Jane Debevoise (JD): We’re very pleased today to have Katie Grube here. Katie has a BA from Stanford, an MA from University of Sydney with John Clark, and is a PhD candidate at NYU, and, importantly, she has recently received the Robert H. N. Ho Foundation Research Grant which is administered by Asia Art Archive. The subject of Katie’s talk today is video art in China in the 1990s and its point of departure is a seminal exhibition called ‘Image and Phenomenon’ that took place in 1996. Thank you Katie for coming to present today. We are also pleased that Xu Tan, an artist who attended the exhibition opening and the accompanying symposium, is here with us as well.
Katie Grube (KG): Thank you Jane, and thank you Asia Art Archive and the Robert Ho Foundation for the grant that provided the opportunity to do this in-depth research. It was a year-long grant, and I spent the summer of 2013 in Hong Kong consulting resources in the general collection and special collections of Asia Art Archive, which are extraordinary. Then I came back to NYU to finish some administrative things for my degree, and returned to China in February of this year, based in Shanghai but bouncing between Hangzhou, Beijing, and Nanjing with some frequency, talking to some individuals who attended the exhibition and participated in it in some way. I have not yet talked to Xu Tan but I may grill you later! These are the fruits of my labor. The project that I pitched to Asia Art Archive and which was accepted was to construct an exhibition history of a show that happened in Hangzhou in 1996 called ’Image and Phenomenon.’ This exhibition included 16 works from 15 artists, and was really the first serious engagement with video art in China. So I’m going to start today by travelling back in time. What was extraordinary about Image and Phenomenon was that it was covered in quite a few news programs in both Hangzhou and in Zhejiang, so I’ve created a 4-minute video clip of selections from these newscasts, which will show you what the exhibition looked like and introduces the exhibition through the artists who participated in it.
I purposely started with this video clip because I wanted to give you a sense of what the exhibition was like. If you’re sitting here wondering ‘what exactly did we just see?,’ I think you’re probably experiencing the same sentiments that people who attended the exhibition felt at that time. It was a very visually disparate show. There were very little shared stylistic or formal impulses between the works shown. The one commonality was that video was used to create the works themselves. It was a very loud show, and a show for which they couldn’t have anticipated the sound bleed between various installations and that becomes clear once we hit the second floor, where everywhere throughout the floor you can hear Qian Weikang’s flushing of the toilet. The tremendous sound bleed was partially a result of an exhibition space purpose-built for the very silent plastic arts. It was also initially an assembly hall, so the structure of the space amplified sound. I also ended very purposefully with that panning shot of monitors, tapes, and VCRs to remind us that all of these works were created using analog technologies. It was a time before digital, and all of these were made on analog cameras that possessed the ability for synchronous sound recording, like the Sony Betamax. Around the time of the exhibition in 1996 and 1997, Panasonic M9000 cameras began to appear but most of them were pretty heavy and clunky and dependent on tapes. This equipment was largely rented or borrowed from television studios, film academies, and beginning in 1995 and 1996, from private enterprises, such as wedding boutiques and advertising agencies.
Video emerged in a pre-digital era, between 1990 and 1996, and in a very different cultural reality than had been present in China before, and that had a lot to do with the art historical and world historical events in Beijing in 1989. For the art world, the ‘China Avant/Garde’ exhibition and Xiao Lu and Tang Song’s firing of a gun into their artwork during the exhibition’s opening shaped official attitudes towards avant-garde art. This was followed several months later by the violent suppression of the student-led protest in Tian’anmen Square in June 1989. These events transformed the social, cultural, and political environment in which artists were living, and its impact on the art world was severe. It’s very difficult for us to grasp how psychologically fraught the early 90s were, and you could describe the early 1990s artistic environment as one that was marked by the foreclosure of public space, the resurgence of a very conservative cultural bureau and cultural agencies, and the emigration of artists and intellectuals abroad. This was accompanied by a larger economic and political reorientation from a socialist market economy to a much more capitalist oriented economy.
It’s against this backdrop that artistic practices start to experience a major change and artists began to work with new media, including installation, performance, photography, and video. This turn towards reproducible, scalable, and ephemeral practices was encouraged in part by the temporary nature of exhibitions. Most early video work, as well as unconventional artistic practices, were exhibited in artist-initiated exhibitions. Renewed bureaucratic conservatism prevented experimental art from being shown in official public exhibition spaces, while the network of liberal minded arts professionals, major museums, and major public venues that supported avant-garde or non-mainstream art during the 1980s was largely diminished. Consequently, artist initiated exhibitions and artist produced publications become the primary site of both the dissemination and discussion of contemporary art in the early 90s.
Many of these exhibitions happened in the secondary or auxiliary spaces of arts academies, and many of the experimental artists and video artists began the 90s deeply embedded in the arts academies and the work units that employed them. This embeddness afforded artists greater freedom and a greater autonomy in the types of work they were exposed to and the materials they could experiment with. It was through academic and professional networks that artists gained access to equipment that was almost exclusively available through state-owned or affiliated entities. This dependency upon friends and former classmates for equipment can be seen in the early production methods of someone like Zhang Peili, who really used former classmates and former associates at Beijing CCTV and the Hangzhou customs bureau to make his first works.
[It can also be seen in the work of] someone like Tong Biao, who at that point was an undergraduate student at the China Academy of Art and produced a work in 1991 called Sleepers Observed. Tong Biao, having gone to the affiliated middle school of the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, had an extensive network of individuals who then went on to work in various other cultural affairs sections. Unfortunately, this work has been lost, but to make Sleepers Observed, Tong Biao contacted a former classmate of his who was in the cultural affairs department of the People’s Liberation Army, and asked her to film twelve cadets sleeping in their bunks. He then further imposed upon this friend to edit this work into twelve five-minute segments, complete the work, and then send it to Tong Biao in Hangzhou. The work was never seen by the artist because it was immediately sent on to Shanghai to participate in the ‘Garage’ exhibition. It was never seen there, either, because it was filmed using NTSC, an filming incompatible with the PAL systems in use in Shanghai.
The point being that the equipment was being accessed in very similar ways, whether it was in Beijing through the studios associated with the Beijing Film Academy, or in Guangzhou in connection with the Guangzhou television studios. Artists clandestinely used the editing equipment to make works such as Tong Biao’s and Zhang Peili’s, and then they would be shown, in underground or temporary exhibitions organized by other artists. ‘Garage’ from which this image is taken, was really the first artist-initiated exhibition that happened after 1989. It occurred in Shanghai in 1991, and many of the distinctive qualities of the ‘Garage’ exhibition would go on to characterize the artist-initiated exhibitions of the early 1990s, such as: independent organization, organization in advance of a foreign curator’s visit, the exhibition as catalyst for the production of work, the exhibition’s temporary nature, etc.
It was also at this time that the first considered formal experiments with video art started to occur across China, in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, and Hangzhou. By 1993, five or so artists were experimenting with video or electronic projections in their work, and an increasingly number of artists were aware of a category of production outside of China that was called video art. Arts academies were critical to the dissemination of knowledge about contemporary art practices, and a lecture in 1990 by Ernst Mitzka presented artists in China with one of the first opportunities to see and learn about video art’s then-thirty year history abroad. Mitzka’s visit in 1990 was a happy accident. In April of 1990 he came with a group of individuals from the Hamburg Academy of Fine Arts at the invitation of Xu Jiang with whom many of you are familiar. Xu is the former head of the China Art Academy. What Ernst Mitzka brought with him were some of the best examples of video art from Europe and America, with which he was familiar because he had curated an eight-episode program for RTLplus, one of Bonn’s cable networks. He brought with him works like Peter Campus’ Three Transitions (1973) and Bill Viola’s Anthems (1983), and these were screened in three two-hour sessions at the China Academy of Art. The tapes were then left and they became part of the curriculum there.
Mitzka’s lectures were an important moment where a lot of the video works that artists had read about in journals like Lion Art or Art in America, became alive as moving rather than still images. Not only does video assume a form at this point, but, because of the deepening of economic reforms, the increased availability of filming equipment facilitated a relative expansion of the modes of video art production in China.
In 1993, we start to see things like this work by Qian Weikang, which was exhibited in 1993 in an artist-initiated exhibition in Shanghai. These are steel plates on the ground covered in a gypsum powder and in the back corner is a video recording of an electronic fan. The screen is extracted from the monitor’s plastic casing and has been affixed to a metal structure. Similar examples exist in Beijing and in Guangzhou as well.
This work by Xu Tan is quite probably familiar to some of you in the room, but what is quite distinctive about Xu Tan’s work is a presentation of serial electronic projections across space and this layering of semi-transparent images. You can see in the comparison of Qian Weikang’s work and Xu Tan’s is that there are quite different stylistic, formal, and conceptual drives that are motivating artistic experiments with electronic image screens.
How do we get from these disparate experiments with video in art to a monothematic exhibition of video art? There are two major catalysts for ‘Image and Phenomena.’
The first was Qiu Zhijie’s experience at the 1995 Venice Biennial and seeing Bill Viola’s installation Buried Secrets. He was really quite startled by how technology could be applied to create an aesthetic and immersive experience. Viola’s work had such a tremendous impact on Qiu that he bought the catalog, and an uneditioned viewing copy of Bill Viola’s The Passing from his Amsterdam distributor, and brought them back to Hangzhou. Once back in China, Qiu asked his then-girlfriend, Wu Meichun, to translate the exhibition catalogue essay, which was then published in one of the major arts journals in China at the time, Jiangsu Huakan. Simultaneously, Qiu organized screenings of The Passing in Hangzhou and Beijing.
The next instance that plants this idea of the possibilities of a monothematic exhibition of video art is an exhibition organized by Zhu Qi in Shanghai in March 1996.
It occurred at the Liu Haisu Museum and included 17 works of installation art. It was the first time after 1989 that contemporary art moved into an official public exhibition space, and Zhu Qi was able to organize the exhibition through securing private sponsorship that enabled him to rent the museum gallery space. Zhu’s then novel application of sponsorship hits on this moment in China where, because of the deepening of economic reforms, there’s a greater demand placed on institutions in China to become financially solvent. That’s happening at the same time when those pressures are being applied to associations like the China Artist Association and also to some extent the Ministry of Culture. So these organizations that had previously filled the exhibition halls with shows were now no longer doing so, and this opened up space for individuals who were not associated with these professional organizations associated with the state — to occupy if we want to make this an activist move which I don’t think it was — or rather to move contemporary art into public spaces through venue rental. This image is the museum’s main entry way. Qiu Zhijie’s work is here. Liang Juhui’s work is the very long, thin panels to the left. What you can’t gather is there’s actually a sound installation by Zhou Tiehai that’s echoing through the main exhibition hall.
Qiu had moved for two weeks to Shanghai to complete his work, and it was there, through studying the way in which Zhu Qi organized his exhibition, that Qiu saw how a media program and private sponsorship promote contemporary art. It was also there that he began to expand further his personal connections and connect with many artists that would subsequently exhibit in Hangzhou.
For example, Chen Shaoxiong’s Sight Adjuster No. 2 (seen here) involved two monitors and these lovely transparent glasses with calligraphic writing on them, which would evolve into a different form in ‘Image and Phenomena.’
This is one of my favorite images from ‘Image and Phenomena’ because it so perfectly encapsulates the rudimentary technology used by the artists. Cords are running everywhere, VCRs are stacked on the floor, and tapes are sort of scattered haphazardly around. And this is what the work looked like.
So now we finally arrive at ‘Image and Phenomena.’ The exhibition opened in September 1996. It was shortly after In the Name of Art that Wu Meichun started working with Qiu Zhijie to invite artists, put together a formal exhibition plan and media pack, and secure sponsorship from TCL, an electronic goods company that provided all of the monitors, and the China Academy of Art, and Popular Television magazine, which was run out of the Zhejiang Broadcasting Corporation. Over 40 monitors were necessary for the exhibition.
The exhibition plan included a comprehensive, multi-page document that included a curatorial plan, tentative artist list, and tentative schedule for the five-day exhibition. This was an ambitious undertaking at the time, and, in particular, Wu and Qiu’s coordination with the media was a novel curatorial approach.
They also organized a lecture series and a roundtable discussion that addressed the status of video art in China. There was a very conscious effort to position video art at the intersection of the debates about philosophy, phenomenology, film theory, and art history. Wu Meichun and Qiu Zhijie recruited Zhou Chanji, who was one of the most popular and well-regarded professors at the Beijing Film Academy to come and give a talk about sound in film. Chen Jiaying came down from Beijing to give a talk about phenomenology. Li Xianting gave a talk about the history of video art in Europe and North America that focused primarily on the works of Dan Graham and Bill Viola. There was also a series of critics who were invited as well. They participated primarily in the round table, and a handful of them offered propositions at this round table.
This exhibition program was complemented by an extensive effort to produce printed matter in association with the exhibition. Two booklets were produced, titled Documents on Video Art and Art and the Historical Conscience. The first volume included translated works from Doug Hall and Sally Jo Fifer’s Illuminating Video, and was a translation effort largely undertaken by Wu Minghui and Wu Meichun in the months before the exhibition. The second booklet included texts from these publications as well as artists’ statements about video art. The booklets that were printed in the weeks before the exhibition should be considered an effort to create a theoretical and historical platform for the further development of video art in China, through its historical contextualization within a broader history of the medium.
Tong Biao, who we’ll remember from the lost work from 1991, designed the booklets as he was then a student in the printmaking department. The cover graphic intended to highlight the curator’s intentional play with the homophone “xiang” in yingxiang, meaning appearance, and in xianxiang, indicating context. This wordplay foregrounded what was critically at stake in this exhibition: the tension created by technologies of reproduction, the mutability of the image, and its indexicality. This was further addressed in Wu Meichun’s own curatorial statement, which vacillates between the language of artist manifesto and something that is self-consciously trying to craft a concept of and theory about video art. Her text was circulated in the months in advance of the exhibition and framed the exhibition for the artists and curators involved.
Now we finally get to the works, and I’m really happy Xu Tan’s here, because it’s been a big challenge for me to reconstruct the exhibition itself. There were no exhibition plans made, and the space has since been torn down. So in an exercise of deductive reasoning, I enlisted the help of an architect friend of mine to recreate the space.
We knew that it was an assembly hall, and a very predictable architectural style that was essentially a big rectangle that had a stage in the front and could seat about a thousand, so this led us to this original building plan. From there, I asked artists to draw what they remembered. Unfortunately, the second floor is a blur for everyone, but we have done the best we can do. Most of the large video installations were located on the first floor and there were small jewel box galleries created between the original pillars, which remained closed during the exhibition period. The stage was removed. The entry way was to a two-story open atrium, where Zhang Peili’s work was installed, and you had this u-shaped staircase, under which Tong Biao installed his work.
Now we move on to the works. I structured this presentation of the works around a first experiment with video art and a last, final engagement with contemporary art. We start with Yang Zhenzhong. His work was right in the entryway when you came in, and it’s no surprise that many of the bigger installations were left on the first floor. This was Yang’s first formal experimentation with the medium, although he had worked with video before to document performance. In this work, he recorded his own mouth repeatedly saying, ‘We are not fish,’ which recalls one of Zhuangzi’s most well known aphorisms about the ability to comprehend and grasp the experience of another. This particular video is [a recreated] copy of the original work made for his solo show at OCT Shanghai a few years ago.
There are a number of similar examples of video installations that you see in this show, from Wang Gongxin’s Old Bench to Qiu Zhijie’s Present, Continuous Tense. Another tendency of video art from this time was to array monitors in a patterned manner across space. Zhang Peili’s work exemplifies this tendency. It creates very coherent movement and conversation across images and between monitors.
This next work that I’ll show you is Zhang Peili’s Focal Distance, which is an 8-channel, 8-monitor work; there’s one clear recording of an intersection in Hangzhou, which is the eighth monitor, and each successive monitor moving forward records the monitor before it at a fixed focal distance until you reach abstraction. This work includes sound, which is the eerie, buzzing sound in the background.
Documentation video from Minsheng Art Museum, for Mr. Zhang Peili’s Solo show
Another way this very structured patterning of space is seen in the work of Geng Jianyi, whose work uses static, coherent and internally structured images whose movement occurs across the screens and is usually triggered by some audio sound. Unfortunately, I don’t have an example of the work but it was a different application of a similar concept.
A different tendency is exhibited in works created by artists like Li Yongbin and Zhu Jia, who are exploring the very slow temporal possibilities of video, very extended temporalities that employ the duration of the tape and performance. This next work that we’ll see is a very short clip and is the first of an extended exploration of the self undertaken by Li Yongbin. Each of Li’s works uses the 60 minutes of a tape to record his own projected image as it is refracted across quotidian or movable surfaces. We’ll see that this is a projection on a wall of his own performance under an overlay of his mother’s face, but his other works record the distortion of his face, on pools of ink, of steam, and on semi-transparent glass.
From this work we’ll jump to my last work, which is by Qian Weikang, who was an artist for whom ‘Image and Phenomena’ was his last professional and artistic engagement with contemporary art. The short clip I’m going to show is a very short extract from a work called Breathe, Breathe, which is about thirty minutes long and includes three sequences: the first is what you’ll see, [and it’s] an ovoid form opening and closing to reveal advertisements filmed on the streets of Shanghai. The middle sequence is archival footage filmed by the artists of news programming. Headlines at the time included scenes from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, of the Monica Lewinsky-Bill Clinton scandal, and also of MTV footage. The video concludes with on-location shots that Qian Weikang had made on the streets of Shanghai that track pedestrians on the street and over time you realize that he’s tracking individual’s eyes and it’s a return to perception and a play on perception that captures what by 1996 had been the aggressive emergence of a globalized mass media culture in China.
So then, what happened afterwards?
Part of Wu Meichun and Qiu Zhijie’s effort to establish video art as a medium was to produce media coverage about the exhibition and artworks. Papers as far as Beijing, but local papers as well, published news stories about the show.
There was extensive media coverage on television, one of which it was extracted from was a very indulgent news piece on Zhejiang Television about a young curator and her artist boyfriend and their efforts to take a new path for contemporary art in China.
It was also almost immediately after ‘Image and Phenomena’ that Wu and Qiu start to think about their next exhibition of video art, which would happen in Beijing in 1997 at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. The exhibition, titled ‘Documentation on Video Art ’97,’ is a testament to the success of ‘Image and Phenomena’ but also the changing conditions of video art production. Whereas Wu and Qiu struggled to find 15 artists in 1996 working with video, they were able to recruit 30 artists for the 1997 exhibition. So they went from ‘Image and Phenomena’ which included 15 artists which was everyone who was working with video in a serious manner at that time to about 30 artists just a year later, many of whom were using digital cameras and shoulder-mounted cameras, which allowed for a much more active lens. What’s also remarkable is that they took as axiomatic the independent category of video art. The manner in which they constructed the exhibition also took as axiomatic the autonomous existence of video art.
I think we’re out of time. I’m going to end there if you have any questions that would be great.
Photograph of ‘Image and Phenomena’ participating artists taken in front of the China Academy of Art gallery. First row: Zhu Jia, Zhang Peili, Wang Qiang, Yan Lei, Wang Gongxin. Second row: Yang Zhenzhong, Wang Nanming, Shen Yubing, Gao Shiqiang, Gu Chengfeng, Wu Meichun, Qiu Zhijie, Chen Shaoxiong, Chen Shaoping, Geng Jianyi. Courtesy of the Francesca Dal Lago Archive at Asia Art Archive
JD: I’d like to ask the first one of Xu Tan who went to the opening of this exhibition. Who was there? Who was the audience for this show?
Xu Tan: Not many people.
KG: In the footage of the opening that is available, the cameramen seem to grab the two students who were available and you see them reappearing in all the different television station coverage.
Xu Tan: Chen Shaoxiong and me. We were there.
Audience Member: They say that only about forty people ever saw the Velvet Underground but then they each formed a band.
Christopher Phillips: Last winter I remember we talked a little about preserving video art. I wonder if someone decided to reconstitute this exhibition, how many of the works do you think could be salvaged?
KG: The greatest gift to Chinese video art was an exhibition that happened at the Minsheng Museum in 2010. The Minsheng Museum asked many artists to digitize their early works. There are a handful of works, either because of personal indifference or because the only copy exists in private colletions, that haven’t been digitized. But I think you could find all of them. It would just be a question of time and energy and of quality, because deterioration is now a factor.
Audience Member: What would be the value of preserving this particular show? Is it as artistic or historical? The art doesn’t seem particularly well done.
KG: You’re right. A lot of the work in the show was most of these artists’ first experiments with video, so they’re figuring out the medium and what you can do with it at the same time that they are creating the work. I think the preservation aspect [was important] for the Minsheng. Their goal with the show was to present a very expansive vision and reconstruct every single work of video that happened in China. There’s always something to be said for preserving work and allowing it to be there for later viewing. I think there is a historical value to it that is related to both the preservation of video’s early applications in art, but also to the emergence of new visual languages and ways of expression.
JD: Your point being that it is historical interest that is driving the desire to preserve, but at this point the Museum is probably only preserving copies, not actually the original materials.
KG: The real struggle is actually the re-presentation of the work, because all of these works were largely video installations, so the preservation of the tapes themselves is not the entire story. That’s the beauty of Yang Zhenzhong’s [re-created] copy of Fish Tank. With it we gets to see and experience the [presentation of the] work again. Many of these works are preserved in Video Bureau in Beijing and Guangzhou as single-channel videos or you can see them as an array on one screen that allows you to sort of get a sense of what these videos were all about. But this is very different from actually seeing them installed in space.
JD: The Minsheng Museum and other later collectors are probably gathering copies of the original material because much of the original material is no longer extant. But if you look at painted work from the 1980s you might say the same thing, that it seems very unsophisticated, that the quality is poor. At the time, the materials artists used were indeed often poor, and then for various reasons, much of much of the work doesn’t exist anymore. [It has disintegrated, or it was left behind when people moved and gotten lost…] But preserving this history, in any form, is important, especially in a country that hasn’t for a while thought enough about its recent past to archive it, sometimes for political issues but also because everybody’s been in a drive to look forward and to prosper, and did not look back. For us (AAA), building a history of contemporary art is an important project, and so the Minsheng Museum’s show and other kinds of art historical research efforts, like Katie’s, make important contributions to that project.
Audience member (an artist from China): I wanted to say something about early video art in China. In the early 90s a couple of aritsts visited a big show at the MoMA. We read magazines like Art in America. It had a very strong influence.
Audience member (a U.S. dealer): Also, we sold some of these works in 1998 and 1999. They were in that exhibition [‘Inside Out’] which included video and photography from China that Gao Minglu curated show in 1998. I forget the price now and where they went, but people bought them.
Audience member: The show is very intriguing but I still think the editing is still very primitive.
Audience Member: It’s so ubiquitous now that you forget, in the nostalgia for tape, that film, a dominant medium about 10 or 12 years ago, was very expensive.
KG: I think the works that I’ve shown have also been done an injustice by the fact that my installation views and recordings are very old and very low-tech. I wonder if we saw them less grainy and in a higher resolution, whether your impressions would be different.
Audience Member: While the technique may be very primitive, I think the concept is very high.
KG: The filming of the everyday, the unedited lo-fi shots, is constructed against the history of the very orchestrated and very formal, idealized media sphere in China. There is a very intentional amateurishness and thrusting into the public sphere of the everyday. You can also see that in the documentary film that’s arising at this time. There’s very much a desire to find artistic languages that are different from the mainstream, and video is part of that. The un-heroic everyday is an aspect of that urge.
Audience Member: Now, more and more, video art is becoming commonplace, and Chinese video art is getting more attention in museums. How much influence did this exhibition have on that evolution?
KG: Feng Mengbo was already creating work, using CD-Roms and Power Point, and fracturing the narrative through storyboard-like works. What’s interesting about this show was that it certainly was a response to the integration into a global contemporary art world. There was an internalizing of international curatorial practice and theoretical thinking achieved through ‘Image and Phenomena’ and ‘In the Name of Art.’ If there is an inflection point of what’s going on internationally I think it’s through these novel analytical and curatorial modes. The object of the exhibition, though, if you could consider it interventionalist in any way, was actually to expand from within the parameters of contemporary art production. In this sense, it actually was in some ways a conservative show, or conservative in its academic goals. It was ambitious, but the object wasn’t necessarily to cultivate a market for video art.
Audience Member: Does that mean there was an effort to create academic foundations at universities?
KG: Absolutely. That was the purpose of the books and of the lecture series, and, in some ways, of leveraging the thirty-year history of video art in Europe and America. In all of these texts, and all of the media coverage produced, you hear video has a thirty-year history in the United States, over and over again. So there was very much a leveraging of this extant history from abroad to legitimize and validate video as a medium, and to do that through academic and historical texts.
Audience Member: Where would you put this show, either as a medium or as video art as a phenomenon in relation to conceptual art today, because I think looking at a lot of these people, I’m not sure how many of them I would classify as video artists today. How would you talk about technology as inspiration or was it limiting to some? And in addition, do you see any regional differences between Beijing and Hangzhou?
KG: Absolutely. What’s interesting about video is that there’s an aspect of the intention of naming that arises with this exhibition, of founding a medium through its naming and through its public display. Video, for most of its early phase, through 1996, is really used as an extension of a concept-based practice. It’s very rarely used to create a video artwork as such. I would say even after this, many of the artists in this show wouldn’t consider themselves purely video artists. In terms of regional differences in the early 90s, there are some. I think you see that in how Zhang Peili and Geng Jianyi were concerned with patterning the space through monitors or the way in which, in Guangzhou, there was this interesting play with the transparency of electronic projections, the transparency of glass, and the layering of that in space across different surfaces to create depth.
JD: Unfortunately, I think we need to stop here because we have run out of time, but thank you all for your questions, and a special thanks to Katie for coming today to share her research with us. Thank you.
Katherine Grube is a doctoral candidate at New York University. She will be a Fulbright Scholar at Peking University for the 2014-2015 academic year and is the recipient of the 2013 Asia Art Archive – Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation China Research Grant. Her research investigates the contemporary art and visual culture of post-Mao China. Grube holds degrees from University of Sydney and Stanford University. She lived and worked in Beijing from 2004 to 2009.
The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation, established in Hong Kong in 2005 by Robert Hung Ngai Ho as a private philanthropic organization, works to foster and support Chinese arts and culture and to promote a deeper understanding of Buddhist teachings and their application in everyday life. The Foundation supports efforts that make traditional Chinese arts accessible and relevant to audiences worldwide. It also supports the creation of new works that bring innovative perspectives to the history of Chinese art, and that improve the quality and accessibility of scholarship on Chinese art. Guided by a belief that the insights of Buddhism have a vital role to play in approaching the challenges facing contemporary society, The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation also has committed substantial resources to expanding the understanding, interpretation, and application of Buddhist philosophy.
Transcribed by Hilary Chassé and edited by Jane DeBevoise.