On the evening of April 8, 2016, “The Artist Within: ‘Double Faces’ Lv Shengzhong” was held at the lecture hall of the International Financial Museum. The lecture was presided over by the famous writer Zeng Qiong. It was the 6th session of “The Artist Within” series with the invited speaker Lv Shengzhong who is the famous contemporary Chinese artist and Dean of the School of Experimental Art, CAFA. As an important participant of “85 New Wave” and the leading figure of experimental art, Lv Shengzhong was labeled the “avant-garde” and “pioneer”; he is also known as “the ancient man today”, constantly absorbing the energy of life from the original forms formed by the folk paper-cut art, to search for and protect the traditional “Peach Garden” in the trend that is in a hurry to rush to modernity. He is an artist, and also indulged in writing. He is a genuine person, but also defends rationality…
About the Last Century
Organized by the Today Art Museum, “Last Century: Lv Shengzhong Solo Exhibition” was inaugurated at the end of 2015, and it was the first big solo exhibition for the artist after the last show was held many years ago. Although Lv Shengzhong was a well-known figure in the art circles, his willfulness and boredom in contemporary art directly results in his refusing a variety of exhibitions and art activities. He does not go against his true sense and seemingly inappropriate heart, “For the opening ceremony, I have a sense of fear, as if I take a mask and forget my own nature”. However, Lv has never regretted the “disappeared” decade, on the contrary, he has more space for personal thinking and exploring, to find a different harvest which is different from the success of the market.
It is the attitude resisting the tide that touches the Director of Today Art Museum Gao Peng, the overall environment of the contemporary art is urgently in need of this kind of attitude, which ignites the creative enthusiasm of the artist. “I don’t want to make a retrospective, but to have a new creation, to make an exhibition for documenting.”
In the era that is in hurry to rush to the “modernity”, Lv Shengzhong brings up the problem of the “last century” in order to slow down the people’s footsteps, so that they have space and energy to connect with the traditional context which has been cut off. When Lv Shengzhong recalled his experience of the traditional folk cultural inspection during the last century, he said the Cultural Revolution did not completely destroy the traditional Chinese culture, the ordinary people still made a contribution to the retention of the object, but people’s life style and thinking mode really changed in the 1990s, and the “modernized” thought continuously eroded our national tradition after the reform and opening up, and the folk customs and beliefs which were constantly stricken and forgotten, have gradually become a weak cultural posture. The modern people should learn from the group movements that are constantly repeated “the May 4th Culture” in terms of continuing the tradition, before the 1990s. Cai Yuanpei had organized a traditional cultural investigation project that collected ten thousand works of traditional folk art which were collected in the Central Museum, and it has become the only opportunity to finish the traditional cultural heritages from the last century to now. Modern sorting of cultural heritage is more inclined to the temporary, rather than the solidified form of research.
Recalling the last century, Chinese people are unable to avoid the western problem, even if the “modernization” has replaced the “westernization”, the dualistic thinking of the “comparison between China and the west” is still rooted in every aspect of modern life in China. For example, beer has been popular since 1980s, which is like “Chinese people force themselves to swallow the bitter wine in order to prove the reform and opening up”. On the one hand, the thinking of the “comparison between China and the west” results in the vanity of national self-confidence, and on the other hand, it leads to the national inferiority complex.
Looking for Cultural Commonality
Being vigilant of the thinking of the “comparison of the differences between Chinese and Western, leads Lv Shengzhong to an opposite cultural horizon, to find the commonality of different cultures. When Lv Shengzhong saw the plaster “dolls” which were used by the local primitive people in Bavaria Museum in 1992, they immediately reminded him of his paper-cut creation of “Little Red Figure”. “Little Red Figure” that is used as the symbol “calling the soul” in the folk belief in northern China also bears the faith and prayer of the local nation. He said: “There are a lot of commonalities in primitive arts, and this common factor is more in favor of the communication and dialogue between different cultures and nations, while it is difficult to be realized by the cultural differences.”
Exploding the dualistic thinking of the “comparison between China and the West” is essentially the return of the problems of “the real look” and “human”. The diversification of language indicates the limitation of a single language at the same time, “people can talk which is actually a very bad thing”, it seems that the contradictions exiting in the language reserve an “unexpected” communicating channel for the intervention of art language and body language. Lv Shengzhong recalled the experience of living in Germany where he could only communicate with the locals through drawing and expression in one’s eyes because of the barrier of language, through a simple image language and body language to establish a friendly relationship which made Lv Shengzhong more convinced that language was a way of communication, the commonality plays an important role. Lv Shengzhong said: “The art is a kind of language which is impossible to be replaced by text, ‘beauty’ is invalid in the communication between artistic languages, while the ‘understanding’ is the most important thing. It is not defined by the existing aesthetic criteria, but a culture of communication.”
The “Human Nature” of Communication
The comprehensive nature of the communicating objects in the artistic language determines that the contemporary art must have the publicity, “if the art is only done for ‘the insiders’, the art is nothing more than ‘masturbation’, and it won’t give birth to a life.” When he talked about the labels of “avant-garde” and “experiment”, Lv Shengzhong said that, he did not care about the “avant-garde”, which couldn’t be imagined in advance by any artist. The concept of “experiment” is different from the “avant-garde”, while the “experiment” is a creative method, ensuring the “avant-garde” and the constantly innovative mechanism of contemporary art.
In both the traditional art and contemporary art, the “human nature” of the art has always been emphasized by Lv Shengzhong. On the one hand, it is the public problem of contemporary art, “superstition” is the shackle of religious belief, which makes Chinese contemporary art difficult to return to the faith, but it can’t break away from the public; on the other hand, “the identity of the artist is less important than being an “human”, the emphasis of experimental art is to break the existing concepts and modes, returning to the changing relation between “humans and things”.
Finally, in view of the audience’s question of the relation between thesis writing and artistic creation, Lv Shengzhong admitted that, it demands a high quality of the students’ thesis writing in the School of Experimental Art, CAFA, and he was fond of writing himself. When it comes to the artistic creation, people would prefer the “feeling” in the first place, or thinking it different from the rational writing creation, but Lv Shengzhong thought that, “thesis writing is consistent with artistic creations in the methodology”, rationality and knowledge reserves are both the perceptual sources of artistic creation, and the artist who does not possess rational thinking and knowledge reserving is questionable.
Text and photo by Wei Xiankun/CAFA ART INFO
Translated by Chen Peihua and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO