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.