Archiving China: A Presentation by Asia Art Archive’s Anthony Yung

Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Asia Art Archive in America
Transcribed by Aleena Malik and edited by Hilary Chassé and Sixing Xu

Jane DeBevoise (JB): My name is Jane DeBevoise and I’m the Chair of Asia Art Archive (AAA) both here and in Hong Kong and I want to introduce my colleague, who I am thrilled to have here with us, Anthony Yung.

Anthony has been working with Asia Art Archive for at least 10 years. He graduated from Hong Kong University and is a Hong Kong person, as they say, but he also now lives part time in Shanghai, and he has been, since the very beginning, our researcher who is in charge of all of our activities relating to Mainland China but also Greater China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. His main focus has been research and gathering of primary materials, as well as secondary materials, and what distinguishes Anthony’s work is the digitization and the annotating and the activating of primary materials from Mainland China. Those archive projects that Anthony and I both have worked on over the years together will be discussed tonight. In addition to working at AAA full time, which is always quite amazing to me, Anthony also writes and has received several awards for his writing. He also curates and, along with Hu Xiangqian, has a nonprofit organization called Observation Society, which is an independent art space in Guangzhou. So he does all of this in addition to developing really interesting research initiatives for AAA. Anthony is going to present our projects and then after that we will have questions.

Anthony Yung (AY): Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to speak to you, I’m very excited. I created the presentation in the last few days and prepared way too much for 30 minutes so I begged Jane for 45 minutes. But if 45 minutes is still not enough …

JD: But I will cut him off…

AY: But she will cut me off so I try my best to see what I can do. This talk is going to be just an introduction to all the projects that are available from China or Chinese speaking regions in Asia. I made this with Google Map especially for this talk, I don’t know how well you all know your geography but I’m not so good at geography, especially U.S. geography. I live between here (Shanghai) and here (Hong Kong), it’s a two hour flight. I found that the actual the size of the countries is very similar, they both cover a big territory. But as we all know a lot of contemporary art activities are very centralized nowadays in China, in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou; this is one of the issues that we are tackling. There are a lot of resources localized in the big cities in terms of research and in terms of curatorial practice in China. Actually a lot of other interesting things happening in other places, this is one of the things to talk about.

This slide is my overview of most of the projects that we do about China in the archives: I categorized them into four types of things. The first thing is what we call archives, meaning actual writings, primary, secondary materials: there are books, photographs, and many things that you need to read and appreciate in order to understand these topics. We work with different people and organizations in order to digitize, in most cases, or collect materials from them. We’ve digitized the collections of artists, critics, curators, scholars, some exhibition archives; we have a web archive of, which ran between 1998 and 2003, it’s wonderful. It was the first website dedicated to contemporary Chinese art, we worked with the founder and manager of this website who gave us the archive, which is fantastic.

Second is we have thematic research projects, for example the 1980s project which I will talk just a little bit about because it’s a project we did between 2006 and 2011. Jane and I worked on it together and it’s one project that we are very proud of and although we concluded it 5 years ago, we are still very proud of it so I’m still ready to talk about it. And this is a newer project: it’s called China Non-Centers so this is tackling the question that I just talked about, to look at things that happened outside of the centers, outside of major cities.

We have programs as well, including something called The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Greater China Research Grant, it’s a long name but I have to say it every time very carefully because it’s a collaboration with a very generous foundation in Hong Kong. It’s basically a grant but it also has program to support research and critical writing about contemporary Chinese Art. We have a lot of collaborative projects where we work with other institutions; when they create exhibitions, we provide research and archival support. We’ve worked with The Hayward Gallery, Times Museum, Sharjah Art Foundation; we’re currently working with the Guggenheim Museum, which is the reason I’m here. This is the project that opened in the Guggenheim Museum ten days ago, it’s a major retrospective of contemporary Chinese art and we worked with them by providing our archival research and also contributing to the catalog. We also worked with one recent exhibition called Canton Express, organized by M+, a new museum in Hong Kong. So all of these topics I will try touch on a little bit.

I’ll first start with the archives. Like Jane said, one question we are often asked is that we’re called Asia Art Archive, but Asia is impossible. So throughout the years one of the things that we have worked on and one of the things that we constantly think about is to define the scope of our work. We research a lot on what kind of things we want to collect in the broader context of Asia. We have developed, and are still developing, something we call the content priorities, these are the things that define the main trajectories, or the main focus, of our research and our collection. There are seven of them: art writing, exhibition histories, complex geographies, traditions in contemporary, performative art practices, women in art, and pedagogy. I don’t have time to talk about each and every one of them. I have chosen four of them, so I will give you some example of what I mean by them.

First: art writing. One of the ways you archive and research is through writings, through journals. Journals are a very important catalog of art writing and throughout the years we have developed a comprehensive collection of Chinese language art journals from the late 70s until the 90s. These are some of the major ones: Meishu Magazine, Yishu, Zhongguo Meishu Bao, and Meishu Sichao, etc. We have this collection and many of them we’ve digitized already, so although the the hard copy is in Hong Kong, you can see the digital copy here in New York. It is wonderful, I don’t know if the major university libraries have them…

JD: These were generally, except for Meishu, which still exists, these were generally short term publications that existed for a short period of time and then for various reasons were no longer in print.

AY: Guangxi Meishu 雄獅美術 (Lion Art Monthly) has digitized itself and now they sell digital copies and Yishu 藝術家 (Artists Magazine) is still going on, these are both very important magazines.

I think regarding art writing, the research and understanding of art writing about Chinese art and about Asian art in general, one of the most important issues that we have to think about is translation because most of the most important articles ever written about contemporary Chinese art have not been translated into English or other languages. So it’s very hard for people, especially people who don’t have sufficient ability of Chinese language to access these articles, and this translation work is very, very important. We are aware of this, many scholars in the field are aware of this question. This is one of the books that I would recommend to all of you as an introductory text, it’s called Contemporary Chinese Art: Primary Documents edited by Professor Wu Hung of Chicago University. The book was published by MoMA about 5 or 6 years ago and it has a selection of many of the very important, essential articles of contemporary Chinese art, all translated into English, and well translated. I use this all the time, and there’s a copy here in AAAinA and at MoMA.

One of the favorite things that I like to do is take all the opportunities I can to translate some these texts from Chinese. There are never enough translations, it’s very costly and takes a lot of effort.  In some projects, whenever we can, we try to translate something. And this is one of the projects that I liked doing, it is an exhibition for Time is Out of Joint organized by Sharjah Foundation last year. The curatorial idea of the exhibition is to present a series of works that are inspired by important historical exhibitions. One of the historical exhibitions that the curator chose is something called the China/Avant-Garde exhibition in 1989 in Beijing. The curator Tarek Abou El Fetouh invited us to collaborate with him in order to choose a series of texts about the Chinese/Avant-Garde exhibition, and we translated into English for the catalog. These are some of the texts that had never been translated before and it’s published in book form. I don’t know if this book is readily available, we’ll send you a copy, but these are very interesting articles about the exhibition, including reviews and people’s responses, etc. I like it very much and what made me like it more is this, it’s translated into Arabic, so I can’t understand it but I know that this is China and that’s my name there, so it’s beautiful.

JD: Is it trilingual? Chinese and English?

AY: No Chinese. Only English and Arabic.

To continue talk about writing, this is an important event that we are doing in January 2018. We organize big scale international academic conferences every few years, this is the upcoming one and we collaborated with the University of Hong Kong for it. It’s a 3-day conference dedicated to art writing and art journals from many different perspectives.

The conference is the opportunity for us to organize a lot of the materials, to annotate them, and to make them accessible, so we use this opportunity to do something with the writings and other works of the critic and curator Li Xianting, who is very important to China. We are working with his personal archive, he was a very important critic and the editor for two of the most important magazines in China during the 1980s, one of them is called Meishu and the other one is Zhongguo Meishu Bao, so translated as “Fine Arts” and “Fine Arts in China”. What we are going to do with this collection is that we will organize a library exhibition, our library is very small because of the limitations of Hong Kong, but we still want to do something in the library. But we will also have an online exhibition about this where we are going to choose important writings and important issues that Li Xianting engaged with and will present them, discuss about them, annotate them, and also translate them. So this is coming up.

So we’ll move on to the second content priority, which is exhibition histories. It’s very straightforward and it’s very important. I’m going to give you some examples, why is an exhibition is no longer just an exhibition? Exhibition is actually a reflection of many things happening in the arts institutions and what’s happening in the socio-political-cultural world. So it’s not only a place where you see exhibitions. This is a good example because this is a good collection of catalogues of early foreign arts exhibition in China during 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s; these are very rare copies of  the top publications at the time. First of all, in China at the time it was very rare that they exhibit foreign art, second of all they don’t print a lot of this so there are very limited copies. Zheng Shengtian is very respected Professor from Hangzhou Academy of Art, he now lives in Vancouver, and he consciously collected and kept these catalogues. He let us access this beautiful collection of these catalogues and we scanned all of them.

There are two interesting things to notes about these catalogues, one is that since it’s very rare to have foreign art exhibitions in China, we can see almost immediately a parallel history between this exhibition and the development of artistic practice in China at this time. For example, we have a French master painting, this one is from a very important exhibition at the time, so after this show happened we can see things that are response by artists in China to the kind of work that were exhibited in this exhibition and you can see this type of parallel development in influences since there were very, very limited influences in the art world in China at that time.

The second interesting point of view is that a lot of this exhibition is actually related to diplomatic relationships. A lot of this exhibition was done not because of artistic, art historical, or curatorial reasons but for diplomatic reasons. For example, this slide, many contemporary artists have said that this is very important exhibition for them, because it was the first time some original works by American contemporary artists were shown in China. It was held in Beijing and Shanghai in 1981, and it was a result of diplomatic recognition between China and the US. Ronald Reagan wrote a preface for the catalogue and this is very unusual! This is the catalog and they really brought good works over to share. It was very unusual, a big deal, because of the normalization of relationship between US and China. This is a picture of a group of students; at that time whenever there is important foreign art exhibition it usually happens in Shanghai and Beijing, but artists and students are from all around China so they would travel all the way to Shanghai together, just to see the exhibition. This is a group of students from Sichuan. If you know Chinese artists, this is Zhou Qingyang and this is Wang Chuan. Some of them you can recognize. I want to ask you guys—do you know this man?

Audience Member: Jan Fontein?

AY: Jan Fontein. Yes, exactly. He was the director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston at the time. This is one I think is a Jackson Pollock painting. I’m also very interested, and I think researchers are also very interested in the kinds of response to many of these exhibitions. People may look at exhibitions, look at the structures, look at the works being included, look at curatorial statements, etc. But it’s actually very interesting to look at how the general public respond to the exhibitions. Just like this one, the Guggenheim show, I just saw a video on YouTube about people complaining about the dogs, it’s as interesting as the show itself!

Same situation for this exhibition, the China/Avant-Garde exhibition in 1989, the one that I mentioned. It was a very big deal because it was the first time contemporary art or experimental art that was being shown in an official art museum in Beijing. The National Art Gallery used to be a very ideologically correct source of the regime, but at that time a lot of negotiations were made, and somehow the artists were able to organize the exhibition. You see media from all over the world reported on this exhibition, you have French, you have Italian, you have Indonesian, you have English, you have Chinese, you have Taiwanese (media). There are many different ways for this media to approach this exhibition and it’s very interesting to read them because it’s no longer within this tiny little field of contemporary art. It’s about politics, it’s about society. It wasn’t about animals at the time, but it was about many aspects of ethics, etc. Students would complain about seeing nude women, etc. You can see this kind of direct dialogues between contemporary art, which is supposed to be very radical to the general public, which you don’t see in text books.

This is a collection of publications of self-organized experimental art exhibitions in China during 1990s and 2000s. I like this collection very much because it is so rare. Many of them are not printed, many in copies and there are no other libraries in the world that dedicate their collections to something like this.

And I recommend one book that you guys should to read, because it’s a pioneering text in the research of exhibitions of experimental art in China since 1990s. It’s edited by Professor Wu Hung from the University of Chicago, 10 or 15 years ago but it’s still a pioneering book to read. Jane and I still refer to it constantly. It raises a lot of questions about art institutions, about creative curatorial, about the relationship between exhibition making and art practices, etc.

JD: Recently it’s been translated into Chinese.

AY: Yes. Just to give you a little bit of an idea about what kind of exhibitions were being made by the end of 1990s. It’s extraordinary because it was a period of time when Chinese artists started to discuss the relationship between art making and exhibition making. Previously the conventional idea is that to produce work in a studio or to produce work at home, and just send it to the exhibition space. The site of production and the site of reception are separated. But this is not true for contemporary art, at that time they really started to think about changing the format of the exhibition and changing the way that they make art in order to make a stronger impact on the recipients of the work.

For example this is a very funny and also a very radical exhibition called Art for Sale. It’s called Chaoshi Zhan, so literally “Supermarket Exhibition”. It was held in a shopping mall in Shanghai in 1999 and of course it’s a response to the emergence of huge shopping malls in Shanghai around the late 1990s. The curators were Xu Zhen and Yang Zhenzhong and they managed to rent some of the shops in the shopping mall and organized this exhibition. The exhibition is divided into two parts: This part is the shop part, it’s a real supermarket setting and they invited artists to design things to sell. Of course not real things to sell, it’s usually very challenging works. Liu Wei used pig trotters with jewelry. Separately these two things are very normal and we would  see them in different sections in the supermarket but when they come together, it’s very strange.

This is another radical exhibition, it’s a series of exhibitions called Post-Sense Sensibility. It was curated by Qiu Zhijie and Wu Meichun, for the first event. And the second, third and fourth events are curated by Qiu Zhijie himself. This was an exhibition by a group of artists that were in their 20s and 30s at the time, a younger generation of artists, and the concerns and the aims of the exhibition were very much a response to the mainstream at the time. And the mainstream at the time, according to Qiu Zhijie, was a kind of conceptualism. Something that is very conceptual, something that is very logical, something that is very poetic. They thought that this cannot represent the kind of life or the kind of concerns that they had at the time. They chose to pick something that has more exciting, more shocking, and sometimes even scary. For example this is in the first event, a work by an artist called Wu Ershan. If you follow Chinese pop movies, he is a very famous director now, who makes sci-fi and Chinese Harry Potter. This is a work by him, he used whatever he could find in the wet market, so you have fruits, and you have chicken and rabbit and he made an installation out of these materials. Of course the installation changed very quickly because of the nature of these materials. This kind of sensational or multi-sensory experience is the kind of thing that is more interesting to this group of artists at that time.

And this is the second event of Post-Sense Sensibility and for this event Qiu Zhijie paid more attention to the format of the exhibition itself, like I just mentioned, the exhibition format is something that would affect the entire reception and perception of what art is. He made this exhibition in a film studio in the Beijing Film Academy. It was not a conventional exhibition, it was more like a performance and it last for about two hours. At certain times the audience would be allowed to get into the space. When the door is closed, no one can go out or in anymore, no one can come out until the event ends. It was a two-hour performance by seven or eight artists: they had installations; they had a very improvised performance, they invited dancers and actors and had them realize the work. It was very much a mixture of different media, dance and music and everything.

This work is very good example to think about when we do archiving because it is important but it is impossible to archive or to fully document something like this. We got good photographs and videos, but when it’s about the mixed experience of sound, of smell, the experience of temperature and atmosphere, how could you represent that in video or in pictures? Or even in oral accounts? It’s impossible. So for us it is very hard to reimagine the kind of impact that this exhibition held. It was also viewed by a limited amount of audience and this is very challenging for the field of archiving and also very inspiring because it has us think a lot about these kinds of questions.

This is the Guggenheim exhibition and this is the section that Jane and I contributed to the catalogue. It’s the history of experimental exhibitions in China or contemporary artists in China, we made the introduction and information about a selection of 20 important exhibitions, using information that we have put together very concisely in the spirit of Professor Wu Hung. Professor Wu Hung has chosen 12 to 15 exhibitions, which he did more research and provided basic information and also materials, etc. We are sort of doing the same thing for more exhibitions so we hope that this can be useful for other researchers for long time to come.

The third content priority–some people call it the complex geographies. Of course there are many different ways to interpret this and my interpretation, or my simple interpretation of it, is that we want to break away from the traditional sense of borders. We want to break away from the traditional sense of the culture of nation states. We used to talk about “Chinese art” or “Japanese art.’ We know that it’s very limiting because in contemporary times especially, reality doesn’t work like this. Things influence each other from all around the world. People move all around the world.  We know that contemporary art is never about one locality; it’s about global experience. It’s actually about everything according to different interpretations.

These are the first examples that I want to show you. These are several projects by the curator Hou Hanru. Hou Hanru himself is a very good example of a conceptual artist because he is Cantonese, he lived in Guangzhou, he’s from Guangzhou. He went to school in Beijing. He moved to the Netherlands and then moved to Paris and he works in Rome now. So he is migrating constantly in his life. For a period of time he worked at San Francisco Art Institute. He moved all the time, like everyone else in the contemporary art world. So how can you still talk about countries or nation states? We need new ideas, new interpretations and he did projects directly responding to that.

This one is called Parisien(ne)s. It’s about different artists who lived in Paris. Paris is a metropolis with artists of many nationalities, including himself, and a lot of Chinese artists live there too. And this is another one, it’s a classic in contemporary curatorial history  called Cities on the Move which he did it with Hans Ulrich Obrist in Secession, Vienna in 1997. It toured to different places in Europe and also to Bangkok. It was an exhibition that is dedicated to the contemporary development of cities and urban spaces in east Asia, like Hong Kong, Bangkok, Tokyo, Shanghai, etc. It talks about this experience of living in cities that somewhat make you feel that the city is bigger than a country. If you live in Bangkok you don’t feel like you are in Thailand, you feel like you are in Bangkok. It’s something that already surpassed the kind of traditional culture or traditional understanding of nation states. It’s very true I think. The third project that he did was called Zone of Urgency and it was a project he did for the Venice Biennale in 2003. By Zone of Urgency he also refers to the city space, which is a very interesting case study for him. A case for observation, because city spaces change everyday. So many people have so many different problems. Buildings, pipes, cars… everything is moving, so it’s the  most dynamic, most vivid space for him. He is very interested in the topic of cities.

And it’s related to our work because of Canton Express. Canton Express was one project in the larger project of Zone of Urgency, which has multiple projects in the exhibition. Canton Express was a project made up of artists and organizations that are based in the Guangdong region, the “Canton” region. The whole architectural structure was designed by artist Zheng Guogu and he made something like a Light Market, which you can see in Guangzhou city. All the works are being displayed in this structure. This is the work by Yang Jiechang called the Screaming Landscape. It is a beautiful Chinese art landscape with horrible sounds of plane crash or car crash. It’s a very, very noisy exhibition, people complained about it. Canton Express as a project, the entire project, except for one or two pieces, was collected by Chinese collector Guan Yi and Guan Yi donated the whole thing to M+. M+ just restaged the exhibition a few months ago in Hong Kong.

This is the current version, I guess you can tell a difference between the two versions of the exhibition. And this is again a very good opportunity for us to think about the kind of things that are going on in contemporary Chinese art because in 80s and 90s and even in the 2000s, contemporary Chinese art was known for its vivid quality, it’s known for its very dynamic energy. A lot of artists did not put the quality of production as the most important concern for them. A lot of works are site specific, a lot of works are performative, a lot of works are transient. Works are not supposed to be kept for a long time. So a lot of this work in the restaged Canton Express are remakes actually, the originals were destroyed after the exhibition because they didn’t think that it was a necessity to keep them. When remaking them there is of course a lot of pressure: you don’t find the same material, you find the dirt, etc. When they recreate it, when they re-stage it, it is very difficult for them to recreate the kind of energy or the kind of context or the kind of atmosphere that was alive in the first time. So it becomes something like this. I think it’s the same if you go to the Guggenheim now. A lot of the works, they are masterpieces in some sense in contemporary Chinese art history, but we should bear in mind that when these works were first shown or first seen in China or elsewhere in the 90s or 2000s, it was very, very different context. The exhibition at that time was not clean at all. It’s very primitive, it’s super illegal. It’s a very different atmosphere for you to approach to the work than in Guggenheim Museum or than in M+. And we have to bear this in mind to understand the work in today’s perspective.

We are related to this show because we were the research partner of the exhibition. We worked together with the curator Pi Li and the original curator Hou Hanru, this diagram which we called the Mind Map of Pearl River Delta Art. We tried to explain the kinds of ideas that were going on around this project and the kind of actual result and the things that happened before that and lead to these works, and we synthesized these ideas into a form of a diagram. This is one example about our work of constantly rethinking the use or research information and archival information in the exhibition space. In a traditional sense if you have a retrospective exhibition, you have a timeline, you have a long long wall,  you have the exact timing and you have all the information and archival materials in the vitrine beautifully put in front of the wall, so you can understand the history. We think this is boring and we wanted to do something new, so we experiment every time. This time we do something like this, which shows the purpose of the exhibition.

This is the documentary film that we made about Cantonese art. I think it is very important because back to the concept of what drew us to this, we like the fact that actually there is a lot of diversity going on within the territory, the geographic concept of mainland China. Guangdong, Beijing, Shanghai … they are very, very different cultural and economic situations. I’m Cantonese so we like Canton very much. This is one of the products of our project about the 1980s. We have the DVD here, I don’t know if it’s for sale anymore but I think the film is available on YouTube.

This is, very quickly, just to tell you about interesting concept of how artists are creating unusual cultural dialogues between localities. This is the famous Secession Building, built in 1897. This is a seafood restaurant in Guangzhou. In the 1990s it was very much a one-way dialogue. Things that were happening in the West, were interpreted or misinterpreted within the context of Mainland China. You see the Eiffel Tower, you see everything gold, you see monuments in China. Usually it’s either a seafood restaurant or a massage house in China. And this is a very good example, Jin Xiu Xiang Jiang, it’s called Splendid River and just last year the artist Cao Fei from Guangzhou, she had a solo exhibition in Secession and she decided to bring Jin Xiu Xiang Jiang back to Secession. This is the name of the seafood restaurant. I think this kind of dialogue, this kind of going back and forth is what makes us a complex world. I think it’s very interesting what’s going on now for more vivid and more in-depth conversations.



Just to give you a little bit of an idea about this project called China: Non-Centers,  I said a lot already about the purpose of this project. We want to know more, we want to learn more, we want to do more in places that are not the big cities. Our colleague, another researcher in China called Xie Congyang, so Congyang has done a lot field trips to these places in the West and these are some of the results and images she has collected. We see videos, art schools, an art space… we are just beginning this project. I hope that two years later I’ll come back and tell you more.

Women in art is Jane’s project. I have to talk about it a little bit so she can continue, it’s a selection of very important exhibitions dedicated to women art about China. This is a part of the The World of Women Artists in Beijing in 1990. This is Half of the Sky in Bonn, Germany 1998. Third is back of a book called Women’s Approach to Chinese Contemporary Art in 1995,  it’s very important. Again, Everyday Miracles is a Chinese Pavilion at the 52nd International Art Exhibition in Venice Biennale 2007. Four Chinese artists. And these are just some of the materials on this subject.

And this is one of the great things that Jane and her colleagues in AAA in A are doing. They are translating a very comprehensive, a very useful bibliography of woman art in China from 1844 to 2009. And this chronology was first compiled art history Professor called Jia Fangzhou in China and was first published in 2008. And then it was constantly developed but it was never translated in English.

This also Jane’s project, an archive of an American Art Historian Joan Lebold Cohen. She was one of the first American art historians who visited China in the late 70s and early 80s. She did a huge amount of research when she visited China, she visited a lot of studios; she gave lectures in art academies at the time to talk about modern and contemporary art in the west, and she kept a lot of photographs from that time. 10,000 or more photographs from that time of artists, studio visits etc. She paid, naturally, a lot of attention to a lot of female artists at that time. This is He Chengyao and Cai Jin. First-hand materials about the situation, the life, the spirit and also works that have never been published before in these materials. You can see this archive and can find huge amount of interesting stuff.

Another archive that they are working on is a project that is curated by the American artist Betsy Damon. And it was a very important, a very interesting project that has not been researched very much. It’s called the Keepers of the Waters, which was a site-specific, outdoor performative art event dedicated to the message of the protection of environment. It was held first in Chengdu and then in Lhasa, Tibet. And Betsy has very generously donated the archive to us and we are working on the digitization and the annotation of it. And this is a great project to look at in the context of exhibition history and is also a great project to look at in the context of Chinese women artists.

For example this is a famous work Washing the River by the artist Yin Xiuzhen. Yin Xiuzhen froze river water, put it on street of Chengdu, and invited general public to wash the river. I think it is a beautiful piece.

Besides major archives, we have a good collection of individual artist materials of many of the important Chinese female artists. Lin Tianmiao, Duan Jianyu, Yin Xiuzhen, Yu Hong…All you need to do is to go into the website, type in names that you encounter in exhibitions, in books, and find more materials about them.

Research project. This is the 1980s project that I mention all the time, I assume if you’ve come to event here you’ve heard about it. I’ll talk very briefly about it. It is dedicated to the period of time that is the 1980s, which was supposed to be a very dynamic, very liberated, and very experimental period of time in contemporary Chinese history. The main methodology that we adopt is that we conduct in-depth interviews and videos with artists and other practitioners in the art field. There are 100 plus interviews! And you can see information about the interviews and read the transcript online. Again, the problem is with translation, it’s too costly to translate everything so we have them in their original languages but we managed to translate part of the video, we dubbed some of them in English subtitles. These videos are available on AAA’s website and also on YouTube.

JD: This is Huang Yong Ping, as people might know, he was the author of the piece that is titular piece in the Guggenheim show that got censored [Theater of the World].

AY: And these videos I would say… you can watch them if you want to do research, if you want to do a thesis but you can also watch them just for fun because the artists are very humorous and they talk about extremely interesting things.

And the last two minutes are dedicated to the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Greater China Research Grants. This is something we introduced in 2013 with generous support of the foundation. This is primarily a grant that we give to researchers from all around the world who have interesting ideas about research of the Greater China regions, so communities that speak Chinese not only Mainland China, Taiwan is Chinese, Hong Kong, etc. We have a series of grantees that we have produced already throughout the years, Katherine Grube on video art, who is now a PhD candidate at NYU, and Chen Shuxia is at the Australia National University focused on video too. Lu Mingjun is Professor of Sichuan University who researched on the exhibitions Post-Sense Sensibility and Art for Sale. Petra Poelzl is from Berlin Free University and focused on performative art practices in Chengdu, which is covered in our new research archive on Betsy Damon. He Qian is the new grantee that we have interested in the influence of the pictorial experience of the Cultural Revolution. Duan Ziying about the PRD. Liu Nanxi about Live performance.

With this grant we also organize other programs. We have something called Researchers-in-Residency every year where we invite researchers from around the region to come stay in the archive for a period of time and give us a presentation. We have a research workshop, which we invite senior scholars to come and speak to younger researchers about their experience; it is very direct and useful experience for a lot of people…including myself.

Our website, this is our new website! It’s very straightforward. The first thing you see is the search box where you can type in anything you want and see what you find. If you can’t find it, e-mail us. We welcome you to engage with AAA’s China archives and programs through our website and with our new database and new techniques we are going to make more digital materials accessible, not only in the Hong Kong library, but in the New York library too. So stay tuned and you are going to see many more stuff here at AAAinA. Thank you very much.

JD: Thank you very much Anthony. I am sure that everybody has lots of questions and Anthony will ask you questions and quiz you on what he said.

Audience Member: Well, I’m wondering about Chengdu. You said Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu has been a very vital center of art activity so can you talk about that for a minute?

AY: Chengdu is a big city of 10 million people and 1/4th of the population of this 10 million are involved in business related to hot pot. It’s a wonderful city! I love the city very much. And it is very interesting to talk about Chengdu with example of Betsy Damon because there was the Keepers of the Waters project, which involved a lot of public performative artwork. It was 1995 so it was early in this period, and you can see the kind of collaboration between artists and the general public on the streets. This is quite different from the kind of picture that we imagine we will see things in the East Village in Beijing, where performance art is totally illegal, the police will come, and they can only do it for a few hours. Chengdu is a different story. Chengdu I think for some reason is more open, so artists are also less concerned about politics than they are in Beijing and they do things that they want and engage with the general public. They want to engage with the newspaper, they want to engage with mass media, etc. It was a very different situation compared to Beijing and Shanghai.

Chengdu is the capital city of Sichuan Province, and there is an important art academy in the region, Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in Chongqing, which has very strong tradition of painting, oil painting, social realist painting, and contemporary painting. For a long period of time a lot of painters came from Chengdu and Sichuan, but they moved to Beijing. And it is special thing about it still is that it’s so far away from the focus of market and of international curators who visit China. They visit Beijing and Shanghai first, everywhere other than Chengdu. So in mid-90s and late-90s many artists still decide to work in Beijing from Sichuan. But it’s definitely interesting to see how artists consciously doing things that are accessible in order to have healthy dialogue with general public.

Audience Member: Is the server outside the firewall and do you have any way to analyze that the traffic from China is outside the three major areas?

AY: So I’m not into the technical side, but I know that our server is outside China and our website and our materials are still miraculously accessible even if you don’t use VPN within Mainland China. We have not assessed according to statistics from different cities in Mainland China because obviously a lot of students now are interested in doing research about contemporary artists, its more and more popular. But we have definitely have multiple servers in different places, it’s very safe.

Audience Member: I was interested in the theme of complex geographies. It struck me and I know the presentation was extremely dense, but that you looked at the 90s was this moment of when geographies are complicated, I wonder if today the world is maybe shrinking as much as growing and what living in a moment when nationalism in many forms is rearing it’s ugly head. I wondered if you could talk a bit about the difference between maybe the 90s and today’s different context and how that plays in your mind as a researcher and archivist and historian and as an active agent in contemporary art?

AY: Thank you. That’s a very good question. It’s also very difficult question because I am part of today myself so it’s usually very difficult for a researcher to talk about today, it’s easier for me to talk about the past. There are many different things going on about today but I think definitely, without a doubt, it’s further contested so it’s more sophisticated. Take people like you guys, you guys are from different places and come to New York and work here. More and more people are working in this mold. And there’s the Internet, which I think is one thing that revolutionized the national and geographical borders. This is something that, to be honest, I don’t have much insight into yet but I think the contribution of this kind of project that I mentioned in the 90s is actually still valuable because it opens dialogue about the global and local and multiple localities. With projects like Cao Fei’s, the one she gave last year is still very relevant, is still very funny, and we laugh because we think that it’s still relevant. And it’s also very interesting to think about one thing is that, and I don’t know America but in the context of China, actually there is a returning or a kind of a repackaging about the concept of nationalism. I think the country is still investing a huge amount of money in education and all other aspects of society to reinforce this kind of concept of the country is one country, single country, one culture, etc. There are still many different dialogues going on, and it’s not as liberated as you would imagine in the internet age. There are actually a lot of places that are super, super conservative.

Audience Member: Following up on the complex geographies, I was wondering within AAA how much these sort of different national identities, I’m sure there are more nationally based researchers in India, South Asia, Southeast Asia, so how much do you guys talk to each other? And develop your modernity research or all those histories that could really be combined. I mean this Chinese stuff is so mostly interfacing with the West art historically…

AY: A very good question. We do talk to each other quite a lot and there are, of course, a lot of overlapping concerns within different regions of Asia: post-colonialism, gender issues, ideological control, things like that. So we do different projects together, for instance one of the projects that we’ve done is called Mapping Asia, which was done a few years ago. It wasn’t done by me, it was done by a few of my other researcher colleagues, and the concept was to reconsider the concept of Asia, because it’s such a big idea and there is actually a lot of movement, a lot of interaction going on underneath with the context of Asia. One of the interesting examples is the Chinese community, which is very influential, very rich, and also has a big population in Southeast Asia and historically speaking they have concerns about their attitude towards the so-called modern and/or cultural world of Chinese-ness. This is actually a very interesting research topic because they love China very much but not in a nationalistic way. They love Chinese culture but they don’t love the Communist Party. A lot of these students, because of a lot of policies in Southeast Asia, where it’s difficult to learn Chinese and difficult to learn Chinese culture etc., in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s a lot of families from Malaysia, Indonesia., etc. they send their children to university in Taiwan. Because they couldn’t send them to China because of the Communist Party, they don’t agree with them. This interaction between locations is still happening between Taiwanese artists and Malaysian artists and lots of wonderful Malaysian artists live in Taiwan for that reason. One of my friends, he is a Malaysian-Chinese, teaching in Tainan University of Art. There are many such stories going on, but of course a lot of them need more study and research.

JD: Just to go to that point for a second. Anthony discussed it very briefly but we have something called content priorities. They are meant to actually link laterally the various different initiatives that take place in different countries. India is huge, China is huge, it wouldn’t be possible to do it all but we do have researchers in these different countries. Because we do think it’s important to have people onsite. But for example we are having a symposium in January about periodicals, small magazines, places, venues, platforms for art writing across Southeast Asia, China, India, South Asia, as well as Korea and other places. It’s to bring all of this together and to bring people who are studying and specializing in these different countries to come together and talk. That’s really one of the things that we really spend a lot of time thinking about, bringing people in Asia together to talk about things where there’s a shared kind of format or concern.

AY: And I also want to say when you do historical research to a certain level, to a certain depth, it’s really very difficult if you don’t acquire a sufficient ability in the language. One of the things about Asia is that there are so many languages. It’s impossible for me to do a research to a professional type of Japanese art because I don’t know Japanese. Similarly if you don’t read and write Chinese, you can’t do very, very deep research about China. This I think is a practical difficulty that prevents a lot of these dialogues to go on. I want to bring your attention to this project, which I like very much by this Australian researcher, Olivier Krischer, he is very good in Japanese and very good in Chinese, so he has worked with us on this project about Japanese and Chinese contemporary art. I know, as many people would agree with me, mentally when we talk about China in the US, it’s very limiting. Actually there is a lot of interactions going on with China with other regions within in Asia. But why research and discussion about that is so insufficient is I think because of some of these practical reasons. We encourage this kind of research a lot, but we need more multilingual talents!

Audience Member: My question is that you’re looking at China from the outside point of view and bringing the material to the international stage. But how do you relate your activities outside with your peers, with archives in China, or academies in China, to create the dialogue with them for them to understand the point of view of this initiative to build an archive. They can learn from you and you can learn from them. So I think moving back towards internal dialogue and communication can appreciate this vast China.

AY: To be very honest we are very open and we are very happy if someone comes up and says they are opening archive. Because there are so many things that we want to do and we can’t do with the limited manpower and resources that we have. The fact is that we work with a lot of people, in my case in Mainland China, a lot of museums, a lot of people who came to us over the years saying that this idea about set up an archive, but because of the institutional environment in China it’s very difficult for archives to survive because archives is something that needs huge amount of sustainability and investment. For example you’d need to have one project over 5 years or two projects over 10 years. And in China the situation can change very quickly, sources of capital change very quickly, people’s interests change very quickly.

I would say that many new people are still trying to do something that’s relevant to this, for example the Minsheng Museum in Shanghai has just started an archive dedicated to art criticism. I think it’s a good thing because they have an art criticism award; it’s a very important one. One of the best archives that I like very much in China is the archive of Three Shadows Art Center in Beijing and it’s dedicated to photography because they are photographical art center. I think the key to success is to divide a very sharp scope. So if this is the thing that you focus on and this is the thing that is relevant to the other thing that you do then it’s usually easier to sustain. I think Three Shadows is a very good example, they have exhibitions, and they have photography awards, criticism, etc. so I think they are doing a good job. And it’s the same with Minsheng. I wanted to continue for a long time but like I say whatever people come to talk about to us we are very happy to share the experience and material and everything. I think it’s a great thing. You can’t do all the archives, it’s very urgent for us too because we constantly encounter projects that are super interesting that we can’t do.

Audience Member: What was the name of the museum?

AY: Minsheng Art Museum in Shanghai.

Audience Member: I just want to say I appreciate the introduction of yourself as a Hong Kong person and I was wondering as a researcher from Hong Kong who does research on contemporary Chinese art, have you done any research on the art of Umbrella Movement and if so you can share knowledge on that. I know there’s not a lot of updates, maybe there are in Chinese language, on the current situation. I know in 2014 there was an article about Hong Kong artists fighting to preserve protest art. I don’t know what happened to that because the last update even on their Facebook page was about half a year ago. And I was wondering if there is any sort of preservation and if not if it’s because of the lack of resources or political reasons. But what’s the current state of that art preservation?

AY: I think there is still a lot to be done. I, myself have not done in-depth research on the Umbrella Movement, but we know obviously it’s not only an art movement, it was very important, especially in Hong Kong and it’s something that is very difficult for me too. It’s very hard for a lot of people to approach the topic at this stage in the academic level because it’s something that is still going on, it’s still the aftermath of the movement. Discussions about collecting objects and materials that were on the street from 3 years ago is still going on, but there is no one organization that has the kind of resources first of all and second of all the kind of authority or confidence to step up. There are these individuals who try to do something in different ways: people made great documentary films about it, and photographs and things like that. It’s a very complicated question.

Audience Member: Wasn’t the Fred Henry Bohen Foundation, I thought they were doing something with archiving for the past few years.

JD: The Bohen Foundation, which is an American foundation, founded by a guy name Fred Henry. I don’t know.

Audience Member (cont): They’ve had someone on the ground in Hong Kong for a few years now. Anyway check that out.

AY: So you see I don’t know this, there’s a lot of different information going around.

JD: And there’s some individual artists who have things and who have stored things who call them museums. It’s a little scattered, but it will be a great research project to map what’s going on there and then ask the perfect questions about what it means to archive a political-social event a year after or two years after it happens. And what does that mean that it’s over? Does that make it history?

AY: There are a lot of discussions that you should pay attention to now. A lot of discussions go to endless ethical debates about these things, who has a right to keep these things, what to do about these things, etc. So we still don’t have the distance to calm down and look at it and decide what to do about it.

JD: We thank you all for coming and thank you Anthony for being here with one more round of applause .

Based in Hong Kong and Shanghai, Anthony Yung is AAA’s Senior Researcher specializing in Greater China. ‎Representative projects include Materials of the Future: Documenting Contemporary Chinese Art from 1980-1990, which features over one hundred filmed interviews of artists, critics, and scholars. Yung was recipient of the Fourth Yishu Award for Critical Writing on Contemporary Chinese Art (2014) and served as the co-curator of A Hundred Years of Shame – Songs of Resistance and Scenarios for Chinese Nations (2015, Para Site Art Space, Hong Kong).

Image courtesy of Asia Art Archive.

This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.


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