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Xue Tao Interview: Contemporary Art in Yunnan

artist Xue Tao, photo by Luo Fei

Xue Tao Interview: Contemporary Art in Yunnan

December 27, 2012, Loft Arts Community, Kunming
Luo Fei (abbreviated below as “Luo”): TCG Nordica Gallery Curator
Xue Tao (abbreviated below as “Xue): Artist
He Libin (abbreviated below as “He”): Curator and Director, Dean of Oil Painting Department, School of Art, Yunnan Art Institute

I.Setting Out from Yunnan

Luo Fei: You were one of the first off-canvas artists in Yunnan. You founded the Red Heart Commune in Dali, Yunnan Province, in 1994, and the Migratory Sky Art Space in Beijing in 2005. You have always been promoting interaction between Yunnan artists in the outside world, and have witnessed the beginnings and development of Yunnan artists born in the 70s. Please tell us a bit about what the situation was like when you founded the Red Heart Commune.

Xue Tao: I first entered the studio to learn painting in 1989, in my first year of middle school, and I graduated high school and took the university entrance exams in 1994. Most of my classmates at the studio got married and had kids after graduation, and basically stopped doing art. It wasn’t like today, when you test into the art academy after a few months. Back then, it was normal to keep testing for four to five years. I felt that after working so hard to test into an art program, it would be a shame to give it up. I should persevere in doing what I liked. So I formed a commune together with Lan Qinglun, Duan Yusong and Shi Zhimin. We didn’t know about the 85 New Wave at the time, and had only seen Scar Art in the magazines. We were all young artists in Dali, and we formed this group to help each other to continue with our passion. We had regular events such as exhibitions and exchanges, but we didn’t have a clear creative direction. In 1997 we started getting more members such as Su Yabi and Liu Kun. At the time, the only exhibitions in Kunming were for the Artists Association. We held our first exhibition in 1997. Our second exhibition, in 2000, was held at the Yunnan Art Academy Museum. Chen Changwei and a few others also joined. Later, we went on to hold an exhibition every two years, in a biennial format, which was influenced by the fad for biennial exhibitions at the time.

Luo: You founded the Migratory Sky Art Space in 2005. Is it still there?

Xue: Beginning in 2002, there were a lot more exhibitions in China, especially after the Loft was founded. In 2003, I did the Shadow New Media Exhibition with Xiang Weixing and a few others. You came to help for that one. Then, we held the Cry Sheep Exhibition at the Red Banana Gallery and Nordica. In 2003, we went to Shanghai for the Spring Art Salon, holding the Altitude Sickness Exhibition. Things were taking off in China, and everyone was actively taking part. That’s because after the 85 New Wave and “Post 89,” things had gone silent in the Chinese art scene. From the 90s to 2000, everything was quiet, and then suddenly a new energy burst forth in 2000. Chen Changwei, He Libin, He Jia and I stayed in Shanghai for a long time, interacting with artists from all over. Once our enthusiasm was let out, it couldn’t be pulled back in. Everyone had this impulse, this feeling that something big was about to happen in the Chinese art scene, though we didn’t know what it was.

In 2004, He Jia and I went to Beijing, to the Binhe Neighborhood in Tongxian, which was one of the places artists had gathered after the Yuanmingyuan Artist Village was scattered. At the time, some of the Yuanmingyuan painters had been sent back to their hometowns, some of the ones with money had bought houses in Songzhuang, and others had moved into the Binhe Neighborhood. He Yunchang was there, as were most of the key members of the Kitsch Art scene. But I started wondering what I was doing there. If I wanted the settled neighborhood life, I was already doing fine in Kunming, with a salary and insurance. That’s not what I quit my job in Kunming for. Later, I went to Suojia Village and set up a space, one set up with money from Yunnan artists. It was called Migratory Sky. I wanted to make a platform for Yunnan in Beijing.

Half a year after I set it up, they started demolishing Suojia Village. City officials said they were cleaning up the city’s image, knocking down buildings that weren’t up to code. Suojia Village fit the bill. I had just quit my job and borrowed money to set up this art space, and now, right at the beginning, I was facing a tragedy. When the demolition team came, everyone was asleep, and they made a big commotion as they came. We were surrounded by court officials, police and bulldozers.

Artists Xue Tao, Shi Zhimin, Chen Changwei, He Jia, He Libin in Shanghai, 2003

Luo: They didn’t notify you beforehand?

Xue: There was a notice, telling us to knock down the buildings ourselves by a certain date. Of course, no one did, because we had just built them. Then, they suddenly showed up and demolished them. The first one they knocked down was Shang Yang’s studio. His wife fainted, and was taken away in an ambulance. He’s a very famous and respected artist in China. All kinds of people lived in that art zone, including Tan Ping, who was the Vice Dean of the Central Academy of Fine Arts. But it didn’t matter. The political atmosphere in Beijing was too thick. When we saw that they would even knock down Shang Yang’s place, we all knew the game was up. Migratory Sky split up after the demotion.

Luo: Were you compensated?

Xue: No. We were lucky we weren’t fined. We had built it right across from the Village Council, on land rented from the village. The land used to be a graveyard, and they couldn’t do anything with it. It was just a bunch of weeds when we got there. The village was of course happy when we came to use it. We brought them income. Migratory Sky held two exhibitions, the first being an open studio exhibition, and the second being the Entertainment First Exhibition. There were about a hundred people at Suojia Village then, with artists from about a dozen countries. There were very few artist studios in the 798 Art Zone at the time, and people were even saying that 798 was slated for demolition.

Luo: You recently wrote a preface for an exhibition on post-70s Yunnan artists, using the term “non-stream” to describe them. You wrote, “Non-stream is a state that is neither mainstream nor non-mainstream, a state outside of the streams. This is an outstanding feature of Yunnan artists.” Is this an awkward predicament, or is it about finding one’s own way?

Xue: It’s a bit of both. It depends on what Yunnan artists want for themselves. If they hope to enter into the mainstream, then it’s an awkward predicament. If they don’t hope to enter into the mainstream, then it means they are finding their own path. But only the artist knows. Everyone else just sees them staying outside of the stream. Regional and cultural factors in Yunnan have kept many people outside of specific trends or streams. In Beijing, it is very clear. You are either mainstream or non-mainstream. If you want to fight the mainstream, you have to either step aside or form your own stream. Yunnan artists are none of the above. They don’t enter into the stream or resist it, and they don’t have any other stance either.

Wang Jun Performance “Kunming, I’m gone”, 2006

Luo: Their goals are unclear.

Xue: Right. They’re unclear. If they were clear, then in most cases, they would leave Kunming, at least for a while. That has been the case with the past few generations of influential artists since the 85 New Wave.

Luo: You went to Beijing in 2004 to seek out better development, and watched as the Chinese art market exploded in 2006, and as it fell after the 2008 financial crisis. You have experienced Chinese art as it had no market, then had a flourishing market, and then bottomed out. As an artist, how do you understand the connection between artistic creation and the economic environment?

Xue: This is a headache for me. Yunnan is too quiet. There are no surprises here. I went to Beijing to find surprises. Though there weren’t many galleries in Beijing at the time, I had a premonition that something was about to happen, so I quit my job and went. At the time, Chinese artists were all chasing after the “big face paintings,” painting in the style of Yue Minjun and Fang Lijun, with kitschy colors. It was the same with sculpture, with everyone working in fiberglass and automobile paint. Art made in this way saw certain market returns, and I was sometimes swept up in it too, but I pulled out. I was very conflicted. You need to have a market to survive, but the market is too tempting.

In 2007, the artists were all crazy. Artists in Beijing from 2006 to 2008 were the luckiest artists in the world, because every year, there were two months of exhibition opening banquets every single day, which was heaven for artists who had been surviving on steamed buns up to that point. As long as you were an artist, you would get a lot of invitations. That is because the market was good, and the galleries were all looking for resources, so they were very nice to all the artists. It didn’t matter what kind of art you were making. As long as you were an artist, you were treated with a certain amount of respect. In those days, I basically slept till the afternoon, when I would head out for an exhibition banquet, with the galleries covering late night barbecue, karaoke, bars, the works. The artists had it great. In April and May, then again in September and October, there was food to be had every day of the week, and on weekends for the rest of the year. Sometimes I had no idea whose exhibition it was or who was footing the bill.

Luo: Stuff like this can’t happen in Yunnan. Even though manna isn’t falling from the sky, the sky isn’t going to fall down and crush anyone either. The great ups and downs of the art market didn’t affect most artists here.

Xue: These daily banquets wouldn’t happen anywhere else. There were a lot of foreign artists in Beijing at the time who were jealous of the Chinese artists, who by the age of 30 were renting studios by the acre rather than by the square meter. Their studios were big enough to park a small airplane. Think about it. In another nation’s capital, if an artist had a studio that was several hundred square meters, even a few acres, it would mean he was an important artist. In Beijing it was easy. It didn’t cost much at all. A lot of artists saw their entire destiny change in a single night in 2006 or 2007. When the financial crisis hit in 2008, everyone started shrinking their studios, and it all entered into a slump.

Xue Tao’s installation “Compatriot” 2011

II. Open Language

Luo: Let’s talk about your artworks. You twist newspaper into ropes or compress it into shapes like blocks and balls. Some of your artworks are quite large. Do you make them yourself, or with assistants?

Xue: I was making them on my own at first, but as the market got better, I started hiring assistants. There’s a couple that helps me a lot. The man is a renovation worker, and welds the frames for me. The woman is in charge of twisting the newspapers.

Luo: Where do you get the newspapers?

Xue: I get them from a newspaper distributor. They recycle the ones that don’t circulate, and I get my newspapers from them. Sometimes I get them from newsstands.

Luo: Do you categorize them once you get them?

Xue: I don’t. I just make selections. It has to be stiff copperplate paper. If it rips when you fold it, I can’t use it. It has to be thin copperplate or coated paper. It has to be easy to crumple, but it can’t tear too easily.

Luo: Looking at your works over the past few years, the first thing one notices about your work is that it’s non-functional. Second, it doesn’t have a direct, easily-understood meaning. Third, your work is anti-formal. These traits are reminiscent of Arte Povera. Where do you get your inspiration?

Xue: An Italian artist once showed me an artwork made from twisted-up newspapers. I thought it was mine, because I had made some with English newspapers, but it was actually the work of an Arte Povera artist in his fifties. When you twist a newspaper up into a rope, it all comes out in that shape. I think, however, that mine is a bit different. My art has gone through roughly three phases. At first, it was the basic feel for the material, and then I treated it as a modeling technique. In the third phase, I treat it as a language. The reason I use newspaper is that it’s cheap, easy to obtain and convenient.

Xue Tao, “A Bunch of…” 2006

Luo: Your early works mainly imitated forms, such as the sun, flowers, pillars and the like. When we get to your rope works, we see that you have already cast off the modernist framework of form to pursue anti-form, alienation and individualized language. You emphasize a clear form, but do not consciously reveal your conceptual references.

Xue: Right. By 2011, I had entered into a state I was rather satisfied with. Before, I was doing modern art or postmodern art, but now I have truly come to understand contemporary art. At first, you submit to modeling and material, and now modeling and material submit to you. In terms of technique, I also feel increasingly free.

Luo: What is your view on the connection between your artworks and Arte Povera?

Xue: My own creative trajectory has been akin to learning the breadth of art history, but when I really set out to create, I don’t think about any particular schools of art or art history. If you do think about such things, the creative process will not be a joyful one. If, after completing something, you discover that something similar already exists, I think that is normal. It demonstrates that between civilizations and art, there is more potential for human communication. As for the Arte Povera artists, I don’t concern myself much with what they are doing or thinking. I’ve been to Turin and Milan, where Arte Povera began, and I have seen their works, only to discover that we are not quite the same.

Luo: In the narrow sense, Arte Povera is postmodern Italian art from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s. It was an art movement that arose in response to the drastic social changes and political schisms taking place in Italy at the time. Arte Povera artists presented found objects in dramatic ways to criticize consumerism, seek new ways of intervening in the world, and challenge the traditional order and aesthetics. This movement had a profound impact on contemporary art concepts and methods around the world. Let’s return to the previous question. Do you think that Yunnan possesses certain resources or value that it can provide to contemporary artists in today’s globalized context?

Xue: To ask whether or not Yunnan artists can provide more meaningful references is like asking what Chinese artists can provide for the world. I would be hard pressed, using my own abilities, to answer this question, because I think it is unclear whether or not Yunnan can provide contemporary art with a new model, new methods, new concepts or a new condition. This must be answered by history and time. As an individual, I am infinitesimal. I cannot transcend time and space to see the results.

Luo: How do you maintain a flow between your increasingly rich international experience and your inherent Dali experience? For instance, how do you bring your experience of globalization to Dali, and how do you bring your local experience into the contemporary context?

Xue: This is an important question, one many artists must ponder. I think that contemporary art is an extremely open language mode, one which gives artists great freedom. Just to have this language, however, is not the end. What matters is what you say with it. In global contemporary art, I have learned this language mode and method of interaction, allowing me to interact with people from different countries and different language backgrounds. As a Yunnanese born in Dali, or as an Easterner, my interest and understanding of handcrafting and Zen Buddhism is infused into my art. Some people may use contemporary art to express sociological or scientific matters, but I think that my own expression is more religious.

Luo: This calls to mind Mono-ha, because Mono-ha also used everyday objects, while they drew spiritual resources from Zen and Shinto to explore the relationships between something and nothingness, between man and thing, thing and space, man and space, referencing materiality. Arte Povera was more directed towards social criticism.

Xue: My art is none of the above. It may appear similar, but when placed together, they are quite different. Neither Mono-ha nor Arte Povera are as produced as my art. The difference is in this production aspect. The production aspect of Mono-ha is concealed, secondary, with the emphasis placed on materiality itself. My artworks highlight the production process.

Luo: You make the energy of vast amounts of highly repetitive labor come to rest on ordinary materials.

Xue: Right. I am most satisfied and interested in the production process. What people see is not an object, but a production process. There is a massive amount of manual labor within. As I understand Buddhism, Mono-ha and Arte Povera, Mono-ha is about “emptiness” while Arte Povera is about “substance,” while Buddhism is neither emptiness nor substance. What is expressed in the end is the “non-duality of emptiness and substance.” I see Mono-ha as a philosophized understanding of religion. Its understanding of Zen and the Dao is philosophical. Buddhism is neither philosophy nor wisdom. Zen is different. In India, Zen is called “dhyana.” Zen cannot be explained. If it can be explained, then it is something different. It is just like all of these ropes I have made. I can’t explain clearly what they are, but in the end, I am satisfied. It feels right.

Xue Tao, “State of the Union Message” 2012

III. The State of Art in Yunnan

He Libin: In recent years, the Chinese contemporary art market has been aggressively encroaching on young Yunnan artists. The situation is not as good as it was in 2000, much less the 1980s.

Xue: When the Red Heart Commune first began, a lot of the artists were making installation art. At the time, Shi Zhimin used glass, X-ray plates and acrylic to make his graduate thesis work. He was placed under investigation, and in the end barely got his degree.
hen Changwei and Duan Yisong all worked in installation art. In those days, a lot of people were making experimental artworks. For instance Ning Zhi, who was from the same graduating class as us in 1998, was also making installation art. The young people were basically all working in off-canvas art and conceptual photography, but later on, they all basically stopped.

Luo: After the market picked up, most people shifted to canvas painting. The last time a lot of Yunnan artists were making experimental art together was with Jianghu in 2005 and 2006.

He: When the market began to dominate art in 2006, artists came to see their positions and goals more clearly. Of course, the end of Jianghu in 2006 had nothing to do with the market.

Luo: As post-70s artists, do you think there are any clear shared characteristics among post-70s Yunnan artists?

Xue: A lot of the post-70s artists are multi-talented. For instance, Wu Yiqiang, Shi Jing, He Jia and Zhang Tian all work in painting, performance art and installations.

He: If we’re looking at it based on time, I think that the post-70s generation is in a rather anxious mental state, and this finds expression in their artworks. Post-80s artists find ways to dispel this sense of anxiety. Older artists have a clearer connection to the ideology of the state. They are imprinted by the state.

Luo: I feel that Xue Tao’s creative experience is quite representative of the post-70s artists. This generation got started in the traditional art academies, learning colors and modelling. They then went through the modernist enlightenment, self-awakening and the artist group movement. Then they entered into contemporary art within the patterns of globalization, using individualized language and spirit to express artistic concern within the context of globalization. Among earlier Yunnan artists, very few truly entered into contemporary artistic language, with most artists born in the 50s and 60s absorbing modernism or pacing about between modern and postmodern in a quest for Chinese schemas and the expression of the Chinese experience. Their contributions are mainly connected to the post-Cold War unification of the international economy, the collectivist narrative of modern Chinese society and resistance to the same. Their advancement of contemporary artistic concepts was highly limited, and that is why, after they were successful, the only thing they brought, aside from insight into success, was modernist sentiments left over from the 85 New Wave. They didn’t engage in much exploration of artistic concepts. Some artists are creating contemporary art at the same time they are painting Impressionist or Romanticist landscapes. I can understand that as they satisfy increasing domestic demand, they don’t have to focus so much on export as with contemporary art, but this phenomenon shows that they are lost and conflicted about their individual artistic mission. That is not to say, of course, that one cannot create artworks for the masses; that is another issue altogether.

Xue: The “85” artists basically work within a modernist context. Some artists of the post-60s generation entered into the contemporary, such as He Yunchang. As for the post-80s generation, the question is whether or not they’re interested in art in the first place.

Luo: A lot of post-80s artists have been influenced by the individual icon methodology and success schemes. Artistic concepts have been flattened and fragmented, many of them secondhand in the first place. They need to raise their individual character.

He: You raised the question of whether or not Yunnan could provide contemporary art with new possibilities. At this point, I’m not optimistic. Yunnan has its own culture that is markedly different from that of the Central Plain. In fact, southwestern Chinese art as a whole is different from that of other regions. For instance, it places more emphasis on expressiveness, temporality and spiritual experience. The artworks are more closely connected to nature. Setting out from a regional perspective, it is possible that Yunnan can produce something of value, but the future isn’t so clear.

Xue: Among the art spaces in Yunnan that do true contemporary art, TCG Nordica is one, then there’s Liu Lifen’s Contemporary Yunnan, as well as the Lijiang Studio. These three art spaces all have strong international backgrounds. There are also a few individuals who engage in contemporary art creation and curation, but that’s it. Statistically speaking, it is very small, and the role such small numbers can play is very limited. If we took those away, Yunnan would basically be a desert, with nothing but the modernist influence left behind from the 85 period. Kunming still ranks up there with some of the big contemporary art cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Chongqing, mainly because most cities lack contemporary art spaces that are truly rooted in their localities. Why are there so few? It is because there is no demand. If there was more demand, then there would be more. This shows that China is not prepared to enter into the contemporary art context. It hasn’t prepared at all; it is simply making the preliminary preparations.

Ning Zhi, “The Manifesto”, 2000

Luo: The Chinese language academic scene has dubbed the last century of change as the modern transition, the transformation from a traditional society to a modern civilizational order supported by core modern values (freedom, reason and individual rights) and run according to market economics, democratic government and the ethnic nation-state. Critic Zha Changping describes contemporary China as a mixed modern society, where the premodern, modern, postmodern and alternative modern are mixed together, often interlocking and overlapping. This shows that China is not prepared to enter into the globalized world. It tends to view the world with a nationalist, clan-based worldview rather than universal values. One of the missions of Chinese contemporary art is to take part in promoting China’s modern transition.

Everyone knows that Yunnan is richly endowed geographically, ecologically and culturally. The key is for artists to change their vision and language. Today’s scene has developed into an ecosystem comprised of nature, society and culture, and when we look at this scene, we must keep in mind the pressing rural issues of land and left-behind children, the disparity of wealth and environmental issues. Beyond direct concern for social justice, even in artistic form, we must engage in a transformation of traditional aesthetic taste, of observational methods and concepts. Otherwise, we will always be in a state of cultural dislocation and chaos.

Translated by Jeff Crosby


English Posts 边想边写

A Clinical Report on Contemporary Society


A Clinical Report on Contemporary Society

— On Zi Bai’s photo

By Luo Fei

In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. All that once was directly lived has become mere representation. 
-Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle

In modern society, there are no longer any isolated landscapes. Even in the most remote places, one comes across distressing scenes like the one that occurred just a few days ago in the Artic, where the melting of sea ice due to global warming caused a number of polar bears to starve to death, leaving behind a scattering of blanket-like bodies. All natural spaces in the modern era have been transformed into sites of interchange between the natural, cultural and social spheres. Given this situation, we can use French theorist and film director Guy Debord’s term of “spectacle” to describe all that we see.

In his 1967 work “Society of the Spectacle,” Debord uses the concept of “spectacle” to explain that both the public and private domains of daily life have experienced a sort of existential crisis due to the development of capitalism in Europe. He believes that in the “society of the spectacle,” relationships between people and commodities have replaced those between people. Because in societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles – a perversion of what ought to be the case. In a mediatized age, mere appearances become our most authentic reality – people come to live for them. The “society of the spectacle” makes people’s lives barren and devoid of authenticity; it gradually causes people’s critical thinking abilities to wither away.

This more sociological conception of “spectacle” (景观) has also affected the way artists have come to think and speak about landscapes (which in Chinese are now even referred to with the same term, 景观). The idea of “landscape” has come to include not just natural scenery, but also man-made wonders. Particularly since the 1960s, this understanding of “景观 (spectacle/landscape)” has expanded the range of techniques and subject matter used by landscape photographers by prompting artists to reconsider their views on the way man relates to nature, to the urban environment, and to his fellow man.

Zi Bai’s photography presents us with just such a virtual yet nonetheless real landscape, echoing the society consisting of an immense accumulation of spectacles described by Debord.

Since 2007, Zi Bai has taken a great number of photos of the refuse in garbage collecting stations, first in his hometown of Xishuangbanna and later in Kunming, Shanghai and other cities. He worked for many years in an advertising agency, and his outstanding Photoshop design and editing skills provide an excellent technical background for his creative works. In these hundreds of photographs of collected materials, impressive, nearly suffocating scenes emerge from the densely piled accumulations of our spectacular society.

In his “City Series 01,” under a dim sweep of thick clouds, billions of scarlet cans are heaped upon Tiananmen Square like the passionate masses that swarmed there during the Cultural Revolution era, waiting for their leader to appear. Here, what people cheer and worship is called “consumption,” and what they shout is: “Long live consumerism! Long live the Great Unity of consumers!” Zi Bai has created a scene of heathen idolatry; a fetishistic movement is on the rise, and in it brews the ecstasy and tumult of consumption.
“City Series 2,” “City Series 3,” and “City Series 4” are, respectively, images of the river below Shanghai – the Pearl of the Orient – filled with plastic water bottles, of roaring waves of beer cans swarming the feet of the American Statue of Liberty, and of drink cans piled high as mountains around the islands of Southeast Asia. In the equally inspiring piece “Men are Higher than Mountains,” discarded drink bottles are stacked like Himalayan peaks. Zi Bai uses these iconic scenes and landmarks to make the garbage seem even more vast, imposing and able to shock viewers, as well as to imbue his landscape photography with a Neo-Romantic character.




In his “More? Less? (How Much?)” Series, Zi Bai uses a panning overhead shot to photograph densely packed bottle caps, drink bottles, cans or syringes, creating images that look like beautifully colored wallpaper. Among them two photographs are of bullets and grenades used during the Vietnam War when the Americans tried to block North Vietnamese and Chinese supply lines to South Vietnam by dropping massive quantities of explosives on the mysterious Ho Chi Minh Trail. Later on, these areas became sites for tourism, attracting large numbers of people who came to collect fallen ammunition. It’s said that every year there were people who died doing this. In 2008 and 2009, Zi Bai went to local recycling centers in those regions to photograph these discarded munitions.
Aesthetically speaking, Zi Bai tends to showcase his propensity for the shocking yet delicate. Admiring his works from a certain distance, they always arouse a feeling of delight. But behind this attractive exterior lies a brutal reality – billions of piles of garbage and the crushed carcasses of road kill (“Disappearing Landscape” series). These works are in fact composed out of human greed and vanity, and function as visual evidence of our inability to act as proper stewards of the earth.

According to recent survey data from the Department of Housing, more than a third of Chinese cities are now completely encircled by garbage, which has even begun to spread into the countryside. These “garbage-besieged cities” have also led to the rise of increasing numbers of cancer villages.

Zi Bai’s manner of critiquing our social condition is in some ways similar to the technique of clinical analysis. Society in his eyes is like a diseased behemoth that needs to consume and excrete in alarming quantities. In order to diagnose this behemoth’s condition, Zi Bai attentively wades through and examines its excrement, documenting, using photography as this monster’s lab test results: a clinical report on the condition of contemporary society. He helps us begin to notice that the bottles and plastic bags in our own hands and our concept of consumption are working together to further the spectacle of the garbage that surrounds our cities in ever-increasing piles.

Art, as visual documentation of an era, asks people to look beyond the world of appearances to the reality that exists below, and glimpse people’s greed. Art is a prophecy for this generation, calling on people to realize that if we don’t make any changes to our patterns of consumption or our manner of waste disposal, it will be the end of our world as we know it. Art is an expression of the human spirit: behind the billions of drink bottles there are billions of human beings with dry throats and dry souls. This is what I learned from Zi Bai’s clinical report on the state of contemporary society, of our horrifying society of the spectacle.

August 11, 2013
Translated by Becky Davis


English Posts 边想边写

A Revival of Landscape Art

A Revival of Landscape Art

The Swedish artist Oscar Furbacken has worked intensively for six weeks (1/6-8/7 2013) as a summer artist-in-residence at TCG Nordica here in Kunming, China. In year 2000 he participated in a short artist’s exchange with the Yunnan Arts Institute in Kunming. He obtained his Master’s from the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm 2011, after many years of contemporary art studies and with a practice much related to nature and landscape.

From early on, Oscar has been deeply influenced by Naturalism and Romanticism in Western landscape painting and captivated by the grandiose beauty of the natural world. As a contemporary artist though, he has purposefully moved beyond pure Romanticism, using macro lenses to photograph moss, fungi and other botanical elements in ways that make them appear to take on the characteristics of landscape paintings. Since then, he has developed clever works in a variety of media (such as drawings, sculptures, photographs and video recordings) embedding them in different types of public spaces.

RISING_in-church-performance03Oscar consciously acquires the ingredients of the Romantic Western landscape, emphasizing the expressiveness of sunlight, the dynamism of his subjects, and the dream-like atmospheres. But it is within microcosms and miniatures that he embeds all this. Take the piece “RISING” from the 2010 solo exhibition that marked his graduation from the Royal Institute of Art. This 13-meter wide and 2-meter high acrylic painting installation depicting some scaled up moss and lichens found on the forest ground, is built to create a “space within the space.” Accompanied by lighting effects that changed every ten seconds, the piece was swathed in mysterious shocks of color that fully immersed the viewer in its spectacle. Before this vast, fairytale-like magnified world, reality became extraordinary, and spectators became no more than insects. The same work was later shown in the Katarina Church of Stockholm, juxtaposed to a darker painting depicting fungi on rotten wood. Enhanced by a performance of unveiling organized during Easter Mass the work commented and re-interpreted the Resurrection. In this specific context “RISING” became a spiritual event, an altarpiece on the possibility of a new life after death. Here, the landscape transcends a merely decorative function entering the realm of symbolic meaning.

Oscar seems particularly attentive to the way in which the subject of his work is influenced by the shifting of context, a sensitivity that was probably awaken by his childhood experience of cultures when immigrating to France with his parents. Here in Kunming, he has composed three groups of bronze sculptures entitled “Life Spills.” In these works, leftover bronze scraps from a nearby sculpture factory were given a proper polishing and presented on smooth, dark-colored glass. Through a meticulously chosen lighting, the pile of mottled scrap metal is endowed with the Zen-like appearance of Taihu stone, a type of garden stone frequently used in classical Chinese gardens. It also goes by the name of “porous stone.” Commonly used in rockeries, it is a type of karst limestone that, due to years of weathering, is extremely varied in form and possesses exquisite carbonates. Often quite large in size, this type of rock was typically arranged in the parks, gardens and other outdoor areas of the imperial family for people to admire. In a similar way the metal spills that were originally discarded by their workmen have now, under the attention of the artist, come alive into miniature landscapes. In contemporary China, this sort of landscape full of Zen and classical influences has all but ceased to exist as the country hurtles down the road of industrialization. Oscar’s work thereby invites the viewer to recall an older forms of landscape known in China as “shanshui (mountain and river)” paintings.

LandscapeReflected_03wIn ancient China, there was no such thing as landscape painting as we know it today – but the shanshui ink-paintings were common, a technique developed in the Sui Dynasty (AD 581-618). The biggest difference between the two art forms is the manner in which they are meant to be viewed. Shanshui paintings invite the eye to wander freely across their expanse. Using a form of cavalier perspective, in which diverse aspects of time and physical places may freely coexist within the same image, including different seasons. It’s a rather sophisticated approach to perspective, in which the focal point shifts as if slowly lowered from a mountain peak by parachute. So when Western painting centers on the reproduction of reality, Chinese shanshui paintings are mostly concerned with the abstract ideals of human experience. Western landscape traces out a history of art, whereas traditional Chinese landscape painting contains a history of ideas. The logic of this wandering mode of observation from the shanshui tradition, is evoked again as we watch Oscar’s video series entitled “Close Studies”. In this intriguing project he seamlessly fuses the magnified world of low-lying ground plants with everyday Stockholm life. These two parallel worlds are both full of poetic enchanting scenes, but to see them exist side by side without disrupting one another is a surprising discovery as we follow the smooth meandering path of the camera lens.

LandscapeReflected_01Another piece, called “Mountain City”, is an installation created from local materials: an oval meeting table with stools found in the gallery, a ”lazy Suzan” (rotating large glass plate seen everywhere on Chinese dining tables) and red bricks of the discarded sort that are found all over this city as they keep demolishing old houses. The pieces of bricks are fixed upon the round lazy Suzan in undulating ups and downs forming a landscape of picturesque disorder. Viewers can rotate the lazy Suzan, and place their gaze at a particular height to perceive what appears to be mountains in a reflecting ocean. Oscar ceaselessly encourages his audience to shift their viewing position either high or low, near or far in order to discover curious landscapes in the midst of everyday objects.

While focusing on the smallest of plants, Oscar’s work activates the viewers’ imagination and perception to recognize the greatness of nature. Paying careful attention to the viewing conditions of his exhibited pieces, Oscar also restores the Romantic from having been reduced to mere melodrama at the hands of the commercialism. The “rising” of this new approach on landscape in contemporary art is a pleasant surprise.

Written by Luo Fei (TCG Nordica Culture Center Curator)

Translated by Becky Davis, revised by the artist

Kunming, July 1, 2013


English Posts 折腾项目




“昆明菜市场”是一项为期两周,定位于菜市场的综合性艺术活动,它将发生 在有着7百万人口的中国西南城市-昆明。不同的中 国艺术家或艺术家团体将利用视觉、行为和其他媒体形式同公众产生互 动。参与“昆明菜市场”项目的艺术家被设定在特别的场合完成艺术,这 种场合是无数代中国人进行货物交换的中心,在昆明保存得非常良好,但 也正在被现代商业的发展所侵蚀。艺术家需要沿用菜市场的风俗惯例像卖菜人一样把作品展 示在桌子、地面、或任何形式的摊位上。这些作品将被保存几个小时到几天。

“昆明菜市场”项目得到了位于昆明的国际画廊、文化中心 – TCG诺地卡的支持,并由中国和国际策展人合作组织。 策展人将提供指导和资源,在概念连贯性上引导艺术家。艺术家不出售作品。但却被鼓励将观众和特定场域囊括入创作,并同 好奇的观看者们讨论作品想法。两周期间将通过艺术作品、论坛、在线媒体等方式,全面公开的激发对艺术角色、公众角色、市场角色以及传统社区等方面的讨论。


“昆明菜市场”项目致力突破艺术发生场合以及从事 人群的边界。这个事件的观众是和 当代艺术完全没有关系的普通中国公众。这些人去菜市场只是为了购买食物和杂货而不是欣赏艺术。所以对艺术家的挑战就是他们 必须调整作品使之直接和公众及和作品安置环境有联系,因为如果没有关 联就没有交流。这打破了艺术呈现的习惯— 即谁在看艺术和在哪里艺术被欣赏—这直接决定了艺术可以表达什么及艺 术在当代社会的意义。

通过在菜市场完成作品,将打破艺术家对在这个地方所能进行的交换的传 统思维认识习惯。观众大概都会问一个明显的问题,“艺术家 为什么在这里做艺术? ”这个问题提供和开启了艺术 家和观看者的交流。这个作品的目的是什 么? 菜市场的社 区角色是什么? 变化中的经济和文化 规范如何影响了菜市场,对艺术又有什么影响? 通过对环境和处境的深入体会,艺术家能够提供一种新鲜的、具有批评性的并且开放给观众以直接回应的观点。而观看者得以融入当代艺 术,得以挑战自己对于艺术是什么,艺术能做什么的看法。“昆明菜市场”项目的目标是策划这个特 别的情景,用另类的方法达到价值交换。


这个事件由四个策展人(罗菲/中国、Joe Sneed/美国、Orion Martin/美国、朱筱琳/中国)共同组织。我们作为策展人的角色是双重的。首先我们负责日常后勤,包括筹资和宣传。其次,也是重要的,我们将会鼓励艺术家之间,艺术家与社区之间的信息和思想交流交换。交流是整个事件的核心,这为艺术作品提供了概念上的连贯性,也为参与者和社区提供价值。我们也将建立相关网页促进艺术家同公众的交流。


由于这个项目是在菜市场进行的,它成为一个同不熟悉艺术的观众群互动的上好机会。我们希望寻求擅长于探索非常规空间和新方式进行作品互动的艺术家。我们寻求喜欢同观众互动而不被白盒子方式和商业艺术市场模式所限制的 艺术家。本项目的作品不仅会是具体的物体,它带出的交流和价值交换将是更加重要的。我们期望得到的作品可以不是具体物体,而是由作品引起的交流和互动。


这个项目将在昆明菜市场实施。我们希望所有参与的艺术家 都在8月初的两周内抵达昆明参加艺术家团体活动。活动开始前我们要求艺术家参与同策展人和其他艺术家的在线讨论以确保每位艺术家的作品创作得到充分准备和能够达到紧密联合。除活动事 件本身我们也要求艺术家在事件发生前参与在线讨论及在昆明同 其他艺术家见面。事件中我们将会有一个面向公众的论坛和一次同云南艺术学院学生交流的活动。我们认为社区互动是本次事件的中心。



我们希望在8月初的两周内促成这次事件。但如有必要的话也有可能会根据艺术 家的时间来进行延长。请标注你可以进驻昆明并参与项目的时间。当然如果你的时间越自由对我们来说是最方便的。


我们已筹集到租赁市场铺面及艺术材料花费的大部分资金,目前正在申请资金覆盖附加费用,如旅费、住宿等。项目总经费目前在待定状况中,参与的艺术家需要有灵活应变的能力。请填写以下信息 让我们知道你的需要,是否愿意参与此次事件。


旅 行:你到昆明的路费至少是多少?


请简述你的创作方式 请根据你的项目经验和本 提议书的描述预估你参与本事件的材料费。你还有其他需要或 上述没有提及的?





罗菲 Luo Fei (中国)
Joe Sneed (美国)
马睿奇 Orion Martin(美国)
朱筱琳Zhu Xiaolin (中国)


Kunming Markets

Project Description

“Kunming Markets” is a two week event that consists of multiple art projects located in traditional markets throughout Kunming, a city of seven million in Southwest China. Each project is created by a different Chinese artist or team of artists who use visual, performance, or other media to interact with their audience in public spaces. For “Kunming Markets” the artists will present their work in a setting that has served as a center for the exchange of goods for countless generations in China, and which has been preserved particularly well in Kunming, though its presence is diminishing due the advance of modern commerce. The artists will engage the traditions and conventions of this unique setting by installing art on tables, on the ground, in booths, or in any other manner of presentation common to market vendors. Each project may last a few hours to several days.

“Kunming Markets” is sponsored by TCG Nordica, an international gallery and cultural center based in Kunming, and is jointly organized by Chinese and international curators. The curators will provide the participating artists with guidelines and resources to ensure the conceptual coherence of the event. The artists will not sell their work. They will also be encouraged to involve the audience and the site in the creation of their work and to discuss the ideas and intention behind the art with curious viewers. The two week event will stimulate dialogue around the role of art, the public, the market, and traditions through the art projects, as well as discussion forums and online media that will be accessible to the entire community.

Concepts and Goals

“Kunming Markets” aims to push the boundaries of where art takes place and who it engages. The audience of the event is a broad range of the Chinese public that is largely unexposed to contemporary art. These people go to traditional markets with the expectation of buying food and other goods, not of viewing art. The challenge for the artist is to reorient their work so that it directly relates to the audience and the setting in which it is installed, because if it does not relate, it does not communicate. This breaking of habits in artistic presentation– who views the art and where it is viewed– is critical to expanding what art can say and mean in contemporary society.

By installing art in traditional markets, the artist will be crossing long-established conventions of what happens in these places of exchange.
An obvious question that any viewer can ask is, “Why are the artists working here?” This opens up both the viewer and the artist to dialogue around the context of their meeting. What is the intention of this art? What is the role of traditional markets in the community? How have changing economic and cultural norms affected markets, and how have they affected art? By working out of context, the artists can offer a viewpoint that is fresh and critical and open to immediate response by the viewers. The viewers are in position to participate in contemporary art and challenge their assumptions as to what art can and should be. The goal of “Kunming Markets” is to host these unusual situations and to suggest alternative forms for exchanging value.

About the Organizers
This event is organized by four curators, two American and two Chinese. Our role as curators is twofold. First, we are responsible for the day to day logistics of the event, including fundraising and publicity. Second and more importantly, we are here to encourage information and idea sharing both among the artists and between the artists and the community. This dialogue is the core of the event; it will provide conceptual coherence to the artwork as well as value to the participants and the community. We will create a website to facilitate artistic collaboration and communication with the public.

Who Are We Looking For
Because this project will take place in traditional markets, it is an opportunity to engage with audiences who have had little exposure to art. We are looking for artists who explore alternative spaces and new forms of interaction through their work. The art in the event will not be objects, but rather the communication and an exchange of values that arise from it.

Artist Commitments
This event will take place in the traditional markets of Kunming. We ask that all participating artists travel to Kunming during the first two weeks of August to take part in the group events. Before the event, we ask that artists participate in online discussions with the curators and the other artists to ensure that their work is well-prepared and cohesive. There may also be discussion forums that will be open to the public and a meeting with students from Yunnan Arts University during the event. We believe that this interaction with the community is central to the event.

We aim to have the event take place in the first two weeks of August. However, we may extend the duration of the event if it works better for the participating artists’ schedules. Please mark all of the days that you can be in Kunming to participate in the event. The more flexible you can be with the timeline, the better.

Status of the Budget
We currently have funds for the cost of the market spaces and art materials. We are also applying for grants to cover additional costs, such as travel and modest accommodations. Given that the budget’s size is undetermined, the participating artists will need to be flexible. Please fill out the information below to give us a sense of your needs if you were to participate in this event.

Your Estimated Needs
Housing: Are you willing to sleep in lodging provided by a volunteer?
Travel: What is the minimum cost for you to travel to Kunming?
Other living expenses: Please estimate additional living expenses (food, local transportation, etc)

Based on previous projects and the nature of this project, what do you estimate a material budget would be? Do you have other needs not mentioned above?

Your Artwork
Briefly describe why you would like to participate in this event and how your artistic practice corresponds to the goals of the event?

Please send a CV/resume, artist website, or other material you would like to share with us.
Mail to: “

We are planning to hold the event in the following markets:
Yong Hexing market on Hong Shan Nan Lu

Luo Fei (CN)
Joe Sneed(US)
Orion Martin(US)
Zhu Xiaolin(CN)

English Posts 折腾项目















“Wu Wei” Zhang Yongzheng Paper-based Improvisational Painting Exhibition

Exhibition Opening: 8pm, April 6th, 2012
Exhibition Duration: April 6th–May 26th, 2012 (Sunday Closed)
Exhibition Address: TCG Nordica Gallery, Chuangku, Xibalu 101, Kunming

Art Tasting: 14:30–16:00, May 12th, 2012
Art Tasting Address: Kuangyu Gallery, 5th floor, Caiwei Shuncheng, K, Shuncheng, Kunming

Curator: Luo Fei
Academic Host: He Libin
Invited Writer: Anders Gustafsson (Sweden)
Translator: R. Orion Martin (US)
Exhibition Assistants: Sha Yurong, Zhu Xiaolin
Co-hosted by TCG Nordica Gallery and Kuangyu Gallery
Tel: 0871-4114692

Gansu Artist Zhang Yongzheng came to Kunming in 2004 and has been making art here ever since. Yunnan’s climate and culture have left a deep impression on his art, particularly on his “Process” series of abstract works. At the same time he has been engaged in a great number of paper-based improvisational works and it is these that will be exhibited in the upcoming exhibition.

Zhang Yongzheng’s paper-based improvisational works are made with materials such as string, rope, rags, clothing, and palette knives. These he wets with ink in order to whip, rub or drip the image onto the paper. The paper, having gone through these “actions,” carries the vestiges that are left behind in the form of lines or shapes. These forms are related in the way they crisscross, hedge, and superimpose upon one another. The shapes on the page rise, fall, and interact, resulting in a feeling of unrestrained movement. They emphasize the expressiveness of the paint and ink while exposing the vividly spiritual nature of the tools. The works are unaffected and nimble, brimming with dynamism and humorous delight. They are reminiscent of the metaphysical view in Daoist philosophy that an entity in the universe is ceaselessly growing and multiplying, unstoppably, meticulously in motion.

Zhang Yongzheng held an exhibition in TCG Nordica Gallery in 2005 that had profound repercussions. Now, after seven years, he returns to TCG Nordica Gallery to collect and display the paper-based improvisational works he began making in 2004, works which until now have never been displayed. 50 works have been specially selected to share with the public in this special exhibition. The exhibition has been named “Wu Wei”, in reference to the Daoist concept of active inaction and its close relationship to abstract art.

This exhibition has been organized by the combined efforts of TCG Nordica and Kuangyu Gallery in order to present a rare chance to experience the works of this abstract artist. The exhibition opening will be held on April 6th, 2012 at Xiba Road 101, Artist Loft, TCG Nordica Gallery, and the exhibition will continue until May 26th.

Related Articles:
The Dao: To Ceaselessly Grow and Multiply(Luo Fei)
Travel 1000 li in one day(Anders Gustafsson)
Interview with Zhang Yongzheng(He Libin)
Interview Zhang Yongzheng(R. Orion Martin)