Every summer, the frenetic and continuous activity of the 'Nadam' can be observed in the pasturelands of Mongolia under clear blue skies, with the events, contested over a couple of days, including competitions in horsemanship, wrestling and archery. For each participant, the events–which do not place any restrictions on age, weight or competitive ability–are surely a special test of individual's agility, patience, strength and technique. Nadam means 'game' in Mongolian, and can be traced back to ancient times. Through Nadam an individual's identity is established by conquering 'rivals' like Nature; Nadam also demonstrates how each individual can establish his own independent existence in the perpetual universe through his own efforts.
'Game' has always played a special role in the development of human civilization. Pertaining to the question of how a person with 'perfect' qualities may be shaped, Confucius answers, "Focus on the Way, live virtuously, lean upon benevolence for support and take recreation in arts." (The Analects VII. 6.) In the mind of this ancient philosopher who lived 2,500 years ago, "focus on the Way", "live virtuously" and "lean upon benevolence" are necessary requirements for attaining the ideal personality, while "take recreation in arts" suggests that people should maintain a casual attitude in the practice of skills, and join in shaping and cultivating one's inner emotions through appraisal of arts and art creation in order to reach emotional tranquility and harmony, thus restoring the unity of one's emotions and rational thoughts.
In the West, game is also greatly valued. The renowned German writer, poet and philosopher Friedrich Schiller once remarked, "A person plays only when he is a complete person; he becomes complete only when he plays." At the same time, he said "If a person pursues an ideal path to aesthetics because he would like to fulfill his impetus to play, this could absolutely not be wrong." [Schiller - Idea of Aesthetic Education] According to this observation and to those artists who pursue imagination, individuality and unique performance skills, creation per se is a process in a game. Hence, the natural and casual ink bamboo paintings of Wen Tong; the playful painting of fish and shrimps of Qi Bai Shi; the 'Haystacks' of Monet; 'Les Demoiselles d'Avignon' of Picasso - they are all evidence and traces of an artist's personal game that remain in this world. However, in the 1960s and 1970s, the advocates of minimalist art, which stresses subjective ideas, promoted that artistic expression is driven to extremes when artists justify their own creations with the idea of creating art for art's sake, cold minimalist art forfeits the quality of 'game' which entertains oneself and others.
In the realistic nature of modern society, individual values is gradually diminishing in complicated cities full of soaring skyscrapers, and the autonomy of an individual's behaviour is also being unconsciously deprived at different levels in our huge societies. Even the most simple and innocent personal game which originally surpasses personal utilitarian considerations may be confronted with irrevocable changes in nature. The Central University of Nationalities of Beijing–far distant from the Mongolian pasturelands – has, since 1981, held annual Nadam activities. Horsemanship is replaced by javelin, and prior to the start of a contest the national flag is ceremoniously raised, the national anthem is played, the athletes march past, speeches are delivered by the leaders and spokesmen of minority races, and a list of sponsors are announced over the public address system. In general, after the end of such a Nadam, the host will arrange events such as group dinners, arts and cultural performances, and screen movies, etc. As one can imagine, the autonomy of each participant has become hazy and unclear. One's identity in the social network, for example, may be as a student athlete in a certain Beijing college or one may be a regional representative of a minority race or even a member of a political party that has multiple special identities. Thus, one's motivation to join a 'game' may be inevitably sophisticated and somehow not according to one's will. Each individual, including you and me and each single artist, can hardly escape from such contemporary social circumstances constructed against a backdrop of organisation, system, tradition, power, wealth and human relationships.
In the special political and social conditions of the 1980s and 1990s, China's contemporary artists tried their best to express their concerns about society, politics and the human environment, employing myriads of special symbols interacting with each other to represent that moment of time but leaving people with an impression of idealism. In their artistic language and implementation of concept, they symbolically attained their criticisms with regard to traditions, systems and reality.
In the 21st Century, as the familiar surroundings of artists rapidly change, the collective values and personal values about life are transforming quickly, too. The art of the new generations has always been closely connected to personal experiences and the development of life: as art critic Yin Shuang Xi says, they "have employed personal life and public culture and visual images as important sources for artistic expression, and they have taken a heterogeneous perspective in observing objects in ordinary life... reflecting the drastic era and social changes through a microscopic perspective."
Nowadays, many contemporary artists utilise features–dispersed, casual, peripheral and multi-diversified copying – in order to resist the control induced by collective volition, rendering sensational pleasure and a multi-meaning personal game free of disturbances caused by blind compliances and different levels of power in such a complicated social network. Thus, they can reveal the division and heterogeneity of contemporary social humanity by means of a strategy of microscopic self-discovery that also enables the writer himself and his works to attain independence and free existence in a flash of time.
The Macao Museum of Art of the Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau is honoured to cooperate with the China Academy of Art in planning and organising this Microcosm - Chinese Contemporary Art exhibition. The objective is to give local and foreign tourists the chance to encounter the important masterpieces of 26 Chinese contemporary artists. In addition, by convening an academic conference, we have provided the opportunity for many prominent artists, critics and academics from home and overseas to gather in Macao to discuss and analyse the current and future development of China's contemporary art.
In the two-storey gallery and exterior of MAM, artists from Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao have utilised their personal and special experience in daily life to combine with a game spirit that surpasses rational control to accomplish the individuality and self-awareness of subjective expression. Undoubtedly, this 'Microcosm' exhibition event will be an epochal note to the development of contemporary art in China.
When the exhibition finishes, some of these excellent works will become part of Macao Museum of Art's collection, while others will be moved elsewhere. Maybe we should not be too upset about this, as when the Nadam finishes, all those big and small temporary tents disappear in the wide horizons, and because of this, we will cherish each upcoming encounter and anticipate even more passionately to join and cheer in the exciting games again.
Ung Vai Meng
Director of the Macao Museum of Art