1. What is so special about Synthetic Reality?
First of all, it is a spontaneous, artists initiated project. The artists knew each other very well, we had had exhibitions together. Synthetic Reality is the first large-scale media-based or video installation show of its kind in China. Especially one that is organized by artists, not curators. What's also special is the international cooperation, at least in economic terms - it is sponsored by the Dutch Prince Claus Fund.
2. Why a video exhibition in Beijing?
The background to this project is that there are very few shows in China. All these artists who are all very active in the international art world, in Europe, in the States, they hardly ever show their work in China. In this show we have brought all the artists back to their home, to show their work to a local audience.
You cannot always make art for export. You produce it and send it far away and create it for a remote public. It’s like the old colonial structure from the seventeenth century on. Just exporting. On this basis we wanted to change this reality a little bit. We wanted to make a show, and then it became a video show.
3. What’s wrong with producing art for export?
When you only produce for export, it’s like there is no foundation in art anymore. The artists speculate for the remote public: what they can understand, what they will like, what they will accept. It’s not really healthy anymore. But if it is made spontaneously, then it can be transported to other places. After all, art is free to be interpreted in many, many ways.
Export is only one way traffic, it is always from China to the West. I think it should be multiple ways, and even so there will still be misunderstandings - which is inevitable and maybe even constructive. A different way of reading works of art, that is something we should encourage, not discourage.
4. The video and films are in Chinese. Is it possible
to ‘translate’ the
This is the impossibility of translation: you can translate the dialogues, but you can’t translate the context. For example the movie piece.
Without the context, without the memory of those movies that you experienced in your childhood it will generate different meanings, I think. It is funny, like you say, but it has another dimension. Very familiar, deeply rooted memories are being mocked. It’s a bit comic-tragic.
This is why we created this show in China. Because export always only exports the products, but not the whole context in which the products are created.
5. Because of the difference in context, would
it be impossible to have the same show in Amsterdam?
No, that is a bit too strict. We can still have this show in Amsterdam. But that is always the case: a Dutch show in China will be different from a Dutch show in De Appel, let's say. But it is a very healthy way of communication. We talked about export earlier. What troubles me about export, is that it is only meant to export. Then it is a very one-way, not a multiple way of communication. That’s the difference. We don’t really want to make localism or to set the local against the global. We also don't like to think that what is created in a place can only be presented to the public in this place: that is too narrow, that is not what we need.
6. Why did you choose ‘synthetic reality’ as
We came up with the theme very late, a month before the show took place. Many of the artists had already finished their work, or at least the concept. It is a spontaneous common ground. We didn’t orchestrate the show, we just gave a general subject as a starting point. As the show came out, we saw it was so coherent.
This is also a point we wanted to make, to overturn this kind of over-strict curatorial ideology. To make a concept and then all the artists are material for this concept.
7. How do the artist influence each other? Did
they work together?
They live quite far apart and everyone has their own unique focus. They are doing something rather different from each other, but there are some common grounds on which their works converge. They are all from the generation of the ‘85 movement during which contemporary Chinese art first emerged.. And they all use video as their main artistic language. In this show, they show a kind of coherence. The exhibition themes are integrated in their works spontaneously. For example, Zhujia's Double Landscape refers to the artificial nature of the living environment. And the movie piece, suggesting that history is like cinema, is very much along the same line. And then Li Yongbin's piece Sun discusses cinema time, as opposed to real time.
8. What is the status of art in Chinese society
compared to Western society?
Art has never been really important in any society, I think. Art has lost its glorious age. The whole art-enterprise is a by-product of other things. It is a sad thing for each artist. Of course each artist tries to still create a critical distance, struggling not to be a by-product. Maybe the main difference is that contemporary art in China is still in a process of emerging, like a youngster in the society, whilst in the West it is fully established and totally institutionalized.
9. Art is not important. So there is no such thing
as ‘the power of culture’?
If a culture doesn’t change, than the culture is doomed, sure. And art is one of the driving forces for change. But here we are talking about two different things. In the whole political-economic scheme, art is not important. In the economic age art is like a cultural capital that the real capital needs. It is a by-product of capitalism. But art does make sense to some people, a minority of the population. It can do something to change culture. As a critical voice against, or as a subversive force to destabilize those firmly established rules and norms. This I don’t deny.
10. Can art make a contribution
Development is not a very clear word to me. Does it mean progress in a material sense? That is not very easily applied to culture. Culture does not necessarily mean progress. It’s just, like life, expanding. Going forward.
So what does ‘development’ mean here? If it is equitable with economic development, I think, art is always in resistance to this development, keeping a critical distance. Modern art, or modernity, has been like that, in western society.
If we talk about modern, we have two kinds of ‘modern’. One is political and social modernization. The other is Modernism. They go parallel in timeline, but in ideology they are in opposition. Social modernization creates alienation, and modern art tries to counter this thing. This is why Modernism always has a very strong sense of nature. For the artists it is a redemption from modern society.
Contemporary art still assumes the same role, tries to argue with the development. It’s not collaborating. But of course, you can always say the discussion is also a contribution to development.
11. Has the exhibition brought
about the desired results?
We wanted to make this show as a starting point for other shows to follow. We needed to find the local space in which the art is produced. That is not something one show can achieve.