Inside-Out Practice|Series of interviews with authors from Yishu #10

The exhibition From Art to Yishu, From Yishu to Art has been successfully concluded. We would like to thank Zheng Shengtian, Ken Lum, Keith Wallace, Stephanie Bailey, Julie Chun, Sophia Kidd, Pauline Yao, Britta Erickson, Kate Steinmann, Patricia Eichenbaum Karetzky, Mia Yu, Jo-Anne Birnie-Danzker, Jane DeBevoise, Julie Grundvig, Martina Koppel-Yang, Diana Freundl, Rebecca Catching, Liu Qian, Diao Xue, Ni Jia, Chen Jiashu, Zhu Tianyi, Wei Qi and the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre for their wonderful support and help.

We will continue to publish "The Journey to Becoming Yishu's Writers" in the next two months. Many of them are experienced biennial curators as well as art historians and active art critics. We hope to not only get inspired from their experiences of writing, but also to approach Yishu as a valuable case study in the art publishing ecosystem.

Carol Yinghua Lu

Carol Yinghua Lu is an art historian and curator. She is director to the Beijing Inside-Out Art Museum. She is the contributing editor for Frieze and is on the advisory board for the Exhibitionist. Lu was on the jury for the Golden Lion Award at the 2011 Venice Biennale and on the jury for the Filipino National Pavilion of 2018 Venice Biennale of Architecture. She was the co-artistic director of the 2012 Gwangju Biennale and co-curator of the 7th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale in 2012. From 2012 to 2015, she was the artistic director and chief curator of OCAT Shenzhen. She was the first visiting fellow in the Asia-Pacific Fellowship program at the Tate Research Centre in 2013 and was one of the first four ARIAH (Association of Research Institute in Art History) East Asia Fellows in 2017.

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

I became involved with Yishu through the recommendation of the curator Jo-Anne Birnie-Danzker. In March 2006, I was in Berlin at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt for an international symposium entitled “Cultural Memory”, where I gave a presentation on “Fragmented Memory and Energy: Contemporary Chinese Art and its Mulilayered Ideologies”. When I was having lunch at the cafe, a kind lady came up to me with a tray, told me how much she enjoyed my speech, and asked if we could have lunch together. This humble and kind stranger was Jo-Anne Birnie-Danzker, then director of Villa Stuck Museum, Munich, Germany. Jo-Anne had worked with Mr. Zheng Shengtian, the director of Yishu, for many years and later I had the opportunity to meet him for the first time in Shanghai. Jo-Anne warmly introduced me and my speech to him and I had the opportunity to compile this speech into an article that was published in the second issue of Yishu in 2006. That’s how I went from being a reader of Yishu to being a contributor.


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

I have not published many articles in Yishu, counting more than ten pieces, some of which were written in collaboration with other authors. They are mainly the descriptions of the art scenes; a few articles go deeper into the career path of artists and other pieces discuss curatorial methods and perspectives. In retrospect, essays written at different stages reflect my concerns at different stages.


3. Why do you choose to write for Yishu? What do you think are the characteristics of Yishu? In what ways do you think Yishu distinguishes itself from other art journals?

Having worked on several art publications, I deeply understand how difficult it is to run one. In 2007, I was invited by Xia Jifeng and Zuo Jing to be a co-founder and co-editor of Contemporary Art & Investment.  This monthly magazine was a sister publication to another magazine, Art & Investment, so the word “investment” was kept in the name of this magazine, but the former was serious and in-depth from the design of the columns to the specific content.As a co-editor, I worked with Zuo Jing for several years and wrote a column in it. It was only after the journal stopped publishing that I realized how much the Chinese art industry lacked a platform to give voice to high-quality art creation and art discourse.

Since 2008, I have become a guest editor for Frieze, London, for which I have written many exhibition reviews, artist profiles, and feature articles on the Chinese art scene. However, these articles represent such a small percentage of the overall content that it is difficult to generate sufficient discussion. This experience has allowed me to look at Yishu from the perspective of the writers and the art publishing ecosystem.

I think Yishu is an indispensable platform in the entire art ecology. Compared with English-language art publications such as Frieze and Artforum, which only sporadically report on the scene of Chinese contemporary art, Yishu takes Chinese contemporary art as the entirety of its content and gives considerable attention to its historical perspective. Yishu is editorially flexible, always intentionally trying to get close to what is happening on-site and the artists, providing sufficient space for appropriate creation, and respecting serious content. These are all Yishu’s most precious qualities.


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

Communication with the editors of Yishu is always a very smooth process. They are trusting and caring to the authors. They review the articles carefully and make detailed changes, and give the authors a chance to respond to the editors’ changes. They never grow tired of revising and each article is always of a high standard after several rounds of back and forth editorial comments. Every payment of manuscript fees is also timely, and all these small details reflect the professionalism of an editorial team.


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

Since 2013, I have been working primarily with artist and curator Liu Ding on a research project entitled “Echoes of Socialist Realism”. In this research, we use Socialist Realism as a thread to re-examine and reassess its continuing influence on cultural values as a philosophy of the organization of social life. To do so, we return to the ideological point of origin, broadening the dimension of our examination of the contemporary art practice in China to pre-1976, back to around 1949, and placing art in a parallel track to the history of ideas. What we examine is the process by which Socialist Realism, as a creative technique, an aesthetic principle, a way of thinking, and a dissemination mechanism that was commonly adopted and internalized under strong ideological control, accompanied the modernization process of Chinese art from its explicit existence to its gradual invisibility and even becoming an object of criticism and abandonment. It has itself become internalized as a major ideological basis for art creation and art discourse today.

Our study of how the inherent epistemological logic and underlying political motivations of socialist realism have become the main potential ideological resources and threads of recent contemporary art practice in China forces us to confront the fact that the main narratives and ideological strands that have constituted Chinese history for more than half a century have been acting as ideological mechanisms in the field of contemporary art. We attempt to return to political and cultural histories and contexts that we have never looked at in detail, in order to obtain hints and information that will answer questions such as how we practice and how we represent ourselves.

Since we curated the exhibitions “Little Movements: Self-Practice in Contemporary Art” in 2010 and “Accidental Message: Art is not a System, not a World” in 2012, we have been exploring and investigating the ideological mechanisms that shape and form creative orientations and values in the field of contemporary art. An iterative exploration of our historical trajectory and outlook has become an urgent task. Researching socialist realism is a natural development of this direction of work and is related to the desire for self-knowledge in an opaque social context. We are not content to stop our research work at tracing the past but always use research as a way to discover and understand today’s ideological resources, to restore the deep ideological structures as much as possible, and to unfold the narrative through the creation of works, writings, and exhibition.


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?

In China, the creation and discursive practices of contemporary art have been disturbed by their own legitimacy, and have been making various attempts to clarify and describe their place in the political and cultural landscape of contemporary China and in global history.

To some degree, contemporary art practices are unsure about its identity, waiting for a certain external examiner. It is this absence of self-perception that accounts for that kind of critics and narratives on contemporary art, which alienates us from our identities, and thus we become the other of self.

Ideologies and the market system, while telling truths, are also creating illusions. How to dispel these illusions and identify the self have become such pressing issues for all creators.

In the Chinese art world, people are overly superstitious about theories and achievements from abroad, mistaking them for universal experiences and creeds. They fail to see that there are many high-quality studies and discoveries in the field of Chinese contemporary art and in other disciplines, not least of which are unattainable by foreign scholars and are very relevant and concrete experiences with pioneering methodological results.

In order to confront specifically the issues and experiences of China, I started a series of lectures on “China as an Issue” at Inside-Out Art Museum in 2018, and compiled a journal of the same name two years later, with a hope to stimulate interest in advocating for viewing oneself and thinking deeply about one’s own issues.

In this series of lectures and publications, we do not limit ourselves to inviting Chinese scholars to talk about China or international issues, but also invite international scholars to talk about issues in China, or to design international topics about China. We hope to focus not only on China from a global perspective, but also on the global perspective from China, sharing the process of exchanging ideas. In my opinion, “China” is a topic that is always under discussion and an object that needs to be constantly fleshed out.


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

Current reports and reviews are generally dominated by the art market and popular discourse, lacking knowledge of academic trends in the art world and art history, as well as art theoretical literacy, which makes it difficult to produce independent and constructive opinions and reviews.


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?

Regarding this question, I co-authored an essay with Liu Ding, which is published in the 100th edition of Yishu. You are welcome to refer to this issue.

Interview Planning: Liu Yusi, Huang Wenlong
Interview Translation:Wei Qi
Proof-reading:Zhu Tianyi, Zhou Boya, Zhang Ligeng, Huang Wenlong
Post Editing: Liu Qian
Design: Onion

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