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13 十月

It’s about the “Commons” – Witnessing Occupy Movements and Street Demonstrations in ItalyArticle written by Boliang Shen (Beijing-based curator and journalist at Artinfo China). The article has been translated from Chinese into English by Fang Liu in June 2012. The original article of this slightly edited version appeared in Artinfo China, on 25th May 2012.

The ‘Occupy’ movement is not a carnival-style entertainment”, but on May 12th, at the Piazza Verdi next to the University of Bologna, what I saw looked just like that: students wearing costumes of ancient Roman generals, medieval knights or pirates (“These where actually students from the local university’s fraternities, probably celebrating their graduation”, editor’s note) and holding placards with creative slogans addressing different social and political issues gathered at the square under the sun, they drank beer, engaged in animated talks… when dawn drew near, a truck carrying a rock band drove across the square, following behind was a long procession formed by groups of students, smoke of fireworks lighted to herald the procession gradually spread and seethed in this old, red city known for its tradition of radical resistance. The “Global Strike Day” march had just began –  “in the eyes of the Chinese, this is a spectacle, another disguise under the protection of capitalism”, said the artist Zhou Xiaohu who was with me.

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At the time, I and four other artists and curators (i.e., Ma Yongfeng, Ni Kun, You Mi and Zhouu Xiahou) were invited by European Alternatives, a European civil society organization, to participate in the art exchange in Rome and Bologna as part of the Transeuropa Festival co-hosted by the European Alternatives and the Transeuropa Network, which took place in 14 cities across Europe.

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From the eruption of the global financial crisis in ’08 and ’09 to the outbreaks of “Arab Spring” and “Occupy Wall Street”, all kinds of occupations, protests, mobilizations and radical politics have been acting like flames spreading everywhere. Nevertheless, we can only get to know one another through smoke and phantoms. “Is your art against capitalism?” “Is your art anti-modernism?” – These have been the looking-for-comrades type of questions that we often encountered. I asked about the connections between the current radical movements in Italy and the Italian communism tradition started by Antonio Gramsci and Palmiro Togliatti, the student and worker movements in the ’60s and late ‘70s, radical authors we are familiar with such as Pier Paolo Pasolini or Dario Fo, and even the left-wing extremist group “Red Brigades” in the ‘70s. The answers I got in general were: “There are maybe a certain loose connections, but those are not important, we were very young or not yet born then. What’s happening now is primarily influenced by global trends.”

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On the other hand, it is not like the “May Revolt” of ’68 in France, as many people have understood – “a group of young people growing up after the war revolted against a prosperous society”. Italy is experiencing a serious financial and social crisis. The young people I met showed anxiety over employment after graduation, and expressed concerns over tax hikes and high suicide rate in this city. According to a BBC report, there was a “White Widows March” in Bologna the weekend before we arrived, husbands of the women in the march killed themselves under the burden of deep recession, many were business men – that reminded me of a passage mentioned in the “Capital”, which has often been ignored: do not blame individual capitalists, they are victims of capitalism too. Reports of infectious suicides were all over the place. This March, a craftsman burned himself to death in front of the local tax court. Two days before we arrived, Maurizio Cevenini, a beloved left wing party leader and former mayoral candidate in Bologna, threw himself off a council building. His funeral was held on 12th May, the whole town was in grief. Ma Yongfeng’s “micro-resistance” event scheduled for that morning at a square near the city council was moved to the afternoon on the same day at Piazza Verdi next to the University of Bologna.

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Back in China, movements of “micro-interventions”, “micro-practices” and “micro-resistance” had been well received. Would the effect and meaning of “micro” become difficult to execute or express anything in the mighty context Bologna, where people have been so agitated? Continuing the pattern of creating graffiti on site in Bernard Controls, Ma wrote sentences on recycled cardboards, scrolls of fabrics, flags of Italy and EU, some were with indefinite indications such as “Sensibility is Under Control”, “Action is Product” and “You Can Steal ‘Now’, but Future is In Our Hands”, some were reflections on radical demonstrations – “Do Not Let the Protest Become a Pollutant-Free Ethical Gesture”, “Is It a Revolt without Revolution?” and so on. He also interacted with the students, asked them to write down their thoughts. However, in the deluge of slogans and graffiti of Bologna, could their words be noticed and understood as delicate and firm heterogeneity? After the brief exchanges, would the students deviate somewhat from the radical way of thinking they have been used to for the thoughts written down by themselves?

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Lorenzo Marsili, co-director of European Alternatives, asked what if someone from a radical group challenges him? Ma Yongfeng replied: “I’ll ask him to explain his point of view in one sentence, then I’ll write that sentence on a cardboard and give it to him in exchange of the placard he is holding.” That was an interesting idea, but, no one came forward to challenge, and each group kept to itself. There were some minorities who could hardly blend in stood by and watched. A Chinese friend who studies in University of Bologna said: “Protests and demonstrations happen here almost everyday, they have become a way for the people here to participate in public life, express opinions and positions, or legal channels for criticisms, just like us Chinese tweet our complains online…”.

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I had a long conversation about the issue with Sara Saleri, a member of European Alternatives, who has studied semiology with Umberto Eco. She thought that the student march we saw should not be deemed as a typical example of the entire “Occupy” protests and street demonstrations happening in Italy. Those young people were simply expressing themselves, they were anxious over the future, but had limited understanding of the substantial problems of the society. She admitted that street protest as a legal public means has a long tradition. However, she stressed that at about the time when the financial crisis started, street movements began to have whole new forms and claims.

“Commons”, “common goods” are terms mentioned often in the above movements, but they are relatively new concepts to Chinese readers. The easier examples are “Wikimedia Commons” and “Pirate Parties International” (PPI). The latter, first appeared in Sweden in 2006, started by opposing corporate copyright law’s restrictions on online downloads and hindrances of circulation of knowledge, and supporting legalization of online resource sharing. Later it grew bigger and expanded to many countries. Its claims have also been extended, by advocating openness and transparency of online information, government transparency and protection of civil rights, establishing a freer civilization and opposing outdated patent laws and monopoly. “Online governing” is another trait of the parties, they take advantage of online social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to allow party members exercise their rights, announce policies, collect opinions and eliminate hierarchy. Its political stance has thus been established. Last September, the Pirate Party in Germany took 9% of the vote in Berlin elections. It was allowed to enter Berlin Parliament for the first time in history. Some people consider that the inception of alternative governance model.

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It is necessary to mention that, one reason for “commons” to become a keyword is closely related to Elinor Olstrom’s brilliant research on the concept – which won her 2009 Nobel prize in economics. Her study rip the notion of the negative connotation derived from the well-known article “Tragedy of the Commons” by Garret Hardin in 1968. Also, I must mention the book “Commonwealth”, co-written by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, and “The Common in Revolt”, a collection of dialogues between Judith Revel and Antonio Negri. Both are important sources on “Commons” in Italy. This year, the Transeuropa Festival in Bologna held symposiums on issues of digital commons, co-working and co-housing, new chapter of European commons and immigration policies.

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In Rome, posters advocating water as a common good are often seen, the campaign started last year based on nationwide queries made by two legal scholars of International University College of Turin. According to the result, most Italian considered that water should be deemed as a common good and managed by the people, so they oppose privatization of water.  Shortly after, on June 14 2011, the famous theatre Teatro Valle, built in the 18th century and located along the Pantheon and the Senate, was occupied (Luigi Pirandello’s “Six Characters in Search of an Author” made its debut there). The theatre used to be managed by the ETI (Italian theatre association); then the ETI was closed and the theatre shot down due to high costs and decline of the industry. It was said that the theatre would be bought by a tycoon and converted into a restaurant. Therefore, workers of the arts and entertainment were mobilized through the internet to occupy the theatre, they claimed that culture is a common good, just like the water and the air, and the theatre shall be managed by the citizens. Now it has been almost one year now since the Teatro Valle was occupied, shows have been put on almost every night, performances are open to all citizens who pay as much as they wish. The occupiers and citizens ensure the quality of the performances through public assemblies – “We don’t need to vote, we listen to the reasons of those who say ‘No’.” The occupiers who accepted to be interviewed by me admitted that those were simply the first step of the occupation; they need to develop an alternative managing model of “common wealth theatre” in order to resolve financing and workers’ payment issues, and introduce the model to the government and citizens. For the time being, occupants still make their living from jobs outside of the theatre, they take turns to guard the theatre 24 hours a day, so the government wouldn’t have any chance to evict them – “the government does not even shut off the water and light, probably for fear of further intensifying the conflict…”. Similar occupations have erupted involving several other theatres in Rome and many cultural institutions across the country.

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In Rome, an audience asked about the current fever in China of building museums. Zhou Xiaohu replied frankly that “those are simply some art ‘houses’, and we do not benefit from them” – “But, I believe one day we will occupy those ‘houses’ as well.” Regarding the above-mentioned issue that whether the “alternative” art practices in China are part of the global “anti-capitalism” movement, Ma said that what is important in the world today is not movements with clear guiding ideology, but numerous “tenuous” movements that are organized voluntarily by the people.

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Afterwards I asked Sara Saleri and Gian Paolo Faella, PhD in History of Ideology at the University of Bologna, whether the movements of “commons” and “alternatives” are a direct revolt against capitalism, or just an improvement plan for the status quo. They admitted that opinions have been divided among participants, albeit those opinions derive from the desire for change. “Down with capitalism” is a political appeal belonging to a distant future. That is certainly too reserved in the eyes of a radical. Slavoj Žižek once said that if we try to improve capitalism inside the system, it would only extend the life of capital, the beast, and make modern states, “committees of administering common affairs of the entire capitalist class” even healthier. I also asked, if expanding the context of “commons” in which the backgrounds of members of co-governance and the circumstances are more complicated and diversified, will the model fail or end in disaster, like various communes or utopia in the past? Gian Paolo Faella considered it a very important question in the practice regarding “commons”, what resources could be “common wealth” shall be judged carefully – they shall be limited to resources on which the subsistence of all people rely and cultural resources shared by a community. To me, instead of establishing a country where everything is eventually a commons, the entire work regarding “commons” shall aim to the autonomy by the people on certain public resources, consequently make a government become a more idealized “limited government”.

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I am tired of asking questions that aim for “a clear direction” or “ the final goal”, which probably came from the habitual way of thinking imprinted on us by Leninism: a movement must have clear goals and plans designed by an authoritative figure or the highest commission, which would instruct the masses to strictly carry them out. Maybe we can bring up here the legacy of the German revolutionist Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin’s contemporary: contrary to Lenin’s favour of control and giving orders, Luxemburg emphasized the importance of disorder, noise and active, large-scale social events. She stressed the creativity and morale of each participant, deemed a revolution as “a complicated and organic process”, any division or intervention to the process would threaten the vitality of the organism as a whole – which are quite similar to “chaos” “complexity” and “self-organization”, concepts of modern science. Alexandra Kollontai, a Luxemburgist from the elite of the Soviet Bolshevik, also thought that to accomplish a revolution and create new forms of production is like riding on uncharted waters, therefore, action itself is superior then a blueprint or plans. She asked: “Can the smartest manager of a feudal estate invent early capitalism by himself?”. Similarly, without action, we should not expect the experts trained within the frameworks of capitalism and socialism be able to build a wonderful model for the future.

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(Special thanks to members of European Alternatives: Lorenzo Marsili, Luigi Galimberti Faussone, Sara Saleri, Gian Paolo Faella; occupiers of the Teatro Valle: Federica Giardini, Laura Verga, Emiliano Campagnola; James C. Scott, “Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed”; You Mi, Ni Kun, Ma Yongfeng, Zhou Xiaohu and his wife, Zhu He and Ou Ning who have helped me with the trip and this article.)


6 七月

di Gian Paolo Faella

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http://www.euroalter.com/IT/2012/seduti-sui-cuscini-tra-europa-e-cina/


Foto di Ruben Mir

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Due diversi tipi di curiosità sono protagonisti del dibattito che si svolge all’Atelier Sì, a Bologna, venerdì 11 maggio, sugli spazi dell’arte tra Europa e Cina, con la partecipazione di artisti e curatori italiani e cinesi. La curiosità ingenua del semplice incontro, forse non dissimile da quella che rese un giorno il Milione un best-seller, e una più ficcante e più avida, se non di risposte, di squarci sui grandi punti interrogativi che campeggiano in chi, specificamente, ha a cuore l’arte in un mondo che cambia. Un dibattito per pochi, sì, ma non per intimi, capace, cioè, di attrarre curiosi, intellettuali, forze vive della città che accoglie per alcuni giorni Ma Yongfeng, Ni Kun, You Mi, Zhou Xiaohu, Chen Xiaoying, Shen Boliang, nell’ambito delle iniziative del Transeuropa Festival.

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Così quando, con la benedizione della padrona di casa Fiorenza Menni, Luigi Galimberti pone agli artisti ospiti del Transeuropa Festival i suoi quesiti su quali siano in Cina gli spazi di produzione dell’arte, su come i curatori gestiscano lo spazio, sul rapporto che lì trapela tra pubblico e privato, si ha dapprima l’impressione di essere in un luogo di discussione per certi aspetti persino convenzionale, professionale, educato. Ma è il pubblico a irrompere: che cos’è lì l’arte, che cosa fate voi “artisti”, in sostanza? Così scopriamo che gli interlocutori del Sol Levante sono fondamentalmente degli intellettuali, anche se non è questa, forse, la parola a cui pensano. Ma Yongfeng va nelle fabbriche e propone il suo onirico piano industriale dipingendo dentro i capannoni e cantandole al bieco capitalismo a suon di vernice: Invest in contradiction. Scrive per chi lavora, raccontandone la quotidianità, proprio nei luoghi della sua fatica, della sua condanna, della sua resurrezione. Sensibility is under control, dipinge a caratteri cubitali in un deposito di materie prime o di semilavorati. Autocostituitosi autorità, cioè, ammonisce il padrone, il manager, il proprietario, facendo finta di parlare con quegli altri, gli operai: arte anche lì è soprattutto una grande finzione. Ni Kun, dal canto suo, costruisce un collettivo di artisti nelle campagne attorno a Chongqing, e lì intervista i contadini, proprio come un sociologo nell’Italia degli anni ’50. Lo scopo di queste attività non è di pubblicare – ci racconta – ma migliorare la vita delle persone. Un manierista, forse un alchimista, egli dunque non pubblica ciò che sa, anzi: egli conosce proprio perché non rende pubblico ciò che conosce. Questa è arte, signori: mostrare facendo.

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E ancora molte domande, e sullo sfondo naturalmente la politica, e il gusto, in fondo così europeo, di dare risposte più impertinenti delle domande stesse. Chi finanzia l’arte, in Cina? Non c’è bisogno di soldi per fare arte. Che differenze culturali ci sono nella concezione dell’arte tra Europa e Cina? Non ci sono differenze culturali, ci sono soprattutto differenze politiche, differenze di opinioni politiche; proprio per questo è positivo incontrarci, tuona You Mi, probabilmente la più realista del gruppo.

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E ancora, che cos’è un collettivo di artisti? Il collettivo è in Cina una pratica di resistenza come la intendiamo noi, con esperienze come Macao o il Teatro Valle? Sì e no. Forse, è difficile dirlo, il background è molto diverso. L’artista è principalmente un curatore.Certo, e se è per questo l’autore è come tale un editore, così come il politico è come tale principalmente un moderatore. La terra della Grande Moderazione, con i suoi lunghi, e soprattutto lenti fiumi, sembra volerci insegnare molto, ribattere colpo su colpo, e, senza alcuna difficoltà, stupirci.

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Abbiamo soprattutto progetti di lungo periodo. E perché? Perché le grandi trasformazioni che sta vivendo la Cina richiedono, per comprenderle, una immaginazione che guardi più avanti. C’è un rapporto – chiede ancora Elvira Vannini – tra le pratiche di ricerca alternative e il mercato dell’arte e, più in generale, con il sistema dell’arte? Non esiste un sistema dell’arte, in Cina, ma tanti micro-sistemi diversi.

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La Cina dunque non produce solo beni di consumo, e magari anche di bassa qualità, ma anche cultura, molta cultura, questo è il messaggio principale che ricaviamo dall’incontro. E per chi non lo sapesse, forse questa è già una notizia. Più che altro, nella giornata dell’11 maggio e non solo, prima ancora che produrre arte sembra produrre molta filosofia. Quella capacità, cioè, di dare risposte inaspettate, e di trasformare il mondo solo in quanto si osa prima tentare di comprenderlo. Gli spazi dell’arte, nelle parole che emergono più spesso, sembrano essere soprattutto spazi di riflessione, più che di lotta. Tuttavia appare estremamente difficile capire se ci sia una reale distinzione tra le due cose. Sia tra le città immense e caotiche, sia tra le infinite e povere campagne di quella terra che, paurosi, vorremmo ma spesso non riusciamo a conoscere, siamo portati a immaginare pochi, selezionati, spazi ampi per la civilizzazione e per il libero pensiero. Spazi per gli incontri, per offrire a chi passa solo per pochi giorni la propria verdura, per farsi consigliare un libro e rinforzare legami diversi dai semplici legami familiari e tradizionali. “Gli spazi dell’arte”, come li hanno chiamati gli organizzatori del singolare incontro. Forse, qui da noi, ci permetteremo di continuare a chiamarli anche spazi della politica. “Qui posso e non voglio, lì voglio e non posso, misero, manchevole, in entrambi i luoghi”, scriveva un tizio considerato molto europeo, se non che di fatto era africano, chiamato Agostino. Eppure noi europei, mai come oggi “miseri”, soprattutto di spirito, in Cina vogliamo e dobbiamo andare. Con la mente, con gli occhi, se non altro. Seduti su rossi cuscini dialoghiamo così per alcune ore, tra le corde che, attaccate ai muri, costituiscono la scenografia che più caratterizza quel teatro. Sotto quelle corde nessuna tensione, e soprattutto nessuna contrapposizione, ma solo il gusto perverso di riformulare le parole che riteniamo le più indicate a nominare le nostre passioni. L’appuntamento tra artisti e appassionati di arte, tra Europa e Cina, è per un prossimo incontro. Il dialogo – e non può che essere così – continua.


27 二月

TEXT: EDWARD SANDERSON / TRANSLATION: DU KEKE

from LEAP

http://leapleapleap.com/2010/12/alternative-spaces-alternative-strategies/

中文:http://www.mayongfeng.com/blog/read.php?270

Kan Xuan. LIght , 2009. Video installation. Arrow Factory

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A particular and much remarked upon characteristic of the Chinese art scene is the hyper-commercialized,gallery-based system. By and large an import from the West, the Chinese gallery system over the last ten years has swiftly matured, serving as an important point of connection between Chinese artists and the outside art worlds. For better or worse, the galleries and the commercial systems they embody dominate the Chinese art world, with the phenomenon of discrete art districts (such as Beijing’s 798 and Caochangdi, or Shanghai’s M50) developing as the most visible manifestation of a state-sponsored recognition of the economic and cultural power of contemporary art.

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However, this development has seemingly come at the expense of critical engagement and relevance to its greater social context. There is a great risk of failing to move beyond or advance due to this juggernaut of industrialized contemporary art. This situation seems to be a symptom of China as an active but juvenile participant in the international art scene: the development of a mature art system incorporating a productive sense of self-criticism has simply not had time to develop here.

Chen Xinpeng constructs a tent for the mobile exhibition Cou Huo

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And yet a number of artists and organizations have looked for ways out of this impasse. By consciously straddling the divisions between the art organization, artwork, and society, they play with the same concerns but push meanings and boundaries in unlikely directions. Given their positions of relative and flexible autonomy from the systems they are addressing, they are also able to critique without suffering fatal consequences. In a certain and very real respect, their capital is intellectual and social rather than financial, and if they are inclined to critique the gallery, museum, artist or society by playing out its roles, they are given more leeway in that respect.

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These “spaces”—although only some of them have a tangible, permanent space—are putting methodologies into place that are in dialogue with and in criticism of the existing systems. They are a set of people and organizations who are fully aware of how their activities sit in relation to the less critical sectors of the (Chinese) art world, and hence serve up work and actions that try to break through the issues and problems arising from such an art world and the larger society of which it is a part.

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Although suitable as a point of departure, “alternative” is a misnomer for these spaces. That word is commonly understood to be “in opposition,” but these artists and curators think of it as “in addition.” They are not trying to be “alternative” for the mere sake of difference, but to go beyond these things they find fault with, one of which may be the very concept of “alternative” itself.

Ma Yongfeng. A Gift to K.S., 2010 Glass, neon light, ballast resistor. 150 x 150 x 72 cm. Forget Art

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For instance, the use of this term is not necessarily about anti-commercialization per se, but more specifically in confrontation with the kind of uncritical commercialization of the current Chinese art world. These organizations are an “addition” to the forms of galleries that seem so inflexible: unable to deal with certain types of work, only allowing certain channels and forms of activity within their walls.

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A common tactic is for them to ostensibly position themselves outside the gallery system while maintaining a connection to it for their own purposes; dipping into and out of the various art structures as they see necessary. In many cases galleries, formal exhibitions, and traditional art structures are simply unnecessary to them. Not actively “anti-,” but happy to pick and choose moments of inclusion and exclusion wherever possible on their own terms. Their actions are often characterized by a sense of subtlety and invisibility as a way of countering overbearing systems and structures.

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Just to list a few examples: HomeShop brings shop-front practices to the hutong context and promotes social activities that occur near its location in a local neighborhood setting, thereby “crystallizing” events out of daily activities. The Donkey Institute of Contemporary Art brings the art context directly to a moving public, redefining it in a mobile format. Artist Chen Xinpeng’s tent for last year’s mobile “Cou Huo” exhibition organized by Red Box Studio also carries his activities to non-art areas, with structures to facilitate pop-up shows and spectacular practices, open to art and non-art activities. Ma Yongfeng and his “forget art” collective rework ideas of minimalism and conceptual practices, playfully confronting institutionalized art formats in China, including a recent exhibition in a bathhouse. And Emi Uemura opens up discussion in the specific context of China’s food and agricultural realities, taking on social concerns in the particular situation in which she finds herself.

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Talking to these artists and curators, recurring motifs are their practices as facilitators andplatforms for the art-making process—the suggestion being that these are difficult or impossible to find with existing institutions and methods. Behind these activities lies a looming feeling that art is now increasingly recognized and naturalized as a production system, on the same level as any other system of production, and not automatically privileged. They are wary of these systematic forces of commoditization and commercialization. They do not hold Art in such reverence as in the past, but take it rather as a domain to be only selectively employed.

Patty Chang. Touch Would, 2008. Video still. Arrow Factory

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These methods and practices are common in the international art historical context. They rehearse fundamental issues with the privileged position of art as seen in strands of Western art history. But where they transcend these is in the artists’ relationship to the specific conditions in China—they are original in this respect. In China, these positions are relatively new approaches to making art, and in this context new possibilities for the future of art are created, possibilities which will need to be addressed by these artists and their peers. These possibilities do not simply play into existing systems, and by their immateriality or impermanence act to gain space without production as such.

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The works can seem to be distancing, maintaining a relationship which does not fully subscribe to or get subsumed by any particular end. This idea (of the semi-formed action with no particular aim or expected conclusion, which has a political inflection simply in its avoidance of common forms of political activity) seems to be particularly appropriate in this situation defined by appearance. And, as has been seen in these practices elsewhere, it must be forever delayed in its path to production—its futility is potentially unending, though “delay” and “futility” are central to its potential for action.

A ChART Experiences Curious Art Tour


The spaces profiled in the following pages play a vital role in developing art systems with larger implications, starting at the level of localized production. The production of these “alternatives” addresses perceived problems or deficiencies in the system. Their existence is an important aspect in the critique of art and the critique of its dissemination. Experiments and new forms of presentation are important to provide depth and perspective to the art world and to take it away from an over-reliance on a limited and limiting way of dealing with art and the locations in which to experience it. What might be called a “healthy art ecosystem” supports these multiples avenues of experience, providing the checks and balances that prevent one section of the system from presenting a distorted vision of art and its value, as has become the case in the Chinese art scene.

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December 1st, 2010
Posted in 


20 八月

http://blog.escdotdot.com/2010/08/20/forget-art-interview-with-ma-yongfeng/

from i don’t know, Edward Sanderson’s blog

forget art_Interview with Ma Yongfeng PDF file download


forget art is a series of projects distinguished by their intangibility, influenced by Minimal and Conceptual practices. Although the group is fluid, Ma Yongfeng is perhaps the most visible organizer and I sat down with him recently to discuss what it meant to “forget art” and how their forthcoming show in a public bathroom in Caochangdi would manifest itself given their concern to leave no trace.


Edward Sanderson: Can you start by explaining what forget art is and what your role in it is?

MYF: Actually, I think I’ll begin with the term “alternative”, I think this term has a long history. Some people use “independent”, some use “alternative”, but whatever they use it is because they think the museum space and gallery space cannot satisfy a demand for interesting projects. So I started with this idea for the project, because I think it is time to choose another way.

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I got my original inspiration from the Arte Povera movement in Italy, Fluxus in Germany, and the American Minimal Art movement, all of which happened around the 1970s, as well as some artists from the Gutai Group in Japan. These are some very interesting works, some very interesting artists, they were very influential with me.

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ES: And Mono-ha?

MYF: Yes, Mono-ha, but before Mono-Ha there is the Gutai Group after the 50’s. They were doing what they called “mobile art”.

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Looking at recent events, I’ve I found a very interesting thing. Since the mid-90s contemporary art in the West has been booming in America and Europe, and I think this is connected with the rise of the Biennales. So since the 90s there has been a tendency for people to make these big works and big installations, and film and video projections. So everything becomes luxurious, and huge, and spectacular – people want to make wonderful and fantastic visual effects.

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But I think my starting points and influences are very interesting in this context, because Arte Povera comes out of the restrictions after World War Two. My approach also gets inspiration from Jerzy Grotowski’s “Poor Theatre” – it’s like people thought: “Oh, [art] has too many symbols, there’s too much decoration in theatre and art, so we need to delete something. We need to be poor, to use simple materials like stone, trees or iron, the basics, materials from everyday life to make interesting statements.

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For me it’s a cycle, like in the fashion industry, every twenty or thirty years fashions come and go, and if everything gets bigger and bigger, then at some point everything will collapse. As Lao Zi said, “So it is that some things are increased by being diminished, and others are diminished by being increased.”[1]

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Maybe the Millennium served for people to rethink their approach. I found many young artists in Beijing, Berlin and New York starting to make smaller works. These small works are not very high profile but part of their life and their soul, and not just to make objects but to make small, simple things, from your heart.

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So last year we introduced and shared ideas about Arte Povera, Fluxus and Conceptual Art, Minimal Art from the 70s, with some friends. I think they are still provocative, still very strong ideas.

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ES: Do you think it has a particularly strong effect in China?

MYF: Yes, they understand it totally. Because the young artists can accept anything and have no memory of revolution, they have no memory of the Cultural Revolution. Even I am not interested in any kind of work about revolution. I just care about my life because I was born after the 70s.

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ES: You think you’re typical?

MYF: Yes. But I think it’s not just about bringing the ideas over or copying them, it’s the mixture. You see these kind of works, you get inspiration from them, and you have your life experience and art practice – because you come from China maybe you have some additional input from local philosophy, for instance Mono-ha was a mixture of Minimal Art and Zen philosophy. So we have this kind of tradition, from Laozi and Zhuangzi, the most important thing is not just to read their books but to mix their ideas with some interesting forms, that’s what artists should do. That’s the artists’ work.

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ES: Talking generally, not just about forget art, but about Beijing and alternative practices. Is there a lot going on at the moment? Do you think Beijing is particularly active right now?

MYF: I think Beijing and Shanghai are still the most important places for the contemporary art scene in China. You know, in China we have a long history of philosophy. It’s a kind of utilitarian methodology, very realistic. Confucianism told you to have respect for your parents, and to study very hard to get an official post (or maybe you can use bribery or something!). It’s very realistic, I would say. I think that 90% of people are very realistic in this way and over the 2000 years since the Spring and Autumn periods, we also have had a lot of philosophers, this has been a real cultural blooming for China, much like in the West with the Roman period, Plato, etc.

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But after the 2000 years up to the Qing Dynasty, since then there has been a totalitarian way of thinking. So people here now have a kind of ideology that they all use the same kind of things to think about the world. We call it a “herd mentality”, we think like we are in the herd, we think we are all in one boat, we share the same ideas, and we can’t have independence and personal experience. You have to belong to the collective; you have got this collective memory, much like during the Cultural Revolution. But now people have more and more freedom, and the young people—especially the young artists who were born in the 1980’s—are more free in their thinking, and have more personal experience in their works. I think it’s a good start.

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And also another point, from 2006 until now there has been a lot of “blind speculation” amongst the art people here. They think: “Oh, it’s a good time for art and we have to push things to the peak, so we can get more money”. There are no real non-profit groups or organisations here, not really. In Beijing, there was Universal Studios [now Boers-Li Gallery], and Platform China, Long March Space. 5 years ago they would call themselves non-profit organisations – they were doing some alternative projects as a result. But after two or three years they became more and more commercial. And that’s the situation, that’s the phenomenon, a very common phenomenon [in China], because there are no systems of foundations or rich people creating contemporary art funds to support this kind of art scene. So most of the galleries, the non-profit organisations, can’t afford to carry on, and have to sell some works. Say they want to do video or new media shows, but they have to support themselves by selling artworks.

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And there are also some other things going on, like curators and writers setting up alternative spaces in China. Like the Arrow Factory – they use a street shop as a small space to do shows. I think it is very connected with local community – they need their context, and this is their concept. But I think it’s not really what the young artists want. I think we need things that are even more free. We don’t want any limits, sometimes we don’t even need a space. If you have got a space you have some limitations, and we don’t want that. You do get some interesting projects [in gallery spaces] but it’s still a very traditional way of working. I think that in the art world, people have to think about this, how to get rid of this burden. We think that normal life is art, but we try not to use that phrase, it’s a very old phrase – like the statement “trying to blur the boundary between art and life”. It’s such an old-fashioned sentiment. We just want life submerged into life, concept submerged into the concept. Things in things.

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ES: So they have a closer connection, or no division at all, you just try to bring them all together?

MYF: Yes. To give you an example, I think spitting here in China is very normal, so I spat in the street, but I have to wait for it to dry out – that’s a kind of responsibility I have taken. I have to wait for thirty-five minutes or so for when it becomes dry and then I leave. So I think people will ask “What’s the line between art and work?” We don’t call it “artwork”, we call it life itself. But we have to include that wait! Someone asked, why don’t you just piss in the street? [laughs] And wait for that to dry! But that’s too big for me! Because with forget art we try to do something like life itself – like normal things. People see what you are doing and they think, “oh, nothing happening!” Maybe the spitting is over in one second, but you have to spend 35 minutes waiting: one second and 35 minutes. You have to devote yourself, be responsible for this. Then people don’t say it’s a strange thing – because you are an artist it is expected that you do strange, weird, bizarre things, different from life – but we just want to be normal. We don’t transcend the forms of life, we use them as material, that’s all.

I know there are currently some artists in groups, like Company and some other new groups. They are totally different from the groups in the 80s like the New Measurement Group. The New Measurement Group is more like a group[2], they are doing something together. But now some artists initiate groups and they are very loosely connected. I mean sometimes they are doing something together, but sometimes they are doing very different work.

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ES: So there’s not a very distinct group or style?

MYF: Yes, there’s no “brand” like that. They can do group projects, but when one artist is doing a project individually they are working very differently, they have their own experience. So I think they are more open than the earlier groups. Sometimes they are doing projects but sometimes they are doing their works. That’s quite interesting.

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ES: What age group are they? Are they 90s generation? Are they very young?

MYF: 80s, most of them are born in the 80s. Like forget art, we are not really a “group”, this is our “orbit”. Maybe some artists enter into our orbit, to a point where we will do something together. Although it’s not a group or an organisation, sometimes I’m in charge of organisation – I’m the service man to do things! Because you have to have some people to manage, you can’t forget anything! That’s the issue, if you remember – do something about forget art! [laughs] And if you forget it, ok forget it! So that’s quite interesting.

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Because we’re not curators, or writers, or some art-world related people making an organisation. We are not doing something like Open House who rented a place and brought in video or set up an installation. I think this is still too much. Of course artists have different ideas but if I used that space then maybe there will be several artists doing something invisible and then we leave. So we want another option, not like a show or an alternative exhibition. I think in a gallery or a museum space you can do a show, that’s ok, everybody likes that. You add it to your CV, that’s good. But if we use another space, it’ll be in a “disastrous” way. But the disaster is not a criticism, we are very low profile, it’s another way of disaster, not a very visible disaster – not like an earthquake, but something from your heart. Say if you’ve separated from your girlfriend, maybe you will be heartbroken. Maybe you can’t see it, but it’s heartbroken. We don’t need a volcanic eruption, we need these heartbroken things, on the inside [laughs]. That’s the different way in which we think about the term “alternative”.

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ES: Do you see yourself as an organiser? A curator? How do you see yourself within forget art?

MYF: I’m basically an artist; I don’t see myself as a curator. Sometimes artists have a great concept about what they want to do, and the curator or the critic follows on from that. Or sometimes the curator is ahead of the artist. But most of the time they are about the theory and not about practice. But it is possible for artists to make works that combine the two.

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ES: How has forget art developed? Is it the same group of artists that you were talking to last year when you first mentioned the idea to me?

MYF: We are very open. I’m not going to use the word “organisation” because it’s not an organisation, so I call it an independent “orbit”. We have our independent activities. We are all different. Some people want to make artworks, some are maybe saying they don’t want to make artworks. I think we’re doing something different, but because the word “different” is so overused it’s difficult to use it.

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ES: Much like the word “alternative”?

MYF: Well we do use that word, but actually we’re not an alternative organisation because there are no real group members. Every time, we cooperate with different artists, we have no space to show in, we are doing things in any kind of space or location. I mean, sometimes we do things in the street – street intervention work, sometimes we are working in special spaces, like the public bathrooms we are using for the next show, maybe after that we do something in a museum space? If people ask, “how can you use a museum space?” we don’t say something like “oh, we’ll try to redefine the attributes of the original space” – we will actually try to keep these. For example, MOMA is a museum space. They show Andy Warhol there – for instance famous works like the Brillo Boxes. Maybe we’d doing something to “reverse” the Brillo Box, about the Brillo Box form but paint it white, so it looks like a very Minimal box. I’ll bring that box and put it in the MOMA space (but of course security will stop me). So we’re trying to use this action as a conversation, a dialogue, with Andy Warhol. But we’re not trying to resist Pop Art or consumerism, we’re not interested in anything about demonstration or resistance. We’re just like a filter, or transformer. We accept anything – Pop Art goes through our filter, and becomes Minimalism!

ES: You talk about “Urban Nomadic Tactics” on the forget art website, an idea of movement in your activity, which seems to be similar to a “guerrilla” attitude as you alluded to when you talked about the Brillo Boxes.

MYF: Yes, we’re not so much about setting up in one place. In society, there is a long history of nomadism and there are a lot of people living this kind of nomadic life in China, moving from one city to another. So people have this form of life. That’s also why we don’t need any space – because we “forget art”, why do we need any space to do this? You don’t need that, you can “forget art” in any kind of location!

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We are free. We are in a situation, or a time after time, and a space after space. We have time to do this. We don’t need space to show works, we don’t rely on the traditional institutional space – we should get rid of this kind of thing.

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And these are not “events”. We use terms like “situation”. An “object” is just this thing [indicates a cup], but if we draw a circle around it, it’s an expanded object, developed, and it becomes a situation. But we don’t want it to become bigger and bigger, we’re just in the middle, in-between. We want this kind of in-between situation – like the act of talking with people.

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ES: Right, there’s a piece where you are talking to someone, and then coming back again a year later to the same place.

MYF: Yes. Because that’s about my experience, but it’s also everybody’s experience.

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People have this kind of experience, but they forget it, so last year I made a piece about this kind of situation. It’s not a performance – it’s not meant to be very intentional, or pretentious, it’s just a talk in the street with a stranger. Because I know nothing about him I talk about something I’ve broken – where can I repair it? The conversation is about three minutes long, and I recorded it (although he doesn’t know that). After one year, I call and ask him: “Do you remember we had a conversation on this day last year?” He can’t remember, of course. I say, “OK, come here again and I will get you dinner.” So he is interested in the dinner and will come. I give him the words on a piece of paper and tell him we have to remember the event, we have to do something like a rehearsal (an idea from Poor Theatre), and then we do it very seriously! We speak it again at the same time, the same moment, in the same location.

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I think it is interesting because nobody cares about it, they think, “oh, it’s just two people talking in the street, it’s a very normal thing”, but I think the most important thing is that time has changed something.

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ES: On the website you talk about “sometimes you switch between art and non-art”? How do you see that working?

MYF: You know, we don’t want to stay in art, it’s a bit boring to do that. Those artists that want to make “good” works and attend the big Biennales, or some show in UCCA – that’s quite wearying! The people who set up the exhibitions like that are people who make big things, these big nothings. Now there are the Yes Men and Wild Boys doing some crazy things, and the young artists in China like them very much.

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ES: Do you think Chinese artists, Asian artists, are particularly interested in these sorts of things now?

MYF: Yes, some artists like the Shuang Fei group from Hangzhou, they are doing something like this.

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But forget art is not trying to do that. We want an aesthetic of the low profile, or the aesthetic of the “ignore us”. With forget art we are still in the context of art, but we need that contradiction, that confrontation – confrontation with the art world and the artworks. For example, once I brought a battery charger into a museum space. I found the walls there all hung with big paintings and I thought maybe I can do something with this situation? So I brought my video camera charger and put it amongst the art – and people didn’t notice it. After one week, people come back and the charger is still there – they don’t care about that, maybe they think it’s some staff working in that area. I think it’s kind of an ignorance—or it’s nothing—but I do think it’s connected to that space, although you can’t see it, there’s some energy in there, some transmission inside. Maybe it will consume several volts of electricity, but people won’t notice that.

I don’t think I had seen Ceal Floyer’s work before I made this work, but when I saw her till receipt, I thought it was so subtle and minimal and has this reference to Robert Ryman – I thought it was beautiful, very beautiful. But people who see the receipt at first can’t understand it fully, but it develops.

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ES: I know you also like Martin Creed. For instance his lights turned on and off, those kind of pieces that he does – really, really subtle, to the point of disappearing.

MYF: Yes, I like him very much. But you know, although it’s a Western artist’s work, from England, I think it’s referring to Eastern thought and philosophy, especially the Jingangjing (The Diamond Sutra) – a very famous Buddhist text. In this text the Buddha (the Buddhist sutra) talks about the Void and Emptiness, how you can feel the Void and Emptiness in everyday life. If you see this Void you won’t see anything, but just the name of this thing that you see. When you first read this book you may be confused – if you see it, actually you will not see it, it’s just the name that you see. There are a lot of conversations like that in the text. So – well it makes me very confused! This way to see the world, I think is an alternative way. Three thousand years ago there is this wisdom about the world, but people still don’t understand it today. So that’s an idea behind forget art, that all the artists will make something to deal with this kind of concept.

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In 2008 I was staying in Vermont on a residency with several other artists. The organisers wanted us to do some work for an open studio. Because the place where we stayed was very high in the mountains, there was a lot of snow. So I didn’t want to do any works I just want to play! But they say “Tomorrow we are going to have an open studio. What kind of thing are you doing?” I haven’t got any idea! But that pushed me to think about what I do. I want to play with snow, so why don’t I make some snow toilet paper? So I use a can and push some snow inside and make it very solid. After one night, the snow shrinks slightly and can drop out of the can and then I cut a hole through it. So it’s like a toilet paper roll, almost the same size. I put it on the table and when people come to see me, they ask “Well, where are your things?” “That’s it!” I say to them, “you can use it!” and they laugh! So I think that was clever and humorous – people liked it and that’s good, some kids liked it and that’s also good. I think with good works kids and old people like it.

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ES: And then this piece melts away eventually?

MYF: Yes, after four hours it melts, and becomes nothing, it becomes emptiness. So it’s a contrast between the inside and the outside. The snow and the form, and after several hours it will disappear.

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My point is I have to do something with nothing. I don’t want people to buy my things, because many things you can’t buy in life. Like love! I mean love needs time – to know a girl and have that feeling, maybe over one year, maybe two years. And you can’t buy that. Actually Capitalism tries to make everything become a commodity, that’s not acceptable to me, it’s unfair to the work. That’s also an idea behind forget art.

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ES: How do you see forget art developing? Will you carry on doing situations? Will you do more shows, like the one coming up? Or is it a thing which is very open?

MYF: Yes, it’s very open. We cooperate with different artists. Every time maybe we put a lot of energy into the intangible works, like the situations. The situation is intangible, like those of the artist Tino Sehgal, it’s just a situation. We can’t call it a performance, because a performance is a traditional work. ”Live work” is ok, but situation is better. It’s like a film still from a film, from cinema, of people talking or people doing something, or falling in love, or people doing an exhibition – this is all material for us.

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Because we try to “forget” art we use every detail of this institution – like curatorial practice, the art fair, art gallery, arts management. We can use everything as material to do something related to art, or unrelated to art. As an example, one of my friends is trying to see some show, a big show in a museum – he calls this the work. Every afternoon he goes there to see a big painting for two hours, and he says, “I’m doing the work to see the work”. That’s ok, I think it’s no problem. He did another work where he pays for three months of traditional Chinese music lessons, on the erhu. And then he performs in the gallery space for the visitors. That’s involving several layers of social experience. Yes, I think with these situation-based works, and you have to use a lot of time to do them.

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ES: You now have a situation, a show coming up. Why have you now chosen to somehow formalise forget art, to have a proper show?

MYF: I think if you want to do something new, it’s difficult, probably people have done that. But I think if we just make a new start it’s ok. A new start means we choose a place, in this case it’s a public bathroom in the village, not very clean or tidy, just a specific environment that’s perhaps not very popular, and we just use it for one day. We don’t try and change anything about this environment. We have six or seven different spaces, female rooms, male rooms. I told all the artists: don’t try to change anything about the space, just the details or some part of it, and do some small interventions. When the audience come into this place maybe they can’t see any works, we just want the public bathroom to still be the bathroom, we don’t want to change a lot. We think if you want to do that, use a gallery space, use a museum, you can do fantastic things! You can use projections, you can do big installations. But here, we don’t want to change anything. We just use very small ideas to change something inside and people may not notice at all! That’s our motivation.

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ES: So the changes may look completely normal? But there’s still changes taking place?

MYF: Right now, I can’t say that 100% of the things are like that, but I think if we have 70% or 80% it will be ok, because everything is not so progressed yet. You also have to compromise with the artists. With some artists you have to have a long talk with them, to help them get the theme.

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ES: So, who are these artists?

MYF: Most of them are young artists, born after the 80’s, very young, very active and very dynamic – they have many good ideas. They want to try the new things and new forms, new ideas. Sometimes they really surprise you. So I like to cooperate with them.

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ES: And when is the show?

MYF: September 6.

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Ma Yongfeng was interviewed by Edward Sanderson (CPU:PRO) at the The Cave Café, 798 Art District, Beijing, on 29 July 2010. Interview edited by Edward Sanderson.

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[1] From Chapter 42, Tao Te Ching of Lao Zi.

[2] Xin Kedu 1989–95


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