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 in New York and Hong Kong, and I would like to introduce my colleague, Anthony Yung who I am thrilled to have here with us tonight.
Anthony has been working with Asia Art Archive for over 10 years now. He graduated from Hong Kong University and is a Hong Kong person, as they say, but now lives part time in Shanghai. And he has been, since the very beginning, our researcher in charge of our activities relating to Greater China – Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. His main focus is research and the gathering of primary and secondary materials, as well as its digitization, annotation, and activation. In addition to working at AAA full time, Anthony writes and has received several awards for his writing. He also curates and, along with Hu Xiangqian, runs a nonprofit organization called the Observation Society, which is an independent art space in Guangzhou. Anthony is first going to present our projects and then afterwards he will take questions.
Anthony Yung (AY): Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to speak tonight.
AY: In this talk I will introduce our projects relating to China or the Chinese speaking regions in Asia. But first some geography. I made this map, especially for this talk. I live between here (in Shanghai) and here (in Hong Kong). It’s a two-hour flight. Interestingly, I found that the size of the US and China is quite similar; the two countries cover a big territory. But as you may know, a lot of contemporary art research activity in China is centralized, in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. This is one of the issues that we are tackling. A lot of research and curatorial resources are located in the big coastal cities, but actually many interesting things are also happening in other places. This is one of the things I will talk about.
This slide provides an overview of most of our archive projects in China. I have divided them into four categories. The first category is archives. Here we work with different people and organizations in order to identify and collect, and in most cases, digitize important primary and secondary research material, such as writings, photographs, exhibitions, ephemera, invitations, old catalogs, brochures, and the like. We’ve digitized the archives of artists, critics, curators, and scholars. We also have the archive of chinese-art.com, a website that ran between 1998 and 2003. It was the first website dedicated to contemporary Chinese art.
The second category covers our thematic research projects, for example, the 1980s project that Jane and I worked on between 2006 and 2011, and a newer project called China Non-Centers that tackles the question of what happens outside of the coastal art centers, outside the major cities.
Another aspect of our work includes programs such as The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Greater China Research Grant. It’s a grant program to support research and critical writing about contemporary Chinese art.
The fourth category relates to collaborative projects with other non-profit institutions, involving research and archival support for exhibitions. Here we’ve worked with The Hayward Gallery, The Times Museum (Guangzhou), and The Sharjah Art Foundation, and we’re currently working with the Guggenheim Museum for the ‘Theater of the World’ exhibition that opened ten days ago. We worked with them to provide archival research and contributed to the catalogue. Another recent collaboration was on the exhibition ‘Canton Express’, organized by M+ in Hong Kong.
I’ll first start with archives. Archiving all of Asia is impossible of course, so we have to define the scope of our work. To help us do that we have developed and are still developing something we call Content Priorities. Content Priorities help us define our main research and collection trajectories, which are art writing, exhibition histories, complex geographies, innovation within tradition, performative art practices, women in art, and pedagogy. Because I don’t have time to talk about each of them. I have chosen four and will give you examples.
First: art writing. Journals, newspapers, and magazines are important records of art ideas, art practice, contemporary criticism, and debate. Our collection includes Chinese language art journals from the late 1970s through the 1990s, such as Meishu, Jiangsu huakan, Zhongguo Meishu Bao, and Meishu Sichao, etc. The hard copies of these journals are kept in Hong Kong, but you can access the digital copies here in New York. Few libraries have these publications.
JD: Meishu and Jiangsu huakan still exist, but the other two existed only for a short period of time and then for various reasons ceased publication.
AY: Xiongshi Meishu (雄獅美術, Lion Art Monthly) is an important Taiwanese publication that is now available digitally. Yishu (藝術家, Artists Magazine) is another and still exists.
As we all know, translation is a big issue and obstacle when it comes to studying Chinese art, so we are interested in supporting translation whenever we can. One of these projects developed in relation to the exhibition ‘Time is Out of Joint’, organized by the Sharjah Foundation. The curatorial idea of this exhibition was to present a series of works that were inspired by important historical exhibitions. One of the historical exhibitions that the curator chose was the 1989 ‘China/Avant-Garde’ exhibition in Beijing. The curator Tarek Abou El Fetouh invited us to collaborate with him to choose a series of texts about the ‘China/Avant-Garde’ exhibition, which we translated into English for the catalogue. These texts had never been translated before, and they were also translated into Arabic! I can’t read Arabic, but I know that here is my name. It’s beautiful.
JD: Is it trilingual? Chinese and English?
AY: No Chinese. Only English and Arabic.
Related to art writing, we are organizing a large scale international academic conference in January 2018 with the University of Hong Kong. It’s a 3-day conference dedicated to art writing and art journals, and as part of this event, we are taking the opportunity to work with critic and curator Li Xianting on his personal archive. Li Xianting was a critic and editor of two of the most important magazines in China during the 1980s, Meishu and Zhongguo Meishu Bao. We will organize a library exhibition in our space in Hong Kong and an online exhibition, to accompany the conference.
Now we move to our second Content Priority: exhibition histories. A good example is our collection of catalogues of foreign art exhibitions in China during the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. In China at the time, exhibitions of foreign art were rare and the print run of these publications was limited. Zheng Shengtian, a respected professor from Hangzhou Academy of Art who now lives in Vancouver, conscientiously collected and kept these catalogues. He gave us access to this beautiful collection and we have digitized all of them.
There are two interesting things to note about these catalogues. First, I think one can see a strong and immediate connection between these exhibitions and the development of artistic practice in China at the time.
Second, I think it is clear that a lot of these exhibitions were related to diplomacy. These exhibitions were not organized for artistic, art historical, or curatorial reasons, but rather for diplomatic reasons. For example, in this slide, we see images of an exhibition than many contemporary artists have said was important because it was the first time original works by American contemporary artists were shown in China. It was held in Beijing and Shanghai in 1981, after the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States. U.S. President Ronald Reagan even wrote a preface for the catalogue! Here is a photograph of a group of students from Sichuan Province at this exhibition. Artists and students from all around China would travel together to see these exhibitions. In this photo you can find Zhou Chunya and Wang Chuan, two artists from Sichuan. And does anyone know who this is?
Audience Member: Jan Fontein?
AY: Jan Fontein. Yes, exactly. He was the director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston at the time. And here is the controversial Jackson Pollock painting, I think.
The media coverage of these exhibitions is interesting to me. Here are photos of the ‘China/Avant-Garde’ exhibition in 1989 that marks the first time contemporary experimental art was shown in an official art museum in Beijing. We have here media reports from all over the world, commenting on this exhibition, in French, Italian, Indonesian, English, and Chinese from Taiwan. The media approached this exhibition not so much from an artistic perspective, but more often from a political, social, even ethical point of view. The coverage wasn’t about [the use of] animals at the time, as it was with the Guggenheim show, but there were comments about ethics. For example, students complained about seeing nude women. Others fretted about the unintelligibility of the works on display. From these contemporary media reports you can see a direct dialogue between the public and contemporary art that you don’t see in text books.
Here is a collection of publications of self-organized experimental art exhibitions in China during the 1990s and 2000s. As far as I know, no other library has been dedicated to collecting these.
And here is Contemporary Documents by Professor Wu Hung. I mention it because in it you will find translations of exhibition prefaces and other texts. While published 10 or 15 years ago, it’s still a pioneering book, raising a lot of questions about art institutions, curatorial strategies, and the relationship between exhibition making and art practices.
The 1990s was a period of time when Chinese artists started discussing the relationship between art making and exhibition making. Previously the idea was to produce work in a studio or at home, and just send it to the exhibition space. The site of production and the site of reception were separate. But during the 1990s this changed. Artists started to think about altering the format of the exhibition and art in order to make a stronger impact on the audience, on how work was received.
This exhibition was a humorous, but also radical example. It was called (in English) ‘Art for Sale.’ In Chinese it was ‘Chaoshi Zhan’, so literally ‘Supermarket Exhibition.’ Held in a shopping mall in Shanghai in 1999, it responded to the emergence of shopping malls in the late 1990s. The curators Xu Zhen and Yang Zhenzhong somehow managed to rent some of the shops in this mall for their exhibition that was divided into two parts. One part was a shop. Artists were invited to design things to sell there, such as Liu Wei’s pig trotters decorated with jewelry. These weird and sometimes disgusting items were combined with items you might normally find in a super-market. The juxtaposition was very strange.
Another radical exhibition from the late 1990s was a series called ‘Post-Sense Sensibility.’ The first event in this series was curated by Qiu Zhijie and Wu Meichun. The second, third, and fourth events are curated by Qiu Zhijie alone. These exhibitions presented work by artists in their 20s and 30s at the time, a younger generation of artists, whose concerns and aims responded, according to Qiu Zhijie, to a kind of mainstream conceptualism – conceptualism that was at times hyper logical and at other times poetic, but didn’t reflect real life or the popular concerns of the times. These young artists, on the other hand, aspired to something more exciting, more shocking, and sometimes even scary. For example, in the first event, the artist Wu Ershan (who is a now famous director making sci-fi films and the Chinese Harry Potter) used whatever he could find in the market — fruits, vegetables, chickens, and rabbits — to make an installation. Of course the installation changed very quickly because of the nature of these materials. This kind of or multi-sensory experience was the kind of thing that interested this group of artists at that time.
In the second iteration of ‘Post-Sense Sensibility’, Qiu Zhijie paid more attention to the format of the exhibition itself, and how it affected the perception of what art is and how it was received. Taking place in a film studio at the Beijing Film Academy, this exhibition was more like a performance and lasted for about two hours. The audience was only allowed to enter the space at a specific time and then the door was closed; no one could leave after that. No one was allowed in or out until the event ended. It was a two-hour performance with seven or eight artists: there were installations and improvised performances, in which dancers and actors were invited to realize work. It was a mixture of different media, dance and music, and visual art.
This kind of work challenges the project of archiving. We have good photographs and videos, but what about the experience of sound, smell, temperature and atmosphere? How does one capture that in video or photos? Even oral accounts are limited. The impact of this exhibition is hard to re-create or re-imagine and presents challenges for the field of archiving. But these kinds of challenges are also inspiring because they raise questions.
For the Guggenheim exhibition, Jane and I contributed a section of the catalogue dedicated to the history of experimental exhibitions comprised of a selection of 20 exhibitions. We hope that this will be useful for future researchers.
The third Content Priority is complex geographies. Of course there are many different ways to interpret this term. In my interpretation, this approach is an attempt to break away from traditional borders, including the limitations of the nation-state as a way to frame culture. Culture has always moved across borders, and its influences have always been inter-related. As we all know, contemporary art is never about one locality; it’s about a global exchange and experience.
Examples of complex geographies include the projects of curator Hou Hanru. Hou himself was a conceptual artist from Guangzhou who went to school in Beijing before moving to Paris, after which he worked in the US and is now based in Rome. He is migrating constantly, like many others in the contemporary art world. So how can we still talk about art in terms of countries or nation-states? Hou’s projects often reflect this constant flow, this constant re-consideration of identity and influences. Such a project is ‘Parisien(ne)s’ about Paris as a metropolis of artists of many nationalities. Another of Hou’s projects that defied borders was ‘Cities on the Move’ that he organized with Hans Ulrich Obrist at Secession in Vienna in 1997. After touring different cities in Europe, it traveled to Bangkok. Dedicated to the development of cities and urban spaces in East Asia, like Hong Kong, Bangkok, Tokyo, Shanghai, etc, this exhibition illustrated the way cities often exceed the borders of the country in which they are located, often surpassing the traditional limitations of what it means to belong to a nation-state. A third project of Hou’s is ‘Zone of Urgency.’ Organized for the Venice Biennale in 2003, this exhibition again refers to how cities change everyday, becoming dynamic spaces full of problems and opportunities.
Canton Express formed a section of the larger ‘Zone of Urgency’ project and presented artists and organizations based in the Guangdong region, the ‘Canton’ region. The architectural framework of this section was designed by artist Zheng Guogu who recreated something resembling a wet market in which all the works were displayed. This work by Yang Jiechang was suspended over the ‘wet market’ and was called the Crying Landscape. It is a series of landscapes that are both beautiful and terrifying. Accompanied by the horrible sounds of a plane or car crash, this work contributed to a noisy exhibition, so noisy that people complained. The Canton Express project, the entire project, except for one or two pieces, was collected by the Chinese collector Guan Yi who recently donated it to M+. M+ restaged the exhibition a few months ago in Hong Kong. Here are pictures of both the original and restaged exhibition.
A comparison between the original and the recent M+ version offers an opportunity to think about what gets lost when an exhibition or work is collected and re-presented in an institutional context. Contemporary Chinese art in the 1980s and 1990s and even in the early 2000s was known for its vibrancy and dynamism but artists were not often concerned about production quality. Works were site specific, performative, and make-shift; they were mostly not made to last. Therefore, some of the work in the restaged Canton Express were remakes, the originals having been destroyed after the exhibition. Remaking the work presents challenges of course; not only is it difficult to find the same materials, it is even more difficult to recreate the energy, context, and atmosphere that activated the original experience. So it becomes something like this, cleaned-up and subdued. I think the Guggenheim exhibition has similar issues. A lot of the works in that show were created in China in the 1990s or early 2000s in a very different context; the original exhibitions were often, let’s say, crude, definitely DIY, and at times even illegal. You need to bear this in mind when you see the works now on display at the Guggenheim or at M+.
AAA was the research partner of the M+ ‘Canton Express’ exhibition. We worked together with the curator Pi Li and the original curator Hou Hanru, to create this diagram, this Mind Map of Art of the Pearl River Delta. With this map we presented the kind of ideas going on around this project, what lead to these works, and what happened afterwards. We tried to synthesize these ideas into the form of a diagram. This is an example of how we try to rethink the use of research and archival information in the context of the exhibition space. Traditionally, retrospective exhibitions contain timelines and archival materials in vitrines. We created this Mind Map as another way to highlight context, history, influence, and impact.
Another way we have presented research and primary materials is by using the form of documentary film, in this case a film about Cantonese experimental art in the 1980s. The DVD is not for sale anymore, but the film From Jean-Paul Sartre to Teresa Teng: Cantonese Contemporary Art in the 1980s is available on YouTube.
Very quickly, the Mind Map also points to the unusual ways artists create dialogues between localities. Here is the famous Secession Building in Vienna, built in 1897. Here is a seafood restaurant in Guangzhou. In the 1990s, dialogue was often one-way. Things that were happening in the West were interpreted or misinterpreted within the context of Mainland China. To the Chinese people back then, the West represented everything that was gold, monumental, and famous. Here you see the Eiffel Tower. China was imagined as either a seafood restaurant or a massage parlour. Jin Xiu Xiang Jiang, (Splendid River) is a seafood restaurant in Guangzhou. Last year the artist Cao Fei decided to bring the restaurant Jin Xiu Xiang Jiang to Secession where she had a solo show. This kind of two-way conversation, this going back and forth, this exchange and dialogue, characterizes the 2000s, and the complexity of the contemporary. In the 1990s, it was a one-way conversation. In the 2000s, the dialogue became more complex.
China: Non-Centers is the next project I want to talk about. As I mentioned, we want to know more, learn more, and do more in places outside the big coastal cities. Our colleague Xie Congyang who is also based in Shanghai, has begun to do field trips to the West and here are some of the images she has collected. 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. Here are some materials she has gathered, including material about exhibitions dedicated to art by women in China: ‘The World of Women Artists’ in Beijing in 1990, ‘Half of the Sky’ in Bonn, Germany in 1998, and ‘Women’s Approach to Chinese Contemporary Art’ in 1995 organized by Liao Wen. Also ‘Everyday Miracles’, which took place at the Chinese Pavilion at the 52nd International Art Exhibition Venice Biennale in 2007. These are just a few of the materials on this subject.
Jane and her colleagues in AAA in A have also translated a comprehensive timeline of art by women in China from 1844 to 2009. This chronology was first compiled by Beijing-based art history professor Jia Fangzhou and first published in 2008 and later updated in a publication. But it only appeared in Chinese.
Another of Jane’s projects is the archive of an American art historian Joan Lebold Cohen. She was one of the first American art historians to visit China in the late 1970s and 1980s. Ms. Cohen embarked on a large research project, visiting studios; giving lectures in art academies about modern and contemporary art in the west, and taking photographs. She took over 16,000 photographs of artists, artwork, and art schools and groups, and those images include female artists working at the time. This is He Chengyao and Cai Jin. This firsthand material contains rich information about the situation, life, spirit, and works of that moment in time, and most of it has never been published before.
Another archive that Jane and her team of AAA in A have been working on is a project that was curated by the American artist Betsy Damon. This important project Keepers of the Waters was a site-specific, outdoor performative art event dedicated to raising awareness about water protection and the environment. It was held first in Chengdu and then in Lhasa, Tibet, in 1995 and 1996 respectively. Betsy has very generously donated her archive to us and we are working on its digitization and annotation. It includes interesting work by a number of women artists. For example, Washing the River by Yin Xiuzhen was first created in Chengdu for this project. Yin Xiuzhen froze river water into blocks, then built a structure made of ice on a street in Chengdu, and invited the general public to wash the frozen river water with brooms and sponges. It is a beautiful piece.
Besides these major archives, we have collections of individual artist materials, including material by female artists Lin Tianmiao, Duan Jianyu, Yin Xiuzhen, Yu Hong, and others. You will find more materials about them on our website.
There’s a lot more to talk about but I will finish by talking very briefly about our research project that focuses on China in the 1980s, a dynamic moment in the early development of contemporary Chinese art. We conducted over 100 in-depth interviews with artists and art practitioners, and produced transcripts and videos that are available online. The video interviews are translated with English subtitles and are available on AAA’s website and also on YouTube.
JD: This interview is with Huang Yong Ping. As people might know, he was the author of the titular piece in the Guggenheim show ['Theater of the World'] that was modified after public outcry. The reptile and insects were removed.
AY: I think these videos are not only informative, but some of them are also pretty humorous. You should take a look.
In the last two minutes I want to talk about the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Greater China Research Grants. This grant was introduced in 2013 and was aimed at emerging researchers from all around the world who study Greater China –Mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Our past grantees include Katherine Grube who researched video art and is now a PhD candidate at NYU, Chen Shuxia at the Australia National University who researched photography and the April Society, Lu Mingjun Professor of Sichuan University who researched the exhibitions ‘Post-Sense Sensibility’ and ‘Art for Sale’, and Petra Poelzl from Berlin Free University who focused on performative art practices in Chengdu, He Qian,a new grantee who is interested in the influence of the visual experience of the Cultural Revolution, Duan Ziying who is studying the PRD, and Liu Nanxi, who is working on Live Art.
Alongside this grant we also organize other programs, including Researchers-in-Residency program and research workshops, to which we invite senior scholars to come and speak to younger researchers about their experiences.
And last but not least, our website. It’s very straightforward, so if you want more information about what I just talked about, and I hope you do, you can go to our website, type a name in the search box, and hopefully you will receive more material than you can imagine. But if for whatever reason, you can’t find what you want, just e-mail us. We sincerely welcome you to engage with AAA’s China archives and programs through our website and we are always looking for ways to make more digital material accessible, not only in Hong Kong but also in New York too. Thank you very much.
JD: Thank you very much Anthony. I am sure that everybody has lots of questions.
Audience Member: Well, I’m wondering about Chengdu. You said Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Chengdu have been vital centers of art activity. Can you talk about Chengdu?
AY: Chengdu is a wonderful city of 10 million people that has a rich history of old and new art. The Betsy Damon Keepers of the Waters project took place there in 1995, and involved a lot of public performative artwork, and collaborations between artists and the general public. This is quite different from what we know about activities around the same time in the East Village in Beijing, where performance art was deemed illicit and often censored by the police. Chengdu was different. Perhaps the city was more open, and the artists less concerned about politics. Perhaps they were more intent on engaging with the general public, and mass media.
Also, even though Chengdu is the capital city of Sichuan Province, and even though Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in Chongqing has a very strong tradition of oil painting that has produced many famous artists, it was and is still far away from the focus of international curators. International curators then and now go to Beijing and Shanghai when they visit China, not Chengdu. This caused many artists from Sichuan to move to Beijing, starting in the late 1990s. But it seems that artists who remained in Sichuan have continued to do things that were consciously accessible in order to have healthy dialogue with the local public.
Audience Member: Is your server outside the firewall, and do you have any way to analyze that the traffic from China that comes from outside the three major cities?
AY: I’m not on the technical side of AAA, but I know that our server is outside China, and our website and our materials are still miraculously accessible in China, even if you don’t use a VPN. We have multiple servers in different places, for security reasons, as is normal practice.
Audience Member: I was interested in the theme of complex geographies. It struck me, that you considered the 1990s as this moment when geographies were becoming more complicated. Could you talk a bit about the difference between the 1990s and today, and how that plays in your mind as a researcher, archivist, historian, and as an active agent in contemporary art?
AY: Thank you. That’s a good question, but it is a difficult question because I am part of today myself. In fact, I find it difficult to separate myself. I find it easier to talk about the past. However, I think definitely that today is increasingly contested and complex. Take people like you. You are all from different places in the world and you have come to New York to work. That kind of travel disrupts the sanctity of borders. And then there’s the Internet, which has also revolutionized the concept of national and geographical borders. The 1990s is when this dialogue about the global and local and multiple localities begins. Cao Fei’s project that I mentioned briefly reflects this development. But on the flip side, in China, there is a returning to or a kind of a repackaging of the concept of nationalism. The country is investing a huge amount of money in education and promotion throughout society to reinforce this concept of one single country, one single culture. It’s not as liberated as you would imagine in this Internet age. There are still a lot of places that are super conservative.
Audience Member: Following up on complex geographies, I know that within AAA there are nationally based researchers in India, South Asia, and Southeast Asia, and you in Shanghai, so how much do you communicate? Can all these histories really be combined? I mean, as far as I understand, Chinese artists mostly interface art historically with the West.
AY: We do talk to each other quite a lot and there are a lot of overlapping concerns across the different regions of Asia: post-colonialism, gender issues, and ideological control, among other things. So we often collaborate on projects. For instance, one of these projects was called Mapping Asia. The concept was to reconsider the concept of Asia. As part of that project, we touched on the Chinese communities in Southeast Asia who have an affinity for Chinese culture but not the contemporary politics of China or the Communist Party. For example, since the 1960s many families from Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore sent their children to university in Taiwan, not Mainland China because of political differences. This interaction between Taiwanese and Malaysian artists continues today. Many Malaysian artists live in Taiwan, and some even teach at Tainan University of Art. These connections need more study and research.
JD: Another example of inter-regional collaboration is a symposium we are organizing in January about periodicals, little magazines, and other media platforms for art writing across Southeast Asia, China, South Asia, including India, as well as Japan and Korea. This three-day event aspires to bring together scholars and writers who specialize in these different countries, for exchange and debate. We spend a lot of time thinking about how to bring people in Asia together to talk about issues where there’s a shared concern.
AY: Also I want to say that doing deep historical research is difficult without a sufficient language ability. But Asia has many languages. It’s impossible for me to do professional research in Japanese art because I don’t know Japanese. Similarly, if you don’t read and write Chinese, you can’t do deep research about China. This practical difficulty inhibits dialogue. For this reason, I want to bring your attention to one of our projects, a grant we made to an Australian researcher, Olivier Krischer, who is fluent in both Japanese and Chinese. He has worked with us on a project about the connections between Japan and China in contemporary art. As many people would agree, the China-Japan dialogue is too limited. We need to explore interactions between China with other regions in Asia. But why is this research and discussion so rare? I think there are practical reasons like language. We encourage this kind of research but we need more multilingual talent!
Audience Member: My question is how are you connecting with your peers inside China, or with academies inside China, to create the dialogue with them. They can learn from you, especially about building archives.
AY: We are always happy when we hear that someone is establishing an archive in China, or anywhere in Asia for that matter. There are so many things that we want to do but we can’t, due to limited manpower and resources. In Mainland China, many people, even museums, have come to us over the years saying they want to set up an archive, but unfortunately, due to institutional issues, archives have a hard time surviving. Archives need a lot of resources and long-term management and attention to be sustainable. In China, the situation changes very quickly, sources of capital change very quickly, and people’s interests change very quickly.
But there are people still trying. For example, the Minsheng Museum in Shanghai just started an archive dedicated to art criticism which makes sense because they have an important art criticism award. One of the best archives in China is the archive of Three Shadows Art Center in Beijing. It’s dedicated to photography. I think the key to success is focus. Three Shadows is a very good example; they have exhibitions on photography, they give photography awards, and support photography criticism, etc. The Minsheng Museum is also focused. We are supportive of these projects.
Audience Member: What was the name of the museum?
AY: Minsheng Art Museum in Shanghai.
Audience Member: I just want to say I appreciate your introducing 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, can you share your knowledge on that. It seems that there have not been lot of updates, at least in English, on the current situation. I know in 2014 there was an article about Hong Kong artists fighting to preserve protest art, but I don’t know what happened to that, because the last update even on their Facebook page was about half a year ago. I was wondering if there is any sort of preservation project, and if not, is it because of the lack of resources or political reasons? What’s the current state of preserving art from that movement?
AY: I think there is still a lot to be done. I myself have not done in-depth research on the Umbrella Movement, but I know it’s hard for a lot of people to engage the topic at the academic or preservation level because it is still a work in progress. Discussions about collecting objects and material from that movement are ongoing, but there is no one organization that has the kind of resources and the kind of authority or confidence to do it. There are individuals who are trying. For example, there are interesting documentary films about it, and photographs, and things like that. But it’s a very complicated situation.
Audience Member: Wasn’t the Fred Henry Bohen Foundation doing something with archiving over the past few years? I think they’ve had someone on the ground in Hong Kong for a few years now. Anyway check that out.
JD: Thank you, mapping what’s happening in this regard would be a great research project, and it would be a great way to test what it means to archive an ongoing political-social event a year or even two years after it happens. Does that mean it’s over? Does that make it history?
AY: My concern is, we may not yet to have the distance to know how to look at this history calmly, and to think about how to archive it, but efforts to gather primary materials should always be encouraged.
JD: Well, I think we have gone over our allotted time, so thank you all for coming and for your great questions, and thank you Anthony for your talk.
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.