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What is the "Emergency Exit" ?


What is the “Emergency Exit” ?

---- Conversation between Chen Wenling and Huang Du

Huang Du   (Hereinafter Huang as shortened form)

Chen Wenling(Hereinafter Chen as shortened form)


Huang:Today we could talk about the topic widely. Besides art itself, we could also talk about related socio-economic problems and political problems. Certainly, your personal art creation is the theme of the conversation. At present, there are some positive changes in China's contemporary art. As we know, world financial crisis in 2008 had big impact on art world. Under this kind of situation, we did not see depression in Chinese art. On the contrary, there were more activities in the art world. For example, this year, we had Yangqian’s exhibition, Wu Mingzhong’s exhibition, Sui Jianguo’s Exhibition, Yue Minjun’s exhibition, and so on. There were very valuable works among these exhibitions, which reflected that these artists have made wise decisions under the economic crisis. As an artist in this phenomenon, how did you think of adjusting your artistic ideas?


Chen:The artists that you mentioned had relatively long experiences in this field. They had received the impacts were much bigger than this financial crisis. Therefore, they could cope with the sudden financial crisis comfortably. The global financial crisis will make the winter become longer. When can we go out of the depression? I think we should learn to “cool thinking” during the recession of art market. Because a few years ago, artists were too manic and too inflated, “cool thinking" is a way of "self-reflection", then we have “known the insufficiency”, which would let us "learning without satisfaction". Learning would help us to “get new understanding”. Afterward, we could certainly find a more objective self-coordinate, and our sprits would be tranquil. This is critical for an artist. In this particular circumstance, I have tried my best to hold the exhibition of “emergency exit" in this year, and hope it will bring a little bit of sunshine to this winter.


Huang:Under this kind of severe situation, art should have the specific points and relevance, such as reality relevance, cultural relevance, social relevance, and even political relevance. It relies on the analysis and critique of a specific social problem, which undoubtedly reflects the attitude of an artist. Of course, event art is not to present the appearance of the event, nor is it the case of a political representation. I think that contemporary art is more focused on the politics as to a conceptual analysis, stressed some things which conceals in art or in concept. In this exhibition, there are two works. One is "What you see in is not necessarily true," the other is "How to escape". The titles themselves reveal a philosophical concept. The works were about the real, deceptive and false nature of things. In fact, the image itself was an artistic medium, then how did you come to the relationship between art works and art events?


Chen: I remembered my former solo exhibition "the Fetish" was opening on Sept. 13 of last year, and on Sept. 14 of this year, Obama issued the keynote address for the first anniversary of the financial crisis. There are really a lot of coincidences in our daily lives. The day after my solo exhibition opened last year, the United States announced the financial crisis. After "the Fetish" exhibition opened, I read a lot of news and information about the financial crisis, and I was quite surprised and touched by this news. So I wanted to take this financial crisis as a point to create some art works. Of course, works on the financial crisis were not a footnote to the financial crisis, or a kind of reappearance. I wanted to reflect the dilemma of the world behind the financial crisis, and to reflect the complicated relationship between people and wealth in this capitalism and materialism world.


Huang:can you talk about the original intention of creating "What you see is not necessarily true”?


Chen:I think the natural value of an art work should go beyond a certain event or a time limitation. Artistic language or artistic form are often more permanent than the content. At the end of 2008, I have been drawing about small manuscripts of the financial crisis. I made several manuscripts but I was not satisfied. First manuscript was only a bull and a person crashed by the bull. There was no bomb-like bull fart and no Madoff. The previous manuscripts included “bull crashed horse”, “bull crashed the Statue of Liberty, “bull crashed Bush”, and so no. In the mid-March of this year, I was invited to Chicago by professor Wuhong to join the city sculpture event. I took a stroll to New York and spent half day at Wall Street. After this trip, all the difficulties in my creation have been resolved. I tried to create a virtual real-world picture by hypothesized technique, not to describe the contemporary realities of society directly.


Huang:In this exhibition, you made a big step forward, and the backbone of the works was an extension of your own methodology. Your art still have imagination, exaggeration, humor, satire, criticism, and other characteristics. Imagination and creativity are the most fundamental characteristics for artistic language, concept, and form.


Chen:Regarding to the personalized artistic language, I discovered that Chinese contemporary artists either stressed westernization excessively, or stressed nationalization excessively. These two kinds of tendencies could result in misreading by east and west audiences. I tried to find a more comprehensive artistic language. Relatively, I focused on the combination of concept and skill, also incorporate with some folk cultures. I tried to create a widely appealing and easy to understand visual images, rather than the presentation of simple trick.


Huang: Recently, some domestic critics criticized Chinese artists tended to make works in a big way. Actually, big is only relatively speaking. From the angle of art, even the big works of Chinese artists are small compare with the western earth arts. This is not a fundamental question of art, large and small depends on the needs of its concepts, depending on its space needs and the context of it.


Chen: yes, I once took part in a seminar which organized by Wu Hong. Some people there also criticized the size of the artwork. In the seminar, I said:“in the early of 90s, Borofsky’presented an installation “Man Walking to the Sky”in the Kassell Documenta. If the size of the incline column was not 20 meters long, but short like the chopsticks, it could not generate such impression to visitors. Another example, MaurizioCattelan had an art work “kneel down Hitler”. If the size of the work was bigger than 20 meters, then it would be a bad art work. If elephant in the tropical rain forest looks like a puppy, we could not feel the power of elephant, and if the size of a butterfly as big as the aircraft, it would let us feel unusual disgusting. In general, using size as a standard to measure the merits of art is ridiculous.


Huang:I always think that criticism of Chinese art is like literature game. Of course, we emphasize theoretical criticism, but the pure theory criticism needs to be established on a practical sense. If a person can not understand painting, sculpture, and conceptual art, how could you communicate with him? I think Chinese art criticism needs to be based on practical sense. For example, you art creation was constantly moving forward during these years. The critics could not make an easy conclusion for your work, but need to use a dynamic judgment with regarding to your changes.


Chen: Right now, China opens a lot compare with 30years ago. We could go out and see the world freely, and people from other countries could also come and visit China. In the process of globalization, we will definitely hear different voices and see different phenomenon from outside world. Different artistic methodologies, such as new media art, concept art, and installation art, had the profound influence on me. I have already eaten artistic miscellaneous grains many years, certainly will generate one kind of new contemporary art language. I think that the artist is the main body of art history. Artist's creation must be forward-looking. Therefore, it is normal that many works of contemporary artists can not be fully accepted by theorists.


Huang:Chinese artists still made some bold experiments during this time. They got great breakthrough in the filed of installation, new media, and painting. So how did you change from the realistic sculpture language to the distinct contemporary art language, and gave many young people a new enlightenment.


Chen:I think it is because I have studied Chinese painting. I remembered when I was 18-year-old; I wanted to be a painter or be a calligrapher. According to the theory of Chinese Ancient painting, Chinese tradition art was one kind carrier of the artistic heritage chain. You must inherit the predecessor first, and then you has the possibility to enlightenment future generations. This methodology had certain influence on me. Certainly, I cannot say that my art can enlighten future generations, but I must inherit the traditional culture and art language, including folk custom art, and so on. I knew this kind of methodology was not fashionable, and was not a easy way. Not like some Chinese contemporary artists who got rid of the tradition and created so-called contemporary art with kind of break manner. In the era of unprecedented explosion of internet, I doubt many of so-called unique or original staff. Basically, today's art is a combination of different cultures and the arts, which blend together mutually, and the results come after this. For example, my exhibition in Zhuoyue gallery, if I presented it according to a traditional way, I could finish it in half day. However, we spent 11 days to install the exhibition. Not only the works, but also the lighting, the floor, and the wall, were all arranged by the concept of installation art and conceptual art. I tried to create a brand new presentation through this exhibition.


Huang:So, the works not only had the sculpture factor, also had the installment factor. And the relevant manuscripts and documentary have enriched the exhibition space greatly. Traditional sculpture exhibition in general display the work on the ground and visitors walk around the center work. However, your work completely cancelled the rule of gravity; it is attached directly on the wall, which created a way for viewers to walk through the work and read it.


Chen:My work "How to Escape" in the small space was difficult too, because the space was too long and the work was too short. So the strength of the work could not fill the entire space. Then I used a concept of Chinese painting -“the line was broke but the idea was connected”. I put a round mirror on the opposite wall, and crushed the mirror. It was exactly an echo of the theme of "How to Escape". I also put a beam of light and a shadow of the flying cow cast on the side wall, which was a poetic image of the bull. In addition, the six sides of the wall were painted by black color. The sculpture, the mirror, the beam, and the black walls constitute a very mystery atmosphere of Eastern. This exhibition greatly enriched the presentation of conventional sculpture and art concept.


Huang:This exhibition gave me the feeling of strength. In fact, it reflected an integrated, not just a sculpture itself, but stressed the uncertainty of the work, and it was an uncertainty way to change the conventional exhibition space. You have thought the integrity of the exhibition. Before the opening, some of my America friends came to visit. They were surprised by the international language of the works. They could tell the artist's imagination from the works. The works were related to the thinking of faith, moral, and ethical issues behind such a crisis, not just a simple footnote to a typical event, but a deep reflection behind the typical event.


Chen: Yes, the works might reveal not only the characterizations of the financial crisis, but revealed a series of underlying crises, such as the integrity, moral, faith, and ethical issues, and so on, because they had a universal feature of contemporary society. My attention to society and reality is referring to society and reality of the world, not just about China.


Huang:Basically, the significance of this work was to convert the collective consciousness of a world into a very personal sense. This conversion was based on a concept of language form, rather than on the surface of a topic.


Chen:Many contemporary artists often use the method of "scolded the monk by pointing bald person" to reveal the truth behind the event. For example, I used this "fart" as a metaphor for the financial crisis of the bubble. I used the bull of Wall Street as the basic shape of the work. In China, bull is a symbol of new folk. We can see bulls in many big companies in China. The "Bull" of my work is not “Cow of Ruzi”, which is willing to serve the people whole-heartedly, but a stock market symbol of prosperity.


Huang:Actually, no matter using the tiger, the lion, or the bull as some kind of symbols of fortune and power in China or in Wall Street, your bull is a metaphor of bull stock market. Looking from the animal's angle of art history, Joseph Beuys spoke with a dead rabbit, which discussed the issue of death. MaurizioCattelan put a pistol on a table with a dead squirrel. It’s also one kind of metaphor. The animal in the works was a medium, a symbolic medium.


Chen: I think that an artist's artistic languages, including his display way, the shape form, the media type, are all important. His artistic language must have one kind of uniqueness and exclusiveness. If a work only had a good idea or trick and did not display the self-artistic language, then the work was same as a poster, or a simple diagram. With regarding to Chinese character, some people think there are two components of “art”, one part is the skill, and the other part is the concept and idea. Putting these two parts together, it's art. Just like “style”, according to Chinese character, the word also has two components. One part of the word is “wind”, which means fluid, variability, and uncertainty. The other part is “format”, which means objective measurement and the relationship between rules and context. Therefore, there are two kinds of artists: style artist and mark artist. There are basic differences between these two kinds of artists. Style artist always keeps changing, and mark artist always stays at the old place. A real artist should have the courage and curiosity like scientist and explorer. He or she always tries to challenge the unknown world. 


Huang:Your works in this exhibition bring a lot of surprises to visitors. The reason is because you do not play a card according to the artistic convention. Your creation always surpass visitors’ imagination. A good artist needs to suspect himself, subvert himself, and surmount himself. This is the essence of an artist. From this perspective, a good artist should never set the format of thinking. His idea always keeps moving. He never does things by common sense, and he even has the courage to doubt art history.


Chen:Certainly, the artist who has the energy usually believes himself. Studying art history and others is not for imitating, but for avoiding, opposing and getting rid of it, and then the artist could locate the art of himself.


Huang:Some people put some criticisms to your works. In my opinion, it is just because it is difficult for them to read your work; their experiences are different from your experiences. So there are differences in the understanding of art and concept.


Chen: I think that each exhibition is a review and inspection of my artistic spirit. It is also a great exposure of my weaknesses. 20 years experiences in the field of art told me that an artist should know how to accommodate a variety of different voices and a mixed evaluation. An artist should respect for diversity and the cultural differences. Any kind of voices and criticisms are likely to be a good way for me to grow. I will devote my whole life on becoming a unique artist, not a perfect artist, so the questions and criticisms are inevitable. I respect theory based or academic type criticisms, and don’t have time to listen at abusive criticism. I would rather to spend this time to concentrate on my art and creation, this is best way to live with art.


Huang: Finally, could you give some advices to young artists?


Chen: Mao Zedong once said: “the future is yours”. Younger generation will surpass the achievements of our generation. But I still have a small suggestion to them: many young artists today are eager to pursuit the commercial success. However, the commercial success is indeed a double-edged sword. I have an example may encourage all of us: there is a small and immature tomato; if we put something in it to make it become a red tomato, then the tomatoes will not grow up anymore. Red skin of the tomato does not mean the real growing up and maturing. On the contrary, it will hinder its further growth. If we give it enough time to grow, from the green to the red, eventually, it will become a mature fruit. Similarly, young artists also need enough time to grow.


Huang Du Studio

September 3, 2009

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