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Interview with Hou Hanru

[ 2006-05-15 20:16:52 | 作者Author: OUNING ]
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Talk Goes on...
Interview with Hou Hanru


by Ou Ning

First published in Art Union, 2001
and then was included in On The Mid-Ground: Selected Texts by Hou Hanru, Timezone 8, 2002

Ou Ning: Since leaving China for Paris in 1990, you have curated or organised several tens of art exhibitions in a variety of locations. Your record of achievements speaks for itself. As an international curator who has been able to maintain a sense of balance, how would you characterise your style? That is to say, in an exhibition curated or organised by you, is there the stamp of Hou Hanru?

Hou Hanru: Exhibitions first and foremost have to be experimental, and should do their utmost not to repeat things that people have seen before - they should give people a new visual experience. That said, a purely visual experience is not enough, there should be new experiences for the mind and body as a whole. Perhaps the most important element in any successful exhibition is its orientation to a certain time and place, its cultural backdrop, its significance within its locale. For me, an exhibition is a special activity, a special event. It is not simply a matter of taking existing works and hanging or installing them. From the choice of theme, artists, and artworks to the actual realisation of the exhibition itself, all of these things represent a living and breathing process. Contemporary art is not just purely about making works of art. On top of this it also has the possibility of constant continuation, it is a creative process that is always deepening. An exhibition is the equivalent of amplifying or emphasising the development process of a group of artists or a cultural issue, or like showing people a particular moment in time enlarged. At the same time, an exhibition can give artists the opportunity to undertake more experimental work, an opportunity that might not otherwise arise. When I undertake an exhibition, if at all possible I invite many artists to make their works on site. Very seldom do I use their existing works, and on the occasions when I do, I integrate them with the specific locale of the exhibition, re-examining the relationship of the work and the exhibition space, not to mention the relationship of that work to other works and to the local audience.

I wouldn't say that my exhibitions are characterised by any particular style as such, but rather that they show certain tendencies. The most important thing about an exhibition for me is not that it is in some way complete or has reached closure. Rather, it is the openness of the exhibition, how much room it can give people to go on with their work. Also of equal importance is the cultural orientation of the exhibition. What exactly is the significance of the exhibition taking place in a particular location? What impact will it have on the cultural viewpoints of the audience at that location? I frequently consider these questions. Of course, there is also the fact that exhibitions are opportunities for artists to engage in discourse with one another. The role of the curator is to a large degree that of a catalyst or stimulant. Through a special project, he can make artists meet and talk with one another. Through the conditions of a special site, he can stimulate artistic creation, cause the artist to create unique works, works that they might not ordinarily make, allow him/her to do what they might not have imagined possible. Lastly, as a Chinese curator living in Europe, I believe that it is important that the exhibitions I curate are related to my own life experiences, that they possess something which may not be essentially Western, that they bring something non-mainstream into the mainstream. I'm not talking about re-defining the mainstream, but about breaking down the barriers that separate mainstream from non-mainstream, allowing everyone an opportunity for equal existence.

Ou: From what I can see, Chinese contemporary art is not only receiving widespread attention in Western societies, but it seems that it is gradually becoming a part of that artistic environment, becoming an integral part of the whole. Take Paris for instance, where some immigrant Chinese artists are able to be more creative and often more influential than native artists are. You have striven to bring Chinese contemporary artists into an internationalist art discourse. To what degree has the above-mentioned situation - the success of Chinese artists in Paris - a result of your personal efforts?

Hou: I don't think it is a question of my own personal efforts, but the result of everyone working together. Firstly, they are all outstanding artists, and secondly they work well together. Actually, this matter is about interaction. Ordinarily, artists bury themselves in their own artistic creations. My role is that of a bridge, helping them connect with the outside world. You also need to look at the changes taking place in the West. If I had arrived at another point in time, there might not have been as many opportunities for me. After the end of the Cold War, especially with the onset of cultural and economic exchange that came with globalisation, Western culture underwent a rather dramatic change. It viewed and understood outside cultures in a new way. It needed to enrich its own culture in order to continue to move forward. It had to open up and to absorb other forms of culture. Compared to the past, I feel that all of these present-day elements have contributed a great deal. You could say that we have seized the opportunity - as the saying goes, 'heroes are products of their times', and there is definitely an element of time and place in the equation. But I think the most important thing is still how much you are able to share what you have with others. This is a point that I don't think has been discussed enough in cultural circles in China.

Ou: Last year you returned to China and were involved in curating the Third Shanghai Biennale, which caused quite a stir. But compared to the exhibitions you have curated in the past, this Biennale did not appear to be very experimental. Of course the situation in China is very different to that overseas. Given this specific political, economic and cultural environment, what were the issues you wanted to expose, discuss and resolve through the Shanghai Biennale?

Hou: When I curate exhibitions I always work with the specific conditions of each location in mind. The specific problem for the Shanghai Biennale was that it was a government sponsored exhibition, and there was no possibility of reaching the level of experimentation that I usually pursue. Besides, I believe that what China needs most right now is not that sort of experimentation but something else entirely. China's economy, culture and society are going through rapid changes; if the rate of change is too fast they will lose some sort of normality, and without a normal mode of existence everything will become unbalanced. Both the Avant-garde and the non Avant-garde display a clear objective of material gain, and both bear something very sentimental. I feel the Shanghai Biennale gave me the opportunity to try to weaken this sentimentality and bring out a relatively normal mode of operation and existence, and to gradually introduce a normal system into China under abnormal conditions. We have to persuade the government to recognise contemporary art, and also teach the art galleries, museums and specifically the executive body of the Biennale how to operate normally, this is very important. For the Shanghai Biennale I adopted quite a moderate working method within the boundaries of my power. It was essential to work in this way, as it allowed artists to approach the problem of artistic creation in a normal way, rather than going about it from the angle of material gain. Chinese culture is currently in the same state as its society as a whole: because things are changing too fast, the biggest problem is that quantity has replaced quality, and few people are able to consider the problem of quality in a normal way.

The Shanghai Biennale was effective in that it took a very ordinary attitude and used very serious methods to carry out a few very simple things, and did so with completeness and perfection. The reason why I originally accepted the Shanghai Biennale's invitation was not because the exhibition had become more relaxed about the styles of works that could be selected, but because I liked the challenge. How to make the government acknowledge contemporary art, how to eradicate the long-term antagonistic relationship between contemporary art and the state, this for me was where the real experiment of the Shanghai Biennale lay. At the same time, the experiment was to raise a major question for the artists of China: after contemporary art's antagonistic relationship with ideology, political structures and cultural institutions has been completely resolved, what kind of art can Chinese artists make? I feel that this is one of the biggest challenges they face. Only after we reach that stage will the discussion of truly artistic issues and problems of artistic identity become possible.

Ou: For the Shanghai Biennale you once again invited Yung Ho Chang and other architects to participate in the exhibition, demonstrating your continuing interest in architectural and urban issues. This reminds me of the Cities on the Move, project that you were involved in curating from 1997 onwards. What was the theme and significance of this project? What influence did it have? Is it the biggest art project you have worked on?

Hou: I think it must be the biggest in scale, as the project continued for three years and travelled to seven countries - Austria, France, America, Denmark, England, Thailand, and finally Finland. More than 140 artists from all over the world participated in this project, which is still ongoing. Among other things I intend to publish a new book and set up a website, using different methods to continue the project.

This series of exhibitions was concerned with the development of Asian cities; it investigated the special ways in which Asian cities are developing as to their architecture and city planning, and how the new face of the city is leading artists to consider questions about the existence of art from a brand new perspective, how they re-establish a relationship between the individual and the urban environment. Many artists were invited to create site specific works for this exhibition, and they could choose their site from seven different cities, different locations. At each site we invited an architect to design the layout of the exhibition, we turned the whole site into a temporary city, inside of which were the artists works. Many performances and other activities were organised to coincide with the exhibitions - films, theatre and symposiums. It was an unusually comprehensive exhibition, and was different in every place it travelled to. It was like a city moving from place to place, and every time it arrived somewhere new, it would evolve into a new city.

This exhibition shattered the tradition concept of an art exhibition, it was no longer a matter of merely arranging a selection of artworks for people to view, it was a complete activity. Exhibitions in the past always confined artists to a designated individual space, but in this event we let artists escape from their own worlds, cross their own limits and communicate with others. One artist's work could be influenced by the work of others; we re-established a kind of approach whereby artists could dialogue with each other. We are living in a globalised age, we share information across the globe via the Internet, and compared with former times there have been vast changes in ways that people communicate with each other, these changes allow people to consider the problem of defining their identity in a new way. In an age like this, there is no person who can say, "I am myself", and no race or country who can declare "we belong to this race, and this is our country". This is an age of mutual infiltration, and also an age of confusion. In the Cities on the Move project we emphasised that Asia does not just belong to the 'yellow race', we hope that it becomes an internationalised area. Right now Asia is the scene of the most dynamic economic, social and cultural change that can be seen anywhere in the world. It should be a vast arena where everyone has the chance to realise his or her dreams. So our exhibitions included many artists and architects from Europe and other parts of the world who added their own ideas about Asia.

Ou: I recall that once when being interviewed by Carolee Thea you said that the main task of a curator was to raise questions, and that artists should participate in an extensive discussion of these questions, giving answers from many different angles. Looking back on your ten years of work as a curator, the questions you have raised have sometimes been repeated over several exhibitions before achieving depth and resolution. That is to say, the themes of your exhibitions have a strong continuity, and this reflects your persistence with certain questions. I would very much like to hear your evaluation of all the exhibitions you have worked on; no doubt this will help me to follow your train of thought over the past years.

Hou: Actually all of my exhibitions have their satisfactory and their unsatisfactory points. In 1992 and 1993 there were two exhibitions that had a special significance for me. At that time I had not been living in Paris for long, and felt that its cultural environment was somewhat dreary, lacking anything really new or experimental. I wanted to raise a question about art institutions: where are the boundaries of art institutions? Is it possible to bring art into a space that has a direct connection to real life, and is not a museum? The most interesting thing for me about contemporary art is that the creative activity of many artists has taken place outside of art museums and outside of the art system. At that time the opportunity arose to do two things, the first being at the end of 1992. There was an empty building in Paris that was going to be demolished and a friend of mine had set up a temporary studio inside, I suggested it would be a good place to do an exhibition. So we organised more than 10 artists from different parts of the world, and arranged to do an exhibition in Paris. The exhibition was organised with special reference to the space itself and the related cultural issues.

In fact my interest in architecture and urban issues began at that time. Because this building was going to be demolished, I called the exhibition 'Scene of Potential Ruin'. My intention was to motivate the group of artists to select works that addressed issues like the demolition and preservation of urban buildings, changes in urban development, the visual form of the city and so on, or to create new works especially for this exhibition. The building we used was not the sort of place where exhibitions are usually held, and because of this people were very surprised. Another project that began in 1993 took place in the house where I lived at that time. It was a small place with a tiny corridor, and each month my wife Evelyne Jouanno and I invited an artist to come and hold a special exhibition. Over the course of a year we held more than ten exhibitions, some of which were quite extreme. These sort of extreme experiments can be regarded as a test for us: as curators, to exactly what extent can there be a connection between art and our daily lives? Where is the line drawn?

I prefer to do exhibitions that have a connection, and a strong potential for continuation. The exhibition Paris Pour Escale that you can see now at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris is in fact the third time I have curated an exhibition on this same basic theme. The first time was in London, an exhibition called Parisien (ne)s, and it was also the first time that the issue of the place of immigrant culture within mainstream Western culture had been addressed in the context of the Parisian art world. In fact none of the artists in this exhibition were really French, they were all foreigners who had immigrated to Paris. The political background at that time had made this issue rather sensitive - the French immigration laws had suddenly become very strict, giving rise to much social controversy. The reaction of native Parisian artists to this was not very strong, because their art in itself was very removed from society. But those of us who come from overseas have different impressions, and so our attitude to art is likely to be more politicised, and our relationship to society more intimate. Later I did a similar exhibition in Luxembourg, Gare de l'Est, and the latest continuation is the current exhibition Paris Pour Escale; this sequence of exhibitions is very important for me.

Apart from the Shanghai Biennale and Cities on the Move, there were two other biennales that were very important to me. One was the 1997 Johannesburg Biennale in South Africa, where I was in charge of curating one section that focussed on the return of Hong Kong to China, titled Hong Kong Etc.. I invited many artists from around the world, using the exhibition site and the Internet to explore the transformation of a post-colonial city, discussing the Hong Kong issue as a political negotiation, as a problem faced by the whole world in common. This exhibition was not confined to the art museum, but in part also went out into the poorest black areas of the city, using video and other methods to infiltrate their space, giving them the opportunity to come into contact with contemporary experimental art. The other biennale that was of importance for me was the 1999 Venice Biennale where I curated the French Pavilion exhibition together with Huang Yong Ping.

Ou: Your exhibitions always use artistic forms to touch on themes beyond art, and every exhibition offers a lot of food for thought. Concerning the social and cultural issues that interest you, perhaps art cannot be considered to be the best plan for resolving them, but it can provide an ideological point of incision. I would like to know, after having successfully curated so many exhibitions, what sort of ideas have you been interested in recently, and will your ideas be revealed in future exhibitions?

Hou: The question that interests me most at the moment is the question of boundaries. There are many matters that on the one hand require a highly specialised approach, and on the other hand may frequently require you to break out of that specialisation.
When engaging in these very specialised matters you should always maintain a very pure, innocent, amateur attitude. By pure, innocent and so on I mean that you should keep an openness, a readiness to accept things that are strange or unfamiliar to you.

Economies are changing the whole world over, traditional boundaries are becoming blurred, companies cannot state clearly what they are producing, take Sony for instance, they have so many products, anything connected with electricity in some way could be their product, so it is hard to fix their position. The traditional methods of classification are disintegrating, the whole concept system is being reorganised, and this has a great influence on our worldview. The world changes with each passing day, and art is just one tiny segment. Art has to open itself up, it has to go beyond its fixed boundaries and absorb more nutrients from other sources, perhaps even deconstruct itself into something else. Recently these problems have preoccupied me, because I feel they give me great inspiration. But it's unlikely that I will develop these ideas into an exhibition, because I am very much against turning an exhibition into a conceptual diagram. When I curate an exhibition more than half of it goes beyond my control, and sometimes I actually have no wish to impose control over the exhibition in the first place.

Translated from Chinese by Robert Bernell
[最后修改由 OUNING, 于 2009-04-22 22:34:57]
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引用 Buffie*
[ 2012-09-21 18:10:06 ]
Haha, sholdun't you be charging for that kind of knowledge?!

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