Farewell to Post-Colonialism: Third Guangzhou Triennial
Location: Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou, China
Duration: Sep 6th to Nov 16th, 2008
Curators: Gao Shiming, Sarat Maharaj, Chang Tsong-zung
Research Curators: Dorothee Albrecht, Sopawan Boonnimitra, Stina Edblom, Tamar Guimaraes, Guo Xiaoyan, Steve Lam, Khaled D. Ramadan
Organiser: Guangdong Museum of Art
Co-Presenter: Hong Kong Arts Development Council
The Long March Project will participate in the Third Guangzhou Triennial whose subject ‘Farwell to Post-Colonialism’ presents a provocative opportunity for the display of particular ‘Long March’ ideas.
For this exhibition, as quoted by Triennial curators Sarat Maharaj, Gao Shiming and Johnzon Chang Tsong-zung: ‘The idea ‘Farewell to Post-colonialism’ is not a denial of the importance and rewards of this intellectual tradition. In reality, the political conditions criticized by post-colonialism have not receded, but in many ways are even further entrenched under the machinery of globalization. However, as a dominant discourse for art curatorial practice and criticism, post-colonialism is revealing its limitations by increasingly becoming institutionalized as an ideological concept. Not only is it losing its relevancy as a critical tool, it has generated its own restrictions that hinder the emergence of artistic creativity and fresh theoretical interface. To say "Farewell to Post- Colonialism" is not simply a departure, but a ‘re-visit’ and a ‘re-start’. 2008 will be exactly 40 years since the heady days of 1968. In fifty years, waves of new social movement and multi-cultural theories have woven a tapestry of rich and clashing colors out of the world's changing social realities. International contemporary art has also benefited from the attention to socio-political issues surrounding identity, race, gender and class. But in fifty years, revolutionary concepts have also transformed into leading discourses safely guarded by "political correctness". Post-colonial discourse's analysis of the power structure within cultural expressions has triggered a series of cultural resistance, as well as the construction of the self as the ‘Subject’ in relation to the ‘Other’’.
‘One shoe off, one shoe on: Long March Project’ is the title of the Long March presentation in this ambitious exhibition, presenting a concise group of works which directly challenge this exhibition’s premise.
In Chinese, we have a saying guangjiaode bupa chuanxiezide (光脚的不怕穿鞋子的) — the man with bare feet is not afraid of a man who wears shoes. This cultural metaphor brings to mind a comparative reflection of China in its speculative return to semi-colonial, semi-feudal, and semi-capitalist status in the late 1970s, when Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms articulated China’s desire for foreign aid and access to a global market economy – this metaphor could be taken further to represent the eagerness of a nation with one bare foot anticipating the financial rewards, while its other foot, bedecked in a shoe of communist custom, remains dedicated to a history of self-reliance and political independence. The condition of contemporary China – its desire for world economic status; believing in the power and longevity of its own historical traditions, touting its glory to tourists (despite the lived contradiction with introduced consequences of capitalist wealth and the heady destruction and construction of domestic and commercial architecture), and the endless buying and laying waste of material goods — such lived dilemmas of historical consciousness in the face of contemporary desires could also be referenced as similar spheres of concern regarding social modernization in various other parts of the world, in which physical and psychological boundaries are tested, where historical borders are subsequently challenged (the riots in Serbia over Kosovo; the debate over Kashmir between India and Pakistan). Are not these also examples of cultural, social, and political journeys where a people operate with one foot in the past, in order to begin a forward path proposing an alternate and determined future? Such conundrums of historical and social memory live at the core of the Long March Project and its attempt to engage the meaning, the articulation of culture, working within the intricate fragilities of translation, re-interpretation, seeking a relationship with a visual economy that supports and encourages a questioning of contemporary realities.
It is the slippage of meaning and value between discerned spaces, the displacement of defined limits, cultural assumption and understanding that the Long March Project eagerly challenges, walking on constantly shifting shores. The idea of the ‘post-colonial’, its interrogation of binary relationships; its questioning of the role of language and cultural difference in the articulation of social and political power; the examination of subordination and the influence of religious doctrine on the political state – to name but a few of the post-colonial precepts that some would argue are currently disrupting the aims of international free trade and the earnest attempts of bi-lateral relations. Such ideas, terminologies and frameworks of the post-colonial condition are a necessary phenomenology in questioning the role and legacy of the modernist avant-garde and its social rationalization – and it is the various structures of social rationalization that is of immense interest to the Long March Project’s ongoing activities, particularly our proposal for the forthcoming Guangzhou Triennial.
Wanting success, while acknowledging this process is always potentially entwined with failure; desiring an opportunity to engage the history of ideas that sits beyond the defined categories of the modernist project; recognizing the power of culture in its ability to provoke, to mobilize, de-activate, articulate, offer a bridge, merge ideas between specializations, between assumption, between lived experience — all of these aspects are fundamental to the continuing international journey of our contemporary Long March. This is a journey where many different shoes are worn, some are too small, some are too big, some vicariously lived through processes of imagination, some are spoken and then denied, and it is in this vein of artistic exploration and experimentation that new spaces of interrogation and curatorial practice are given birth.
The questioning of the artistic exhibition platform as a means of engagement with a broader social public; the provocation of meaning in what is considered ‘international’ within a market driven visual economy; the complexities of historical consciousness and the problematic aesthetic, social, political, cultural dilemmas it presents to our understanding of the ‘contemporary’, for this Guangzhou Triennial, the Long March Project presents a series of conceptual arguments, which articulate the lived experience of existing between spaces, between definition and thus perhaps striving to elucidate the complex conundrum of proposing a farewell to the postcolonial subject.
Long March Project
Long March Mirror Image
Video installation 2002-ongoing
This installation consists of over 30 video works by artists who have participated in the Long March Project. It presents a narrative that reflects the development of this Project’s conceptual framework. Displaying a broad spectrum of works by contemporary Chinese artists that reveal the contradictions and unique qualities behind these individual artist practices, this installation also presents the complex nature of the Long March Project as a collective body… Regardless of the success or failure of projects undertaken and each of their varied engagement with notions of idealism, questions of nationalism or the desire for international recognition and contribution — these elements form the core foundation on which the Long March Project continues to be built in reference to multiple realities and lived states of historical consciousness. This collective display explores the state of contemporary art beneath its aesthetic veneer.
No Foreigners Beyond This Point
As founder and initiator of the Long March Project, No Foreigners Beyond This Point articulates a warning he has often experienced in China and abroad. The marking of territory through language, the power of words and its granting of access according to identity, validity and status, is a common demarcation dictated by modern society. In this work, the audience is encouraged to enter a space via revolving doors, which are in a continual spinning state. Upon walking through this door in constant motion, the audience becomes aware they have entered an empty space, their arrival as a local, a national, being suddenly rendered questionable, without meaning, without place. In the end, the audience can return to the space where division of identity is unnecessary, where multiple affiliations of cultural identity, of citizenship, of ancestral right, is present and allowable. This movement between these two spaces, the moving within a circular revolving door, is emblematic of the ever-shifting nature of cultural identification, questioning the space and context under which something becomes valid or invalid.
Sound installation 2006
A solid steel wall, rusting and monolithic in size, sits against the gallery wall. A loud pounding reverberates within the installation, its continuous repetition a heavy reckoning of the imprinted text emboldened on the steel surface—”The Internationale?” “The Internationale” is one of the most recognized anthems, representing the international movement of Socialism. Originally written in 1870 by Eugene Pottier, a member of the Paris Commune, it has been translated into many of the world’s diverse Ianguages. Freely translated: “This is the final struggle/ Let us join together and tomorrow/ The Internationale/ Will be the human race”. Calling forth the foundational motivations and desires of socialist thought and its embracing of social, political and cultural equality, it is a song that celebrates the gathering of wills for the betterment of humanity. In Xiao Xiong’s sculptural installation, this anthem is both questioned and laid silent, its numerous stanzas absent, rendered as a continual banging on steel. In this work, the ideals articulated in “The Internationale” are represented as a new “Iron Curtain”. How has contemporary society benefited from the call to be international, to be unified in spirit? Can the historical divide between “East” and “West” and its indentured stereotypes and assumptions ever truly be overcome? How do these so-called differences matter? Can the marriage of political attitude, religious affiliation and cultural custom ever be negotiated/compromised/achieved? How has the ever-expanding ethics of a global capitalism omitted the voice of certain peoples? Such questions lie at the heart of this work, as a wall, a barrier, where we cannot see what is behind, it satirically provokes the human condition and its seeming desire to be everywhere at once, its nascent materialism, perhaps operating without principle, without morals. Just what does it mean to be ‘international’? Under whose judgment, whose codified language will it be articulated, understood一is there a need to be unified, or is it an inherent agreement of difference which makes society evolve?
Long March Project: Harlem School of New Social Realism
Video Installation 2002-ongoing
Long March Project: Harlem School of New Social Realism, is a two channel video work which offers record of two significant discussions. This project began as a casual debate around Zhao Gang’s dinner table in Harlem, with key local African American and Chinese American artists and thinkers—Satch Hoyt, Franklin Sirmans, Deborah Grant, Lilly Wei, Brett CookDizney and Jeff Sonhouse regarding the possiblilty of a New Social Realism in Harlem, debating the facts and philosophical similarities surrounding the genesis, influences and motivations of revolutionary acts in Chinese and African American society, and the broader global arena. This discussion of contemporary art, revolution, communist history, ideas of liberty and ideology arose from Zhao Gang’s hope that one of the participants of this discussion would join the Long March Project.
The second roundtable discussions took place as part of PERFORMA07: Second Visual Art Performance Biennial in New York, providing further opportunity for debate with a wider audience. Twenty invited participants sat within the plaza, opposite the Studio Museum in Harlem, and divided into four groups that were individually moderated in a simultaneous debate, where public audience participation was encouraged.
This project engages Long March Project as facilitator and participant, in a gathering of prominent thinkers to consider a ‘new’ ‘social’ ‘realism’ in Harlem, a historic centre of cultural importance to African Americans, occupying a particular geography, culture, economy and space. It posits a connection, a retranslation of revolutionary ideas and the comparative differentiation in meaning, in the legacy of socialist thought and its relevancy to ideas and definitions of social reality today, examining how ideas of equality and social responsibilities can be acknowledged, articulated, given value today.