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22 十一月

By EMILY FENG   APRIL 26, 2017

A work made of cardboard by the artist Ma Yongfeng at the Bernard Controls factory in Beijing. Workers there have long participated with artists in a project called Social Sensibility. CreditGilles Sabrié for The New York Times

BEIJING — Above rows of assembly line workers, a mix of provocative slogans and abstract paintings adorns the corrugated metal walls of the Bernard Controls factory in southern Beijing.

In this unlikely setting, local artists and employees of the factory have spent the last six years producing artworks and performance pieces as part of a project managed by an Italian artist, Alessandro Rolandi. Called Social Sensibility, it is dedicated to injecting spontaneity and random exploration into the workplace.

“I have no artistic aspirations. I just like fresh things and to gain more knowledge,” Wu Shuqing, 37, a worker on the assembly line, said about her participation. Despite having no previous film experience, she shot a 24-hour, black-and-white film called “Sensual Love of the Fingertips,”depicting her hands performing dexterous, repetitive tasks.

Social Sensibility is just one example of a growing wave in China of so-called social practice art — work that is community-oriented, involves a high degree of participation by nonartists and has a strong focus on social issues.

The artists behind these projects, frustrated by or even indifferent to the formal art world, often operate independently of galleries and museums, produce intangible or site-specific works that are not easily displayed, and embark on long-term undertakings that sometimes challenge what can be considered art.

Elements of social practice art are not new; artists have been producing highly participatory art since the Surrealists nearly a century ago, and such work still tends to cause a splash (think Marina Abramovic’s much-talked-about “The Artist Is Present”). But in more recent years, social practice art has slowly been gaining institutional recognition in North America and Europe, where museums and art foundations have begun encouraging more community-oriented art.

In 2005, the California College of the Arts in San Francisco started offering the first fine arts program with a concentration on social practice art, and the Guggenheim recently began a new social practice initiative. Amid much uproar, the prestigious Turner Prize was awarded in 2015 to Assemble, a British collective of architects who transform neglected public spaces through community engagement.

In China, critics and artists alike say that such art taps into both past and contemporary developments.

“The sense of equality that was installed in our consciousness by socialist revolution had a huge impact on these artists. Social practice art has a socialist legacy,” said Zheng Bo, an assistant professor at the City University of Hong Kong whose online gallery, A Wall, documents social practice art in the greater China region. “But beginning in the 1990s, Chinese contemporary art went through an export-oriented era, addressed to a foreign audience. Now we’re going through a rebuilding of a local art language.”

That language has largely been devoted to describing China’s rapid transition from an agricultural country to an increasingly urban one. In the early 1980s, about 80 percent of people still lived in rural areas. Today, 56 percent of Chinese live in cities, while an additional 277 million rural residents travel to cities for work each year. National urbanization goals aim to move 100 million more people into cities by 2020.

This monumental shift of citizens and resources has raised the overall standard of living but brought with it corresponding losses, scattering families and disrupting old ways of life.

Themes of industrialization and urbanization, often symbolized by migrant workers, are not new to Chinese contemporary art. In 2001, the husband-and-wife team of Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen created “Dancing With Migrants,” hiring migrant workers to perform choreographed movements within gallery spaces. Another internationally recognized artist, Zhang Dali, made resin casts of migrant workers’ bodies that were hung upside down from rafters in his 2003 series “Chinese Offspring.”

“The subjects weren’t so much participants as they were treated like props to be used in the art pieces,” says Madeline Eschenburg, a doctoral candidate at the University of Pittsburgh who studies contemporary Chinese art.

The Italian artist Alessandro Rolandi, right, with Guillaume Bernard, chief operating officer of Bernard Controls. Mr. Rolandi manages the Social Sensibility project.CreditGilles Sabrié for The New York Times

By contrast, today’s social practice artists engage with their subjects as collaborators, placing a premium on building a sense of community by attempting to counter the monotony of urban rhythms and ease the strains that contemporary life has put on interpersonal relationships.

“As society goes through demolition and urbanization, the biggest changes happen on the level of human relationships,” said the Shanghai-based artist Chen Yun. “Trust, care and mutual exchange: These are all created by how you see human relationships.”

For the last three years, Ms. Chen has been assembling a visual and textual record of Dinghaiqiao, a historic industrial district in Shanghai now on the verge of being demolished, a task that links her work to sociological research and investigative journalism. The interviews she has conducted inspired her to begin a “mutual aid” society staffed by volunteers who provide art lessons, cooking classes and discussion groups for community residents.

Yet she stresses that her project does not do the same sort of work as nongovernmental organizations. “We are not here to provide a community with services but rather to encourage collaboration, interaction and the accumulation of knowledge,” she said.

Through this continuing interaction, artists hope to have a positive effect on the lives of their collaborators.

“Art has given me self-confidence,” Li Baoyuan, 51, a resident of Shijiezi, a remote village in the northwestern Chinese province of Gansu, said by telephone. He was one of the first participants in “Fly Together,” a project managed by the artists Jin Le, a native of Shijiezi, and Qin Ga, which brings in artists to work with local residents in making site-specific artworks using local materials.

The project has attracted positive attention from county officials, who installed solar-powered street lighting in the village in 2010, as well as other artists, who in 2013 donated money to provide the village with running water. In October, Mr. Li came to Beijing as part of a talk about “Fly Together.”

“Art is the reason I am able to stand in front of you,” he told the audience. “Art is what has allowed me to meet so many talented people.”

Other artists, seeking to reconnect with hometowns they abandoned before those towns disappear, have sought to bridge the urban and rural worlds.

For the last five years, Chao Hewen has been traveling between Beijing and his hometown for his project “In Transit.” The village, located less than a mile from the capital of Yunnan Province, Kunming, has been pulled into the city’s orbit in recent years. Mr. Chao has tried to mirror the outbound migration that has emptied the village by bringing in a small group of artists each year to create works like “Intermittence,” a short film about women from the Naxi minority group, and “Bridge,” a sculptural piece assembled by villagers out of borrowed wooden chairs.

“Whether in villages or cities, everyone experiences issues of demolition, rapid changes to our communities, questions of memory,” Mr. Chao said. “But within Beijing art circles, we get caught up in our false problems, whereas in the countryside, we can have more authentic experiences and adjust our old ways of thinking anew.”

Not everything connected with these projects goes smoothly. The open-ended nature of social practice art means it is plagued by miscommunication and logistical glitches, its makers frequently facing skepticism from local people.

During the first year of “In Transit,” the Beijing-based artist He Congyue tried to gather the entire village for a portrait, but only about a tenth of the villagers showed up. Eventually, however, the photograph caused a buzz in the village when it was displayed, and the artist went door to door inviting residents to pose again. This time, twice as many people came, some even taking time off from their work elsewhere to travel home and participate.

It is precisely that kind of slow progress and relationship-building that is at the heart of social practice art, said Mr. Rolandi of Social Sensibility.

“I don’t think the art itself is really the point,” he said of his own project. “Radicalness and subversiveness today means creating something that grows and doesn’t just shock.”


A version of this article appears in print on April 26, 2017, on Page A14, in The International New York Times.

26 三月

Posted by 03/03/2014

Guerrilla intervention is a response tactic that deals specifically with a comprehensive and an invisible control that is present in a post-totalitarian society. It operates through the social media and the actual social mobilizations carried out by artists through forms of artistic expressions.

REVENGE FOR FREE Stencil graffiti on gallery wall 177x256 inch 2013Home

Guerrilla Intervention – The Art Practice of Ma Yongfeng
by Ma Yongfeng

Guerrilla intervention is a response tactic that deals specifically with a comprehensive and an invisible control that is present in a post-totalitarian society. It operates through the social media and the actual social mobilizations carried out by artists through forms of artistic expressions. It can be a daily “micro-resistence” carried out in a guerrilla fashion that is not confined within a specific time and place. It urges everyone to intervene in society in a “hobbyist”-style that each one finds meaningful, in the hope to render the controlling body defenseless.

Invest in Contradiction

On 25 and 26 April Ma Yongfeng realised the project ‘Invest in Contradiction’ in a French factory in Beijing. It was embedded in the context of ‘Social Sensibility Research & Development Program’, run by Alessandro Rolandi and Bernard Controls. The Social Sensibility R&D Program is a biennale innovative strategic project with the aim to bring artistic research and creativity in contact with the working environment. It is structured around the idea to orient the artists’ work towards developing sensibility among workers, managers and the steering committee of Bernard Controls. Every 3 months, the program invites a professional of the creative field to deliver a project (in any kind of media) whose goal is to help developing new possibilities of human action and interaction within the factory. The long-term intention is to establish partnerships and collaborations with academic, financial, artistic and political structures to explore all the further application of such a model to the field of industry, social research and education.

In Chinese industrial tradition, revolutionary quotes, generally from Mao’s poems, speeches or writings were often painted in large characters on the walls of the factories where millions of workers had to see them everyday. Ma Yongfeng re-interpreted this aspect of Chinese propaganda, creating 7 large graffitis in Bernard Controls Beijing.

The sentences were chosen from random conversations with the workers or the managers, picked from the panels of the working rules, or from the factory’s safety procedures and other similar sources. Each sentence explored an aspect of  life inside the working environment: the need to adapt to a strict control system, the human desire to evade and dream, the pression of efficiency and the humour to be able to deal with all this.

The walls of Bernard Controls Beijing hosted a new subtle form of propaganda, the artistic propaganda for independent and creative thinking.

For more information on this project follow the link.

Other Projects


Ma Yongfeng is a Chinese artist, activist and initiator of Forget Art based in Beijing. Forget Art is an interventional organisation. It is a series of situation-based alternative tactics in self-institutional forms, it is often mistaken for a regular art collective, it could also be one collective light action almost did not happen, an agency of radical social mobilization, a series of unconventional interviews, an effort of saving amateurism, an art fair with just one booth, or to explore all possibilities of completeness, an indeliberate social media art experiment, or it is the evolution of social practice from micro-intervention to micro-practice, from micro-practice to micro-resistance. Ma Yongfeng’s projects are spatialised and materialised in the street, in public squares or galleries.


Ma Yongfeng   马永峰

[1] For more information on this project, please follow this link.
[2] For a video of this work, please follow this link.

17 十二月

Un atelier teatrale che si apre agli altri, alla moltiplicazione dell’individuo” esordisce così con un bel sorriso aperto e curioso la direttrice dello spazio teatrale dove si è svolto ieri un incontro molto interessante. “Spazi alternativi per l’arte tra Europa e Cina”: il tema è stimolante, la modalità altrettanto. La location è un suggestivo spazio teatrale dai fondali neri, ruvidi cordami, quasi gomene, fissano alle pareti le quinte, proiettori incombono sulla scena, due file di sedie si fronteggiano. Da un lato la parte cinese con l’organizzazione italiana, dall’altro il pubblico, noi. Fra i due, sul pavimento nero, risaltano i “cuscini rossi dell’avvicinamento”.

Rappresenta lo spazio del dialogo, della riflessione su come muoversi, in ambito rigorosamente urbano, con modalità indipendenti, diverse dalle politiche abituali. Lo spazio dell’alternativa e della sperimentazione sociale. Che ci faccio io qui in questo luogo tanto alternativo, mi son chiesta. Che ho io da spartire, io così inquadrata, con tanta innovazione? Nulla, a dire la verità! Mi ci han trascinata lì la curiosità per la commistione tra Europa, il mio agar culturale, e la Cina, oltre alla parola arte. Con mio grande stupore ho trovato questa discussione ed il confronto molto interessanti, ho toccato con mano un laboratorio di sperimentazione su come concepire la relazione e la dinamica sociale. Questo festival ha in agenda altre “novità” (almeno per me) come quella dei cosiddetti “beni comuni”. Alla base c’è l’idea di riflettere su modi per superare lo spossessamento dell’individuo e della socialità, effetto della dominante ideologia del consumo. Quanto sono intriganti questi ragazzi, mi sono detta, anche se ho provato l’imbarazzo nascosto di rappresentare un elefante.
Il tema trattato è quello dello spazio in Cina: spazio pubblico, spazio alternativo.

Gli interpreti cinesi, assolutamente alternativi, sono la signora You Mi, i sig.ri Mao Yongfang, Zhou Xiaohu, Ni Kun. Le zone di provenienza sono Pechino, Shanghai, Chongqing, la regione del Zhejiang.

Con l’aiuto della brava e paziente interprete Ornella, i protagonisti ci hanno fatto entrare nei loro spazi di sperimentazione. Si parte con Chongqing la megalopoli del Sichuan da 30 mln di abitanti, salita di recente alle cronache per le vicende dell’esautoramento di Bo Xilai e della moglie. Ni Kun dice che la città è un deserto culturale. Una parola forte ma bisogna conoscerla questa realtà cinese, in corsa senza ritegno dal socialismo-di-mercato al consumismo sfrenato.
A Chongqing questi ragazzi si sono costituiti nel collettivo Organ House ed hanno messo in piedi un Festival che ha il suo centro nella discussione, nel dialogo fatto di interviste alle persone comuni. Il dato comune di questi cinesi è l’identificazione dell’Arte con il dialogo, l’Arte ha un marcato carattere di socialità. Dialogare, scambiarsi idee, percepire le sensazioni altrui, sperimentare l’emozione del pensiero che esce dai confini dell’individuo e diventa relazione, cogliere quelle parole che tratteggiano l’impatto della trasformazione sulle vite umane: questo è Arte.

A Pechino un’esperienza analoga viene portata avanti da Ma Yongfang e dal suo collettivo Forget Art. Già il nome è un programma.

Racconta Ma che a Pechino gli spazi artistici sono troppi e Forget Art vuole focalizzarsi su spazi particolari. L’arte si trasforma in incontri di dialogo nei parchi, templi, fabbriche. Il collettivo conduce interviste ad esempio con il personale della fabbrica francese Bernard Controls, appena fuori la capitale, dove hanno condotto un laboratorio. Il collettivo interagisce con gli operai, con il management, con gli impiegati. Ci mostra alcune foto: ecco un’operaia che “pensa ad un raggio di sole fermatosi un attimo sulla propria pelle”. Questo frammento di pensiero si trasforma in una sorta di slogan, scandito all’interno dello stabilimento in grandi caratteri. In questo agire personalmente, avverto una linea di prosecuzione con l’uso dello slogan politico sul luogo di lavoro degli anni ‘60. Qui però lo slogan è sostituito dall’emozione che, nel momento in cui emerge, cozza con le logiche produttive. Per qualcuno della fabbrica “l’azione è prodotto” forse anche “il pensiero è prodotto”: questi caratteri campeggiano allora in un reparto. Anche un manager è intervistato e subito condensato nel suo “relationship is efficiency” mentre un’impiegata sorride sotto le parole “la comunicazione è un fiume”. Agli operai si è domandato anche di commentare le parole: “lealtà, esperienza, innovazione, relazione, dedizione”. L’operazione mi pare vicina ai processi usati nelle attività di team building aziendale. L’esperimento di Ma prosegue con giochi linguistici per cui “ invest in confidence” si trasforma “invest in contraddiction”. Nella fabbrica che produce strumenti di misura energetica, il gioco storpia la logica di “energy under control” nella provocazione di “sensibility under control”. Gli operai sorridono divertiti a questo esperimento.
intervista a Ma Yongfeng

Mi sono chiesta cosa direi io se potessi partecipare ad un laboratorio e venissi intervistata. Credo che vorrei sopratutto uno spazio non urbano.Il primo spossessamento è quello dalla terra, dalla naturalità. E’ un pezzo di mondo, è la prima relazione annullata dagli attuali processi produttivi. Non c’è più contatto col territorio.Territorio adesso significa solo sviluppo immobiliare, anche per la politica. I ns nonni che erano agricoltori  vivevano in simbiosi  curando e tutelando il territorio e da qui nasceva socialità. Questo dialogo vorrei recuperare. Poi vorrei recuperare la memoria. In particolare in Cina dove gli anziani sono una memoria storica in via di estinzione. Sono stati fagocitati dalla traformazione, bastonati dalla “privatizzazione”, perchè i vecchi non interessano nessuno. Vorrei creare un network per recuperare le loro storie e perchè no anche le nostre in Europa.

Quello che hanno illustrato i ragazzi cinesi a me pare una sperimentazione con “caratteristiche cinesi”, in primis per il grande rilievo della socialità, della relazione, dell’uso della parola, un sorta di “neo-confucianesimo high-tech”. Una signora del pubblico pone una domanda molto sensata circa l’esistenza o meno di un rapporto causa-effetto che leghi le caratteristiche della scrittura cinese alle modalità dell’arte cinese. Ornella, l’interprete, sorride quando risponde che il tema è centrale all’arte cinese. Poi forse avremmo gustato meglio l’incontro se qualcuno avesse infierito meno nel porre domande intraducibili in cinese, talmente cervellotiche che nemmeno io ho capito che cosa si volesse chiedere.

I ragazzi cinesi raccontano che non sono interessati alla politica tradizionale, non vogliono contrastarla. Vorrebbero che l’arte servisse a fare vivere meglio le persone. Lo scenario nella visione futura di Ma Yongfang è quello di una via alternativa, fuori del capitale, fuori del potere, fuori della politica. Per lui le società si svilupperanno in gruppi sociali, ovvero conglomerati di persone con interessi comuni (e non si può non pensare facebook) indipendentemente dalle forme statuali, dalle ideologie come comunismo, socialismo o capitalismo ..parole che per la gente non hanno più senso.

Per tutti questi ragazzi l’auspicio è per un futuro caratterizzato da reti di resistenza per sfuggire l’isolamento e la privatizzazione dell’essere. Qualche tempo fa la leader di un gruppo di poetesse aveva coniato la formula “resistenza creativa“. Queste parole pronunciate da uno spettatore mi hanno ancora una volta profondamente colpita, facendomi riflettere su una realtà assai evidente. Dall’altra il mio mondo lavorativo e professionale sono esattamente l’antitesi di questa promessa di futuro…ma il futuro lo facciamo noi.