2006 CCAA Juror Statement
Curator of the Twelfth Kassel Documenta
It might have been chance that I ended up as member of the jury of the CCAA 2006, but it was certainly lucky for me. As of a year ago, I had never been to China and had not seen much of Chinese Art, be it traditional or contemporary, China seemed very far away, both geographically and culturally. For someone coming from a society bound up with the cult of the individual, it is difficult to imagine a place in which neither the belief in individual singularity, nor in individual creativity, is deeply rooted. Everyone tells me that China is a changing place. And certainly the changes are vast, extremely complex, exiting and difficult. But I assume that I fell in love with the country for other reasons: I appreciate the inventiveness of the Chinese people, their cuisine, and most of all their ability to balance reality, whatever the circumstances, with a positive outlook on life. Mine is a foolish love, because it knows far too little of its subject and there is yet so much to learn. And that is why I was lucky to be part of the CCAA2006: it was an opportunity to discuss and learn from others, some far more knowledgeable than me on issues of contemporary Chinese art.
To be immersed in a situation of learning is a luxury! If I were also passing along an insight, it would be the following thought: I have found that it is not very useful to compare European and Chinese contemporary art. This insight goes against my schooling in art history which taught me to compare. “Beware,” my teacher advised us “when comparing, you must choose works of art as similar as possible in subject matter, style and form. Thus, you will learn something about the difference between the works and more about the singularity of each.” However, the easily perceived similarities as well as difference in Chinese and Western art are misleading. Regarding differences, the problem seems to be that all too often we are confronted with the manufacturing of a geopolitical identity, rather than with the quirks and subtleties of the work itself. The work of art is made to stand in for Chinese-ness as such, rather than to stand up for itself. This results the very least in the illusion that Chinese culture is somehow more homogeneous than its Western counterpart. Regarding similarities, there is a similar problem where we all lack an understanding of the importance of historically and locally specific meanings attached to practices of art. Chinese artists take up styles they perceive to be the international fashion (whatever that may be), but neglect the discourses that go along with it .Thus they seem to be creating works similar to works made in New York, to give but one example, never realizing that New York is just as local (if not to say provincial) as Hong Kong. Foreign curators, on the other hand, are happy to exhibit what they understand, that is: work that somehow fits the Western framework. More often than not this results in Chinese art work being unfavorably compared to seemingly more advanced Western examples. And, what is worse, many interesting works fall through the cracks, simply because they cannot be molded into existing modes of representation.
I have a lot more to learn about Chinese contemporary art, but what I have already taken home is the realisation that we all need not only to learn, but to unlearn. It is encouraging, that some people are much farther along in this process than I am.