Edward Sanderson | forget art

Tag: Edward Sanderson

25 八月
by An Xiao on August 24, 2012
from HYPERALLERGIC
“I want to feel the sun on my skin,” a slogan artist Ma Yongfeng pulled from conversations with workers at Bernard Controls Beijing.

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LOS ANGELES — The image of the Chinese manufacturing plant is quickly becoming a 21st century icon of production, just as the car plants of Fordism were in the 20th century and Victorian coal mines were during the Industrial Revolution. They’re frequently portrayed as sites of high efficiency, but rarely as spaces for art, humanity and wonder.

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In 2010, Beijing-based Italian artist Alessandro Rolandi staged a series of interventions in a Beijing factory run by Frenchman Guillaume Bernard. These well-received interventions have now become a curated series of invitationals to local artists.

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“After several intense and spontaneous conversations about the nature of work, capitalism, human development, corporate structure, radical art, future and creativity,” Rolandi explained over email. “I designed a program that invites every two months one artist/designer/architect/musician to intervene in the factory in a subtle but radical way to stimulate discussion, raise questions and confront the reality of work with a different angle, straight on the field, without any mediation.”

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Determined that should be predominantly experimental in nature, Rolandi still drew a strong connection to his goal of tying the work to labor: “We invented a definition using enterprise language to give legitimacy to the project and make it understandable (at least its general nature) to people working in companies,” he noted. And so the name of the project was born: Social Sensibility R&D Program, situated at Bernard Controls Asia.

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The work has become embedded in the, well, work of the factory. Take Ma Yongfeng‘s series of spray painted slogans. “The owner now uses his sentence sprayed on the wall ‘INVEST IN CONTRADICTION’ as the first thing to be discussed in  job-interviews with new employees,” Rolandi points out. “Workers and managers had mixed feelings about the tags and felt all in need to discuss them.”

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The stencils themselves are re-interpretations of Chinese propaganda, lifted from conversations with workers and reflective of the strict systems of control.

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Rolandi also noted the effort of Lulu Li to provide ambient music for workers. “Even in Europe in most factories, listening to music is now forbidden for various reasons, from safety to concentration, and here we tried with these small devices and rhytmic compositions from classical to experimental to noise (avoiding words, as they are proved to affect concentration),” he says. After a series of negotiations with floor managers, Li and Rolandi agreed to only play music on Fridays, at least for the moment.

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There’s a tension to the idea that the artists, at the behest of top brass, can move around freely and explore interventions, while the workers themselves must remain in optimal flow under the strict rules enforced and determined by the very same management. The artists of the Social Sensibility R&D Program are not oblivious to this.

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“Our interventions must be conceived in order to interact with the physicality of the area and with the conceptual codification of the signs and of the different working sections,” Rolandi said. “Timing is also very important as precise schedules define the rhythm and the flows. ”

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Beijing-based art critic Edward Sanderson, who visited the plant, had this to say about the space in a terrific review in Artslant:

This particular factory is unlike the cliché of a Chinese factory: you won’t find thousands of workers performing mundane and repetitive tasks over long conveyor belts in an airless hanger. This factory is relatively small, with about a hundred staff, of whom only twenty to thirty actually work on assembling the product. The work areas are also relatively discrete in terms of their interior design. Rolandi says it’s not an environment where you feel you have no way out, where everything is under surveillance. But at the same time, “No matter how you look at it, it’s still a factory.”

Sanderson goes on to explore Rolandi’s own initiation into the workers’ lives by undergoing the training procedures and entering the world of high-efficiency production, as well as some of the questions he wrestled with. It calls to mind some of the work done by Cao Fei with factory workers in southern China, where the majority of the manufacturing sector is concentrated. Her PRD Anti-Heroes and Whose Utopia project looked at types of similar work.

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Unlike Sanderson, I’ve not seen the interventions in person, so I can’t comment on their merits per se. But seeing the videos and speaking with the artists, I find that what makes Social Sensibility interesting is Rolandi’s choice to invite artists to stage interventions in two-month phases. The in and out of the artists over time reflects the rhythms of factory life, and the diversity of perspectives allows for a certain freshness to each intervention.

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The turnover of the creative people,” said Rolandi, “is designed to provide a constant tension around the next new ‘intruder’, his proposal and the way it will be received and dealt with, and prevent habit and comfort to settle in.”

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The Social Sensibility R&D Program is an ongoing project at Bernard Controls Beijing (A2-1, Lidaxing Industrial Zone, No.15, Fourth JingHai Road, Economic & Technological Development Area, Beijing).



6 十二月

from ArtSlant  http://www.artslant.com/cn/articles/show/28905

by Edward Sanderson
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Not Only A Taoist Troublemaker! was a short-lived exhibition occupying a leaf-strewn room in a small arts space attached to a bar. A bar with a vegetable market behind; sharing a building that housed a screw factory during the Cultural Revolution. A screw factory built inside a Taoist temple, replacing the site’s original Buddhist temple. This overlapping of every kind of ideology provided an ideal backdrop for the six artists’ work in this show curated by forget art.

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forget art is an organisation created by artist Ma Yongfeng, about whose “guerrilla” tactics I have written once before on ArtSlant. It has become well-known for the ironic nature of its exhibitions, interventions, and projects. These activities are keenly self-aware of their contexts, and never take themselves too seriously.

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Prior to the opening of this new show, Ma Yongfeng had already laid the conceptual and experiential groundwork by initiating a series of “naked” interviews with the artists and academics. Ma’s aims seem to be, on the one hand, to provide a forum for the sort of serious discussion that he feels is lacking in the art environment in China. On the other, by performing au naturel he is pushing the situation out of kilter. The participants’ exposure may lead to a more open discussion – at the very least it places the speakers in a new, less comfortable position.

Ma Yongfeng12:35pm, Fallen leaves on the floor, 2011; Courtesy Edward Sanderson

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This was also his reasoning behind collecting twenty bags of autumn leaves from a forest in Beijing’s outskirts and transporting them into the gallery. This literal groundwork had the benefit of pulling the whole space together with its softness underfoot and the earthy smell that it brought to the space. Ma explained to me that this was beyond simply an intervention – it was an effort to create an atmosphere or even some kind of aura.

Hu XiaoxiaoBaptism, Wash cloth, vegetables, pins, 2011; Courtesy Edward Sanderson

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Picking up on this, Liang Ban’s carved radishes rested on an open window-sill and Hu Xiaoxiao’s failed (in a good way) image made of vegetable matter hung in place of honour against a plush red velvet curtain at the back a small stage. The radishes were clumsily carved with figures, as if these were nascent within the vegetables, awaiting their revelation; and the backdrop hung where a Buddha figure or Christian cross would normally be situated, spot-lit on the raised stage, at the focal point of the room. Counteracting any particular readings, a smartly-dressed woman hired by artist Lu Zhengyuan performed as an unreliable guide to the show, providing background to the works with guesswork and rumours, creating an atmosphere of misunderstandings for her audience.

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Hanging above the stage, Alessandro Rolandi’s red propaganda banner announced, “MAY YOUR MATTERS BE SAFE.” This statement is typical of the ambiguous situations in his work, subtly raising its issues with reality. These words overlooked and seemed to ironically relate to Wu Yuren’s large rock suspended from the ancient rafters. For the opening, Wu stood under this 200lb stone, forcing himself to remain in this precarious position. While perhaps not long enough to privilege this activity as “durational,” he was stationary long enough for a call of nature to be performed amongst the leaves – I have to recognise this as (some sort of) commitment to the (in)activity. In discussion with the curator and audience, he finished the piece by removing his clothes and standing naked under his stone – disrobing again appearing as a means of expression with its parallels to the online response to Ai Weiwei’s charges of pornography (although Ma Yongfeng’s original naked interviews antedated this particular meme).

Performance by Wu Yuren, Work by Ma YongfengNot Only A Taoist Troublemaker! installation view; Courtesy Edward Sanderson

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I don’t want to sound dismissive of Wu Yuren’s activity, however, as it had a deeper rationale than its surface appearance might suggest. In 2010 Wu was jailed for ten months under questionable circumstances and since his release has intermittently been called in for “a cup of tea” by the authorities (as questioning is euphemistically referred to). This serious and continual pressure on him is expressed through this work.

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Whether that makes it a “good” work, I am not sure; my immediate reaction was that I did not like it, even with the background, feeling it was too literal and unsubtle. But I have to respect the fact that it reflects Wu Yuren’s being on the blunt end of the system, and that aspects of his situation are more common than one might expect. He has more right than most to comment on this experience, and of course I do not know what it is like to live through his experience or what it is like to be under this continual pressure. The activity was all done in seemingly good spirits – one way to deal with such serious matters, perhaps.

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This attitude was reflected in the original Chinese title of the show, “不是吃素的” or “not a vegetarian,” a euphemism for not being a push-over, which the curator described as presenting “a very simple, radical attitude.” The English title refers to the Bohemian reputation of Taoists, saying that this show is not “only” about that, in a typically open move.

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Although it is obvious I had many reservations about this show, maybe because of those reservations I still felt this was a powerful exhibition that did manage to create a strong impression on me due to at least in part to its scattershot nature.


16 六月

by Edward Sanderson

from ArtSlant http://www.artslant.com/cn/articles/show/23823

Alibi

Group Exhibition

Linda Gallery Beijing

No.2 Jiu XianQiao Road, 798 Art District, ChaoYang District, 100015 Beijing, China
2011 June 04 – 2011 July 03

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“Alibi,” the title in English of this group show at Linda Gallery in Beijing’s 798 Art District, seems so much more evocative than the Chinese title (不在场), which the essay by curator Wang Yifei translates as “Being Absent.” Although the adherence to the title seems a little weak at times, this show presents artists working with an absence of some sort. That being a very broad subject, the results take many forms and directions and overall the show brings together an interesting selection of works with some standout pieces.

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Unsurprisingly, given where we are, the curator’s text does not delve too far into any of the contemporary social realities of “being absent,” describing it in general terms as “like a conspiracy, an escape or a way of self-liberation.” To me this places the focus more on an individual’s agency in the matter and less on absence as a result of outside circumstances. The text also proposes that: “In the contemporary art field nowadays, many artists have established their independent and mature styles of expression without any limit to the subject material.” This statement seems somewhat disingenuous. The show opened on a particularly significant day, a fact that some of the exhibiting artists were obviously well aware of, but would have been unwise to attempt to deal with directly. But there is little point dwelling on such matters, as they simply reflect the facts of working in this environment, to which I recognise I am equally beholden as I can only obliquely refer to their meaning.

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Stretching across the entrance to the gallery, a long tree branch attached to the wall by a spring forces visitors to divert around or push it aside to make their entry. This piece by Yang Xinguang abstracts an experience of hiking through woods, pushing aside branches to make your way, suggesting for the curator the activity of escape from one place to another. As simple as it is, the piece has a strong effect in its evocation of the thoughtless gesture of moving through an environment far from the controlled environment of the gallery space.

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Wrapping around the main wall in front of this, Liu Ren’s Searching for a sense of security is a series of thin shelves carrying around 4,000 empty eggshells, inside each of which is handwritten vocabulary from the artist’s attempts to learn English. This mass of shells arranged in their rows are overwhelming in serial nature, their combined fragility, and the sheer amount of potential learning held on their inside surface. The shells hold their information so tentatively in the emptied casings that there is always the possibility of breakage and the loss of meaning.

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Perhaps the most literal demonstration of “Being Absent” is Li Wei’s painted outlines of bodies on the floor – as if evidence of some mass killing. Painted in mustard-coloured oil paint just prior to the opening, these took several hours to dry, with the outlines becoming increasingly vague and disturbed by the steps of the visitors. Li commented that this process reflected the fact that there are certain events for which the evidence may disappear, but the memory will not.

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In amongst all this an additional structure has been built, mimicking the booths that appear in art fairs around the world. This serves as the setting for Ma Yongfeng’s forget art fair that takes place within the gallery for the duration of the show. Ma is known for his critical and irreverent approach to art institutions and in this case he has followed the conventions of the international art fair circuit and created his own distinct sales space, acting as a show within “Alibi.” His curated show within a curated show perhaps marks the presence in their absence of curators themselves, hovering over their shows while attempting not to overshadow them (a delicate balancing act which only the best pull off).

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Works inside Ma’s “fair” include the minimal white canvases of Huang Jia, who adds ridges of stitching to their featureless painted surfaces; Alessandro Rolandi’s unassuming bamboo cane made from polished stainless steel leans up against the corner of the space; and a nice work by Yang Jian of an old armchair supporting a semi-circular section of LED signage. This sign displays a continuous moving text announcing: “… Huang Lei, male, wants to leave – Chen Xiaoxia, female, wants to leave…” etc. For me this piece presented the most appropriate, sensitive and poetic response to the theme of the show. This scrolling sign arches above the absent human form in the armchair, announcing the rather sad and impotent longings of many people to simply – leave.


31 五月

from ArtSlant,Posted by ArtSlant Team on 29-05

http://www.artslant.com/cn/articles/show/23594


forget art is a loose artist collective, based in Beijing, and initiated in 2009 by Chinese artist Ma Yongfeng. They focus on intervention-based work, often with a touch of the absurd, promoting small-scale, subtle disturbances in the fabric of society, which they describe as their “social micro-practice.”

As they work by and large outside of recognised gallery spaces, the creation and value of social space has become an important material for forget art. This keys into the long history of nomadism, with particular attention to the local experience in China and its mass population of migrant workers, as well as the international development of the itinerant white-collar worker. So in forget art’s “situations” ambivalence towards the fixed location comes through, feeding into their approach to production and presentation, and their feeling that sometimes it is necessary to “forget” in order to proceed. As Ma quips “That’s also why we don’t need any space – because we ‘forget art,’ why do we need any space to do this?!”


forget art made its first appearance at the Dragon Fountain Bathhouse in September of last year, with a group show inserting a collection of minimal works into a temporarily détourned bathhouse in Beijing’s Caochangdi Art Village.
The works appeared as small situations expanding on the idea of an artwork, but always with a standpoint somewhere between the object and the situation. The light touches of the pieces infused the rooms without overly asserting their presence or nature, with male and female areas open to all for a few hours only. At the time Ma explained to me that, “An ‘object’ is just this thing [indicating 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.”



This sensibility has laid the groundwork for forget art’s Guerrilla Living Syndrome (created by Ma Yongfeng, Yang Xinguang and Wu Xiaojun) that began last month. Guerrilla Living Syndrome will be a series of projects continuing to attend to these subtle displacements of spatial and social constructions but applying to wider forms of subject matter. As the name suggests, all the sub-projects will build up to a renegotiation of our social relations based on lived space.

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A starting point for this new project is the effect of the Hukou system on life in China. A Hukou is a residence permit, which gives you rights in the area it applies to. While not preventing you from moving around, as it did in the past, a Hukou makes things like healthcare more convenient in its area; treatment for serious health issues can only be received in your Hukou.

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Although certainly not as draconian as it used to be, the Hukou system represents a strong tie to a “home” area. The psychological and practical issues of accommodation outside of your area become an issue, so the first Guerrilla Living Syndrome project, Youth Apartment Exchange Project (YAEP), picks up on the issues of nomadism seen in the previous projects while providing practical accommodation possibilities for the participants. As Ma says: “People move many times in their lives, and there are also a lot of temporary spaces in the city – Starbucks, hotels, restaurants. We want all spaces to become temporary.”


On a practical level YAEP takes the form of a social website that allows participants to find others who want to exchange residences, and then to share the experience and stories behind the exchange back on the site. The site is not just for apartment swapping though — anything can be shared through this open barter system forget art have constructed.


One effect of this new system is to bring people together, promoting social interaction through exchange. Ma worries about the contemporary tendency of people to live their lives online, weakening real world social bonds. As Japan has its otaku, China has its zhainan (宅男) and shengnu (剩女), recognised as potential problems for the development of society. YAEP addresses this by providing an arena for real-world socialisation through the exchange format, in what Ma characterises as “from Facebook to face-to-face.”


When I put it to Ma that in practice exchanging apartments would perhaps not be easy for many people, he was pragmatic about the issues involved, and also pointed out the part traditional Confucian family values will play on participation. These emphasise your family as your top priority while those outside of it are seen as less important or trustworthy. This background will make exchange with strangers difficult for many people, so to begin with, the project will bring existing friends together to exchange with each other.


These social barriers are what this project seeks to address with its interventions, which forget art see as a route to adjusting society as a whole: “Chinese civil society is not like Western civil society. [Chinese society] can be very cold and selfish… We want to make our projects the starting point to let people accept their value as a citizen, to care about strangers, to care about society, about social responsibility. This is not an art project: it’s a social thing.”



Reflecting the nomadic ways of life, YAEP represents alternative living practices, and although Ma recognises this is “a very utopian way of thinking about society in the future,” nevertheless he feels that taking a lesson from art practice can provide new possibilities in the wider field:

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“In the art world we talk about alternative strategies, but we can expand this to everyday life. In the traditional Beijing hutongs we have shared toilets in every alley; it’s more sociable (but maybe less convenient). But modern life says that having a toilet in your house is the only acceptable value, but that way of thinking is very much like what Marcuse addresses in ‘One-Dimensional Man.’ We want this society to have many different values of living, not just one.”

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Appropriately, this is a long-term project for forget art which they see lasting ten years (or more), and the results very much depend on circumstances; Ma is happy to leave that aspect of the project open:“China has a very sophisticated society, so the results of this are really unknown.”


Starting from the minimal roots of the Dragon Fountain Bathhouse project, Guerrilla Living Syndrome shows that the approach of forget art will always be subtle but with grand aspirations: “We want to make a very small change – to find that critical point, where we can try and get some more interesting things to appear.”


– Edward Sanderson

(*Images: Kevin Cyr, Camper Bike, 2008.  Han Wuzhou, Sofa Cart, 2011. Courtesy of the artists and forget art.)


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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