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Diplomatic World_nummer 56.

Xu Bing, 2012, Character

Xu Bing, 2012, Character of Characters 114 What makes the strength of these projects, is that they start off from scratch every time, and that for every city you must find a new strategy, a new approach, a new answer to the question “what should we do?”. But what they all have in common is that we also want to provoke, to tease. They must be a little bit nasty and bring all participants out of their comfort zone, because only then you learn something new and you wake up your public, don’t you? When your public asks itself “what the hell is happening here?”, then you create the basis for a true dialogue. In Berlin, we absolutely succeeded in achieving that. We will now have the Berliners coming over to Brussels for their exhibition with young artists who are based in Berlin. And what makes me truly happy is that we awakened the Brussels government: they feel involved and concerned about our exercises everywhere in the world and they’re willing to invest in those young artists working in Brussels. That is the very first time. I’m convinced that this is a direct consequence of the exercise we did in Berlin. Now we can say that all the people surrounding Minister President Rudi Vervoort and Minister Guy Vanhengel and the administration of the Brussels Government are completely aware of the fact that Brussels is a top city for visual arts in the world. If I look at the number of projects that you do every year, it is clear that you are a passionate workaholic. In many of your endeavours, I see much respect, friendship and love towards Asia, more particularly the Far East. You mentioned Korea, Japan, China. Can you explain rationally why that is so? Well, it’s something that was not intentional from the start. In 2010, I was asked to go to Shanghai by Minister Jean-Luc Van Raes who was aware of the projects that I did together with artists at the university. To be honest, first I had no intention of going there because Asia was not on my agenda. But he kind of politely forced me to go, and I went. I arrived in Shanghai and visited forty people and it was clear that I felt a kind of unknown energy as well as the need to dive into this intriguing society that I gradually learned to appreciate … an appreciation that has never left me. Before I went to Shanghai — this is a small anecdote — I went to see my only friend with China experience, Michel Baudson. Michel said to me “Hans, be careful because the first time you go to China, it takes your little finger, then it takes your hand, then it takes your arm and then it takes your heart”. Now, I’ve been there more than 40 times. Michel was right. But what is it that constitutes the passionate relationship that I have with China, and to a certain extent also with

© Bozar Korea and Japan? … but China is different because its history is different. I’m full of admiration for the unique achievements of the first generation of Chinese liberated artists in just three decades, when Deng Xiaoping gave them the total freedom to do what they wanted to do as artists. The first generation of pioneers such as Xu Bing, Wang Xinwei, Liu Xiaodong and many others made this huge step from prehistory to avant-garde and they did it all with their belly. First of all, they just felt that they had to go in that direction, and second, they knew they had to find their own Chinese alternative. They did that brilliantly. Third, they also all felt that, even if their art is now at the top of avantgarde, one of the basic concerns was the reconfiguration of the Chinese DNA, which was completely lost in the cultural revolution. So, that is one part of the answer. I’m now completely aware of the incredible excellence that those generations of liberated artists succeeded in creating. But since this all happened on “belly intuition”, they completely missed the theoretical debates that accompanied modern art in Europe and which are absent or insufficiently known in China … One of the most intellectually satisfying experiences is giving seminars to PhD students in China, because they feel things, they have a very good intuition but the theory is not there yet. So, if you can bring the theory or theoretical frameworks in which this modern art came to life, then you fill in a gap that’s still fundamental for them. And this, for an academic, is one of the most beautiful things that can happen to you. You mentioned the avant-garde in China: how does the Chinese government react to these provoking contemporary artists? I must explain this, because Europe is full of preconceptions and mistaken ideas about China. I can’t say it otherwise. My good friend, Liu Xiaodong, once told me “you have to understand that you have three types of artists in China, you have red artists, grey artists and black artists”. The profile of the red artists is clear. They work for the government, there are enough buildings to be constructed, enough local party committees that need their meeting rooms decorated, there are enough publications that have to be edited, and so on. They all have a good life, a lot of work, and they work for the party, mainly in the field of propaganda. So those are the red artists. Then you have the black artists. The black artists, who are the most popular in Europe, are the dissidents. We all know Ai Weiwei, and only him. That’s the problem. It’s as if Europeans don’t want to know the other artists, because his profile corresponds exactly with an idea that the majority of the public wants to have about China, namely, that China is 115