Never mistake Imitation as Exporting
Oriental Art· Master May, 2013 Feature: Why Export “Contemporary Chinese Art”?
Article /Zhu Wei
Interviewer/ Wang Hongzhou
Editor’s comment: As a predecessor of contemporary ink and wash painting, Zhu Wei also led the exportation of contemporary Chinese art. After years of art practice, however, he saw more hidden problems under a buzzing surface. Zhu is not optimistic about the exportation of contemporary Chinese art: “exportation is a good vision. We should have hopes. But we also need to consider how and what? Was our exportation in the real sense? What is exportation anyway? We used to export culture. Was it in original form? No. it was imitation. Because you can only export what is original. How can you export stolen stuff?”
The imitated stuff is no more than a report-back performance, let alone to export. Japan is a case in point. Today, we have neither our own contemporary art nor contemporary art theory. The so called contemporary art going on in China is imitation. It’s gained at the expense of losing our own culture—we are so broad-minded. On the contemporary art exhibition in 1989, the host declared on the stairs of National Art Museum of China: “the Chinese artists completed a path of contemporary art took the westerners 100 years with only 10 years.” So, now we need to be cautious that maybe the western artists would be eager to learn ink and wash paintings since they are so popular.
Imitation doesn’t require original theory. It’s meaningless. Long-term imitation will make you lose thinking and analyzing abilities. You cannot survive on your own. Contemporary Chinese art only has works but no theory and it’s developing rapidly. Where does its theory lie? It’s worth pondering.
Imitation only needs to solve one problem: how to be as similar as possible and even be more like the real. Imitators do not have a say. The contemporary art in world culture system is like what students are in schools. Have you ever heard of school allocating houses to students? Did any school ever send rice, flour, sesame oil and red envelope to students during the spring festival and holidays? Have students ever decided on schools’ guiding principle, personnel and professional ranks and titles? Clearly, the say is not in the hands of students. What can you do about it? You asked for it. They are already showing mercy not to sue you.
Imitation, to some extent, will make you think your own stuff is worthless. Some artists once imagined an international language in contemporary art, arguing only in that language can we be understood by westerners and go global. That’s nonsense. The so called painting language is like pickles. Different methods and flavors co-exist. For example, pickled vegetables in South Korea are hot and salty; preserved radish in Japan are sweet; pickled cabbage in China are delicious enough for me, if made into dumplings coupled with meat, it would be even better; pickled cucumber in Russia are also nice, but I just don’t know with what to eat it; in Europe, there is also a kind of pickled raisins, which taste like eraser dropped in the pickle jar. Up till now, I have never tasted any international pickles. Esperanto appeared in the 1980s. Its letters looked like a mix of English, French, Italian, Portuguese and German and its pronunciation also sounded like a combination of various languages. I’m afraid that one may even scare himself to death when he came back home, lying on bed and hearing such a sentence of Esperanto. But the language was promoted by the Education Ministry of China. National key foreign study schools had their Esperanto department. After four years of study, you can also further your study as a postgraduate. But later, no one heard of it anymore.
Imitating lands us into a weak position. We could be disgraced if some westerner points out the truth. By then, it’s hard for us to hide from the harsh truth.
The only thing we can envision and talk about exportation is ink and wash painting, I guess. Putting aside sense of values, ink and wash painting is our creation and we set the standards and rules. It’s a pity that we still don’t have theories on contemporary them. There is only complain and desperation. We have already wasted so much time. Take the Renaissance in Europe for example, most people regard Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael as the three masters of Renaissance. In fact, Europeans believe the three masters are Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio 200 years before Renaissance, because they are the ones who guided all the literature and art creations in the Renaissance with their thoughts and theories.