CHINESE CONTEMPORARY ART EXHIBITIONS ART PROFESSIONALS INTERVIEWS
The third edition of “Get It Louder” (GIL), perhaps one of the most ambitious Chinese exhibition events representing emerging young talent across multiple fields, ran from 19 September to 7 November this year in Beijing and Shanghai. Curious about GIL’s mission and its growth, Art Radar Asiahad an in-depth discussion with Ou Ning, the founder and chief curator of the event. Ou Ning himself is a wearer of many artistic hats and our interview also explores some of his experiences.
Themed “Sharism“, a new concept for creative practice and content sharing born on the World Wide Web, this year’s GIL featured participants and artist groups from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Europe and the United States.
Central to the exhibition was the GIL Pavilion, a freestanding structure designed by New York-based design practice SO-IL. In the Pavilion, works spanning the fields of fine art, new media, product design and photography were shown for the duration of the exhibition. In parallel, GIL hosted a wide array of events in the form of artist talks and lectures, film screenings, literature and special spotlight projects… there was even a forum on Sharism.
Simply in terms of frequency and diversity of events, GIL now has a conceivably loud voice during the busy autumn art calendar in China. Let us do a round-up of GIL 2010 happenings: 66 pieces of works were shown, 35 lectures, talks and forums were held, 4 workshops were completed, 3 live performances were undertaken, 50 films were screened, 23 film directors gave talks and 74 artists and artist groups, 36 guest speakers and 15 independent film directors participated.
Does that also explain why many events might not be directly related to the exhibited works?
“Precisely. [With] Sharism being an Internet concept, GIL’s goal is to build an off-line platform for people to ‘share.’ The Pavilion made it possible for off-line sharing across a wide spectrum of events to happen. For me, I am especially interested in the audience’s feedback and reactions; an exhibition without audience input is a failure to me. Technology has enabled us to receive instant feedback – via many Chinese social media tools, Sina Weibo being one of them – and to provide instant updates and gain quick attention. I am just a bit tired of the gallery shows in the white cube, which live in a confined circle of art professionals. I want to see art and design that viewers can relate to, provoking them to think about their lives.”
Who are the typical viewers at GIL?
“Lots of young people and many media-savvy and fashionable people are interested and curious about new things. Maybe it has to do with Modern Media’s image. I was also very glad to notice many retirees at the film screenings.”
Finally, we want to gain a deeper understanding of the operating model of GIL. We know it is run as a not-for-profit (NFP). Do you think its NFP nature is a prerequisite for a high-quality show that is flexible enough to cross many artistic fields?
“GIL is indeed in a very privileged position thanks to Modern Media. The way we secure business sponsors is through exchange of advertising space in Modern Media’s publications, which include some of the most widely-read weeklies in China. This approach frees GIL from inserting soft-advertisement for sponsors in the exhibition itself, a big relief for me. Of course, we do collaborate on special projects if the sponsor prefers, for example, the City Travelogue SMART project this year.
Of course, depending on one big backer with such a vision is far from sustainable. Eventually, I really hope to institutionalise GIL.”
Can you please expand on the institutionalising of GIL?
“There needs to be an entity run year-round for the exhibition. Its role [would] include expanding private patrons [and] establishing business sponsorships under the supervision of a fully committed Board of Directors. The Shao Foundation does currently function similar to this, but the current Chinese policy on NGO/charity status is a bottleneck.”
Ou Ning’s own contemporary art career
How many hats do you actually wear? Publisher of an independent music magazine, designer, curator, writer, artist (movie-making)… Which came first and how did it evolve from there?
(laughs) “Well, they each occurred at different stages. I was a poet first in the 1980s, but after 1989, I became disillusioned by the poem. I got involved in creating magazines on music and film. To save time I had to teach myself graphic design, too. 1999-2003 were my designer years. One of my films was selected for the 50th Venice Biennale, so I received more commissions as an artist. In 2005, I officially started working for Modern Media, as director of the Shao Foundation and curated three GIL exhibitions. In 2009, I was appointed the chief curator of the Shenzhen & Hong Kong Bi-city Biennale of Urbanism & Architecture. Most recent project is a new literary magazine Chutzpah (Tian Nan or 天南 in Chinese), so my journey so far comes back in a full circle to literature again.”
So I guess it is hard to pin down an overarching theme among all the things you have done?
“I have always been curious in many things and fields. On a cultural level though, I do observe a commonality; writing was, is and forever will be, my basic ability and instinct, which can be converted into many fields. Also, my formative years as an idealist poet in the 80s probably set a utopian tone for what I do and informed me in my responsibility as an intellectual.”
Working at Shao Foundation is a full-time job. Do you have more freedom under this job or more restrictions, especially in terms of time?
“I keep on doing it because it still interests me and I do love what I do under the Foundation platform, so it is fine.”
What do you think of the ‘Post-80s‘ (people born in China in the 1980s and who are currently rising to become a social voice and force in China, also the first generation to be born into China’s one-child policy) in the context of art and the culture scene?
“I am very interested in their energy and I work with many of them, too. Under one pole, some of them are very satisfied with their well-off lives and produce ‘comfortable’ works. Under another pole, some are creating meaningful impact already. For example, Post-80s Anti-Express Railway Group in Hong Kong has become very influential and a headache for the government, too. Chinese Post-80s youth could be inspired by this, as demonstrated in recent wave of ‘Support Cantonese!’ voiced by Post-80s in Guangzhou. Of course, between the two poles, there is a lot more diversity amongst Post-80s. I see both conservatism and hopes.”
Based on your experience, does working on meaningful art and culture projects in China necessarily suggest an unavoidable ‘small circle’, that is anti-mainstream? We see this perception as troublesome sometimes.
“When one starts something nascent, it is of course small by definition. But one shouldn’t intentionally position oneself against the mainstream. That would be a kind of laziness. You must use your own brain to think through what your position and goal is. The mainstream exists for its reason. But the alternative is there for people to choose from, too. I am deep believer in the co-existence of the two.”
- Can’t get to the Shanghai Biennale? First day in 10 pictures – December 2010 – a feast of great images from this important show
- Art Radar visits Shanghai leg of “Detour” – picture feast – December 2010 – another grouping of images, this time from the Moleskine travelling exhibition of journals
- Ai Weiwei’s studio party cancelled? Art Radar was there – November 2010 – we have exclusive coverage of Ai’s crab banquet in images, film and words
- How is Chinese ink painting explored in contemporary art? RedBox Review in discussion with Liang Quan – October 2010 – we summarise this insightful RedBox interview with ink artist Quan
- MoMA Asia Art Archive collaborate, launch Chinese art projects with public programmes – September 2010 – we detail the simultaneous launch of a useful book and a comprehensive web portal