Questioning “Made in China” – Interview Avant-Garde Beijing Artist: Huang Rui

CONTEMPORARY CHINESE ART

Artist Huang Rui standing in front of the Comerchina exhibition.

Artist Huang Rui standing in front of Shadow at Comerchina exhibition at 10 Chancery Gallery.

Father of contemporary Chinese art, Huang Rui is a Beijing artist who dares to think and act differently in a society that demands conformity. Prominent founder of the historically momentous 1979 Stars Group as well as the famous Beijing 798 Factory, Huang Rui showcases his exhibition Comerchina at 10 Chancery Lane Gallery (17 Sep – 10 Oct 2009) in Hong Kong.

Characteristic of his previous work such as “拆那(demolition)/China”, this series of new paintings called “Hall of Fame” is a collage that tweaks a pun on advertising imagery contributed by online participants.

In an exclusive interview with Art Radar, Huang Rui explains the layers of political and economic connotations in Comerchina, the difficulties facing art in this consumer society and the impossibility of escaping political scrutiny.

Q: Why is the exhibition called Comerchina?

ComerChina coverThe theme is related to commercialization and China. Ever since the 1990’s, China has become more and more commercialized in three aspects.

First, politics is becoming a servant of commerce. Second, commerce is labeled with cultural slogans. Third, the entire structure of society is changing and, as an integrated society, is very dangerous.

It’s different from a global society, which is only an element of an integrated society. It’s not a dictatorship, but rather a particular organizational system.

Politics, the demand for a rise in economic standards and personal interests means that other important concerns such as art are being sacrificed. We need to reflect, criticize, and protest.

Q: How do your new paintings and installations in this show speak to over-commercialization and the power of money in China? What do the numbers represent?

Hall of Fame 1-25 by Huang Rui, silk-screen printing/collage/canvas, 45X60X25cm pieces, 2009

Hall of Fame 1-25 by Huang Rui, silk-screen printing/collage/canvas, 45X60X25cm pieces, 2009

If someone attacks you, you attack him as well. It’s a natural response. In my work, the number represents you and me, since everyone uses cell phones. In the work of a 100-yuan bill with Mao, there are 100 numbers. 100 out of 100 represents an integrated society. “Made in China” refers to the global economy and the power of cooperation.

Q: How do you see contemporary art in China evolving? Where is it going (the trends)? Would you consider yourself a trend leader?

Chairman Mao Wan Yuan by Huang Rui, 128X88X4.6X6cm, 2006

Chairman Mao Wan Yuan by Huang Rui, 128X88X4.6X6cm, 2006

 

 

Huang Rui’s take on trends in Chinese contemporary art

It’s getting more commercialized, there is more variety and commerce is a factor that makes cooperation indispensable. Chinese society in the South including Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Shenzhen are producing imitation art. Hong Kong is focused on business, so real art is hard to develop. Artists in Hong Kong either have to bear with it or move out. It’s not up to the individual artists to enforce change. Our power is confined to criticizing and perhaps creating new structures or models, new thinking, and making proposals. To lead changes in the art world, it is up to the social elites, the politicians, and the urban planners.

Q: In your work Shadow, the characters taken together mean “maintain dictatorship of the proletariat”**. Would this work be permitted in mainland China?

Shadow(1-25) by Huang Rui, 90X60X27cm, oil on canvas, silkscreen lithograph, 2009

Shadow(1-25) by Huang Rui, 90X60X27cm, oil on canvas, silkscreen lithograph, 2009

 

 

It is now permitted, but this only happened recently. There were a lot of controversies with the Twin Tower (2001), which comprised layers of words and political expressions. My intent was to draw an analogy. The Twin Towers in New York were a symbol of menace as well as a political and economic strength. Likewise, the thinking of Mao and that of Jiang Ze Min are symbols of power yet also have tones of menace. Another work of mine that was banned from exhibition was “Chairman Mao Wan Yuan“(2006) [Note: wan sui in Chinese refers to “longevity” or “10,000 years”. The character wan also means 10,000.]

Many of my works were not just banned in China, but also elsewhere such as Japan, where I used to live. In 2005, there was a 3D Asian Art Fair in Korea and Singapore, but the Consulate General of China protested against the exhibition of my work.

**note: In the Commerchina book that Huang Rui gave me, there are pages of quotations by Mao categorized respectively under upholding, proletariat, classes, and dictatorship.

Twin Tower by Huang Rui

Twin Tower by Huang Rui

Q: Tell us about your activity as an artist against political force.

I participated in the Wall of Democratic Rule (1978-1981) in Beijing. With Deng Xiao Ping’s permission, people could voice their opinions, until Deng Xiao Ping withdrew the democratic wall in 1980. I also participated in an underground magazine about arts and literature.  In 1979, I founded the Stars Group of 1979 along with other members. Just search on the web and you’ll easily unearth a lot of information about the group.

WM/KE

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