Art History

I officially started my Art History course online today! 

After finishing my first ever course online, Eastern and Western thoughts, a comparative religion course, I was honestly nervous about starting another semester of online course because it was hard to navigate around an online platform and deal with the online censorship here in China. 

After looking through the resources, the timeline and the syllabus for this art history course though, I'm honestly excited! The teacher seems nice, the platform is more organised and much, much neater than before.

As my first assignment, I had to look at some medieval art from Austria and Spain. I was asked to choose two artworks from the Museum of Modern Art collection from the medieval time period and write up what makes these two works particularly "medieval." 

My favorite artwork was called the Opening of the Fifth Seal, created around 1180 AD in Burgos, Spain. 

Photo credit to the Museum of Modern Arts

Photo credit to the Museum of Modern Arts

It is a part of an illuminated manuscript, which is one of the important kinds of art from the medieval period. I learned that creating such manuscripts was the only way to note down and record events to pass onto the next generation before the invention of the print press. I particularly love the natural shades of red and navy- they are so lovely. These colours actually remind me of colours of Japanese kusaki zome, which are colours made from natural dye made from plants. I also like the intricate gold detailing on the parchment. I also learned that this use of gold is also an unique characteristic of medieval art. 

I'm thinking about creating a collage of my favorite artworks on the wall in front of my desk at home or my art desk at school. It would be cool to create something that is like a sum of what I've learned and experienced during my two years in IB Arts, blogging, and semester of taking art history online. 

Oh speaking of blogging... Liu Wei's interview article is coming soon! 

 

Interview with Wang Jiangwei: Part 2

(Continued from part 1)

Q: At the Guggenheim, you put on a whole show about the perception of time. (“Time Temple”) How do you perceive time and what does it mean to you? 

In the essay I wrote for the catalogue for Guggenheim, I mentioned six points regarding the idea of time. The first point is the idea of “rehearsal” that I talked about earlier. At the time, when I was writing this essay for Guggenheim, it was April. I knew that the show was opening in the September of the same year. So the "rehearsal" was to recognize the time gap between April and September. 

The second is the idea of the present, as in the time we are passing right now. The idea comes from The Yellow Signal, the exhibition I did a while ago at the Ullens (Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, UCCA).  A lot of people, when they look at that show [filled with installations], thinks its about“space”- but how can you have space without time? 

I’m interested in exploring "potential." When you are describing a person, you would say that this person has “a lot of potential”, but why wouldn’t you say that this person has a lot of “abilities,” as in abilities he has now? I wonder if this goes the same for all things, that whatever object that we see right now- however exists- is only part of something more, and I wonder if there is a potential, or even something beyond its potential. This is what I am interested in. 

Q: What are you inspired by?

Artist don’t have inspirations. My “inspirations” come from my wondering about ways to escape from the world of what we already know and are familiar with. 

Q: Is that similar what you meant when you said in one of your published interviews, that your “biggest enemy is certainty”?

Yes- what I want to see is beyond the realm of what we already know.

Q: How do you create your installation pieces? I am interested in particular the installation of thousand basketballs and basketball hoops displayed in the Yellow Signal show, called “We Know What We Are Doing…”.

Today’s artists’ process differs a lot from those of the past, in that artworks are not completely handmade, but not completely outsourced. Now it’s about the right balance between the two. 

For example, in the past, the main challenges for multimedia or video artists was to figure out what they do not already know in terms of technology and techniques. Their challenges were quite easy to solve. 

To give a more personal example, when I put on a video production in the past, I had a team of 30 to 40 people including actors, actresses, cameraman, make up staff and assistants. The role I played there was the director. But after the whole filming process was done, I did all the editing by myself. From 3 minute to 3 hour long videos, I edited everything on (pointing at the desktop computer on his desk) that computer, including the 8 pieces displayed at the Ullens show. If a video work is not edited by the artist himself, then it is basically a fully commercial film. This is an example that shows the type of relationship I have with my video works, but the process is very similar with my installations and theater pieces. 

I didn’t make the basketballs in “We Know What We Are Doing…”, of course. My job was to decide how many basketballs and basketball hoops to use and how to lay them out. 13 people helped me organize and lay out the basketballs on the floor. Everyday during that exhibition, there was someone from UCCA, from my studio and from the audience who decided what to do with those basketballs. This continued for 21 days, so I called the installation the "21 day theater."

Q: Interesting!

The thing about contemporary art is that the dynamic between the technological aspects of the work and the artist and the studio changes a lot during the process of creation. And I think this is very interesting.  

If you are going to study art history in university, there are three things that you cannot ignore. One is philosophy, one is politics, and the last one- that not many people talk about yet- is the artist’s working process, the sociology of an artist’s studio. I believe that this topic will change a lot of Greenbergian principles.

Q: Thank you so much! 



After interviewing Mr. Wang Jiangwei, I realize that much of the meanings or ideas behind an artwork could remain a mystery in the first sight and can only be uncovered by directly talking to the artist and trying to understand his way of thinking. 

The interview with the artist was truly eyeopening. The funny thing was that I understood his ideas as much as I found them confusing. His ideas were very complex, scientific, philosophical and hard to understand, but at the same time, seeing his works and listening to his answers made very clear the logic behind each of his seemingly complex works. 

After this interview, I am even more excited to pursue Art administration and/or history in college and gain more knowledge about artists and art movements in the past in order to understand artists in the present better. I want to continue learning about art and directly ask artists questions whenever I have the opportunity to and expand my own perspective. 

One thing that stuck with me during the interview was towards the end of the interview, when Mr. Wang stated that when and if I step into the art world in the future, I will become "the guardian of his grave," as an artist. I cannot explain exactly what this means...but weirdly, it feels like I understand. The job as a person working in the art industry in the future will be to preserve the artist's works as well as his ideas and thoughts behind it, and to prolong the beauty of art even after the artist stops creating. 


 

 

 

Interview with Wang Jiangwei: Part 1

At his studio 

At his studio 

“China is still waiting for a new form of critique, one that does not use the format for realism. I believe that is how Chinese contemporary art can liberate itself.”

 

 Born in Sichuan province, Wang Jiangwei has been a forerunner in the Chinese contemporary art scene. He has just recently put on his first solo exhibition in North America, Time Temple at the Guggenheim Museum in the New York City.

 

 I had the opportunity to visit his studio in the outskirt of Beijing last weekend for a Q&A interview. He is currently very busy with work but he kindly gave me the opportunity to ask him many questions that I had from reading about his works and seeing his works in the museums and online videos.


 Q: How would you describe art?

 

The shortest and the most direct answer is that art is exploring something that one doesn’t already know. This would be the easiest way to put it, but the long answer would be much more complicated. The idea of art is easy, but what springs forth from it, actually, is very, very complicated- and we can spend decades trying to sort it out.

 

Q: Speaking of “complicated”- When I read some articles about you online, I noticed that many critics say that your art is too complicated and hard to understand, that you are overcomplicating some fundamentally simple ideas. What do you think about this?

 

I reflect through my works the reality of the world. Can you imagine if there is only one kind of “easy” in this world? In other words, I can’t imagine that in this world there is one standard kind of “easy” or one kind of “complicated.” So, by making those “complicated” pieces, I am reflecting on the reality of the world in which we live. I use complexity as a way to protest against the one standard of “easy” that exists.  I think this is the basic responsibility of contemporary art- to protest against uniformity.

 

 Q: In the video for your show, Time Temple, at the Guggenheim, you stated that you hope that the audience sees each artwork as parts of a whole rather than individual works. Why?

 

I think of the exhibition itself as a single artwork. For example, I see you, and if I were going to introduce you to my friend, I will introduce you by your name. I wouldn’t introduce you by talking about your black jacket, or your jeans.  It’s the same for my work. In my exhibition, people seeing my painting would sometimes ask, “what is this stripe for?” or “what does this [single element on the painting] do?” but in reality, [the elements] exist as a whole, as a single painting.

I believe artists exist not to react to things that already exist, things that are already there. For me, art itself is the subject. Art is never meant to be a reaction against something- this “something” can be understood as what’s happening socially, politically, or a mode of expression of beauty. But Art exists for itself, so it doesn't need to be supplemented by other ideas. To elaborate on this, the French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze, who wrote about the works Francis Bacon, stated that, “the work of art is a being of sensation and nothing else; it exists in itself.” In 2007, I named my first painting, 表面的肖像, which directly translates into the “portrait of the surface.” And the idea for that work came from Deleuze’s quote.  

 

Q: It sounds like your perspective is similar to that of Greenberg, the American critic who pushed forward the idea of “Art for art’s sake.”

 

 Yes, but I would take this idea further and say that art itself shouldn’t even be a mode. (seeing me confused) This is a complex topic.

 

 Q: Hopefully, after I formally study art and art history, I will be able to grasp this idea better!

 

 Definitely.

 

 Q: In school, you specialized in painting but after you graduated from school you began to explore with a lot more different kinds of media. Why did you start working with different media?

 

 When I was in school, I didn’t know there was anything else [in art] other than the traditional media like painting. Today, we know that art could be created from a wide variety of media, but back then, there was only painting. So all your explorations and expressions needed to be done through painting. So firstly, it was because there was no choice but to stick to painting in school. The Chinese philosophy is that one should be very knowledgeable and specialized in one subject in order to become successful, but I didn’t want to be sitting in one chair like that after graduating.

 Secondly, you saw that I was changed by new types of media but in reality, I was changed by knowledge of science and philosophy. Before [in school], I was looking at art through the lens of art history, but when I began to see art through the lens of science and philosophy, I saw something new. With philosophy and science, we learn things about nature that changes the way we look at the world. I think art should be doing the same thing. So for me, philosophy, science, politics, and art are centered on the same idea and are all the same. They are all ways of thinking. I’ve never defined myself as a painter, sculptor, or an installation artist. For me, philosophy, politics, science, video, theater, and photography are all the same, in that they are all simply materials.

 Also, I have never felt that I should be restricted by a medium. For example, the subjects of many of my paintings are coming from my videos, and you can also see how I create my video pieces are very much similar to how I direct theater pieces.  In my installation works, I have adopted this idea of “rehearsal,” which comes from my theater pieces. And what “rehearsal” is, is this continuous beginning. Rehearsal is something you start one day, that erases and replaces what you did the last time, in order to create something new tomorrow. In doing so, you will not necessarily create something better, but you still have to do anyways. So you can see that my ideas are not limited to what type of material I use to create.

 

 (Continued to part 2)



Low Technology

I would say the most exciting show that I went to this winter is this show, "Low Technology" at the Seoul Museum for Modern and Contemporary Arts in Seoul. 

When I think of an exhibition on the concept of technology, I tend to think about artists who employ high-technology, like ultra high definition television, 4D technology or the technology used in the next Iphone.. things that I won't come across in my daily life as a student. Contrary to my presumption, this show was actually focused on using "low technology" (duh?) a.k.a the technology that we are familiar with and perhaps too familiar with in our lives as ordinary people. Some of the works were multiples pieces or installation pieces that employ very unique medium such as air fans and a massive yet light-weighted cube. (Pictured below)

"Metropolis Metaphor" Bei Kyong Lee 2014.

"Metropolis Metaphor" Bei Kyong Lee 2014.

This installation by the Korean artist Bei Kyong Lee is made of air motors and ultraschall sensor. I don't exactly understand how each of these media works, but basically, the sensors react to detect the position of the light cube that is floating over the air motors and make the air motors that are positioned just below the cube to work. As a result, the cube remains afloat in air and smoothly glides in air. 

Seeing something float is already a pretty surreal experience, but seeing that big of an air motor beneath the cube made me feel like I entered the hard drive of a computer. There is something ironic to using something as complicated as "ultraschell" sensors and motors to accomplish something that is as simple as the basic law in Physics, that forces make objects move. (I never took Physics, so don't quote me on this). I liked how smoothly and mysteriously this cube floated and glowed in air and how the volunteer at the museum had to occasionally come to touch up the air motor whenever this cube went a little crazy and the momentum pushed it outside of where air fans could reach. 

"Urban Creature- Galapagos" Lee Byung Chan 2014

"Urban Creature- Galapagos" Lee Byung Chan 2014

 

This one is a monster or an insect made of nylon bags, air mortor, LED light and optical fiber. The object moves, and makes those sounds that sort of resembles those of when I grab handful of dry leaves in autumn and rub them together- that sort of dry, light sound. When the light comes through the surface of this monster, the amazing colours become apparent, and it looks very very beautiful. The way this creature moves actually reminds me of Howl's Moving Castle: slow and heavy.

 

I actually forgot to write down the name of the artist and the title of the work for this one work, oops. But I like the juxtaposition between the florescent light and the stones. The way the light is set up resembles the movement of water, something much softer and more organic than the light itself.

"Skin Paster" Ji Hyun Jung 2014

"Skin Paster" Ji Hyun Jung 2014

I was super surprised when I saw this one piece- not because I could read the sentence in Korean (I couldn't,) but because the concept of the work was very very similar to one work that I created in IB Art back in November. 

I created out of post-it a mosaic of a Chinese politician and created a collage of about the same size as this piece by Ji Hyun Jung. The way the outline of each square is visible and how the size of  square is identical to one another is the exact same to how my mosaic looks, so I was surprised to see I came across a work of someone who had a very similar idea to me! 

This piece got my mom and I very confused the first time we saw it. At the start the scene looked like inside an ordinary house in Saturday afternoon or something- a chair, a tree, a bookshelf and a clock. But later, the scene begins to change to different seasons and the tree go through the transition through the four seasons. And at the end, when it reaches the winter, everything suddenly turns off, revealing that the whole scene was actually projected by a projector onto white outlines of a desk, table, a tree and a bookshelf. 

I feel like "low technology" can be worth as much as the "high technology" from the art standpoint. There are a lot of exhibitions focused on using the newest technology, but with creativity, more unexpected and exciting art can be created from low technology. 

I also saw A LOT of works by Nam Juik Paik during this Korea trip. I got very excited seeing his work everywhere because I researched about him for one of my art projects this semester and I really loved all of his pieces that I came across online. I had read that he is the founder of the Video art, but I didn't realize how popular and famous he was until I came to Korea and saw his works displayed in literally every single museum that I visited there. 

At this museum, though, the work was turned off, so unfortunately, I could only see and take a picture of the monitors turned off. I can only imagine how impressive the work looked if all the TVs were turned on and played videos. 

This is "Fatigue Always Comes with a Dream" by Yang Jung Uk 2013. 

This work shows a series of images on a TV of a man walking forward and backward. As the the man walks inside this TV, the TV moves, corresponding to the man's movement. This makes an unnatural feeling because the audience knows it's the TV moving and not the man moving. 

This piece made me think about unnecessary use of technology and our obsession with technology and innovation today. Now that I think about it, it's sort of funny how obsessed we are with technology... It really makes me think I should go on a tech cleanse sometime soon. 

I should get back to my sleep now... Tomorrow I will be going to visit Wang Jian Wei's studio and interviewing him! Keep and eye out for the interview articles!