard were the two great pioneers of the conceptual exhibitions that had something to do with the immaterial relations in art. But today is a very different period from the 1960s, and I think that should be taken into account. do it is by no means a mere repetition of the 1960s.

HF: It’s always reflected in a different historical moment, and different energy within different historical moments. For me, the real life of the project is based on how the whole structure can have enough flexibility to cope with the situation, and that’s how do it creates a space which allows so many artists from different contexts to get involved.

HYX: Do you have any ideas about presenting do it differently in China, not only in book form, but also in a physical space?

HUO: It could be interesting because so far it has never happened. I think do it is not conceived as a managed tour that gets sent around the world. I 95


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always find tours problematic as they are very much dependent upon a master plan. A touring show can be imposing because you do something and send it out to the rest of the world. To some extent it’s a critique that we need, and do it is a critique of this imposition through group shows. do it is always self-organised, which means I would never send it somewhere. Instead, it only happens when someone wants to do it, when there is a desire. China today may think there should be a do it in the museums, but it’s not something that I would instigate. Curating needs all sorts of rules, while do it is very much a questioning of this master plan. It’s a free interpretation, again; it’s what John Cage called an open score.

HF: The interesting thing is that the do it (Chinese edition) totally arose from a spontaneous discussion, so it is very much about how to do it in an organic way. In the meantime, it’s always driven by a certain level of necessity in your life process. I’m always interested in the questions of what the meaning of an exhibition is, what the necessity of an exhibition is, and how an art exhibition could raise a new entry into the surroundings and build up a new relationship with the reality. Since the whole society has already become a huge spectacle, a live exhibition—these kinds of questions naturally lead to the searching of new models of exhibition.

HUO: At a certain moment I was inspired by the idea of how we could introduce self-organisation into the curatorial master plan. The whole idea of do it is that 96


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whenever it takes place somewhere, there are things that happen to the project that are unpredictable. It has lots to do with chance and also with local necessities. Obviously, each time there is a version of do it happening, a new dialogue certainly happens. In this case it’s with Hu Fang and a whole new list of artists who have been invited. In this respect, I would say the project never stops; it has only just begun. It is a kind of growing archive that you can imagine may happen in the future in many other places, and then it might have a moment in which it stops. Years later, it could be rediscovered by someone. This is the idea that perhaps art can travel through time, not only via objects, but maybe via different channels and different circuits that are not necessarily related to the objects. Again, let’s take music as an example. Music has travelled through the centuries with written scores on paper. When we were working on the first version of do it in 1993, one of my friends pointed out that any of these installations could basically be a score. It’s also a question of economics. It’s interesting that for the participating artists, do it actually raises the issue of what might be the economy of the score, which may be very different from the economy of the object. You can also say that the whole book, the whole process, is deeply inspired by Edouard Glissant, who developed the idea of mondialite that, within the extremely strong impact of globalisation, is basically a negotiation to produce difference and variety, and to resist homogenisation. At the same time, there are global forms of dialogue that work 97


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to make difference disappear. The middle of the two is the solution, which is mondialite. Mondialite embraces the possibility and the potential of the global dialogue, but it does so in a way that does not lead to the disappearance of difference. A global dialogue, which is an engine for difference, would be a credit to mondialite. And do it very much follows the idea of global dialogue. But at the same time it does not follow the whole package of this logic. Each time it happens, it really does produce something different, and Hu Fang’s version is completely different from the other versions.

HF: I would like to take the do it proposal from the Chinese artist Zheng Guogu as a metaphor to respond to your previous question. It’s called “how to rebirth a hundred-year-old tree.” The instruction tells people how to transplant and create a new life of a hundred-year-old tree after it is moved to a new place. The artist points out that the risk index of survival is from 30% to 50%, and for me, the risk index is probably the most attractive part of the do it project; it doesn’t guarantee the success but nevertheless it creates the space for migration.

This text was first published as “Why do it (Chinese edition)?” in Yishu Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art (Mar 2008): 77-83. do it (Chinese edition) was published by Shanghai Art & Literature Publishing House, and co-edited by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Hu Fang in 2008.

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The Extreme Situation is Beautiful

(A Conversation with Hou Hanru)

Interviewed by Carolee Thea

Carolee Thea: Art functions in a place of anxiety and questioning; a curator’s job is to discover the themes which underlie the prevailing mood of a society. Regrettably, some curators create exhibitions in the service of their own ideas, contributing to their own power.

Hou Hanru: Curating an exhibition can be a very contradictory practice. The role of the curator contains a delicate, sophisticated and subtle 99


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borderline. It is the worst of circumstances to use the artist just as an illustration of your ideas.

CT: How would you describe the curator’s role?

HH: The role is to pose a question, and the artist should participate in the formation and the answering with different solutions so that the process is a collaboration. But yes, there are moments when you can see the excessive hand of the curator.

CT: Is the show you did for Apex Art (New York, 1999) with the architect Yung Ho Chang an illustration of a collaboration?

HH: In that programme, Evelyne Jouanno, the cocurator, and myself attempted to analyse what occurs when a curator is asked to do a group show that ends up being rather conventional, mainly due to the limits of budget and space. It is a difficult condition.

CT: Don’t you usually work under a variety of constraints?

HH: Well yes, it is challenging. If you have a lot of money and space it’s easy to do a standard group show. The creative aspect of Apex is that their conditions test how far they can go. For me, curating is a mixture of experiences coming together, and the programme at Apex is a condition of timing, finances, and spatial concerns. I decided to introduce architecture, which is the natural result of what I’ve been doing in projects 100


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like Hong Kong Etc. (for the second Johannesburg Biennial) and Cities on the Move (co-curated with Hans Ulrich Obrist). These shows talk about urban issues, how art can reconnect itself to visual culture, and how architecture becomes a means to proclaim certain visions as well as to add a spatial condition.

CT: How did you become involved in architectural projects?

HH: It came so naturally, because at a certain time in the early ’90s all of these kinds of selfish expressions—the body and sexuality—had become so academic and egotistic. For me, it was a symptom of how a generation of artists had lost the capacity to recommit themselves to reality. They just created very enclosed circles, like masturbation.

CT: Do you think this is a personal or cultural issue relating to your Chinese background?

HH: Yes, my generation of Chinese has been fighting for more fundamental issues of humanity. For us, the first necessity of art is never to return to the enclosure of the self. The second thing is to see how modernity rewrites the process of social transformation in different conditions, and then how it is visualised. Architecture and urban issues become important because they’re the most general expression of this kind of project. At the same time, my experience gives me the opportunity to look at a more global situation from a different point of view. The way I talk about the relationship 101


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between art, society, and everyday life is very different from that of most of my colleagues in Europe and the States, because of different personal stories. I went to art school and became committed to this domain (it’s never really a profession), because I wanted to contribute my efforts to change reality, to have more relevance. Maybe visual art is irrelevant to me.

CT: Were you trained as an art historian, a critic, an artist, or an architect?

HH: I had an interest in all these things but was trained in art history in Beijing. I also did painting, performance, installation, and architectural research at school. The main subject for my degree was medieval sculpture and churches, how the relationship between visual art and architecture evolved because of social change.

CT: I see a direct connection now between the work you curated for the French pavilion and your former studies. Columns topped with a Chinese bestiary juts through the Neoclassical pavilion roof, and there is a chariot outside. You and the artist Huang Yong Ping have created a kind of medieval courtyard.

HH: Not only medieval in its form but an overlapping of two histories through two different architectural systems. But this was not my idea; the artist came up with it. I was so excited, because it had a resonance in my heart, and I said that he had do this‌ and so we did it together. But let’s get back to Apex. We decided to do an 102


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architectural project and to introduce a Chinese architect, Yung Ho Chang. Chang created a site-specific installation and provided the audience with a direct and corporeal experience of his architectural vision. It’s very important that architecture has a voice in this discourse. Yong Ho Chang spent 15 years in the States to study and teach, and he decided to go back to China to set up the first private architectural firm.

CT: This also becomes a story of how modernity travels through continents.

HH: Modernity is a global thing, and usually the process of Western culture has been connected to other cultures through colonisation: The African mask influenced Picasso, and Frank Lloyd Wright was inspired by Chinese Zen and Lao Tzu, the first Taoist philosopher. When you talk about Western modernity, it is such a complexity. Exchanges or confrontations with artists of different cultures help us discover universal aspects, which can stimulate other projects. Thus, where the social conditions in places are different, the social exchanges are very important.

CT: Do you think the exchange that’s taking place at the Venice Biennale is forced? Everyone is uncomfortable about the number of works from so many Chinese artists, similar to when Russian art was imposed on the Biennale.

HH: And then it disappeared in three years. This is not the first time the Biennale has had a Chinese 103


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presence at such a scale, but it’s the first time you have so much propaganda. The last time, for the Biennale of 1993, the first Chinese avant-garde was exhibited in the pavilion where you now have the press service. It was an insulting presence of Chinese contemporary art, which stole the name avant-garde and showed the most cynical works. It was the first marketing of so-called Chinese Political Pop. There’s a huge difference not only in propaganda but in the selection and artistic interpretation of this situation. And the main progress is that this time the Chinese works are shown inside an international show. It’s true that there are very strong Chinese artists here, ones that you have not seen in previous Biennales, and there’s also an intimate and personal decision by curators linked to personal or marketing interests.

CT: I understand that the Chinese works exhibited in this Biennale are from one collector.

HH: Not all, but many. Two years ago, with such a heavy American presence, no one raised the question, “Why the heavy American presence?” American and European art has been seen for years and years, and it’s taken for granted. Why do we question the Chinese presence? But this is boring to me. I am more concerned with what happens in the next Biennale; will we see the same quantity of Chinese art?

CT: With the curatorial idea of globalism, a decision was made to democratise the Venice Biennale, the bastion of Western art, to describe this issue of the moment. 104


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HH: Until the whole thing becomes normal—then we will have achieved a kind of goal. In the French pavilion you have Chinese and French, and that’s great, but what will happen next: Have an African and an Icelander representing the French? But if next year people say, “we’ve done the Chinese thing, now let’s go back to France,” then that will be disastrous. There are different ways of consuming this thing.

CT: If the market and institutions come in too fast, it’s the speed of consumption that becomes the subject matter. Globalism is a utopian concept, and strategies that take place in these brief periods witness a culture returning to itself.

HH: Yes, but I have used this occasion to turn it into something else. There are different ways of consuming the idea of globalism. For instance, in the French pavilion, the two curators presently living in Paris, myself from China and Denys Zacharopoulos, originally from Greece, presented two artworks that were very separate but functioned under the same roof, but not as a two-person show. Rather, it is an enforced juxtaposition equivalent to interpenetration. This is part of my personal agenda. In the past people have spoken of globalisation as taking Western modernised life and economies and altering underdeveloped countries, but you rarely hear of how non-Westerners are functioning in a Western society.

CT: Some people are expelled from their own culture, as in Kosovo, and there are those who choose to relocate. 105


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HH: It doesn’t matter how they left their countries. What is important is that they become even more open to other cultures in their new countries and develop their own cultural context and contribute to a new intellectual and cultural scene with global significance.

CT: There are 200,000 Chinese living in Paris. Some, like Huang Yong Ping and yourself, are making strong work integral to the scene.

HH: He has proved that he is inevitable at the moment.

CT: How do you react to the dichotomy of traditional versus modern cultures?

HH: The traditional versus the modern has been an obsession in certain periods of history and development, especially in cultures where modernity is a new thing; people are obsessed because there is a necessity about it. But I think this question has been solved in life situations, where you have to deal with it in concrete and fragmented ways. Innovation and tradition constantly interweave. An image that people talk about is the fundamentalist Islamic soldier who uses advanced technology to make religious wars. On one hand they forbid television, but on the other they use satellites. Another image is the poorest Indian man drinking Coca-Cola and wanting Nike shoes, a strange mixture of modern Western products and non-Western traditions. We need to look at 106


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the world in a more diverse way and use different elements as a strategy for critical intervention.

CT: The mythological bestiary surmounting Huang Yong Ping’s columns in this 19th-century Neoclassical pavilion is an ironic reference to the past. Do you know who the architect was?

HH: I was told that he was an Italian mimicking the Neoclassicism of the French.

CT: Huang’s columns topped by mythological beasts insert the Chinese into French culture—this ironic gesture is also perhaps a mocking one.

HH: The strategy that Huang carries out is a fundamental aspect of his thinking; he uses different elements in particular contexts. In China, he organised a group called Xiamen Dada and introduced modern Western art elements (Duchamp, Dada, Cage, and Beuys), while in the West, he introduced Chinese mythologies. His employment of Chinese elements is not to elicit a belief in them—he doesn’t believe in them either. He uses systems in a strategic way to show you that there are different ways of looking at the world. It’s a question of which system of knowledge has been empowered, how a dominant system has become a hegemony, how other cultures can actively resist. Not only to claim their identities but to propose alternative projects. The French pavilion is an example of this, using these ideologies to show another way of seeing the architecture and its symbolic function. 107


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CT: It becomes a dialogue.

HH: And a negotiation. When you look at his version of Chinese mythology, it’s so contradictory because he shows the interior contradictions among those images. It is a destabilising intervention of fixed ideas.

CT: The contemporary art media don’t always react to an instability but to an intervention.

HH: I have to work with journalists and television reporters. It’s my duty to explain the work, but they always ask the wrong questions; they think the audience doesn’t want to know more, so they shorthand the information.

CT: People aren’t given enough time to absorb anything and although we consume culture on the run the brain seems to be mutating. The “body” subtext in this Biennale deals with anxiety about multiculturalism but also anxiety brought on by pc-encoded, biotechnological, millennial gluttony.

HH: The body is being transformed in a process of spatialisation as it disintegrates into space. In visual art there are many expressions of this flux between the material and immaterial, existing only in time, in spatialisation, rather than in a fixed existence. The challenge for the media, institutions, and the audience is to confront these expressions, to respect and understand them, and help make them visible. In large exhibitions like the biennial you need time, but 108


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how much time can you afford to sit in front of a video projection that lasts 60 minutes? This is a challenge to curators. Sometimes you have to do a show, and you need to view a piece five or six times to understand it, but you decide to use the piece and don’t have time to view it. It can be a disaster. It’s a kind of curatorial schizophrenia, to deal with this anxiety. I don’t think artists are rarified; they’re part of our communication system, and they play the game of this new dialogue, dealing with the issue of excessive information, lack of time and space, and how to handle it. Contradiction and chaos have the same value as reasonable knowledge. And maybe there are new artworks that are challenging because they’re structured in a very fragmented way. You can go into a room with a projection and spend all day with it or five minutes and say I’ve seen it, it’s an interesting negotiation. It’s important that we discuss this.

CT: How do artists deal with this notion of time at the end of the century?

HH: To analyse the situation in a critical way, on the one hand, is impossible and contradictory. On the other hand, perhaps it gives us the opportunity to invent new models of communication and to create new possibilities and alternatives. For instance, you can have a film that goes on for years and another for five seconds, and these can exist side by side with the same importance. Artists propose very different projects, but the goal is how to present them in a public space, and that’s our job. 109


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CT: Are you finding new forms in artists’ studios that confront the compression of time?

HH: Forms are not a big issue for me. Any expression is fine, as long as it has something to say in the right context. A good example is the first version of Douglas Gordon’s movie 24 Hour Psycho, the one where he slows the Hitchcock movie into 24 hours. It’s an amazing and impossible experience, because you have to be sitting there for that time. I think the extreme situation in art is beautiful. Fifteen years ago, Huang did a paradigm of this in the piece called Photographing things you don’t want to look at. It was really an impossible situation. In a Gabriel Orozco work, the fact that he uses two kinds of “pool” tables isn’t the most important point, it’s that he sets up an impossible condition for you to be there in front of the work.

CT: Do you mean time or split screen or…

HH: Or a mental situation, a challenge whether to look or not. Like David Hammons’s talk about fetish. How much will you pay for a snowball of different sizes? It is such a beautiful gesture, a touching, delicate, sophisticated moment of existence and knowledge.

CT: Yes, it is about about the contemplation of life and death, the body versus the mind.

HH: Yes, you have to make a decision for yourself and your destiny. You can complain about power, 110


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but the extreme moment is when all of this is fading away and you still want to catch it and hold on to it.

CT: And the snowball has this resonance because it’s ephemeral.

HH: It covers the issue of consumer society, cultural difference, social space, sensuality and beauty, and you don’t know how to handle it.

CT: And it implies the body, as its temperature will melt the snow.

HH: The snowball vapourises, is gone, and you feel a loss in your body, making you think your body should take a different form, to look at your body in another way.

CT: You’re saying that in corporeal disappearance we can rebirth the mind. Do you know other artists who do this?

HH: One piece Huang proposed, but which hasn’t yet been realised, was around the glass wall at the Centre Pompidou, a clear tube sitting in the corridor between the first and second layer of glass around the contemporary gallery, in which he wanted to put hundreds of different insects that eat each other. At the end you have one or two left.

CT: Very fat ones.

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HH: It’s like a ball rolling through the tube and almost invisible. If you stand in the wrong place, you don’t see the piece, just a transparent tube. For the work to exist and for you to exist, it is a perpetual struggle and pushes a confrontation with a huge problem, an aspect of being. Earlier I spoke of being interested in urban architecture; it’s such a complex system.

CT: Yes, how do social spaces present an opportunity for imagination and transition? Tell me about your corridor projects in Paris.

HH: Social spaces are complexities where the individual spaces connect and network, and where certain transformations take place. The corridor project is an earlier one that I did with my wife, Evelyne Jouanno, when we had no money or place to stay in Paris. We found a small apartment on the top floor. Here there was a triangular corridor, five metres long and one metre wide with a sloping roof. When we moved into the house we changed the wallpaper and painted everything white and then questioned: Why white? The main reason was what we see in galleries and museums, and now we had to figure out what to do with it. We saw this useless corridor and we decided to make it into a project area. Corridors are probably the most interesting places in buildings, because they are liquid and need defining and redefining constantly; they are also transitions from private to public space. We decided to invite a different artist each month. Yes, it was crazy, and we had to live with it. Every month we would spend a 112


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week helping to get the piece done, then three weeks opening it to people. In one night we could get a hundred people. The first artist we chose was Thomas Hirschhorn, who filled the place with cardboard and wood and rubbish so that you can hardly go through. The next artist removed the tapestry, the window, put in gas heating and electricity—and well, this game went on for 13 months. The only month we didn’t do it was when our daughter was born.

CT: Did your wife give birth in the corridor?

HH: Almost. The hospital was only 100 metres away! Now we have moved out of the house. We only wanted to do the project for a year. It wasn’t an alternative gallery, just the right place to raise the right question.

This text was first published in Sculpture Magazine, Vol. 18, No. 9 (Nov 1999). It was later included in: Carolee Thea, foci: interviews with 10 international curators (New York: Apexart, 2001); and Yu Hsiao-Hwei, ed. On The MidGround: Hou Hanru (Hong Kong: Timezone 8, 2002).

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A Plea for Exhibitions Jens Hoffmann

That curatorial practice has developed rapidly over the last few decades is not exactly news. Particularly in Europe, where museums are less dependent on private donors and foundations than in the United States, and thus issues of fundraising are less of a concern to curators, we have seen quite radical programming emerge. Curating has marched forward with big steps and has become increasingly diversified. This diversification has allowed the field to move beyond traditional ideas of exhibition making. But new tendencies in curating have been less about what novel 114


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models of exhibition making could be, and more about how to overcome the idea of exhibition making itself. In some cases the “death of the exhibition� has already been proclaimed! Of particular focus has been the expansion of related programming such as educational events, artistic and curatorial residencies, publications, talks, films, and performances, and how to eventually make all of these activities the core of curatorial undertakings. These trends are the results of a number of developments, among them the expansion and diversification of artistic practices over the last four decades. They are also motivated by a desire on the part of curators, infused with political consciousness and intellectual curiosity, to connect with the broader social and political issues of our times, which inform, and perhaps surpass in importance, artistic practices. Larger institutions try to attract and widen their audiences through so-called events such as film screenings, lecture series, and performance evenings. While many of these additional programmes initially originated from the desire to present art forms that could not be shown in the galleries and to provide context for exhibitions on view, of late this aspect of institutional programming has, for better or worse, taken on a life of its own. It is not surprising that a static display of art objects in the form of an exhibition could be perceived as insufficiently attractive, not dynamic or entertaining enough, since it does not much enable social interaction and it requires not only patience but also effort on the part of the audience to engage with seemingly difficult artistic and curatorial arguments. This is not to say that exhibitions should not be entertaining. But they surely should not be entertainment. Looking at a well-curated exhibition should be an effort 115


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that is not easily digestible. It should ultimately be an educational, intellectually stimulating, inspiring experience. While larger museums have used non-exhibition-centred programming to attract bigger and more diverse audiences, smaller institutions that are less audience-focused and more intellectually and politically minded have discovered that these non-exhibition-based curatorial efforts offer ways to move beyond the traditional concept of exhibitions as displays of artworks in a white cube. In the last 20 or so years, with the academisation of curatorial practice and the growth of discourse-oriented artistic practices, theory has become a key aspect not only of the eloquent argument of the premise of a specific exhibition, but also of the analysis of culture and politics at large, with or without any obvious relationship to actual artistic production. Catherine David’s Documenta X (1997) was a prime example of an exhibition whose accompanying programme, 100 Days—100 Guests, enabled academic art-world discourses outside the exhibition space.1 Okwui Enwezor’s Documenta XI (2002) took the idea even further with five symposia, the Platforms, which took place around the world.2 Critical and expanded programming is now a core element of any respectable art institution. Seminars and the publication of academic materials have become standard offerings, often replacing traditional catalogues. One recent trend has been the investigation of new pedagogical modes and alternative education models such as temporary schools, evening workshops, weekend seminars, and travelling libraries within the walls of the museum. The unsuccessful attempt to start an art school by the curators of Manifesta 6 (titled Exhibition as School) in Cyprus in 2006 finally found form in a number of public presentations and educational 116


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activities at the United Nations Plaza in Berlin. Initiated by one of the Manifesta 6 co-curators, Anton Vidokle, these lasted from 2006 until 2009 and extended to New York through the New Museum’s Night School (2008–9).3 Many non-exhibition-based curatorial activities of the last decade were originally connected with New Institutionalism, a term coined in 2003 by the Norwegian curator Jonas Ekeberg4 and later analysed by the German curator Nina Möntmann in her 2006 book Art and Its Institutions: Current Conflicts, Critique, and Collaborations. New Institutionalism was never a coherent curatorial movement, but rather a short-lived phenomenon triggered by unorthodox curatorial models with a social and political bent. It was associated with the curators Charles Esche, Maria Lind, Maria Hlavajova, Vasif Kortun, and several others, and disappeared quickly but still casts a shadow over how curators today understand institutional programming. While perhaps not directly connected with New Institutionalism, the work of curator Ute Meta Bauer and to a certain extent the programming of the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) under director Manuel J. Borja-Villel should be mentioned here. Both have, in different ways, strongly advocated a more theoretically conscious, critically aware, and politically sensitive curatorial approach that often prioritises non-exhibition-based curatorial undertakings over the display of artworks. Meta Bauer often takes a kind of hybrid approach in these terms, integrating archives and visual material related to social and political research into a structure that is part exhibition, part arena for intellectual exchange and political debate. Not at all turning away from the idea of an exhibition as a forum for the display of art objects, Meta 117


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Bauer’s practice combines rigorous academic thinking with a radical approach to exhibition formats. Her exhibition ?, part of the now-legendary exhibition NowHere (1996) at the Louisiana Museum outside of Copenhagen, stands out as an early example of a more theoretically inclined method of exhibition making. NowHere incorporated institutional critical thinking into the curatorial process and analysed exhibitions as social events by trying to examine the history of the venue as a bastion of humanist and liberal, yet elitist and bourgeois, ideology.5 While it was not perceived as a success—it perhaps broke too radically with traditional exhibition formats—it was valuable as an early experiment in attempting a dialogue with more discourse-oriented artistic practices. In many ways it predated what was later described as the “curatorialisation of institutional critique,” a way of curating that borrowed heavily from the critical and self-reflexive practices of artists such as Andrea Fraser, Renée Green, or Michael Asher, to mention only a few—a mode that affected not only the content and message of an exhibition, but also its form. When speaking about innovation in exhibition making, it is important to distinguish between content-related innovations, such as the integration in the 1990s of new discourses related to identity politics and post-colonialism into the exhibition premise (in many cases these simply replaced older debates) and innovations involving the form of the exhibition itself, moving it away from the traditional white-cube presentation. The evolution of the large-scale international biennial (away from the original Venice model with the national pavilions) is certainly one of the biggest innovations in exhibition making of the last two decades. Yet there is surprisingly little diversity in the curating of 118


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biennials; most of them end up being global overviews, presenting what is going on around the world in the sphere of contemporary art at a given time under some vague theme. Yet there are isolated exceptions that are more consistent and theoretically rigorous. The 11th International Istanbul Biennial in 2009, titled What Keeps Mankind Alive?, offered just such an exception. And it is worth mentioning the radical changes that Manifesta, the nomadic European biennial, has undergone in its recent iterations, concerning itself more and more with European politics: immigration, deindustrialisation, and Europe’s relationships with its neighbours in Africa and the Middle East and moving further away from the pure display of artworks. One of the major innovators in exhibition making has clearly been the Swiss curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, who began his career in the early-1990s and certainly owed much of his creative impulse to the more unorthodox curators working in the 1970s and 1980s (Harald Szeemann, Johannes Cladders, Walter Hopps, Lucy Lippard, Jan Hoet, Kasper König, and Pontus Hultén, to mention a few). Obrist vehemently supported the idea of looking at artworks in relation to other fields and connected the display of artworks with the disciplines of architecture, filmmaking, literature, and science. He presented exhibitions in unusual locations, such as the houses of historically important architects and writers, his kitchen, a hotel room.6 In other cases he relied heavily on audience participation, in exhibitions such as do it (begun in 1993) and Take Me (I’m Yours) (1995).7 As of late even Obrist seems to have moved away from the exhibition as the main focus of his curatorial undertakings and centres his activities more on publishing, in particular his interview project and the conversation marathons. However, almost 119


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all of the innovative work done by exhibition makers in mainstream art institutions over the last decade owes much to ideas that Obrist first introduced. Another curator who should be mentioned here is Matthew Higgs, who has been developing alternative exhibition models for years, since 2004 as the director of White Columns in New York, and before that at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in San Francisco. What makes Higgs’s work exceptional is not so much the exhibitions themselves as the way they come about, and the diversity of elements combined within them: everything from art historical artifacts to music, outsider art, and elements of popular culture. Some innovation has also come from the involvement of artists in the curatorial process, especially in the arena of collection displays. While the trend of artists curating exhibitions was initially an interesting way both to examine how artists think about exhibition making, art history, and other artists as well as to question institutional hierarchies and roles, it quickly spun out of control. One particularly unfortunate instance was the show curated by Jeff Koons, Skin Fruit (2010) at the New Museum in New York, which was based on the collection of the Greek collector Dakis Joannou. A more positive example, on the other hand, is Houseguests, the Hammer Museum’s series of displays from their Grunwald collection of prints and drawings, initiated in 2008 by Hammer curator Allegra Pesenti. Curated, or perhaps better, selected, by Los Angeles–based artists, Houseguests has thus far involved the artists Jennifer Bornstein and Francesca Gabbiani. These modest, smallscale presentations give the historical Grunwald Center works a new spin, making them attractive to audiences mostly interested in contemporary art. Both editions thus 120


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far have been notable for their meticulous installation, the dialogue they created between past and present, and their clear and yet sophisticated curatorial premises. In conclusion I would like to mention two very different, and both highly innovative, makers of exhibitions. The first is the independent art space Triple Candie in Harlem, New York. Although to call Triple Candie an alternative or independent art space does not do it justice. Since its inception in 2001 it has become a bastion of curatorial innovation, in particular with what the organisation calls “exhibitions about art without art.” Two of its best-known exhibitions have been David Hammons: The Unauthorised Retrospective (2005), which was realised via photocopies and computer printouts and without the artist’s approval, and Cady Noland Approximately: Selected Work, 1984–2000 (2006), the first survey of Noland’s art, consisting of 13 sculptural approximations built using incomplete information gathered on the internet. Both of these exhibitions were highly controversial, but introduced a number of innovations, among them simply new ways to organise radical exhibitions without much of a budget. The second is the Toronto-based collector, artist, scholar, philanthropist, and curator Ydessa Hendeles. The unique and innovative qualities of her work have fortunately received increased attention over the last few years, yet only a small handful of people have ever had the privilege of seeing her exhibitions in person. With such shows as her now-legendary The Teddy Bear Project (2002), Partners (2003), Predators and Prey (2006), and Dead! Dead! Dead! (2007), Hendeles pushed the idea of radically subjective curating to an entirely new level by often dealing with her childhood agonies and her family’s past, and also, perhaps because of her personal 121


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involvement with the subjects of her shows, examined how contemporary art can occupy a context populated by objects from the larger sphere of cultural history. Dead! Dead! Dead! was loosely organised around the traditional British puppet show featuring the characters of Punch and Judy. Hendeles combined a large selection of historical Punch and Judy puppets, Joan Crawford’s charm bracelets, and Victorian-era billy clubs with works by Charles Ray, James Coleman, Thomas Schütte, Louise Bourgeois, Marcel Dzama, and others to create a complex collage that spoke eloquently about violence, death, power, discontent, frustration, and class society. These and other examples of innovative excellence from the last decade reveal not only that the art exhibition is alive and well, but that there is an enormous amount of work still to be done. Unfortunately, looking at most major art museums today, particularly in the United States, we see very little innovation in exhibition making. I personally like to wonder what would have happened if we curators had put our efforts of the last 20 years less into expanding and diversifying what curating could mean outside the white cube, and more into radically examining what takes place within the four walls of the gallery space—a space to which I personally feel extremely dedicated. Making exhibitions is necessary, not only for the presentation of artworks but also as a very particular mode of rendering intellectual thinking in a creative, visual, and experiential way. Perhaps some curators have abandoned the idea of exhibition making too soon—before it was ever fully explored. New forms will emerge more readily if we can only relinquish the tired categories of solo, mid-career, group, historical survey, and so on, striving instead for the personal and quixotic as well as the academically 122


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rigorous. It is also always useful for contemporary art curators to look beyond the realm of visual art. A visit to a natural or cultural history museum can be an illuminating experience, making dramatically apparent the boundless potential of the exhibition, and I personally have always enjoyed escaping the confines of the contemporary art world in such ways. Hopefully we will see more and more innovation directed toward the form of the exhibition in the years to come. I certainly promise to do my part. Notes

1 Following the idea of Documenta being the “museum of a hundred days,” Documenta X invited 100 filmmakers, anthropologists, psychoanalysts, writers, philosophers, economists, and architects to present papers, one on each of the 100 evenings of the exhibition’s run. 2 Leading up to the opening of Documenta XI, the organisers staged five symposia, which they called Platforms, in Vienna, Berlin, Lagos, St. Lucia, and New Delhi.

3 Night School was a project by Anton Vidokle, launched in January 2008 at the New Museum in New York. Taking the form of a temporary school, it was a year-long programme of 12 monthly seminars and workshops, conceptualised and conducted by a group of local and international artists, writers, and theorists. 4 Jonas Ekeberg, ed., New Institutionalism, Verksted #1 (Oslo: Office for Contemporary Art, 2003).

5 For NowHere, museum director Lars Nittve invited a team of international curators to put together a series of exhibitions of contemporary works by more than 100 artists. It was arranged in five sections: Incandescent, Get Lost, Walking and Thinking and Walking, Work in Progress, and ?. For this one-time experiment, the museum placed its collection in storage and gave itself over entirely to demonstrating the diversity of contemporary positions.

6 For example Everstill (2007–8) at the house of Federico García Lorca in Granada, Spain; The Air Is Blue (2003) at the house of Luis Barragán in Mexico City; Retrace Your Steps: Remember Tomorrow (2000) at the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London; Hotel Carlton Palace: Chambre 763 (1993) in a room of the 123


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Hotel Carlton Palace in Paris; and World Soup: The Kitchen Show (1991) in his student apartment in St. Gallen, Switzerland.

7 do it has had more than 100 iterations since its start in 1993 and is based on a participatory concept that allows the audience to create and exhibit artworks based on instructions by well-known artists.

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Curating the 6th Asia Pacific Triennial (A Conversation with Russell Storer) Interviewed by Alvaro RodrĂ­guez Fominaya

On the occasion of the opening of The 6th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT6), one of the oldest biennials in the region, Alvaro RodrĂ­guez Fominaya conducted an email interview with Russell Storer, a co-curator of the event. Russell Storer is currently Head of Asian and Pacific Art at the Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, Australia, where the APT is held. APT6, which ran from December 5, 2009 through April 5, 2010, and which included over 100 artists and collaborations from Asia, the Pacific and Australia. Artists from Tibet, North Korea, Turkey, Iran and the Mekong region were part of the curatorial selection. Through this 125


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interview, Russell Storer unveiled the position of the Triennial in the region, previewed the contents of this edition and explained the changes that have taken place in cultural production in Australia. ArtPULSE, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Dec 2009–Feb 2010) Contextualising the Position of APT6 Alvaro Rodríguez Fominaya: What is the position of the APT in connection with the other regional biennials and triennials, such as Guangzhou Triennial, Gwangju Biennial, or smaller-scale events like the Fukuoka Triennial?

Russell Storer: Like the other triennials, the APT is developed in a particular location, primarily for a local audience, although it has an international scope and draws international interest. Unlike the others, apart from Fukuoka, the APT is located in an art museum, and is curated by museum staff, and also has a specific remit in terms of the geography it considers, Asia and the Pacific. These factors enable an ongoing investigation that has deepened over time, and is embedded in the history and the collections of the institution. Many of the staff of the Gallery have worked on several, if not all, of the APTs and that kind of institutional memory is pretty unique. Since 1993, each APT has built upon and developed what was done before, responding to the shifts in art practice in the region.

ARF: And what is the position of the APT in relation to the Sydney Biennale, which is possibly a much larger scale 126


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event. How is it connected to the ‘show business’ idea of what art is today and current ‘star’ curators. How does the APT position itself when it looks at this other event?

RS: Again, our location, structure and focus are different, so the two events operate in alternative ways, and complement each other. They both contribute significantly to the discussion around contemporary art in Australia, and are each of a scale and scope to bring major works into the country and introduce new practices. Although it is physically large, Australia is a small and highly dispersed country, and is geographically isolated, so both exhibitions have been important in providing access to works and in helping Australia participate in the global conversation. One of the benefits of the APT model, staged by an institution, is its collection aspect, which means that significant works stay in Australia and are able to have an ongoing relationship with local audiences.

ARF: The APT has a history of now almost two decades. Has its role been instrumental in the way that cultural producers in Australia have started to look at the Asian context, and at the same time reposition Australia in the region? I am also thinking of publications like Broadsheet.

RS: I think that the APT has been extremely significant in this regard. It is still the primary platform in Australia for looking at Asian and Pacific contemporary art, and it has helped build a much more ‘Asia/ Pacific-literate’ audience here, from art professionals 127


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to the general public. Its consistency has enabled substantial, longstanding regional relationships to be built and maintained, which are fundamental in working anywhere, in any field. Compared to many other places, Australia has had a longstanding interest and involvement in Asian contemporary art, although initially this was more at a grassroots and person-to-person level, which developed into more established projects such as the ARX (Artist Regional Exchange) in Perth in the mid-to-late 1980s. Since then, there have been a number of other initiatives, including journals such as Art Asia Pacific (established in Sydney in 1993 before moving to New York), and programmes, such as Asialink at the University of Melbourne, which organise residencies, touring exhibitions and exchanges. These, in combination with a wide range of other projects and publications, have made huge changes to how Australia locates itself culturally within the region. I think however, that there is a lot still to be done, particularly in terms of ongoing exhibition programming and collecting (particularly in other state galleries), and art-historical knowledge of Asian and Pacific art. I think this works both ways also. There is not a great knowledge or circulation of Australian art in Asia, for example, which could certainly be developed further.

The Mekong Delta, a Highlight for This Year

ARF: Southeast Asia is considered by many curators as ‘The Next Thing.’ This time one of your foci is on the Mekong, with Vietnam, Myanmar, 128


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Cambodia and Thailand. What was the driving reason for you to conduct research on this area?

RS: The APT has been working with artists from Southeast Asia since 1993, so it’s not really about ‘The Next Thing.’ However, artists from Cambodia and Myanmar had not been shown before—the Cambodian contemporary art scene is relatively recent, and access to Myanmar is difficult for obvious reasons. We are very interested in what has been happening throughout the region, which has certainly blossomed in recent years. Richard Streitmatter-Tran undertook a research project on the Mekong sub-region for the Asia Art Archive in 2005, so, as with early APTs when working in a new area, we decided to invite him in as a co-curator. He and I developed a focused platform looking at artists working in the Mekong region, and as with Richard’s research, we decided to use the river as a framing structure and a metaphorical device, to consider flows of information and processes of social change and economic development.

ARF: The Mekong project brings together art scenes that are in a very different level of development. Thailand and Vietnam art scenes are by far the most complex, whilst Myanmar and Cambodia are in the early stages. What are the difficulties of working with such a complex and varied network? What is your analysis of this situation?

RS: This diversity and complexity is what makes the region so compelling, although, as you’ve mentioned, 129


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also makes it a challenging area to work in—not least so for the artists themselves. Richard and I both made research trips, together and separately, and this kind of groundwork is essential in beginning to understand the contexts in which artists are working. Collaborating with Richard, who lives in and has very strong networks in the region and is a practicing artist himself, has made negotiations and communication much easier across the board. A number of the artists are very mobile and have active international careers, while others work in a much more localised way; but as with any artist, no matter where they are from, there is the need for curators to be responsive and flexible to different approaches and requirements. ‘The Mekong’ is not attempting, however, to make a definitive statement on art scenes in the region or to represent them as such. We rather aim to consider some really strong individual practices while drawing connections between the works in terms of artistic strategies and the concerns artists are addressing. These might be urbanisation, growing disparities in wealth and opportunity, and the effects of global market forces, as well as strong traditions of Buddhism and particular social and political structures.

Development of a Curatorial Team

ARF: This time, the Triennial has been structured through several projects, each of which has a cocurator who has worked with you. How has the process been defined with co-curators Brent Clough, Richard Streitmatter-Tran and Nicholas Bonner? 130


(A Conversation with Russell Storer)

RS: The co-curators have been invited to help develop specific foci within the exhibition. None of them are professional curators—Brent is a broadcaster, Richard is an artist and Nicholas a filmmaker—but all are experts in their respective area, which is enormously valuable in offering knowledge, access and fresh approaches in areas that we hadn’t worked with before.

ARF: Being organised by an established museum like the Queensland Art Gallery, the educational programmes have an important place in the overall programme. It is not so common to find a triennial with such an interest in education. What are the challenges of creating an educational programme for a biennial of contemporary art?

RS: We are lucky to have a long-established education programme, with this year being the tenth anniversary of the Kids’ APT. So there is a lot of expertise and experience within the institution, and an enormous energy for pushing it further. It has become one of the most significant aspects of the Gallery’s activities, as it introduces children to contemporary art, and through that, draws in their families, becoming an important way to engage and build broad audiences. Over this period, we have been able to develop an informed public from an early age, which has grown up with the APT, enabling us to work with a strengthening knowledge base among the community each time. To develop the programme, we work directly with artists to create activities that are a direct extension of the ideas and processes they are 131


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working with. This enables a much more nuanced, responsive and complex approach to art education, and we find that artists are extraordinarily generous and open to working in this way. It is a lot of work— almost like making another exhibition—but the benefits and rewards are more than worth it.

ARF: The moving image has been inserted in the general programme. Film programmes are an integral part of the event. How important is the collaboration of the Australian Cinémathèque for the Triennial?

RS: This will be the second APT to feature cinema, since the opening of the Australian Cinémathèque in 2006. As with APT5, film forms a significant component of APT6, through surveys of the work of individual filmmakers as well as a curated film programme. It builds on ideas and focuses in the exhibition—or example, in relation to ‘The Mekong,’ there will be a retrospective of the Cambodian director Rithy Panh’s films—as well as drawing in new audiences, who are interested in film and then come and see the art. It provides a rich context to works in the exhibition; for example, APT6 is the first time artists from West Asia, such as Iran and Turkey, have been featured, and there is a significant programme of cinema from the Indian subcontinent through to Central Asia and the Middle East, teasing out particular narratives and relationships as they flow through the region. It also enables filmmakers to be assessed in a different context, such as Ang Lee who can be considered an auteur. We can consider how he navigates working cross-culturally through an extremely diverse 132


(A Conversation with Russell Storer)

range of film genres, yet with a recurrent interest in the outsider and the difficulties of communication.

ARF: How do you come across The Mansudae Art Studio from North Korea? This is one of the countries in which we don’t know what is going on. What is the story behind the scenes of the development of this programme? This is one of the most intriguing contents of the Triennial, in my eyes.

RS: The Mansudae Art Studio is one of the major studios in Pyongyang, and employs hundreds of artists working in a wide range of media. The negotiations to show their work have taken place over the past five years, through discussions with Nicholas Bonner, a filmmaker who also runs a company organising tours to the DPRK and has a longstanding relationship with the studio. Such a presentation wouldn’t have been possible without Nicholas’ involvement—he also has a significant collection of work, which he is lending to the exhibition—as working with artists in North Korea obviously requires extensive experience and strong contacts on the ground. Like you say, it’s a country of which very little is known, yet has a significant geopolitical impact in the Asia Pacific. It seemed timely to try and open the door a little.

Funding and Education in the Triennial

ARF: What is the budget for an event like this one? 133


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RS: It’s significant, and I’m not in a position to discuss figures, but it is one of the largest projects that the Gallery undertakes and involves the entire institution. This means that we are able to draw on all of the resources—human and departmental—of the Gallery to realise it. A significant amount of the funding is raised from sources such as visual arts and crafts funds from the Queensland state government and the Australia Council, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and various national arts funding bodies and corporate and private sponsors.

ARF: ‘Visibility of the invisible’ seems to me to be one of the underlying themes of the Triennial. Could you describe the logical process behind the development of what the curators describe as “cultural constellations”?

RS: This is an interesting question—you could say in a general sense that all art is making the invisible visible. In terms of the APT you might ask—invisible to whom? The artists may not be well-known outside of their own contexts, but are often very significant at home. There is an educational dimension to the APT in terms of building awareness and understanding, but it is also the opportunity to immerse ourselves in powerful aesthetic experiences. The term ‘cultural constellations’ was used by our cinema curators to describe the APT film programme – it is structured in a series of sections that look at specific regional and cultural relations, such as Sri Lanka, Armenia and Turkey, and Palestine, Israel and Lebanon. 134


(A Conversation with Russell Storer)

ARF: What is unique this year at APT6? Is it the focus on new and emerging art scenes?

RS: There are a number of aspects of APT6 that have not been attempted before. It is the largest APT to date, and will take up the entire Gallery of Modern Art building as well as key spaces in the Queensland Art Gallery. It is considering a wider geography than previously, reflecting not only the emergence of strong art activity in parts of Southeast Asia and West Asia, for example, but also because it is important to consider how particular forms and ideas flow across the region, both historically and in the present. We are also looking at a generation of artists—many of whom were born in the 1970s and even the 1980s— who are much more mobile and interconnected than ever before. They have grown up in a world of instant communication and cheaper travel and many have studied internationally and exhibited all over the world. The art scenes have changed enormously, even since the last APT, and the work that artists are making is often highly refined, interdisciplinary and culturally fluid. Curating an exhibition such as this ultimately means responding to what artists are doing in the present, and this is what drives the project forward.

This text was first published as “Alvaro Rodríguez Fominaya in Conversation with Russell Storer,” ArtPULSE, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Dec 2009–Feb 2010).

135


Fragments for a Future Present1 Richard Streitmatter-Tran

Will a preoccupation with national identity be replaced by spheres of influence? Who controls these spheres and who are the challengers?

In Parag Khanna’s book, The Second World, he predicts that the near future will hold the world controlled by three spheres of influence: The United States, Europe and China—each competing with the empire of the other, and yet entirely reliant on the other for its own survival. Perhaps this is 136


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the final age of empire. A category of a second world emerges of those countries with marketable commodities and resources that shift alliances to different spheres based on immediate and strategic opportunism. I begin to consider artists and those who work with them. Will artists of tomorrow operate as the Second World or Second Life? Will the cultural empires be institutions, the market and resistance, or other configurations?

If the production of knowledge and access to it continue to expand, which will be the right approach: the generalist or the specialist? I believe in the generalist.

When I was younger, my image of a curator was confused with a conservator. Individuals of particular specialisation that had expert reign over an esoteric period or concern all looked like librarians. It didn’t occur to me then that librarians are among the greatest generalists around. They make information accessible and sometimes even palatable. I suppose curators are like that too and the curators of the future will have to deal with the problem of knowledge and maybe a loss of mystery.

All generalists are necessarily hybrids. Some are useful: artist-critics, curator-historians, dealer-consultants; others are monstrosities.

Just as librarians have in ways been forced to become equally competent technologists, curators will also 137


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need to adapt at the expense of distraction. I see a plausible possibility that new art professions may emerge to specifically support the curatorial practice. Galleries invent new roles when required, perhaps the curators of the future will too, and it may be a good thing. I hope the curator resists the pull towards public relations and advertising at the expense of curiosity. Monstrosity and demonstration share the same root, as do exhibition and inhibition, they all arrive at the question: to show or not to show.

Does archeology look forward or behind? That it shares the same root with archive, how will we examine and interrogate the objects and documents of the old?

Especially when the old is interesting for only so long before it is remixed/revised to the new. Becoming old is a natural process and in that span, things are lost in order to make room for the new. Can the archeological/ archival forgive or even encourage loss?

The rivers that have been dammed have changed ecologies and economies.

By rivers I mean to evoke flow of information and by dams I mean a method to regulate: surveillance, censorship, and intellectual rights/property. I feel that curators are the cartographers and the artists are the navigators. 138


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Information and intellectual property is an area I am both attracted to and repulsed by.

I want to be both optimistic and naïve.

History looks to the artist. The artist always owes something to the scientist. In this respect, I find a conversation about “the smith” in Nomadology always a relevant and new conversation.

The smith lies between the smooth space of the nomad and the striated space of the state. He obtains resources from the nomadic space and sells finished products to the state. How does the curator operate between the artist and the institution? If anything, the curator of the future, as with the curator of the present, is a negotiator.

Curators work together through online social networks to flesh out ideas. Communications technologies will always provide avenues for artistic exploration, the question is, will they ever possess the emotion often lacking in new media work?

David Attenborough would have been a fantastic curator. Anyone, from a child to an adult, watching one of his productions on the natural world is entirely engaged. I think we can all learn something from his approach.

Speed can be creativity’s most dangerous enemy. I feel it now. Maybe duration is the best thing for curatorial exploration of the future. 139


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The most exciting possibilities may exist in urban planning and design.

Anxiety is the first lesson in art school. It breeds it. Competition is the second and the last. Legitimacy may be a cousin.

There will be something interesting to be said about pirates and art.

The saddest places on earth are reservations; they are dying exhibitions. Notes

1 The main references for this text are: Parag Khanna, The Second World (New York: Random House, 2008), and Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Nomadology: The War Machine (New York: Semiotext(e), 1986).

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What is the new in curating today?

Magnus Renfrew

The ‘new’ in curating today is the rise of the ‘curator’ as curator of exhibitions. In the past, curators were predominately specialists within a particular specialised field whose responsibility was to research and look after the well-being of permanent collections in any given institution, and to communicate the significance of the collection to the public. These curators were trained art historians with strong academic credentials. The rise, over the last forty years or so, of exhibition spaces that have no permanent collection has led to a shift in the focus of the role of curator 141


What is the new in curating today?

towards that of a ‘filterer’ or ‘selector.’ Over the last twenty years or so, this has accelerated still further with the arrival of biennials and triennials at every corner of the world. The tools of the 21st-century curator are the air-ticket and the laptop, and credibility is based on the broadest possible knowledge of what is happening in today’s multi-polar art world. Rather than a detailed knowledge of one aspect of a museum’s often western-centric collection, curators now must understand (or at least engage with) art from a wide variety of different cultural and aesthetic backgrounds. Whilst the role of the curator as ‘selector’ of artworks is requiring ever more generalist knowledge, the role of curator as ‘carer for collections’ is requiring ever more specialised knowledge. Artists are using increasingly unstable and ephemeral materials that are problematic to conserve. With such a dramatic change of pace, works that employ and depend on new digital technologies face the risk of themselves becoming obsolete. An important role of the contemporary art curator today is to draw attention to what is important to preserve for tomorrow. The principles of conservation, ‘filtering’ and communicating the significance of work to an audience will hold fast, but the nature of what form this will take and what will be required will change as the nature of what constitutes ‘art’ changes (as it has done over the last 50 years). The nature of curating in 2060 will be dependent on the nature of art in 2060. One thing that is likely to come about is that with the increase in ‘chatter’ in our lives that curators will become ever more important for filtering out what is worthy of attention. Many collectors are already buying art from JPEGs without having physically ‘seen’ the work. The way that we experience art will 142


Magnus Renfrew

inevitably change to adapt to new technologies. Will it be necessary for exhibitions to exist in reality or will it be possible to experience exhibitions in a meaningful way virtually? The traditional concept of the exhibition is likely to change as any number of different media is made available to help inform the audience about the work. It is inevitable that the work of contemporary curators will influence the production, exhibition and discussion of art in the future. Through focusing the attention of an audience of artists, curators and academics on the work of particular artists they privilege the work of these artists over those that they do not select or exhibit. Artists who are selected by one curator often then become selected by other curators, further reinforcing their reputations. The art world is a cultural ecology. Art and commerce have always been intertwined. The idea that curators exist free from such concerns and pressures is a fallacy. Many curators curate exhibitions for commercial galleries and write catalogue entries for commercial exhibitions and auction catalogues. These endorsements add to the commercial value of a work. In the last few years in Asia, with the absence of a strong critical or institutional framework, the auction houses moved in and fulfilled the role of defining what was ‘good.’ However what is ‘good’ has often been confused with what has been commercially successful. The long-term success of an artist’s career is dependent on critical and curatorial affirmation—and this affirmation should also inform those that are involved in the commercial art world. The preservation of work dependent on digital technologies is far from straightforward and how we prevent such works being lost forever is an 143


What is the new in curating today?

ongoing cause for concern. With the sheer amount of work being produced, where does one draw the line? If we could preserve every digital work of art produced from this day forward—should we? Some curators may be developing a kind of ‘cultural ADD’ (Attention Deficit Disorder). Under the pressure to be more informed than their counterparts, curators run the risk of becoming the ultimate consumers themselves with short bursts of intense attention on artists from one location before moving on to the next ‘next big thing.’

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You Are Not in China Anymore, or, Handing Over and Over and Over Norman Ford

The following text is reproduced here as a way of looking back to a year when I was curating Hong Kong’s representation at the Venice Biennale, while also teaching, writing and otherwise happily overworked. It is also, in a rather abstract sense, a way of looking ahead; of revisiting a time when things were moving very quickly; so as to take the time to (re)consider ways of moving forward in my own curatorial practice—to hopefully create more effective, evocative projects. It is obviously not predictive but instead reveals the past as a somewhat flawed, but perhaps still useful model for the future.1 145


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There was a major presence from China, Hong Kong and other regions from ‘Asia’ in Europe in this past summer’s ‘Grand Tour’ of European art. This text looks at the work of Map Office (Laurent Gutierrez and Valerie Portefaix), artist Hiram To and my own strategies as curator of Star Fairy at the Hong Kong Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale—a reflection upon and an analysis of a process where the roles and art are part of a system designed to be all encompassing.2 Perhaps now, with some distance, one aspect of this reflection has provided some useful insights, extending from an international biennale (Venice), to an exhibition at the relatively new Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art (Shanghai MOCA) held in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the Hong Kong handover, concerning amongst other things, parrots and fruits, oyster shells and magic show props. Collateral Commemoration or One Square Metre

The consideration begins with the 2007 Venice Biennale, with an oyster-shell covered island inhabited with critical, multilingual parrots. This mist-filled space, roughly in the shape of Hong Kong Island, was messy and entropic. It contained an intricate wooden frame covered with handpicked oyster shells from Lau Fau Shan (in the New Territories of) Hong Kong. Concrete Island/The Parrot’s Tale sat in the middle of an 11th-century courtyard—in the Hong Kong Pavilion. This ‘island’ had embedded within it a set of five speakers (each playing a separate version of English, Cantonese, Putonghua, French and Italian soundtracks) and an elaborate misting system that pumped out steam over the three metre-high courtyard wall, out towards the Arsenale entrance. Sitting on top of this roughly six-by-seven-by-two 146


Norman Ford

metre island were a dozen or so colourful fake parrots, immersed in the mist and sound of the audio, of jungle sounds and snippets of appropriated conversation (from our many discussions around the Biennale’s planning). The preparation for Venice was hectic and an occasionally frenzied time, and Map Office, with their Concrete Island, grabbed strategic phrases from many tense and otherwise moments. Gutierrez and Portefaix re-used and obfuscated my words (as curator), taking a jab at the structures, overt and implicit, conceptual and economic, of being shown in the Venice Biennale. The jabbering oversized parrots, which sat on top of the ‘island,’ caricatured the inhabitants of Hong Kong, frozen and limited only to these recordings.3 Adjacent to the ‘island’ was a one-square-metre ‘monument’ eighty kilogrammes in weight, made of white composite material. Mounted on an old-fashioned Hong Kong market trolley and guarded by a sole parrot, it was inscribed with the phrase ‘Personal Island,’ designed to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Hong Kong’s retrocession to (mainland) China, partly sincere in its celebration and as a strategy to intervene and dialogue with China’s Biennale space, sited elsewhere in Venice. Early one morning during the vernissage (preview), Map Office moved (this monument for) ‘Hong Kong’ to the Chinese Pavilion at the rear of the Arsenale exhibition space. This simple act was both understated and deeply political. By shifting this ‘territory,’ this ‘piece of Hong Kong’ became a perversely appropriate way to celebrate Hong Kong’s handover and subsequent transformation from postcolonial entity to being “one country,” with “two systems.”4 Map Office presented another version of this work for the exhibition Reversing Horizons (in celebration of Hong Kong’s 147


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1997 handover), held at the Shanghai MOCA. This time the ‘island’ was removed and a large LCD TV was placed on top of the trolley identical to that used in Venice, along with a single parrot and two large banners. The positioning of Map Office as the ‘representative’ from Hong Kong became therefore doubly problematic, as they presented the move of the ‘monument’ to the China Pavilion on the LCD TV. How might this be so? Hong Kong is undeniably now part of China. Map Office is in Hong Kong. Hong Kong was ‘in’ Venice at the Biennale (until 21 November 2007), accompanied by Map Office. In July 2007, Hong Kong, Map Office and Venice ‘went’ to China (a place both Hong Kong and Map Office already and somewhat paradoxically inhabit) via Reversing Horizons. The exhibition was a retro-commemoration of the handover, allowing this small monument to fulfil its original (Venetian) intent—a slippery, complex and somewhat amusing set of conditions that determined Gutierrez and Portefaix’s critical move. Moving ‘Personal Island,’ the installation’s title for Reversing Horizons, consisted of a video documenting the (Venetian) move, and two large banners proclaiming “Hong Kong is in Venice” and “Map Office is in China.” This work had now travelled and shifted base, transforming format and media to reclaim yet another space—this time in China’s ‘China.’ Now overt, as opposed to relatively low-profile in Venice, their retrocessive commemoration became ironically oblique, evincing a sense of humour that has underpinned much of Map Office’s recent work. This one-square-metre ‘piece of Hong Kong’ (funded by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council and produced in the Pearl River Delta in mainland China) after initially being placed in the China Pavilion in Venice, now began to reveal its true purpose and intent in Shanghai. 148


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The video presented the point of view of the parrot mounted on the trolley’s handle, about a metre from ground level, as it was pushed over the difficult Venetian terrain of steps, across dirt, mud and gravel, to rest finally in the shade of a tree near Cao Fei’s China Tracy airfilled bubble, that both belied and betrayed the political ambiguity of Hong Kong’s position regarding China in the international culture arena, highlighting the specificity of the relationship between China and Hong Kong’s participation in Venice. In my catalogue essay for Star Fairy, I noted that China has a ‘national’ pavilion while Hong Kong is a distinctly separate “collateral event”.5 While it is agreed that Hong Kong is part of China, Hong Kong still has a highly controlled border, effectively executed. By shifting the one-square-metre Hong Kong funded, Chinamade Personal Island, Map Office repositioned—or more likely, undid—their personal relationship with China, while questioning the somewhat arbitrary distinctions made between the two in such international cultural events of the calibre of the Venice Biennale. This is not a criticism though—it was this very separation that constituted the space Map Office sought to articulate. I Love You So Much I’ll Take You to Venice… Again

Conversely, Hiram To’s I Love You More Than My Own Death, another project shown in the Hong Kong Pavilion, layered—with an intricate controlled obsession—reference upon quotation, in complete contrast to Map Office’s direct, rough and ready approach. There was a ‘succulence’ to To’s images and objects, having a balance between distraction and obsession—all its fruits and fluid ‘characters,’ its visual 149


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double takes—objects and images doubling for ‘characters’ barely visible in the work—layered and condensed to perform an illusory representation. I Love You More Than My Own Death engaged the topical, with its multiple references and narratives, its skin-like surface remaining in a continuous state of tension. This tension was effective, as it pulled the viewer into an inquisitive discovery of the many magicians, politicians, curators and fruits embedded within. For example, Christian Leigh (the obscurely infamous fashion designer, curator and film director), Robert Altman’s Nashville, Christopher Priest’s novel The Prestige and Hong Kong (the artist’s home), all inhabited the work under various mechanisms along with images of Madame Mao with a pomegranate (the ‘Chinese apple’)—mangoes (Chairman Mao had a fondness for them, though he doesn’t appear in the work) and the cut, half-eaten peach, with its doubly obscure linkage to opportunism and sexual orientation. The work’s title generated a paradoxical connotation of narcissism in its over-determined awareness of one’s own death, and a perversely obsessive love that outweighed the character’s self-centeredness. “I love you so much that I’m willing to forgo my own ultimate demise, which I cannot live without—just for you.” Of course, it is not clear who wins in such a relationship. Hiram To’s artwork leveraged those rogue free-floating signifiers that contemporary artists love to utilise. But To did not leave it at that. Here, the culprit and the object of his critique were the art world and its players—the Venice Biennale, the museum system and the complex dynamics of working as a “Chinese artist.” It was a subtle and elegant appraisal of the flexibility of character necessary to survive, die and come back yet again, like Christian Leigh’s evolving, multiple identities. 150


Norman Ford

Can one accept an aestheticisation of something as complex and horrific as the Cultural Revolution? Built into To’s objects was a critique of the mimetic structure of media representation. To was not reflecting upon nor necessarily referring directly to this era of upheaval; rather he was more interested in the obscure images and symbols that still remain—big character posters, symbolic fruits and grainy black and white news photographs. The assets that accumulate to create I Love You More Than My Own Death are difficult to determine. They, like the ‘three parts to a (magic) trick’ referred to in Priest’s novel, are segments of an elaborate illusion set within an 11th-century Venetian workshop (Hong Kong’s venue at the Biennale). One could revel in the lascivious layering of site (Venice), professional practice (Leigh’s previous exhibition under the same name in the same event, notorious in its unpaid bills) and politics (Chairman Mao, Mrs. Mao and the silhouetted image of Ching Ling Soo himself, the greatest Chinese magician of all time, challenged by an American pretending to be the ‘Marvelous Chinese Conjurer’). It was not easy keeping up with To and his characters— Ching would have lovingly embraced the misdirection. The luscious fruits and tightly-cropped, half-tone images in the glowing lenticular photographs turn on us—quite literally. Using a 3-D photographic technology, an analogue process still relatively untouched by digital imaging techniques, the photographs shifted from one to another, aiding the ease with which we could move through the fragmented quotations and partial allusions. These 3-D flip-images encouraged the viewer to alter their point of view, responding to the visual characteristics of lenticular transparencies, both contemporary looking and 151


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oddly nostalgic, to help shift the viewer across several conflicting timeframes. The work was an obsessive, elegantly low-tech solution to a complex image problem. As the artist led us to one image, concept or symbol, we were quickly distracted by another thread of reference, pulling us assuredly to yet another, all leading to more diversionary origins. But this was never about solving puzzles—this was no game, despite the possible reference to game show aesthetics—this was about lingering and loitering within a dense web of beautiful deceit. I Love You More Than My Own Death could be enjoyed simply for its density and craftsmanship. But if you lingered with the work, you would have discovered a level of complexity that was at once compulsively full of deferral and perversely satisfactory—but only after the realisation that you didn’t need to play with nor analyse it—rather, just to be attentive and savour its distractions as they materialised. This contemplation posed the question then, one that would resonate across the entirety of the Venice Biennale, Star Fairy and Reversing Horizons—from what position could such an ironic, playful and politically charged critique occur other than from Hong Kong, during the decennial celebration of its return to a place it always was and never has been? Notes

1 Norman Ford, “I Love You More Than My Own Death,” Broadsheet, Vol. 36, No. 4 (2007).

2 For more on Concrete Island/the Parrot’s Tale and I Love You More Than My Own Death, see Norman Ford, ed. Star Fairy: Hong Kong in Venice (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Arts Development Council, 2007) and the artists’ own sites, both accessed 30 Aug 2010, http://www.map-off.com and http://www. hiramto.com. 152


3

Ford, 38–54.

5

Ford, 8.

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4 “One country, two systems” was an idea originally proposed by Deng Xiaoping during the early 1980s, then Paramount Leader of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), for the reunification of China. He suggested that there would be only one China, but Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan could have their own capitalist economic and political systems, while the rest of China would use the “socialist” system. ”One Country, Two Systems,” accessed 30 Aug 2010, http://www.info.gov.hk/info/sar5/e12.htm.

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Zero Gravity— Nothing Seems to Have Changed, But Everything is Different June Yap

Curating for the future is necessarily a framing of the present, its conditions and limitations, tinged with a hint of optimism, or perhaps mere fantastic longing. In as much as it is challenging to define exactly what a curator does, in a nebulous function that stretches from artwork selection, writing about art and artist, to obscure financial negotiations, there is an arguable distinction between curating, as the techniques and practicalities that curators as often find themselves consumed by, and the curatorial, as the conceptual underpinnings of the exhibitionary 154


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project. This is about the latter, an attempt at projection made possible by the luxury of speculative text. The Problem of Globalisation

The ongoing Renaissance City Plan, a high-level government paper on the role that arts and culture can play as part of national development, now into its third stage, envisions Singapore as a ‘Distinctive Global City for the Arts.’ Being global, in this plan, is understood as a process of internationalisation, participation in other markets, and the marketing of Singaporean events to a global audience. The desire to be global, connected and visible to others, ambitions of a self-declared small and vulnerable islandstate aside, isn’t particularly exceptional today—what is there not to like? Curators themselves are susceptible to the draw of international recognition, and jet lag is accepted as an occupational hazard. But the critique of national aspiration is not the subject of this bout of fantasy-curating, rather the focus is upon the determinants and effects of such an intent, an intent that takes as its basis cartography. The state of the framing of exhibitions today is very much one where geography (at times misinterpreted as or substituted for cultural context) is ironically still prevalent, even as the term ‘globalisation’ is seen as increasingly problematic, with contradictions and exclusions chipping away at its foundations. The notion of the global, the ability to encapsulate the world, the world as object of human knowledge and subjugation, and the ubiquity of the term ‘globalisation’ with its assumed cogency of unification and integration, has come under question. Exemplifying the ‘global’ in the exhibitionary 155


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context is the biennale, or biennial, that is perceived as the international and internationalising event, usually with little qualification. For one, for most part, biennales generally assume the notion of the ‘world stage’ as unproblematic in its embrace and constitution of the nations it claims to gather together; and in the second, the proliferation of the biennale model is assumed as a necessary strategy and measure of ‘globalness‘—or at least a measure of the level of anxiety to be global. In 2006, the Global Art and the Museum (GAM) project was initiated at ZKM (Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe) by Peter Weibel and Hans Belting, as an interrogation of the effects of globalisation on art, testing the argument that today’s art is as unbounded as the term, globalisation, appears. The primary vehicles of GAM’s investigation are documentation, workshops, exhibitions and publications, focusing on subjects such as the global art market, museum culture and the production of the ‘global’ and its relationship to the ‘contemporary.’ It is imagined that the impetus for questioning the veracity and implications of the concept of a globalised world is founded on a rejection of the grand narrative of globalisation. However the challenge then for such a project is to resist further or new forms of totalising theses, without assuming fragmentation as its corollary, and the divisive solipsistic isolation it is associated with. One of the ramifications of globalisation, as the increasing ease of circulation and flows of persons, ideas, technologies and money, is an apparent shift away from the centreperiphery dichotomy, where even small equatorial islands cannot be ignored once plugged into this global grid. It might even be said that globalisation functions because, and 156


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with the necessity, of the same boundaries and borders it purports to erase. Yet, traffic does not translate to access, and circulation and flows are not necessarily symmetrical. Observing the enduring centres of the West, even with the rise of India and China, situating Asia within the ‘global’ continues to be a concern, and is the subject of numerous curatorial exegeses from the region. The problem is this: The invocation of the global as the stage upon which all can be represented, in an arguably simplistic postulation, results in participation via difference, culturally at least. Thus, the idea of the nation, and what makes up the ‘national,’ is defined through stock symbols and ritualistic practices eulogised as ‘cultural identity,’ and proffered as ‘representative’ of a particular group. The framing of ‘Asian,’ ‘East Asian,’ ‘Southeast Asian’ or ‘Singaporean’ art as geographically specific and significantly different from the neighbours it borders, is as Irit Rogoff terms, an attempt at ‘positioned spectatorship,’ broad strokes that “name and locate and identify places in relation to themselves as the centre of the world.”1 What needs to be questioned however is this strategy of situating within the global and its effects. Curating Geography

In curating within a globalised context, exhibitions are conceptualised, rationalised and discussed as the traversing of apparently discrete locations, even as the transits between locations are more frequent and made more easy. However, it is not hard to see that geography is not merely physical location and psychic bond; it is also an epistemological category that Rogoff argues marks out “a homogenous space which becomes an order of knowledge 157


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through [a] universal indexical measure of the land,”2 and here curators become complicit in the production of such forms of knowledge. A great number of contemporary exhibitions are devised, if not packaged for consumption, as so much cultural and geographic representation, with local exoticism concretised into museological form for edifying and constituting a citizenry behind and before the artwork. Even while curating a ‘cross-geographic’ survey of contemporary aesthetic practices, one is often guilty of policing these national borders, strengthening their separateness, even in the simple act of juxtaposition of works and artist practices. Yet addressing this ‘global’ sampling isn’t simply a matter the deification of the local either, where the local is read as a bounded entity, informed by a purity of insular proportions. Similar forms of representation, arguably with more finesse and subtlety, are also employed by artists themselves in their works, unwittingly or ironically, as a part of the production chain of a growing cultural enterprise, where culture (as symbolic production) is increasingly complicated with the economic and the social. Of course there can be an ‘ethical’ resistance to this. In Terra Infirma, Rogoff says, “it seems imperative to shift from a moralising discourse of geography and location, in which we are told what ought to be, who has the right to be where and how it ought to be, to a contingent ethics of geographical emplacement in which we might jointly puzzle out the perils of the fantasms of belonging as well as the tragedies of not belonging.”3 Geography, she continues, as “a system of classification, a mode of location, a site of collective national, cultural, linguistic and topographical histories” can be “countered by the zones which provide resistance through processes of disidentification... [such as] international free 158


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cities, no man’s land, demilitarised zones, ghettos, red light districts, border areas etc.”4 Rogoff includes in her examples the work of the group Art in Ruins, titled, Conceptual Debt (1992), an installation about Third World debt and the obfuscation that the separation of ‘worlds’ perpetuates, concealing the connectedness of the tightly bound economic conditions of these apparently distinct ‘worlds.’ Even so, globalisation, and its gaps and slippages, as creative material and visual discourse, inevitably in this argument, is found to be problematic as well due to its being influenced by, and at times actively colluding with, reductionist and essentialist notions of borders, national identities and their production. It may be said that the problem isn’t globalisation; the problem is seeing through the prism of globalisation. As an artist of both Chinese and Malay descent once remarked, “I’ve never had a problem with my history, only with your categories.” What is exigent then is not globalisation itself perhaps, but its apparent inescapability. Or maybe not. The nation’s lesser offspring, its diaspora, the purported unruly vessels of cultural and national identity existing in the peripheries, but simultaneously positioned as perpetuators of the same representative observances even from a distance to one’s soil, highlights a significant aspect of these assumed identities—the notion of incompleteness. The reality of national and physical borders, evidenced by the necessity for constant surveillance and policing, is its artificiality, with the constant shoring of these boundaries pointing to a deeply porous condition. Porous nations. Here one would like to propose the relinquishing of national and geographic identity as the starting point in considering the possibility of the ‘postnational.’ Post-nation, in this context, however is not 159


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with reference to the supranational and global-nation of world theories that the term has come to be associated with, though retaining the desire for reterritorialisation. Post-nation, in this untethered sense does not suggest the negation of the nation—of the fact of, or the fact of the belief in, history, cultural practices and geography, but recommends a refusal of the categorical implications of the accident of geography and nation, and the exploration of the consequences of such a paradigmatic shift in curatorial practice. The question for the future then is: how would one curate without geography (assuming the use-value of curators in the future continues to hold true)? In a condition of true weightlessness, what would be your starting point? Notes

1 Irit Rogoff, Terra Infirma: Geography’s visual culture (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), 11. 2 Rogoff, 21. 3 Rogoff, 3. 4 Rogoff, 8.

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Considering Audiences

Philip Yenawine

Museums and exhibition spaces are not having an easy time at present. Diminished financial resources make clear their limited breadth of support. It is my hope that they consider this an opportunity to address a wider audience, and in so doing increase the community of those committed to their prominent, ongoing presence. Like it or not, museums mostly attract what I will refer to, somewhat ungenerously, as an ‘elite’ class— people educated in art, drawn to it by interest or ‘talent.’ We, in the artworld have allowed art to exist within a 161


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precinct that leaves many people out, or at least feeling unwelcome. It would be wise to think about widening the number of those who believe arts institutions are worth supporting, whether from public or private coffers. For decades, museums, especially those in large cities, have sponsored educational programmes, the purpose of which was to widen the audience to resemble the demographics of cities themselves. But a glance at who comes shows little return on the effort. If such outreach had been effective, we might have citizens who, even when unable to give personally, votes for governmental policies and funding to ensure the vitality of institutions entrusted with stewarding our creative heritage and showcasing current cultural output. But both private and public funding falls short of institutional needs at present. Hoping that necessity will encourage invention, I wish that museums (not to mention concert halls and so forth) truly address the challenges of trying to make all encounters with art engaging and meaningful to a wider audience. Since it has proved impossible to do this with educational programmes alone, we have little recourse but to consider what we can do by way of exhibitions and installations to broaden attendance. However, my motives for change are not just about support. We all need the arts in our lives to be fully human and humane. Throughout history, people have woven what we now call the arts into practices central to their existence. They did so because of the spiritual and mental nourishment that comes from meaningful encounters with art. The arts provide useful charges and challenges to both our minds and our hearts, giving us practice at negotiating complexity, considering ambiguity, and appreciating 162


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multiple possible meanings. Meaningful experiences with the arts can jumpstart our brains in critical, creative ways. It is possible to think that exhibition schedules are set by one of the several priorities: ‘blockbusters’ to ensure good box-office revenue and corporate support; topics decided by curators addressing what is interesting to them; and a search through permanent collections for under-seen work that can be exhibited at minimal cost. Among contemporary art spaces, it seems that curators’ decisions regarding what is noteworthy are often influenced by collectors—many of them trustees of museums—and art dealers more than by seeking the pulse of the artistic zeitgeist beyond what is shown in art fairs and galleries. None of these motives for selecting exhibitions is off-base per se. It’s possible, though it’s far from certain, that ‘blockbusters’ attract new audiences even if the motives behind them are mostly about earned revenues. All exhibitions have equal potential for helping people who are alien to art, and museums bridge the cultural gap that historians have noted for decades. However for the gap to be bridged, the audience—its interests, its needs—must be taken into consideration. In that case, both educational efforts and installations need to help bring people into a relationship to the art that makes the connection personal and felt. Audience studies indicate that few people, even regular museum visitors, have the skills to delve into art in deep and reflective ways. Although our education system puts great effort into teaching people to read, there is little attention to helping people learn to decode visual complexity. From infancy, individuals use their eyes to collect information about the world, and to make sense 163


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of it, but this ability is not harnessed and focused on complex images in ways that lead to meaningful literacy. Indeed there are many that bemoan the fact that despite the huge emphasis on reading in schools, too few end up being able to negotiate serious literature or film. That said, research undertaken by my colleague Abigail Housen has shown that observational skills and related cognition can be effectively taught efficiently and over a relatively short period of time. Evaluation studies of installations at three museums have indicated that the juxtaposition of carefully selected objects, in conjunction with carefully focused educational assists— the right questions, pertinent information available when sought—both please and aid novice viewers. Studies of different sorts at the Detroit Institute of Art, the Davis Museum of Art at Wellesley College, and the Indianapolis Museum of Art (specifically the Viewing Project series) indicate that people who observe longer than they ‘normally’ do, respond thoughtfully even in writing, and express both pleasure and connection to the museum experience. Each of the museums has reports and other data detailing a changed, and charged, relationship between novice viewers and objects. There are innumerable reasons why people do not visit museums but the surmountable goal is to indicate to a wider range of them that we care about them and desire for them to have meaningful encounters with art when they do decide on a visit.

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Human Resources: A documentary project

Héctor Rodríguez

The concept of human resources describes a pervasive and essential aspect of contemporary culture. Modern organisations often treat people as strategic resources, in line with principles of “scientific management” and “welfare management.” Their aim is to align human resources (personnel) with the firm’s plans and objectives through the establishment of systematic controls over the recruitment, selection, induction, compensation, data management, and performance analysis of employees. This managerial culture therefore comprises 165


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a system of institutional mechanisms for the technical administration of potentially disruptive bodies. Human Resources is a transdisciplinary curatorial project that aims to interrogate, analyse, and defamiliarise the managerial and strategic culture that defines the modern organisation. Twenty participants from different cities across the world will function as both artists and researchers. They will apply methodologies from social anthropology or documentary cinema to observe and analyse the everyday operation of personnel management processes. Human Resources is inspired by the tradition of documentary cinema, which cuts across the boundary between social research and creative art. Artists will begin preparing for the project approximately two years prior to the start of the exhibition. Each participant will select one single organisation in her/his home city. The artist-researcher will contact the firm, describe the basic aims and methods of the project, and negotiate a framework to conduct the investigation. The artist must seek the firm’s consent and in no way attempt to employ a hidden camera or any other surveillance techniques. The negotiation process is part of the content of this project. The exhibition will provide a framework to compare and contrast the various different ‘contracts’ negotiated between participating artists and their target organisations. Artists can choose to focus exclusively on a single unit, such as the human resource office of a business firm, or on the impact of personnel decisions across the entire organisation. Alternatively, the research can address a specific topic, such as employee data management or promotion and pay-review mechanisms. In this context, the idea of ‘human resources’ is to be understood very broadly. For instance, some universities regard their function as the training of 166


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future human resources for the industry. From this standpoint, student populations can be considered human resources. University admissions processes therefore function as human resource ‘filtering’ mechanisms and so constitute a relevant research topic. Artists will be encouraged to find a “Human Resources” paradigm in unexpected places. Every participating artist-researcher should select an appropriate methodology, such as action research, cooperative inquiry, and companion modelling. The techniques can be qualitative, quantitative, or a combination of the two. Artists may also design transgressive games that disrupt the daily operation of the firm. Another option is to draw inspiration from methodological debates in the history of documentary cinema, such as the controversy between direct cinema and cinéma vérité. On the one hand, proponents of “direct cinema” emphasise the unobtrusive recording of reality. Their subjects will ideally become so accustomed to the camera’s presence that they will ignore it and behave ‘naturally.’ On the other hand, the cinéma vérité tradition developed by Jean Rouch uses the assertive presence of the camera to provoke its subjects. The curator will not impose one methodology on the participants. The aim is to provide an empirical laboratory to test alternative approaches to the same topic. A social networking website will be developed specially for this project. It will enable all participating artists to share ideas and information, exchange research materials, conduct debates, solicit help, and offer advice. The paradigm of “Human Resources” will therefore generate a collaborative research network. Every artist will choose one or more appropriate exhibition formats: video, photography, written reports, diagrams, charts, 167


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research diaries, etc. To facilitate comparison, every artist will organise the material to highlight the following questions: • • • • • • • •

Why did the artist select a particular organisation and topic? What was the process of negotiating the research framework with the chosen organisation? Why was a particular methodology selected? Did the artist change the aims and methods during the course of the research process, and why? What conflicts and problems arose? What caused them? How did the artist respond to them? Did those responses enhance or undermine the aims of the project? What findings did the artist find most surprising? What does this reveal about the artist’s initial assumptions? Did the ongoing conversations with other artists influence the direction of the project? If so, how? What has the artist learnt about management culture and its social impact? Did the presence of the artist impact the daily operation of the organisation, and how? Did the artist contribute in any way to organisation improvement?

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Some Thoughts on the Locus of Encounter Valerie C. Doran

As regards the intended contexts in which an artist’s work is brought into a setting of encounter, there are, of course, many possible audiences. Some are specific and intended by the artist or curator—for example, a circumscribed art world audience, composed of other artists and critics, or a community-based audience perhaps targeted for a specific project. Others are more random and general, such as the anonymous audience of the museum or the random audience of a public art project. As a curator working in Hong Kong in the 21st century, I find the question of how and where the 169


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locus for the meeting between the artist’s work and the public audience is positioned as the crucial question. By ‘public audience,’ I mean an audience apart from, but not exclusive of, the art world audience. Recently, I have described my curatorial interests as more ‘populist’ in nature. I do believe that art has an important role to play in daily civic life—and that, paradoxically, this is a role that is both evolving and that must be recaptured. The new curatorial paradigm most crucial at this time, then, is related not to questions of form, media or content, but precisely to this question of the locus of public encounter —and, in turn, to how this locus may enter into considerations of form, media and content. For the purposes of the present publication, I am including here an updated version of a ‘commentary’ that I wrote for Orientations magazine, which articulates in another context some of my key concerns at as both a curator and a Hong Kong resident. Valerie C. Doran Hong Kong, Jun 2010

Hong Kong Postscript: Rethinking the Art of Public Intervention So much of the radical art labelled these days as a “public intervention” too often seems merely to be a “public imposition”: an act of artistic flag-waving that challenges the public without engaging them. Yet in art, as in politics, one sometimes comes across a radically meaningful act in the most unexpected places. As, for example, in May 2008, in a crowded shopping mall in the heart of Causeway Bay, one of Hong Kong’s most raucous retail districts. 170


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It was here, on the mezzanine floor of the huge “Times Square” mall, that the Taiwanese installation artist Hwang Chih-Yang achieved a truly radical act of transformation: the creation of a small field of Astroturf grass, studded with sinuously modelled boulders and fronted by a technicolour picture of the sky, that reclaimed a patch of public space in the midst of a glass-and-concrete tower. For a period of two weeks, weary mall-travellers were invited to plunk down on the grass and enjoy the open space at their leisure; and so they did, with great alacrity, in large numbers and with immense enjoyment. On the day I visited, there were students propped up against boulders and reading books, young families and grandparents laughing delightedly as their babies crawled through the grass, and a pair of young lovers enjoying an impromptu picnic while gazing languidly into each other’s eyes—all oblivious, apparently, to the psychological cacophony of the shop fronts facing them on all sides, touting drastically reduced sale prices. From a cultural point of view, the most radical thing about this event was not the simple notion of creating a resting place for shoppers, but the reciprocal presence of artist and public combining to create a positive, mutually meaningful space: a kind of cultural yin-yang. In Hong Kong, the invasion and erosion of public space— that is, the space that the public freely enjoys and inhabits— has become nothing less than a political issue. Increasingly ruthless and narrowly conceived “development,” whether governmentally or commercially driven (and often both), has destroyed entire city blocks, threatened the demolition of culturally iconic urban sites such as Hong Kong’s famous street markets, paved over significant parts of the harbour, and fomented an increasing sense of outrage on the part 171


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of a public usually quite sympathetic to the desirability of commercial progress. I had these issues very much in mind when attending a symposium, held just a couple of weeks before the Times Square exhibition, which raised questions about the future of a specific kind of public space in Hong Kong. With the title Shifting Sites: Cultural Desire and the Museum, the symposium brought together an array of international curators and museum directors to examine the relevance of and possibilities for museum institutions in the 21st century. This is a question of especial interest for many Hong Kongers at this time, as they grapple with a host of unresolved issues surrounding the development of the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD), a governmentproposed, mixed-purpose district of commercial, residential and cultural facilities. As anyone familiar with Hong Kong current events will know, WKCD is slated to be constructed on a choice parcel of public land: the last undeveloped site on Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour, which makes the land nearly priceless. In the government’s original plan for the WKCD, publicly unveiled in 2000, the idea was to sell the land off to a selected private developer who would be responsible for designing, building and maintaining a certain number of cultural facilities as a dangling carrot to the public, while reaping millions or even billions of Hong Kong dollars by developing the rest of the site for purely commercial purposes. When developers subsequently were invited to submit proposals for public tender, a number of Hong Kong’s major players rushed to hire cultural consultants and celebrity architects to come up with a plan for the cultural facilities, emphasising iconic architecture as a branding strategy aimed at drawing international tourists (as most famously exemplified in Sir Norman Foster’s proposal of 172


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a gargantuan glass canopy that would cover several acres and cost millions to build and maintain). In the ensuing public outcry (much to the government’s surprise) that followed this ridiculous concept, the government was forced to rethink the entire plan in consultation with the arts and cultural sectors, and to pay attention to public sentiment as regards both its “cultural desires,” to borrow a phrase, and the use of public land. The government subsequently appointed a Museum Advisory Group (MAG) for WKCD comprising arts and business professionals (in fact several participants in the Shifting Sites symposium were MAG members). Earlier in 2008, the advisory group formally submitted their recommendation for the creation of an arts facility dubbed M+ (Museum Plus), conceived as “a new type of cultural institution” focused on “20th- and 21st-century visual culture.” The Shifting Sites symposium provided a chance to explore exactly what “a new type of cultural institution” might mean in the context of visual culture. The morning session’s moderator, Philip Dodd, reminded the audience that as far as new cultural districts go, cities in mainland China have been rushing in where Hong Kong so far has failed to tread, citing as an example a recent move by the Shanghai government to convert “53 warehouses as cultural sites,” not to mention the literally thousands of museums and other visual art spaces that have been springing up all over the country, fuelled by both private and public funding. Further underscoring the point, Su Zhenxie, director of the Museum of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, took the audience on a virtual tour of contemporary art districts in the city such as 798, Jiu Chang Art District and One Art Base, where dreary factory sites and former workers’ residences had been transformed into 173


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bustling sites of artistic creation and commerce. Art historian and international curator Charles Merewether, until recently working with the government of Abu Dhabi in developing an ambitious cultural and education district, made the thought-provoking point that in trying to understand the connection between architecture and content in some of the world’s most famous museums, such as the Louvre and the Guggenheim, it is important to understand first their genesis. The Louvre, for example, was conceived as a “people’s palace of the arts,” while the Guggenheim was a reflection of the personal interest of its eponymous founder, the collector Samuel R. Guggenheim, in a particular avantgarde vision. Applying this principle to the question of M+ and the West Kowloon Cultural District, one remembers that, in tracing it all the way back, the genesis of WKCD, and of the very ground it is to be built upon, was as a public park, a greenbelt to be given to the people of Hong Kong to enjoy freely and at their leisure. This was how the Hong Kong government originally convinced the Hong Kong public to allow the reclamation of this plot of land from the harbour over fifteen years ago, before deciding several years on that the collective memory was short and there was too much money to be made from (and for) private developers to make good on this promise. Thus, WKCD was born. In light of WKCD’s genesis as a people’s park, and the inevitability that the land use will never be returned to that original plan, one must look carefully at what kind and form of cultural institution can at least reflect the principles of that genesis. To this end, of the many eloquent and informative speakers at the symposium, the most pertinent speaker to the task at hand was Yuko Hasegawa, currently chief curator of the Museum of 174


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Contemporary Art in Tokyo and the founding director of the Kanazawa Museum of Contemporary Art. Hasegawa stated that a cultural institution in the 21st century must “provide an intellectual, spiritual, emotional and physical environment, to encourage all visitors to find their own interest, within themselves and by themselves.” In working with architects to design the Kanazawa Museum, Hasegawa stressed the integral relationship between the space inside the museum and the public/space outside of it— the immediate city environment, the people who inhabit it—and the necessity of creating an inviting physical link between them. She also showed how the architecture of the Kanazawa Museum allowed for the inclusion of open public spaces within the museum, as links between the art-occupied spaces, allowing visitors to encounter the art and then exit the space to rest and contemplate the visual and mental imprint of what they had just seen. David Elliot warned that the last thirty years have been the “the era of the museum architect rather than the museum director,” an unhealthy phenomenon that reflects the desire to create an architectural attraction that is good for business, rather than a total environment that “brings art to the public and engages them with it.” Extending on his observation, one concludes that rather than an iconic building, Hong Kong needs an environmental iconography that reflects the deeply felt interest in and concern for the everyday, “popular” culture of this city, and for the physical space and cultural heritage that is constantly under threat: a concern well reflected in the themes explored by many contemporary Hong Kong artists, as well as in the art spaces they have created (such as Para/Site), and the frequently community-based actions in which they engage. 175


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Architecturally and semantically, M+ must be a cultural institution that truly reflects the “cultural desire” of the Hong Kong people, and to honour in every way possible the vital importance of public space. If M+ can generate by example a truly transformative space that is meaningful both inside and outside, where the space that the art does not occupy is as well considered and functional as the place that it does (similar to the negative space in a Chinese landscape painting), this would be truly radical. Let the people be the intervention.

This essay was originally published in Orientations (Sep 2008): 141–142.

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Biographies

CAO Weijun is an independent curator and art critic based in Beijing (China) and Sapporo (Japan). He formerly worked at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Beijing. Cao’s publications include The Magician of Crosses, a book published in conjunction with Ding Yi’s solo exhibition at Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna, Italy; “ExportCargo Transit,” an essay for Liu Jianhua’s solo exhibition at Shanghai Gallery of Art; Mitochondria Emancipation: The 11th Annual Exhibition at the Asian American Art Center, N.Y.C.; The Contemporary Art of Asian Women, in collaboration with Prof. Patricia Karentzky, at the College Art Association 89th Annual Conference, Chicago. Valerie C. DORAN is a critic, curator and translator specialising in contemporary Asian art, cross-cultural current and comparative art theory. Her most recent curatorial project was the exhibition Looking for Antonio Mak (2008-2009) at the Hong Kong Museum of Art. She is currently the vice-president of the Hong Kong chapter of the International Art Critics Association (AICA). 177


Biographies

Norman FORD has been involved in numerous group and solo exhibitions and screenings in places such as Hong Kong, Bangkok, Macau, Vienna, Seoul, and Toronto. Producing photographs, video, multi-media, writing and research in Hong Kong since 1994, he has also published extensively on photography, visual culture and various media. Ford teaches at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s School of Design and received his PhD from the University of Hong Kong, critiquing theories of the cross-cultural, hybridity and representation through a study of Hong Kong visual culture and lensbased media. His international curatorial work includes the Hong Kong pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale, 2007.

Erin GLEESON is a curator and historian focusing on contemporary art practices from Cambodia. As a Humphrey/ Fulbright Fellow, she taught Art History at Pannasastra University and developed the Women’s Media Programme with the Cambodian Institute of Human Rights, Phnom Penh (2002-2004). She is the founding director of Bassac Art Projects, an initiative providing studio space and exhibition, publication and travel support for emerging artists and visual literacy programmes for the public. She is the Cambodian Desk Correspondent for Art Asia Pacific magazine and is currently writing the first book to index Cambodian artists. She lectures frequently, most recently with the 6th Asia Pacific Triennial, Asia Art Archive, Sotheby’s Institute, and Bard College. Gleeson is from Minneapolis and based in Phnom Penh and Berlin. Jens HOFFMANN is the Director of the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. From 2003 to 2007 he was the Director of 178


Exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. He has curated over three dozen exhibitions internationally since the late 1990s. Most recently he was co-curator of the 2nd San Juan Triennial, Puerto Rico (2009) and is currently co-curating, with Harrell Fletcher, the People’s Biennial, to be held in 2010 at five U.S. museums, organised by Independent Curators International in New York. In 2009 Hoffmann founded The Exhibitionist: A Journal for Exhibition Making. Hoffmann is currently the curator, with Adriano Pedrosa, of the 12th International Istanbul Biennial in 2011. He is a lecturer at the Curatorial Practice programme of the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, a guest professor at the Nova Academia di Bella Arti in Milan and an adjunct faculty member of the Curatorial Studies programme of Goldsmiths College, University of London. He has written more than 150 articles on art and curatorial practice for art magazines and museum publications over the last decade. His most recent books include The Next Documenta Should be Curated by An Artist (Frankfurt: Revolver, 2004), Perform, co-authored with Joan Jonas (London: Thames & Hudson, 2005). He is currently working on SHOW TIME (London: Thames & Hudson, 2011). HOU Hanru is Director of Exhibitions and Public Programmes and Chair of the Exhibitions and Museum Studies program. A prolific writer and curator, Hou received both his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the Central Institute of Fine Arts in Beijing, where he was trained in art history, with additional work in painting, performance, installation, and architectural research. He is a consultant for several cultural institutions internationally including the Global Advisory 179


Biographies

Committee of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Contemporary Art Museum in Kumamoto, Japan.

HU Fang is the Artistic Director and co-founder of Vitamin Creative Space, a project-and-gallery space dedicated to contemporary art exchange and to analysing and combining different forms of contemporary cultures. As a novelist and curator, Hu has published the novels Sense Trilogy. His curating and co-curating projects include: Xu Tan: Loose (1996); Perfect Journey, a presentation of the works of 8 photographers, architects and artists (1995); Zheng Guogu: My Home is Your Museum (2005), and Object System: Doing Nothing (2004). Since 1997, his essays and art criticisms have appeared in major Chinese art/literature and international art/culture magazines such as Domus, Yishu, Avant-Garde Today and Art World. Hu Fang graduated from the Chinese Literature Department of Wuhan University in 1992. He lives and works in Vienna and Guangzhou, and he was the coordinating editor of Documenta 12 magazines.

HU Yuanxing graduated from the History Department of the Fudan University, China, in 1998. In 2002, he joined the Art World Magazine, and is now its Editor and Staff Writer. He also co-edited do it (Chinese edition) with Hans Ulrich Obrist and Hu Fang.

Michael LEE is an artist and curator based in Singapore. His research addresses representations of the built environment, especially the contexts and implications of its lost elements. His observations are mainly transformed into objects, diagrams, situations, curations or essays. His exhibition/ festival participations include The 8th Shanghai Biennale 2010 180


(Shanghai Art Museum), The 3rd Guangzhou Triennial 2008 (Independent Projects section; Guangdong Museum of Art), The 2005 World Exposition (Singapore Pavilion; Nagoya) and International Film & Video Association Film Award & Festival 1997 (Winner, Experimental Category; Texas). His curatorial projects include Between, Beside, Beyond: Daniel Libeskind’s Reflections and Key Works 1989-2014 (Singapore Art Museum, 2007). His accolades include the Young Artist Award (Visual Arts) 2005, conferred by the National Arts Council, Singapore. LEE Weng Choy is an art critic based in Singapore, and director of Projects, Research & Publications, Osage Art Foundation. Lee’s essays have been published in Broadsheet, Forum On Contemporary Art & Society, Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique, Over Here: International Perspectives on Art and Culture, Theory in Contemporary Art since 1985, and Yishu. He serves on the academic advisory board of the Asia Art Archive, and is president of the Singapore Section of the International Association of Art Critics. From 2000 to 2009, he was artistic codirector of The Substation arts centre in Singapore. Cédric MARIDET is an artist and researcher. He received his Doctorate degree in Media Art in 2009 at the School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong, where he pioneered sound art courses. His research aims at clarifying fundamentals in the heterogeneity of listening intentions in order to frame essential connections for sound art in a holistic perceptual and theoretical approach. His art practice in video and sound relays his theoretical concerns on the act of listening and mainly takes the form of fixed and real-time compositions and installations. His solo and 181


Biographies

collaborative works have been exhibited worldwide including Art in General (New York), Théatre de la Villette (Paris), IG Bildende Kunst (Vienna), Kettle’s Yard (Cambridge), the 2007 Shenzhen and Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture (Shenzhen), Para/Site Art Space (Hong Kong), and more recently Ramiken Crucible (New York) and Turbine Hall, Tate Modern (London). He was awarded Prize of Excellence in the Hong Kong Art Biennial 2005 for his video work Huangpu (collected by Hong Kong Museum of Art). He has participated in many residencies, including in Asia Art Archive (Hong Kong), and he has conducted several workshops and public talks on field recording and listening theories. He is also a contributor for the openmicrophones project and member of the development committee NMSAT (Network Music and Sound Art Timeline) of French-based research lab in audio art Locus Sonus (École Supérieure d’Art d’Aix-en-Provence, École Nationale Supérieure d’Art de Nice Villa Arson). He is also advisor for soundpocket, a non-profit organisation promoting sound art and culture. He has published some of his works on his platform monème that he has founded in June 2004 Hans Ulrich OBRIST is a Swiss curator. After studying economics and politics, he turned to contemporary art and has since gained wide acclaim for his extraordinary exhibitions, which often take place in spaces not previously used as exhibition venues. He has curated exhibitions at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Kunsthalle Wien, the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg, the Serpentine Gallery in London and the PS1. Among his most important publications are:
World Soup (Munich, 1993); Delta X (Regensburg, 1996); Unbuilt roads: 107 unrealised 182


projects (Ostfildern, 1997); Vito Acconci im Gespräch mit Hans Ulrich Obrist (1993); Text: Schriften und Interviews / Gerhard Richter, (ed., Frankfurt am Main, 1993); Félix González-Torres im Gespräch mit Hans Ulrich Obrist (1994); Bertrand Lavier: Argo (ed., 1994); Dara Birnbaum im Gespräch mit Hans Ulrich Obrist (1995); Christian Boltanski im Gespräch mit Hans Ulrich Obrist (1995); Annette Messager. Nos témoignages (1995); Lost day: 1972 / Gilbert & George (ed., Cologne, 1996), and Laboratorium (with Barbara Vanderlinden, eds., Antwerpen 1999).

Magnus RENFREW is the director of the Hong Kong International Art Fair. Renfrew’s role as Fair Director follows a year running celebrated art patron Pearl Lam’s Gallery Contrasts in Shanghai. Renfrew was also instrumental in bringing to fruition the highly successful first London sale of Contemporary Asian Art at Bonhams in June 2006.

Héctor RODRÍGUEZ is a digital artist and new media theorist. His digital animation Res Extensa received the award for best digital work in the 2004 Hong Kong Art Biennial, and has been shown in India, China, Germany, and Spain. His game system CoPerspective was a finalist in the Games Meets Graphics competition at Eurographics 2006, held in Vienna, Austria. His essays about film theory/history and digital art have been published in Screen, Cinema Journal and Game Studies, and he has participated in various art, game, and technology conferences. His most recent work of software art, DeadCode, premiered in the 2009 ElectroFringe festival. He was also Artistic Director of the Microwave International Media Art Festival, where he curated the Culture as Play exhibition. As an educator, he is particularly 183


Biographies

interested in bridging the gap between art and technology. He has taught workshops on Java programming for artists and Interactive Fiction programming as part of such art events as the Microwave Media Art Festival and the Writing Machine exhibition. He is currently Associate Dean of the School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong, where he teaches courses in Visual Studies, Contemporary Art, Digital and Generative Art, Play and Game Studies, Film Theory, Software Art, Computation, and Critical Theory.

Alvaro RODRĂ?GUEZ FOMINAYA is Executive Director/Curator at Para/Site Art Space (Hong Kong). He has developed his professional career in Hong Kong, London and Spain. He was Chief Curator at Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno (CAAM) in Spain, where he curated exhibitions like Scrabble: Video, Language and Abstraction; Weather Report: Climate Change and Visual Arts, and Viva la Muerte! Art and Death in Latin America or Catherine Yass. Filmography. At Para/Site Art Space, he has organised projects with Shahzia Sikander, Surasi Kusolwong, Tatsumi Orimoto, Tsang Kin-Wah and the Gao Brothers, among others. He is frequent lecturer and writer on contemporary art.

Russell STORER is Head of Asian and Pacific Art at the Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, Australia. He was on the curatorial team for the 6th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in 2009 and is a cocurator of the 3rd Singapore Biennale, opening in 2011. He was formerly a curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, where he organised projects with artists including Simryn Gill, Matthew Ngui, Juan Davila and Simon Starling. He was a visiting curator at documenta 12, Kassel in 2007 and has written on contemporary art for a range of publications. 184


Richard STREITMATTER-TRAN is a co-curator of the 6th Asia Pacific Triennial. He is an artist living and working in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. He received his degree in the Studio for Interrelated Media (SIM) at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. His work, solo and collaborative, has been exhibited in several cities in the United States, Europe and Asia including the 52nd Venice Biennale, the 2007 Shenzhen and Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture, the Singapore Biennale in 2006 and 2008, the 2004 Gwangju Biennale, 2005 Pocheon Asian Art Festival, ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany, Asia Art Now at Arario Beijing, the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, Kandada Art Space in Tokyo, the Blue Space Gallery in Ho Chi Minh City, the Asiatopia Performance Art Festival in Bangkok, Art Tech Media 06 in Barcelona. He is an Asia-Pacific correspondent for the Madrid-based arts magazine Art.Es and Ho Chi Minh City editor for Contemporary. He was awarded the 2005 Martell Contemporary Asian Art Research Grant in 2005 with the Asia Art Archive in Hong Kong for his year-long research project, Mediating the Mekong. He was a Teaching Fellow at Harvard University (2000-2004), conducted media arts research at the MIT Media Lab (2000), and was a Visiting Lecturer at the Ho Chi Minh Fine Arts University in 2003. Currently he is a lecturer at the RMIT University Vietnam. In 2010 he established dia/projects, a contemporary arts space. Carolee THEA is an art historian and studies artworks, their concepts and structures and their relationship to today’s concerns: globalisation, emerging countries, gender, the end of empire, the postcolonial juncture, collectives, formal issues, the digital era, the evolution of the 21st-century museum, theories of exhibitions as in 185


Biographies

the biennial and curatorial practice. Combining an astute knowledge of art history and contemporary insider savvy, she is an advisor to select individuals and to new and seasoned collectors. Her first book, foci: interviews with 10 international curators, published in 2001 by Apexart Curatorial Program, boasts a number of foreign translations. June YAP curates and writes locally and internationally, is based in Singapore and is currently pursuing a PhD in Cultural Studies in Asia.

Philip YENAWINE has been engaged in museum education for thirty years, ten years of which were spent as Director of Education at MoMA, New York. He writes about art and has several books, all of which address issues germane to beginning viewers, including children. He is currently founding director (with cognitive psychologist Abigail Housen) of Visual Understanding in Education, a nonprofit educational research organisation that develops and studies programmes that teach teachers to use art to teach thinking and communication skills. He is President of Art Matters, a foundation supporting contemporary artists, and on the board of the Santa Monica (CA) Museum of Art.

YEUNG Yang is an independent curator, writer and university lecturer. Upon graduating from Yale University with an MA in anthropology, she worked as a documentary video director at Radio Television Hong Kong. She graduated in 2004 with a PhD in Intercultural Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Exhibitions she curated include in midair, sound works hong kong 2007 (2007), 14QK: Art Responds to 14K (2007), Nocturne, Alfred Ko solo photography exhibition 186


(2008), and Around sound art festival (2009 & 2010). She was also artistic director of October Contemporary 2009— Now or Never. She currently teaches Chinese and Western classics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. In 2008, she founded soundpocket (www.soundpocket.org.hk) to promote sound art and its research and education in Hong Kong.

187


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