From the Long March Education Platform 1––Ho Chi Minh Trail discussion series
Speaker: Lu Jie
Discussants: Do Tuong Linh, Erin Gleeson, Francesca Sorace, Jung Won Kim, Nguyen Quang Vinh, Nguyen Nhu Huy, Vandy Rattana, Wang Yang, Weng Zhenqi, Xu Tingting, Ye Si, Ye Nan, Sheryl Cheung, Song Yi
Date: 9th July, 2009
Venue: Courtyard House at Dong Hua Men
Lu Jie: As usual my talk will be very informal. I think there are a huge difference between the Long March failure and the failure of Long March. Definitely our conversation today will address the questions/issues that we have raised in the past nine, ten years of Long March. These questions/issues have always been there, which means they are failures of Long March, because after so many years, instead of unfolding them or resolving them, maybe we have been repeating them or reconstructing them. So to what extent is the trouble/the trauma/the unspoken reality/the failure of Long March a meaningful or meaningless process. This is a question we are always asking ourselves.
I would like to begin by understanding your [the audience’s] familiarity with Long March. Surely students of Gao Shiming and Qiu Zhijie have been fairly exposed to Long March Projects before engaging with us on this educational platform. I understand that we have also proactively provided a package of textual material about Long March for your reference. I would like to know if you have been thinking about the knowledge structure and history of Long March from a critical perspective.
The first question about Long March Failure: is the HCMTP an extension of the original Long March––A Walking Visual Display? If not, why? If it is, why? If it is, in what ways would it be considered a failure? Because as we are aware, many people oppose the idea of Long March to do the HCMTP. Their perspective is that if it an extension of the original Long March, then you are repeating your history. And is the act of repeating a failure?
Very often Chinese and international audiences identify Long March Projects as the Walking Visual Display. They do not understand the activities Long March Projects carried out in the years following the Walking Visual Display. The fact that we have not been able to resolve the ambiguous relationship between Walking Visual Display and post-Walking activities through our own infrastructure is a critical failure of Long March.
In seeking to understand the Long March Projects, people think about the series Long March journey sites to begin with. There is a general sense of apathy towards what Long March has been doing in the following seven/six years (participating in the biennials, realizing several projects, and constructing a gallery space). There is a general feeling of apathy/subjective abandonment/rejection of the last seven years of Long March history. And thinking, no matter in a positive or negative way, that HCMTP is another journey, and therefore Long March is continued.
Francesca: Your concern is that all the subsequent activities of Long March has only been seen as an continuation of the original one，and whether that is a bad or good thing? Does that mean Long March is becoming repetitive?
Zoe: It’s also going back to how Long March began as a flexible organization built on this idea of mobility and in the last seven years we have become somewhat cemented within the establishment of the art scene in China. So how do to maintain that original flexibility? This is one of the reasons why HCMTP has started, but then how do you do that without copying your past. How do you do that without everybody thinking that you are just going back to your root?
Lu Jie: The second failure of Long March Projects revolves around the dynamic, reciprocal relationships between different participants of Long March. The similarities and differences between Lu Jie/Qiu Zhijie, Lu Jie/Zoe, Judy Chicago/Guo Fengyi, Wang Gongxin/Wang Jianwei are the basis that determines how each pair works together. Simply to give an example, let me speak about the relationship between Lu Jie and Qiu Zhijie. Qiu Zhijie was the co-curator of the Walking Visual Display. He devoted almost half a year to work with me in 2002. During his interview with curator Li Zhenhua in 2008, Qiu analyzed his relationship with me. During the interview Qiu had mentioned several critical texts that he had written about ‘Post Sense and Sensibility,’ and the ‘From outside to Inside” text I had written as foundation for Long March, which sets up an investigation between international and local. Qiu is more devoted to investigations on local ecology, artist production/creation/manifestation, exploring questions such as ‘how is experimental art production important.’ In 2002, Qiu had taken the Long March project as an opportunity for him to elaborate on his idea of art making and curating. His approach to Long March was therefore very different from mine. Although my perspective, attitude and interests in 2002 was a very important agenda for Long March Project, Long March Projects has had too many different agendas together under one project/structure, and that is a critical issue of the second failure of Long March. LMP has been a monster with too many heads. Even my closest partner [Qiu] had to choose to identify Long March with one identity and dismiss the rest as irrelevant or less important.
If I am considered the director of Long March Projects, then it is not a completely democratic structure; I am interested in sustaining a possibility. My work method is to be selective and effective, and to lay out all the cards and find connections in between. Qiu, as a community leader, artist representative, independent curator/artist, focuses on practicality, effectiveness, delivery, conclusion, results. Our fundamental differences explain our different approaches in preparing, realizing, and interpreting artworks. So I chose to let Long March go forever, and Qiu was hoping the Long March could be complete at a certain time. For me, Long March is an ongoing project and sustainable platform that does make things happen.
Discussions on the relationship between international and local regularly land on the level of Chinese artists desiring to participate at Venice Biennale, Hou Hanru’s claim that Chinese Contemporary Art is already internationalized. There is a common narrative that China is a participation of globalization and post-colonialism, and that Long March, Cai Guoqiang, Xu Bing, Hou Hanru are important players from China. To discuss international/local from this point of view would be meaningless. I believe that you all may face the same situation engaging with the art scenes in Cambodia and Vietnam. You may want to claim your participation in the Contemporary world. This is a way of looking at your position with the international. Hou Hanru’s strategy would be to create strong relationships with diaspora to create exhibitions like the Magicians de la terre, and if necessary to travel to homeland to look for resource, he must find materials that he can package as the very local, local context, such as his packaging of the Pearl Delta region. This approach to me is all curatorial strategy, not theoretical approach.
The one thing we have neglected here is the very important Long March agenda: critique of an ahistorical attitude. The very right ring conclusion of history, society, social development, and revolution. The original Long March was not about how to turn international local, but more focused on how to deal with history, in connection with the present. Revolution needed to be the basic structure at that time. We sought to address collective memory, historical consciousness, and to re-sensitize/complicated the history, connect with geography and present. Then, our investigation into the so-called international/local relationship became a more sincere engagement between modernity and tradition.
The issues of breaking museum boundaries, community outreach, art for the people, curatorial experiments, giving post sense and sensibility artists more opportunities, problems within biennials––these are really not my issues.
Zoe: You said you did the 2002 journey because of the agendas that you have just listed. You said that the biennials and participating in the international was not your agenda. At that time, you understood, as you still understand, that the local matters first. But I do think it was in your horizon that by addressing the local, that the international would follow. And I think that needs to be discussed in the context of Vietnam and Cambodia and what we’re doing with the Ho Chi Minh Trail. By understanding the local, it is the expectation that the international would follow in their interest and understanding. And I think that is the power of Long March, that they have chosen to look at themselves first, rather than try to adapt to something abroad. They have tried to answer the failures inside themselves first.
Lu Jie: I totally agree with what Zoe had just pointed out. The reason why my partnership with Qiu Zhijie went so well was because I am a huge supporter of the local context. Because my interests lie in history, in the international, so local to me is very important. I am sure everyone participating in the HCMTP will be facing similar problems. You cannot separate the international from the local. I agree with Gao Shaoming’s understanding of Long March Project’s history and ongoing activities, that it has always been about the philosophy that “I am in you and you are in me.” That is why Long March Projects has so many heads. That is why the original Long March in 2002 was structurally organized with a focus on Chinese communism as a global campaign, as a part of the Internationale. When we arrived into Zunyi, we read Rosa Luxemburg’s theoretical text instead of the common Chinese canonized text. So it was a purpose to be international. This can be easily misread trying to be international. but in fact i was trying to turn international local, and therefore local international.
Ye Nan: Is the idea of ‘I have you in me, you have me in you” a way you look at history?
Lu Jie: Since the Long March Projects started, Wang Jianwei has been saying that Lu Jie’s real Long March has not begun yet. He called me yesterday saying, “I’m excited about the HCMTP. Maybe Lu Jie’s Long March is starting now.” The past 8 years was not your Long March. so that’s just another type of opinion. I would like to examine why people would think in that way. Because even from the very beginning, regardless of the separation of the Walking journey and the later seven years, people like Wang Jianwei are mostly upset because Long March has been constrained by the art ecology, conventional model of art production. So much that although there is a great urgency to build the coherency of ‘You have me inside of you, I have you inside of me,” this historical view is often not so apparent, it can only be realized through an ongoing juxtaposition. But people are very used to examining things by very concrete conclusions, by concrete objects, exhibitions, artist achievements. So although we have been trying very hard, our achievement of this ‘You have me inside of you, I have you inside of me’ has always been neglected or misunderstood.
Zoe: I think there also is something that needs to be said for the participants that don’t come from China about this ‘You have me inside of you, I have you inside of me” scenario. When I first started researching about Long March Projects, which was back in 2002, what fascinated me about the whole organization was that I imagined it as a single person, and it has a personality. It has a philosophy in a similar way that I personally have particular beliefs; Long March also has particular beliefs. It carries a certain mission in the world in the same way that each of us have our interests, have our career. And this comparison between the HCMTP and the Walking Visual Display is like a self-assessment in a way, we are constantly asking Long March, and people like to think of Long March as Lu Jie, but actually it encompasses all the people who have previously participated. We are all asking the question, “if you are going to address the issue of historical consciousness, are you going to answer the questions this time?” And that is the way the whole organization seems to get continually articulated is this character building. It’s kind of fascinating for an art organization to have this because most art organizations are just infrastructure. But Long March holds certain beliefs, such as this ‘I am in you, you are in me’ scenario on a personal level.
Erin: I think the international world does not really like personal. They are so scared of it. They want things this way or that way, not something organic. And if you propose something that is not definable, you will be up against criticism.
Zoe: But criticism is good.
Erin: Yes, but you will continually be facing people who want to define you as here or there. And that will never end because people think that way. So whereas ‘I’m in you and you’re in me’ is a poetic way for human networks, it’s emotional, it’s personal, and how dare you say something like that in the context of say, how Hou Hanru may be working. To me, this personal approach of Long March is a very refreshing way. And it’s similar to the way we have been invited to participate in this July Program. The invitation was very open, there are no goals. It becomes a very personal thing how do you engage with this openness. So will we eventually have to meet up with some kind of value? Because as you said, Long March has a personality, and then I think of Lu Jie’s first point of Long March failure: does HCMTP develop its own personality or does it take on the personality of Long March.
Zoe: This goes back to the first day when we were talking about the body language of the group.
Lu Jie: So because you are talking about the emotional input/personal legacy/lifetime experience/relationship with project, then we can go on to talk about the legacy of Long March, or HCMTP, or Lu Jie, Zoe, or Erin. This is an issue for Long March too that nobody participating in Long March can avoid confronting, regardless of whether you are artist, curator, community leader. I am trying to propose that my own understanding of LME/HCMTP is to the participants about benefits in terms of moving a little ahead for your own development. My understanding of this July platform is about fate, that might speak less about everyone’s relationship with the HCMTP, but might speak more for your own being, your own practice, your own destiny. Therefore, let’s come to the point of the relationship between individual and collective, the relationship between individual and the project. This has been an ongoing problem for Long March.
So, coming back to this individual vs. collective relationship, artist vs. project relationship, I want to talk about the idea of revolution. The cultural revolution started with Mao’s fear of revisionism. When he met the delegation from Albania, he talked about the need of continuing revolution. The global left has been talking about continuing revolution. The Chinese new left has been talking about continuing revolution. Long March has been talking about that too. SO, can we not think of Long March as a project-by-project based thing, not think about whether HCMTP is an extension of Walking Visual Display. Think of revolution as a general context providing a platform for debate. Then, our minds will be more open, and the comparison between different projects, these issues will all disappear.
So the next failure of Long March is the common impression that Long March is very political, very ideological based. We have chosen to do HCMTP, the original Long March Journey. “Why don’t you do the silk road, yellow river, why do you have to do the Long March?” Lots of people hate what we choose because it makes the whole world upside down, are you trying to humiliate history, occupy history, are you trying to brand yourself. The suspicions all become very superficial. The naming of the HCMTP was an issue too. It is absolutely important/necessary/urgent to do a project like this July Program to depart from our engagement with political/traumatic sites. Exactly because we carry too much boundaries and baggage and labor and fear.
Therefore we can use Tibet as an example. I have been thinking about my friend Wang Hui, leading Chinese thinker, cultural critic and his interview regarding his views on Tibet.
Taking from Perry Anderson, Baume, these left wing thinkers and their research about nationalism. We can simply summarize the trauma of the world by pondering about the situation of nationalism today. If the modern world is constructed/separated between allies or nation states, if the notion of the nation state is established there, then of course there will be multiple levels of nationalism prevalent in the world. Because nation state is a given modern entity, nationalism is a certain part of modern identity. This notion of nation state comes from western thought; originally Asia did not have it. So therefore the conversation will never be equal.
This draws back to Qiu Zhijie’s mention of the Chinese scholarly world view of ‘all under the heaven,’ which would not be present in the international expression. Therefore, whether we are speaking about the Chinese issue of TIbet or the islands that China and Vietnam debate over for ownership, or China’s presence in Indochina throughout thousand years of history, or socialist history, the conversation will never equal because you had set up the separation foundation at the very beginning. So it is the people who are constructing nationalism, exercising it, and at the same time, attacking the other side whose position also departs from the idea of nationalism.
Now the reason Qiu yesterday tried to complicate Tibet geography and history, addressing the “I have you in me, you have me in you” kind of situation, bringing up India and England’s involvement with Tibet… Many US senators or British ministers will not admit that England was in Tibet for centuries. If that is an ongoing situation, then regardless of Said’s orientalism, or post colonialism, this western given body of knowledge, can never help the understanding of the Tibet issue and help to push it ahead.
Very important Chinese historian/scholar/professor Fei Xiaotong, and many other Chinese intellectuals has been pushing this idea of this harmonious multiculural ethnicity family idea for China. And this kind of idea if you do thorough research you wil find the idea also in Yugoslavia, Brazil, Soviet Russia, contributed by nationalists thinkers, radical nationalists, from the leftists (Marxists, Trotskists), from many people who have opposing ideologies. But they come together in support of this idea [of a harmonious multicultural family]. And we need to put this into the international context and the ongoing globalization debate. And we need to introduce this in discussions of multiculturalism which again is a Western given condition. If we can do this, then the so-called international/local is transferred to temporary locale.
So coming back to Long March’s labor on ideology and politics, if we can achieve what I have just proposed in order to complicate history, to turn inside out/outside in, to bring all the different all ideas and experience juxtaposed together to build a certain coherence first, then the Long March problem of being too political/ideological becomes rather an open situation. It becomes a very political non-political situation, it becomes a non-political political situation. Because you are not conditioned by a certain kind of politics or historical point of view.
Zoe: although in what you were just saying, i want to raise a bit of contradiction. you are saying that in the context of tibet, England would never acknowledge their participation in that part of the world at that time. So you tried to find your own historical basis to argue that moment, and it’s about China. That principle that England won’t give answers to understand that part of history – if we take that principle, why does China always look towards Hegel and Heidegger to argue their own artistic histories? Why don’t they look at their own world view ‘Under the Heaven?’ It is interesting that while China understands the rest of the world cannot answer its social and political questions, when it comes to cultural philosophies, they still look to the west. And that comes down the line when it comes to artistic production. Artists still want to be in the Venice Biennale, but if you want them to be part of the Fukuoka Triennial it is not given the same weight. So where and when do these parallel platforms start to meet. And this is a bit of contradiction in Long March too that they have talked about wanting to redefine what is the international (and I am happy that the HCMTP is working) but it seems much of the definitions that we use to talk about art comes from a certain Western philosophy.
Lu Jie: I would like to unfold Zoe’s comments in two ways. Firstly, let’s deal with the facts first. Burma, Tibet, and China claim England had participated in Tibet’s history, while England denies this part of history. So, this is a dilemma from a methodological level. The problem of overexercising any particular view takes away the possibility for dialogue: all the views are supposed to have a voice, then we can begin a discussion. But if the views are totally imbalanced to start off with, then we have to work with the imbalanced view itself first, waiting for the other views to be delivered so that the discussion can be opened up. That is a very dangerous fact-counter-fact attitude.
Next, in response to your claim that Chinese artists believe that the Venice Biennial is more important than Fukuoka Triennial. This again brings us to a fact-counter-fact scenario. First of all, you are generalizing things. Even if you come to the topic of Long March and how has it become insitutionalized, you can be right because there are many facts to support your view. But do we ourselves, knowing our sincerity/anxiety/troubles/trauma, how can things be measured not by visible results, but by the core of Long March. You are aware and participate in so many conversations in China and i’m sure in Vietnam too, about artist’s attitudes between Venice and Fukuoka, then you are already part of the mentality. And I would strongly disagree that Chinese artists are interested in Venice only and neglecting Fukuoka. I don’t think Qiu Zhijie looks at his participation in Fukuoka any less important than his participation in Venice, for example. There is a tendency of generalizing things, and I myself use it very often, because our anxiety and the tensions between the China and West. For example, Jin Feng in this dialogue during the Guangzhou Triennial, stated that he is boycotting all international exhibitions. Of course we can collect this as a negative evidence that Chinese artists still have this tension and anxiety of the west. ‘I don’t love her therefore I love her’ kind of relationship. But, we also should not neglect their sincerity in thinking about the possibility of alternative possibilities than adopting the western pre-exisiting models. I find this kind of mood very present in Vietnam too.
Going back to the Long March failure that Long March is a very political and ideological site. At least according to my understanding of the Long March, is a site for multiple/different/diverse histories and voices and geographies to be examined together. Therefore, people might consider Long March to be the most political act, Because LM is not taking sides. This is very important because everyone is always talking about taking sides all the time. For example, one party may think Khmer Rouge happened for a reason, the other side may think totally the opposite. Long March says that both sides of the arugment have certain truths, they just need to be brought together, to cross each other’s border, and take time to examine everything together. All the materials have been all on one platform constantly, then the distribution of the political consciousness will become more profound. This is Long March’s very political attitude because how dare we accept the claim that Khmer Rouge is not just a bloody period of history? We are very political for being open to hearing from this position.
So we come back to LM history and today’s HCMTP, we are meant to be troubled by introducing the departure and arrival at the same time. We talked about this for a very long time, about the possibility that if we tonight can just have a good beer and decide not to call HCMTP by its current name, then we get rid of a huge problem right away. But will we lose? If Long March had not called itself Long March since the very beginning, then it will be something totally different.
So let me just wrap what I was saying about Wang Hui, Tibet, ideology and politics. We need to totally consider not China as a complicated ethnical political nation state. Also again, be aware of talking about Asia as one single and separate entity, and be aware of talking about the world as one. Art history has always been interrelated, contemporary art is interrelated. The reason why we have chosen the historical Long March journey, was that still until today there are different historical times along the road. So to understand the Asian modernity, to understand the political/social memory surrounding the idea of the nation state, we need to understand that any relationship between China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Nepal, and the so called west, is not a relationship based upon the idea of nation states. It’s about an entire globalization movement constructed separated/linked together/separated/linked together again based on this take of your relationship with ideology.
So our conversation thus far has been very abstract. Since HCMTP is a curatorial project, it is an artistic project, let’s talk about art and project. The original Walking Journey or the current ongoing HCMTP meant to be examined/questioned with several issues for sure. THe first issue is about the urban intellectual/artist/curator parachuting to a local place to interfere. Who has the right to do a project like this? What language should go first? How thorough is the translation? How much interaction is there in this project? How much participation? Are you bringing the local community creative resource? Are you doing art for the people? Are you breaking museum walls? Are the local people manipulated by you? Are you selling them something? Is this just a stage act? All these issues encountered in Walking Journey will be faced by HCMTP too.
Second issue is: Are you funded by the West? Is this project mostly funded by Australia because Zoe is from Australia? Because when Zoe went to Vietnam in the beginning, her trips were sponsored by several Australian organizations. So are you part of a Communist group? Are you sent by the CIA? I’m not joking about this because HCMT is a very sensitive site, it’s a big deal. The issue of Laos, China, Cambodia and their international presence, these are serious topics. We are meant to encounter such suspicisions. As LME is an educational forum, we need to think about artists/curators/community leader views, we have certain responsibilities. So what is our thinking? Maybe we do have a spy amongst us.
The third question, which Zhang Peili had raised during a Long March criticism meeting at V2 in Rotterdam. He says: From my perspective the Long March Project is more a like one single work. More a symbolic/iconic/jargon type of thing. I believe that the most suspicious part of Long March Project is that it takes the form of contemporary art and separates it from its essence. And in the process of Long March is primarily using the form because the places that the Long March has passed through are primarily poor regions. One cannot say they have any knowledge of contemporary art, as their knowledge of traditional art forms are very shallow. So when you are engaging with local public, you are mainly projecting yourself in a one way communication. Although there are many signs suggesting that there was real engagement, in reality the engagement is very superficial. So this is something HCMTP will have to face.
I think Zhang Peili’s critique is very typical of the academy. From our actual implementation process, there is a unique opportunity for us to be educated. For example, Jiang Jie’s work there, about a baby to be adopted. If the professors at the Arts academy cannot understand, how can the peasants in the country side understand? But in reality, the peasants in the countryside understood better than the professors in the academies. The peasant families adopted the babies and carried on their interaction with the artist until today. Jiang Jie’s baby adoption project is planned to last twenty years working with twenty families, each family adopting a sculptural baby. and acknowledging that the baby has a life. Every year they take a family photo with the baby and sends it to the artist.
The project is not about delivering art to the people. The project is to build a coherence/ a connection through body/knowledge/conversation/realization of ongoing work. so therefore, very true that Long March Projects is staged, staged act generates material, that material be visual/textual/object based, will not necessarily in reality serve the so-called community or personnel or one particular artist/work to its full completion. But as the project is ongoing as conversation like this is happening, when the project is remediated in exhibition space or mediated in a media space, we are building this so-called connection of vast experience/knowledge/historical view/emotional contribution. Creating something I call the memory of space. And this memory exists in a physical space and a discursive space. So generally speaking, LMP is a curatorial project, and this is something artists really dislike. Artists who take on a short-sighted perspective concerned only with their personal relationship with a particular time and moment with the project, then they will say LMP benefits more than they do from their participation in the project. They will say, “You are the work and I am just your actor.” But if you truly believe in the idea that artists are not individuals they work as a collective and work among the people, then you can construct a platform/ongoing discursive and physical space, unfolding many issues and generating new energy for production. It’s for all of us. Then it also can be examined which particular artist’s work is better than the others, by the so-called “quality” of his/her work, or by the work’s relationship with the project. And none of this is given/controlled, and this non-given/controlled conditions is the artists’ shit to deal with. And that’s about curating. Otherwise if we agree with this kind of artist concern, which is not only a disagreement with Long March methodology, but a disagreement with a broader visual culture study/curatorial debate.
I was saying that ultimately the other Long March failure is the so-called failure of the individual artwork in the relationship with the curatorial project and the quality of the work itself. To what extent does a curatorial project produce good work? In return is the work benefiting the artist himself, in terms of market value, and also benefiting the project as proof of its quality. Zoe and I work very closely together, we share many similar opinions but we did have a conversation about the quality of Long March works. Where is the standard for evaluating an artwork? Has Long March come to the point of unfolding the standard cliche of judgment? If not, then where is Long March’s revolutionary spirit? If Long March cannot establish a new set of criterias, that will be a falure of Long March.
There are many other issues, but I don’t want to go too long, we want to have time for discussion. The last Long March Failure I want to present is, the institutionalization of Long March. The economy, the sales, the market rules. For the first few years people would ask, “okay, by the way, where’s the funding?” And then I will say, “it’s all from my pocket.” Then they will go like, “oh, I have my tears in my eyes.” That went on for 4-5 years. In relation to the project, nobody was interested to ask about whys or how, or about sustainability, or relates to the project issues about western funding structures: the art council issue, the British Council issue, the American NEA issue, the American funding body issues involving collector, curator, trustee, auction. People all said, “Lu Jie, you’re a great guy, you sold your Mercedes to do this project, we love you.” But slowly, as Long March started to build itself as a powerful institution, when we started to have the financial power, when we started to enter the market place, people would similarly carry a lazy attitude. They would say, “Okay, now you are corrupted,” or “On what ethical/moral grounds is your brand based upon?” But these conversations would be based upon a canonized knowledge, instead of moving ahead to think about, well, if the Long March was not able to happen, then how about Vietnam? Even the Korean and Japanese art history would be totally different. So the world is still divided into the ideological side and the funding side. Or the so0called deinstitutionalization. You know, the Dynamic City Foundation, a whole group of Dutch thinkers and urban planners based in Beijing. They strongly argued that Long March should be politicizing art and deinstitutionalizing the art institution. They criticized Long March as depoliticizing art and institutionalizing the art. You are glorifying the old system. They said, “You [Long March] are supposed to be avant-garde but you killed the avant-garde. You have previously stated that the avant-garde is dead, Well, it is you who killed it.”
For the past 4-5 years, all the million dollars spent were from me myself. It was a very traumatic time for my family, and now we have the independent, self-sufficient art organization which is an institution. What I mean by independent is that the organization is independent from state funding and the market place. People would say, “You do sales, how are you independent from the market place?’ Well they are generalizing things, the sales here are different. The whole history/agenda/approach of Long March in the past, in the present, and in the future cannot be simply generalized by the fact that we sell or not sell. Of course to speak further about this topic, we would need to have another session. But I am just answering right now in this way. More importantly, since we believe that Long March is an independent organization, therefore, it meant to be institutionalized in order to sustain itself, in order to make its next journey, next leg possible, and to learn from the past defects and makes things better and become more efficient, powerful, and more able to deliver. So Long March has to be institutionalized. But institutionalization has many levels.
Zoe: Well by that it’s also about breaking down the word “institution.” Whether it means having an organized set of tasks for a group of people, so that efficiency and knowledge is built upon. I think the word institution tends to get layered and stereotyped in assumption.
Lu Jie: Again, I think that is people’s laziness. That just like saying, since we are using HCMT, we are Long March, then we are canonizing ourserlves, walking into cliches. instead of giving yourself a new term, you call yourself an institution. In response to that, I would say that, we are very realistic and we see that institutions are there and we say we are one of them, and we take time to tell people how we are different, we have to repeat and repeat. That is why propaganda or education is important.
To finish, The reason why I wanted to list all the Long March failures was because Long March, after so much hard work, so many people’s participation and contribution, all the issues that we raised before departure [on our journey], all those cliches, all those cannons, they are still there. Originally Long March believed that these problems are what the art world has, and now they have become problems that Long March has. And that is a Long March failure. [Clapping]
Zoe: Putting my mask on for the people who don’t come from China. Does any of these issues ring true for the places that you come from? This issue of local vs. international, the idea of the relationship to ideology, thinking about nationalism and how you break down those borders in projects of exchange, the role of the curator in society. Does anyone have any comments/feedback as to where these failures of Long March are also failures you have seen or experience?
Francesca: Well I wanted to say that especially in relation to the failure of the individual growth and equality of artwork, I think a major issue that I am having and seeing is that the artist is increasingly becoming subordinated by the curator in institutions and galleries in the west. And that the curatorial takes precedence to the individual artwork and to what extent do we think that the industry is at a loss because of that. Is it a good thing of not? There is the idea that the curator is the apparent heir to the contemporary art world, taking on the position the artist was to the modern art world. For me, I don’t think this works. A [curator’s] concept is as good as what you use to exemplify or to illustrate something… I mean, can a concept stand on its own? Thinking about HCMTP, to what extent is artwork going to play a role and how going to help demonstrate these ideas effectively? How important is that?
Zoe: I think that question of ‘work’ is quite interesting. In a conversation I had with Sarat Maharaj, (one of the curator’s of the last Guangzhou Triennial, and an intellectual in his own right), he said that the last time a good work was made in relation to Long March was The Walking Visual Display. And he thinks all projects we have done since do not have good art. So this question of how much artworks are going to play a role in HCMPT is a very good one. And it would be interesting to hear the opinions of the group, to hear what they think, what is the definition of art? To me, particularly in the last few days of discussion, where it was raised that ‘art is not education,’ which might have come from you, Ye Si. What is the difference between art and education? Can we learn from visual objects?
Sheryl: Well I think what Francesca brought up is really assuming that an artist has a very passive attitude within the whole art ecology in relationship to curators and exhibitions. It seems that you know, it’s a sense of artists being manipulated and controlled by his environment. And the fact that, artists like Jeff Koons for example, integrate their consciousness and awareness of how the system operates into their own work. I don’t think you can really see artists in a victimized attitude looking at their current conditions.
Lu Jie: I totally agree with you. Thinking about the Pope era and the Venetian art history, Bourgois supporting certain art forms, and the cabinet of curiosity, I mean history is filtered, and once it is filtered you look from a distance when all the so-called individuals are all dead. Then you think about how all the cabinet of curiosity is juxtaposed with all different objects, regardless of the meaning across the border of pure art. And from a distance you will also see Goya’s work as political, totally psychologically engaging. But then he is one of the people who receive money from the court or the rich people. Then there are also generations of people who have only been able to do very bad commissioning, works that are over-curated by the pope. I mean, again, I just want to bring in the idea of history. Because we often easily look at history within 100 pages.
Audience 1: I would like to respond to the issue of artist vs. collective in relation with Long March. And you, Zoe, had mentioned earlier when you first joined the Long March, the invitation you received was very open ended. And you weren’t very sure what kind of organization you were interacting with. I’m wondering when you were actually executing your work, did you feel you were interacting with a certain established belief or concept? Or were you interacting with the local community? Or were you interacting with a particular historical of revolutionary memory? What inspires/motivates your work at Long March?
Zoe: Firstly, my background is from museums, I have been working in museums for about 15 years. I believe that museums have their own philosophy and it is anchored in policy and process rather than ideas. I was completely aware of the history of Long March when I was asked to come on board. By then I have been already researching Long March for 4-5 years. So I was very aware of the particular idealism of the organization, and what I admired most of the organization was its ambition to marry theory and practice and its understanding that this relationship is highly personal one and human relationships and networks play an important role here. I was aspiring to that because in museums my relation to art objects was highly removed from the actual human. And I was very critical of the fact that archeology is very removed lived memory. And I wanted to experience working with art object on the level of the process. And I thought Long March could give me that experience and indeed it has. Does that answer your question?
Audience 1: So you were first attracted by Long March’s concepts/beliefs, instead of what it actually saw on the road?
Zoe: What I found quite contradictory in the museum structures was that the process of building an art object was very much removed from human relationships. The very understanding of the meaning of an art object, the understanding of the level of production that went into it, was not really discussed. The study of art in museums was highly aesthetically driven, and I appreciate the argument of understanding a work by its aesthetic, but I do think the effort of human labor in artistic production is fascinating for me, because it is in that process of labor, that another context of making is apparent or imbued in an object. And as we have all heard from Qiu Zhijie yesterday, the level of process that is put into his work gives another dimension of understanding to the final object. But there is a danger here, because in translation here experience is very hard to understand. So that has always been a dilemma for me. As Director of International Programs at Long March, the task of how to translate the level of production that goes into all of Long March projects is very hard to do in summary. I’m fascinated by museums and the archeology of objects, and I think working for Long March and the practical level has really tested that for me. It’s presented a lot of dilemmas for me that I am still working through.
Huy: This is my first time in China. Previously I have read some material about Chinese art. At that time, I personally found Chinese Contemporary Art to be very universal. It seemed to present itself as a communal voice, a ‘we’ against a ‘they.’ I then read Lu Jie’s article in the Long March catalog, which said that he did not want to only be a mediator between the West and China/Asia, but to come back to the relationship with the local community. This is something that I would like to learn more about in relation to Long March.
Lu Jie: The idea was not to establish a separation between the international and local, institution, market, biennial, and museum, Long March has a long history participating in all those sites, and many times our participation resulted in failure. But many times we achieved something. For example, our latest achievement is Madame Guo Fengyi’s solo show at Art Basel. We actually had wanted to have the solo happen in Venice, but it’s not that easy to bring the so-called ousider, or non-contemporary, which required a huge interest/open heart/sincerity/kindness to embrace, to be able to be open to another culture [Madame Guo Fengyi’s culture] that is a very personal, traditional, and representative of her community.
Madame Guo Fengyi is an artist that is self-educated, not from an art academy, 60’-70 years old. She has been using her Qi-gong exercise, her understanding of Chinese iconography, material, history, language, philosophy (Taoism, Buddhism, I-Ching) to generate a very unique body of work. Very interesting and absolutely powerful. No matter if you read her work as a knowledge appreciation or emotional communication, or the iconography/symbolism sharing, each piece of Guo Fengyi’s work is a contemporary work and has a lot to talk and share about. But this kind of work can never enter the global contemporary system. So does Long March want to establish its own system and simply boycott biennales and art fairs? No, we want to bring this kind of work to, if not Venice, then why not Basel? Market is a place, museum is a place, magazine is a place.
Now come back to question. We’re not trying to establish a separation between international and local. Imagine an outsider, imagine a self-educated person like Madam Guo, she was colleagues, she has her contemporaries. The Long March as a conversation platform or as a curatorial project is able to contribute to the so-called shared idea of contemporary. If there are artists from different generations coming from similar backgrounds, like a student of Qiu Zhijie or Zhang Peili studying at the Central Academy of Art (which is similar to Goldsmith or Royal College, we have admitted this level of globalization), when they confront the Long March discourse by participation here or by observation of our activities with Guo Fengyi, Long March is also supporting them so that they are not isolated. I don’t know if I’m making myself clear, but there are certain things we do believe at this stage that are more recognized and satisfied by ourselves or by the artist. Another example is a project we have done which is the 2-year Yanchuan Papercutting Survey and 3-years Education. How is the so-called contemporary able to connect with the paper-cutting community as the other contemporary? We have not been able to do that. We have thought about bringing Kara Walker to do a black paper-cutting, which would work too. In the past we have worked with that kind of method.
Francesca: Is it successful to bring international artists into the Project?
Zoe: Exactly, is it necessary to do so? Does it become a spectacle when we do so?
Lu Jie: I am aware of this kind of criticism, but be careful about that, this criticism is kind of easy because what is wrong about engaging the international if you consider yourself to be international. What is wrong to invite a super star? To invite her, honestly, is because of the limits of my knowledge. If I am able to break the institutional structure and know someone from Kenya or from a community from Africa to do their black paper-cutting, that would be much more interesting, powerful, demanding much more resource, maybe one day we are able to do that. But what is wrong about starting with Kara Walker? Think about what Kara Walker might learn? What is wrong with contributing to an already established artist? Remember we had invited Judy Chicago before and she was saying, “Femisnim doesn’t work here.” Well at least there is a new word from Judy Chicago.
Erin: It is funny connecting paper cutting with paper cutting because Kara Walker is essentially cutting out sillhouettes, and the word sillhouette is named after Mr. sillhouette who was the first man of portraiture and this French derivative and African American cutting paper. I mean, these two have different goals, but you can also say let’s just bring people together and cut paper, or what is the goal of this new-formed community, is there a particular narrative, icons, images? I mean, there are different ways of bringing people together.
Francesca: I mean, that situation sounds like it would benefit Kara Walker more than the community. I don’t know how to engage with the community in that experience?
Erin: Essentially it could be a very beneficial meeting if you bring it on an international stage. It will be this or that, it will take sides.
Lu Jie: But the things is, are you going to take the so-called authentic culture approach, which is kind of like UNESCO’s attitude towards paper-cutting? What do you think about the Papercutting in China as always using the color red, as always dealing with decoration? The Taoism papercutting is in white, and they have very sexual, provocative meaning there, that does with death and other socially-engaging issues, which can be a driving force to make paper-cutting more alive. And then we have an international artist who deals with silhouette instead of the paper-cutting itself. Silhouette was the reason why our paper-cutting project was featured in the Shanghai Biennale, curated by Gao Shiming and Xu Jiang and Sebastian Lopez because our project was dealing with moving image and the power of the gaze. Instead of only have Jeff Wall or Bruce Nauman sort of thing, they invited our Chinese paper-cutting project that deals with the silhouette, edges, and shapes.
Kara Walker could be an inspiration for the local. You might freak out because you are receiving funding from Ford Foundation that is supposedly trying to protect local heritage and you are changing red paper-cutting to be black, you are changing the realm of Chinese paper-cutting from a mother-daughter love relationship to a more socially engaging tool, the paper-cutting may come out to be political. Woooo. So we curators carry a lot responsibility but we consider ourselves as the contemporary, we respect paper-cutting as a cultural heritage in the other end, in the other meaning which is not our domain. But our domain is to making them [papercutters] contemporary in their moment with us. And making us contemporary by working with them. So honestly for me, bringing Kara Walker is not an issue.
So for the Luang Prabang case, to me, it is not an issue of bringing there Cai Guoqiang or Marina Abramovic. it is about the curatorial idea, the whole structure. It is not about the issue that all artists chosen are celebrities. I totally understand curators needing to include artist celebrities to attract a broader audience.
Zoe: But going back to what I think Huy was trying to ask, I think he was more questioning the role of community in Long March Projects. And to what extent that concept of community motivates Long March? Is that what you are saying?
Huy: I was more questioning the relationship between global and local, and how it has been articulated through the developments of Long March.
Zoe: I think it’s also about rural and urban as well.
Lu Jie: Well I can simply talk about the relationship between the artist/artwork and the HCMTP. I believe the HCMTP is a curatorial project at least at this stage, it may stay like this for a very long time, I don’t know. We need to talk about curatorial structure and platform. So however a particular artist’s project is achieved within his/her agenda, or whether his/her project is good enough to engage with the local community (a project such as the papercutting project or the LM’s gay movie project), or whether he/she would prefer to do her project in Laos or in Vancouver marcing on the street in the Vietnam town––How to examine the work is based on the perspective of market, the curator, the media, the local audience, the Long March, etc. The work is not simply judged by Long March alone. Long March generates energy and topic and a support system for such artworks because it is HCMTP is a different project unlike biennales that have their own office and two assistant for half a year with a separate budget and will finish with a catalog.
So as I was saying in Vietnam, it is more important, for curators, to consider how to mobilize the local community, to mobilize leading curators/writers like you, to create an archive of all films/performace made through discussion and analytical ways. Given the local context, we then address the questions: why were these works made? why were they censored? How did one artist move from being a painter to a performer, how did he move from Paris to Saigon? These archival debate/discussions are friendly agencies that can develop a home for local artist to return and leave from. Regardless of even if artists want to do projects with you and then claim that the work is their own, it’s fine, we don’t mind, you have the right to your autonomy and there is no love/hate issues there.
Francesca: So do you not think that the HCMTP and the LMP will not commission work?
Lu Jie: Again this needs to be developed according to the project structure. HCMTP is not a bienniale, it is a journey. Biennales cannot say I am opening on the 16th and then change its mind to open on the 17th, although it is happening these days. But we are always learning about ourselves, about the community, about the participants’ needs. We already have now two projects that are financed by us completely or partially.
Lu Jie: It is now 1:30 in the afternoon. I want to finish with one story in response to our last conversation about artwork and art project. How many of us here have heard about the Weatherman? The Weatherman is an American leftwing underground terrorist group in the 1960’s. The name comes from a Bob Dylan song. The reason why the Weatherman comes to mind is that Obama almost lost his opportunity to become US President due to his connection with one Weatherman who is a professor today (not in prison anymore), due to his connection with war, with political activism, with terrorism. If an artist today is inspired by this story and creates a work for HCMTP as a Long March work, and if the Long March as a collective uses the so-called artistic language methodology to create a work, which of these two works is more Long March? Which work is more autonomous? Which work is better quality, more suitable for a curator to judge? Does the Long March want to invite artists to create work like this or does the Long March want to use this educational structure to create the work? Since we are all curators and artists? These are just suggestions and ideas, thinking of ideology, history, the present, geography, artist’s rights, completion of work, all these issues.
Very important point Song Yi has just brought up. He is tracking back to the original Long March and how we had selected proposals. There were cliche/redundant proposals that were based on a superficial/narrow understanding of the Red Army journey. There were many proposals to dress up in Red Army uniform, for example. So coming back to selecting proposals for the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Songyi is giving the example that if we find the Weatherman story coherent to the HCMTP context, regardless of who (artist or Long March) creates the related work, there is a so-called Long March standard there that people may think it is important or not important.
I want to follow up that there was one methodology that we used, called Copyleft for the original journey. There were artists who were making work that was coherent to our project. So we kidnapped the work for our proposal. That is a very left bevahior. We said that, ‘you [the artist] made work based on public history and memory, and you are showing it and broadcasting it in a public space. I have the right to share it to other people. If the Antonioni film is made in China, I don’t give a shit about copyright, I will show to Chinese people. If you put me in jail, fine. That is the copyleft attitude. So therefore, there was an entire archive/textual/visual material displayed along the journey without informing the artists. And we totally interpreted the displayed work our own way. For example, Qiu Zhijie pulled out Huang Yongping’s original footage, and we said okay, let’s put the flying tiger as background and play Huang Yongping’s interview in front, and let’s talk about US and France’s joint censorship on Huang Yongping’s work. So that’s the way we do it. If the artist is able to make work that is a major contribution to the HCMTP, if the artists’ contact with HCMTP is supportive, why would the artist resist doing a work based on the Weatherman for Long March? Artists can do the work before or after HCMTP, why do artists have such an anxiety working with a curatorial platform? That is my question.
Zoe: Just to give a bit more information there regarding what he meant by copyleft. What he did was have an exhibition that included, for example, a photocopy of a Zhang Xiaogang work, or a copy of Yang Fudong’s film, and exhibitions were composed of copies of works, not in any instance was it the actual work being exhibited. But this topic is very interesting relating to a discussion Rattana, Erin and I had about the role of artist involvement in artistic projects and to what to what extent is permission of the use of their objects is something beyond their own intentions. I think this is a particularly sensitive topic in Cambodia. This is something we should talk more about later on, because in Long March Projects, there is always the issue of collective vs. individual because there have been many instances where we have been participating in International shows and where the work was listed as by Long March Collective and that might have been made up of 10 different artists without their names being mentioned. So it was more about the identity of the collective rather than listing all the individuals. So it was about understanding the spirit of the group. This also engages ideas of authenticity and authorship in a different perspective.
Lu Jie: So I got something from today. I created a new terminology: all artists are dead. That will be my next speech’s title, very strong and provocative. All artists are dead. Why? Do you have an issue with prehistorical painting? You don’t. Copyright is a capitalist idea of occupation, of knowledge control and sharing. Because certain artists are alive, bodily alive (although body is just a vessel), you separate a section of visual culture from the human being. This kind of capitalist idea of individuality, when you talk about human rights, it’s okay. But when you talk about art, it’s not okay.
So all artist’s are dead. That is a new historical view, right?