From Covert Scheme to Overt Scheme, Ju is the Key

Lu Huan

A Ju was set by Yuan Gong.

In usual context, this statement always infers a hint of conspiracy. It sounds like someone has secretly prepared everything, standing by to wait for the coming of the about-to-happen things. There is a sophisticated Ju setter versus a group of people all in the dark entrapped into it. However, when all plans of the Ju are made public and the setter and Ju-entrants are jointly brainstorming to make it a big event, this Ju turns from a Covert Scheme into an overt one. “Transparent Ju” is exactly an Overt Scheme of this kind.

There are two interpretations on “Transparent Ju.”

First, its promotional material says, “The expo ‘Transparent Ju’ is a contemporary art activity held in the pure land, Tibet. It will combine the traditional Chinese wit of ‘Ju’ into the contemporary art and the Tibetan cultural consciousness. It explores the artistic, cultural, religious and life values in the present globalization context, by the clue of contemporary artists.” In addition, we might as well use Tibetan logic to interpret it. Tibetan Buddhism also contains dualistic concepts, a good representative of which is the dual-practice. They are also reflected in the concepts of Yin and Yang, Calmness and Enlightenment, as well as Wisdom and Dharma-door. If the setting of the Ju is the embodiment of wisdom, the “transparent” approach should be the Dharma-door of practice, which aims at dissipating from people’s mind the mists of a mysterious imagination of Tibet. This is what “transparent” means.

Second, rhetorically, what “transparent” modifies is “Ju,” in other words, “Ju” itself is open and plain, being not only an Overt Scheme in value judgment, but also in fact a wholly open activity. What Yuan Gong planned out is a series of multi-faceted activities, which displayed more than isolated artistic works or even the expos for these works: it has showcased the several-month long activities themselves which involved five groups of people and three trips.

Nowadays, when art has approached sociology and art media theory has become increasingly heated, people’s focus has gradually shifted from work itself to the interaction relationship between the work and its surroundings, and the criteria to value an artistic work have transformed from what it expresses to what it disseminates. When a piece of art work and its previous life and afterlife are equally weighted, an “art event,” a more comprehensive concept containing more information, becomes increasingly popular. “Transparent Ju” has made a magnificent “art event” via the thorough tracking and recording of the media and the multi-directional display from concept to practice.

The development of Chinese contemporary art since 1980s has undergone three phases in mode transformation: from making works to making expos and to recent making events. The “Transparent Ju” organized by Yuan Gong can be seen as a commendable attempt at making an “art event.”

The whole 1980s is the experimental period for modern art languages and forms, and then individual experiments of artists became the mainstream. In retrospect, the art arena of this period was divided into some local schools, due to different local consciousnesses or different fields of attention at that time, such as Star Group in Beijing, Xiamen Dada Group, Scar Fine Arts of Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, etc. When it comes to the display forms, attention was still paid to artists’ individual experiments and their representative works. What we recorded, however, is a spectrum consisting of a group of typical artists and their representative works. Expos only perform a function to collect and coordinate these works. The artists’ experiments and critics’ criticism and theories jointly set the basic pace for the development of contemporary art in 1980s.

In 1990s, the contemporary art operation mode with work-criticism at its core slowly ebbed away as the contemporary art became underground and the art media collectively suffered from aphasia. In the meantime, with some artists going abroad and the consequent foreign-oriented contemporary art creations, expos aiming at foreign markets became the chief way to achieve the realization of contemporary art. Therefore, thanks to the modern expo modes, professional expos have become the center stage for artists to display their works. During this course, some theorists and critics have turned into curators, taking the academic expos as an import approach to practice their own theories. Most contemporary artists got accustomed to accomplish their works with the help of various expos, which was especially true for those conceptual artists. After that, with the large-scale comprehensive expos such as biennial and documentary expo becoming gradually popular, contemporary art began to find an access to returning to the center stage of art by combining with the administrative and cultural resources of where the expos were held, which symbolizes the coming of good days of the expo times of contemporary art dissemination.

During the past two decades, there always have been conflicts and interactions between the development of contemporary art and its surroundings. Art events that made a great stir took place every now and then, for example, some debates concerning art theories: debates in 1980s on the future of Chinese painting, arguments in 1990s on the role of blush and ink, and discussions at the beginning of the 21st century on post-colonialism which has become gradually popular, as well as some works that aroused heated arguments: Shooting Event triggered by Xiao Nu in the 89 Contemporary Art Exhibition, and where the moral bottom line of performance art lies debated at the beginning of the 21st century. In fact, an event refers to, by definition, a group of people and their words and deeds connected to one happening. There are always some reasons for the occurrence of an art event, but there are also uncertain factors in it. An art event derives itself from one art issue, but sometimes even achieves greater influence and effect beyond its starting point after a series of developments and transformations, with which such an event as a whole can be recorded in art history.

Inspired by performance art, the so-called concept of making art events is similar to the planning of the large-scale conceptual art, fond of by overseas artists. Its operation modes are closer to expo-curating modes, the only difference between which is the change from single expo to a multi-dimensional process display. Not only does making events consist of presupposition of concept and standpoint, but also contains presupposition and control of relevant relationships and elements. Take “Transparent Ju” as an example, with the expo at the core, a cultural exchange activity was originally planned with joint support of Tibet Culture Association and Y & G Artistic Organization. However, due to some uncertain factors, the original plan became unworkable. Therefore, Yuan Gong bravely adopted another mode: thorough recording of the trips to Tibet time and time again by successive groups of participants.  In every phase of the process, the organizer Y & G Artistic Organization has achieved some breakthroughs: First, with artists being organized to create works on spot, or accomplish works of installation art and performance art, the organizer not only participated in the process of art creation, but also helped to create some occasional art effects by providing certain situations, for example, the performance art work “Rest” done by Wu Yiqiang was an impromptu creation after the artist was moved by the performance art work, “Descending Luck” created by his group-mate Lu Shengzhong, which can be deemed as an occasional art. The inter-inspiration and interaction between artists broke through the old closed creation mode. Second, in the third phase, critics and artists were arranged by Yuan Gong to collect material for their work side by side. Some art works were performed on spot. The simultaneousness of art creation and criticism prevented the criticism from being lagged behind. Meanwhile, the arrangement of searching material for their work from folklore also enhanced the possibilities of expected cultural exchange. Finally, and most importantly, although the effect of these measures, teleologically, is doubtful, the point here lies in that a more multi-faceted and more powerful narration mode has been formed while the organizer set presupposition, participated in creation, brought about communication, recorded co-existence and displayed interaction. This mode surpasses the significance of both the exhibits themselves and a pure expo. It facilitates the follow-up activities in title of this event. Thus, in the same context of contemporary art, cultural resources can be used more efficiently, which constitutes the value of making art events.

The evolution from making works to making events reveals greater compatibility instead of a simple substitute. This trend is influenced by the development of contemporary art.

Objectively, the renewals of art language and the richness of media have become important approaches for art creation when the development of art forms entered post-war period. With art works being created not limited to the easel, art language has become increasingly rich, and how to display art works needs to meet new requirements. The rise of installation art expands the presence of art works in space, and land art pushes this trend closer to its ultimate. The development of video art extends visual art to four-dimensional space, and one after another separated dark rooms have even become the frequenters of contemporary art expos. It should be said that the change from work-oriented to expo-oriented is just the outcome of the evolution of these comprehensive forms and language. The limitations on display time and space are further broken with installation art becoming large-scale and outdoor and new media and communication technology achieving tremendous progress. Meanwhile, the combination of the art of installation, graphic and performance, by means of artists being on spot, improves the interaction of the works, thus bringing an activated trend to some conceptual art works.

Subjectively, the achievements of the Freeze exhibition held in late 1980s in Britain proclaimed the sweeping victory of YBA, a mainstream group in the international art arena at the turn of the century. As an art group risen after undergoing the slump of contemporary art during the period from the late 1970s to early 1980s, YBA are known for their subversive use of forms and materials of visual art, as well as for their good command of how to operate art and media. Represented by Damien Hirst, the young British artists mastered the operation modes and characteristics of attention economy, skillfully making use of commercial media, quickly achieving success by using subversive visual forms and eye-catching themes, and accumulating their wealth and fame in a very short period of time through self-cloning and involvement in art economy. Their thorough consideration of art creation and peripheral affairs, especially of the media and market, has set a precedent of making art events.

It is certain that the way of making art events tried out by Yuan Gong will be recognized by a growing number of art activity organizers in a time when more importance is attached to art process, the role of the media is enhancing, and the attention economy is getting more prosperous. Therefore, whatever the significance and value of the intervention of contemporary art in national culture may be, “Transparent Ju” itself is worthy of a place in contemporary art history.