李勇政与庸现对话

English

 

 严肃的游戏–从安迪∙ 沃霍尔谈起

                         庸现对话李勇政

    

庸现:游戏规则决定了什么是艺术,什么不是。解读权即话语权。目前为止,历史上只有极少的人才能改变艺术规则。安迪∙ 沃霍尔则是极少数的例外。20世纪60年代以前,艺术的本质是它的不可重复性和首创性。而沃霍尔却把照片和实物印刷出来,专门重复大家所熟悉的人和物。此外,他还把以前被艺术和艺术家唾弃的消费与时尚纳入新的艺术游戏规。然而,复制在他这里已经不是通常意义的重复, 而是艺术的新载体。沃霍尔首创“复制本身代替原创”的新艺术游戏。

 

李勇政:我相信人是系统的产物,如同黑客帝国里面的程序,艺术家就是告诉尼奥是人的墨菲斯,是系统控制下的异类。沃霍尔出现的时代,正是之前的系统崩溃的时候,那些游离在旧时代的病毒,正浩浩荡荡的成为主流,于是,新的游戏规则开始了。那时代出了很多这样的人,沃霍尔有明星气质,又善于搞事,媒体需要喧嚣,快门就基本对着他。

 

庸现:没错,如果时间差错几年, 无论是提前或滞后几年的话,情形就会完全两样。几年前,德国很多美术馆都做过纪念他的25周年的大型展览。目前对他的评价,似乎批评大过赞美。可能是消费主义时代的高峰已经过去,各种激进的艺术手法已经不再像当代那样具有震撼性。沃霍尔因此也不再像几十年前那样新鲜有趣。文艺大报 《时代周刊》批评他是一位原始意义上缺乏任何能力的艺术家:既不会写,也不会画。严格的来说,他也不算是艺术家。但是他提供了一种新的“观看”方式,而“观看“本身却是理解艺术的出发点。

 

李勇政:我不太同意这种的批评,对于艺术家定义过于正统。沃霍尔很敏感,二次世界大战后,再去谈一劳永逸的真理或永恒宗教,那些不可知,难以把握,只归于个人而难以言说清楚的理想,在奥斯维辛后没有现实的出路。至于现在,彰显某种形式主义或许更能应对当下现实的困境。当复制变得人人都能上手,那么无法复制的东西就自然变得重要起来。所谓的新游戏,实际上不完全真是新的,当下稀缺的就是珍贵的,一个老的东西,今天没有了,它可能就变成一个新的东西。沃霍尔太重要了,已至过于泛滥,所以需要去遗忘他。

 

庸现:是的,所谓的“新”是相对的,它和时代的语境紧密相关。这个“相对论”在建筑艺术上表现得特别明显。十九世纪末,德国不少建筑风格主要是以模仿希腊,罗马为主,即所谓的新古典主义。20世纪二十年代,简略实用的包豪斯设计让看腻了“仿古”建筑的人们耳目一新。这种具有强烈现代感的建筑风格是对新古典主义的一次彻底的反动,引起了建筑界的美学革命。时过境迁,二十世纪七十年代后,当包豪斯作为廉价快速的建筑形式从美国到中国全面占领世界建筑市场时,所谓的“新古典主义”建筑又突然变得清新悦目。其原因也就是你说的“稀缺原理”。

 

李勇政:中国历来就不是一个能持久的提供稀缺性的国家,专制的特点就是控制,害怕一丁点的失控,不论是从形式上还是精神上。中国历史上的艺术更多是个人情绪的安慰,从来不是新思想的源泉,不提供稀缺性,没有病毒。当下,互联网带来一些可能性,这是过去从来没有过的工具,所以你在微信、微博上面能看到一些质朴的,天然生长的语言文字,这些人呈现出的创想能力,是60年来前所未有的。与他们相比,反而众多的艺术家们墨守成规,视野狭窄,远离复杂的社会,不善于接受与掌握新工具,做的事情很多与当代艺术所提倡的的创造精神没有任何关系。

 

庸现:你2013年创作的作品《送给你》是否提示这样的问题,知识分子要警惕对权利的媚俗,特别是这个权利曾经还代表过反权威的弱势。当受压迫者变成主流权力的时候,就要和他们保持距离。我认为,这件作品非常有意思,与month python 蟒蛇派(英国黑色幽默代表)相似。《新华日报》在二十世纪四十年代的政治诉求是要求民主,不搞一党专制,可以说是当时中国的希望。观众可以随意带着重印的报纸行为本身就是一个时空错位,不可思议的行为。戏剧性的是报纸上的言论在现实中是被禁止的,它出于一个以前在野,现在执政的同一个政党。报纸,印刷机作为行为装置的戏剧性和荒诞性第一眼似乎并不明显:印刷拷贝一些几十年前的旧报纸,完全没有蟒蛇派的那种虚张声势与咄咄逼人。但是,即经过短暂思考,“新”《新华日报》的荒诞性在不动声色、“平常”外表下就显现出来:一个曾经反对强权的力量为何变成强权的代言人?权力和真理之间是怎样的一种关系?

 

李勇政:在很多时间里,我们无力做出判断,在其中的人容易被华丽的辞藻与坚定的承诺所迷惑,况且,你所面对是一个内部结构极度神秘的组织,或许一定得经历过苦难,回朔到起点,才可能总结出经验。我们抛开“新华日报”在40年代出版这些言论的机会主义与其他阴谋论的动机不谈,就这样曾经大肆宣扬的理论,在当下成为“敏感词”的现实,呈现这些话语,本生就有某种“证词”的意味。其实,所有反对强权的力量都可能成为强权,权力只有在相互制衡中才可能趋于善意。权力从来就不在真理的范畴,真理是权力制造出来控制大众的幻觉。所以,对于艺术家来讲,什么东西铺天盖地的过来,这东西就可能是你反对的对象,这中间并不需要多的道德和理性判断。

 

庸现:你在实施《传递一块砖》这件作品中,是不是“微信、微博上面能看到的一些质朴的,天然生长的语言文字,这些人呈现出勇气和创想能力”的现实版?这是一个跨界多媒体互动作品,我可以说是一种游走在虚拟与现实的社会Flashmob(快闪族) 行为艺术。快闪族总是以出其不意的的方式,成为一种抗争的艺术,比如占领华尔街行动,则是他们最有代表性的作品。反抗者经常是以共同的标志来统一身份,比如戴上橙色头巾出现在公共场所。你作品的共同的身份标志则是有象征意义的一块砖,“传递一块砖”不呈现在现实的公共空间,不被媒体和路人所见,但它却秘密地在大众之中“公开”传播,是社会的,公开的,但是同时又“公众”看不见的活动。

 

李勇政:你提到的Flashmob(快闪族),让我想起上世纪70年代在纽约出现的涂鸦运动,波德里亚解读为“ 没有目标、没有意识形态、没有内容的符号层面上的野蛮文化过程就是涂鸦运动针对系统和秩序进攻所凸显的政治意义。”其实,在中国,进攻与反抗这些语词虚弱而夸张。当下面对的问题日趋严峻,而且所有的问题往往会归集到政治层面,那是一块铁板,无边无际,显示着绝对的力量,这就是所谓的“核心问题’。互联网,可能是中国唯一可以称得上“公共领域”的地方,将一个问题还原真相,进行深入的讨论,相对自由的发表言论等等都是在改变我们过去言说问题的方式,我相信,一个个不断小的升级,终才能得到不同于过去的结果,要建设一个新的系统,首先得清洗旧系统在我们自己身下播下种子。“传递一快砖”只是开始了一个起点,在传递的四年多时间里,我是一个记录者,每一个接砖的人,都在按照他自己的方式来处理这件事,我不能预示任何结局,这比较有趣。

 

庸现: 没错。 渐进(Evolution) 也许比激进(Revolution) 更好, 更符合“可持续发展”的理念。 同时,一切事物都与文化和时代的具体语境有关,当然,除了中西文化与政治体制差异以外,还有时代差异。比如说博伊斯。他的“社会雕塑”与“人人都是艺术家”的艺术理念,曾经充满了革命性和先锋性。但他的很多说法在现在的语境下却太像口号,显得苍白而空洞。在西方,当代艺术似乎比以前任何时代更加时髦,更加具有激进色彩,但事实上,不少艺术家只不过是虚张声势而已。新保守主义笼罩着艺术界。现在各地到处都充斥着美术馆,艺术品受银行企业界的青睐,成为炫耀的工具。艺术成了“大众娱乐”,变成世俗化社会的宗教。但是正因为如此,艺术的特征却被毁了。艺术的价值存在于它的被否定,被争论以及其对未知新世界的渴望。而这些所有的不和谐,都被西方现代的资本主义艺术体制消解和接纳了。这个意义上,艺术在中国可能更加生猛,充满活力,而且作用也比西方更大。

 

李勇政:资本有消费一切的能力,所以艺术家的愤世嫉俗才有用武之地。更多的新艺术出现在不是过去所能理解的艺术圈的范畴,我们的艺术理论家与策展人或许还看不到他过去没有看到过的东西。比如,很难定义你提到的Flashmob(快闪族),乔布斯、google、UBER等等是不是艺术。是的,中国是特殊的地方,好像问题越大,解决问题的方法才会引起注目,况且,我们是真实的生活于此。但是,我认为不要夸大中国当代艺术对于现实的价值,在这点上我是悲观的,当代艺术在中国就像漂浮在大海上的孤岛,与大众的生活很难联系起来,中国几乎所有官方控制主流场所,展出的作品,陈腐不堪,多数人感受艺术的方式30年来没有什么太大的变化,中国人喜欢讲什么70后,80后,90后等等,其实精神上都在同时代,在久远的过去。

 

庸现:我们由于经历了很长时间的“社会主义”意识形态,对于所有自诩为“左派”的标签非常敏感和反感。 “左”“右”定位在欧美比较复杂,当前的政治生态(比如川普的保护主义)使这个概念就更加不确定。右派一般来说以本国,本民族的利益为中心,比较民粹主义,并且强调自由竞争;左派则主张国际主义,维护社会弱势利益。在中国,“左”“右”有些颠倒,“左派”也搞民族主义, 也搞市场经济……

 

李勇政:是的,在中国标榜自己是右派,至少在知识分子层面要理直气壮,不仅是右派在过去遭受苦难让人同情,更是右派所倡导的对个人自由,民主宪政等等的追求显得更符合潮流。让人不安的是,中国或许没有什么真正的左派与右派群体,更多是基于利益上的考虑,是一种生存策略,价值观在这里往往是用来言说的,而不是行动的指南。上世纪以来由于欧洲左派知识分子的偏执,对促进社会公平正义有重要的作用,而这种结果是建立一个各种声音都能发出的民主社会里。如果,将这样言论直接挪移到中国来,为一些中国所谓的“左派”言行找理由,而无视当下我们所面对的问题和具体语境,那就成为了体制的帮凶。

 

庸现:20世纪上半叶世界范围内的左派运动在60年代末70年代初达到高潮。1989年柏林墙的倒塌,90年代初东欧社会主义集团的解散宣布了历史的终结 (福山语)。 福山曾在九十年代预言:自由多元文化的资本主义是世界发展的大趋势。世界各地不同区域都将逐渐演变成宽容的自由资本主义文化。25年过去了,事实上,世界并没有完全向福山的方向发展。2007年开始的金融危机引起了对资本主义的再次质疑。占领华尔街等运动使“已经”过时的马克思主义获得新生。欧盟内部,各个反欧盟的右翼运动不断出现。希腊危机,特别是近两年的难民危机和反恐,使国家民族为主导的右派思想重新抬头。目前的法国国民阵线党,德国的选择党,美国的总统候选人川普都被大众社会广泛接受。60/70 年代,左派是社会激进改革的代表,是先锋,是前卫。80年代后,自由主义左派逐渐成为社会的主流,68年学运领袖成为大学教授,掌握了社会文化政治的主流话语权。现在西方正兴起一种“寻求身份认可” (identitär)的右派运动。这次的所谓“前卫”不是来自左派,而是来自右翼。目前,左派作为主流正在变成新的所谓的“保守”势力,受到质疑。福山本人最近在柏林接受《时代》周刊采访时说,“民主不能给人带来身份认同,人们仍然焦虑“。看来历史还没有终结, 正在继续下去。

 

李勇政:我对欧洲现状不怎么了解,此在的公平在另外地方可能带来的是不公平,选择总是针对具体的地点和时间而言的,对于政治来说博弈与妥协是重要的,但是对于个体来讲,观点需要明确,做出一个自己认为OK决定就好。我对福山的预言充满信心,不是说建立了自由民主的社会制度,就解决了所有问题,社会问题永远是此消彼长的。不论是占领华尔街、马克思主义的新生,还是保守主义的抬头,不正是说明这个制度还在不断的更新与流动着,这样的制度相对专制体制来讲,是一个高级的版本,也是中国与西方所面对“核心问题”不一样的原因,大家不在一个版本上。当下中国很多人还有现代主义的情结,他们迷信这个世界有一种根本的解决方案,我们可能在某些地方也会深陷其中。

 

庸现:每个时代,不同的社会有着自身最当下问题,是的,没有一蹴而就的良药,没有根本的解决方案。如果真有一个放之四海皆准的真理和美学原则的话,那么艺术的存在就无价值。当然,对“根本方案“的向往也是人之常情,浪漫主义的原则是永远靠近心中的神明,永远保持距离。里尔克的诗集《祈祷书》就是一个明知上帝已死,对它的向往却依旧强烈的典型例子。艺术是意象也是臆想,超越现实维度使它接近宗教。

 

李勇政:对“根本方案“的向往,好像是人类一种普遍的病症,对无常的焦虑,对死亡的不可知等等,都使人渴望能明确的抓住什么。但是经验告诉我们,这里没有一劳永逸的办法,所有对世界的进一步认识,都在提示我们的有限与无知。关注现实,走向社会,在我看来,是当代艺术家们唯一可做的事情,没有什么比具体事件中滋生问题更真实,意义都是从具体的人与人交往中产生内容。

 

庸现: 在艺术与资本,权利联手的今天,高调谈艺术理想显得苍白无力。 2015年的威尼斯双年展就凌厉尽致地展现了当下艺术机制的矛盾与荒诞。总策展人奥奎·恩威佐让马克思成为此次双年展最为耀眼的明星艺术家:在专门设置的大厅里,人们一段又一段不停朗诵马克思的《资本论》,控诉资本对艺术市场的炒作。同时,策展人又为已经商业上成功的格奥尔格·巴泽利茨和Andreas Gursky等国际名家提供更大的平台来抬高其艺术市场的价值,并心安理得地接受掌控全球艺术市场大腕David Zwirner等人的经济赞助。策展人用摄影等艺术形式来控诉对工人阶级的剥削。然而,当人们问及那些为大艺术家制作艺术品工人的工资情况时,得到的回答是每小时10欧,没有社会保险。马克思是威尼斯双年展的招牌与门面。在艺术操作的具体层面上,他却变得丝毫不重要。这种理论和实际的反差不能不说是极大的讽刺……

 

李勇政:68学运是左派的运动的高潮,也是形而上学的最后的回光返照。KK在新书“必然”中说,“乌托邦中没有问题烦恼,因此乌托邦没有机会存在。每一种乌托邦的构想,都存在使自我崩溃的严重瑕疵。” 马克思注定是左派的招牌与工具,即使现在已经面目全非,也舍不得丢弃,是因为他们缺乏创造力找到一顶新的帽子。没有必要太在乎双年展,它只是市场机制一部分,是新思想转换为一种被社会接纳的游戏范式一部分,它必然是滞后的。社会的活力决定了它转换速度与锐度,当一个个展览普遍陈腐的时候,往往也预示这个社会失去了活力,也失去了创造、发现与接纳新思想,新方式的能力。

 

庸现:所有的理论似乎都指向过去,艺术行为首先得发生,正在发生的事是没有规则的,发生后人们可以去总结归纳,然后再赋予理论性。像语言一样。语法是什么?它是约定俗成自然形成后,语言学家总结的规律称为语法。人是不会按照主语、动语、宾语的语法结构学说话的,否则便本末倒置。你对于未来的艺术的怎么看?

 

李勇政:是的,更多的时候大家去归纳一些正在发生的事情,以便符合过去的知识与经验,让自己心安理得,减少焦虑,这样做其实已经远离正在发生变化的事实了。经验总体来讲是趋利避害的,艺术的决定往往相反。对于未来,我想,艺术圈与职业艺术家都将不会存在,未来的艺术家一定是产生在率先掌握新工具那些人中间,更多的人像艺术家一样思考与创造,艺术精神会成为他们生活的一部分,“人人都是艺术家”这个概念才会重新充盈起来。

 

庸现:马克·吐温曾说:“幽默的内在根源不是欢乐,而是悲哀;天堂里是没有幽默的。”此外,艺术是游戏,也许是严肃的游戏,但它毕竟是游戏。感觉你的作品非常严肃而充满哲理,你个人是如何看待艺术的游戏性呢?

 

李勇政:我不太懂幽默,马克吐温这段话,我觉得挺冷的。不是刚才说过,艺术必然是稀缺的吗?当多数人愿意沉溺在表面、煽情的故事中,严肃的正剧可能就是开始的一场新游戏。

 

2016/4/12

庸现:独立策展人,艺术评论家,德国艺术交流协会I O Cultural Network e. V.主席

 

A Very Serious Game—Beginning With Andy Warhol

—A Dialogue Between Juan Xu and Li Yongzheng

 

Juan Xu (J X): It’s the rules of the game that determine what art is and isn’t, and the right to decipher these rules go hand in hand with being able to talk about them. In these times, very few people are equipped to change these rules. In addition to these very few, Andy Warhol was a case all on his own. Before the 1960s, an artwork was essentially expected to be an original creation. Warhol, however, got into reproducing photos and other works, intentionally copying everyday objects and images of famous people. He appropriated consumerism and fashion, things that the art world in general had always disdained, making new rules for the game. He turned the copy into a new vehicle for artistic expression. Andy Warhol was the first to play this new art game where reproductions “displaced the original”.

 

Li Yongzheng (LYZ): I believe that people are products of a system, like in the Matrix. The artist is like Neo, told by Morpheus that he was an anomaly in the system. Warhol appeared at a time when the system was collapsing, and those anomalies that acted like viruses in the old system stepped right up to become the new mainstream. That’s when the rules of the game changed. There were a lot of people like Warhol in his time, but he got famous because he was good at what he did and did a lot of it. Media fixated on him, cameras flashed wherever he went.

 

 (J X): Exactly, if it had only been a few years before or after, things would have been a lot different. A few years ago, German museums all over were doing large-scale Warhol 25 year retrospectives. Now there’s almost universal approval of Warhol. Maybe consumerism has already peaked, but progressive art techniques don’t pack the same punch anymore. Even Warhol doesn’t seem as great as he used to. In its arts critique, Die Zeit criticized him as having, in reality, no talent at all—he couldn’t write, he couldn’t paint. Strictly speaking, he wasn’t an artist. He just gave us a new way of “seeing” things, and “seeing” art is a point of departure.

 

 (LYZ): I don’t agree with this critique. It’s much too formal a notion of ‘artist’. Warhol is a tricky topic. After WWII, it was unspeakable to talk about some absolute truth or eternal religious righteousness. Truth was hard to get a handle on. One could only fall back on oneself. Ideals were hard to talk about, like after Auschwitz, nothing was realistically feasible. These days we have to come up with some form or way to deal with difficulties and issues at hand. Now that copying and reproduction are something everyone’s equipped to do, the original that can’t be replicated is highly valued. This so-called new game isn’t really new at all. What’s rare is what’s in demand, and something old and hard to obtain is what’s new. Warhol is incredibly important, in fact too much so. We’re inundated with him, so perhaps it’s time to move on.

 

 (JX): Right, “new” is such a relative term now, having more to do with discourse and context. This “relativity” is especially apparent in architecture. At the end of the nineteenth century, a great deal of German architecture appropriated Greek and Roman elements, so-called neo-classicism. In the nineteen-twenties, Bauhaus minimalism was a breath of fresh air for people burnt out on “faux classic” architecture. So this type of hyper-modern architecture was an extreme response to classicism, one that started a revolution in “architecture. So then time moves on, and after the 1970s, after Bauhaus’ cheap and quick building spread from America to China to take over most of the architectural world, so-called “neo-classical” architecture began to appeal to people once again. It’s just as you say, having to do with the “principle of scarcity”.

 

 (LYZ): China’s never been a country into scarcities. It’s about authoritarian control, afraid of losing even the tiniest bit of control, whether in form or spirit. The history of Chinese art is more a solace for one’s mood, never really being a fount of new thought, not providing “scarcity”, there is no “virus” in the system. At the moment, you see some possibility on the internet, and that being said, it’s the first tool of its kind. So on Wechat and Weibo you can find some plain-speak, some naturally arising expression and language, put forth by people are innovative and creative. This is the first time we’re seeing this in sixty years. And in comparison, our society is full of artists bound by convention, with narrow frames of reference, who avoid complexity, and fail to grasp these new tools. Their creative activities have little to do with a truly creative contemporary art.

 

(JX): Your 2013 work, Send For You was about this, right? About how intellectuals have to tip-toe around commercial imperatives of power, especially those put forth by agencies who used to be the underdogs? When those who were once oppressed rise into power, you have to keep your distance. I think this is a really interesting piece, a lot like something Monty Python (exemplary of British black (dark) humor) would do. In the 1940’s Xinhua Daily gave voice to the governing body’s call for democracy, to do away with a single party government. You could say that was what China wanted at that time. In your piece, people could casually walk around with one of your copies of that newspaper. It was a kind of spatial-temporal displacement, an unimaginable action. What was really farcical about it was that the contents of those pages are forbidden today in China, although they were produced by the very party, at that time the opposition, who are in power today. The performative and installation aspects of the newspaper and printing machine are not apparent at first. It doesn’t have the farcical or over-bearing air of a Monty Python skit, but if you think about it all, the “New” (Translator’s note: “Xin” in “Xinhua” translates as “New”) in the title of the newspaper is absurd and totally revealing. A force which once opposed those in power becomes the very power it opposed. What is the relationship between power and truth?

 

(LYZ): It’s hard to tell a lot of the time, there are people involved who’ve been won over by fancy rhetoric and led about by promises. Also, what you’re dealing with is an organization the internal structure of which is highly secretive. Perhaps you have to pass through all the trials and difficulty, trace things back to their very beginnings. Only then can you gain an overall sense of what’s transpired. We’ve discarded the opinions and opportunism laid out in Xinhua Daily in the 1940’s, never mind the conspiracies or what they had in mind, all the theories and so forth. These things have all become what we know today as “sensitive topics”. The discourses in these pages give off a “testimonial” air. Really, every force that butts up against strong power and authority has the potential to become that very power and authority. It’s only when authority has a system of checks and balances in place that it can tend towards goodness. Power has never existed within the realm of truth. Truth is just some sort of illusion manufactured by those in power to control the masses. As far as the artist is concerned, this whole reality is omnipresent. You may object to it, but it doesn’t take a lot of virtue or reason to see what’s really going on.

 

(JX): In your artwork Brick Relay, would you say that on “Wechat and Weibo online you can see some of this plain-speak, some of these naturally arising utterances and writings put out there by the brave and imaginative”? This is a multi-media interactive piece that I’d say hovers between virtual and real societies, a “flash mob” performance artwork. Flash mobs always catch us off guard, becoming a kind of resistance art, like Occupy Wallstreet, which is a perfect example. Those resisting often use a common symbol to form a common identity, like they’ll all wear an orange scarf when appearing in a public space. This kind of symbol in your artwork is a brick. Brick Relay doesn’t appear in an actual public square, it’s never covered by the media or seen by the public, but it’s secret lies in a crowd of people “publicly” disseminating it. It’s social, it’s public, but the masses don’t see its movements.

 

 (LYZ): You mention flash mobs, and this makes me think of the graffiti movement in 1970’s New York, what Baudrillard explains as “without a target, ideology, or semiotic level of content, the graffiti movement is just a primitive cultural process assaulting the system, attacking the ruling order’s clear and obvious political sensibilities.” Actually, in China, these words like “assault” and “resistance” are weak and exaggerated. The problem at hand becomes more and more serious, and all questions end up in the political arena. It’s like one big hot plate that extends limitlessly in every direction, exerting absolute power, and this is the “core issue”. In China, the internet is the only real “public domain”, where you can get to the core of a question, discuss something thoroughly. It’s a relatively free arena in which to express one’s views, and this is changing the manner in which we talk about issues. I believe that every little upgrade will result ultimately in something very different than before. If we want to establish a different system, we first have to find and root out all the seeds sewn into us by the old system. Brick Relay was just a starting point. Over the past four years during which the brick has been passed along, I’ve just been the scribe, recording what each and every person who received the brick did with it. I can never predict how things will end up, and this is what’s interesting.

 

 (JX): Exactly. Evolution is better than revolution. It’s better in terms of setting up future development. But everything’s got to be taken in the context of a specific time and culture. Of course, beside differences between China and the west, and differences in government systems, there’s also difference between time periods. Take Joseph Beuys for example. His ideas of “social sculpture” and that “everyone’s an artist” are revolutionary and avant-garde. But these ideas and expressions have lost their appeal today, they ring empty. In the west, contemporary art seems more fashionable than it’s ever been, more progressive than ever. But in actuality, a lot of artists are just blowing smoke. Neo-cons have taken over the art world. There are museums all over the place, and art is in cohorts with the banking industry, as something to show off. Art is a masses entertainment, some secular religion. This is exactly how art has been effaced. The value of art lies in its negation, in the ways that it provokes discussion and gives hope for the world’s future. So it’s all inharmonious, it’s all been dispersed or co-opted by western capitalism. This is how Chinese art has the potential to be more powerful, vital, bigger than western art.

 

(LYZ): Capitalism has the ability to consume everything. That’s why skeptical or cynical artists have a lot of work to do. A lot of the new art coming out can’t be understood with old thinking. Our art theorists and curators are perhaps unable to see that which they haven’t seen before. For example, it’s hard to define the flash mobs you were talking about, or Steve Jobs, Google or Uber…are they art? So, China’s specialty is this, that the bigger the question, the more attention its resolution gets. And we’re living through this. But I don’t want to overvalue the ability of Chinese contemporary art to deal with our present reality. We’re all pretty pessimistic about this. Chinese contemporary art is like some big island floating around, hard to connect up with peoples’ everyday lives. China officially controls pretty much all of the venues, and the exhibited artworks. With all the banality, people’s attitude towards the art they see hasn’t changed over the past thirty years. Chinese people talk about people who were born in the 70’s versus people born in the 80’s and so on, but it’s all the same phase, all past tense.

 

(JX): As we’ve been socialist for a long time, we don’t have a lot of patience for people who label themselves as “leftist”. “Left” and “right” are complicated concepts in Europe and America, and the political climate there (Trump’s conservatism for example) makes things even more complicated. The right wing are focused on country and one’s own people, populist at heart, and advocate free competition; whereas the left wing is more into internationalism, in taking care of the weak in society. In China, “left” and “right” are reversed, the “left wing” is nationalistic and all about market economy…

 

(LYZ): Yes, and in China, believing in one’s individual self is “right wing”, where one places a lot of importance upon being strong and righteous. It’s not only the “right wingers” that have suffered in the past, making people feel for them, but “right wing” emphasis on individual freedom and things like a people’s constitutional government are more popular today. What makes people uneasy is that China doesn’t really have a left or right wing, but a mere emphasis upon benefit, a way to survive, with values that are talked about a lot but seldom acted on. There’s been an inclination in European left wing thinking towards social equality, so that we see all kinds of things being said democratically in society. If this were to happen here in China, it would be co-opted by Chinese “left wingers” who’d ignore what’s actually happening these days. It would only make the system more powerful.

 

JX): Leftist movements which started out in the first half of the 20th century reached their peak world-wide in the 60’s and 70’s. The Berlin Wall came down in 1989, and in the early ‘90’s Eastern Block dispersion signaled the end of history (Francis Fukuyama). Fukuyama predicted in the ‘90’s that free multi-cultural capitalism would be the world trend. Various regions of the world would all gradually grow into broad free capitalist cultures. 25 years later, in reality, things are not quite like Fukuyama predicted. The banking crisis which began in 2007 forced us all to take another look at capitalism. Occupy Wallstreet revived Marxism. The European Union saw a lot of right wing internal opposition. The Greek crisis, especially in the last couple of years with the migrant crisis and anti-terrorism, has really seen nationalism raise its head once again. The Front National in France, the Alternative Party for Germany, and America’s republican presidential candidate Donald Trump are all receiving widespread support in society. The left wing was the extreme reform group in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, they were avant-garde and progressive. Then when in the ‘80’s liberalism became mainstream, student leaders in the 68’ movement became university professors who then controlled social, cultural and political discourses. At the moment in the West there’s this movement to “affirm one’s identity” (identitär). Now the avant-garde is coming out from the right, not the left. So at present you see that leftist mainstream is becoming suspect as the “conservative” party. In a recent interview in Berlin with Die Zeit magazine, Fukuyama said, “Democracy is not self-affirming, so people are worried.” We see history hasn’t reached any conclusion, that it’s merely rolling onward.

 

(LYZ): I don’t understand what’s going on in Europe right now. What’s fair somewhere is unfair somewhere else. These choices are always to be made in light of a specific time and place, as politics is a matter of games and compromises. But when it comes to the individual, things are much clearer, one makes a choice one can live with and that’s what works. I believe completely in Fukuyama’s prediction. I’m not saying that once all societies are liberal everything will be resolved, because inevitably, when one issue resolves, another crops up. Whether its Occupy Wallstreet, the rebirth of Marxism, or the re-emergence of conservatism, we are always seeing the old replace the new, on and on, and our kind of relatively authoritarian system is an advanced version, which is why China and the West are facing different “core questions”. They are working on a different version. A lot of Chinese still have a modernist complex, they think there is one resolution in this world to all the problems at hand, and maybe in some regards we’re deeply ensnared in this idea.

 

(JX): In every time, different societies have their own problems and, right, there is no one panacea for all these ills. There is no magic solution. Maybe if there was some cure for all ills, some truth or aesthetic principle, then art would be worthless. Of course, people are always searching for the “ultimate plan”. Romantics are always trying to approach the divine, which will always remain in the distance. Rilke’s Book of Hours is a classic example of knowing that God is dead, but still seeking. Art is about the image and it’s also about the subjective idea. It’s always transcending reality, which is where it converges on religion.

 

 (LYZ): About the always searching for the “ultimate plan”, this is a universal disease, this anxiety about impermanence, about death and the unknown and so on. People are always searching for something to latch onto. But experience tells us these problems will never be solved once and for all. As we get to know and understand the world better, we come head to head with our own limits, with what we don’t know. Accepting reality, involving oneself in society, these are the prerogatives of art right now, as far as I’m concerned. Nothing holds more reality than the problems at hand. Meaning inheres in interactions between people.

 

(JX): These days, when art and capital go hand in hand, bombastic art theory is powerless. The 2015 Venice Biennale clearly exhibited the art system’s paradoxes and absurdities. Directing curator Okwui Enwezor made Karl Marx the most dazzling artist there. In the main hall, Marx’s Capital was read aloud, denouncing art market hype. At the same time, this curator took already incredibly successful artists like Andreas Gursky and gave them a huge platform, only increasing their value. And with a totally clear conscience, this curator received huge financial support from David Zwirner, who has the world’s art market in the palm of his hand. The curator used photography and other media to expose the oppression of the working class, but in truth, workers in Europe who manufacture art products only make ten euros an hour, with no benefits. Marx was a selling point and front man for the Venice Biennale. But in actual fact, Marx had absolutely nothing important to do with the art there. This sort of disparity between idea and reality is hugely satirical.

 

Li Yongzheng (LYZ): The 1968 student movement was the pinnacle of the leftist movement, and it was the dying last moment for metaphysics. Kevin Kelly in his new book The Inevitable says, “In utopia, there are no problems, because utopia could never exist. Every conception of utopia has flaws that could topple the ego.” Marx is doomed to be the signboard and tool for the leftists, everything he stood for is already changed beyond recognition, but they still can’t let him go, because they lack the creativity to find a new hat. It’s not important to pay attention to the Venice Biennale, that’s just one component of the market. It’s a way for new modes of thinking to be co-opted into society’s game, and of course it lags behind. The vitality of a given society determines how fast this wheel turns. When all the exhibitions are just totally cliché, then we’ll know how haggard society is, uncreatively discovering and co-opting thought or any new ability.

 

(JX): All theories are passé. Art happens and it does so without rules. It’s only afterwards that people are quick to summarize and codify, accreting theory to contain it. Just like language. What is grammar? It’s what happens when common natural expressions are analyzed by linguists after the fact. People don’t speak according to the rules of subject, verb and direct object; to think that is like putting the horse before the cart. How do you see the future of art?

 

 (LYZ): Right. Most of the time people are summarizing things that are happening right now in terms of what we already know and have already experienced, giving us an easy conscience, to reduce anxiety. But this is already one step removed from what’s actually going on. Experience usually moves towards benefit and reducing harm. But artistic choices are precisely the opposite. In terms of the future, I think art circles and professional artists will cease to exist. The new artist will take the initiative to learn new technologies, and more and more people will think and create as artists. The artistic spirit will become a part of their lives. The idea that “Everyone is an artist” will see its day once again

 

(JX): Mark Twain once said, “Humor is based on tragedy, not happiness.” There is no Humor in the paradise. Additionally, art is a game, a serious game, but still a game. I get the sense that your artworks are very serious and charged with philosophical thought. So how do you see the nature of the art game?

 

 (LYZ): I don’t really understand humor. I think this line by Mark Twain is cold. Didn’t we say earlier that art is scarce? When a large number of people are willing to immerse themselves in levels beneath the surface of stirred up emotions, to get to the deeper level of the story, maybe then amidst the tragedy we’ll have ourselves a brand new game.

 

2016/11/04

Juan Xu: Independent curator, Art critic, and Director of the German Art Exchange Society

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