Front row from left: Fion Gunn, Denise Keele-Bedford
Back row from left: Mary Mackey, Niamh Cunningham, Chen Meitsen, Raine Hozier Byrne, Huang Du, Ma Yanling, Gao Yuan, Gail Ritchie, Rikki van den berg
'Intimate Revolution: Discourse in Disappointment' exhibition - Siemens Art Space, 798, Beijing (March 2015) photo: Annie Hastie
In early 2014 I was invited by Harry Liu editor in chief of ArtZip magazine to be feature editor for the Spring/summer 2015 edition. ArtZip is for sale at a number of high profile venues: Tate Modern, Whitechapel & in many galleries in 798. It is the only international bilingual Chinese/English contemporary art magazine.
I was keen to address the issue of the artist as curator and a number of related areas such as the gender rebalancing of public collections, cross-cultural collaboration and audience engagement. The curation of Intimate Transgressions has been informed and shaped by my work as an artist.
Below is an excerpt from the rationale I wrote for the edition.
"The following is a subjective and to some degree anecdotal view of artist curatorial practice, I don’t expect that everyone will agree with me and I will probably feel guilty for being critical of those individuals I’ve named and ‘slated’ if ever I run into them in the future. I have interviewed a number of my fellow artist curators who are quoted in this article and carried out a questionnaire amongst art practitioners and the general public, so this is in a sense, a micro sample of what is happening on a global scale.
The situation is not binary, it’s not about either/or, surely the art world will be a better environment from having a diversity of curatorial and authorial voices? There are many talented and valuable non-artist curators out there, both institutional and independent, whose skills benefit artists enormously and there are a number of concerns which many of us share i.e.
· how to make art available for the widest audience possible without compromising on quality and innovativeness
· how to facilitate diverse practices and diverse viewpoints
· how to gender rebalance public (and private) collections of contemporary art
· how to achieve positive interaction of international and local art & artists
These issues will be explored later on by a range of artist curators, as well as Marko Daniel, curator of public programmes at Tate Modern and Huang Du an independent curator who works in Europe and China. The interviewees do not necessarily agree on every point but I was surprised and cheered by the level of consensus on the key concerns.
Most artist curators are not academics, although I am sure that we can sound as arcane and obscure as the next art world person. I am writing this editorial simply as a practitioner who works with other artists and artist-curators in the UK, Ireland and China. Like all those interviewed, I came to curation through my work as an artist and see the two aspects of my practice as interrelated and mutually enhancing. I am committed to cross-cultural collaborations and making the experience of art available to everyone, however I’m not a joiner, I don’t have affiliations with artist led organisations or institutions even when I work with individuals who have. I have, of course, repeat collaborations with associations, organisations or individuals but these are on a project by project basis.
Artist curators are usually independent. We don’t have institutional obligations, commercial interests or ties, instead we have intellectual freedom, a wide ranging skill set and ongoing financial precariousness – one can’t have everything.
So why is the artist as curator an issue at all? What do we bring to the experience of exhibitions that is any different from the academic, the writer, the museum custodian who dominates the current scene?
The vast majority of artist curators, are not rich, not famous and certainly not like the so called ‘Super-curators’ listed in the eponymous section. The term is both dubious and worrying, growing out of a celebrity culture that often has a damaging, alienating effect on public perception of what art means to society.
In the section on Emerging Curatorial Models it was very interesting to observe how the issues of inclusiveness and diversity are increasingly important for non-artist curators both independent and institutional. However, I suspect that the awareness on their part may have been inspired by the new accountability required when public funding is involved whereas with most artist curators these are deeply held personal values. Institutions also run the risk of media scrutiny in an age where exposure spreads like wildfire on social media sites and Culture Ministries can ask awkward questions.
Accountability is also key in an area which needs urgent attention – the extreme gender imbalance in contemporary public art collections. It is heartening that many public institutions like Tate Modern are taking this matter seriously. So they should, in 2013, 83% of the artists in their collection were male! Artist curators are very aware of this issue, many of us are women and we are serious about redressing the balance. We are also doing this more efficiently than our institutional partners because we are operating at a more ‘grass roots’ level.
In a Chinese context it is worth mentioning the inevitable impact of having a largely male intake in the fine arts departments of universities. This has a knock on effect of making any post graduate networking male dominated. From my own observation I don't think that this is due to any particular sexism or an overt desire to exclude women, that is a much more ‘gallery’’ phenomenon. Simply, most artists who are men, know other artists who are men and therefore tend to move in those circles.
Some years back when I became really concerned about having a 90% male participation list proposed by my Chinese collaborators, I spoke very candidly with my co-curator Zheng Xuewu (who is also an artist) and asked him to find me some women artists to include. He promised to do his best, and he did! Next time I went to China I had 7 women artists to include in the shows which brought the percentage level up to about 40%. Of course once you have one woman artist involved they are happy to suggest their peers, who are mainly women....... institutions need to do much more proactive outreach!
So perhaps for artist curators the tide is turning, in many publicly funded museums and galleries a more respectful, facilitative curatorial approach is becoming common. At the time of writing this article the Hayward Gallery had invited 7 artists to curate History Is Now: 7 Artists Take On Britain an exhibition which explored 70 years of cultural and social history from their uniquely personal perspectives. I went to the exhibition and interviewed a number of the artists; these interviews are included later in the feature.
Participating artist Anita Glesta was interviewed recently by Yale Radio during which she spoke about her involvement with the project. Follow this link to hear the whole interview:
I have just read a very eloquent article written by Anish Kapoor about his sculpture 'Dirty Corner' in the gardens of Versailles which was recently vandalised.
I quote "Political violence however is not the same as artistic violence. This political vandalism uses an “art material” (paint) to make actual violence. It could have been a bomb or a hood thrown over someone’s head to kidnap them. Artistic violence is generative, political violence destructive. Artistic violence may scream at the tradition of previous generations. It may violently overturn what was before but in so doing it follows a long tradition of re-generation. It always, however, advances the language of art. Political violence, seeks erasure. Its aim is the removal of the offending idea, person, practice or thing. Simplistic political views are offended by the untidiness of the art object. In this context Art must be seen as obscene and destroyed."
Anish Kapoor - 19 June 2015
The distinction Kapoor makes between the aim of political violence i.e. erasure and the aim of artistic violence which is to advance the language of art is a very telling one. Our Intimate Transgressions exhibition is not seeking to offend anyone for the sake of giving offence, although there probably will be some people who are offended by it, the intention is very different. In keeping with Kapoor's interpretation the exhibition - the artworks in it will be generative and questioning, we hope to advance the language of art, the discourse around sexual violence and 'othering'.
Comment by Fion Gunn 25 June 2015
Beautiful e-book of Chen Qingqing's work featured in her recent solo show in Beijing.
Ma Yan Ling
"My name is Ma Yan Ling , I'm an artist who comes from Beijing. I have been doing art performance for many years. When I was doing my live art performance named " Gun" in Tian An Men square. I was holding a gun while walking in the crowds and ignoring people's eye contact. When I stood in front of the Tian An Men building, and held gun right next to my head. I felt my heart rushed out from my body, my blood was burning. I was extremely excited. You can see freedom and happiness in my smile. As a female artist, the happiest thing for me is that both body and soul are free. "
Participating artist Chen Meitsen describes her approach to making an artwork for Intimate Transgressions.
Chen Meitsen working on her FORMOSA ORCHID series
Formosa Orchid is inspired by the trauma of Taiwanese women caused during and after the Second World War. These women endured in silence all their lives both in body and mind, the deep impact of barbarity.
With this inspiration came the desire to create Formosa Orchid - a pristine flower shape which is carefully stitched and seamed with white lambskin as symbol of sacrifice; it exposes an elegant fragility which references the female genital. The folds of ‘skin’ are splashed and stained with red and violet in an inventive composition of abstract forms, which resemble a map of furrowed scars. Hanging on a meat hook like a carcass at the butcher's, ready for consumption, Orchid reveals the suffering caused by internalised conflict and nightmarish memories on this most intimate territory.
Orchid is not a random creation or a simple reference to historical fact, it follows on from my previous body of work - Suture. That series was an exploration of trauma and included artistic research about the nature of disclosure and of the organic imprint of Memory. Responding to the psychological environment from an artistic perspective I feel deep concern about sexual violence which is so damaging and so commonplace.
Formosa Orchid is my protest against the world which is descending into a state of chaos.
Participating artist Atsuko Nakamura speaks of her response to the issues touched on in 'Intimate Transgressions'
Why society cannot eradicate sensual violence, although it has been 70 years from "comfort women" during WWII?
Nowadays the victims of sexual violence in Japan are often young children rather than adult women.
The fundamental motivation of this crime i.e. someone's distorted and arbitrary desire to hurt someone physically and mentally is not changed, but why it is repeated?
The border of conscious and unconscious is the theme of my recent practice, the aim is to highlight and raise awareness of things which no one may have noticed before. As a Japanese person, I would like to explore the issue of sexual violence towards young children, to focus on what lies behind this crime and its impact as well as the 'mind control' by media and economic disparity which exacerbates its occurance.
Atsuko Nakamura June 2015
Participating Artist Niamh Cunningham describes the making of her artwork for Intimate Transgressions.
I first met Niamh in Beijing in 2011 where she cut a striking figure with her golden hair. The following March 2012 she had completed a wonderful knitted 'Pillar of Time' which stood over 3m high and made a wonderful centrepiece for the exhibition I was curated in Siemens Art Space, 798.
For this exhibition Niamh has literally been pulling her hair out to produce an artwork of wonderful intricacy - a padlock made with hair. The short film she has made is a really eloquent narrative of her approach to making the work and the inspiration behind it.
In 2005 in the course of an artist's residency in Beijing I first encountered Chen Qingqing's work and knew immediately that this was an artist with whom I wanted to work. The multilayered nature of her practice, its delicate, refined aesthetic combined with a sense of acuity, a fearlessness in confronting uncomfortable truths about gender, history, the nature of violence & suffering, resonates powerfully with the concept of 'Intimate Transgressions'
Qingqing's artwork for the New York Exhibition is an exquisite pillow woven from plant fibres and packed in an old suitcase, a metaphor for the lives of women in war all over the world; a memory of home, love, normality when destruction lies all around and then penetrates within.
The image below, from Qingqing's solo show is that of a cradle, shimmering and tactile yet replete with disturbing organic growths.
For more images follow this link: http://www.ccartd.com/zt/cqqdhmyx/index.html
Review by Clare Pennington in Timeout Beijing
Comment by Fion Gunn
This film documents the creative response of artist Michael Lisle-Taylor to the theme of 'Intimate Transgressions'.
I first saw Michael's work and heard him speak about his practice a number of years ago, during the course of a seminar hosted by the Group for War and Culture Studies at University of Westminster (London). I was deeply impressed not only by the works themselves, but by his approach to and analysis of very complex ethical issues. When I set about selecting artists for this exhibition he was one of the artists at the top of my list. His perspective on the military (he served 12 years in the Navy before going to art college) gives his work an authority and a veracity which is vital if we are to engage seriously with the issue of how sexual violence has become military strategy. Michael gives an insightful male perspective in 'Intimate Transgressions' and provides a subtle complementarity and counterpoint to the female artists' voices.
Comment by Fion Gunn