[-empyre-] without fear or/of favor

Rebecca Catching rebeccacatching at gmail.com
Sat Nov 20 09:21:45 EST 2010

Hi Johannes, thanks for this very interesting post in recapping many ideas brought up in this thread. 

I wanted to address the issue of East/West problem. This is something that I have been researching for a piece I am writing for a contemporary online art magazine called randian 燃点 (www.randian-online.com) which traces the history of artistic exchange from the West (often via Japan) to China. The reverse flow is also quite interesting but the subject of whole other another paper. 

You can check it out here (warning it's v. long)

In researching this I asked about artists looking to the West for validation. Sadly, it's an undeniable fact that most artists will usually give more respect to an artist who has exhibited abroad, who shows in galleries abroad or who has been written up in foreign mags. And Western collectors and curators often know so little about the art scene in China, that they are more likely to pay attention to artists who have shown at the Tate or the Asia Society than any Chinese institution. 

Part of the problem is the weakness of most institutions -- many state museums are fraught with corruption and rent out space to whomever can pay for it. Private museums are generally better but very few have solid academic research departments which curate educational retrospectives. 

Art magazines are chock-full of soft ads masquerading as art criticism (that's not to say there are no worthy critics. There certainly are, but the media environment is much "client friendly" than it is "reader friendly"). 

In light of these problems I asked Chinese artists and critics how they felt about the fact that Westerners play a strong role in creating the "cannon of Chinese contemporary art"?

Zhou Tiehai, (someone who as addressed this problem in his own work) seemed to think it was a non-issue. He very rightly pointed out that you shouldn't characterize the West as being one monolithic entity. 

Another critic named Wu Liang took on this very interesting stance, saying he was not nationalistic and that Western civilization had given many interesting ideas to humanity and that he didn't think it mattered played the role of evaluating art. 

I guess my problem with this situation is no matter how good a Western curator is, they are going to have more difficulty accessing the background materials on an artist. The most dedicated will learn the language and work with translators, but I think a lot of them tend to parachute in and work with artists which have already been "discovered" by other Western curators working in China, or cross-cultural bridge builders, English speaking Chinese curators. 

These parachuters don't not necessarily have full access to the spectrum of CCA. Take the case of Bonito Achille Oliva who worked with Li Xianting to bring a group of Chinese artists to Venice in 93. Even though Li Xianting showed him a great variety of works, Oliva's selection was widely criticized for only emphasizing the exotic aspects of Chinese culture and setting in motion much of what was to happen later in terms of market-oriented CCA. I can't remember who said it (it's in Wu Hung's Primary Documents ) but they described it more or less like this: 

Oliva left Beijing on the train with a band of Chinese artists and the next day at the station a bunch of artists showed up wondering when the next train was going to leave. 

Critics such as Zhang Qing and Wang Nanming have spoken out strongly on this issue of Western mis-representation of CCA using words such as hegemony.

To develop an accurate understanding of the Chinese art world a non-Chinese speaking foreigner needs to work twice as hard as a Chinese curator. This means that most go through bilingual "middle men or gate keepers." Another effect is that English speaking Chinese artists tend have an distinct advantage of getting noticed and participating in residencies and exhibitions abroad. 

So what can China do to take a firmer control of "the cannon"? Create more solid and professional art museums which command respect from the Chinese art world, establish a less corrupt press (LEAP in Beijing is a very good start I'd like to hear from others about their suggestions of interesting non-biased publications) and develop a change of attitude: namely look at an artist's work itself and not the the number of foreign shows on their resume.

I welcome you all to add your comments, and sorry to stray again from the new media topic. : ) 


On 2010-11-18, at 10:49 AM, Johannes Birringer wrote:

> dear all:
> thanks Edward for your reply to my impressions on 798, and your very helpful additional comments and explanations. I am sorry to learn of the "gentrification" of 798 but perhaps that was, sadly, inevitable, even if one might look at other scenarios (I am thinking of Metelkova in Ljubljana, after the collapse of socialism) where occupation of a site by alternative groups generated its own dynamic and power.
> Now Li Zhenhua asks why I brought up a documentary film on Ai WeiWei shown in Britain, and what it has to do with media arts.
> I felt inspired to do so for two reasons.  First, i think installations or (fake) site specific or immersive art works using media attention to create/perform event-character have much to do with media arts and new media arts dispersive or generative strategies and links to social networks and the internet, and of course film and news media and blogs contribute to the happening and the discourse of the event.  I saw the release of the documentary as part of the artist's and the curators' and promoters'  media arts strategy, and thus part of the common promotional discourse with which contemporary art (whether paintings of the Cultural Revolution or, say, Wu Meng’s “Gravity” series based on earlier performances) dresses itself up.
> Furthermore, i thought Rebecca Catching's posting on the complications surrounding her exhibition "Shifting Definitions" was stunningly revealing of many aspects, and more, that came up or did not come up in this month's discussion.
> The issue of censorship needed addressing, and issues of gender bias, sexuality,  and xenophobia probably are forbiddingly complex but also necessary for a fuller, critical debate on the formation of new media arts practices, the discourse, and the curatorial challenges. 
> Isaac leung stated that "if we look at formation of new media art practices, it is impossible not to see the various institutional mediations that shape the knowledge and logic of what “new media” is to be.  The discourse of new media can hardly be solely tied to the subject itself; rather, the subject of new media is inevitably a social construction.".....   One couldn't agree more,  and I am thankful to Rebecca for describing in such detail the counter surveillance or counter-interventionist tactics deployed at and via her gallery and the exhibition  (for example the beautiful example of the "digital copy" that was confiscated or the "passing around of performances" via small hand held video player devices....).
> The mobility and these various dissemination strategies raise many questions, at the same time, not least to the the curatorial thinking on art, media, performance, networks, today. 
> The disappointing side of the "Without Fear or Favor" was its complete lack of a critical approach to its material and an inability or unwillingness to look more carefully into contexts;  for example, it briefly mentions Ai's involvement in the so-called notorious 2000 "Uncooperative Approach" exhibition held during the Shanghai Biennial.  I remember how the black catalogue, titled "Fuck Off,"  was sold under the table in a bookstore in 798, as if it was a forbidden or underground cult object, and the documentary makes the tiniest of quick allusions to the Zhu Yu performance of "Eating People,"  except that this was not a performance but a series of photographs.
> I would, on the whole, be really interested in hearing more on the relationship between performance / live art and media arts in China and how younger generation media and performance artists situate themselves toward their audiences, who are the audiences, who sees such performances or gets a video monitor or ipad passed around to?  and - to come back to Isaac leung, how does one avoid the East/West trappings ----  as you say:"Many discourses concerning contemporary Chinese art are based on the premise of polarized East/West aesthetic values that tends to pander to the knowledge and logics of the art centers in the West.  These common conceptualizations imply that the trajectory of art within China is operated in a monolithic and unidirectional way, that is to say, from the West to East" ----    but what about the diaspora, the many Chinese artists who have gone to other places?
> regards
> Johannes Birringer
> DAP-Lab  
> _______>Li zhenhua schrieb: 
> I am wondering what this to do with the media art issue?!
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