[-empyre-] decloaking

Robin Peckham ra.peckham at gmail.com
Fri Nov 5 06:03:25 EST 2010

It's precisely those subtle shifts in the way the art world functions
as a result of new technologies and possibilities, and in fact the
subtlety of these changes. Remember that China offers such a
fascinating case study because contemporary oil painting (as a genre,
not a medium--oil painting of course dates back to the Qing dynasty)
and video art appeared in the same decade (contemporary painting in
1979 with the Stars group, though some might call everything until
1985 pseudo-modernist, and video in 1988 with Zhang Peili's "20x20"),
implying that these varying media have had equal opportunity to exert
some effect on the way audiences receive art, socially speaking.
There's also the fact that, at least for the moment, the training
skilled labor in China is often more cost-effective than the
engineering of technological replacements for this labor: in the
infamous Dafen village, we could have a painting copied for the same
price as translating an essay or transferring a beta tape to DVD. This
means that the choice of medium is less related to historical
discourse and more to convenience, and that new media forms are
commonly used in artistic practices (including curatorial and gallery
practices) without much thought about where they come from or what
their use implies.

I bring these two aspects up just to emphasize that the concept of
"newness" in relation to medium functions rather differently in the
Chinese context, and likewise these technological pathways have always
opened possibilities for the circulation and presentation of art since
the inception of the commercial gallery system in major Chinese cities
(since 1989-1990). China never experienced anything remotely like the
California ideology as we know it, and there hasn't really been any
letdown in terms of the failure of new technologies to change the art
world. New projects are launched every day that hope to build upon the
potential of the internet--case in point, "Artlinkart"
(http://www.artlinkart.com/en/), an image database recently put online
by Zheng Weimin in Shanghai with the motto "Art is for share." That
certainly reflects a fundamental belief in the continued ability of
the net to effect such change. Then again, take a look at Art-Ba-Ba
(http://art-ba-ba.com/mainframe.asp?ForumID=8&lange=cn), the forum on
which the majority of online commentary on art takes place, from
critical essays and exhibition photos to semi-serious reviews and
outright gossip.

As for copying and that set of ideas, I'm not a believer in Chinese
exceptionalism on this particular point. However much Chinese
intellectuals like to believe that their society represents a
fundamentally distinct mode of thinking, I tend to believe that, with
the massive globalization that has brought new ideas into China and
spread Chinese around the world beginning in the 1400s and the Ming
dynasty, such arguments are nowadays trotted out in a defensive
developing-world mindset. Yes, in classical ink painting it was
expected that painters would learn by copying precisely the masters of
ages past, and private collections (and later public museums, in the
Republican era when the great imperial collections were scattered
throughout the country) often commissioned leading painters to execute
copies for public display, but even as far back as the Song dynasty
such copies were explicitly assigned a lesser value. Collectors in the
Yuan dynasty prided themselves on their ability to distinguish which
pieces were created at the hands of the masters and which were
"ghostpainted" by his apprentices an signed in his name. While
innovation is always a touchy subject, copying has never been a
virtue--except for the copier, of course.

Robin Peckham
Society for Experimental Cultural Production
2/F 716 Shanghai St., Mongkok, Kowloon, H.K.
+852 5181 5156

On Thu, Nov 4, 2010 at 5:02 PM, Melinda Rackham <melinda at subtle.net> wrote:
> hi there,
>  nice to see u de-lurking Michael and Robin..
> Robin can u expand a bit on the concept of decentralized curatorial
> practice?
>  are u talking about the "net" or networks?
> 15 years ago in the rush of internet euphoria, we all thought that the net
> would change everything -  abolish the discrete art object;  create closer
> maker-audience relationships; cut out the gallery gateway etc,  and what has
> actually happend is that the market just asserted its power, introduced
> editioning of media art and ignored more distributed, non-hierarchical
> works. Subtle shifts in what is shown perhaps, but in the most part intact.
> But my instinct is that you are referring to something else -- something
> specific to China which i imagine includes the cultural perspective on
> copying as a way of learning?
> I was reading some comments in designer Brian Ling's Blog -
> http://www.designsojourn.com/why-does-china-copy-designs/:
> "in Chinese culture, its really about the fact that “copying is the greatest
> form of flattery ... patents are only taken out for a product if it can be
> later sold, or licensed for royalties. In other words patents are seen as
> “offensive” in the East as compared to “defensive” in the West. The
> viewpoints are actually similar, but there is a subtle difference on how
> patents are viewed."
> How does the different perspective on re/production impact on alternate
> forms of distribution..  Michael's  Donkey Institute of Contemporary Art
> (DICA)
> for example routes around the gallery systems in a very physical way. A sort
> of take it to the streets and the people attitude. Perhaps the utilization
> of urban screens to show work outside the gallery, as we did in Dreamworlds
> is a more time effective way forward, but in reality showing in these spaces
> it is negotiating directly with commercial space, rather than its art
> portals.
> best wishes
> Melinda
> Melinda Rackham
> melinda at subtle.net

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