To Start from Art, Author’s Preface
Luo Fei (TCG Nordica Gallery Director & Curator)
Beginning in 2002, I started to engage in artistic creation, focusing on performance art, video and conceptual art. I planed an exhibition – “Blow-Up” – in 2013 for the first time. It was a kind of Avant-garde experimental art scene. The “Jianghu” series project① drew a great attention from the art communities in Yunnan as well as the whole China between 2005 and 2006, where I served as the project director and curator . Meanwhile, I’ve been writing to introduce Yunnan’s experimental arts to people of other places.
After 2007, I started to work in TCG Nordica cultural center, beginning the job as a permanent curator in an international cultural exchange center: administration, communication, meeting artists, organizing exhibitions, introducing works to the audiences, arrange exhibits, closure, assisting international artists, and contacting the media etc.
Later, because of the job and my family, both the time and space for my own art have gradually reduced, leaving me depressed. It’s as if a window was suddenly closed. However, as I continuously cooperate with other artists, which has been a challenging and enjoyable experience, I realize that being a curator may be another door opening for me. Being a curator allows me to review my own arts, and to have in-depth observation of the art state of a region, and to reflect – what is art, and what is art for? These are the most fundamental yet the most difficult and challenging problems. Of course, I’ve very much enjoyed, and had the opportunity to witness how various artists achieve their achievements at different stages of their lives.
For curators, one of the ways to introduce arts to the public is to write. Writing also introduces me to another way of working, and urges me to build relationships with the artists, to have in-depth communication and interviews with them, and to write prefaces for the exhibitions. Often, I would document the processes of some exhibitions or projects, what happened before, during or after, as well as my own thoughts along the way. So, writing has trained my artistic intuition, and required me to read more, to improve knowledge and to establish my own judgment system.
A publisher once said that the editor’s job is to judge and decide, to discover and present. I believe that’s what curators should be doing for the most part of their jobs, i.e. to discover the artists and their works, and to find some kind of intrinsic relationships between numerous works and artists. To decide which are suitable for an exhibition, what works should be on this wall, or on that wall, it’s the curator’s job to bring out the dialog between the works. Therefore, the curator is working with the intuition, knowledge, ideas, experiences, spaces, and even under the framework of relations to bring meaning for the artists’ hard work.
Most of the articles in this book were written for exhibitions, some have been included in relevant picture books or have been published in magazines. There were some that just posted on the walls briefly for the visitors to the gallery. Still there were some personal articles that have been posted on my blog or the website of TCG Nordica. A few of them were written lately and published here for the first time. I have revised every article, even those that have been published before, some more others less. This is due to my consideration for the text quality as well as the result of developments in my thinking processes.
These articles are all about certain cases of specific artists, most of them are from Yunnan, and there are also a few of international artists visiting Yunnan from Nordica’s artist-in-residence program. This is the artistic condition that sets Yunnan apart from other Chinese cities, international exchanges have become normal here because of such an organization as TCG Nordica.
These articles are about the scenes I experienced since 2005, covering a lot of artists and projects over a period of 10 years. In China, both the society and its people are witnessing a significant transformation, and a decade has made a piece of history and an entire “NEW” generation. To a certain extent, what these articles record serves as an epitome of Yunnan’s version of Chinese contemporary art and the history of Sino-western communication in this province. I put all these pieces together in this book, fitting them in 5 parts. It’s like how I would arrange a bunch of individual paintings for an exhibition, and they are put into five different spaces.
They are as follows: Landscape in Transition, Artist as Prophet, Past and Present, the Local Experiments, and Using Art to Build Bridges.
Landscape in Transition: landscape art in Yunnan has a special tradition which has continued to this day. The landscape art is also the most convenient one for people to learn about the environment, and the spiritual outlooks of the artists. At the same time, I am also interested in whether the classic landscape art can regain the vitality in contemporary artistic languages, which I am eager to see.
Artist as Prophet: This part discusses the identity of the artists from a religious dimension. This is an experimental proposal. Are there prophetic artists? What are the prophetic elements in arts? They are the artists who directly express in their works the criticism for social injustice, and have indeed a passion for truth and love. Of course, it does not mean all artists in this part are prophets, a few being quite extreme.
Past and Present: This is a rather general topic, yet an unavoidable situation in China, i.e. people’s perceptions of others, the world, and the arts are undergoing a rapid change. In particular, for China, this Oriental country with such a long history complex feelings for the West. How we look at the Occident has also changed. Such a change requires the artists, being the intellectuals, to respond.
The Local Experiments: This part includes articles about some Yunnan’s local collective exhibitions, as well as the reviews for TCG Nordica in the past ten years, the status of the Loft community and my reflections about China’s contemporary art.
Using Art to Build Bridges: This part is my work log and essays on the “Bridges” project and “Happiness, a Five-Year Plan” in both Kunming and Sweden in 2010 and 2012. It’s my hope to present the readers with lively and vivid scenes of cross-cultural exchanges.
I named the book To Start from Art. To me, whether as artists or curators, it’s about starting from the arts at and in our hands, continuously improving our own ideas, and sharing them with others. With efforts and understanding, we may be able to go to the origin of what art is all about. It is also possible that through arts we may have the opportunity to voice our concerns for the social issues in an imaginative way. We also learn to express how we have attentively listened to our own hearts. I believe art is not just a static room for us to wait in there quietly, of course it can also be so, but also an exercise of the heart that constantly speaks out and gives feedback. It is also like in a guerrilla war you are bound to change the mode of operation from time to time. However, no matter how it changes, I believe that behind the art, there is always some kind of subtle and penetrating impression. As for what that is, each artist and audience will give different answers. So there will be adventures and definitely more to be revealed behind the art.
August 15, 2013, Kunming
Translated by Xiao Diming
① “Jianghu” was how Yunnan’s young artists named their experimental art activities in 2005 – 2006. The project was supported by Lijiang Studio and ALAB Art Space, with Jay Brown, Mu Yumin, Xiang Weixing, Luo Fei, He Libin and Lin Shanwen being the main organizers. The project was nominated by the Long March Space in 2007 as the 2006 Best Exhibition in China.
Thanks to my father and mother who have worked so hard with my upbring.
It never came to my mind that those random thoughts of mine could end up being published as a book. However, I am truly grateful that they can be presented to the readers just as they are! This book, to a large extent, involves what I am doing as a curator. In all of my busy jobs and the hasty conversations I have with others, I’m always trying to look for the assurance of the real existence, the meaning of working on arts. I think writing is an effective approach to this. So this book portrays such processes, and how I am continuously making the effort to understand arts, to know the artists, and to identify myself.
In recent years there were increasingly more artists encouraging me to have these articles put together and published. This has been a great encouragement for my initial intention of publishing, so I would like to thank my artist peers. The exploration and reflection for arts you have made has also inspired me to explore and think more.
I confirmed the idea of publishing this book in the summer of 2012, and there were soon a lot of people showing their support. Ms Wu Yuerong, the manager and one of the founders of TCG Nordica, has given me tremendous support. It’s the trust she has placed in me that I could give full play to my ideas as a curator.
Thanks also go to Ms Anna Mellergård, another important founder of TCG Nordica, for her support. She is an important witness and promoter of Chinese contemporary art.
Thank those who worked so hard translating this book into English, they are Becky Davis, Jeff Crosby, Xiao Diming, Orion Martin, Zhou Qiao and Li Jianbo and others. Thank Judy Osborne, Hanne Nilsen Nygård and Knut Ove Nygård worked so diligently on the proofreading of the English texts.
I deeply appreciate Mr Zha Changpin, Mr Fredrik Fällman and Mr Anders Gustafsson for writing great prefaces for this collection.
Thank Shanghai Joint Publishing’s chief editor Mr Huang Tao and executive editor Mr Qian Zhenhua, because of their affirmation and help, we can see this book is available.
My sincere thanks go to Wang Yang, my wife, and our two daughters, and my parents-in-law. They took over so many of my family responsibilities as I was focusing on writing. They have shown understanding and huge support.
I am grateful for those unsung heroes – my friends. Thank you for your support and prayers, so that with faith I can go on running the race set before me.
Due to the limitation of my resources there are inevitable mistakes in the book. Please feel free to contact me should you have any comments, or feedback.
May you be blessed by this book.
Sep 26, 2013 Kunming
Translated by Xiao Diming
The international culture center, TCG Nordica, has throughout its history of thirteen years developed cooperation with many institutions as well as individuals. These include numerous Universities, Nordic Culture Institutions, Art Museums, Artist- in-Residence organizations and not-for-profit organizations. Also individual artists, poets, dancers and musicians are included in our large network. Indeed, many of our international exhibitions and culture projects would not have been possible to implement without the generously financial support from them. Depending on the character of the projects the following organizations have contributed, also financially: The Swedish Institute, Arts Council Norway, Swedish Arts Council, IASPIS, Nordic Culture Fund, Embassies and ArtsNordica1.
We want to thank everybody who believed in this book project and who contributed to make this publication possible.
Wu Yuerong and Anna Mellergård
Co-Founders of TCG Nordica