Over the past few weeks I’ve begun a series of interviews for the “Uncut Talks” sound magazine, a project initiated by the artist Ma Yongfeng of forget art. At this point I thought I would pull together the first three interviews which (coincidentally) have all been with Chinese sound artists and musicians. Future interviews will venture into other creative fields. Ma Yongfeng and the Italian curator and artist Alessandro Rolandi have also added their own interviews to the Uncut Talks site, so please take a moment and check them out, I think there is something for everyone there!
Recently I was asked by the Chinese publication, BazaarArt, for my choice of favourite artwork of the last year. It was obviously a very difficult choice, but the artist Ma Yongfeng’s work stood out for me. Here are the original responses I gave to BazaarArt:
The name of your favorite art work of 2012:
“Invest in Contradiction” by Ma Yongfeng
When and where did you find this art work?
At the Bernard Controls factory, on the outskirts of Beijing.
Why does this particular item become your “love of the year”?
In amongst the complacency indicative of a broad swathe of art production in China and its lack of meaning outside its own closed community, Ma Yongfeng’s work stands out for its willingness to take some intelligent and provocative risks with form and context. “Invest in Contradiction” came about as a result of his being invited to take part in the unique and far-sighted “Social Sensibility R&D Program.” This program has been developed by the Italian artist and curator Alessandro Rolandi as a series of artist placements at Bernard Controls, a small engineering factory on the outskirts of Beijing. Having spent time with the workers to understand the situation his work would have to exist within, Ma’s contribution became a series of stenciled or graffiti’ed statements dispersed throughout the building. The messages were culled from the artist’s own observations of the reality of the workplace, as well as from conversations with the workers. “Invest in Contradiction,” which Ma prominently stenciled on the workshop wall, is an adaptation of the company’s official slogan: “Invest in Confidence.” Of course, it’s a very real risk that where an artist is asked to produce work as a direct reaction to spending a short period of time amongst their audience, the resulting work simply patronizes them without really creating any mutual communication. In this case though, Ma’s slight adjustment to the official statement adds a touch of humor and a little bit of a utopian vision to this prosaic workplace.
GROW Food Justice Global Campaign China Launch Ceremony: Food Art Exhibition, curated by Xia Yanguo
PIFO New Art Gallery, B-11, 798 Art Area, No.2 Jiuxianqiao Rd, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China
11 – 20 August, 2012
[Author’s note: I acted as an unpaid consultant for the GROW Campaign at an early stage, however I have had no involvement with this show at PIFO Gallery]
Food Art Exhibition at PIFO New Art Gallery, organised by the international charity Oxfam as part of their global “GROW” campaign, aims to raise awareness of poverty in relation to production and access to food, but the art exhibition on show raises issues with the effectiveness of this form of presentation.
Although art shows to promote charitable issues have worthy intentions that should in most cases be supported, there is a troublesome tendency for the art to be the least considered part of the affair. In the face of the important or urgent issues to be supported, the artworks often appear irrelevant or ineffectual, and there is a tendency to favour unproblematic or vague artistic responses to avoid distracting from the issue. Given art’s potential as a creative medium one would hope that it could play an important part in productively contributing to the issues, rather than simply acting as a background or window-dressing.
Alessandro Rolandi’s Social Sensibility R&D Program at BERNARD CONTROLS S.A. in Beijing
When asked about her working environment, one worker said she would like to feel the sun on her skin for a while – a simple but poetic request, fulfilled by moving her workstation outside the factory for a short period. Another worker took the opportunity to make a fluid sculpture out of the big barrel of grease he was using, giving it the title: “A piece of shit.” These little gestures came about as part of Italian artist Alessandro Rolandi’s Social Sensibility R&D Program, instituted in the factory of Bernard Controls S.A. on the outskirts of Beijing.
Bernard Controls is a French family-owned company producing specialist servo engines for operating valves in water pipes found in nuclear power stations, but also used in places like the Beijing Opera House and the Olympic Swimming Pool (AKA the “Water Cube”) in Beijing.
For a factory to embrace such a distraction from the serious business of production is down to the initiative of the boss, Guillaume Bernard, an engineer with a particular interest in corporate social responsibility. But while Bernard Controls already had a steering committee working to improve management personnel relationships using activities such as exhibition visits and music concerts, M. Bernard was looking beyond this. “He’s one step ahead,” Rolandi says. “He’s an engineer, not a psychologist, sociologist, or a philosopher. We talked a lot about this, and he seems genuinely open to more socially aware activities, which I related to relational practice within the art world.”