April 10, 2003
Café, Sanlian Bookstore, Beijing
Organized by Li Xuejun of Reading Magazine
Hang Jian, Professor, Chair of Art History Department, Art Academy, Qinghua University, Beijing
Han Yuhai, Professor, Literature Department, Beijing University, Beijing
Huang Ping, Executive Chief Editor, Reading Magazine, researcher of Social Science Institute, Beijing
Kuang Xinnian, Porfessor, History Department, Qinghua University, Beijing
Li Xuejun, Deputy Chief Editor, Reading Magazine, Beijing
Lu Jie, Chief curator, Long March project
Meng Hui, editor, Reading Magazine
Gao Jianping, professor, Qinghua University
Philip Tinari, Associate Curator, Long March project
Wang Hui, Executive Chief Editor, Reading Magazine, Professor, Qinghua University
Wang Jianwei, artist
Wang Mingxian, Chief Editor, Architecture Magazine, Beijing.
Zhang Guangtian, Play write and director
Zhu Jinshi, artist
Lu Jie: The Long March is a difficult thing. One problem is my lack of sufficient theoretical and curatorial preparation. A bigger problem is that envisioning and planning are nothing more than envisioning and planning. Later, when we hit the road, it was “the road that led us along”, [Note 1] and the whole feel of the project was changed utterly. In many cases, when we actually went to realize an artist’s proposal, the artist’s feeling and intention was different from the effect finally produced. Other changes were made on account of the people we encountered, or the spaces we used, all of which stand in interactive relation to the project itself. In this process change is a constant. Perhaps when we were actually there we felt that there were tremendous obstacles. Or rather, we felt like things we did were failing? But we were very open, taking failure as experience, as a way to accumulate material. But when we got to the eleventh site, I sprouted some new ideas and decided that things as they stood were not good enough, that we must stop. Later, when we got to the twelfth site, we were continuously debating this question with our artists and our curatorial team. In the end, we decided to stop, to declare the project “an uncompleted completion.” But overall I felt that the reasons behind our early end included both the obstacles we encountered on the road, as well as certain misunderstandings that date back to our preparation and manifest themselves in our realization. That is to say, the artists and the curatorial team both had misunderstandings, including my own misunderstanding and misperceptions of the working environment in the art community in China. Another problem was that before departure, we failed to establish a strong common foundation in the public realm, so that in the end the entire project was skewed toward the existing elitist art circle. When we picked our team members, most of the newcomers were very idealistic, saying that they wanted to use this opportunity as a self-ablution, to come work and sweat again. But when it came to actually working, we couldn’t help but bring along our old working styles, which is to say, to bring in the old habits of the art circle. We ignored questions like how to turn the project into a “sewer of seeds” by working with media and society at large. Still though, looking back on a few examples from the road, many of our projects did have a direct connection with the viewers, an effect on the people and events in a given environment. Take for example Jiang Jie’s work involving “adopting” sculptures of babies-those babies may be an eternal topic of conversation in the villages in which they were left. [Note 2] But still, if we want to spread this project wide and far, we need to have a dialogue with society. We regret how closed the project is, that in the end it became a “theme exhibition.” There was not enough discourse internal to the project, and not enough discourse was created by the project. Today, in this room, I hope that we can have a dialogue, a discourse, an interdisciplinary conversation. What do you think of the curatorial concept like this? What of the things that we have done can we affirm? Which of the problems we face are not really as big as they seem? We hope we can stop for a second; return to older questions, and turn them over for awhile. Actually this runs parallel to the context of the historical Long March. The travails that befell the Red Army after crossing Luding Bridge-the treks over the snowy mountains, across the grasslands-these were all fundamentally fights against the road itself, individual struggles to exceed oneself over and over again. We dared to set out, but should we dare to stop? Should we dare to march on to Yan’an? Should we dare to march toward success? Should we dare to fail, and to face the consequences? People have voiced doubt about me, saying that I should have taken the project directly to completion. They say that as a curator I must do it this way, otherwise I will self-destruct, that I must not stop. But I was never hoping to do a project in this form. At that time we truly lacked an interdisciplinary debate and scholarly support, we lacked media attention, and so we decided to return and fill in the holes, to see how we could do things better. After we returned we held a small press conference, which was mainly a reception for the art circle. We pointed out that the Long March is a charge to everyone that for us to merely complete the project is not enough. Furthermore, we pointed out, there is no need to hold too rigidly to the historical framework – with the temporal and geographical limits it implies-and complete the project merely in the name of completing it. This actually forces us to consider a theoretical question: when we put together exhibitions, we always think about how to begin them, but do we think about how to end them? In deciding on our own to stop our exhibition, to end it, is actually a challenge to the current exhibition system. Such a big exhibition has never had a chance of stopping in mid-stream, to declare it a failure. As far as the system is concerned, there is no way to do an exhibition in this way. Can we thus say that the capacities of that system are in doubt? Also, since we have this freedom to stop, since we are doing this on our own, do we not also have the freedom to defy the temporal and geographical framework of the historical Long March? And so we stopped. When we set out again, it will be the second Long March.
Zhu Jinshi: The Western art system has its problems, and the comparison you just drew-you say that when you decided to stop you stopped-this is something that would not be possible in the Western system. But I feel that this outcome is still essentially unsuccessful, because it makes clear that the power still lies mainly in the hands of the curator. Of course I am not saying that this is a fundamental problem-actually what it really shows is something that could never come from the Western art system, and that is what you have done in this Long March. I remember debating the question of systems once with Wang Hui. We talked about Documenta, about what kind of measures we should take relative to the Western system, to Western power. Wang Hui believes that the system is necessary, that the system need only do things slightly better than its counterpart. Speaking like this is rather honest. The Long March, if it is to continue on, will face the same problems you have already pointed out. You feel like it has been confined to a circle, including the Zunyi Curatorial Symposium. Historically speaking, in Zunyi Mao Zedong found more than just his own Red Army; he was looking for all different kinds of people. But actually, later on, only once he became powerful and then did not really go look for all different kinds of people did we really have what can be called the failure of democracy. Art presents a similar problem: if art has no boundaries, if as you’re saying it is able to reach out through scholarly exchange and media attention, it becomes very powerful, it can continue on, and it will be more interesting. It won’t necessarily mean being on the route of the Long March; perhaps its fine to march in this city as well. Speaking of the Long March spirit, if you travel your former route once more and the vibe is not right, it would be wrong to travel idly for even half of one day. You stopped for a reason, which is to say, you discovered problems. These were not financial problems or fatigue problems, but rather questions such as “what is the significance of going on like this?” As an artist, I ask you what kind of ideas the artists were really able to put forth. The artists had problems. To put it more directly, I think the curators had problems. If you don’t admit this, I fear that if you set out again you will have to stop once more. Yes or no?
Lu Jie: I agree with your point. First of all I should admit that this is about me. Whether we talk about failure or problems, I should take responsibility for it all, that’s how it really is.
Zhu Jinshi: I’m not saying it failed; I’m talking about the issue of power struggle. If the Long March continues, of course it will face problems of power. Contemporary art is facing just these kinds of problems. The better achievement of Long March is not looking to free itself from the hierarchy in the international system, but from a fundamental idea about people, about our relations within and to the idea of art, and the question of whether it has an independent self-worth.
Zhang Guangtian: You’ve talked about the problem of artist’s surface-level engagement and participation in the Long March too many people who participate in your project are looking to actualize their own goals. As an artist, I would look after my own interest too. If I were to participate, I would wonder whether Lu Jie and Qiu Zhijie were suspicious of my left-wing agenda. Therefore, I do not want my left-wing label bring more trouble to the already easy – to – be – attacked identity of Long March project. Looking at the works you just showed us, there were a few that especially moved me. It is hard to place a value on the materials you have left at the end. Still, I believe that this process has been successful. And I believe the dialogues that people have had surrounding it are relevant and interesting. I’d like to make the pedestrian point that this Long March corresponds to Mao’s Long March. As I think about it now, there seems to be a huge parallel, even a parallel with the Chinese revolution. When you arrived at Shi Dakai’s place (Luding Bridge), you decided you couldn’t go any farther. Chairman Mao went on; you didn’t. [Note 3]
Lu Jie: We never planned it that way.
Zhang Guangtian: I’m wondering why you couldn’t get beyond this bridge. I feel like there is a very simple reason. All of us who had never seen artworks like this before have something in common: we all wonder what this is about. No matter whether it is a peasant or an intellectual, or someone from some other business, they might feel confused by this thing. Now let’s think, now it’s the 21st century, but if it were the beginning of the twentieth century, the time of the Long March, when Mao Zedong took revolutionary plays to Zunyi and put them on, we might feel the same way. Then they took Marx’s picture and hung it in the Catholic Church in Zunyi, and just like their reaction to your project here, the common folk were seeing something completely strange and foreign.
Wang Hui: So it wasn’t until Yan’an that we had to “reform our studies.”
Zhang Guangtian: Fort this reason I feel that this project has a bit of Moscow to it, [note 4] , it’s a set route. I do not doubt everyone’s idealism, and I do not doubt the success of the works. But I think that this route is a “Wang Ming route”. [Note 5] Twenty-eight-and-a-half Bolsheviks, [note 6], right. This is a project run by twenty-eight-and-a-half artists. This project needs to enter the life of the Chinese people. You have done some successful things, like the display on the train, things that involve dialogue with the people. But the project you did in Maotai did not succeed, because it was too forceful. This forcefulness doesn’t come only from you, but from the entire process of the Chinese revolution. It’s like the work by Wang Jin, “Hanging Swords on the Cliff with Swords Hung Upside-Down” where the person doesn’t really touch the ground.
Of course I believe you do everything from the perspective of idealists. Why else would you want to do things like this? Because people will doubt you. You just spoke of an entire project, and of some problems that arose while curating it, including problems of authority, like Zhu Jinshi just mentioned. You should first consider that all of the people you are cooperating with in China are extremely simple: they want fame and power. If I participate in Lu Jie’s project, they ask, what good will it do me. Will it get me name recognition? Will it get me money? If you can’t give me these, why should I deal with you? Even Chairman Mao posted a notice in Zunyi during the Long March, which I imagine you’ve seen, asking where everyone’s wives had run off to, saying that they had gone to sleep with the landlords. Where did your food go? It went into the landlords’ warehouse. And thus we need a revolution. If you work with me, he claimed, you’ll get all this back. Propaganda was about people’s interests. In this project, you haven’t declared what people’s interests are. I’m not encouraging you to call people to persuade their practical interest in order to follow your ideal, but this is really a big problem faced by you and me and all idealists. What should we do in such a practical and ego bounded era?
I suppose everyone who participated in your project was looking to realize their own goals. And these people’s selfish goals, you can’t even tell them whether they can achieve or not. I think this must have been a very different project to set in motion, from the perspective of the curatorial system and the system of authority in our country right now. That is to say, you have to discuss all these things clearly with the participants. Later I heard that many people were paying attention to your show, saying it was a very influential project, asking how they should go to participate in it. Behind this concern these people all have a worry. Where are you coming from? Who you are and what can you deliver. You must let people clear about their payoff. Where did the Red Army come from? Whence its legitimacy? If we say that the Red Army was just twenty-eight-and-a-half Bolsheviks, then they are able to bringing in “foreign bread.” From another perspective, the question might have been, by joining the Red Army, will you help me go to Moscow? Lots of people weren’t willing to participate. So what do they do? They go to Biennales, which is also “foreign bread.” What I would want from joining your ranks, they ask. So finding resources is a problem. I think there is a parallel here with Mao Zedong; he thought this question out on the later part of the Long March and made it clear to the people. “I don’t have resources, I have nothing, and I am sitting on a folded python. I am a pure idealist”. If you would follow me you can only sacrifice or win. Otherwise you don’t follow.” This was completely clear. Of the people who followed Mao, of course very few were “good”. The “good people” had better things to do. Those who followed were missing arms and had lame legs, no? People with “talent” decided not to go with Mao. But those who followed Long March will be totally committed. This won’t give rise to any problems later. So when you talk about “bread,” then the problems become clear. If you were making local bread available to starving people while they are busy begging foreign bread from the international biennales, this is a big problem. This is my approximate feeling. But I still think that there were several very successful works, which finally established a dialogue. How to make this project even deeper is a very good question, how to carry on this work; it isn’t over.
Wang Hui: Last year when I talked with you, I remember you saying that you didn’t just want to go on the road, but to turn the Long March into a long-lasting system like a biennale. To take this Long March from our history that society has forgotten, and suddenly revisit this topic anew, bring it out for discussion, using art, which has its own problems, and through artworks look at this history, this attitude, to express it through participation. I thought this sounded very interesting, but I couldn’t imagine at the time what it would look like in the end. I didn’t know if you could find enough people who could discuss these topics. As far as I know there aren’t very many people in our intellectual circle who can talk about these topics. There are many knowledgeable people, but hardly any who have penetrating insights about the Long March. As I watched your presentation just now, I thought there were a number of interesting works, and I began to think that it is another problem altogether. Today people think of the Long March as a utopia. In modern history, it is not the kind of utopia imagined by intellectuals, but something else-a development that began slowly at the grassroots, under extremely harsh conditions, that included foreign ideas, and that produced a vision of utopia. If we return to the present moment and look at the entire world, not just China, where have reached a so-called 21st century culture, if we make a comparison to the overall cultural and intellectual and artistic situation of the early 20th century, the biggest difference, experimentally, is the disappearance of utopia. It’s essentially gone, although the impetuous drive for utopia is still with us. If we look at the literature of the 1980s in China, it’s there. It is also in the literature of the 1990s. I remember that period. Of course there were those who denied utopia, but there were definitely people who believed in it. Wang Anyi, Zhang Chengzhi, lots of authors wrote directly about utopia. But as an intellectual and artistic experiment, utopia cannot re-establish itself. Utopia has only a past and not a future. Utopia is also impractical, so as soon as you create a utopia, every problem is neatly condensed. In everything from its motive to its eventual end, your Long March reflects a problem, and I think that this is very interesting. The diligence required to build a utopia, in the end, insures the destruction of that utopia. This process is represents a typical problem of the contemporary world, which is that certain cultural and intellectual formulas actually cannot be built, just as there is no way to re-build utopia. Now if there is no way to build utopia, left-wing intellectuals may criticize you, asking why we no longer have utopia. Of course besides “economies of desire,” “capitalism” and similar expressions, there are others who say that in the academy one necessarily enters a closed circle of people, and that this circle becomes a very important factor in the deconstruction of utopia. That is, all of one’s power to communicate is lost. Everything is confined to a set domain, and when people summarize the failure of utopia, they often limit themselves to a summary of this circle, saying for example that we in the circle are doing this in our own interest, or that we want power, making arguments in this genre. But they don’t notice what the broader context is, what they see is rather small. I think of this question because it is all I have been thinking of lately, because I am about to go to Duke University for a conference on the “future of utopia.” When they first sent out the announcement, there was serious criticism, saying that the reason there is no longer a utopia is that everyone in the academy is a Deconstructionist, etc. They argued that the deconstructionism which has become so prevalent in the academy in the last few decades has made it impossible for anyone to be serious about building a utopia. In terms of the circle, this is correct, because all the tropes of theory and culture move in this direction. But if we expand our field of vision, we see problems inside. Why? Because this phenomenon of the cultural elite is actually a result of something else, we are not powerless because people intrinsically like deconstruction, or because everything is “post-.” Rather, because we are powerless, we choose this method. There is of course an interactive relationship present here. Now as we pass judgment on your summary, I think that Zhu Jinshi gave the real introduction, and a few of the things he said were quite interesting. One was mentioned by Jinshi and Zhang Guangtian, the question of power, which was certainly one reason why the utopia of the historical Long March ultimately self-deconstructed. In the process of history, actually, internal utopias seem always to produce power relationships, which in the end kill everyone’s ability to believe in utopia. This propensity for failure is tough to see when you’re working with art, on a relatively small scale. But if you enlarge, you find that this is a problem which cannot be overcome. In other words, the utopian experiment fundamentally contains an inherent contradiction. Whether you like utopia or not, you must face this problem. Managing things like we are now, is, I think, a good way of facing it. Because in the end you get something. Because to a certain degree, it reflects a judgment about internal logic. The second interesting thing is the questions that Guangtian just brought up, that the process of getting artists to participate in this experiment requires complicity with the working style of the broader society. If everyone were to approach the project looking to go their own direction, you would encounter two major treasons. One is your own will, your will to lead. The second is individualism. These are problems that the real revolution ran into as well. In terms of these respects, in these important themes, I remember looking at your earliest plans, how you wanted to begin by discussing utopia at Ruijin and go from there, taking in questions of nationality, Trotsky, Wang Ming Route etc. The interesting thing is, if you were to carry on marching, perhaps you would think of explore these questions further and deeper, since there is no way to enter directly into the debates that happened at that time. If artists enter into these debates, they do it in a way that is inextricably intertwined with your process. You need to keep this process going, keep talking, not stop, but think for a second about how to resolve the power issues, how to resolve the question of interaction with the people. If you can incorporate your answers to these questions into a new style, I think it would be quite interesting. Furthermore, I just asked Zhang Guangtian to speak. No matter how we view his play “Che Guevara,” [note 7] whether we like it or not, we all wonder how it got so hot, how it became such a major social incident. Why is the Long March art exhibition so difficult to enter our social life and public realm? I really haven’t thought of a reason.
Zhang Guangtian: It would be hard for me to use “Che Guevara” as a revolutionary example to provide reference for your project, since the two are very different. I actually think that the Long March project had an even greater impetus. I think you should ignore those elitists and professional artists. Those who wanted to participate came of their own will. If they don’t know how to fight, you teach them, train them. You should only use the armatures and outsiders. Mao did it this way. That is to say, if you believe in utopia, you come and make the revolution with me. If you don’t believe in utopia, all you are after is your benefit and interest, you bug off, I don’t have you, I’m a poor sucker. Under these circumstances, you don’t mind that our guns and ammunition are broken, that we have nothing, you just brainwash us everyday, and then it all becomes possible. You distribute them homemade guns and cannons, there you are, you ask them do the Long March way, take the hardship and have faith in it and build your own thing. If you do it like this, how can you fail?
Zhang Guangtian: Back when Lu Jie first spoke of the project with me, I was completely supporting him. I said that this is great endeavor. Lu Jie’s work here is not unlike Mao’s work of leading the Red Army. The difference is that Mao killed people, and he is not killing people. I guess the whole process of curating is as difficult and revolutionary as the previous Long March. I was very much worried about you; you are challenging the powerful people and the system by moving their ground. The Chinese art world is a dark place. I tell you, it’s not a place for people.
Wang Jianwei: Let me talk about this from a participant’s perspective. After 1997, the public environment in China opened up a little bit and many artists jumped directly into the public space. But in the end there was a problem: the departure point for public art in the West is a departure from the museum system. We just don’t have this feeling of departure. Entering the public space for us was actually a matter of taking a private, personal, closed space into the open, but we never opened up these individual things; there was no connection between the normal viewer and the works. This process made it look as if everyone had entered the public space, but it was a closed public space. Let me mention the two points that hit me the hardest when I talked about the Long March with Lu Jie in New York. First, I think the utopia envisioned here is the opening of a new space. China lacks the support of a museum system, and we’re not willing to keep going back to the Western museums for more of the same. China has to make some trenchant choices about its context and about the questions it wishes to consider, and we are forced to relate to those choices. At this point, everyone starts to think, good-since our cultural perspective and our ways of thinking, and even our life experiences are not like theirs, let’s do a project like this one. I think the utopia lies herein. The second utopian idea was that no one is happy with the inner state of the art world at the moment, and so we wanted, through the Long March, to open up the essential concepts behind our works. In Europe, contemporary art is certainly not a movement by one circle of people; it is the thing of an entire society. Why did so many museums and famous artists oppose Documenta X? It was the first time that an exhibition was challenging a system of choosing works based on star system, a system on which many museums depend for survival. At that time everyone was cursing the exhibition. Works were placed in public spaces, in hallways. Advertising for the show was completely mixed in with local advertising. Many things were destroyed. But in order to launch this subversion, a massive apparatus was first necessary. Museums, exhibitions, investors, and foundations-Documenta X destroyed all of these in a very simple way. It caused an important shake-up. But after seeing that exhibition, many Chinese artists had another conclusion: that the exhibition lacked atheistic value. And in fact the exhibition had very little of this. When I got back I started thinking, China has contemporary art, but why? Being someone from the Third World, or as a member of so-called cultural elite here, why does one do art? Maybe Western artists choose to be an artist, which is to say, they start making art even though they have many other choices. But I think many in our generation started making art simply because we studied art-we were compelled by the system in a way. That is to say that the hidden motives with which we began is different from theirs. Back then, perhaps art would win you a few things. If you were from a small town and you were an artist, you had a special identity. Now, as society has grown more complex, people have more leeway for real choice and their own values, and some of them no longer need to choose art. But in Chinese contemporary art, the vast majority of artists still feel limited. For example, they wait for exhibitions to choose them. If you go talk to a contemporary Chinese artist, they will give you a CV that is a list of exhibitions, not a list of works. They won’t bring up one or another particular work and discuss with you the problems it solves. And so one year ago, I felt that by participating in the Long March I would find a kind of utopia. When I went to join the ranks and realize my work at Luding Bridge, that night, we swayed back and forth, debating whether or not to end the March. I said then that I didn’t think there was anything to finish, because to a large extent, the Long March was not a Long March of imitation. Therefore, I said, when you feel you should finish the project, you can finish the project. Also I felt that in some ways, the Long March is fundamentally ambiguous. The historical Red Army similarly had no idea where it was headed. And when you reached a point on this Long March, you also said, let’s go. I think this is actually OK. And so on the bridge that day, everyone had a very serious feeling, that to stop before finishing was somehow inappropriate. But I think good things always come out of “inappropriate” situations. But now I am regretful that the project seems over, and in the end it seems as if what Lu Jie did is give a new platform to artists on which to make products. I imagine Lu Jie is not satisfied with this. For example, many of the works could have been realized here in this room, with the result that after traveling across provinces and spending loads of money, switching to a new context, the works are the same. I think this makes them meaningless.
Inasmuch as you enter the Long March, certain unpredictable and irreplaceable things will happen. If a work can be realized here in this room, why is there need to take it on the Long March? The corollary is that works which could be realized on the Long March can’t necessarily be replicated back at home, that is to say the Long March forces the artists to consider truly the issue of public space. This is not a purely materialistic consideration, not a question of how tall, how wide, how good the light is. I think there are many other non-material considerations that were not taken into account.
No matter how Mao Zedong made his strategies, when we talk about cultural strategy today, I just wish people will realize the meaning and value of your Long March and following you. It’s wrong to not participate or support you, unless they have nothing to contribute. The Long March is actually a kind of capital without form. It is not a matter of me giving you ten dollars in exchange for your support; it is a formless capital that grows useful the moment it is placed in local context. Since Lu Jie returned to Beijing, he has been hoping for dialogue and debate. I agree with what Wang Hui says that these questions imposed by Long March must be considered in a realm that transcends the tiny scope of Chinese contemporary art if the debate is to be useful. Otherwise, there is no way to debate this topic. I have also heard a lot of artists talking about the Long March who have no real ability to communicate. When Lu Jie wanted to debate Trotskyism, and went to the art circle, the artists thought he was crazy. They didn’t know what connection it had to them. And then there were all those movie screenings during his Long March––Godard, Antonioni, etc––the majority of Chinese artists think that these also have nothing to do with them. Many artists care solely and directly about their own interests. I think this is not the Long March. It must be approached idealistically, like Guangtian just said. If it’s a matter of “come with us, and you’ll get a good opportunity out of it,” then it has become a different kind of utopia.
Zhang Guangtian: If you have people march with you, they can study on the road. I mean to say that the ranks of the viewers might now have a connection with the Long March. Of course, we “elite troops” are also very important, because they start a dialogue. They comprise an external system. Dialogue is extremely important. Perhaps Godard and Trotsky have nothing to do with the viewers, but if these works help you to start an exchange, then they are interesting. You make these people come along for the ride, and when problems arise through your use of works by Trotsky, and then Trotsky has entered your project.
Wang Jianwei: Chinese contemporary art is actually much more of an export than many other disciplines here. Let’s first not talk about whether this is right or wrong. Speaking practically, it has more opportunities to go abroad, more exhibitions in which to participate. But these exhibitions bring with them a big problem-and we really do feel it-that this is not our discourse. That is to say, even if you appear often in these exhibitions, they really don’t represent you. In a way, you can do nothing but be silent. The exhibitions only take up the public discourses behind you, or rather, the public discourses have already been decided upon. Returning to China, you feel as if these things have never been discussed here, as if there were never an opportunity. So perhaps the utopia of the Long March is the chance to find something between the two extremes. It looks like Lu Jie is trying to hold himself back right now, as if he wanted to say just this. But I don’t think the Long March is the only way to resolve this problem, I think there will be others. If you say for example that the contemporary art is constructed in a fundamentally Western way, based on the strong connection between people and material goods that can only grow out of an industrial society, then how do you bring it into our public space? Sometimes when I see installation works by Chinese artists, I look at them once and know that they’re not right. You have no connection to that material; you have temporarily moved it into the space. How are we to look at this question again today? We are Chinese people. When we leave the country, everyone says, “Hey, you’re Chinese” and begins to ask questions about China. Suddenly you discover that your education has left you completely confused about Chinese culture. I didn’t know about China’s tradition of cave carving until I saw pictures in exhibition catalogues in Japan in the 1980s. Before that, I had no idea that China had something so good! Our generation does not follow completely along with the West, but it is also cut off from its own culture. Sometimes we are not allowed to express it completely, but we have a real confidence in our own cultural heritage. And so perhaps the Long March is like sticking a knife in from the center. Utopia is a strange thing, in the last year it seems like every e-mail I receive is about this topic.
Wang Hui: The feeling I get looking at the works today is stronger than the one I had when Lu Jie first told me about the project. I think it really does have a utopian significance. But if you look at the actual process of participation, it seems that the works are all opposed to utopia. It is clear that they are all sarcastic, because this is a trend. In the last 20 or 30 years, this has been the fundamental trend, opposed to tradition, including Qiu Zhijie’s work where he walks and left and right are reversed and obscured. [Note 8]. Can the “middle way” still exists, when in the end even the most basic assumptions underlying utopia have been deconstructed? Almost everyone, all styles of doing works, they are all sarcastic. Except for when the project is really working with the folk-on projects that have nothing to do with your high art, on projects that have no connection to your artists. You suddenly discovered an old man who takes photos, and took them for so many years. [Note 9] That is truly for the people-how could taking so many pictures not be for the people? But other than when men like that appear, almost all of your artworks are against utopia. This shows that in a way, there is no difference between the art circle and the intellectual circles, and so this thing is a trend. If you want to build a utopia inside the trend, all of the materials available to you are anti-utopian. If you build a utopia here, in the end it self-deconstructs. Speaking this way, you get a very postmodern, very strange result, not something you could have predicted. But here I just thought of a difference, with no connection to art, but just my own opinion. For example when I went to villages along the Chishui River I discovered that though the houses are made from dirt, they still have satellite television. I was amazed, and confused, about how such a poor place could have satellite TV. Later I was talking with a man in our group, someone who had spent a few years working there. He said one thing that still sticks with me. He said, “You know that during the Cultural Revolution when the young intellectuals took to the mountains and went down to the countryside, the influence on us peasants by the Chishui River was greater than the influence of any of countless education campaigns. All of the ‘reforms and openings’ in my village today, all of the transitions to modernity, happened because the young intellectuals came.” And so the relation of the world to the world of the village changed completely because of a few young intellectuals. The most important thing to consider is Mao’s idea at the time of the Long March as “sewer of seeds.” He may not have thought this way, but still in the end the Long March became a route to power. But still at that time when he had yet to control power, he had some very open ideas. He thought that he would march, but was never entirely certain just to where. But the places he passed, because they had experienced this thing, this exchange, because this change happened in the world, there arose a kind of confidence in the time. I can’t postulate what method it should use, but I think contemporary art has the ability to take this idea and display it. And just like Wang Jianwei said, you then open your entire circle, your entire profession; you switch to a new place, for example, you march through and perhaps you are not happy with yourselves, but perhaps the scene in that village, perhaps just because the Long March appeared there, has undergone drastic change. But because it doesn’t occur under our field of vision, because it cannot be collected by a museum, because it cannot be theorized by art critics, it’s as if it never happened. But how would you ever go about trying to put this within your field of vision? This question, to a certain extent, is the reason why so many so-called intellectuals and scholars debating utopia has no future, because their ways of thinking are all oppositional, and cannot produce anything.
Zhang Guangtian: Actually, the greatest influence on our art world since the 1980s has been the deconstruction of utopia. Now we have this right-wing” liberalism,” is deconstructing the left wing from the point of view of aesthetic value. In the 1990s we deconstructed everything, carelessly. Left-wingers deconstructed right-wing liberals, liberals deconstructed the left wing. Utopia was destroyed. In my public campaign, did I not fuck the Statue of Liberty? Did I not deconstruct liberalism? And yet at the same time they try to deconstruct our Red Shoulder Chang Qing Leads the Road. [Note 10]
What Wang Hui says is right. If we discuss utopia, all our materials, all our styles of working, all our fulcrums are already counter-utopian. Where is our fulcrum? This is a very serious question. Looking just now at that old man and his natural-light camera-it’s no wonder that he has become our last fulcrum.
Wang Jianwei: That’s right. What Wang Hui just said is interesting. Looking back on the Young Intellectuals Movement during the Cultural Revolution, whether we say it succeeded or failed, at times it certainly did open up the door to a certain place. But does contemporary art really need to resemble what we think of as “contemporary art” if it is going to take on this capacity? Have we really entered into this capacity? Could a work take on the form of education or some other form, and then not resemble, not count as art? The Long March didn’t really open this up. My personal feeling is that too many works from the Long March resemble actual works of art. Say for example that we go to some far-off place, and bring a bunch of the same old artists to a restaurant or teahouse out there. We take their same works, and perhaps because the context has changed a chain reaction is set off, and some detail of the work comes into clearer view. But if there is no connection at all, then nothing has been opened, and this is a problem. One reason may be the difference between the countryside and the city; another is that artists, including the people behind this project, have some problems.
Huang Ping: If you want to realize a Long March of contemporary art, to find another life-force for art, this must merge with all sorts of already existing folk art. This is true if you decide to do alternative art, if you connect art with history. Your departure must be idealistic-regardless of from where, New York, Beijing, Ruijin. This is not to say that only we can do art, and that we are the sowers of seeds. The problem is reversed-we go to the countryside looking for nourishment. And these local artists, particularly the old man photographer you talked about, are very obvious examples. It’s like what Guangtian just spoke of, the blending of the elite and the masses in search of revolution, although they might actually travel two different roads. There is such a thing as virtual performance, as in the case of Jiang Jiwei’s “quotation mountain,” which I have encountered often. I meet somebody on the road of Long March, his father joint the Second Battalion and left home, but he fled into the mountains when the Nationalists came back to slaughter, a small boy, and remained in the mountains planting trees for decades. You could call this unconsciously planting trees, a kind of zoology, a work of art in itself. One man’s work changing an entire landscape. This kind of tree planting is different from art, no matter whether one wants to be in biennales, or to be one of the “twenty-eight-and-a-half artists” on the route, or to search for utopia. I think that on the road you need to search ceaselessly for nourishment and build your confidence. Lu Jie just spoke very teleologically, saying that he encountered some problems and fought at them one by one. He fought through a whole road’s worth of problems, and there are problems left over, and we are asking what to do next: this is the integration of local and international. Fight with the international hierarchy by using the local context, this methodology was called “To Reform Our Study” during the historical Long March.
The necessity of Chairman Mao’s Yan’an Forum on Literature and Arts is something no one encountered until the Red Army settled in Yan’an after the Long March. Because when the Red Army settled in at Yan’an, youth came from Beijing and Shanghai to join in the rear front of the war against Japanese aggression. Before this, when the Red Army was on the road, the most popular art forms are originated from falk art, for propaganda use. Such as talk shows “three and a half sentences”, but they were all created by young intellectuals came from the city. Remember the images of those guys in the old pictures wearing glasses? Liao Chengzhi wore handcuffs and wrote three-and-a-half sentence excerpts all along the road, always looking for a way to unite with the locals, a way to entice young peasants to join the struggle, so that it would become an honest indigenous march. Of course at the beginning of the Long March the leaders never thought of what they were doing, they did it of necessity, nothing more than retreat and evacuation, no one knowing where they were headed. They didn’t know how long they would go, and they didn’t know that they were going north to fight the Japanese-these are constructs that were added later.
Wang Hui: I think one important question touched upon by the Long March is that the reasons for constructing a utopia are completely different from the utopia we often debate. The latter is what we think up ourselves, but the Long March was a forced march, and only later did it really get beyond itself. The interesting thing is that the Long March was actually abortive, even though it declared itself a revolutionary victory. The Long March later became a very serious issue in Chinese art history, because the Chinese revolution is truly a very important incident. The 30s and 40s are essentially the period in which the modernism created in the wake of May 4th could go no further. When it could go no further, everyone thought that in terms of historical accident, we had no social movement like the Chinese revolution at the time, which could discover the resources of the folk tradition and incorporate them into the most mainstream of art forms; this was a first. “Three and a half sentence” slogans, Sichuan opera, Han opera, that’s what people were working with, and later a group of artists appeared-Zhao Shuli, Li Xiangxiang, Tian Jian-and forms underwent a great change. This change was later subsumed into a broader tradition of “revolutionary arts,” and thus failed. This extremism spelled its end, but still the things it came up with had never been seen before, they are something that should be explained by Chinese art history. This question of mobilization and power to discover combined with the reasons for its ultimate failure are connected with the anti-utopian currents of the present. Everyone feels that revolutionary art in the end got only this far, then no one was willing to go on, so it turned around. From this perspective, the Long March is an unfinished experiment. From this perspective, the current Long March is also like this.
Zhang Guangtian: Do today’s common folk not have culture? Of course they have their folk cultural, but what is that? I don’t think the Chinese cultural circles have been able to confirm it. What is today’s folk culture? When we think of it, we immediately bring up “three-and-a-half sentences”, but these have already been used up, this resource has already vaporized. Right now, it is very possible that the real locus of folk culture is the “Big Character Manifesto.” [Note 11]
Lu Jie: When we were in Hailuogou, we discovered some incredible texts. There they have an old people’s club that meets in a temple which has served three different religions. On the walls they have pasted the lyrics to “Nanniwan,” “The East is Red,” all of these revolutionary songs that they have rewritten into advertisements for tourism in Hailuogou. When they sung the songs, the tunes were the same as the old folk songs, but the words had been changed into slogans about how to sell the revolutionary heritage of their town.
Our Long March very easily gives people a false impression that we are “taking paintings to the countryside”, [Note 12] bringing art to the people. People say that we are like Bolsheviks using art we learned from abroad to oppose the mainstream, the system in China. They ask why we need to do something alternative here when the museum system is still so week. They tell us that our ideas are copied from old Western artists of the 60s and 70s. But it’s not like this. We are not only looking to take things to people, and taking things to people is not to say that they are good things which we provide for their enjoyment. We take them there to be tested, and we bring things from wherever we go back with us. The Long March has always been concerned with this sort of bidirectional relationship. Another layer is that we are not only going on – site to do new things, but taking works from the 80s and 90s that had a so-called public nature, and exploring their fraudulence, or rather their emptiness by bringing them to the people and strolling them around. Is it true that these works can’t stand up to an attack? Or do they have their own sensitivity? We are mindful of both the artistic predicament at the current moment, and to the meaning of artistic work that has happened in the moments leading up to now. The third question returns to the issues about utopia you were all just debating. It’s true; there is a certain romance behind this project, which extends to its administration and even its funding sources. To found this huge project all by myself and my family, it is very sacrificial yet romantic, and might even look crazy compared with the way in which other people do things. But I want to answer a point Guangtian just made that in running a revolution you need to tell your participants what benefit it can do for them, and another point that Jinshi made about who I am and what I am doing. I think my personal goal in doing this project is to do constructive work; I am not interested in sitting here and talking about utopia. Through this project I want to set a few things straight, at least in the realm of contemporary art. I want to pull out the resources I have, first Chinese-of tradition, of socialist memory, of the connections between folk and contemporary art-and tidy up the connections between art and social reality. Like Wang Jianwei just said, the flow of artworks is generally from China towards the so called global world, so you exist in a translated realm. Before you really questioning the imagined self and others by revisiting and reexamine the resources you have, you floated directly on the surface. Even less necessary is a discussion of your materials: you look to reflect the people, but the people don’t even know it. It’s a shame my collaborator Qiu Zhijie is not able to be here today. At the Zunyi Conference he had one very good line, saying that “art in China is at a point where it cannot go on unless it goes on a Long March.”. I think this explains a lot. What is our resources, and whether they are useful, or whether they are used up? It gets at the idea of re-understanding the folk; this is another important working style of the Long March. There are artists who refused to participate in the Long March, who felt wronged. They said we have to speak the international language so that we will be heard; we have to be practical in order to survive in an internationalized cultural environment. They thought we would take their works in comparison of the powerful falk arts to humiliate and against them, But I responded that we were finding the folk in order to support them.
In my curatorial outline I stress that in the art of the 1990s through today, there are lots of joking games and satires, but there is no real, direct confrontation with our political resources and reality. This includes utopia, and our understanding of revolution. Some works in the 1990s rendered a simple verdict on politics, but we are looking, through the Long March, to re-consolidate and understand, and thus to re-depart. I want to do real work. Just as in the international cultural arena, you must participate in biennales or in the market, I also support this, but is it possible to stand in a richer position from which to examine your own perspective, and not in a position in which culture is always there to be consumed? For this reason we included materials in every site that discuss Western representation of China, and we included materials from the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, and also many Chinese works that touch on imaginings of the West. I’d like to make an example: when we were at the Xichang Long March Satellite Launcher Station in Sichuan, we fought hard to gain access to the facility and hold a dialogue with artists there. The scientists at this base sit at the avant-garde of science and technology in China, and the so-called language of science is utterly universal. But when these people made art, they painted traditional and local motifs of peonies and peacocks, so-called unsophisticated subjects. I wanted to start this dialogue because of things like early 20th century painter Xu Beihong’s massive failure in going to Europe and mounting an exhibition of Chinese master painters on the Republican government’s dime. The rejection and misunderstanding of those wonderful works in the outside world has always troubled me. As has the government’s exhibitions before the reform era, when they took paper cutting to Venice Biennale and exhibited it, and which were also huge failures. I have always been troubled by this. Taking paper cutting abroad is not wrong. But in addition to the fact that there were problems with the dialogue they wished to create, there were also problems with their curating, there were no problems with the materials. Xu Beihong brought along incredible works by Fu Baoshi and Zhang Daqian. Why were they refused? Why weren’t they recognized? I think there is a lot worth talking about here. The state-employed artists of the satellite station are supposed to paint rockets and weapons and other modern things, but they refuse, preferring to paint peonies and peacocks. You can speak a foreign language or a peasant pidgin-neither is wrong. But as curators, people who do cultural display, our strategies are often wrong. In doing the Long March I made some of these strategic considerations; I looked to create interactive relationships between things people thought were unrelated or even opposed. To make another example, our curatorial plan made a lot of references to the Wanderers of the Russian avant-garde and their connection to the October revolution, to the connection between communism and many Western artists, like Picasso’s declaration upon entering the communist party. In doing this we were looking to bring up actualities, to prove that contemporary or avant-garde art is not opposed to the revolution. They are part and parcel of each other. In our society now, I get worried by everyone’s lack of confidence in contemporary art. The avant-garde has been turned into a so-called underground, anti – mainstream thing by excessive sensitivity; but actually it is just that its theoretical underpinnings have a few problems which have created a problem whereby not only the government or the dominant ideology but also members of the society at large believe that contemporary art is anti-revolutionary while it is supposed to be revolutionary.
Qi Jianping: Actually there are two different kinds of utopia. When we started talking about the Long March, I thought of the Long March television series in 2000.In it there was one detail that particularly struck me. Liu Ying, the wife of Zhang Wentian, was in Zunyi receiving guests and talking with the masses, memorizing poems. But she was memorizing not only Tang Dynasty poetry but also poems by Pushkin. I thought this was a very strange juxtaposition, that in front of peasants she would recite poems by Pushkin. Actually this is another so-called utopia, putting things from two different spaces together. Why did they shoot the television series in this way? Why would she recite Pushkin? I think that Mao Zedong also represents a kind of utopia. In the end, at least in terms of military strategy, he succeeded. Just now when Lu Jie spoke of conceptual changes in art, the differences among the avant-garde, how the idea of entering the museum system is gradually coming to be tolerated in China, but that the idea of leaving the museum is apparently difficult to accept in China, I thought this might be because of some widespread problems in China with the idea of art, with the museum system in China. Perhaps there are differences in this respect between China and some of the Western countries. Perhaps China has not made sufficient preparations in this regard. You just voiced some doubts toward Chinese officialdom’s approach to contemporary art, misunderstandings of the folk, which the media have also had a hard time interpreting. Perhaps Chinese people can accept this; I don’t think this is a completely unattainable utopia, but there still exists question of how to go about attaining it. And perhaps for Chinese society as a whole, the larger issue is that our theoretical preparation has not been sufficient-how to view, how to interpret, how to explain-it is a phenomenon not dissimilar to the juxtaposition I just mentioned of Pushkin and the Tang poetry. Perhaps your Long March in China is an opportunity, that to make Chinese people believe in art. Perhaps this problem requires an approach, and perhaps the media are that approach, a way to slowly change these details, to create some foundations for interpretation. So I think that if the Long March has results like we’ve seen today, whether out of misunderstanding or out of problems with the participants, it still reflects the entire way in which things are done in China, it still brings up some problems.
Zhang Guangtian: I think what Lu Jie just said sounds dangerous for him. I understand what he means; he is telling us that revolution and modernist art are twins, that there is no conflict here. But if you want to display these symbols in Chinese society today, how many people will throw bricks at you? In any case, no one can listen to this talk. But if you succeed, how badass you would be, the hordes would come and support you, and their enemies would no longer be able to go on and full around claiming being revolutionary by anti-revolution.
Han Yuhai: Of course that’s true, this is obvious. After watching the computer display you just showed us, I think it is very good. The Long March is a topic to which we keep returning in China. It is like the Internationale, which talks about a unification, the question of global unification. The Long March actually talks about the problem of praxis. Because at the time, the Long March actually had no goal. It went somewhere and went on from there. Many high-level leaders were along for the ride, and many young people came along to play. It was this kind of a wandering, it really did resemble a very special kind of performance art, with a very experimental flair. So when Mao Zedong summed up the Long March, he called it a manifesto, a political manifesto, uniting the political potentials of the leader class with the places through which they passed, a way of making Bolshevist thought connect with Chinese localities, a constant process of looking for ways to connect the two. And so it is a manifesto, but at the same time, it called itself a sower of seeds. It was like a proliferation, a continuous transmission. And so this theme is very good, as it always lives on in reality. I remember a few years ago there was an avant-garde biennale, a Beijing biennale, and they asked me to write a preface. I wrote about the left-wing art of China in the 30s. In his later years, Lu Xun supported this; Lu Xun was very much a supporter of print-making and film. He was very interested in these. Lu Xun’s support of this thing and the Red Army’s Long March have some similarities. One is that Lu Xun died in October, 1936. One month before, in September, the Red Army reached the Wayaiobao. These two things happened simultaneously, only a month apart. Furthermore, after reaching Yan’an, people doing left-wing art in Shanghai had a place to gather. And so it was that the leftist artists of Shanghai came to unite, because they had a place to gather in northern Shaanxi that the Red Army established for them. The Yellow River Chorus and many similar things came out of this. I wrote my preface in just this way. Many Chinese avant-garde artists wish to erase this history, they wish they could claim that avant-garde art never had such a close connection to the Communist Party, they feel they should leave this out. Like Wang Hui just said, memory of this period, including the revolutionization of the 1930s left-wing artists who got their beginnings in the May 4th Movement, has been refused in a very interesting way.
Wang Hui: Actually the situation at that time resembles the one today. Xian Xinghai lived in the cave dwelling in Yan’an, unkempt, and people wondered how an artist could be like this. When the locals view performance art today, it is also like this.
Han Yuhai: Today’s avant-garde artists are rather willing to refuse these connections. We went through this in the 80s as well when everyone was studying things in the West, and we feel this still today. Later on we realized the Foucault and others were all influenced by Marx, and even by Mao. How is this possible? This is an interesting refusal. I once traveled part of the route of the Long March with Huang Ping, and in the process I was constantly enriching my own understanding of the Long March. The Long March was truly a utopia, but we also encounter many other utopias in history, for example Shangri-la, a horizon which once disappeared, an imaginary space in the British style. But when I was traveling with Huang Ping, we discovered the green mountains and waters along a road that China had developed. It ran the route of the “Go West” campaign, running west into Tibet. In this process it is very possible to discover that utopia is formless. It is also possible that going further one discovers its shape and form, like a China that grew out of the workings of Yan’an. Now we talk in a very Western style, about the international and Shanghai intellectuals and their plans for China. And these plans were all quite similar. Why wasn’t Mao Zedong bold and assured before the Long March, but only after he got to Yan’an? It has everything to do with the revolutionary route he traveled on the Long March.
Wang Hui: We have held so many meetings at Dushu about art. I feel like the biggest worry on everyone’s mind is the West. Every time we have one of these things, the artists’ biggest worry is that the shadow of the West is too big. They want to get out and can’t. Every time we meet, whether the topic is the museum system, artistic trends, whatever, the topic always comes up. The history of the Chinese revolution provides us with an important experience. To put it frankly, no matter how you construct this “Western shadow,” the more you construct it, the bigger it gets, and the result is that art becomes elite. On the Long March they studied everything, including the West. Much of Mao Zedong thought comes from the West. Ignoring for a minute its later problems, let’s talk about the successful pieces of Mao Zedong thought. It is worth discussing why no one every felt worried about the Western constructs therein.
Everyone talks about the folk now, but of you look closely, the arts of Yan’an collected folk songs and bound them together, but the form they took was Western. Bai Maonu’s operatic form, the Yellow River Chorus and others. And then there is what I was talking about with Lu Jie last time, the Romanization of Chinese written Language Movement, and on such a large scale. Think about it, the Red Army was going to talk with peasants, and they pulled out books in Latin letters to read propaganda materials about the war against Japan. There were so many of these texts, and no one ever thought this was a problem worth worrying about. This presents a problem to artists and intellectuals. Not only artists, who have worried about his for many years, but also to those of us in the academy, where our biggest worry is that everything we do is Western. If you do it this way, we think, it becomes Western. And what is Western, really? Is it possible not to be Western? What has the West really become? We need to look at this as a process of realization, to re-consider these problems, otherwise we have no way out, and it’s as if we block ourselves in. Going on in this way is problematic. On the one hand, it is good for everyone to be worried, because it is important to be self-conscious, lest we float with the tide. On the other hand, after ways of thinking grew excessively elite, after the adversary of the West grew so exaggerated that it no longer had form; it created the possibility that we asphyxiate ourselves. Why is our time so different from the people on the road of Long March or in Yan’an; they really didn’t have this problem. If they did something, they did something. And after they did it, you didn’t think it was totally Western. There was not the anxiety we have today about being Western. I think this experience is worth talking about. In any case in the last few years there hasn’t been a case in which we did not talk about it. The question of power ultimately a question about the West, but in the revolutionary experience, what does this ultimately mean?
Zhang Guangtian: Wang Hui’s comments just now touch upon the questions I was asking earlier about folksongs; these problems are created when we deny these things. That is to say, created when we have no interest in our own time, but are completely confident about our past and future. You ask why people at that time didn’t have this problem, whether it was the Long March, or going to Yan’an to study and clear things up, there was always a feeling that they were changing the world, creating a new world, that they were participants, the masses were participants, the leaders were also participants. There was no comparison between past and future. The future was a communist society that was still unthinkably far off. It was like Baghdad is today; the army was approaching. In these past few days they have torn down the statues of Saddam. Can you help but worry? The position at that time was not the same. Then the revolution was successively swelling, the anti-fascist movement was growing, and the communist camp was getting larger. What is the situation now? Only China is left. Only you. If Arab culture doesn’t win this battle, it will have proved that it is not right. In the end the only one that can hang with Western culture is Chinese culture. Prepare to surrender.
Wang Mingxian: Recent art historical scholarship talks about a few important points in art in 20th century China. One is the print-making of the revolutionary era. Whenever I see Lu Jie I think of the Long March. He prepared for years, and formally began to realize it just last year. I think the problem with Chinese contemporary art right now is precisely the closed circle, and the art world itself has come to this realization too. How to solve it? There really is no route, so Lu Jie decided to walk the Long March route. I have not seriously researched the Red Army’s Long March; I have only heard legends. At the time it was a kind of exile, a kind of defeat, a time when there were actually no routes, where you went somewhere and didn’t know where you would go from there. In the end, they found a newspaper left by the Nationalists, which said that Liu Zhidan’s Red Army had made it in Yan’an, and people went to join them. Actually it was a sudden and necessary thing that arose from chaos. So we can say that Mao had military and political genius. This art Long March, although it has stopped, when you were going, you must have discovered some things. For example Yu Huiyong, who in the 50s researched Chinese folk music, came to lead a resurgence of Chinese folk music in the 60s. I wonder if your Long March is not looking for something. You talk of connecting with the common folk. For example, the scientists who run the Xichang satellite launcher like to paint peonies and peacocks, and now I’m thinking to myself that peonies and peacocks aren’t so bad.
Huang Ping: The problem that Shi Dakai couldn’t get past the Luding Bridge was that he lost his connection with the folk. Whether it was the Red Army’s Long March or some other historical incident, success has ultimately depended on one’s ability to draw on the support of local resources. I say this as a metaphor; if we say that artists want to find a new beginning, to start an alternative dialogue, they should look for possibility among the locals. Just like Guangtian said, the answer is not with the Artists’ Association, or the Writer’s Association, or the Council of Learned Societies. It is in people like that folk photographer. I think there are many very interesting things like that, none of them in the art circle. If you have not found a foundation among the masses, it gets very difficult.
Zhu Jinshi: Wang Hui’s comments on Romanization of Chinese written Language have to do with that special era. Without a revolutionary movement, without a revolutionary background, it would have been impossible to have revolutionary success. The current Long March lacks a revolutionary context. The relationship between art and the folk is not the way you seem to be imagining it; the folk has not yet gotten to this point. If it were so mature already, there would be no need for artists to go and create a relationship. Art is not a paradigm, a movement, or a system. Has the Western model really provided a point of reference for this Long March? If we look at this question from an artist’s perspective, or as Easterners, the question is whether this paradigm, this system, is really useful to artists. Wang Jianwei planted the earth for a year; does this count as a Long March? Wang Jianwei was not satisfied with the Long March, probably because it became a work of art performance, because it took on the flavor of its curator. How will Wang Jianwei will go on to imagine-like he just said about education, about communication, about transmission? I don’t think he will simply absorb something thoughtlessly from folk culture. It seems that the Long March as a system is quite prone to initiating things. I look even at our meeting today, and many methods used were initiative, I don’t think this can change. Speaking of absorption, I think that if urban artists go to the country to absorb things, we have to remember that these artists are fundamentally aristocratic, and that their working style is oriented primarily toward Venice and Kassell; their style of absorption is to get something out of participating in an exhibition. The working style of Western biennales is understood quite clearly by Chinese artists, quite simply that name decides success or failure. They will ask whether the Long March can be a springboard. Another question is whether there are any artists who really want to go on the Long March. Of course there are, there must be. But they are not necessarily on the road. Of course they transcend this kind of concept, so it is not a simple matter, this question of whether you can finish the project by going to the folk looking to absorb. I think the debate just now has complicated the issues unnecessarily.
Zhang Guangtian: Would anyone here really have been willing to go on the Long March? This is a very serious question. I have asked myself, and I think we all need to ask ourselves.
Qi Jianping: We have spoken of Yan’an and why its art succeeded. We have spoken of the elite and the folk, the West and China, and of the posturing required by these relationships, which include education and absorption. The later development of Yan’an and other bases had nothing to do with posturing; there was no consideration of rationale and gesture, but only of very practical issues like the war against Japan, land reform, educating the peasants and soldiers. At that time there were fixed recipients of art, and art existed under a framework of revolutionary necessity. Only in this framework could it have succeeded. The first group of recipients is incredibly important. For example, everyone forgets who were the first audience of the Yellow River Chorus, because it has become a symbol. But at the time, the performance was for a real group of viewers. This relationship is very important. What kind of viewers are you looking for right now? What kind of life situation are you looking for? Will it succeed or fail, will it continue or will you try again in the future? These are questions worth considering.
Hang Jian: I think I can feel why Wang Jianwei is still guessing why Lu Jie weren’t happy with the Long March. He is an artist who participated in the twelfth site, the final site. The fact that he is still guessing why you stopped is worth looking into. We have been talking fairly calmly, and almost entirely constructively. I think this is because of your curatorial plan before us, because everyone really likes that text. When I first looked at the website, I remember thinking that this was a very good curatorial plan. But if Chairman Mao had used a map like this for the Red Army’s Long March, we would not be talking about it in this way. I think you understand the Long March from the point of view of today’s cultural sphere, and that you have found a few poignant links between culture today and the Long March then. This is good. But you are also constantly tying in the historical Long March, and I don’t think that this project is a Long March in the original sense of the word. You can leave the historical route, you can change your way mid-stream, and in the end it is quite possible that you will not reach northern Shaanxi but some other place altogether. But still, you still hold on to the utopian dreams Wang Hui just spoke of, never relinquishing them. You went abroad to study, which should have changed some of the assumptions you had coming out of the Chinese system where you studied art. But when you came back to China to choose artists, you set out from the perspective of Chinese art, and not from the perspective of your original curatorial plan. And more than eighty per cent of participating artists are famous already, so they all bring their own baggage into the project, which of course creates contradictions. Speaking again of the problem of folk art, it seems that we are far behind where Mao Zedong was on his route. Now you spend a little money and ask them to hold works, or you go find some cultural institutions to cooperate with you. But what is the essence of contemporary folk culture? This is a tough question for the contemporary elite, people who were born into an academic art background. High culture often misinterprets folk culture. Zhang Guangtian believes that folk culture lies in drama, but I think it is more in residential committees, Karaoke parlors, hair salons that double as brothels, places that arose naturally and make people feel happy. Impulsive situations give rise to folk culture. So if you set out from the perspective of Chinese and foreign contemporary art looking to force yourself in, it will seem like a joke, both to them and to later viewers. If it isn’t natural, can it really lead to a collision? These fears are all worth considering. I respect that you’ve used so much of your own capital to mount this project, I think we could truly used the word “great” to describe it. But I recommend that now you sit down, close the door, and write. Take this experience, this process, and turn it into a text. This would be worthwhile.
Lu Jie: Other people have made that suggestion, that I don’t need to finish the project, but just to write a text. Still other people warned me that Chinese artists were not suited to participating in such a project, that I could only write a book and never actually do a project. But doing the Long March is different from talking about it. Let me briefly mention the problems of the Long March. I don’t think they are intellectual problems, but rather problems in integrating ideas with the current moment. If our participants wished us success, and those not participating wished us failure, and if they believe we have failed after they are done participating, I think something is wrong. Actually the project wants to be an incident, an incident through which the current attitude is changed, and things inside are set aside. Now if we don’t march or do this, there is no way to set things aside. There is a frequent criticism: too many topics, too much ambition, too many concepts. I think I knew from the beginning that either because of me myself, or the nature of this project, that as soon as the framework was brought up, it was doomed to failure. And perhaps it is a failure in the conventional sense. Why did we want to string together so many topics? What significance did those topics have there? No matter how big a failure the project ultimately was, the goal was actually to return to the problems of the people involved, in our time.
Han Yuhai: But you can’t stop things that have already happened.
Zhu Jinshi: Speaking from the international perspective, this really is not something one would see in the Western system. I have never heard of a project like the Long March, and when I first saw the proposal, I too caught the bug. There are certainly plenty of very interesting things here. But casualties will be necessary; isn’t it a war after all? People are going to die. It’s a different era.
Guy who was sitting in café listening: I am a listener, from Taiwan, who just happened to pass by and decided to sit and listen in on your debate. All of the themes you have been debating here could be summarized in one: the time for artists to study en masse has come. The necessity of this study has made itself apparent in the work you have done. Secondly, revolution and degeneration are inseparable, so if you are going to talk about revolution, you need to ask why art today will degenerate. That you have already done this is precious. The most important thing is what you do next, how much you can precipitate, how much you can accumulate. You have to keep going, and then this think will exist. If you don’t continue, the project will not bear fruit.
Huang Ping: There is a line in Guevara that is pretty good: get on board again, depart again.
Wang Hui: The core question is whether there are new topics to be gotten. In the past twenty years, in what we might call a reaction to the revolution that preceded it, there have been two extremes. In the end it left us with an either an obscured memory or a distorted understanding of the entire history of the twentieth century. This history I think needs to be re-narrated under current conditions. I remember talking with Lu Jie long ago, and saying that in terms of Chinese history, you can legitimately say that without the revolution there would be no modernity. Or else there would have only been colonial modernity. That is to say that only because there was the Chinese revolution was there subjectivity, and regardless of the tragedy of the revolution we could talk about, if we obscure its history, we obscure the entire question of the modern, at least for Chinese people. So we need to take revolutionary history and tell the story over again thoroughly, from the top. This is not to say that we should simply deny the tragedies of the revolution that everyone has come to discuss in the past twenty or thirty years. Thinking over is important, but it cannot turn into a reactionary movement. But the basic process now is that thinking over becomes reaction, and this creates problems. It is as if there was no revolutionary history; after a century of struggle, in the end colonialism and imperialism are right. That turns re-consideration into anti-revolution. I don’t mean anti-revolution in the same sense in which it was once used. The idea is a farewell to modernity, because modernity is one of the things that need to be reconsidered as well. But you cannot simply deny modernity, because modernity actually comprises the process of the reconstitution of subjectivity. So bringing this topic up, including summarizing the tragedy of revolution itself, that is what would be meaningful. What we talked about today is not simply art’s problems in actualizing itself, but really the entire historical predicament of the 19th and 20th centuries. One of my bigger regrets is that owing to the division of intellectual labor and our different fields, there has been little chance for dialogue. This so-called “circle-ization” refers not only to our distance from society, but is also internal to the various fields, be they artistic or scholarly. There is too little dialogue. If there is a chance to entice all different kinds of people to throw themselves into a debate of this process, that is interesting. It doesn’t matter how you debate, but it must become a larger topic.
Lu Jie: What you say makes me regret that we didn’t have the participation of the intellectual circles. One of the major reasons why we stopped was precisely this. Originally the thinking was that after we were done, we would invite everyone to debate. Now we discover that the exchange that needs to go into the creation of this thought must be established in the process. The original plan was to invite everyone to a big conference at Yan’an. But this is not right, and for this reason-that is to say, so that we could have this chance to sit down and talk today––we stopped the whole project, because we still need to have an intellectual exchange.
Han Yuhai: It seems right now like we’ve gone from the hot summer months into the fog. Before everyone was hot, and suddenly the sky has grown dark. It is a cloudy feeling. So I want to use the cloudy months to draw a metaphor. Wang Hui’s famous article on 1989 and the New Liberalism, and especially his analysis therein of Louis Bonaparte’s April 18th, reflects an entirely gray outlook. Gray is the confluence of light and dark, an unexpected result. It was not a unification achieved by capital, and it was not a victory of the proletariat, but rather a unification achieved by an order. Marx once said that it would be a hooligan proletarian seizing an opportunity unexpectedly. To look at Mao’s revolution in this context is very interesting.
Hang Jian: I’ll give you a suggestion. I hope you go again to Rube the Landlord and Take the Land. Re-confirm the route of the masses; re-begin. Go again and bring the masses into play.
Zhu Jinshi: Some soldiers can even stay behind on the route.
Meng Hui: But when I first saw your list of participants, I was shocked at how many pure artists were there. I don’t have any prejudice against pure artists, but I don’t think they necessarily walk the same road as you. And thus I have my doubts.
Kuang Xinnian: I don’t understand art, the idea of modern art, or the goal of art. Mao’s goals for art were not the same as our goals for art. We say this project failed, but what does that mean? From what perspective are we saying it failed?
Qi Jianping: You have brought up a very interesting question. In what sense do we say that the project failed? Is it that it was never finished, or that it did not have the desired stimulatory effect? Or that it did not catch the attention of the society at large? Or that you did not reach your goal, did not realize truly creative works?
Huang Ping: When Mao met with an Albanian delegation in 1966, he talked especially about just this problem, he talked about the possibility of failure of the revolution. Why was there the Cultural Revolution? Mao needed to remind everyone that perhaps the revolution had failed. We are talking here from the perspective of failure, not success.
Hang Jian: Speaking about success, what do you really think of contemporary art? With art that is based on concept and thought, the processes by which it happens and the criticism which it receives after it happens are not the same as its influence on reality. You are looking now to lay roots and bloom flowers in the process, because you have considered many very complicated strategic questions, and you still need to consider the project’s aftermath, the value it will attain in the culture at large. So I think this is something that works on two levels, and there are certain things that cannot be grasped in their entirety on-site.
Kuang Xinnian: But modern art always has these problems, even in the so – called West. It was only later, once the museum system had taken shape, that anyone admitted Van Gogh’s works were valuable. Doesn’t that seem far-out? They never expected him to succeed, and Van Gogh died without money. Where did his success come from?
Huang Ping: Why did the years after 1989, at the time of the so called “end of history” turn out to be a good time to debate Marx? Because Marx was the first thinker to write after Hegel, and so perhaps this failure gave him an opportunity. Just as Wang Hui said, the historical logic of May Fourth, almost over in the 1930s, provided a new possibility for the Long March. Its failure was simply an occasion.
Wang Hui: The things that are truly confirmed in history all grow out of finding new possibilities at times when it seems there is no further road to travel. Only in this way are things chosen by history, not because they failed or didn’t fail. For example, the Red Army’s work of uniting the fringes, finding the possibilities that connected several different areas – there was no way for Chen Duxiu to know what was going on from Shanghai. No one could see what was happening except for the people who were right there; if people had seen it, there would have been a way. From this perspective, it seems that one’s vision and attitude play an important role in history, rather than whether one particular thing succeeded or failed. I still refuse to believe that there is any history devoid of choice. Places that look devoid of possibility are precisely the places in which possibility is to be found. Today, no matter what field we are in, people are finding possibility, and developing it. And this is what we are affirming in the Long March project – it has succeeded in this way, otherwise, it would never have existed.
Huang Ping: Speaking again of modern art, only when you understand what you need to do next can you start to talk about success or failure. All setbacks turn into experiences, and so finding a possibility in a setback as Wang Hui just mentioned might allow you to set your position anew. I think that Chinese art and Western art alike can’t go on just doing biennales. They need to re – establish alternative art, or the possibility of new forms of art. So it doesn’t matter if your participants are famous or not, and maybe it doesn’t even matter if they have artistic credentials. Perhaps they’re not members of the Writer’s Association or the Council of Learned Societies. Perhaps they don’t paint or write poems. Then they can form a new art constituency and a new form for art. Plenty of those who went to northern Shaanxi with the Red Army were just peasants and children.
Meng Hui: I rather agree with Huang Ping. When Sun Yat-sen began the capitalist revolution, he obviously didn’t go to the Qing court looking for support. When Mao started the Red Army, in the end he had to create his ranks entirely from scratch. So this Long March, since it represents a new opinion, perhaps requires that you find some new people. You can’t stick only with those who already have a place in the power structure. Old policemen, old weapons – every artistic movement begins like this. You must have new talent before you can have new ideas.
I think that in this way Lu Jie’s ambition is not large enough. Since you’re doing the project on such a grand scale, you should take on even more. You should aim for a complete subversion of the avant-garde art community, you should look to make many famous people angry. After the movement has gone on, there should be a new group, and it will absolutely put out and kill those old elites all. You need to look at world history, at any movement, whether a revolution, a political movement, a literary movement, an artistic movement––they all began with new people extinguishing the old, a duel between old and new.
Lu Jie: Wang Jianwei, I really want to know what you think about this as an artist.
Wang Jianwei: The problems solved by the Long March are not artistic problems. For example, with regard to participants, I don’t really care if they are artists or non-artists, in the end that is up to Lu Jie. The Long March is absolutely not going to solve artistic problems, and it should not say that it is going to, because the art world will run away. If you find a new group of people, it will be the same. The key thing is to find people in your same camp, but I don’t think these people are necessarily the type who would go on the march with you. Continuing Wang Hui’s line of thought, the Long March answers the question of who our object out to be. Simply put, for whom do we make works, why do we make works? If you can follow this question and solve it, then it’s over, you no longer need to answer other questions.
I’ll continue what we were just saying about the problems of finding a new group of people. Since September of last year, He Duoling has been doing something called “open studio.” Liu Jiakun is the curator. He stresses the importance of the non-specialist. In writing, this sounds very good. Then, when we were discussing, we decided to not inviting artists. He wrote something, how big his space was, a list of technical specifications, and he gave it to everyone to read. It was a good text. In the end after you went there, you felt that there were still the same old problems. The more the project pretended to be non-specialized, the more specialized it became. You didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. There is a woman who does biomedical engineering, a very interesting person, who tries to impart aesthetic presence to her technical work and turn it into a visual display. How wonderful if she just make a very interesting text? When you go to her studio, she talks about her works just like we talk about art. So I think that perhaps we don’t need to find a group of new people, or to think about how to lead an army. It might not be realistic to say that as soon as this army leaves the art circle, it will become purified. You don’t need to think about attacking some people and leading others. If you do things that have no connection with a particular person, that person will automatically be released.
Hang Jian: I have a different opinion. Meng Hui just asked whether it would be okay to discover another Wang Jianwei. You, Wang Jianwei, how did you get here? The problems you just mentioned with new people will always be there; so you will not pick those new people? I will instead pick the most outstanding new people with the most potential.
Wang Jianwei: I don’t think this is necessary. If you want to dig up something new, you don’t do it by first delineating a clear front. As we were just saying of the Long March, if you don’t lay it out clearly to begin with, people start to think it has not connection with them. And if they think that, you have actually chosen them. Perhaps these people have never condemned you, or perhaps they once did, saying the Long March is meaningless. In actuality these people have been chosen by you. Your army needs to start marching, moving, because only then is it an army. You can’t sit here in a room and think it out, saying this guy is no good, that guy is no good, so let’s find some new people. You can take the new people out and come back here, and still have the same problems.
Hang Jian: I’m not saying there is an absolute division between old and new, but that some artists who are already famous, whose work is relatively mature, might have problems if you insert them into Lu Jie’s system. Rather than doing it like this, it would be better to play another round.
Philip Tinari: Many people criticize us, saying that we are doing the Long March to export. Whether they are gallery directors in Beijing, art-world types – they all think that the Long March should first be completed here in China and that only then should it go abroad. Like Nike shoes, made in China, sold abroad. I have always opposed this point of view. Concepts like “Chinese art” and “Chinese contemporary art” limit us in very serious ways. And yet no one here seems to doubt these constructs; no one denies that there is a Chinese contemporary art. Lu Jie hasn’t spoken today about the international significance of the Long March, but he has a real yearning to take this idea of Chinese art and complicate it, whether that is by bringing foreign artists into the Long March, or by taking the project to non – Chinese contexts. And in this way we can debate the limits imposed upon us by ideas of nationality. It also brings out some other problems, like foreign artists’ understanding and imagining of China. We have said that the project involving Judy Chicago and female Chinese artists at Lugu Lake was a so – called “successful failure.” And in the next few months, the Long March will move on to Norway, Japan, and elsewhere––taking the project into new discursive contexts one stop at a time.
Lu Jie: Actually, a big part of the Long March is international exhibitions. First of all, every stop on our route included the participation of foreign artists. Perhaps they did works about China before, or perhaps they have a certain perception or experience of China, or perhaps they have a working style similar to the Long March, a definite connection to our project, and thus they were invited. At the same time the Long March has always considered how to transmit itself inside the arena of international art, although at present we are up against some significant problems. If the arrows don’t come from behind our backs, they come at us straight on. I talk on and on about the Long March Methodology, but people still accuse me of doing this for foreign museums. This criticism is easy to make; as soon as people hear that you’ve been abroad, they think you’ve sold out the motherland. In reality we think that transmission is relatively important, and that people abroad are hungry to understand the Long March. There are people abroad who think like we do, who worry like we do, who ask if we are going to carry on.
Zhang Guangtian: You can answer this question. Many people ask it of me. They say, Zhang Guangtian, you’ve put on these plays, all in theaters for 300 people. The common folk don’t see them. In name you support the common folk; how can you claim that yours is the art of the proletariat? I ask them if they understand Lu Xun’s works. There are only a few big – name professors who really understand Lu Xun. If professors can’t understand him, how could rickshaw drivers understand him? And if rickshaw drivers couldn’t understand him, how did he become the hero of proletarian art? Because he killed his enemy, he angered his enemy to death. He made certain people uncomfortable, and this is what we call struggle. Liang Shiqiu was uncomfortable, and so the rickshaw drivers grew comfortable. When those who kissed landlord ass got uncomfortable, other people were comfortable. I don’t want to understand Lu Xun’s works. Thus I think that literature has two phases: one is struggle, because struggle is truly a dialogue. After struggle perhaps comes construction; if there is no struggle, there can be no construction.
Wang Hui: Right now there are only two historical readings of the Chinese revolution. One is official, the other is Rightist. If it’s not official, then it’s Rightist. This is just how it is, and so while many people wants to find and use a historical framework that incorporates the revolution, hardly anyone is actually familiar with this history, and so we can’t explain ourselves.
Li Xuejun: I think time is about up. When I organized this activity I thought of two questions. One was Lu Jie’s Long March, and how he has spun it as an abstract symbol of achieving a revolution. Key to this is the idea of a utopian spirit, and I think we’ve talked about this quite a bit today. The other question was whether this Long March needs to continue, because the Long March cannot stop for us to debate it. The key question is still how to do it, since you’ve already gone one road that resembles the route of the original Long March in many ways. Actually you still need to think about the historical conditions of that time, the complicated historical background, and you need to understand those problems deeply, to make a theoretical preparation. Today I regret that in organizing which scholars to invite, I wanted to find some who had this kind of historical background, who were incredibly familiar with that time and had researched it. But of young scholars in China today, there is hardly anyone with this specialty. There are a few among the older scholars, especially the mainstream ones, those doing Party History. But of the younger scholars there is basically no one doing revolutionary history, or doing it well. This point to a problem: in terms of scholarship, we have already begun to forget this era. Putting this together I thought there would be people who could provide truly historical advice, or clarify some things, that might provide some real help to Lu Jie. But it looks as if we can only continue to converse and argue if we are going to reach that goal.
1 When the late Deng Xiaoping was asked by his daughter what did he do when he was on the road of historical Long March, he answered “followed the road that led us along”.
2 Jiang Jie’s work for the Long March was entitled “Farewell to the Red Army: Remembering the Mothers of Long March.” She was interested in the female Red Army soldiers of those years, who gave birth to babies on the road, were not able to keep them, and had to give them up for adoption to the locals. She had sculpted twenty of these babies, and wanted the Long March contingent to give them up for “adoption” to families along the route, helping her to establish contact with the adoptive parents. She would provide expenses if the families would take a picture of themselves with the baby and mail it to her each year on the anniversary of the baby’s adoption-its “birthday.” The sculpture of course would never grow up, while the family members would grow old by the year, eventually dying. The massive scale of this work, its spanning of time (lasting decades or even forever), and its straddling of space involved history, humanities, geography, gender, family, and personal fate on many levels. It went beyond a simple discussion of the female experience of reproduction. The first sculpture baby was adopted my school teach Xiao’s family and name Grace Xiao, the second baby was adopted by Queen’s Museum curator Valerie Smith and artist Matt Mullican, named Zula Smith Mullican.
3 Luding Bridge was the touring point for the historical Long March, they sucessfuly acrossed the bridge and entered the Tibetan highland, breaking the brokage by Nationalists’ army, while historialy General Shi Da Kai was not able to across the bridge here, defeated and caught by Qing govemnet, symbolicaly ending the Tai Ping Movement.
4 Before the Zunyi Meeting during Long March, the Chinese communists was lead by Wang Ming and the 28 and half Bushwecks who were tranied in Moscow. The term of “Wang Ming”, “28 and half Bushwicks” and “Moscow”, all symbolize young interlectuals who only following doctrines from Commintern and Moscow’s order, which caused the failure of Chinese revolution. It was Mao who fought against this leadership and sucessfuly applied imported thoery examed by local context.
7 Zhang Guantian’s play “Che Guera” is the most popular and controversial play in recent cultural secen in China. It caused endless debates and symbolised the love or hate towards the New Left in China.
8 Everyday during the Long March, artist and co – curator of Long March Qiu Zhijie wore a pair of shoes with soles engraved with the characters for “left” and “right.” The catch is that “left” was engraved on the right sole, and vice versa. So technically, this work was realized at every point along the Long March where he left footprints, though the prints were often invisible.
9 Master Li Tianbing is the Gueness Record holder of taking and developing photos only with natural resources. The dark kitchen and his quilt is his darkroom, his bring in light from the chiney to expose film. He still uses one outdated Britain made camera which he traded with the family farm cattle in early 1940s. He has served the villager for over 50 years, and experienced more than 200,000 kilometers of journeys. The quantity is up to more than 300,000 persons to take a picture.
10 Red Shoulder Chang Qing Leads the Road, is the standard guesture and pose of Revolutionary Ballet ” The Red Women Army” promoted by Madam Mao during the Cultural Revolution.
11 “big character Manefesto.”, is the most powerful and popular weapon during the Cultural Revolution. “Zooning at the Enemy’s Headquarter – My Big Character Manefesto” was the first one, writen by Mao to announce the beginning of Cultural Revolution.
12 “Taking paintings to the countryside”, a public and cultural campaign popular in Mao’s era.