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Re: <nettime> Lin Yilin
dan s wang on Fri, 30 Nov 2007 19:41:44 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Lin Yilin

Hi Brian and David, excellent observations.

>As Lin himself says:
> > the rapidly
> > popular art market also brings the trial to the artists. Chinese
> > contemporary artists take the risk to change the isolated status
> > suddenly to become brand name stars. If Chinese contemporary art
> > cannot develop a particular theory, then ultimately they would only
> > be expensive craftwork for this period of history.
>The kind of theory that Lin is talking about will be written in Chinese,
>to address the complexities of a national/imperial situation involving
>1.3 billion people. Nobody but the Chinese artists and intellectuals can
>do that, and I suspect that as the construction and consumption boom
>tops out, enough people will become disgusted with the prevailing
>euphoria and greed to start forming the kinds of marginal circles and

Right you are, but then the question becomes, Who and What are
Chinese? Seems like an important question, if the 'Chinese' artists
and intellectuals are the ones who need to step up, and the fate of
Chinese contemporary art hangs in the balance.

So what are the indicators of Chinese-ness? Spoken language? Written
language? Place of birth? Place of residence? Values? 'Culture'? None
of these things fix identities, right? Even the most rigid of Chinese
cultural products, the written language, now exists in two mature
forms, Simplified and Traditional, supported by two infrastructures.

Xu Bing absorbed the fluidity of the written language when he was a
schoolboy learning his characters. Over a few years period in the
mid-fifties, the CCP government systematized the written language in
a simplified form, which is now the standard mainland form. Except
it didn't happen all at once, and there were some reversals and many
adjustments. The absurdity of fixed meanings became clear to Xu then,
having to learn the same character a couple of times. No doubt the
ridiculousness of it all was emphasized by the rote instructional
style of China's schools. 'Do it this way.' Next year: 'No, do it
*this* way! What's wrong with you!' (Does knowing how idiotic a
teacher can sound, but still figuring out a way to please him [and my
parents] make me Chinese? If you say yes, and know what I am talking
about, then you, too, are Chinese--even if you are Jewish, even if you
are Arab.)

Yes, the theories that show the way out of the capitalist art-orgy
going on now in China will need to be produced by those able to
address the complexities. But those very complexities also serve
to privilege a particular group. No, not the Chinese artists and
intellectuals as a whole, but a subset of them: the ones who are
inside and outside, who have known in their fiber the intensity
of mainland living, ie for the older, the political upheaval, the
deprivations, and for the younger and older both, the surreal pace of
development. But people who also can see the global impact and image
of China, of things Chinese, who understand the reach of China's
gargantuan production and, increasingly, its voracious appetites.
Who are these people? A fractured group with the common experience
of displacement and self-conscious identification (Chinese...and
something else--Canadian? Hong Kong? Shanghainese? Beijinger? Thai?
American?). The artists and intellectuals who have done that new
thing in China--being mobile--and moved around within China by the
thousands, some of them qualify. The overseas Chinese artists and
intellectuals, some of them. And some of the expats who have made
China their new home (all those European gallerists, they don't know
that they are turning Chinese--with every tough price negotiation,
even more so.)

The minute artists from China step outside the country, and especially
into the West, they become a 'Chinese artist' making 'contemporary
Chinese art.' They were always Chinese, but never *that* Chinese.
That is not to say that identity does not exist as an issue in
China. It does, but more on a personal-political level than on a
discursive level. Forget grand theories, even everyday prejudices are
a big problem in China, but with the language of collectivism still
strictly monopolized by the state, there is hardly any way to openly
wrangle with issues of identity, much less experiment with different
ways and forms of identification. Speaking as one myself, I wish I
could assure all that the 'diasporically' Chinese stand to make a
contribution here, having negotiated Western perception for at least
the whole history of Revolutionary China. Unfortunately, I would say
that negotiation has mostly been a disappointment, and that in its
latest chapter, the privileging of identity discourses in the Western
intelligentsia has limited the political potential of the diaspora
rather than expanded it. Having bought into the liberal framework
and conventionally understood itself as a minority rather than as a
diaspora, the global dimension has only ever surfaced in times of
radical activity. So the diaspora needs China as much as China needs
the diaspora. That is another thing the business people have always

Could it be that one of those sorely-needed 'secret languages' in
China is (along with the speaking in tongues of the more esoteric
forms of qigong) some yet-to-be articulated radical business-speak?
(These artists in China who open restaurants--are they onto something,
or just serving the bourgeois before, during, and after the gallery
opening?) Maybe that is a language we could all use....

dan w.

>>  http://prop-press.vox.com/

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