- 2012elections - 9/11 Special Coverage - aca - africanamericanalzheimers - aids - Alabama News Network - american - Awards & Expo - bees - bilingual - border - californiaeducation - Caribbean - cir - citizenship - climatechange - collgeinmiami - community - democrats - ecotourism - Elders - Election 2012 - elections2012 - escuelas - Ethnic Media in the News - Ethnicities - Events - Eye on Egypt - Fellowships - food - Foreclosures - Growing Up Poor in the Bay Area - Health Care Reform - healthyhungerfreekids - howtodie - humiliating - immigrants - Inside the Shadow Economy - kimjongun - Latin America - Law & Justice - Living - Media - memphismediaroundtable - Multimedia - NAM en Espaol - Politics & Governance - Religion - Richmond Pulse - Science & Technology - Sports - The Movement to Expand Health Care Access - Video - Voter Suppression - War & Conflict - 攔截盤查政策 - Top Stories - Immigration - Health - Economy - Education - Environment - Ethnic Media Headlines - International Affairs - NAM en Español - Occupy Protests - Youth Culture - Collaborative Reporting

Half-Life of a Dream: Chinas Modern Art

New America Media, Q&A, Jeff Kelley in conversation with Mary Ambrose Posted: Aug 05, 2008

Editors Note: The Half-Life of a Dream is the title of a new show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art that goes deep into the psyche and heart of China's modern art, some of the most exciting contemporary art in the world. Curator Jeff Kelley joined Mary Ambrose to explore its themes of national and personal dreams.

The Olympic slogan is "One Dream, One World" and yet, this show almost perfectly illustrates how the national dream of Mao's China is in decay.

It is. During the time of Mao, roughly from the '50s to the '80s, artists in China were tasked with the representation of what I call "The State Dream." The state dream was Mao's dream of China, which was a collective dream of China in the sense that everybody was supposed to dream the same dream.

Since he died in 1976 and as China began to open up in the '80s, my sense is that the state dream has decayed in its hold and power, hence the title Half-Life of a Dream. In its place has emerged a whole array of what I think of as dream states offered by individual artists through their works.

Are these artists all post Mao?

The oldest is 65. [Artists that age], their whole life has been circumscribed by the revolution. On the other hand there are many artists in their mid-30s. Their memory of those times is a second order memory, through media, photographs, newspapers, and even now the Internet.

So they're living with the dream of Mao as reinterpreted, and resisting that with their own dream states.

That's the thesis of the show. But inherent in the work is the experiences of individual artists. I'm not suggesting that an American style dream, in which we believe the individual dreams of him or herself, move the society forward, whether that's true or not, that's our national mythology about dreaming.

And it's the mythology of the Olympics.

Is it? I'm wondering if it is. The theme is "One World, One Dream." To me, that suggests the continuation of collective dreaming from China.

Many of the artists, when I asked them if there is a possible American style dream in China, predicated on the individual, they all say, no. There is a lot of entrepreneurialism in China right now, but in a collective sense, as in, "everybody get rich." I think that Mao's collective dream of China still has a grip on the imagination and psyche of the Chinese people. There's still a sense of collective dreaming. I think the Olympics and the slogan, "One World, One Dream," reminds us that there is still a need in China to dream collectively. It's how the nation moves forward.

I don't know that an American style dreaming based on individual effort or merit would be appropriate for China. But artists do work individually. The contemporary artists in China, in the wake of the time they were required as artists to represent the state dream and toe the party line by telling the story of the nation, in a collective sense -- idealized its leaders, and showed rosy-cheeked peasants and grand industrial production and all of that kind of propaganda. In the wake of all that artists were still artists. In the late 80s and throughout the mid-'90s they still wanted to make art, but they no longer had to represent the state dream.

If you were trained to paint Mao from the time you were a student, but you no longer had to paint Mao, who do you paint? My thesis is artists turned to themselves. They turned to their own likenesses. They turned to their own bodies. They had themselves, literally, at hand. When you don't have a tradition, as the Chinese didn't, of a vanguard modernism in which artists are expected to be unique and original, then all you have is yourself. The tradition they had was a tradition of propaganda.

The Sleep of Reason.

It's a fiberglass, oversized, very colorful sculpture of Mao laying on his side, as if asleep on his side like a baby, but at the same time like the sleeping Buddha, he's covered by a blue and white patterned peasant blanket, he's very cozy and he's sleeping on top of roiling tsunami like wave patterns composed of probably 15,000 luridly colored plastic toy dinosaurs. The dinosaurs are all seemingly moving in packs. They suggest perpetual revolution, mass movements, and a kind of social hysteria. They suggest the monsters that rumble beneath the level of somebody's slumber. So, you have sleeping Mao, i.e. sleeping Buddha, i.e. the Sleep of Reason, beneath which, madness is on the move.

Hung Liu [is] old enough to have remembered and experienced the Cultural Revolution firsthand, having been sent to the countryside for four years to work. Thus her work is a direct link to her own personal memory of that time. The painting is a big triptych, taken from a film that she saw as a child in China. The film is based on an incident in 1938, in which eight Chinese women soldiers fighting against the Japanese in northern China, find themselves with their backs against the river. Rather than surrender to the Japanese, they take their dying and wounded and go into the river and drown themselves. It's a real story and it's a very well known story among Chinese old enough to have grown up with this kind of patriotic, very sacrificial story telling.

We have been not, we shall be all.

The painting shows a sequence of them burying themselves into the water, [while] being shot at by the Japanese, just before they drown. The images look to me, rather like Michelangelo's Pieta, in the way they are carrying their wounded comrades.

Part of the painting also involves a DVD, which uses clips from the original film, as well as dripped painting that the artist did as part of the film. You can see and hear the patriotic music and the battle sounds and war cries. You can hear the patriotic speeches. It's a very moving little film of just five minutes, juxtaposed with the big three part panels of the painting.

She's trained, as many of the artists in the show have been, in the Socialist/Realist technique, which is essentially Soviet propaganda painting, oil painting that came into China in the '50s. Her drip techniques have long been thought of as washing away at that technique, loosening it up and having it drain like memory drains into history.

Mask Series No. 10

Zeng Fanzhi recently set an auction record in Hong Kong. One of his paintings about the Cultural Revolution from 1996 was auctioned off for 9.7 million dollars. Sky rocketing auction prices obscure the real psychological and cultural and historical resonance of these works.

The painting shows two men, dressed in suits. They have these masks on their faces, with big eyes. Two men, dressed in off-white suits, one has a blue tie, the other a yellow tie. One has apparently offered the other a red rose, and the person who was offered the rose is flustered and taken aback, but is sort of considering the proposal. The one who offered the rose is waiting for a reply. It's one of the few paintings I've ever seen in China of a same-sex intrigue - about what's the next move. It has a lot to do with the repression of feelings just beneath the surface.

China has always been visible to the West through some kind of mask.

*transcribed by Laurie Simmons

Arts and Entertainment

Thanks to Frida, SFMOMA Finally Draws Latino Crowd

Page 1 of 1




Just Posted

NAM Coverage

Chinese Media Watch