Inside-Out Practice|Series of interviews with authors from Yishu #3

Sophia Kidd

Dr. Sophia Kidd is Associate Research Fellow at Sichuan University, where she researches classical Chinese aesthetic theory and literature; as well as the implications of this aesthetic theory on China’s contemporary political economy of culture. She read for her B.A. in Philosophy at University of California: Santa Cruz where she studied History of Consciousness with Prof. David C. Hoy and Philosophy of Religion with Prof. Robert Goff. Her M.A. in Classical Chinese Literature at Sichuan University was studied under Pre-Qin specialist Prof. Liu Liming, and her Ph.D. was read under Prof. Zhou Yukai, specialist in Song Dynasty literature and  Chan poetry. She publishes mainly on regional aesthetics, focusing on Southwest China. Her upcoming book on how culture paves the New Silk Roads(also known as the One Belt One Road or Belt and Road Initiative)discusses political economies of culture and arts infrastructure in the sixty-plus nations and territories along the New Silk Roads.

1. What is your story with Yishu journal?  When did you start writing for Yishu?

I was sitting in a cafe, 2010, just outside the First Ring Road South in Chengdu, Sichuan in 2010. For some reason that was the day I got up the nerve to pitch Yishu on Chengdu performance art. Zhu Gang, one of the 1990’s 719 Artists Alliance and Keepers of the Water, had just done a new work, The Crucial Inch, the night before at sunset next to a fountain in front of Renhe Department Store on Third Ring Road West. I wanted to share what was going on, and Keith Wallace was interested. Keith hooked me up with Maya Kosvkaya, who had been writing for years about Chinese performance artists including Dai Guangyu, unofficial “leader” of 719 and Keepers performance art collectives. Even though Dai Guangyu left Chengdu for Beijing in 2004, new generations of artists in Chengdu were actively making performances. Keith wanted someone new “on the ground,” reporting on the scene, so I’ve been writing about Chengdu since then, and have grown as a writer. Many thanks to Yishu‘s excellent peer-review editorial department. It’s been an honor.


2. How many articles have you published in Yishu?  What are they about?

I’ve published 8 articles with Yishu. They’re all about contemporary art in Southwest China. I started out with ‘deep hang’ research, just reporting on the four Chengdu performance art collectives highly active from 2010 through 2016. Later, as Chengdu grew more prestigious in the international art market, and more foreign actors appeared on the scene, I wrote about what this does for and to the local art ecology. Now, as China’s cultural policy for the New Silk Roads’s fifth pillar, “People-to-people connections (民心相通),” invests in arts infrastructure and cultural heritage in Southwest  China, we see a shift in cultural geography. It’s exciting to be a part of these transformations, and, again, I’ve loved writing about these phenomena and issues for Yishu


3. Why do you choose to write for Yishu? In what ways do you think Yishu distinguishes itself from other art journals?  What is particularistic about Yishu?

I fell in love with the physical format of Yishu one day in Bellingham, WA at a Barnes and Nobles. I paid the US $17 for it and devoured every article. Within a year, I was writing for Yishu. I love its emphasis on new and emerging writers.


4. What is it like to work with Yishu’s editors?

Great question. As I mentioned in my first answer above, I have thoroughly enjoyed growing as a writer under the direction of Yishu’s peer-review editorial department. Thoughtful comments and efficient process conveyed a sense of ease and collaboration.


5. What is your research area?  What have you been working on recently?

These days I’m writing about the political economy of culture in China, and how this will extend past China’s borders throughout the New Silk Road regions. I’m just bringing out a book with Palgrave/MacMillan (forthcoming 2021), Culture Paves the New Silk Roads.


6. The inaugurating issue of Yishu in 2002 posed a series of questions to prominent art practitioners in Chinese contemporary art.  Now that Yishu has arrived at its milestone of 100 issues, we’d like to pose some of these questions to you: What are your thoughts regarding the situation of art and culture in China today?  What does Chinese art and culture mean to you?  What does “China” mean to you?  

I’m optimistic about the situation of art and culture in China today. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to gain a sense of the regional nature of Chinese contemporary art, to understand that Southwest China, for example, has its own historiography of Chinese contemporary art.

Chinese art and culture, for me, include rigorous study of classical Chinese thought and aesthetics, beginning with the pre-Qin periods, looking at all the dynastic histories and local Gazeteers. This question is broad, but I’ll just point out how important the study of Chinese art and culture is for the future of geocultural development.

I think Keith Wallace put it really well on Zoom the other night in his talk for Inside-Out Art Museum, when he raised the question, “What China?” I would prefer to use the binary “Sinitic and non-Sinitic,” really, rather than “East and West,” or “China and the West,” I mean, if we have to use binaries.[1]


7. What are your thoughts regarding the situation of art criticism today?

Well, I think one has always had to sift through the dross and pay attention to rapid shifts in cultural spaces. It’s hard to find writers of substance, but incredibly rewarding when one does. There needs to be more of a platform for Chinese art critics to engage English-speaking audiences, so that some of the grand narratives of contemporary Chinese art can be challenged in the interest of inclusivity and aesthetic diversity.


8. Keith Wallace has posed a question in the 100th edition of Yishu, and we’d like to pose the same question to you: What are the most significant developments that have taken place in contemporary Chinese art in the past two decades in terms of the art produced and systems it functions within?

I think that, ultimately, the most important development in contemporary Chinese art over the past twenty to thirty years will be the development of eco-aesthetic theory in a Chinese philosophical context. This is definitely being developed in various forms of live art in China, from performance art to new media, spoken word, experimental video and experimental sound. So much is being conceptually delimited in these works while being untracked by the art market.


[1] Editors’ note: Exhibition From Art to Yishu, From Yishu to Art (2020.12.19-2021.5.9) at the Inside-Out Art Museum held a series of three conversations, inviting Yishu’s Founding Manager Zheng Shengtian, Founding Editor-in-Chief (2002-2004) Ken Lum, and Editor-in-Chief (2004-2020) Keith Wallace to share their experience in and of Yishu through Zoom. In the third conversation, Keith Wallace gave a talk entitled “What China?” on January 23, 2021.

Interview Planning: Liu Yusi, Huang Wenlong
Interview Translation:Ninjia
Proof-reading:Liu Qian, Liu Yusi, Zhang Ligeng, Huang Wenlong
Post Editing: Liu Qian
Design: Onion

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