The speaker Jonathan Harris - Jonathan Harris: Chinese Contemporary Art in a Global Context

On the evening of March 4, 2018, CAFA Art Museum launched a lecture entitled “Chinese Contemporary Art in a Global Context” that is co-organized by the School of Humanities, Central Academy of Fine Arts and Today Art Museum with invited international scholar, art critic and historian Jonathan Harris, Head of the School of Art, Birmingham City University as the speaker, and the well-known curator Huang Du, Chinese artists Sui Jianguo and Jiang Jie also participated in this academic forum on the connection between contemporary art theory and Chinese contemporary art research and the practice in the global context, discussing the continuity, differences, and special modern style. This forum was hosted by Prof. Shao Yiyang from the Central Academy of Fine Arts.

Prof. Jonathan Harris delivered a speech and said that, the global contemporary art world and Chinese contemporary art are connected with each other. When we talk about one of them, it will affect the way we view and understand the other. He called globalization an “asymmetrical” process. Everybody has a different understanding of globalization because of the individual difference both in the past and the future, but globalization could not offer everyone the same experience or generate the same effect on everyone. The concept of global “homogenisation” actually needs to give way to a concept opposite to it, and he calls it “heterogeneity”, that is thoroughly insisting on the difference and contradiction in reality. In other words, the notion of homogenization of “Chinese contemporary art” should be replaced by the “contemporary art created in China”, so that its heterogeneity may be realized and recognized.

Prof. Jonathan Harris’s new book entitled “The Global Contemporary Art World” has paid special attention to the historical process that happened in Asia and has been developing since the 1990s. He made a clear study on the representative cases of each region in his book, which aims at conducting a broad analysis of the global contemporary art scene, while he also hoped to clarify the relationship between the globalization of our time (neo-liberal capitalism in the 1980s) and the imperialism and the early processes of colonization (especially the 19th century and the early 20th century). In this period the exhibition witnesses a world that has been dominated by Europe and the United States in succession, as well as their consistent regional powers during the colonial and post-colonial times. At this stage of globalization, the East Asian Economy was dominated by Japan, South Korea and China while paying an important role in the current world pattern and the exhibition questions “whether the leading position of the United States in the world is coming to an end”. What role will China play in political and cultural aspects of global changes in the coming decades? Or what position does it have?

Prof. Jonathan Harris then shared the characteristics of the global contemporary art community that is as a system, as well as his observations on the position of Chinese contemporary art within the system. He said that the contemporary art community had its own distinct characteristics and was relatively autonomous, such as the typical art form of “globalization”–installations and videos. Furthermore, in addition to the organization of exhibitions and artists, it involves the key “producer” groups, including international influential curators, directors of art museums, owners of galleries and critics. As individuals, they respectively and actively participate in the production and re-creation of the art world at the same time. The various conditions covered in the process of making, communicating and the consumption of global contemporary art, including its producers, expressive forms, organizations, narrative and production networks which are firmly rooted in the historical structure, tension and influence of Western capitalism.

The rise of the Asian economy under the neo-liberal capitalism of the world must inevitably be a condition for making these areas the center of contemporary art and accelerating the prosperity of the local contemporary art. When the process is described, it is especially important to clarify the intertwined concepts of “contemporary” and “contemporary art”. The knowledge of both includes: Firstly, how does the order and disorder of the global world work in various human activities of the moment? Secondly, the art creation which is often called “contemporary art” since the 1990s is separated from modern art which was previously created for important Western art museums and galleries. We should break away from the framework of terminology used in the writing for the training of Western art history and theory, to challenge the existing elaborative paradigm. Prof. Jonathan Harris then analyzed the conceptual, geographic, and sociocultural problems of the concepts “Western” and “Oriental”, and reflects this challenge through the discussion on a video work about the collective Indian sexual assault of women, which is entitled “In Search of Vanished Blood” created by Nalini Malani in 2012.

At the end of the lecture, Prof. Jonathan Harris presented a conclusion that globalization today meant the universality and universalization of a series of technologies and systems, as well as the placement and distribution all over and in many places. In view of the fact that influential Western museums recognize contemporary art in such a way as to purchase and exhibit works of global art producers and establish its own relevant capabilities and status, it can be shown that the power relations in the global contemporary art world are fundamentally still asymmetrical and unequal, but the remarks of “global contemporary art is essentially a construction of the West” which is exaggerated. Prof. Jonathan Harris finally spoke of the exhibition “RHIZOME–A Survey Subject of Chinese Contemporary Arts”, and he believed that it showed the artists, critics, and theoreticians’ cutting-edge understanding of globalization that has changed the present world. He believed that artists have become more and more important in this process of understanding. The artists in China and around the world are showing us images, objects, states and sensory perception, which help us to further understand the process of globalization, rather than an abstract concept or conditions.

In the conversation part, the curator Huang Du combined the curatorial idea of recently created exhibition “RHIZOME–A Survey Subject on Chinese Contemporary Arts” to make a comment. The moderator Shao Yiyang subsequently gave an in-depth explanation of the concept and principles of Deleuze’s concept of “Rhizome” based on the theme of the exhibition, and taking the artist Cai Guoqiang’s works as an example to demonstrate the “rhizome” theory in the application of contemporary art. Speaking of the position of Chinese contemporary art and even the entire Asian region in the globalization, as well as the function of knowledge production in the art museum, Gao Peng, Director of Today Art Museum, looked forward to a dialogue with an effective exchange and mutual respect & understanding with the international art community, in addition, he also talked about the meaning of the fresh vocabulary introduced by Prof. Jonathan Harris’ lecture. As artists, Sui Jianguo and Jiang Jie said the artists’ growing experience echoed the “rhizome” philosophy. The guest speakers responded to the questions raised by the audience one by one in a lively atmosphere.

Text by Zhang Chi, translated by  Chen Peihua and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO

Photo and video by Hu Sichen/CAFA ART INFO

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