Kunming contemporary: independent curator Luo Fei on art in south western China
Author: CREATIVE ASIA
Date: 7th August 2015
Originally from Chongqing, artist, writer and independent curator Luo Fei has been based in the south-western city of Kunming for the past fifteen years. Working with organisations like TCG Nordica and Lijiang Studio in Yunnan, Luo Fei has initiated international curatorial projects and residency programs with European organisations and artists, focusing on developing connections and collaborations with local creatives.
This month, Luo Fei is travelling to the Top End as part of Cultural Partnerships Australia and the Australian Embassy in China’s Darwin to Broome Road Trip for Chinese Curators. Before he takes off, Luo Fei speakers with CREATIVE ASIA about why Kunming is a lesser-known but important centre of contemporary art in the Asia region, and the potential for meaningful Australia/Yunnan collaborations in the future.
CA: What is the contemporary art scene like in Kunming? How do you think this compares with your home-city in Sichuan, or Beijing or Shanghai?
LF: Kunming has an important position in the history of the development of modern art in China: it was one of the birthplaces of the ‘85 Wave and some of China’s earliest contemporary artists and groups grew up here. There were also some very active and important avant-garde artists working here during 1990s like Tang Zhigang, Liu Jianhua, He Yunchang, Zeng Xiaofeng and Li Ji.
In 2001, Chuangku LOFT art community, an artist-run initiative was established, and was one of the earliest art communities in China. Since then, contemporary art has moved from the underground to the public spotlight, embraced by the urban life of the city. This motivated lots of young artists to set up their own spaces and communities. Today, a new generation of artists and curators working in a more globalized context live and work between Europe, Beijing, Shanghai and Kunming. Compared with Sichuan Province, Beijing or Shanghai, I think the Kunming art scene is more casual and dispersed. Kunming artists are very much aware of nature and inner, emotional experiences.
CA: How have you seen the scene develop over the years?
LF: After 2008, China’s contemporary art scene has become more diversified, less conspicuous grandiose narration or historic turns as before, but more micro-changes. As in other cities, artists tried to seek support from government bodies to develop. On the other hand, local businesses and emerging creative cultural industries also tried to remould art scenes, more and more people tried to link contemporary art into their businesses or events, asking artists to cooperate with society, not resist it.
Compared with an anti-painting trend in the 1990s, a lot of artists have re-embraced painting, especially landscape art. Comparing active art practices in Kunming, there is still a huge potential to develop art education, research, criticism, media and marketing. Recently, curators with crossover identities are playing an interesting and important role, they do curating, writing, creation, teaching and marketing all in one. They promote local contemporary art’s development. At the same time, international projects also provide opportunities for local people to engage with the international art world.
CA: What do you think are the most important contemporary art organisations in Kunming and China more broadly?
LF: In Kunming and Yunnan province, they are Tai Project, TCG Nordica and Lijiang Studio. And Organhaus in Chongqing, Vitamin in Guangzhou. Thousand Plateaus, A4, Blue Roof and MOCA in Chengdu. I’m sure there are many more interesting ones in Beijing and Shanghai…
CA: How did you come to be an independent curator? What’s your background?
LF: Over the past ten years I’ve worked with TCG Nordica and Lijiang Studio. At the moment, I’m working with different organisations on different projects. My background is as an artist, mostly working in performance art. I also do curating and writing.
CA: Can you introduce some of your curatorial projects? What are your curatorial focuses or interests?
LF: I initiated the Jianghu project in 2005, this was a very influential two-year art movement between cities and rural locations in China and Europe. Recently I curated Multiple Adaptations: Chinese-Netherlands Art and Poetry Exchange Project working with Dutch print-makers and Chinese artists like Chang Xiong, Chen Fanyuan, He Libin, Ning Zhi, Su Jiaxi and Su Yabi. Also,Bridges: Chinese-Swedish Exchange Project, and many other international or local artist’s solo exhibitions. I promote Chinese contemporary art through curating and writing – I pay particular attention to the spiritual connotations of works and also social practices.
CA: What are you expecting of your upcoming curators tour to Australia?
LF: I am learning to understand the culture and art of Australia, particularly Aboriginal art, I believe this tour will be enlightening – it should have a great impact.
CA: Do you think there is potential to work with Australian artists or organisations in the future? What kinds of projects would you be interested in developing?
LF: Absolutely! Actually I’ve had some opportunities to meet with Australian artists. I’m very interested in Australian contemporary art and Aboriginal art developments. In Yunnan, we also have lots of different minorities, if we would have an opportunity to meet and collaborate with Aboriginal artists, that would be exciting. I’m open to all experiences and possibilities for this Australia tour.
Luo Fei is one of four Chinese curators participating in Cultural Partnerships Australia’s Darwin to Broome Road Trip for Chinese Curators in August 2015 supported by the Australian Embassy in Beijing.
This content was produced with support from the Commonwealth Government through the Australia-China Council of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
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