7 months ago

Diplomatic World_nummer 56.

Pastoral Life, 1989, Liu

Pastoral Life, 1989, Liu Xiaodong Pink Phoenix, 2011, Liu Xiaodong © Bozar 112 were an act of aggression. They’re canvasses cut through by a cutter, so they have an iconoclastic value. Now, what happens fifty years after they were made? They’re conserved in museums and private collections and adored as icons of painting. We were once at a collector’s home where we wanted to borrow a Fontana and we saw that it was hanging under a plexiglass. It was as if just the church chair was missing. We decided, because it was impossible to borrow such a Fontana, to make a fake one. Here, we got into the experiment. We engaged an artist and a filmmaker. I wrote a scenario and the artist played that scenario, based on our research. The research showed us how Fontana had created his paintings, and so our artist-actor demonstrated the way Fontana created his paintings and the filmmaker filmed the whole process, making a beautiful little film. In the exhibition we presented the Fontana as a fake and we never pretended it was a real one, because we had the film next to it where the creation of the fake was explained. Now, can you imagine what you can learn from such an experience? First, we learned that when you cut into a canvas, the canvas opens a bit but then closes again. If you hang it on a wall, you can’t see anything, you just see a black line. So, what did Fontana do to open the cuts? He cheated, of course, he had to cheat. One of the possibilities he had was to wedge the cut canvas on an iron wire at the back of the canvas to keep the cut in the painting open. There are other possibilities too. So, this is already interesting, because that’s something you can’t learn in a book or from a powerpoint. And the second thing which was even more interesting is that, if you have a fake, you can do whatever you like with that fake. If it’s a real painting, you can’t even touch it. You need to put on gloves and ask a conservator to manipulate it. If you have a fake, you can move it from the wall anytime, and since I always had a battery of master students in my exhibition to explain it to the visitors, they kept taking it off the wall. And why did they take it off the wall? Well, if you move the fake Fontana from the wall you get unexpected fantastic experiences … the light comes from the back and the whole three-dimensional structure lights up. Then you understand why those paintings are called “Concetto Spaziale”, a spatial concept, because it’s not about painting anymore, it’s about the third dimension, and it’s no longer confined to two dimensions. It was a quite mystical experience that Fontana had and that mystical experience was born out of an iconoclastic idea directed against American abstract art. Isn’t that fantastic? You see, for me, those are new fields of research. This enlarged field of art historical research is being opened up precisely because we aren’t in a classroom anymore but we’re in a museum and we can deal with those works directly. So, if I understand you well, it’s your research methodology that bridges gaps. You are not just making an exhibition, but you and the involved students are part of a creation, a happening, often with the active involvement of the visitors.

The Waste, Wang Jiuliang © Bozar This seems to me real project work and it touches upon the rather new concepts of citizen science. So, how would you qualify your role in this? Are you the teacher, the curator, are you an artist, are you a performer? The first thing I’d like to stress is the fact that this is indeed teamwork. For myself, I think I combine several functions in this new job. First, I’m a professor of art history which provides me with a lot of opportunities because being a university professor already opens doors more easily to governments and other relevant forums. Second, I apply the research that comes from my art historical background. I apply it within the museum, so there is a dimension of curatorship. Curatorship, from my experience, is one of the most beautiful activities that you can do, because it is a sensegiving experience that is outside the field of academia but cannot be carried out without the knowledge of academia. It requires a high degree of creativity, it gives access to something fantastic, which is the possibility of establishing a dialogue between artworks along a curatorial line, a curatorial idea to confront artworks and to confront ideas. And then you are in something very vital, you see? That is also why I want to include academic reflection. We do that by using several academic formats such as a colloquium, symposium, workshop … But, most importantly, for every exhibition I train a group of masters students from the local universities and they are present every day in the exhibition, so that they can make the content of the exhibition accessible to each spectator. If you work like that, you can make difficult exhibitions. You can bring to China works by Marcel Duchamp and Marcel Broodthaers, … but you shouldn’t bring them in isolation, you need to let them land in the heart and soul of the public, and there the students are crucial. They are the ambassadors, they are bringing the ideas to land. Is it your ambition to create a new art school? Not really, I don’t want to create a school. The exercises, as we pursue them, are extremely difficult in their creation and practical implementation, but they’re rewarding enough, without need for a school. The latest event that we organised in Berlin, “Gemischte Gefühle”, illustrates that our project format provides an ideal framework for new and unexpected creative events. We felt at every different level that it works, that it opens windows, that you reach the local art world. Fifty artists came to the opening and were intrigued by what they saw because, by bringing young artists from Brussels, we succeeded in proving to the Berlin art world that we have a very different and unique story. At the same time, you can open the minds of politicians … we had four ministers at the opening and they were all truly impressed. We had the mayor of Berlin who stayed for two hours and had plenty of questions. Success in achieving all this is, of course, very satisfying. So, I don’t think that I want to create a school because that would lead to useless dissipation of the spontaneous energy like in a treadmill, and the risk of becoming a formalist is too high. 113