At 14:00 on December 14, 2013, co-organized by Inside-out Art Museum, Jing & Kai and New Media Archive of Cornell University, “The International Symposium on the Background Story” was successfully held at Inside-out Art Museum. Honoured guests invited to attend the symposium include artist Xu Bing who serves as the Vice-president of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Dr. Yang Xinyi from Cornell University who chaired the symposium, other guest speakers were Prof. Timothy Conway Murray from Cornell University, Prof. Daniel Herwitz from University of Michigan, Prof. Miguel Ángel Hernández Navarro from University of Murcia in Spain, Associate professor Lin Xuda from Donghua University. Respectively, they gave an address on Background Story series by Xu Bing, and they discussed and exchanged with the audience around their academic exploration.
Background Story is a series of work Xu Bing has created since 2004. Before the seminar began, Xu Bing gave a brief statement to explain the original intention and inspiration when he started to create it, he talked about his experience when he visited the Museum of East Asian in Berlin and was inspired, he decided to express a new kind of visual experience about “ Chinese Painting of Light and Shadow” and “Invisible Landscape” . He tried to present it using new materials, frosted glass.
Professor Timothy Conway Murray from Cornell University explained his unique insights on Xu Bing’s Background Story from the perspective of the material Xu used, with “Frosted Surfaces of Recycling: Archival Events, or The Engaged Aesthetics of Xu Bing” as his theme. Prof. Murray analyzed the file activity theory of Foucault and concluded that: Here deep matter morphs into the uncertain intensities of shadow surface that transforms the viewer from passive observer to active participant in the archive event of ‘Background Stories.’ For it is precisely the surge of accumulation, the continual surprise of informational texture, and the layers of enunciational multiplicity that lend immaterial force to the engaged aesthetics of Xu Bing.
Prof. Daniel Herwitz from University of Michigan mainly discussed Xu Bing’s Background Story: 7 (2011), his topic is “Nature that Lives in the Past”. Prof. Herwitz explored the movement of “natural material” in art works, and he believes it implies the flow of materials from the natural environment to naturalistic representation on the one hand, from raw materials to the built environment (and back into waste) on the other. He believed that the role of the museum is to present nature and the naturalized world as it applies to Chinese landscape art history, and Xu Bing’s installation is a pictorial dialogue about the capacity of contemporary art to (re-)produce traditional Chinese landscape painting.
“Open Tradition: Background Story’s Sheterochronicity” is the topic of speech made by Associate Professor Miguel Ángel Hernández Navarro from University of Murcia in Spain. It was divided into three parts: “Multiple Time”, “Lookin beyond”, “Reinventing the medium”. He expounded on the metachronous nature of history in the context of the globe, Xu Bing’s works reflect the implicit and explicit of “presence and absence” of Chinese traditional painting as well as “the conflicting space between skills and media.”
Associate Professor Lin Xuda from Donghua University gave a speech entitled “Cottage and Simulation: Background Story as a post-modern style with schizophrenic parody”, taking modern psychoanalysis as his theoretical basis, he analyzed it in the context of anthropology. He accounted for the unique meaning that art has as a “modern braking technique” of human beings influenced by the uncertain disturbances of postmodern fragments in the modern era with information explosion. From a cultural perspective to understand the ethereal, tranquil, poetic, Zen-like and beautiful mirror image of landscape created by Xu Bing’s Background Story, he pointed out that the work provided a rich artistic content to art.
In the gallery near the symposium held at Inside-out Art Museum, some of the exhibits of Xu Bing’s Background Story were on display and especially an experience area is open to spectators, where they can find light boxes, frosted glass, dried plants and other raw materials they might need to create, thus they can personally experience the creative process and principle of the Background Story. It offers a richer artistic experience for the audience combined with an academic discussion and practice.
Journalist: Wei Wei, translated and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO. Image courtesy Wei Wei and Inside-out Art Museum.