Lei Yan, Sun Guojuan, Luo Fei and Orion Martin
“Four Seasons: Summer” Yunnan Female Artist Group Exhibition Interview
Luo Fei (TCG Nordica Curator)
Sun Guojuan (Artist, “Four Seaons” Yunnan Female Artist Group Exhibition Curator)
Lei Yan (Artist, “Four Seasons” Yunnan Female Artist Group Exhibiton Director)
The content of the interview has been revised by Luo Fei.
Translated by R. Orion Martin
TCG Nordica Gallery
Luo Fei (abbreviated Luo below): First I want to thank you Ms. Guojuan and Ms. Yan for inviting me to be the academic director of the “Four Seasons: Summer” Female Artist Exhibition. “Four Seasons Yunnan Female Artist Exhibition” first began in the winter of 2009 and has exhibited “Winter” (2009) and “Spring” (2010). This year’s “Winter” will, like previous exhibitions, see Sun Guojuan assuming the role of curator and Lei Yan that of academic oversight. Can you please introduce the ideas behind “Four Seasons” and explain how you came upon the plan to run an annual series of four exhibitions?
Lei Yan (abbreviated Lei below): The idea of “Four Seasons” was one that Sun Guojuan had early on. Sun Guojuan has always been a leader among Yunnan female artists. She already began practicing contemporary art in the ’85 period. Later she lived for some time in Beijing (1996-2000 and 2006 until now) and brought new art styles back to Yunnan. My own work has also been influenced by her. These years Sun Guojuan has been living in Kunming organizing Yunnan Female Artist exhibitions, for example “Flexibility of Flexibility” in 2004, or “O,” named after the shape of an egg, in 2005. These two exhibitions were not limited to Kunming artists, but also included a few female artists who were living in Kunming at the time. For the Guiyang Biennial in 2007, curated by Ye Yong Qing, Sun Guojuan organized a team of Yunnan female artists for the collaborative piece “Pink”, an enormous furry pink egg that became a highlight of Guiyang Biennial.
Taking a break to gather herself in 2008, Sun Guojuan was constantly debating whether or not she wished to continue organizing Yunnan female artist exhibitions. Based on the popular demand of Yunnan female artists and the encouragement and support of Teacher Mao Xuhui, Sun Guojuan resolved to assume responsibility for organizing exhibitions by the Yunnan Female Artist Group. Following her decision Sun Guojuan proposed the concept for “Four Seasons.” Using an long duration and forward looking method, she began planning a four year long series of Yunnan Female Artist exhibitions. Over the past two years, “Four Seasons” has indeed given many female artists power and opportunities. For example, Ma Dan has said that when she felt bewildered or was overcome by hopelessness, it was the “Four Seasons” exhibition that gave her the strength to continue. She said, “If I can’t create a new appearance every year, then I might as well not be an artist. This four year plan has really encouraged female artists to maintain a creative state.”
Sun Guojuan (abbreviated Sun below): I can also say from experience that many female artists are caught in a very solitary predicament. During the 80’s and the first half of the 90’s, very few people would see my work in any given year. Perhaps in one year not even a single person would come to look at my works. In those days there were few exhibitions and even if there were exhibitions I wouldn’t be there. I think that in the 90’s my relationship with the conditions of Yunnan art was not particularly close.
Luo: During the Long March Project, American artist Judy Chicago, the “founder” of Feminist Art, came to Yunnan and met with female artists at Lugu Lake. Conversations and collaborative projects with her were very important to you, is that correct?
Sun: Yes that’s right. Some collaborative works from that time showed that art could be like this, a comparatively open way of thinking. At that time everyone wanted to make new proposals, try fresh methods, discuss works and collaborate, etc.
If the Long March were a Women’s Rights Movement, Photo by Lei Yan
Luo: Are you influenced by Feminism?
Lei: For me I would say yes. Right now I am working on a series of image-based works named “If They were Women” and “If the Long March were a Women’s Rights Movement,”which involve characteristics typical of Feminist Art.
Sun: I’m more prone to discuss societal problems. Right now I’m working on an image installation named “Stuck on You, Leaving You,” a reflection on travel culture.
Luo: How many artists participate in “Four Seasons”? Can you tell us a bit about how old they are, where they’re from and what kind of work they do?
Sun: On average we have about 37 or 38 artists participating, and many of them are young. This is related to the Yunnan fine arts education system, for example many students of Mao Xuhui at Yunnan University take part in the group. Many of the artists live in Kunming but the majority come from various states in Yunnan, for example Su Yabi or Bai Xuejuan. The works are primarily oil painting and installation, with most of the installations involving manual labor as opposed to readymade items. I hope they can experience the special features of female art for themselves.
Su Yabi, oil painting and silk
Luo: Is Feminist Art the orientation you’ve chosen or is it enough to be female artists? What is the criterion for the artists you have selected?
Sun: It is the art of female artists, not Feminist artists. We have no prerequisites emphasizing Feminism. Rather, our standard is simply a contemporary style. Works must be distinct from traditional and educational institutional styles. They must not be cliché, and they must be the product of an independent creativity.
Luo: You often hold exhibitions in Beijing and other locations. Do you see points of difference and similarity between the Yunnan Female Artist Group and the domestic artists in other areas?
Lei: We are a group, so the individual artists aren’t lonely. I believe the artists of the Yunnan Female Artist Group are quite active and cohesive, much more than other artists in central and Southern China. But last year I participated in a Chengdu exhibition and discovered that the scene there appears to be more active. Sichuan also has a tradition of group movements.
Luo: You remain very open to men; your assistants and academic support, etc. are all men. Do you expect women to fill these roles or is it unimportant?
Sun: We hope women will also fill come to fill these roles, but currently it’s not an option because a more open mentality is needed.
Luo: On the whole, the works exhibited in “Four Seasons” are focused on the artists’ individual sentiments and not societal problems.
Lei: Expressing individual sentiments is a special quality of female art. They’re more focused on internal qualities.
Sun: Today’s society really is like this. We also tend to select works that are focused on internal circumstances.
Luo: In past exhibitions, have there been artists who touch upon International Feminism by using art methods which participate in the public sphere? I am referring to (contemporary art critic) Wang Nang Ming’s concept when describing Lei Yan’s “A Bullet Passes through a Young Heart.”
Sun: No, more of them focus on individual creation. But since commercialization has become so important, many artists have begun to consider whether or not their work could have market value. Consequently, it’s impossible to make works that are very biting. But we encourage young artists to focus on installation or other kinds of art. This can inspire their creativity and prevent market influence.
Four Friends, oil painting by Fei Min
Luo: Could we say that Yunnan Female Artists are not particularly attuned to the public sphere?
Sun: It could be that they have not reflected on the public sphere, or that they do not know how to express their thoughts. Our artists lack an experimental spirit, their works are always complete and lack experimentation.
Lei: Education is also a factor contributing to this.
Sun: It requires courage. As artists, we fear failure.
Luo: Have you imagined what form or state the Yunnan Female Artist Group may take in the future?
Sun: It will continue as before. Female artists will continue to move us with their art and energy.
Luo: Have the past three years brought any pleasant surprises or disappointments? Did you ever consider abandoning the project?
Sun: The pleasant surprise has been that good works have continually come out. This is most encouraging because the artists do not simply make some works in a year and then bring out one for the exhibition. Rather, they focus on the subject every year in order to produce a special work.
We often meet with artists in advance and express our own opinions. Last year we wrote an “Informing All Artists” letter. This letter was on account of our disappointments and our refusal to give up on any artists. If we do not tell her our thoughts, then when she makes something bad we can only give up on her, but this is not what we want to do.
Luo: Next year will be the last exhibition of “Four Seasons,” Spring. What do you plan to do after “Four Seasons?”
Sun: We will continue. Best would be a four year plan. We would especially like to thank Nordica for their support, really. The words of those people who win prizes are always vapid. They all thank their parents and those that helped them, but afterwards I think more and more that this is very important. Without the help of friends, we really wouldn’t be able to do anything. At the same time, we want to thank Xinghe Group for their help, and Mr. Mao Xuhui for his consistent support.