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26 三月

Posted by 03/03/2014

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

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

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

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

Invest in Contradiction

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

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

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

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

For more information on this project follow the link.

Other Projects

Profile

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

Contact

Ma Yongfeng   马永峰
www.mayongfeng.com
myfstudio(at)gmail(dot)com

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


21 四月

In a detailed description of the show “Virtual Voices: Approaching Social Media and Art” in Vancouver, Jennifer Hall writes about the works of Chinese artists Remon Wang, Ge Fei, Lin Zhen, Zhang Lehua, and Lu Yang. She also introduces the age of social media art and the censored internet environment of China it has stemmed from, in hopes of a strong beginning for this progressive and important new art form.

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“Virtual Voices: Approaching Social Media and Art” explores issues associated with the expansion and censorship of social media in modern life in China. The resulting collection of works is a heady cocktail of artistic stealth and political subterfuge.

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The messages of most of the art works in “Virtual Voices” are restrained, perhaps a little too subtle for audiences in Vancouver to grasp given the cultural context of the art — the exception being Remon Wang’s political cartoons. His colourful, eye-catching, comedic digital illustrations poke fun at official government responses to corrupt individuals, environmental issues and family tragedies.

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Wang’s works are openly critical of authority and as a result, can only be viewed online. An official, public exhibition would be virtually impossible, therefore, social media (via his Weibo accounts until they are found and blocked by censors) is his prime channel of distribution.

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But, does Wang’s work constitute “social media art”?

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The broad definition of social media art (SMA) is evolving, but generally it is accepted that SMA includes some online audience involvement and the development of social relationships. For example, an artist initiates a concept, launches it onto a social media platform and then tracks and documents the progress of the online responses.

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In an article published in Yishu’s May/June issue, An Xiao Mina, an American new media artist who has worked in China, in conversation with “Virtual Voices” curator Diana Freundl, noted that “social media art has a different character in China” (p.102) and that few Chinese artists and institutions have embraced the inclusion of audience participation in their art practice.

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One of the exhibited art works that fits the above definition of SMA is the Youth Apartment Exchange Program, a project by the Beijing-based collective, Forget Art. Using Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter), participants can arrange to temporarily swap homes. Online, then offline, relationships are developed and the participants are then asked to document their experiences online.

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This project quietly comments on the strict controls that regulate where Chinese citizens can live. Unfortunately, documentation of the participants’ virtual voices is missing. Snippets of online conversations (translated into English) and analysis (the dissent, the boredom, the disgust, the distrust and the delight) would draw the non-participating gallery visitor into a deeper understanding of the uniqueness of Chinese contemporary life and art.

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Ge Fei and Lin Zhen’s project involved commissioning a band to create several songs which they later distributed copyright-free via Chinese online music sharing platforms. While in Vancouver, the artists used similar platforms and social media (including Twitter, Facebook and other blogs banned in China) to share their music with online and offline audiences. But again the documentation of the interactive relationships was limited — making the social media event less accessible for non-participating observers.

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More text was needed to outline the social outcome of the online art event. Future exhibitions of SMA may require the art world to soften its reluctance to document and interpret art with words. If there is a reason to include more text on the walls of the white cube, it is the need for additional commentary about Chinese social media art — especially if the work is being viewed by Western audiences.

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Zhang Lehua addresses the reality of social media in China with a satirical commentary “Facebook Art Demo,” a video about the production of an official government-sanctioned Facebook.

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The instructor demonstrates how to create a Facebook page, starting with the slow application of lipstick. While reciting the text of a poem, he bends and kisses a page of a traditional folding scroll. Then, he elegantly brushes ink around the lipstick in a wide circle — in lonely isolation, he repeats the kiss and brushwork on each consecutive page. The end result is a bound, not wired or wireless, book of faceless faces. At its surface the video is hilarious but the inner message points at the continuing pressures on Chinese netizens to maintain anonymity.

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Also commenting on social media rather than using it as a medium, Lu Yang’s work, which includes skeletons hooked up with cyber wires, is also about power and control. Ironically, her work questions the potential advances of artificial intelligence and the worrying outcome if humans lose control of Web 3.0; technological advances that go beyond the clever applications of social media. Instead of directly criticizing the way in which humans try to control each other, Lu’s work comments of the worrying outcome if artificial intelligence is left unchecked to self-evolve and take control of humanity.

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This brave exhibition is one of the first of its kind; it breaks new ground and also establishes an important base-line of artistic responses by Chinese artists to social media, and ultimately China’s current censorship issues. A similar exhibition in five years will be an extraordinary witness of political progress (hopefully).

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Virtual Voices: Approaching Social Media and Art in China,” group exhibition.

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Charles H. Scott Gallery (Emily Carr University of Art and Design, 1399 Johnston Street, Vancouver, BC, Canada). June 6 – July 8, 2012.


24 十月

For this week’s guest editorial, Carlyn Aguilar offers her take on street art in Beijing, China, as a first-generation Mexican-American who grew up on the east side of Los Angeles. After living abroad for 10 years in London, Paris, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Mexico City, Aguilar realized that L.A. was where she wanted to be more than anywhere else.

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She is currently a correspondent on Geoff Tuck’s blog Notes On Looking. Carlyn received her BA in English from UCLA and her MA in Postmodernism: Literature and Contemporary Culture from the University of London. She also holds a postgraduate diploma from the London School of Journalism.

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Right before leaving for China, several things were in my mind. First, the hearing of the mural ordinance had been postponed, so I witnessed the frustration of Los Angeles artists. Second, I went on a walking tour of the Arts District with the MCLA, led by Isabel Rojas-Williams, and couldn’t believe that all of those incredible murals were made illegally. I also didn’t realize how many international artists had come to L.A. to make murals here. That discovery made me realize how important L.A. is, not just in the world of contemporary art we find in galleries and museums, but also in the street.

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I had seen Chinese artist Ma Yongfeng’s work years ago at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and so I was excited to meet him and learn more about his work in Beijing. Fortunately, I was able to attend the opening of a group show he was in at the Iberia Center for Contemporary Art in Asia’s biggest art district, 798 Art Zone.

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Yongfeng first came to international attention with his video “The Swirl” in 2002, in which six koi fish are literally swirled around a washing machine for an entire 15-minute wash cycle. And when the water begins to drain, I can’t help but hold my breath. It’s a tense and powerful piece, which makes a strong statement about China and the Chinese.

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However, Yongfeng told me that his work has completely changed since then. For example, in 2009 Yongfeng started Forget Art, an independent organization of ongoing projects that radically play with institutions and events (such as exhibitions, art fairs, and street performances) and become social interventions in daily life. His work now deals with the social realities that surround him in China.

Sensibility is Under Control (2012) by Ma Yongfeng  I Courtesy of the Artist

Sensibility is Under Control (2012) by Ma Yongfeng I Courtesy of the Artist

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His piece in the exhibition “Bernard Controls Project” (2012) is a large spray painted stenciled graffiti on recycled cardboard that reads “SENSIBILITY IS UNDER CONTROL”. The piece comes from a project that Beijing-based Italian artist Alessandro Rolandi started, in which he invites artists to “stage interventions” for a two month period at Bernard Controls Asia.

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Yongfeng’s statement was randomly generated from talks between the artist and employees. The signs are meant to be a reflection of the working environment and the strict procedures the workers abide by. The stenciled messages seem to act as a reinterpretation of Mao’s propaganda from industrial and revolutionary times that would be painted on factory walls for workers to see.

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But rather than brain washing, Yongfeng’s subtle graffiti raises questions and creates creative thinking about the environment the employees are in. “People should start with low-level resistance by doing minor things that engage people around them,” explained Yongfeng.

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When we walked around Caochangdi, Beijing’s up-and-coming art district nearby 798 Art Zone, Yongfeng took me to where he had tagged the walls in the area: “Sensibility is Under Control”, “Action is Thinking” and “No Compromise”. All three had already been painted over, yet the messages were still clear — if not clearer.

Ma Yongfeng with 'Sensibility is Under Control' painted over | Photo by Daniel Lara

Ma Yongfeng with ‘Sensibility is Under Control’ painted over | Photo by Daniel Lara

'No Compromise' by Ma Yongfeng painted over I Photo by Daniel Lara

‘No Compromise’ by Ma Yongfeng painted over I Photo by Daniel Lara

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Yongfeng admires the work of China’s most famous dissident artist Ai Weiwei, who also lives in Caochangdi. As we walked down the street to Ai Weiwei’s house and studio, surveillance cameras filmed our every move. This didn’t bother Yongfeng, as he has learned to push the limit and fight against the rules and regulations that hold back citizens from freedom of expression.

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Unfortunately, what I found in Yongfeng’s work I could not find elsewhere in China’s art scene. I noticed that most of the artworks were not challenging and hardly oppositional. But I also understood that the artists who dare speak their minds against the government are also putting themselves at risk.

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We can all remember that in 2011 Ai Weiwei was taken by the police and detained for three months. Nobody knew where he was or what was happening to him. Earlier that year the international community also saw him beaten and threatened after he created “Name List of Student Earthquake Victims Found by the Citizen Investigation” in 2008. Just by creating a list of the names of children who had died in the Sichuan earthquake and making it into public artworks and installations, the Chinese government decided to crackdown on his every action.

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As I walked around looking for street art, I couldn’t really find it, unless it was something commissioned. The walls near 798 Art Zone seemed artificial and an imitation of the West.

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But as I hiked the Great Wall I did find some graffiti that spoke out against the government. I asked my Chinese friend why someone hadn’t painted over it. She said that because we were in such a remote part of the Wall the officials probably hadn’t even seen it.

Wall surrounding 798 Art Zone | Photo by Daniel Lara

Wall surrounding 798 Art Zone | Photo by Daniel Lara
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When I got back to L.A. I couldn’t help but think about the effects the mural moratorium had on our city. But I also noticed that artists were taking huge risks and still making murals illegally in the last ten years. I can’t help but reflect back to the 1930s when David Alfaro Siqueiros, exiled from Mexico, dared to paint his opposition to Western imperialism on a wall in Olvera Street. In the center, there is an image of an indigenous man hanging from a cross with an American eagle peering down. In the corner, two revolutionaries aim their rifles at the national bird. City authorities immediately covered the mural and within a year whitewashed the infamous mural “América Tropical: Oppressed and Destroyed by Imperialism.” In Jesus Treviño’s documentary from 1971, Siqueiros explained, “América Tropical was a land of natives, of Indians, Creoles, of African-American men, all of the invariably persecuted and harassed by their respective governments.”

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Now we see the tables have turned, and Siqueiros’ mural has been unveiled after conservation funded by the Getty and the City. A few days later the end of the mural moratorium began. Let’s hope that the same will happen in China and that works by these dissident artists will also one day be resurrected. The Chicana in me is optimistic.

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–Carlyn Aguilar