Interview Jonathan Aumen: An artist’s responsibility is to recharge society

Interview Jonathan Aumen: An artist’s responsibility is to recharge society
by Luo Fei, TCG Nordica gallery curator

Time: 10am, 7th of Jan, 2012
At: TCG Nordica Gallery
Jonathan Aumen: TCG Nordica resident artist (since Sep 2011, see artist CV)

1, You moved to China with your family when you were eight and lived here for ten years. Can you talk about your impressions from that time?

My parents were English teachers at the time, starting in Tianjin and then relocating to Beijing. My childhood was like a storybook, very colorful. I frequently hung out with old men doing what they did. This consisted of keeping birds as pets, flying kites, fighting crickets and many other things. I was always captivated by the stories that the old people would tell me. That was when there weren’t a lot of foreigners around and Chinese people were super curious about us and our lives. Life here was completely different from my home in the state of Virginia back in the United States, but I jumped immediately in the deep end. My most important experience, however, was studying under a private art tutor, a strict teacher from the Central Academy of Fine Arts. I studied under him for three years before I graduated from high school.

2, There is a significant difference between the China of the 90’s and the China of today. What are your thoughts about the changes?

I’m a full-on idealist. I always think on memories of yesterday. You can spy shadows of yesterday’s China but the differences are significant. China has become very materialistic and has emulated the habit of the west by placing too much of an emphasis on possessions. In addition, many historic buildings and hutongs have been torn down, both in Beijing and Kunming, namely the Flower and Bird market. This is a shame.

Its comparatively like ripping up old family picture albums. There are now also a lot of electric scooters. Not many bicycle bells can be heard. I like the sound of bicycle bells. The speed at which things have developed has given society more comfortable conditions but has not given them a sense of their own culture and identity. Chinese don’t seem to know what their identity is because their identity has been pulled out from underneath them or placed in a dusty museum. This seems to be a universal problem, though. We all ask the questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? Therefore, we as human beings look for an identity in whatever seems fitting at the time.

3, Kunming’s “The Loft” is China’s earliest art community. When it was established in 2002 there were more than 30 artists residing there. However, it did not become an art industry model for society. As a result, many artists relocated to other cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. Some decided to stay put. What are your thoughts regarding the Kunming art scene?

I feel like The Loft is like a minority community. It’s somewhat isolated from the outside art world and has not yet become commercialized. The artists there are warm and friendly and welcome visitors inside their studios. It doesn’t seem all about the money or the fame. There seems to be a rich soil to develop as an artist. It’s slow and quiet there. You can choose to be alone or to talk and be with people. It seems like the only problem with the Loft is that there is not sufficient exposure.

4, There was recently a pretty serious fire at the Loft. You were the first to discover the fire and also helped rescue some paintings after breaking into one of the artists’ studios in fear his work would be destroyed. Some of the artists suffered pretty significant loss from the fire. Works and studios were burned. Can you share some thoughts with us regarding this situation?

First of all, the newspapers and tv exaggerated quite a bit calling me a hero. I’m not a hero. I simply did what I did because of God and the love he has given me for others. I hadn’t known Tang Zhigang for that long but had the desire to help him. There really is nothing to brag about. A lot of people look at catastrophes and think that God is judging the earth. Ironically a lot of Christians have this view. I believe that although God is righteous and judges us for sin he is also equally loving. He can turn bad situations into good. Sometimes God allows bad things (bad things being a result of the sin of mankind) to happen so we can be blown away by his creativity. I believe he allowed this fire to show all us at The Loft and in Kunming that our lives have no guarantee and our material possessions are not eternal. Tomorrow is not promised.

5, What does it mean to be a Christian to you?

It means I am a child of God. It means the spirit of God is within me empowering me to love others. It is to be a light in the darkness. Light is the truth. This is an absolute identity. This is the rock I stand on, my foundation. Christianity isn’t a crutch. It’s not here to give people an easier or happier life. After becoming a Christian life gets more difficult in my opinion. That being said, I believe that God gives us his own power and peace that surpasses understanding to help us trudge through the mud of life as it were.

6, Are there any conflicts you deal with regularly being both a Christian and an artist? How do you balance these two identities?

Of course there are many conflicts. I am a sinner and a very weak person in and of myself. The most difficult thing is putting Jesus first in my life. There are times where I focus too much on my art and forget temporarily why I am actually doing art. My purpose in doing art is to enjoy God and his creation and also be a magnifying glass, making his glories known to the people around me. I’ve noticed that as I’ve been busy preparing for my show , working at the studio and then coming home to work, I’ve neglected time with my wife. The order of importance in my life is as follows: God, my wife, and then my art. Loving my wife is a picture of how Jesus loves us his children. The aim is to love my wife like he loves her. This is far more important to me than my art. I pray for more grace and the ability to make this a reality. A lot of artists love their art far more than they love their own family. The way balance comes in this area is through prayer and reading the Bible, letting the truth soak in to my heart and change me. Getting together with other Christians is important too so that I can be both challenged and encouraged.

7, When the fire took place I saw you were working on a painting that looked a lot like smoke rising from buildings. A lot of people, especially artists, were saying that you were some kind of prophet. Maybe they were just joking but do you think an artist is to be a prophet of sorts?

I was not purposefully painting a picture of burning buildings. It was actually a painting of a development in Kunming being torn down and a cloud of dust arising from it. Honestly though, I really want to be a prophet of sorts. A prophet of truth, Gods truth. Prophets are courageous, direct, and completely honest. In Old Testament times the message brought from prophets usually made people uncomfortable or even afraid. This was because a lot of prophetic messages had to do with turning away from sin and seeking the Lords way again. This is really interesting. When I arrived to my studio at the Loft I noticed there were ten words written on my door: “We must tell the truth, even if the truth hurts.” I didn’t realize that this phrase would embody a lot of the paintings I would paint. People don’t like to hear the truth about a lot of things. Its more comfortable to ignore things sometimes. For instance I’ve told people in the past that they have no guarantee that they will live until tomorrow. They could be hit by a car on the way home and die. People are afraid to die. Chinese are especially superstitious and don’t like hearing how they could realistically and possibly die. We all will die.

8, Recently a famous Chinese art critic said: “The main characteristic of contemporary art is the lack of belief. Artists believe they are themselves gods when we talk about faith or belief…… If contemporary artists want to devote themselves to religion they must say farewell to their art otherwise they will they will neither be a good religious person or a good contemporary artist.” How do you feel about this statement?

First of all, what is contemporary art? Bare minimum it just means art that is happening now. Traditional art used to be contemporary art in its own day. Contemporary art doesn’t have to be marked by lack of belief. If one says contemporary art is marked by lack of belief, isn’t this in turn a belief? Many artists believe there are no absolutes. This belief is automatically a self-contradiction. Saying there are no absolutes is an absolute. Our reality is extremely complex. Think about atoms, molecules, water, our very bodies. Who holds these intricate constructions together? One has to ask him or herself: “Is there a Creator?” When we see a Mercedes Benz on the street or a plane in the air we automatically deduce that these were made by people or a factory of people. We then look at a human being, a far more complex creation, and we emphatically state that it had no creator. In the past there have been artists who have been very counter-cultural. Van Gogh for instance never sold a single painting to someone other than his brother. Being a Christian artist is the epitome of being counter cultural. It’s like constantly swimming upstream. You have to swim hard. Christian artists have the responsibility of communicating truth. Artists that don’t believe in God have a longing that their art can never completely satisfy.

9, There have been all different sorts of roles that artists have played throughout the centuries. Artists have also crossed paths with many different cultures or ways of life. For instance, in antiquity artists were more craftsmen while modern artists played the role of bohemians leaving there normal everyday to revolt against traditions and become nomads. Some artists played at being wizards living very mysterious lives and even communicating with spirits. Today’s artist plays more of an intellectual role and feels a responsibility toward guiding culture and the public arena. Under the influence of POP art many artists have turned to fashioning a kind of pop star persona and have escaped into the world of entertainment and fashion. This makes them feel more successful and glorified by the public. Now artwork not only depends on the actual physical art work but the physical action of the artist too. Clearly we see that art in and of itself cannot fulfill our deepest human need. There is a deeper need. How do you feel?

What is the function of an artist? If life is meaningless then what is the point of creating art? A lot of artists feel no responsibility to society or their fellow man. I believe the artist has a crucial responsibility. This responsibility is to communicate the truth about our reality and to bring hope to a hopeless world. Most everyone appreciates beauty. Why is this? Because we see in a beautiful landscape or a fantastic creature a greater power. I believe this greater power is God. He manifests or reveals himself and his characteristics through his creation. Just like my art work reveals personal characteristics or thoughts. We are like batteries that get recharged by things that are beautiful, things that are great. I believe the artists responsibility is to recharge and heal society. Many contemporary artists are all about shocking people. Does shocking people do any good unless it is accompanied by truth and worth?

10, In the Christian view there is the world now and the world that is to come. God will come again to earth and establish his kingdom. He will make all things new. Do you think the role of the artist is any different now in the present than it will be in the new kingdom?

Our biggest responsibility as Christians right now is to spread the truth of the gospel. Gospel literally means “good news.” The good news is that God came to earth in the form of a man, JESUS, to pay the penalty of our sin. Through his sacrifice we have received forgiveness and eternal life. This is the best news ever! Right now I’m excited about telling other people about that through my art. In the heavenly kingdom that God will establish one day on earth our responsibility as artists will be to enjoy and explore the wonders of God. They are eternal. In eternity one responsibility or joy. Right now at the present time two.

11, You’ve said before that the forward or literary introduction to your show is more important than your paintings. You hope that the article will light a fire underneath the viewers. I hope I can attain this goal. But the interesting thing is that you put the forward above your pieces. A lot of artists are against a description of their work. They resist putting their work in a box. How do you view the relationship between art and art criticism?

There are many methods to express the many facets of truth of one idea. Music, more than visual art, for me has quite an immediate effect on influencing my emotions. This is ironic because I’m such a visual person. A perfect analogy of this instant effect is how they administer IV’s at local Chinese hospitals. The effect is much faster. Looking at paintings takes time. We ingest through the eyes and digest in the heart and mind. Music is so powerful because it combines objective logic or words with emotional sound. Film in my opinion is the most powerful art medium for me because it combines writing, visual art, and music. A movie can leaving a lasting impression and move us greatly. A lot of artists believe their work is most important and all the attention must be put on the actual painting rather than the truth. I think truth is far more important. I believe art and art criticism is like a marriage relationship. One needs the other. No fighting.

12 How do you view the relationship between form and concept?

There is a very important relationship between the two. A lot of artists make conceptual art but many of the forms are weak. When a concept has weak form it is like a sculpture made out of cotton. Its easy to blow away or blow over. Form is language. If you have an idea but can’t communicate it or can’t form your thought into language then the idea is only useful to you. There are many people researching this question. My understanding is a simple and humble one. I feel like concept and form are like two railroad tracks. They work together and always meet in the horizon.

13, You focus on the city in your work and how it is very similar to and as equally complex as the cell. You talk about this all the time and seem fascinated by this complexity and the power that holds it all together. Would you like to talk more about this?

When I look at the buildings of Kunming I can’t separate them from people. I’m not just saying people live in them but when I look at the buildings they remind me of people. All the life and stories that go on inside are the spirit of the building. One thing that I’m grateful for and that I think many people besides artists are grateful for is that we like to think below the epidermis. The other day I was thinking about mosquitoes and thinking that if I walked outside one day and saw the mosquitoes the size of a car how terrifying and terrific that would be. We need to force ourselves to see beauty in the simple things. Because a lot of the times it’s the simple things that are most complex. When we see these complexities we are compelled to admire. I’m hoping people not only admire their reality but also think about the future of this reality and the demands that places on us. Personally I love feeling small when I contemplate these truths. I can’t separate any part of creation from an admiration and awe for Creator God.

14, Your works seem to contain some sort of hidden revelation. Do you feel Christian artists work should have this dimension to it?

Thank you for your accolade. I’m really not a very mature artist and am still searching for my own personal form. I don’t believe my work is super amazing but I will unabashedly take pride in the truth that I wish to communicate. I don’t think Christian art has to have some sort of cosmic revelation in it but I do believe that the work should have some sort of truth that would point the viewer to God like a road sign. It’s funny because even if an atheist paints something that is true it still points to God. All truth is God’s truth whether it comes from the mouth of a monster or a monk.

15, If you chose a piece of scripture to describe your artistic view and work what would it be?

My favorite thing about creating is that I get to spend many hours contemplating the beauty of God. This is a privilege I do not take for granted. All my five senses are still intact. I’d like to offer two scriptures if I may. The first has to do exactly with this contemplation and enjoyment. The second has to do with the plight of the human race. This second scripture relates more to my larger canvases where as the smaller ones communicate more of a sense of longing.
I ask only one thing Lord, let me live every day of my life to see how wonderful you are and contemplate your beauty.” Psalm 27:4

The earth turns gaunt and gray, the world silent and sad, sky and land lifeless, colorless. Earth Polluted by Its Very Own People.  Earth is polluted by its very own people, who have broken its laws, Disrupted its order, violated the sacred and eternal covenant. Therefore a curse, like a cancer, ravages the earth. Its people pay the price of their sacrilege. They dwindle away, dying out one by one.” Isaiah 24:4-6


Interview: He Libin

He Libin
(Interview with the artist in his studio. 30th April 2010. Present: He Libin, Luo Fei and Anders Gustafsson.)

I once read a text by Jeff Crosby, where he emphasized that Kunming historically did play an often overlooked role in China’s road to modernity: from it’s time as a French outpost, to its role as a refuge for Chinese intellectuals during the Japanese occupation, Kunming often led the way for China’s embrace of modern ideas. I guess the South West Art Research Group should also be mentioned here. Do you see Kunming’s art community building on this heritage, or should we declare it dead and buried?

– It is building on that tradition. Compared with other citites, Kunming woke up early in relation to modernity. The first Chinese art community started here (Chuang Ku/Loft, 1999). It was influenced by the Western world. During French and Japanese occupation, this influence was forced upon us. The Han culture didn’t have such a big influence here, so Kunming could accept different cultures.

– It’s actually quite interesting that many Kunming artists are rather lazy, or very relaxed anyway. This also means they’re very free. So if there’s an interesting opportunity, the artists can easily gather. Chuang Ku is an example. Another case is the Jiang Hu-project 2005-2006 (a project supported by Lijiang studio). It influenced lots of young artists and was awarded a price for being the second best art project after the Shanghai Biennal in 2006.

But isn’t the Kunming art community more scattered now than say four-five years ago?

– Yes, definitively.

But is that a sign of the artists cooperating less? Or of something else?

– We cooperate more, actually. There are more opportunities and possibilities. Four years ago, there was only Loft. The exhibitions were more simple at that point. Now we have more art spaces, which results in more cross over art.

I’ve noticed that people in Kunming often remind us foreigners about the minorities influence on the culture of Yunnan. You are of Naxi heritage yourself. Do you see any influence from the minority cultures on contemporary art?

– Personally, the Naxi culture doesn’t attract me. I’m mainly living with Han-people. Even though Yunnan is a minority province, Yunnan’s main culture is Han. Just look at the menues in the restaurants. The minority food is often there more like a decoration.

– Another important thing is, that in the 20th century, even if we have many minorities, we where occupied by Western countries. That influenced us. Minority culture is maybe more influential in song and dance, but not so much in the visual art where the Western influence was stronger.
As far as the art academies educational tradition is concerned, the visual arts relates mainly to the Western system and the Chinese traditional painting: More precisely, the Western tradition of realism and the Chinese one where the students copy old masters and paint plants. So the influence on contemporary art is marginal, in my opinion.

– In early 1980’s there was an art wave, the Heavy Colored School and the Scenery School, who were influenced by minority culture. All the artists were Han-people, and they combined minority culture with western influences. Most of the minority art is more utility based, for religios ceremonies and so on. But it doesn’t reach independent or fine art. Different minorities have different religions. This means that they are enclosed in there own circles; it doesn’t spill over to other cultures.

– If you compare original minority art, with the Heavy Colored School and the Scenery School art, they are very different. The latter are landscape paintings with strong colors. But already in the 90’s they were less influential. They were hardly scratching the surface of the minorities cultures. It never dealt with the feelings of the individual, and it never acccounted for the individual’s experiences.

– When I watched them, they all looked the same. Soft, beautful, like a poem. I’ve lived with minorities, and I know that this beautiful side is only part of the truth. There are sorrow and suffering too. That kind of life is never covered by those paitings, and they don’t show these people’s real life.

– I think that the government knows and likes the Heavy Colored School and the Scenery School art, and those artists use this style to present a romantic idea about minorities to Westerners. They want Yunnan to be the biggest tourist province in China, so they portray it like the Garden of Eden.

It’s not only the minority cultures that distincts Yunnan from other provinces in China. It’s also the geographical proximity to Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Myanmar is Yunnan’s biggest trading partner, for example. Is this influencing the Kunming art scene?

– The cooperation with these countries takes plcae within the economical sphere, but very rarely on a cultural level. So if we look back on the past years’ culture events, very few of them are in any way connected to these countries. (Even if the day before this interview an exhibition from Thailand opened at Yunnan Arts Institute).

– In recent years, we’ve learnt that the differences between art in Yunnan and, say Laos and Thailand, are really big. So we influence each other only to a small extent, if any. Their art education, exhibitions, collectors and foundations are all of Western origin. This will continue, I think, and the main reason for this is that in rescent history they were occupied by Western countries.

Mao Xuhui talks about your “anxiety”, reflected in the loss of the traditional landscape conquered by the destruction of modernity. Do you agree with this?

anders-interviews-helibin– Almost all Chinese have anxiety, it’s only on different levels… Personally, I don’t see myself as an intellectual. My anxiety is mainly about lifestyle. Being caught between on one hand my dream of a pure and simple life, on the other hand the modern life’s with its speed and its urges. So I’m almost afraid to go to the super market, it’s a big waste of products and resources. I’m afraid it’s all about desire. Maybe I would have preferred to live the simple life of minorities.

– The traditional Chinese intellectuals lead divided lifes. They wished to join this world and at the same time escape from it. So I don’t see myself as an intellectual. I can not totally embrace the traditional intellectuals’ opinions or feelings. My culture and knowledge system is only slightly influenced by Konfucianism. Deep down, I much more prefer daoism. Daoists usually live in forests or mountains.

I find your project, Recording Shenzhen, particularly interesting. You and some volunteers painted the city’s sceneries, but used water instead of colour. The art work lasted for a maximum of two hours. Isn’t that quite Daoistic?

– No idea, I hadn’ t thought of that, haha. But probably. Just like my recent works, where I only used water, air and other simple resources. Another important element in my work is about time.

Time… Isn’t there some similarity between the ephemeral or unreachable nature of this vaning waterdepictions of a hypermodern city, and the traditional landscapes of some of your other paintings? I mean: Aren’t we often projecting our contemporary thoughts and worldviews on a distant past that in some sense is unreachable?

– Yes. I always try to reach for it, but it disappears. It makes me sad, and if you lift up this feeling, it’s somthing like impermanence (a Buddhist term). And you can’t really know it or control it.

It looks to me that you are speaking the same language in The Forgotten Views and The Lost Writing; there you are using newspaper as material to depict traditional landscape or calligraphy. Newspapers as a material are ephemeral, even if not as much as painting in water.

helibin– Yes. But as you know, I’m not the person who plans everything. In this progress I tried different materials, but finally I choose newspaper. It’s cheap, actually it doesn’t cost me anything. And it’s a good material, easy to work with. All the newpapers came from friends, they’re for free. I can’t finish it, cause people always ask me if I need more newspapers…

– During the works I found newspaper as a material has its limits. Time will change it, it won’t last. I tried with other materails as well, like sand and metal. Mixed material. Time will change everything. Deep down I’m a pessimist. Impermanence, is a word I really understand and can identify with.

TCG Nordica is celebrating its 10 years anniversary. Please give me your thoughts on which role it – and Chuang Ku – has played through the years.

– They’ve played very different roles. Chuang Ku was established by Ye Yongqing and Tang Zhigang. In the beginning it was like creating an enclave. They were idealists, in a way they wished to build Utopia. With enclave, I mean they wanted to create a life style that was quite different from other citizens. Their land was sort of up in the air, it didn’t land.

– But because of these artists’ hard work, Kunming’s art events became more and more a part of the city’s daily life. There was a distance from the public, maybe. But art became more and more a part of daily life for artists, with exhibitions, platforms and so on. Before Chuang Ku, the opportunities to see or particpiate in an exhibition was very limited . It was limited to the official museums.

– In Chuang Ku there was a thinking mode that it’s “us” inside Chuang Ku, and “them” outside. To make a difference between them and the artists supported by the authorities. “We are Chuang Ku(Loft) artists, they are outsiders”. Maybe Western artists see it more as “I” and “you”, rather than “us” and “them”?

– When I read the last generations diaries (like Mao Xuhui, Ye Yongqing and so on), it was a lot about us and them. They were different, that also went for the relation to society. Today it’s a big difference. The boundaries have been blurred. And this is because of their success. They have become accepted, before they were a more heterogenous group.

And TCG Nordica?

– I see Nordica as a bridge. The founders wanted to share different kinds of culture with everyody. This sharing was not to make everybody be the same. In fact, it makes everybody different. This is the biggest difference between Nordica and Loft. Nordica was not just only for “us”. Instead it made us realize our differences. I think this is a culture difference. For Westerners it was I and you. For Chinese it was much about us and them; us always eating and drinking tea, playing cards together, for example.

– I think Nordica is the most inportant place at Loft. Without it, Loft would be a local community. There would be no dialogue, no conflict.

– According to Nordica’s vision, there’s still a kind of idealism, But it’s not Utopia. It has a positive view on everybody’s life style and culture. If the art community thinks: “Let’s build an alternative life style”, it’s more utopian. It makes everybody look the same. Like communism; everybody are the same.

At one point in a discussion woth the Loft artists, we tried to explain how we at Nordica work more with a flat organization, rather than a hierarchial one. One of the artists ironically exclaimed: “Ahh, you are the real communists!”

– Actually, even when there’s a cooperation with Nordica, everybody still have their individual work.

So will this – and should it – change for the future, in your opinion?

– I think Nordica shouldn’t change their role much in the future. I wish Nordica can just go deeper in their communication between different cultures. And also, I wish there could be more communication.

Other cultures, not just Scandinavian-Chinese, you mean?

– No, my point is that we need build more communication in Kunming, with other culture areas. Not only art, but literature and so on. It’s not only the Nordica staff’s responsibility, but everyone’s.

Can you give a concrete suggestion?

– For example the HIV-project. That was a very good example of a sort of cross-over project, where people meet on a bridge. I wish we could move further, where artists take responsibility for society. In the past years, the art scene has been more profound than the other culture areas.

So, for example, we arrange a concert and let artists and poets create from their experiences during it?

– Yes, and artists could cooperate with scientists.

And how about the future for Loft?

– There are many, many problems with Loft, and everybody knows that. But I think it doesn’t matter if it’s there or not. The most important is how the artists work in the future. I think that even if there’s no art community, it’s not important. If the artists bring art into the daily life, it’s something that could happen everywhere.

– The art communities in China was probably a phenomena related to a certain period of time. The artists needed to make themselves known, needed to gather energy from each other. When or if the artists become stronger, and aren’t considered as being on the edge of society, I think the communities will dissappear naturally.

– Even if Loft disappears, it’s not necessarily a big problem to Nordica, who can still continue their work. All the artists in China have found that the art communities haven’t been the most important thing. The organisations have been more important. Within each art community, there has been a maximum of one or two organisations that have done most of the work.

In one discussion I had with Jonathan Kearney, we both agreed that Kunming’s culture life is different than what you find in the coastal megacities. Kunming can maybe not claim to be The Real China, but that it can claim to be A Different China.
If you agree with this, what is the main contribution of the Kunming art scene, that makes it stand out from the rest?

– I agree. A different China. The Director and founder of Lijiang studio Jay Brown even made an exhibition in Germany with that name. I think all the events happening in Kunming contributed to the whole of China. Some of them had much influence. Generally speaking, the Kunming art scene even made Kunming different from other cities.

In what way, more precisely?

– There were some cases with big influences. The New Concrete Group in the 1980’s influenced many cities. Also, the Chuangku/Loft influenced other cities. Another one was Jiang Hu (The before-mentioned project in Lijiang). It was tightly connected to the local experience, it could never have happened anywhere else. It was a village project outside Lijiang. Invited international artists to connect with the local experience and culture.

– And then there’s Nordica.

– Most of Chinese contemporary art is about an urban experience. In Yunnan the contemporary art connects with experience from nature. Those who come here find other influences and raise other questions, in relation to nature. Yunnan can give the artists inspiration for “slower walking”.

– These things make art life here stand out from the rest of China.

The current party secretary, Qiu He has personal ambitions for Kunming’s future. The universities are moved to Chenguang, outside Kunming. A new airport, China’s 4th biggest, should be ready next year. Rail lines linking Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou, Guangxi and Chongqing will be upgraded. Construction of a high-speed rail between Kunming and Shanghai is already underway. Improved roads to Hanoi and Bangkok will shorten the time between Kunming and these cities drastically.
How do you think such changes will affect the Kunming art scene?

– It’s hard to say. I haven’t thought about it that much. I think it won’t change a lot for the artists themselves. They mainly focus on peoples’ hearts and experiences. But there might be changes in the patterns and structures, relating to the city’s enlargening. I haven’t seen any action from the government towards the art community, so the change might not be so big.

– The small art communities might spread out in different places, because of the economic development strategy. It will hardly make art develop faster, though. In order for the local art scene to stay healthy, it will need local curators, collectors and galleries. But that will take a long time.

You have chosen to stay here, although many artists follow the money to the coastal region. And it’s not that you haven’t seen the world. You have travelled to Scandinavia, for example. So what’s most attracting for you here?

– My family. Maybe I could earn more money in some other place, but I enjoy life here. I don’t want to leave my loved ones: parents, wife, daughter. The daily life is most important to me. Only then comes art.

Interview by Anders Gustafsson
Photo by Luo Fei


For more information about artist He Libin, please check his CV and works at,  thanks!