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From Hi Art, August 2007


The concept of “movement” inspires much emotion today, especially those born in the 1970s and 1980s.  

For most people, “movement” means sport - maybe buying Adidas or Nike gear, wearing Jordon or Li Ning outfits, or rollerblading, skateboarding, or other sociable physical actions. A young sports fan will don the team shirt of Real Madrid, and shout loudly at the TV in anguish that he cannot be the one to score that goal after receiving that pass from Beckham. That same fan will regret that he himself will not race against Schumacher in the fast lane.  

There is another meaning to the word “movement”, though: campaign. Today, nobody would think about the social campaigns of the past that once held such a strong place in peoples’ hearts. Gone are the days when people would consider taking up a campaign as a key part of their day-to-day work. In former times, choose at random a few pretty girls in the street (certainly, choose the prettiest ones), and ask them for the names of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee, and most could come up with seven or eight names, including alternate members.  

Nowadays, young ladies are as lovely in days of old. But while they may also blurt out a dozen names when asked, it is likely that most will be names of foreign brands, with the occasional Chinese brand thrown in by accident. One student I know is very interested in sports cars - Porsche, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Lotus, Maserati. She knows every brand inside out, from the exhaust volume, acceleration, and oil consumption through to individual handmade elements and year of manufacture. She can distinguish brand from listening to the engine ticking over. She never asks her parents for money, but supports herself on the earnings from vacations spent working in Nike stores. And so, I feel, society has been advancing.  

In the almost 60 years since Liberation in 1949, ordinary people have gone through numerous campaigns, big and small. Even in the fine arts sphere, campaigns have been numerous: the 1985 Art Movement, New Wave, Post-89, Cynical Realists, Gaudy Art, Post-70, Minimum and Maximum, and Post-1980, as well as crazes for biennales and auctions. It is as if life cannot continue without movements - as if people would not know how to live without making something sensational.  

What would be left after auction fever? Nobody in China’s art world seems to have even considered the possibility. It drives a feeling that seeing into minds of ordinary Chinese people is made all the more difficult by the fervor to launch movements. Even today, as the market economy moves forward, slogans slip out with apparent ease, launched into the public blindly one after another.  

All movements are colored with a hint of the radical - of shock and irrationality. But ask yourself this: Can one or two days really be enough to learn from the spirit of Lei Feng? Can reforestation be completed in one or two years? Will we see the result of carrying out the “Five Standards and Four Virtues” movement within 50 or 100 years? Can the struggle against bourgeois liberalization yield fruit in ten or fifteen days? And can a morally upright family live a normal life by launching endless campaigns”? Surely they must be sick and tired of it. Just look at how much industrial waste was left behind after the Great Leap Forward, and what a difficult three-year period of natural disasters we suffered as a result.  

I have a weakness: no matter what I may be doing, I cannot give my best when working in chaotic surroundings. I can neither paint well before crowds, nor pee with someone standing nearby.  

In recent years, an unprecedented amount of Chinese publicity has followed the Venice Biennale, the Kassel Documenta, and Art Basel. I have attended for many years, and there were fewer pieces by contemporary Chinese artists this year than in recent years, despite this elevated interest from the Chinese media. My old friend Cheng Xindong, at the France Gallery brought no Chinese artists to this year’s show. The established J. Bastien Gallery from Belgium showed no interested in participating.  

The status of contemporary Chinese art as a small-time episode in the Western-dominated mainstream remains unchanged. Some sophisticated artists have decided to steer clear of the art phenomenon that have been the talk of the town, and found themselves a new niche by shifting the focus of their work to a deeper level.  

Artistic creation has always been a question explored by artists, whether ancient or modern, in China and abroad. Even the simplest artist would not change their creative direction or means of deriving pleasure for the sake of a couple of Biennales. Once artistic creation becomes a thing for public display, then artists have descended into a realm lacking in value and importance. Nobody would listen to a fucking word they’d say, or a fucking struggle he’d launch. The artist would become a nobody, lower on the scale than the slice of cake served at the opening party.  

From my point of view, only a minority will benefit from a movement; the majority will compromise or just disappear. As the saying goes, “Who else would go to hell if I had not?”


Zhu Wei

Sunday, July 22, 2007