Interview with the curators Melanie Lum and Shi Zheng
How do you find the creative conditions for contemporary active artists born in 1960–80?
Each generation of Chinese artists has experienced a lot of social reform and change in their lifetimes. Deng Xiaoping (leader of the People's Republic of China 1978–89) initiated the “Open Door Policy” in the late 1970s, which allowed foreign businesses to trade and invest in China. This policy not only transformed China's economy but also its culture. With the opening up of trade, Western culture flowed into the country for the first time in many decades. Chinese artists became influenced by Western contemporary art, and the first wave of internationally recognised contemporary Chinese art was a movement that is known as “Political Pop” or “Cynical Realism”. This movement won great exposure all around the world in the 1990s and 2000s, and was generally associated with social and/or political commentary. Although this movement received a lot of media coverage and curatorial interest, there are many Chinese artists born since the 1960s with unique practices, who do not belong to this movement. The creative conditions change as the country evolves.
The Chinese state has always existed in a kind of symbiosis with art, from the time of the Imperial dynasties to the Communist era. Can you describe the current leadership’s view on artistic policy?
The current government seems to be supportive of contemporary art. For instance, there has been an explosion of public and private museums in all provinces across China over the last five years. Local governments have even created special art districts, such as Beijing's 798 and Shanghai's West Bund, which are home to Chinese and Western galleries and museums.
Historically, China has been a rather isolated country, in every sense of the word. Is there a distinctively Chinese style in terms of style and subject matter, or has Chinese art integrated itself within the international style and context? Is there a specifically Chinese strain of art, or are there merely Chinese artists?
China is a geographically large and diverse country with over 5,000 years of history, which makes it one of the world's earliest civilisations. Therefore, it's hard to say whether there is some uniform “Chinese art”. Rather, there have been many popular styles of art, from the many dynasties of the Imperial era all the way to modern China. However, in Chinese art history, the style of landscape painting known as “山水” (which translated literally means “mountains and streams”) has always played a very important role in shaping the cultural ideology. The exhibition explores this concept of “山水”, and we hope that viewing it will give the Swedish audience a better understanding of it.
What kind of soil did the generation you’re presenting in this exhibition germinate in?
The artists were all born in China, but their life experiences vary greatly. Some have moved back and forth between the US and China for several decades, while others have lived in China all their lives.
Why do you think Chinese art is having such a huge breakthrough right now?
We believe that now that China has become one of the world’s largest economies, its own people and the people of the rest of the world are taking a growing interest in its contemporary art, both as a window into the society and as a way to understand the people.