Bao Dong Interview
If we talk about the humanity from the humanistic perspective, I think it*s a false thing for the artists. Actually the individuality is an illusion. All those enlightenment ideas like individuality, self-independence, free will can all become the pursuit of an ideal. But if we use them to defend for an art work by saying that it*s quite good because of its individuality, then I think it*s fictitious. I would like to talk about the differences rather than the individuality.
Date: Jan.06.2009
Place: Iberia Center for Contemporary Art
Interviewer: Man Yu
Editors: Li Xiaofei, Zhang Li
Man Yu: When doing an interview, with some artists we mainly talk about their works; with some curators we mainly talk about the curatorial issues. But after having read some of your articles, I think we can talk from a critical perspective which can be much more meaningful. So I listed the main theme as follow: ※How do you do the criticism?§ My first question is if in a comparatively ideal art environment, for your own, why do you do the criticism, and what do you expect it to be?
Bao Dong: From an academic point of view, I think the criticism is an intermedia, from the art work, art practice or art fact to achieve at least two purposes: one is to make the art work and basic art fact be written into the art history; on the other hand, through this kind of critical activity, let the criticism itself into the history of ideology and theory. As for my own work, I also want to get to such a stature, and of course I*m always making efforts to get there.
Man Yu: As for my understanding of art criticism, I think it really needs the basic theory research. Have you done such kind of work, or do you have such plan? What*s its probably framework?
Bao Dong: I*ve emphasized the ontology of the art criticism, which doesn*t mean the criticism is a closed theory system or a closed academic subject; but to emphasize that it has a very strong consciousness of theory. Especially from the West after the 2nd World War, actually the theory and the criticism become to integrate together, which is the theorization of criticism or the criticism of theory. Because nowadays when we propose a viewpoint or a theory system, it cannot be a closed system; it must be connected with the problem. Or we should say, if we want to talk about our own view about something or judge something, we must relate it to the background theory, so they become gradually integrated. So I don*t think we need to write the criticism after the preparation of theory system; or the criticism must be come down to use some theory, because these two parts themselves are the same thing, how can you criticize without the theory? But the ※theory§ here is not those in the schoolbooks. Every person has his own view and concept, consciously or unconsciously. But for a critic, who must have his own self-conscious theory consciousness and his own methodology. What does he expect the result of his criticism? As I mentioned above, one of the criticism objective is to make the criticism itself as a part of the theory. I think perhaps this is the orientation and motivation of my work.
Man Yu: When you write the criticism, where do the theory resources come from? Or which theory, whose point of view influences you most? Because when I read the critical articles (personally), I notice that in our domestic criticisms the theoretical resource seems to be relatively simple. Then what do you think about it?
Bao Dong: I haven*t a school of consciousness, but I think maybe I*m more influenced by Gao Minglu. I had his class, because he always emphasizes the # of criticism and theoretical research. The school actually indicates the limitation of your own theory; when you emphasize a certain theory, it must has its own limitations. As for the theories that influence me, that*s really complicated. Until now, there*re two resources of theory which are really important to me 每 which I pay more attention on them and also emphasize them when read and write. One is about the analysis of text, or language. At this time, perhaps I would regard the art work as a text, a symbol system, a text structure like a literature work, and we call such kind of criticism as the criticism of linguistics system. # In this system, we care more about the work*s internal problems and emphasize more on its analysis, a little bit like the intensive reading. You need to know why the artist treat it like this, what*s his rhetoric method. You can*t just give a general idea about it, even this critique is oppose the semantic analysis.
Man Yu: What do you mean by ※oppose the semantic analysis§?
Bao Dong: It means you oppose simply reverting a work into a signification or a meaning. We think that works can be reverted into meanings. You must analyze it in a language method, which in fact, is even an important tradition of the classic literature. We notice that like a text, or a work, we don*t focus on its (educational, moral, or social) meaning or implication, but its rhetoric taste. Because we have to ※savor§ this process, then we may find its value. This is the best feature in the traditional way of critique; it was in the salon where appeared the critiques. Like Ruskin, whose critique has a style of ※appreciate and savor§. Then how can you call up your method, thoughts, and sense to savor and value an art work, which is a very important aspect.
Man Yu: Here I can feel the critique*s autonomy.
Bao Dong: You mean the critique*s noumenon? I don*t really emphasize this aspect, we may talk about this later.
Man Yu: ok.
Bao Dong: Another clue is the cultural politics in a broad sense. For example, the school of Frankfurt, or Bourdieu, and lots of media critique theories, like McLuhan, Postman. They more refer to the system of cultural politics 每 regarding the art as a cultural event, which surely possesses a political relationship behind, though the politics here is in a general sense. Perhaps these two things are principal: one is the analysis of language and structure, the other is that of cultural politics. It seems that all my exhibition projects and critique articles are trying to synthesize them together. Till now, at least I can clearly separate these two aspects, but how to integrate them is still a big problem. I even feel that the whole art history, especially referring to the avant-garde art period, the key point is how to combine these two aspects together.
Man Yu: I wonder during the practice of critique, what do you focus on? Nowadays, there*re too many art events or phenomena, how do you step in? As far as information that I know, I feel that you focus more on the case study, which is your way to enter the fact, but I don*t know whether this is my misunderstanding.
Bao Dong: Of course this is not misunderstanding. Actually, I*ve been working on the case study and text writing during these one or two years. But this is just a part of it, which is of my interests. This is also related to the actual environment. I have no more energy to focus on something more abstract or bigger, like art phenomenon, or art trend. Furthermore, I find it void and unreal to talk about such things without a certain case, which is only a superficial gesture value. I think it*s meaningless, so I pay more attention to the case study.
Man Yu: Then is it related to your understanding of critique study?
Bao Dong: Yes. I think the critique is a kind of appreciation, at least, it contains this element. A case or even a mini-case is essential for an appreciation, like the littlest, a picture of an artist.
Man Yu: Since 90s to now, critics have given many different interpretations of art, like the generation of # and cartoon, as well as these years post-70s or post-80s, what*s more, like Gao Minglu*s # exhibition, what do you think of that?
Bao Dong: What you*ve said includes various ways of interpretation. But I think we need to separate the Bohemianism and the Kitsch. The former belongs to a pan-sociology, or kind of vulgar sociology, because it use the relationship between work and social environment to discuss the value of work, which is a simplified sociology. In fact, there*re a lot of imitators and followers who really become the vulgar sociology. However the kitsch is different, which has a pursuit for aesthetics, no more a thing which reflects the society, but with a certain cultural critique. It begins to maneuver some special elements in the social environment, like interests, or some typical signs, then put them together. In a word, I can find a kind of consciousness of rhetoric in it. To make it kitsch in purpose, then these elements and language between compose a rhetoric interest and power. So I think as a critical name in the kitsch concept, maybe Chinese contemporary art can be a relatively successful name. However, the post-70s, post-80s cannot be a name in theory. I don*t think we need to talk about this. As well as for ※cartoon§, which is too general, which of the ※cartoon§ then? How can cartoon be transferred into the paintings?
This is a big problem, because I once discussed the cartoon. I always feel that we (can*t) consider ※cartoon§ 每 a so-called cultural phenomenon from the cultural research perspective. We need to throw away the so-called artistic concept, for cartoon itself is a product of contemporary culture. Furthermore, there*re too many different types and styles of cartoons inside the ※Cartoon§, American Disney, Japanese (manga), all is different, so what*s cartoon? I can*t sum it up by a few words. Once, I wrote a relevant article and gathered some documents. I know that Zhang Ailin also wrote about the cartoon, and there were many people who wrote about it seriously. If we let such an abounding thing become only a simple word, then use this word to prove those things related are valuable, which is too superficial and without an academic judgement. As for Gao Minglu*s 砩巖, I haven*t read about it, so I can*t make a comment. But I feel that he has the suspect of being an oriental mystic. Wang Nanmo once criticized this, since the artistic conception and intention are already the concepts of Chinese traditional art, then the fact of using  these concepts for describing Chinese contemporary art, whether is it effective? And whether it conceals some more valuable aspects? I think this must be a problem. But I didn*t read about it, so it*s just my general (shallow) idea.
Man Yu: We often mention the problem of artist*s individuality in our ordinary talk, how do you think of it? There*s a saying, (we need to) emphasize artist*s individuality, what do you think about it? As I feel, we mainly mean those personal emotion, feeling or intuition, then if talk about the individuality, what do you define it?
Bao Dong: If we talk about the humanity from the humanistic perspective, I think it*s a false thing for the artists. Actually the individuality is an illusion. All those enlightenment ideas like individuality, self-independence, free will can all become the pursuit of an ideal. But if we use them to defend for an art work by saying that it*s quite good because of its individuality, then I think it*s fictitious. I would like to talk about the differences rather than the individuality. Because value is always a reference coefficient, while artists* works are all different, here it*s the difference not the individuality. Why is one*s work different from that of others? That*s not because the person*s different from others, but his work may be above another platform. I think an artist cannot only work in his mental or personal life world, but need to consult the art history, as well as the history of ideas. So I insist more on this vertical contact, a judgment in the art history, but not those difference between your life and others, not an individuality in a life sense.
Man Yu: Now the question is, you may have talked about it previously, but now it*s more direct, so ※what*s the ontology of critique? How does it obtain its ontology? Does this ontology really exists for the critique§? You once asked these questions in a speech, but there were too many people so you didn*t really talk about it. Then if someone asks you this question, how will you answer it?
Bao Dong: In fact, I can*t give the final answer for this question, but I think in this way. The reason that I put forward the ※ontology of critique§ is radically to emphasize that we shouldn*t use the critique as a tool. Once we treat it thus, it may become the tool of - the market, the authority, or the state ideology. Then its value will be doubted, that*s why I emphasized the consciousness of ontology. For me, we should see the ontology of critique in the history of ideas, whose significance is in the methodology that contains the theory consciousness. In short, if being separated from the identity of an artist, or a work, your critique text should still have its own value. This is the critique*s ontology that in my understanding. Zhan Mingxin brought forward a concept which is called ※meta-criticism§. He said that every critique contains a kind of meta-criticism. Nowadays, the practice of concrete critique should involve the point of view towards the critique itself. I think it means that, you must propose your own critique system, your own methodology, or at least the method consciousness. Only with this, you may step forward to the critique*s ontology, which is absolutely not to make it disciplined#
Man Yu: I considered it as something disciplined just now. Then what do you think of their difference?
Bao Dong: Because we use the ontology to modify the critique activity by borrowing something much bigger, like thought, to make it become a pursuit of thought self-consciousness, which is not only for comment something, but it should has its own value. Then let*s talk about the discipline. First of all, the critique is hard to be disciplined, because it should break the discipline, the common judgment, and the so-called experience habit. Thus, the critique is more close to the art creation. Is the critique a kind of creation? Yes, it is. Because all its basis are not on the scientific analysis, but on your feeling towards the works. If you don*t have the feeling, then all your things are useless. We have many critics like this, no feeling, but their articles are ok. 
Man Yu: The next three questions are related to what we talked about, # for example, are your living environment and experience related to your practice of critique? Or does this kind of connectionreally exist? If it does, how much?
Bao Dong: I don*t think there*s a really connection between each other. The reason I consider the critique and the art as the same, is because that some occasional environments of your personal life may have no really impact on you. I feel that artists are working in the system of art history, while critics are working in their system as well. But it may concerns the history of philosophy, culture, thoughts, including the history. This system, is a concept of so-called world 3. We*re working inside it, but not according to your living environment, your neighbor or your family.
Man Yu: This is maybe only a pretext.
Bao Dong: Yes, because sometimes, we may amplify a little the word ※living environment§, to a more concrete meaning, like cultural, or reading environment, which could be more exact.
Man Yu: Now the question is more about the detail. From the view of theory, the relationship between the critics and the works, I feel it*s just a entrance of the conception, for you critics.
Bao Dong: This is a premise, an explained object.
Man Yu: It seems that the autonomy of the critique is quite strong. I think the work is only an entrance of your conception, do you think so?
Bao Dong: It depends. First, if there*s a painter, an impressionism painter, who cannot provide such an entrance. The critics should analyze like Ruskin or Fry 每 why handle in this way here, why the space is like this, or why colors need to have such a contrast? This may be a more appreciated critique. But if like the artists such as Beuys, Hans Haacke, you may emphasize what*s its meaning, and purpose? However once the contemporary art reaches this period, the critique and the creation must become together. We need to analyze its significance, social relationship, intention and direction from the social and political environment. So we must deal with a certain artist, at last, we should make a concrete analysis of a concrete work. But in general, I tend to consider the art work as the entrance of the conception, and to borrow others* works to express my own point view, or explain others* works. I don*t think this is the best status of the critique. Even now, I still feel that we can find the methodology and working ways of Beuys and Hans Haacke, but not just explaining the significance of the work. Because I*ve said that the artists have already done this thing. Lots of their works intend to express a more clear political meaning by a better rhetoric method. So if the critics re-do this things, which is superfluous. I think the most important two aspects for expressing the work are: on the one hand, the artist*s way of thought, and its work*s significance for the art history, which return to the so-called conception ontology; on the other hand, I think we should see the work under a bigger social and cultural environment, and try to find a macroscopic relationship between the art and the culture history. I think Foucault just do like this.
Man Yu: Why I ask this question, that*s because the comment that Foucault has made. That*s to say, for an artist, he didn*t notice what Foucault had said. However, as an entrance, Foucault developed his understanding for a work by his behavior or state. Thus, this understanding perhaps isn*t of artist, I mean.
Bao Dong: This is still a question of school. Because we*re only in some certain conceptions or theory systems, and we presume that an artist has his/her original/primary meaning. But actually, I think some artists haven*t their primary meaning, Hans Haacke, while Marguerite or Velasquez that Foucault studied not.
Man Yu: In fact, it still aims the works of artists.
Bao Dong: Yes. But I think Foucault*s study is also a kind of critique, which is not to comment or criticize a work of a contemporary artist, but to see the ancient works from a new perspective, because Foucault proposed a new angle and way of thinking. From this sight, we may find a lot of problems that people didn*t notice, so I think Foucault provides an ideal style of critique 每 expressing new problems by the practice of critiques 每 then it*s hard to say whether it*s theory or critique. Of course it possesses the element of critique, but as well as of the theory, and at the same time, it becomes a thinking.
Man Yu: My last question is, is it possible that through criticism*s understanding towards the world, we obtain the personal significance of artist*s work? Because this is not like the external (thing), generally, we feel that artists* works are closely related to themselves, within their range. For me, critique*s more rational, and more like a kind of knowledge; artist is more about (him/her)oneself.
Bao Dong: For an artist, the critique is not to guide them, or to make knowledge dominate the feeling. Criticism is an analysis, a stimulation, which is integrative with the art creation. In brief, the criticism will influence a person or a group, at least, it let them become more clear headed.
Man Yu: The critique and the creation are integrative, I*m interested in it.
Bao Dong: Actually, it*s not me who proposed this, but Wilde. He thinks that criticism is a kind of creation, because he*s a # writer. They really wrote extraordinary articles, and I think their critique texts or analysis are excellent literature works. Foucault is also very typical, some of his articles, like his Les mots et les choses, he felt it was not good and rewrote it, for rhetoric. I think, if analyze from the phenomenology perspective, first of all, a critique is an article, which must reach the requirement of an article, easy to read or interesting, and so on. This is an article, then we talk about its relative value, or function, or some other things.
© Copyright FCAC 2007
© Copyright FCAC 2007