Huang He Qing
An excerpt from the eighth chapter and the conclusion of The Conspiracy of Art’s with a little revision
China’s contemporary artists have been frequently participating in international exhibitions, biennials and expositions, causing a certain phenomenon called “China-craze”, since the first large-scale exhibition of China’s “contemporary art” on the Venice Biennial in 1999.
Back home, people are crazy about committing to international contemporary art with the beautiful cosmopolitan complex of “going global”, “integrating into the globe”, “globalization” and so on so forth. Compared with international contemporary art, I’d rather call it the international of contemporary art. As put in the preface of the Shanghai Biennial in 2002, the Chinese people finally have their own “contemporary art” –the sign of “participating into globalization”—which shows that the mother land is neither isolated from the outside of the world, nor lags behind the modern times.
In reality, for each composed person, it’s not difficult to realize that the so-called China’s “contemporary art” displays neither Chinese characters nor novelty. It appears like the creation of the locals at the first sight, but a careful examination exposes the nature of western contemporary art behind it. The name of “made-in-China western contemporary art” is more suitable, since it is an export product made just for the western “international of contemporary art”, separating from its original social, historical and cultural reality, and also from the aesthetic appreciation habit of the Chinese people.
China is definitely not short of theoretical and conceptual chaos about made-in-China western contemporary art or American-type contemporary art (1). So I will try to sort it out in this paper.
1.Modernity veiling locality
What the earth does “modernity” mean?
As I mentioned in the article entitled “What is modern art”, modernity serves as a cross section cutting off history, focusing on worshipping the present. It’s meant to eliminate and deny the past in nature.
The above-mentioned definition, which places an emphasis on the temporal trait of “modernity” in the West, results in worship of “time” or “era”—an obvious mechanistic “era-determinism”—everything changes with the times. Changing material implements entails the change of spiritual culture and art. Nowadays, it’s been “contemporary”; therefore everything should head in the same direction. Addicted deeply to modern “theory of progress” (Idée du Progrès) or the theory of social progress, the Chinese people feel no guilty about sacrificing their own history and culture for modern and contemporary dreams.
Cosmopolitanism is another feature. In other words, modernity inherits the nature of “western centralist cosmopolitanism” alluded in the western modern “theory of progress”, demanding other parts of the world to get as “modern” and “contemporary” as the West in the field of culture and art.
It is for this reason that the countrymen leave locality—the local features of culture and art—far behind, considering the western contemporary art as their role model (If science and technology is characterized with a universal effect beyond regions, then culture and art should be more connected with specific regions, reflecting local features to some degree. The former could be upgraded rapidly and synchronistically with the times; whereas the latter related with individual regions is considered eternal and permanent in a sense).
When it separates from “the past”, surpasses “regions” and just concentrates on the limited period of “present”, modernity in fact exists as an abstract tempo-spatial concept, illusory and unreal. As a result, it will inevitably deny China’s traditional culture in temporal terms and culture of distinct regions in spatial sense—the double negation of cultural spirit of China.
The current dominant ideology in China—“worship of the times” plus “cosmopolitanism”—results in the wide-spread notion that “regions” are not important at all, so that China should not restrict herself into a specific region and “modern” times. The phenomenon reflects an inherent defect that the western contemporary art has been little evaluated with local standards by China’s cultural theory circle. In contrast, several modern and contemporary artists struggle to defend “contemporary art” in the names of cosmopolitanism and temporal nature, regardless of locality. This can explain why China’s “contemporary art” does not encounter real theoretical questions but approach to officialism day by day.
A professor in Beijing thought that China was far from “modern”, therefore wouldn’t be able to appreciate the “grownup” modern art (people in the western countries have evolved into the grownup stage). All these should be attributed to the “time-era” problem, in other words, modern art is advanced, so how could the Chinese teenagers at the pre-modern times understand?
As a matter of fact, modernity and locality could correspond to the “spirit of age” (zeitgest) and “the national spirit” (volksgeist) respectively prevalent in German. In ancient times, the national spirit was deeply rooted in the minds of the Germany people. For example, Johann Gottfried Herder launched the famous movement in German literature and music called “Sturm und Drang” or, “Storm and Stress” in English, a sign of cultural nationalism (cultural nationalisme); other examples like J.G.Fichte’s Addresses to the German Nation and R.Wagner’s music and so on so forth—all paid tribute to the Germany national spirit which later on was pushed to the extreme of racism by National Socialism or Nazi. However, followed by the Second World War was an upside-down shift to the spirit of age advocated by cosmopolitanism. All of sudden, the concept of nation was avoided as taboo and even such activities as singing national anthem and displaying the national flag made people embarrassed. It was said that the name of the artist was not followed by one’s nationality on an international art exhibition in German. It seems that the idea of “nation” is only preserved in the trade mark of “national automobiles” (for example, Volkswagen was translated into “大众汽车”.)
The American people have all along cherished the spirit of age. The definition of time given by J. Kosuth, an American conceptual artist, was quite profound, “given the lack of geographical origin in our culture, we are inclined to positioning ourselves in a temporal point—this century—rather than some physical point on the land.”(2)
It was for the same reason—the spirit of age—that P. Guggenheim named her gallery “This Century” rather than “this country”.
Since the introduction of Evolution and Ethics into China in the late 19th century, the theory of progress has been fully accepted, the theory of social progress in particular, which constituted the dominant ideology at modern times. As a result, the minds of the Chinese people were fully occupied by the spirit of age, leaving no room for national spirit.
When the theory of progress which implies an ideal future serves as a “secular religion”, the spirit of age has become a belief of the Chinese people. The catchword of the government, “to keep pace with the times”, is actually a stereotyped way of thinking among China’s political and cultural elite.
History sometimes seems beyond comprehension: people of the United States honor the spirit of age because they believe the human history is the most advanced; in contrast, the Chinese people do so due to their acknowledgement of their own backwardness and the western centralist cosmopolitanism. This is a strange cultural phenomenon never seen in the past. It is with the self-abased complex of denying their own history and “neglecting historical lines (Chen Danqing’s words)” that the Chinese people embrace the spirit of age and break away from the geological national spirit.
Geological national spirit stretches both in time and space like a long course from a remote source and the spirit of age is just like the gleams of the river. All types of splendid art in human history are fruits of cooperation of the national spirit and the spirit of age which are composed to two wheels of a car and two wings of a bird. Any way of thinking with one-sided emphasis on one of two will be defined lame.
“Modern art” in China is right the creation of the performance overstressing modernity and the spirit of age and veiling locality and the national spirit.
The concept of “diverse homogeneity (diversité homogène)” was proposed by Yves Michaud, a French art critic, in the third chapter—“Global Art-Between Them and Us”—in his works Artists and Curators (L’Artiste et les Commissaires)(3). He has already realized the emergence of a type of “global art” (art planétaire) back in the 1980s, which appeared dull and identical all over the world. He then was aware of a fact that that was a kind of “global art” with “distinct forms” but the “same nature”. He put it as follows:
Today in the world of art, when it comes to diversity, the first image coming up into our minds is “diverse homogeneity” which is the true nature of it. Almost no official post-modern art exhibition in any form could be immune from appearing like a supermarket which is full of uncreative stuffs. It’s not difficult to find out that the names of art titans are usually printed on the badges of famous galleries, such as, Joseph Beuys, Tony Cragg, and Gerhard Richter and so on so forth. But now, that is far from enough: they are adding some Australian indigenous names, some Soviet or Chinese names, or maybe a Zairian name for future use. However, that is not surprising at all, for the diverse homogeneity—everything is different and at the same time almost the same with each other—caters to global culture spread by the media, news agencies and super news groups. Global culture is being consumed by a group of multinational elite of power who are more and more similar with each other in terms of interest, entertainment and consumption ways, including cultural hobbies, as well as cosmopolitanism they are pursuing (4).
The above–mentioned directly points to the truth: “everything is different, and on the other hand almost the same.” Diversity is what it looks like and homogeneity is what it really is in reality. Yves Michaud raised the question of “diverse homogeneity” in response to the view of “cultural pluralism” which should be praised in the first place for its original goal of preventing the world from being assimilated by “cosmopolitanism”. But next question is who will advocate cultural pluralism?
It is a good sign if non-western countries under a long-term control of western civilization display the banner of “cultural diversity” in order to oppose assimilation by western culture. However, if it is the western mainstream system that calls for “cultural diversity”, people cannot help questioning its sincerity. Recent years, there indeed have been some activities in western mainstream system to represent “cultural diversity”, for example, the invitation of a Nigerian black person as chief curator of last documentary exhibition in Cassel. However, the underlying truth is that they just wanted to add “exotic savor” to make the exhibition look “divers” so as to spread “international contemporary art” all over the world.
Behind the changing “exotic” savor is always western centralism. There is always a clear line drawn between them and us. In spite of their participation, it is still our art, and we are still at the core. The relationship between us and them is like master and servant. It is we who select them, based on our standards, to some international exhibitions and biennials, so naturally they are close with us to cater to our taste and forms of art (matters, installations, concepts and images). “The sight of artists all over the world flocking into western modern belief and project makes us firmly confident that compared with their marginal status; we are right in the center of art. And we are casting eyes to them with contempt and compassion as colonists losing colonies.” (5)
Yves Michaud’s acid but vivid depiction of indelible view of “ethnocentrism” in the minds of the western people is admirable. It is true that no matter to what degree the western mainstream system is open to you with a high-profile of “cultural diversity”, “contempt” and “compassion” in their nature cannot be removed.
Unfortunately, a number of Chinese people who have been calling for integration into the globe are motivated and stimulated by catchwords like “cultural diversity” and “cultural hybrid” presented by the mainstream system of western modern art in recent years. A friend from Beijing is quite optimistic, saying that the wind of western art has changed to diversity, bringing great hope to China’s “contemporary art”.
How naive he is! Mr. Michaud could help him wake up: “contemporary art” appears diverse but is homogeneous in nature.
3. The absence of Chinese characters
On my visit to a friend in Paris, a collection of works on China’s “avant-garde art” entitled China’s Art which sounded strange drew my attention, for the content is not consistent with the title at all. So-called China’s art gives readers not the least sense of Chinese characters.
The so-called “Chinese characters”, generally speaking, mean the cultural and artistic spirit reflected in the works of fine arts and also the aesthetic value of the Chinese people. If failing to attract ordinary audience in “commonplace” terms, they could at least cater to the taste of “elite” on elegant level.
“Chinese characters” should by no means become isolated and confined to China’s art patterns. In the past more than a century, “Chinese features” have been successfully represented through western art forms, such as oil paintings, sculptures, pianos and violins and so on so forth. This has become a common sense.
For example, western art forms are employed in Mr. Zhao Wuji’s abstract oil paintings to show exuberant “Chinese features”. Back in 1985, all Mr. Zhao used in short-term training classes at Zhejiang Academy of Art was China’s aesthetic ideas: the use of breath in paintings (i.e. Qi Yun); dealing with relations between objects in painting (“tense and tight”, “dynamic and static” and “sparse and dense” and so on). Take Hommage à Edgar Varèse, one of his paintings, as an example, such a stormy and wild landscape is surprisingly against a tranquil background of a immense universe, forming a harmonious mood combining dynamics and statics, absolutely typical Chinese style.
China’s “contemporary art” which has all along longed for integration into “international stage” obviously is based on the western centralistic cosmopolitanism. Before production, the first thing jumping into the mind of “Chinese contemporary artists” is whether their works would be able to accepted by the “world” or “international” audience, whether they could take part in western exhibitions or expositions, whether they could be sold at western art markets. The western centralistic cosmopolitanism has laid the foundation for the absence of Chinese characters in China’s “contemporary art”. In other words, the latter denies or excludes its own features in terms of cultural concept.
An attention-worthy views are the current popular destructuralism by Derrida and so-called anti-essentialism used to deconstruct Chinese culture and deny its features in cultural sense.
The most influential criticism about essentialism was made by Mr. Q, a Chinese contemporary artist and theorist, “among the existing practices and languages about China card, essentialism is still the mainstream thinking. That indicates the existence of substantive Chinese cultural concept which is stable from internal essence to external appearance. Chinese cultural traditions were born with experimental and self-denial elements which could be emphasized and magnified intentionally if the belief in essentialism is abandoned. Thus the pent-up potential possibilities could be unleashed. In order to achieve this goal, we have to ask what Chinese culture could become, rather than what it is; and who the Chinese people could become, rather than who they are.” (My viewpoint on China Card)
His remarks about the nature and feature of Chinese culture or the denial of the Chinese characters shocked people. No doubt, there are indeed no immutable Chinese cultural concepts, but there is relatively stable Chinese culture with a specific nature and origin despite constant changes.
“Yi” has three meanings, namely, simplicity, change and stability which is the fundamental element. The appearance of things is always in the midst of changes, but the noumenon remains unchangeable. In other words, the external forms could be changed, but the spiritual core proves stable or hardly changeable.
What is the nature or feature of culture? It could be the fundamental trait which is used to explain its identity; it could also be the inner “basic structural concept” which gathers generations of people together, signaling continuity of the society (Samuel Phillips Huntington). Regardless of the differences between noumenon and phenomenon, Mr. Q put essence and appearance together into the torrent of changes, with the belief that everything could be changed and everything is absent of essence. This practice not only deconstructs the root of Chinese culture, but also wipes away the fundamental identity of the Chinese people.
Having been already obsessed with cosmopolitanism, the modern Chinese citizens who consider themselves as “world citizens” have no motivation to ask “who am I” in terms of culture. How would they obtain a footing in the world without any idea of their own identities? Likewise, how would a nation stand proudly and confidently in the family of nations without its cultural identity—the essential element? If we don’t ask “what Chinese culture is” or “who the Chinese people are”, according to Mr. Q, then the one and only result will be that the Chinese people are no longer “like themselves”, just as the theme song of Beijingers in New York goes.
The creation of a culture is a slow process which takes thousands of years. Once the process is finished, the culture will possess a strong continuity. It’s common for the external appearance of a culture to keep pace with the times, but if the internal core is also changed, deconstructed, or self-denied, then it will be doomed to die.
In terms of inner spirit, China’s “contemporary art” shows litter local characters, despite the external declaration of many dazzling symbols of the culture. The trick is the strongest suit of the “overseas corps” of Chinese “contemporary artists”, who have played with almost all important signs of Chinese culture, such as, gun powder, Chinese ideograph, compass, printing, the eight trigrams in Book of Changes, fortune-telling, Chinese medicine and facial make-ups in Peking operas and so on so forth. Different artists have different “strong suits”, for example, Mr. C in gun powder, Mr. X in printing, or Mr. H in compass and Chinese medicine…
The game with symbols of “Chinese culture” is not intended to present to the outside world the cultural essence with local characters, but only to play “China card”, using it as a stunt.
The knowledge that the success of Soviet Union’s political pop art in the West earned them innumerable bucks stimulated some “contemporary artists” to replace the image of Stalin or Lenin with that of Chairman Mao, the Kremlin with Tian’anmen Square in order to create “political pop art” in China. The act of playing “political China car” only begets more contempt.
Mr. Q insists that Chinese culture should go through the process of “arrangement, improvement and innovation” from a new perspective to prepare for a bigger say in the arena in the days to come. But this is just his “unrequited love”. In fact, the rules of the game have already been set by the West. You have to play according to the preset rules if you want to participate in it. You cannot but to receive the passive position unless you set a totally new rule.
In particular when there is an absence of rules and standards for international contemporary art, everything is at the mercy of a couple of people at the informal academy whose scale is capricious and fathomless. If there are clear rules and regulations like in the Olympic events, you are likely to get the championship through hard work. But the possibility will be reduced to zero when the game is maneuvered at will by the person in power without any rules to follow.
Another example to show the lack of local characters in Chinese “contemporary art” is that most of them are direct copies of the West, ranging from “idea” to “form”. The one and only difference is that those works are practiced in China. Other’s ideas just with a new form or perhaps some Chinese symbols have already led to the act of pilferage. This is definitely not something to be proud of.
It looks like “Chinese contemporary art” at the first sight, but a close-up exposes the nature—“American-style contemporary art”. They differ from each other in appearance, but share the same nature—the expression of disorderly things in a non-art way—the technique which is in use all over the world.
The existence of western contemporary art is previous to the copying trick of Chinese contemporary art. The above-mentioned technique has already been used in the West, so all copies in Chinese contemporary art seem quite dull and boring. We can say that the prototype of each Chinese contemporary works could be found out from the West. Just to number a few as follows:
The sign of “No U-Turn” on the First Chinese Contemporary Art Exhibition in 1989 is an obvious copy of the traffic sign in Robert Rauschenberg’s works entitled Black Market. On the exhibition, some people acted washing feet. The same idea has been used in 1971 when Joseph Beuys did the same thing for seven persons.
The shooting painting by Xiao Lu is considered the first case ever in China, but the same idea had already appeared in the West. Early in 1962, Niki de Saint Phalle performed the shooting session with a .22 caliber rifle.
The pyramid building of several naked guys in the performance entitled Making the Unknown Mount 1 Meter Higher was inspired by Joseph Beuys’ 1964 suggestion to make the Berlin Wall five centimeters higher.
Mr. Z covered his naked upper part of body with honey in a toilet to attract flies—a performance imitating S. Brisley immersed in a dirty bathtub. The only change is the replacement of a dirty bathtub with a toilet. No doubt, he must have seen a similar picture appearing in the book Art in the Seventies edited by E. Lucie-Smith who actually did the same thing with another performance artist Mr. M in 1995.
Sculptures in Chinese tunic suits—the use of cloth as a form of art—have frequently displayed by Mr. S on international exhibitions, another abused example in the West. Early in 1980, Joseph Beuys showed his works A Felt Suit, followed by R. Trockel, German contemporary artist who a neuter shirt in a watch-glass in 1988. Besides, J. Aemleder hung five western-style coats with hangers on 1992 exhibition. Mr. S just substituted a Chinese tunic suit for the “cloth-made sculpture” to criticize the act of playing “political China card” in the times of Mao Zedong.
Likewise, Mr. C’s works with gun powder is not his own creation. Early in 1987, R. Signer, a German artist, used gun powder to create a mushroom cloud in his behavioral sculpture. The same technique was later shown in his works A Small Event in 1996. But he was not as lucky as Mr. Q who was considered as a master of “gun powder art”.
Mr. H put History of Chinese Painting and History of Western Painting into a washing machine to be churned together, implying the meaning of “integration”, an idea which looks wise but actually is stolen from other people. J. Latham, who once taught at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, along with his students early in 1967, pounded into pieces with water a “quite respectable book”, Art and Culture by Samuel Greenburg, and then stuffed the paste into a bottle to return it to the library. The same thing from the idea to the performance! In addition, J. Latham set books on fire at the Oxford University, the University of Edinburgh, and even in front of the British Library, indicating “undermining the foundation of culture with fire”. Mr. H also did the same so when proudly burning up his own oil paintings in the campaign entitled Xiamen Dada, in order to show his resolution to break away from traditional art.
Mr. W’s early works about Mao Zedong’s head reflected the influence of pop art in the Soviet Union. Although he focused on “the Great Criticism” later on, the prototype should be a picture about the same subject—Art from Fighting Life—in Art in the Seventies edited by E. Lucie-Smith. Readers could make a judgment themselves.
There is nothing surprising when Mr. S kept a diary with water or performed writing with water in public. Early in 1969, M. Broodthaers, a figure of Fluxus from Belgium directed a two-minute circular movie called Rain, in which he was writing an article with pen ink in a rain so heavy that the letters were washed out. So Mr. S’s idea is not creative at all.
In his performance works named Flood Fight: Red Flag Canal, Mr. W who got married with a donkey poured red paint into a canal, a symbol of playing the political card. Actually, D. Oppenheim did so into the sea back to 1967 to convey a political meaning.
Some “performance artists” from Nanjing eviscerated a cow in a park and performed coming out of it to experience the feeling of “being born”. It is a clear copy of the ritual of actionists in Vienna.
An air of imitation could also be found in Mr. Q’s photograph—a tattoo of a Chinese character “不” (meaning “no”) in the upper part of his body. The prototype is A. Rainer, an actionist from Vienna who often acted himself and took picture of himself. In Action, a picture taken in 1970, he was stripped to the waist with a strip of sticky tape from the top of the head to the breast. Mr. Q just changed the white sticky tape to a red “不”, and nothing else.
In the list of Paris-Beijing exhibition, a picture showed M. W and a German girl, acting Adam and Eva in a supermarket. The man threw his sex organ out and the girl kept an apple in her hands. He was imitating Marcel Duchamp who acted Adam in his 1924 performance.
An “artist” from Shanxi Province hung himself in the name of “art” on January 1st, 2000. Unfortunately, even he already had a predecessor—R. Schwarzkogler from Austria who committed self-mutilation at home and died several decades ago.
Such cases of imitation and theft of western contemporary art could continue being listed, from which we can see without any difficulty that there is a lack of creativity in China’s “contemporary art”. The so-called “contemporary art” in China will remain a doubtable concept if our artists still concentrate on the “international” market, rather than present the true picture of social and cultural realities in China and produce works that really can reflect national elements.
4.Art for whose sake?
“Living in the other land” was originally said by Rimbaud, a French poet, and later on was cited by Kundera, a writer from Czech, and then wide spread across China. What a historical coincidence. It vividly described the feelings of some Chinese “talents” in the field of culture and art. They have always rationally denied “the land” under their feet and longed for “the other land”. “The former” is what they attempt to abandon and the latter is an ideal place where they aspire to. Although they are living in “this land”, it won’t prevent them from living in “the other land” spiritually all the time.
An exhibition entitled Living in This Land, was once organized in Berlin by Chinese authorities, but it turned out that everything exhibited was about how Chinese “contemporary artists” desired living in “the other land”. What were shown are China-made foreign things.
Everybody can see that the so-called “China’s contemporary art” is not created for the local public, but for the international stage—it’s conceived, produced and exported to the outside world. The local artists turn a cold shoulder to the thousands-year-old cultural tradition in “this land” and disdain to create art for billions of ordinary Chinese people. Now a key question comes up: for whose sake is the art?
As an ancient Chinese saying goes to the effect, King Chu’s preference of the thin waist caused hunger among women around him. Likewise, in order to cater to the international popular “thin waist”, Chinese “contemporary artists” even would rather to sacrifice “delicious food” in “this land” without any regret. The phenomenon was vividly called “thin-waist internationalism” by Mr. Yin jinan.
When the international envoy holding western centralism came to China for modern art with their inherent cultural standards, the “thin-waist internationalists” in the destination will, on the basis of many-year-experience of “pan-performance”, say calmly, “I could offer whatever you need,” enough to imply their capacity. In other words, if you (the West) look at us (China) with folk eyes, then we will provide the production with folk features; if with erotic eyes, we will provide modern porn works based on profound Taoist tradition; if with western-type oriental eyes, then there will be cases to perfect match the eyes. There is the Cultural Revolution as the last resort to meet your need of political complex; folk bloody cases for your demand of primitive violence. I could make you vomit for no reason if that’s what you mean unprovoked morbidity; or I could also sacrifice temporarily my gender to become a woman or even “hemophrodite” if you ask for feminism. (6)
China “contemporary art” exists just for export with alien features, which was sharply criticized by Biljana Ciric, an art critic who was born in Yugoslavia and lives in China, in her article You Attended the Forum in Hangzhou too?
In order to cooperate with the exhibition held at Shanghai Art Museum—Focus: Chinese Video and Photograph from Haudenschild, an American Collection Institute, a forum entitled Predicting the Future—Local Views with a Globalized Perspective was held at Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (now China Academy of Art) in Hangzhou March, 2004. Twenty six well-known artists, curators, critics and art historians at home and abroad were invited, among whom there were Barbara London, video-art curator of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Christopher Phillips, curator of International Center of Photography in New York. As she said, “how international it should be? The few local critics! How to talk about the future of China’s contemporary art?”
For the world of China’s “contemporary art”, there is no need of local critics in discussion, for they couldn’t do anything useful in this regard. On the contrary, international critics, curators, collectors and painting dealers have direct bearing with China’s “contemporary art”. For this reason, Miss Biljana Ciric are not necessarily surprised, since the participation of local critics in the forum would make no contribution. In contrast, the absence of international figures would be unimaginable.
In my opinion, the political factor should be responsible for the present “China Craze” in the field of international contemporary art in western countries, as art has always served a crucial tool in exerting political and cultural influence. In the 1980s, America’s support of political pop art in the Soviet Union to play an “art card” played an important role in the latter’s disintegration. After that, the West turned their eyes to China in the field of culture and art. In this sense, “China craze” dating back to the 1990s is by no means accidental.
Besides, commercial element could also be cited to explain the above-mentioned phenomenon. At present, China’s “contemporary art” with great speculative values is, as it were, a certain “China-concept chip” in stock terms. The art market and stock market share the same nature in speculative activities. Political pop art in the Soviet Union was once great publicized in the West, but later on disappeared only as a flash in the pan. In fact, it is its declining that propelled the “Craze of China-concept Chip”.
Today, the so-called China’s “contemporary art” is not what it means in real sense, but China-made western contemporary art. The meaning of its emergence is just to prove that China also joins in US-led “international of contemporary art”, and nothing more. It is in this case that China’s “contemporary art” mentioned in the article are all added with double quotation marks.
In front of the overwhelming trend of the “international of contemporary art”, it is imperative for China to establish her own strategy of international culture. Nothing is more ridiculous when the Chinese authorities send American-style Chinese “contemporary art” to the biennial in Venice. What Chins shows should really reflect her own cultural features and artistic spirit, different from others. This should be the basis of establishing a unique international cultural strategy.
Many countrymen call to safeguard their “spiritual homeland”, but in fact have separated from the origin of their culture, leaving the “cultural homeland” desolate. The Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, as three origins of Chinese culture, so far are still keeping feudal, backward and pre-modern loads on the shoulders, because they have not yet got the legitimate discourse without the official authorization. As a result, instead criticizing art with confidence, they steal others as their own.
The first and foremost step facing China is to calculate three “denials” of Chinese culture by the theory of progress (or the theory of social progress). First, the theory evaluate culture according to the level of productivity, denying Chinese culture in terms of the standard of values; second, the linear way of thinking in the theory brings about a certain “worship of time”, denying Chinese culture in temporal terms; third, the western centralist cosmopolitanism alluded in the theory denies national cultural features and Chinese culture as a whole in spatial terms. From the above analysis, it’s not difficult to see that the theory inflicts a heavy cultural inferiority complex on the Chinese people as “spiritual opium”, hindering their independent progress, and depriving the evaluation capability based on their own cultural standards.
Xie He, a poet from the Southern Dynasty, once said, “There is a clear line between good and bad techniques, but not between ancient and present ones.” Art could be judged by the words like beautiful and ugly or elegant and vulgar, but not by the times. So there should be fewer talks about the conflicts between ancient and present art, as well as traditional and modern art, as the discussion about the “times” has already done great harm to the nation. There should be more subjects about techniques, taste, mood, charms of culture and so on so forth. This required us to make criticism with Chinese values of culture and art.
I share the same view with Chen Danqing in that the crux with China is “cultural amnesia” which should be resolved by preserving our own “historical memory” like the “old soldier of the Qing Dynasty”.
Only when countrymen set out to seek the spiritual source of national culture and use it as the standard in evaluation could we create real Chinese contemporary art. V. Sanso’s words are worth emphasizing, “Original production needs original spirit.”
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