Guest Author of November 2009
After October’s essay by Patrick D. Flores, we would like to continue the Monthly Guest Author column with a text by Carol Yinghua Lu, who also participated in the GAM Summer Seminar 2009. Carol Lu is a curator, critic and writer based in Beijing. As a curator, she organized exhibitions for art spaces, galleries and art fairs in China and Europe; as a writer, she contributed to international magazines and publications such as Frieze, Art Asia Pacific and Tema Celeste. In her essay “Back to Normal”, Carol Lu offers a diagnosis of the Chinese contemporary art scene, tracing back current issues and problems to the events of 1989. Starting with an analysis of a dialogue between the two eminent Chinese curators Li Xianting and Fei Dawei – the latter having moved to France after ’89 –, she describes how the emigration of leading young artists has influenced both their own artistic production, and – after their eventual return to China – the local art scene, which still fails to adapt to an open and experimental discourse and relies on market- and insider-oriented mechanisms. Outlining the careers of several Chinese artists and curators working on a truly international level, she proposes an approach to the role of Chinese art in the global art scene that will transcend both chauvinism and self-isolation.
Back to Normal: To Learn in the Chaos Arising from the Project of Modernity
We are all cornerstones and nothing (we do) would be worth international attention.
－ Li Xianting, in a letter written in 1991 and addressed to his colleague Fei Dawei, who was living and working in Paris at that time.
The after summer of 1989 was a regrettable point of transition in many aspects of public life in China. The political, social, cultural and on a collective level, psychological landscape of China was fundamentally shaped by and embedded in a time of disheartening closures and departures. Cultural, spiritual and artistic aspirations became secondary to a quickly dispersed and highly infectious mood of market optimism and global trade. Economic construction was considered and applied by the state as an effective instrument to divert people’s attention from spiritual pursuits and enlightenment. It was to the best benefit of the government to continue keeping people in the dark in another oppressive form of the market economy. Individualism and personal satisfaction were formulated and promoted as insatiable desires for selfish gains and materialistic betterments. The disregard for knowledge and intellect planted during the Cultural Revolution continued to rampage and manifested itself in a new wave of brainless entertainment. Ignorance was mistaken by many as a fashionable state of being. Mass media took over the reign of people’s minds and became a welcoming alternative to straight political propaganda, and continued to convey sweet-coated political messages. Political discourses and agendas were kept well-hidden so that people could take in everything without being aware of it. Such an intake happened on a more unconscious level and tended to limit critical reflection.
Meanwhile, 1989 generated many drastic turns in terms of intellectual dynamic and positions as well as personal choices. In this year a former decade of ideological opening up and cultural enlightenment came to an abrupt and disillusioned end. A new beginning for everyone was deadly irresistible by offering instant and tangible compensations and achievements. The market economy introduced a system of quantification and evaluation of things by its material value. A pragmatic and functionalist mindset was firmly established.
In a 1991 correspondence between Beijing based art critic and curator Li Xianting and Paris based curator Fei Dawei, both of whom were involved in the curating and organization of the China/Avant-garde exhibition in February of 1989, clearly revealed their differences, not only in their geographical positions but more pronouncedly in their intellectual judgments and value systems.
In 1991, Li Xianting wrote,
“Once art leaves its cultural motherland, it will surely die out. Exiled culture and arts have always happened in the macro cultural background in Europe. You [the artists and critics travelling abroad] represent new issues. What I want to know are opinions from every party. Although they were working against the same overall background, Warhol and Beuys each carried their respective cultural identities. Of course this is discussed on the condition that we acknowledge the new international system of value. Nationality is not the kind promoted by the government, but it does exist. We can’t follow the postmodernist styles in the contemporary West using the so-called principality of modernism. In the world today, nothing can be considered avant-garde. No matter what you do, it always appears to be . We are all cornerstones. There won’t be anything (we do) that would be worth international attention …”
At a time when international companies were already spreading their wings all over the world, foreseeing and investing in a near future where they would reap in the benefits of building and becoming part of a global market, some Chinese intellectuals were still clinging to the idea of cultural locality and doubting the “new international system of value.” Such a claim sounded extremely nationalistic yet profoundly lacking in confidence or the desire or curiosity to understand the outside world. Thinking of the West not as an equal partner in cultural exchanges, Li was talking about the West both as something irrelevant and at the same time, impossible for the Chinese art world to emulate and level with.
“ … But we all cherish your activities abroad. Maybe every kind of effort has its value. We are all cornerstones and nothing (we do) would be worth international attention. Do you really believe that you yourself have had an impact on the Western art world?”
In this condescending letter, Li Xianting was not only referring to Fei Dawei but to a group of Chinese artists and intellects who left China in the 80s and 90s to pursue their artistic career in a foreign country, Among them, there were Huang Yongping, Chen Zhen, Wang Du, Hou Hanru in Paris, Cai Guoqiang in Japan, Xu Bing, Zhang Huan, Ai Weiwei in New York and so on.
The assertion that “Chinese art is unworthy of international attention or unable to create an impact on the Western art world” was a situation that would quickly change with the rise of international attention on the political and social impact of China. In no time, Chinese contemporary art was embraced by the international art market as a hot item, not particularly for its artistic value but for its ideological and sociological revelations. That’s why the label of Chinese art became extremely crucial to works that would command international recognition. The fad of buying and exhibiting Chinese art on an international level didn’t really speak about the quality of artistic thinking and working in the country but instead indicated the growing importance of Chinese economic and social power. The consequences of this dimension of the Chinese art world are strongly felt today with the fall of the market for Chinese art. It was also a necessity of so-called cultural multiplicity that the West was pursuing for their society to help sustain and glorify their global market activities. It was rooted in the colonial spirit of collecting souvenirs from all corners of the world. Chinese contemporary art was simply a piece of souvenir one has to have to showcase the internationalism of his/her travel and existence.
Since the 1990s, a newly developed and unconstrained art market has taken over the Chinese art world that was still in its infancy, one that had not yet achieved the institutional diversity that characterizes longer-established structures in other countries. As a result, contemporary art in China has become almost entirely dependent on market forces that have set themselves up as the dominant, and virtually the only, system of evaluating art works. The buoyancy of the market gave a huge boost to the confidence and ambition of the players and fed into the ‘bigger means better’ frenzy. There were bountiful resources to open galleries of 1,000 square metres, stage expensive productions, mount large-scale exhibitions, produce bulky catalogues and host luxurious opening night parties. All of a sudden everything was possible. Artists responded to such optimism with attempts at mega-productions. Artworks and art practices were discussed and perceived, not from an artistic and conceptual point of view, but from mistaken criteria such as their size, production budget, market price and preference of collectors.
Concerning artistic production, the advancement of contemporary art practice in China hasn’t followed the linear logic of the Western art history. The intellectual development was basically stagnant and taken hostage by political movements during the former decades of communist ruling. This situation worsened with the launch of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 that severed not only the link of the country’s intellectual life to the outside world but also its blood line that connected it with its own history and cultural traditions. Education was suspended and the dismissal of knowledge and ideas was established.
Thus, when the country reopened itself and resumed its cultural interest from the end of the 1970s, there was already a great discrepancy between what was going on in the head of Chinese artists and intellectuals and what had been happening in the rest of the world. Chinese artists rushed to adopt the disjointed and sometimes misinterpreted information and adapted it to the social, historical and cultural specificity of the country to shape their own methodology. Modernism, post-modernism, classical philosophy, 18th Century European Enlightenment, liberalism, colonialism and other intellectual movements from the Western world were introduced into China all at once to become paralleling influences on the practice of artists.
The 1989 China/Avant-garde exhibition can be considered as a rather extensive and reliable revelation of the mixture of styles and thought contemporary Chinese artists were keenly exploring during the 1980s. All of it, however, was charged by a great sense of randomness, which revealed the intellectual state the artists were in. Their system of knowledge was fragmented. On one hand, they suffered from the missing opportunity of education during the Cultural Revolution and a lost tie to traditions that were wiped out by the revolution. On the other hand, the sudden shift from having one type of visual and cultural experience that was the omnipresent revolutionary realism to being exposed to a dazzling diversity of aesthetic and conceptual possibilities presented a challenge to the artists regarding the subject matters and forms their artworks should respond to. Often this choice was made relying on the instinct or an attitude. This is the basis on which artists would form their own artistic structure and language.
Although paralleling practices continued to exist from the 1990s to the present today, the international interest and art market have been mostly focused on works that prioritize socially and politically charged subject matters over stylistic experimentation and conceptual investigation. Artists that created cynical realist, social realist, political pop works that provide for and conform to a kind of collective imagination of a Chinese society have been gaining so much recognition since the early 90s that they even believed in minimizing technological and formal complexity in order to purely divert the attention of the viewer towards the content of their depiction. Their sensitivity towards and method of referring to social content have become the central theme that runs through their entire practice that leaves little room for anything else.
Li Xianting, who wrote the above quoted letter in 1991, was an important figure in the 1980s. His editorial work in art publications such as Meishu (Fine Arts) gave crucial visibility and endorsement to promising young artists and artist groups. It was a time when artists and critics seemed to venture hand in hand into a completely new territory pushed aside by the political hype of the former years. This new territory and occupation of that time was about recovering the normal need to express and experiment artistically without being bound by any ideological or political obligations. These art experiments and discussions were mostly informed and inspired by the sudden influx of information on Western modern philosophical and art movements in the decade following the Cultural Revolution. Formal and conceptual investigations were also a matter of intellectual awakening.
The 1989 China/Avant-garde exhibition curated by a group of active critics including both Li and Fei surveyed and epitomized the mood of the cultural atmosphere of the 80s: autonomous, intuitive, idealistic, eager, revolutionary, driven unanimously by the excitement of the pure possibilities of open artistic experiments and discussions, yet restless and curiously charged by differences of opinions, visions and expectations among organizers and participants. These differences, sometimes essential, were to reveal themselves gradually in the following years as these people went down drastically different paths. More importantly, these people as well as the paths they subsequently took would become some of the most crucial and influential players and forces in the formation of the Chinese art system. Thus it would be impossible to chart the development of Chinese contemporary art without looking at some of these individual developments. In the following text, I would cite specific examples of individuals to help illustrate the makeup and nature of the art system in China. The China/Avant-garde show of 1989 was less of a thematic group exhibition than a platform as well as a record of the emotional and spiritual outbursts and conditions underlined by a highly elevated hormonal level pent up in the previous decades.
Just two years after the China/Avant-garde exhibition, the reality seemed much more distant. Contemporary art somehow took a back stage to the rest of what the country was occupied with, namely, economic construction. There were much fewer chances to exhibit publicly within China and those actively involved in the 1980s had a chance to reflect on the group dynamic and collective way of working as in political movements, in which they found emotional comfort and courage. Artists and critics were also pondering and searching for a new future where there wasn’t really a model to follow. It would take a few more years before the knowledge, understanding of and capital from the Western art structure and what Li mentioned as “the International system of value” would trickle in to have an effect on the formation of the art system in China.
It was around this time, in the year of 1991, when Li wrote the letter, quoted at the beginning of this text to Fei. It revealed a rather conservative and functionalist mindset that rejected and critiqued the position of those artists and intellectuals who worked outside of China. He attributed the temporary inactivity of Chinese artists residing overseas to the fact that they were out of context. Fei pointedly responded by saying that the inability to respond to new contexts was deeply rooted in the education and ideology these artists were exposed to in China and argued that the artists would only succeed internationally if they were able to work beyond their given cultural and social contexts.
Fei wrote back,
“Most Chinese artists who have left China couldn’t fully realize their talents as they did back in China. Besides the issues of language and practical life, the main reason was precisely the particular intellectual quality and way of thinking that were cultivated in their intellectual native land. It prevents them from entering the contemporary cultural issues in a new context. This kind of creative ‘draught’ comes from the inability of these artists to turn what they have learned in their own country into something that can transcend the cultural gap and continue to be effective. Yet this ‘inability’ is exactly the result of the long-termed influence of the closed and conservative cultural spirit unique of Chinese society. Thus, I think what you said might be reversed, ‘Art must die out without leaving its cultural motherland.’
What we want to do and are doing is to gradually place issues brought from Chinese context into the larger cultural background of the world, in a lively and creative way, so that it can set in motion a process of becoming ‘common’ and ‘extensive’.” 
Naturally, what I meant by ‘leaving’ is that art must have a side that transcends its native culture in order to develop. The world today is in the era of globalized culture and openness. We can only truly discover our own uniqueness and enable our native culture to gain momentum by perceiving and being involved in those common issues that transcend culture … To reflect on ourselves while keeping the door closed is like a person facing himself in a mirror. No matter how he thinks of himself, it is eventually making himself believe in himself. Although this can be regarded as ‘sticking to one’s native culture’, it is actually no more than a self-tortured psychological habit developed in a long-termed situation of being closed-minded. In my view, only when the ‘native culture’ walks out of its ‘native culture’, it can become the real ‘native culture’. It’s time to reverse what Lu Xun proposed in the 30s, ‘what is more national is more international’ into ‘What is more international is more national’.
There was a great deal of idealist passion as well as critical understanding of one’s own cultural context running through the calling of Fei. By having chosen to leave his native country and playground and expose himself to the international conditions, Fei found it both challenging and crucial not to be weighed down by provincialism and a closed mind. Cultural specificity shouldn’t be a defining trait of one’s existence and thinking. It’s valuable when placed in the context of internationalism and scrutinized and renewed in a constant interaction and dialogue with the external cultural sphere.
On the other hand, Li was someone who was deeply aware of the importance of creating a cultural and social context and how crucial it is for the validation – not only from an academic but also from a commercial aspect – of art and artists from China. While the overseas-based people were in the process of reorienting themselves and re-establishing their footing that would both transcend and utilize their native knowledge in a foreign context, Li was gradually discovering his own path based on his pioneering and long-termed involvement in the local art scene. He wrote articles to contextualize and promote social realist paintings by embellishing and empowering them with a critical political denotation. At the same time, he began to collaborate with a Hong Kong based art dealer to organize the post-89 exhibition that toured internationally and sought to position these works socially and politically and subsequently commercially. They successfully introduced these works into major international exhibitions and were instrumental for the first appearance of contemporary Chinese artists in the Venice Biennale and Saõ Paulo Biennale. These works were also quickly favoured by an international market that was excited by the prospect of a new territory. It was clear that at the time of Li’s writing, he was embarking on the way to establishing an effective context for himself and these local artists. The success of Li and the artists he worked with had caught international attention, which made him even more confident and defensive of his “local” context.
This success, although inevitably recorded in the Chinese history of contemporary art, was not entirely an artistic triumph. The works of art that caught the international attention during this period were attributed to a more ideological connotation than what their innocent creators designated them to be and categorized as various forms of political statements by foreign curators and critics. This was then translated into a market interest that would go on for years and energized the practice of many Chinese artists and curators.
In fact, the extraordinary success of these artists and their overnight wealth has been a curious phenomenon in the Chinese art system. This particular value system has been magnified and underlined by the prevalent pragmatism of the entire Chinese society. An artist’s success and recognition is always and purely measured against his market price and performance. There is almost no other way to approach and discuss an artist’s work apart from what kind of social realist content the work carries and how this can be translated into an impressive price.
At the same time, art criticism and critical engagement with artworks is almost non-existent in China. Art criticism doesn’t exist as a course in art academies. The formal years of complete intellectual erasure and the deep-rooted socialist realist art education have effectively conditioned people’s minds, both art professionals and the general public alike into only appreciating and looking for the ideological and narrative content of a work of art. Much of the writing and catalogues produced concerning contemporary art in the past decade were works commissioned by galleries or individual artists to give credit to their artists and practice. It’s hard for most to understand and acknowledge the importance and value of independent criticism and unbiased opinions, especially from an intellectual point of view.
All throughout the past two decades, under the influence of the art market, the infrastructure for contemporary art has slowly taken shape. Although it bears all the relevant components of a mature art system: galleries, contemporary art museums, art magazines, collections, art centres, archives, and so on, a lot of them are just forms without real substance. Art magazines run informational articles that are rarely critical and have no reviews or art criticism. Art magazines operate on renting out exhibition spaces and filling programs with all of these paying shows, severely lacking in curatorial framework or authority. Art centres accept shows supported by gallery money or investment of private art dealers and so-called collectors who are really speculators. Art archives and triennales are initiated, funded and curated by private gallerists who seek to feature their represented artists in a broader and seemingly authoritative context. Art historians compile bulky histories of contemporary art heavily informed and influenced by their closed circle of contacts.
The divisions of roles are extremely blurry in the scene, yet the more profound and problematic aspect is that no matter what motivation or scheme is behind all of these institutions, the quality of the projects is always lowest priority and as good as always compromised. It may be no understatement to compare the entire art system to a big lie and a fully blown-up and extremely vulnerable bubble. It is also an extremely cruel scene. The more shameless and unethical one could be, the more success he’s guaranteed. One is expected to be associated with a circle or an interest group and if you don’t belong to this inner circle, you are automatically isolating yourself and turning yourself into a public enemy. Why are you different? How can you afford to be independent when all of the others have to rely on each other to make up a collective illusion in order to move forward? Independence is both questionable and despicable because it is almost tantamount to a destined failure. Independence, self respect, professional conscience are something most people wish to have but willingly give up in pursuit of immediate returns.
It’s interesting to observe this dynamic of the art scene by examining the way the Chinese society is organized. The recent emphasis on the interest of individuals that has risen in a capitalist economy is met with a strong tradition of living like a nobody in a collective situation. Collectivism is about the loss of individual wants as well as that of individual responsibility.
As for the Chinese artists based abroad, it took a longer time before their importance would be recognized. However, the functionalist and result-oriented mentality prevalent in China was also hindering leading critics like Li who was once among those making headways from looking beyond his given reality. Fei himself left China after 1989 and as he was establishing himself in Paris, he was exposed to a much more developed and diverse art system, which in turn gave him a more objective and critical view of such issues.
Less than two decades later, many of the “exiled” artists who left China to live and work abroad in the 1980s and 1990s have gradually returned to major cities in China, many of whom have had an admirable international career. Initially they came back sporadically to source inexpensive productions but gradually they have relocated to China, while they maintain an active presence internationally and travel extensively. More importantly, these people brought back not only their updated practice and artistic thinking shaped by their overseas residence but have also presented formidable possibilities and influences on the art scene within China.
The artist Zhang Huan lived in New York between 1998 to 2005, and had left China for the States when he was already occupying a prominent position in the performance art movement in China in the early 1990s. It didn’t take him long before he was invited to perform and work with important American and international institutions after he moved to New York.
He not only proved that he was able to overcome the constraint of cultural contexts but also could effortlessly transfer between two cultures one way or the other. Since 2005, he has been back in Shanghai and has established a studio and production center of 15 acres on the outskirts of the city. Zhang’s continuous international success is the subject of envy for many local artists and his way of working has certainly presented a new model for the local art scene. Here, he hired and trained skilled workers and technicians from various regions across the country, whose technical competence complimented his thinking. This sophisticated and well-managed production workshop churned out a great number of Zhang’s physically imposing and oversized sculptures. The sheer scale and sophistication of Zhang’s production is awe-inspiring.
Although made in China, Zhang’s current works are rarely exhibited and seen outside of his studio within China even though he’s actively shown and sold on an international level. His first solo exhibition in China that was planned last year for the Shanghai Museum of Art was cancelled eventually due to its sensitive content. The last decade of market inflation has given a lot of people false confidence and belief in the importance of the local system. Here the lack of criticality and intellectual scrutiny and consciousness is replaced by an over emphasis on networking, forming emotional alliance and strategic manoeuvring of how to blow up a primitive market appetite. It is this very way of being that characterizes the local art system, which seems to have a hard time finding a way to contextualize, understand and present the international artistic language and practice of Zhang Huan.
Huang Yongping, the Paris based Chinese artist, who was one of the founders of Xiamen Dada, an artist group active in the ‘85 movement, is today a significant artist worthy of a large-scale touring solo exhibition such as the one initiated and curated by the Walker Art Museum. Huang’s philosophical work often looks back into its cultural roots, phenomena and aesthetics to explore universal concerns and address internationally relevant cultural historical issues. As Fei predicted and wished, Huang’s work “gradually place issues brought from Chinese context into the larger cultural background of the world, in a lively and creative way, so that it can set in motion a process of becoming ‘common’ and ‘extensive’.”
Let’s look at another artist who resided in New York all through the most formative years of his youth. Ai Weiwei lived in New York from 1983 to 1993, and returned to China in his early 30s. While slowly re-entering the local art context, he quickly became a shaker and mover of the scene as well. He published a collection of artists’ proposals, curated exhibitions, co-founded and directed an art space, maintained an ongoing and widely read blog where he stated his concerns and points of view without holding anything back, setting unprecedented role models of what an artist and public intellect should be with these initiatives that cross the disciplines of art, architecture and social responsibility. While being one of the few Chinese artists that is proudly recorded in the international history of art, Ai expands the common understanding of what art can be, while equally fiercely questioning the political order and structure of the country by addressing specific subject matters.
In comparison to these artists who have discovered and addressed very specific issues and personal concerns in their practice, many people in the Chinese art scene are still perplexed and held back by doubts and confusion of a general and primitive nature. One day when I was walking through the art district in Beijing and talked to a few people, gallerists and directors of art spaces, they were all talking about one thing: now that the market is down, they want to discover new talents and work with young artists. This is as much an illusion as the impression that older and more established artists are no longer active, involved and thus have no more value. Like anywhere else, people are obsessed with young and emerging artists, yet the difference is that the Chinese art structure hasn’t diversified to have the intellectual and theoretical capacity to address and take advantage of the ongoing practice of more established artists and their artistic relevance. The roles of the institutions are not clearly defined and everyone is competing for the same resources and unable to develop a distinctive position academically.
With the onset of the international market, capital and know-how from the early 1990s, China as a whole has embarked on the journey and process of what Fei described as “gradually placing issues brought from Chinese context into the larger cultural background of the world, in a lively and creative way, so that it can set in motion a process of becoming ‘common’ and ‘extensive’.”
As I try to return to the subject of the international and the local, Leng Lin came to mind as a perfect case of how the local and the international have met. Frustrated by the impossibility to enter the local context and find support for his ideas and exhibitions after being away in Berlin for two years, Leng, who was trained in art history, was determined to open his own gallery in Beijing even though it meant a fundamental for his role: from an art critic and academic to an art dealer and gallerist. He founded Beijing Commune in 2005, and continuously presented a series of high quality and thoughtful exhibitions underlined by his contemplation and reflections on new socialism and its impact on cultural production. In 2008, his excellence of work was recognized by Pace Gallery from New York, which appointed him as the director of their Beijing gallery, thus expanding Leng’s international clout. At the same time, Leng Lin is able to carry on his work at Beijing Commune, where his thinking manifests in forms of exhibitions and collaborative practices. In his practice involving running his own local gallery and managing and directing one of the most important galleries in the world, Leng has a deep understanding of and experience in both worlds and clearly stated that these are two completely different systems: “I need to develop two methodologies and languages to deal with these two worlds.” As he brings his full grasp of both worlds into his practice, they definitely show mutual influences on each other and possibly will give shape to a new model that makes the best of both systems.
I recall a transfixing magic performance of a Spanish magician. In this performance, he created situations of abnormality, insanity, crisis and deformations while always ending them with going back to being normal and shouting “Back to Normal.” It’s irresistible to wish that the society of China could return to “normality” in a twist of magic and within a flick of time. At a time and against the backdrop of accelerated globalization, the insanity and extremity of our society are intensified and highlighted by insatiable needs and endless possibilities without the limit of integrity, moral foundation and self-esteem. It’s a long cry to return to normality. Things are upside down and situations are complicated by unnecessary manipulations and unspoken expectations. What Fei Dawei was arguing for almost two decades ago is unfortunately still a valid premise and goal for those of us working in China: How do we examine and activate our own cultural conditions and contexts in a global discursive practice instead of emphasizing our own uniqueness and becoming burdened by it?
It may be no coincidence that the China Pavilion at the Venice Biennale is managed by the China Performing Arts Company. It is a state-owned company subsidized by the Cultural Ministry of China, who specialize in managing performances of Chinese orchestras and mostly circuses and acrobats abroad. The company doesn’t understand the nature and specificities of running a contemporary art project within an international frame like the Venice Biennale. Artworks and artists are pushed aside by internal conflicts and political frictions among different power structures within the company and the Cultural Ministry. Even though the China Pavilion is structurally and literally part of the Venice Biennale, it operates under a very specific political climate and becomes rather isolated within its own context. It’s upsetting that despite all the efforts of the individual artists involved in the China Pavilion, neither the curators nor the Cultural Ministry of China that commissioned the pavilion thought much of the project itself beyond a power game for themselves. It’s not only their specialized knowledge and professionalism that was in doubt here, it was their motivation that was highly dubious and destructive to the project itself. There were too many lies, too many unnecessary complications that deprived it of all its naivety and intellectuality. How can we ever be international if we don’t even respect our own artists and artistic practice in the first place?
Can we ever go back to being normal, after so many twists of fates, to play with and condition our minds and human nature? Who are we? What can we do? What is it that we really want and need? What should we be doing? Where are we internationally and where should we go? These are basic questions yet need to be addressed urgently and from a humanistic point of view. Can we eventually let go of our insecurity, confusion, anxiety, hunger and aggression? It’s not international attention that will salvage us, it’s our self-discipline and critical engagement with our own practice and thinking that will possibly make us into active participants of the global art scene.
1 A Letter Fei Dawei Wrote to Li Xianting, 1991, Feb 1, 2009, http://bbs.artintern.net, translated from Chinese to English by Carol Yinghua Lu.