Zhu Luming¡¯s interview
Zhu Luming¡¯s interview
 
Zhu Luming: Absolutely! With biennales and triennales becoming more and more institutionalized, why can¡¯t artists curate their own biennales and triennales?  
 
 Time: July 19, 2008
 Location: Beijing
Interviewer: Man Yu
Photographer: Lu Chang¡¯an
Editing: Zhang Langfeng
Type in: Zhang Langfeng
Translator: Zhang Jieqian
 
 Man Yu: You¡¯ve curated in Amoy lots of art activities which are nothing like common exhibitions. They were held in public places like squares and residential communities, etc. instead of art spaces. Can you talk about this?
 
 Zhu Luming: First is because we were short of money. To hold an exhibition in an art space needs a certain amount of money. Secondly, I intended, after coming back to China, to try to integrate contemporary art with local environments. Take Fujian Province as an example. Unlike Beijing and Shanghai, Fujian has no settled art district on significant scale. Therefore, I then planned to research on how to merge together contemporary art with the public.
 
 Man Yu: I learned that your works done in Europe were totally different from this, right?
 
 Zhu Luming: No, actually my works inclined to be more on the infusion of contemporary art and the public in the last period of my stay in Europe.
 
 Man Yu: How did this change happen?
 
 Zhu Luming: When I was in Europe, I found that most great artists prefer to hold their exhibitions in art spaces or galleries. But unfortunately, few visitors come after the opening ceremony and all the visitors are from art circle only. The situation is the same in China. So I wondered what I could do to build a vivid and interesting connection between contemporary art and its surroundings. There were no enough materials I needed in Europe, so with this question in my mind, I came back to Amoy and did some research. Instead of in galleries or any settled space, we tried to do activities in various places like restaurants, bars, bookstores, city squares and even a construction site, all the places that we could think of. Our studio is in a quadrangle courtyard beside the sea. We rent the whole courtyard. Our neighbors are ordinary citizens. It¡¯s a great place as a studio and a residency for local artists, where artists discuss and do some experimental projects ,only that it¡¯s not spacious enough to hold an exhibition. Actually, many of our plans grew out of our discussion in that studio and then we carried them out in other places. That¡¯s to say, the studio is a base and all the public places in Amoy are our laboratories. All we need is a fixed place to discuss and to make out a plan. All the other things can be done in any other places.
 
 Man Yu: What do you feel after so many years of dealing with art activities in public spaces?
 
Zhu Luming: What I¡¯ve learnt from these years is how to deal with different kinds of people, i.e. how to communicate. I always put stress upon communication, including communications between different subjects of contemporary art, between artists and between artists and their works, as well as the communication between art pieces and the whole society. Communication matters. This is the most important lesson I¡¯ve learned. If we want to move art project to public places, we¡¯ve to learn to deal with people of many different backgrounds, like city inspectors, clerks , security personnel and private employers, etc. To get their approvals, we should try to let them believe that this is fun and it won¡¯t have negative influence on public security at all. The biggest difference between holding an exhibition in an art space and doing art activities in public spaces is that we have to gain recognitions from the public. In an art space, an artist can do whatever he/she wants, because this space is his/hers and he/she doesn¡¯t care whether there will be visitors or not. But once we put it in the public we need to take into consideration shows¡¯ relationships with its surroundings. Instead that we impose on them or on the surroundings some specific notions, we hope views can produce their own personal feelings. Some artists may initially intend to influence viewers or to change the existing relationships by their works. In this case, I¡¯ll first discuss with them to understand their motives and then together work out a solution without influencing the implementation of their ideas.
 
 Man Yu: So have you got some new insights into the relationships between art pieces and the society?
 
 Zhu Luming: In my own point of view, art should not be confined to a certain group of people. It is supposed to have some contact with its surroundings.
 
Man Yu: What are viewers¡¯ reactions to your art activities in the public spaces? Is it possible that viewers¡¯ reactions may have some influence on artists?
 
 Zhu Luming: There must be some influence and it is a mutual one. Viewers and artists exert influence on each other. Here¡¯s an example. There was once we planned to hold an exhibition in a restaurant, because we several artists thought the video would have better effect if it¡¯s shown in a public space instead of a traditional art space. So we did some research and picked a restaurant. We also got the approval from the restaurateur. However, the restaurateur backed out after the video was shown only for 5 minutes. The reason was that he thought the video ,which was a little noisy and whose images might a little scary ,was spoiling his customers¡¯ appetites and hurting his business.
 
Man Yu: How couldn¡¯t he foresee that?  
 
Zhu Luming: Maybe he thought we were gonna hold a much gentler, more normal and lyric exhibition. That¡¯s how art worked in his mind. We ended up giving up this exhibition after his rejection. Fortunately, we got what we wanted so we didn¡¯t care whether the exhibition could go on or not. As artists, we were all quite excited, because we had done this experiment for at least five minutes which we¡¯d never done before and we had knew how viewers reacted to our video even though there was only five minutes.   
 
Man Yu: This is more like a test. Had you predicted it before you did those activities? 
 
Zhu Luming: This was within, as well as without, our expectation.
 
Man Yu: Could you please introduce to us one of your works, which is a video broadcast on a big screen in a plaza?
 
 Zhu Luming: This one is quite good and we plan to do it again in our following activities. That was an untraditional way of presenting a video. When we suggested it to the artist, he was quite hesitant. First was because we didn¡¯t know whether the owner company of the screen would agree. Secondly, he worried that the government might not allow us to show it in public. Thirdly, commercial ads broadcast on big screen was charged 3000 Yuan (more than 300 euro) per second. We might not able to afford that. After discussion, we made the decision that we should give it a try. After we negotiated with the Ad company for one week, they agreed. They thought it was fun and worth of giving a shot. We had two nights, altogether three hours, to show our video. But it could only be cut into pieces and inserted into commercials. It happened to be the Christmas, a prime time. There was a large stream of people. Many of them were attracted and stopped to watch our video. People were accustomed to seeing commercials on the screen but not videos like that, so they just stopped and watched. The artist himself was on the spot, so some people talked to him, asked him what we were showing and why we broadcast this video, etc. There came interactions which I quite appreciated. Traditionally, an artist just stay in the exhibition hall. Visitors just look around in the space and then leave, without interaction with the artist. In the public space, it¡¯s not the same at all. All kinds of expressions could be seen on viewers¡¯ faces. Some were surprised, some were puzzled, some were excited and some were curious. We can see all kinds of emotions. We got what we wanted. By doing so, we knew the effects of this video and how it was related to its surroundings.
 
Man Yu:  This video was specially made for the activity, or there had been some videos like this and the artist just picked one to show?
 
 Zhu Luming: It was specially made. Artists¡¯ video works are always specially made to fit an exhibition hall or an art space, so we need a new one for the plaza. We asked him to choose some videos and do some re-editing so that the video can be suitable for this special space and special period of time.
 
Man Yu:  In Vis-¨¤-vis Art Lab in Amoy, you artists do most of the curating work. In Beijing, this is quite rare now. There are plenty of professional curators, galleries and art spaces to do this. Artists curating an exhibition on their own is not newly-emerging. It was originated in the beginning of the 1980s and it prevailed in the following decades. Huang Yongping and some other artists organize themselves the Xiamen Dada Group. Xiu Zhijie, Xu Zheng and artists in FCAC also curate their own exhibitions. What do you think of it? Do you think artists in Amoy do curation on their own is because there is no good curators so they have no other choices, or there are some other reasons?
 
Zhu Luming: Both of them I think. With contemporary art being more and more institutionalized, it¡¯s quite natural for curators to show up. But comparatively, the art activities organized by artists are more original and vivid. Artists pay more attention to art itself; they put emphasis on viewing an exhibition from their own artistic perspectives, while theorists and critics tends to hold an exhibition in a macroscopic or narrative way. They just simply fill artists into an exhibition. By so, artists become a decoration or a chessman. If you let an artist to do it, he/she will focus on some basic things, like using the exhibition as a platform to show his/her works and inner feelings. So there will be more fun. With the institutionalized and job breakdown structure of the contemporary art, I prefer to let artists be their own curators. By the way, as to various big shows and international shows, why not just put several artists into the curating groups so that they can mull over an exhibition from their own perspectives?
 
Man Yu: Maybe artists on their own can curate biennales and triennales.
 
Zhu Luming: Absolutely! With biennales and triennales becoming more and more institutionalized, why can¡¯t artists curate their own biennales or triennales?  
 
Man Yu: Here is where biennales and triennales will go. Hah¡­
 
Zhu Luming: Maybe. At least, I think it¡¯s a good choice.  
 
Man Yu: Being an artist curator for so many years, how do you judge an artist¡¯s works when you are organizing an exhibition?
 
 Zhu Luming: First, I judge them from my instinct as an experienced artist. I¡¯ve covered many kinds of art, including installations, videos, performance and easel art, as well as curating. So I do have this instinct of an artist. It comes from my years of experience. Moreover, I judge them with a long-term perspective. I won¡¯t consider one piece as a good one just because it sells good or its theme is in fashion. Instead, I will take into consideration whether it will still be attractive or interesting in years. This point is crucial and this is my principle of judgment. It always takes me years to thoroughly know an artist and his/her works. That¡¯s why I usually invite my old friends to hold an exhibition with me. Of course, there are some new artists, but it will take me a long time to know them before I agree to co-hold an exhibition with them. You can never just casually put one artist¡¯s works into an exhibition.
 
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