Guangdong Times Museum, Guangzhou
2–4 July, 2012
Curating needs a bit of a shake down in China. The term has become a cliché to describe pretty much any situation in which one can point to a modicum of organisation, and is often characterised as a perfunctory look at the issues raised. Seminars that take a long hard look at the subject, and successfully integrate local and international resources and audiences, are also pretty rare in this context. So, despite the Summer heat in Guangzhou, we couldn’t refuse the invitation of the Guangdong Times Museum to attend their “No Ground Underneath: Curating on the Nexus of Changes” which brought together practitioners from near and far in an extended forum over three days of intensive presentations and discussions.
Nikita Yingqian Cai, curator of the Times Museum, in collaboration with the seemingly ubiquitous independent curator and critic Carol Yinghua Lu, co-curated this event as a prelude to a new series of books on the general subject of curation, to be published by the Museum beginning later this year.
This event led off from a regular column Cai and Lu co-wrote for the now defunct Contemporary Art & Investment magazine. These columns translated key international texts on the subject of exhibitions and curation into Chinese, coupling them with responses by the curators, creating a useful discursive environment around them. This transfer of information from outside of China into a format accessible locally was incredibly important, and it is a huge shame that the forum no longer exists. However, the curators carry on, and this event in Guangzhou marks the continuation of their efforts.
Sharing moderating duties with Shanghai-based curator Biljana Ciric, Cai and Lu managed the procession of speakers over each thematic day. Day 1 addressed the self-historicisation of artistic and curatorial practice, drawing out an idea of “proactive parasitism” as an “active involvement of knowledge production.” This role of self-historicisation has been a recurring subject for the organisers; Lu’s ongoing Little Movements project (in collaboration with Liu Ding and Su Wei), and the show The Museum That is Not curated by Cai last year at Times Museum, both addressing the issues through artists’ practices.
After Ciric’s information-packed survey of the development of new institutional models in Asia, Richard Streitmatter-Tran and Le Tuong Vi from the Dia/Projects space in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, described the role of parasitism in their particular situation. After this Liu Ding presented his own practice crossing the borders of art and curation. In the afternoon, following a trip across the road to the charms of the Richkey Café and its internationalised lunches (tip: Germany and Japan), artist Hu Yun focused on the e-journal PDF that he co-produced, artist and journalist Shen Boliang described the Multi-Future Project, that brings together artists, journalist and economists to look at aspect of China, and artist and educator Zhang Peili reviewed his role at the Hangzhou Academy of Art which he had recently left.
On the second day, the attention turned to mainstream institutions and the possibility for “speculative” activities within their confines. Wang Huangsheng (Director of the CAFA Art Museum in Beijing) and Huang Zhuan (Executive Director of OCT Contemporary Art Terminal in Shenzhen) discussed their own institutions, with Huang linking the idea of post-historicism (as espoused by Arthur C. Danto in America and Hans Belting in Germany) to a current “age of curators.” Wang and Huang were preceded by Simon Sheikh, who later this year will be taking up position as Senior Lecturer in Curating at Goldsmiths College in London. Sheikh laid groundwork on how and why an institution “institutes” and when this can be productive. In the afternoon, Vivian Ting Wing Yan, an educator and founder of WrongPlace, and Cosmin Costinas from Para/Site Art space, both from Hong Kong, joined the group.
The final day posed the co-dependency of artists and curators as exemplary of the relationships that can occur across all roles within the art world, opening doors for each constituency to partake of the other’s values and appearances in an “anarchical” effect. In some rather inspiring deliveries, Anselm Franke, curator of this year’s Taipei Biennial, Wu Tsang, a transgender artist and film-maker from the US, and Vivian Ziherl (also representing Ann Demeester of the de Appel Curatorial Programme in Amsterdam – a programme which Nikita Cai also attended).
Rounding off the talks were Gong Jian, founder of the Yangtze River Space in Wuhan, and Aimee Lin, Executive Editor-in-Chief of the publication in your hands (or on your screens). Lin highlighted the fringes of curation in the way 艺术界LEAP magazine collaborated with artists and designers: “We view the pages of our magazine as the faces of an exhibition, so we … think our work is (in a way) similar to curating.”
For some reason, these last two presentations garnered feisty responses from the audience, focusing on the critical and political engagement of this magazine and the gallery space respectively. One audience member confronted Lin on the: “lack of the voice of the art critic, a common problem not only for your magazine but also for the Chinese art scene.” After something of a standoff between the two, the moderators mediated to stress these meetings should be based on “trust and mutual understanding” rather than antagonism.
Overall the efforts of Nikita Yingqian Cai and Carol Yinghua Lu are essential and should be recognised for the part they are playing in the development of the academic and critical infrastructure for the arts in China, and how they contribute to their international counterparts.
Stepping back a little and trying to get some perspective on the event it is possible to compare the self-organisation and self-historicisation discussed to the actions of the organisers themselves in initiating this event. This event seemed well balanced in terms of participants, but—given what we had been discussing about institutionalisation, and if this becomes a regular event—it is appropriate to ask how their own systems are being instituted: how do they act as includers and excluders?
And in this respect the promise of a future event organised by Times Museum devoted to criticism is very exciting, and if these seminars can be instituted(!) as regular events, then they will become a hugely important part of the development of the Chinese art ecosystem.
Author: Edward Sanderson