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Dialogue with Hu Jieming

Author: Zhang Qing 2010-01-15

Zhang Qing(Zhang): Let's talk about something interesting, not necessarily related to works. I think it's better to talk about something you care about. As you've been engaged in the art scene for quite a long time, you must have seen and thought a lot about it. You can share with us some of your views and feelings. If you take some time to look back, how would you describe the history you've been through? How do you see video art? Is it a kind of image? An approach? A content? Or is it just nothing in particular? Shall we just discuss the issue from a third person's point of view and intentionally keep a distance from the inside? You are a teacher. If you talk about art from a teacher's perspective, it will probably become something like instruction or preaching, which would be silly. That's why I feel that to take the position as an outsider may be a good starting point. Is it really necessary to spend some 10,000 yuan renting a studio and to treat being an artist as a career in this contemporary era? How does it have anything to do with the era? From a general point of view, what is art? Is art really needed?

Hu Jieming(Hu): I agree. It's better that we have a casual talk. Most insiders share the same experience and face common problems.

Zhang: You once held a solo exhibition at East China Normal University. When was that? 1996?

Hu: 1994.

Zhang: Yes, 1994, the exhibition about documents. The black and white figures with checks and dots were the last batch of your paintings I ever saw. Afterwards you started to focus on videos, installations and photos. If we take a look at the development of Chinese contemporary art during the 1990s, we can see it was a period of transition. It was also at that time that I became interested in art forms other than painting. Some of my writings about mixed materials and installation art in the early 90s were published in Jiangsu Art Monthly. I remember that once Song Haidong and I spent three whole days and nights discussing installation art of the early 90s at He Yong's room at the Shanghai Oil Painting and Sculpture Institute. At that time, my understanding towards it was quite rudimentary. The development of Chinese contemporary art was relatively simple: mostly it was a continuance of Chinese brush painting, oil painting, prints and sculpture – materials, installation and architecture didn't play much of a part. Was it possible to enhance the sense of formalism and further broaden the exploration of Chinese contemporary art by means of this new expressive approach? Back then, Song Haidong just regarded it as a means and felt it needed to be sublimated to a conceptual level. I think it would be interesting if we review the discussions around this topic of fifteen years ago. You started to make videos and installations in 1994. It's been nearly 16 years since then. Now would be a good time to make some kind of summary, right? How do you think of forms of expression? What experiences and lessons have you gained over all these years? What have these brought to your art creation and to the Chinese contemporary art scene as a whole?

Hu: The change I made was not only a personal choice but also the choice of an era. It was an inevitable stage for the era and even if I didn't change, someone else would. It took time for me to fully complete the transition. At first, I tried to use mixed materials on paper and canvas. The figures you mentioned just now were one of my early attempts to integrate photosensitive materials in painting. It might seem a bit naive and immature, but it was a necessary step. The point is I didn't make such a choice for the sake of keeping up with the latest trends. Whatever choices one makes, you'll gain something and at the same time, lose something – it's inevitable. What I gained can be understood as the qualification to catch up with the context fitting the era best, for changes in terms of materials and approaches will lead to changes on the conceptual level. However, compared with painting, the use of materials and multiple mediums led to a heavier economic burden. In addition, there were many practical problems to be faced. The influence was quite obvious. As I review that period, I would say "the influence was obvious, but not fatal". I think that's why I kept on. I think my choice was valuable and correct.

Zhang: Besides being correct or not, I think the reflection upon media is also very important. For instance, from the 1990s to 2005, conceptual photography has always played a part in the art scene. But, out of the blue, it seems that the creative power behind this form has disappeared completely in recent years. Why is that? You are one of the pioneers in China to create video works. I read your introduction and found that you started video-making in 1996. When was the video art exhibition held in Hangzhou?

Hu: Around that period.

Zhang: It's been 2 decades or so since Zhang Peili presented his video work in the garage exhibition in 1991. What has video brought to us? Is the video we make today technically mature? Do we really use video art as the language to write and record contemporary art? The same questions also apply to installation. There was no installation in China until the 1989 China / Avant-Garde Art Exhibition. It developed quickly during the '90s. What is its position today? Following the new emergence of contemporary art forms such as photography, video and installation in the late '80s, there quickly came their heyday. But as the saying goes: easy come, easy go! In the current stage, I just feel that they have disappeared collectively.

Hu: The reason behind it is complicated. First of all, installations, videos, mixed media and new media have their own path of development. It has nothing to do with us. They were introduced to China from abroad, just like English. Though we can speak English, it's not our native language, its emergence and disappearance are not in our control. Secondly, there were some practical factors involved. These new art forms developed from scratch in the 1990s. We needed a new, internationally-accepted language to enrich our context. Since it's closely related to communication, people pay much attention to it. Just now you mentioned disappearance – actually that's not quite true. There are still some new works in those categories and they become even larger and grander. Nevertheless, the experimental and touching elements were gradually lost along the way. I think this has something to do with the market. So it can be considered as an embodiment of practical factors. The overall environment fosters this kind of practical thinking-system and values. The elements I use in my current creations, such as electronics and figures, are quite marginalized, which is also the result of market choice. Collection of this kind of work is unreliable and fragile. Under such a circumstances, the way forward for new media art is destined to be difficult. My choice of such a medium is also a reflection of my attitude.

Zhang: You mentioned several key concepts: international, the transition from knowledge to application, market and pragmatism. We can make a comparison: what's the difference between those concepts in the 1990s and today?

Hu: It's like a boat which keeps moving forward. The scenery passengers see change constantly, but the essence remains the same: it never leaves the water. In the case of contemporary art, it always reflects the most contemporary problems.

Zhang: Comparing your understanding towards contemporary art in the 1990s and now, is there any difference?

Hu: It gets more profound and comprehensive. Back in the 1990s, we were only just exposed to contemporary art. Back then, as long as something came from abroad, it would have some special attraction for us.

Zhang: You are referring to photography, video and installation, right?

Hu: That's right. With increasing opportunities to communicate with the outside world, we've seen and learned a lot, which has led to a better appreciation of Western art and concepts. Gradually, we can tell if things imported from the West are good or not. Also, we can have a better understanding of the fundamental elements of these newly emerging ideas, a clearer view of the development of their cultures. Then we can choose what fits our situation better. Back in the 1990s, as far as I remember, we didn't have the capacity to make the right choices. We just felt things from abroad rocked! But as to why that was the case and how great they were, we could not offer an answer.

Zhang: What about the market?

Hu: The way we get to know the market is similar to the way we get to know contemporary art. But of course they didn't happen at the same time.

Zhang: I don't think so. Our view of the market now is completely different that in the 1990s. At that time, most artists didn't have the idea of the market. They made art for the sake of pure art and their own ideals. Nevertheless, nowadays the shadow of the market can be spotted everywhere. There's a close and fundamental connection between the reality we live in and capital. It was impossible to spend some 10,000 yuan renting a studio at that time. How much did you earn back then? You might not earn that much for a whole year. It was unimaginable to spend that much on renting a studio, wasn't it? The rental was the capital. As long as capital was involved, it had everything to do with the market. We cannot get rid of it just as we cannot get rid of our own shadows. What influence will the intrusion of market have on our art creation?

Hu: As I said, to some extent, we get to know the market in the same way as we get to know the international contemporary art scene. The two things didn't happen at the same time. We encountered international contemporary art first, and then the market. In the 1990s when we faced the first problem, we didn't have a clue concerning the art market and its patterns and inner mechanisms.

Zhang: Does the market do any good for the development of art?

Hu: Yes.

Zhang: Like what?

Hu: The intrusion of the art market brings a sustainable mechanism to art. Sustainable mechanisms are the foundations for further development. For instance, a product cannot come into being without a market. And it is the same case in the human blood circulation system. In this regard, the mechanism of the art market plays a critical role in the development of art. On the other hand, inevitably it will have some negative effects. For instance, some think the intrusion of the market gives rise to less creativity and less inspirational art. But we cannot blame that totally on the market. I think that can be considered as a particular syndrome during the preliminary stage. As the market gets more mature, such problems will be solved naturally.

Zhang: Let's take the sudden disappearance of the creative power behind photography for example. Does the problem lie in the market or the artists themselves?

Hu: There are a variety of reasons for that. Photography as an art form won't disappear. It's a natural law that there are rises and falls. It's highly possible that several years later there'll be a new peak for photography. What do you think of performance art? When it first emerged, it was visually shocking and conceptually powerful. But it passed its heyday quickly.

Zhang: We also need to see the fact that what appeals to artists have changed. Previously what artists cared most about was "reputation". But gradually, "profit" took its place and became the top concern. As a result, people tended to choose to do something more profitable. It's a problem about choice, and during the process, something precious was lost.

Hu: I think this is a normal phenomenon. It's an inevitable stage. When pursuing maximum profits, other valuable things such as creativity are sacrificed. But when the goal is achieved, the crisis brought about by the loss of creativity will come to the fore and attention will be paid to that.

Zhang: But something is lost forever.

Hu: I'm talking about the general situation. Of course, the general rule may not apply to each specific artist. Nevertheless, there'll be future generations of artists.

Zhang: But there's something that when it is lost, it is lost forever. No matter how time passes, somethings just never come back.

Hu: To a particular artist, that may be the case. But generally speaking, there'll be a certain continuance carried on from generation to generation.

Zhang: It's still hard. I think about the poet generation in the 1970s. Why did they choose poetry as their way of expression? It seemed so weird that during such a special period of time the seed of poetry sprouted. The birth of new poetry in a society suffocating creativity is like tulips successfully grown in the middle part of China. Don't you think so? The view would be so unreal, as if processed by Photoshop. But it is the case for Chinese new poetry. When reading books about the '70s, I was often moved to tears. It's hard to imagine people writing poems under such circumstances. On the contrary, though our life today is far more abundant than previously, poetry is hard to find. Something cannot be carried on by the next generation. It will be lost forever.

Hu: Well, shall we put it this way...

Zhang: Though I haven't been through a lot, I just feel there's something, when it is lost, it will never be regained. We're almost of the same age. Back in the 1980s, you couldn't earn much from painting. Then some artists chose to start their own companies, saying they would make art after making a fortune. But the truth was barely any of them came back to do art again until a few years ago when the art market prospered. Those once-artists-now-bosses rented many studios and said "I'm back. I've made a great fortune and want to go back the world of art, my dreamland." But just after they got everything done, there came the economic crisis and painting became hard to be sold. Do you still think what's lost in art can come back?

Hu: Well, by carrying on I don't mean things will be repeated in the exact same way. You mentioned poetry. It's normal the spirit of poetry during the '70s was lost and never revived. The spirit of the contemporary era has taken its place.

Zhang: What's the spirit of this contemporary era?

Hu: Something different from the past, something more diversified.

Zhang: I don't mean history has to repeat itself. Each dynasty has its own distinctive cultural characteristics. I'm referring to the zeitgeist, the general climate of an era. Back then though we led a poor life, our inner world was abundant. Nowadays, with capital, market, pragmatism and diversified cultures, what is our spirit? Previously, a poem or an avant-garde rock and roll song could represent an era and no extra explanation was needed. I'm concerned about the fact such art was lost along the way.

Hu: The huge applause paid to the poem or rock and roll can be considered as recognition of the zeitgeist. What's the zeitgeist for this era? It's definitely something different.

Zhang: Absolutely.

Hu: For example, in the real world, the internet seems nothing. But this virtual world is gaining more and more recognition and attracts more people to spend time, and put their fortunes and efforts into it. Moreover, we used to think games were for children. But such a pattern has changed, more and more adults are fond of all kinds of games. I know nowadays more and more wealthy people who put their money and time into these virtual worlds. They would spend some hundreds of thousands on a virtual weapon in order to win recognition and respect in this world. Such recognition is highly spiritual and will become one of the spiritual needs of the era.

Zhang: What you said is quite true. In the days when there was no internet, people sat together, playing poker. Now they can play poker online. It certainly offers people more access to playing poker! But in the case of art, I wonder what it has brought to us. This is of vital importance. I know a lot of people who, with the assistance of the internet, belittle universities and teachers. They gain their knowledge from the internet. Some of them are very smart and independent, succeeding in the virtual world. We should not judge them, as we ourselves also experienced a period when we had long hair, played truant and placed painting and art as the top priorities in life. Though we led a poor life back then, we would take a crowded bus and spend a whole night chatting about art, culture and our dreams. It was the same ideals and passions that brought us together. Now people meet new friends via the internet. What has such a shift brought to the world of art? I'm not saying the art of the past was greater than that of today, but I feel that today's art lacks a kind of moving sincerity and widespread recognition. This is an era teeming with all kinds of miracles. New records can be seen in newspapers everyday. For instance, now it takes us only one hour to travel from Shanghai to Nanjing, 30 minutes to Hangzhou and 5 hours to Beijing. I feel excited about such news. It's like racing with one's imagination. Why is that? These facts are hard to believe. I feel that imagination has surpassed art. No artwork can be that exciting if it is printed in the newspapers. Contemporary art as an art pattern develops within the framework of capitalism, in this regard we should pay attention to the rules of the capitalist economy and its relationship with art. But in today's China, pragmatism prevails. How can it be of any help to art? It does help form a circle consisting of art creation, galleries, exhibitions, criticism and collection, but I think its impact on art creation is of vital importance. The evolution of a society from no roads at all to stone-paved paths, tarred roads and highways is the result of a variety of factors. How much contribution does art make during the process? This is a core question. Have today's cities brought us a beautiful life? Has the current rapid development brought us happiness? These are the vital questions to consider.

Hu: It's all relative.

Zhang: Right, it's relative. But somethings are absolute. With the inflow of capital, a virtuous circle of the art field is formed, which lays down a sound foundation for the development of contemporary art. But a sound foundation is not enough. What can Chinese artists do under such conditions? To figure this out, we have to view the question from two sides. Some one- or two-decades later, we may have an answer for that.

Hu: That's right.

Zhang: Looking back into the '70s, poets were faced with a lot of uncertainties. Their activities were mainly underground and their works were mainly distributed in the form of hand-written books. Shu Ting, a renowned female poet of that period, once said "I expressed myself and felt like gaining my life back". Great as she was, what she asked from poetry was so little. But her words were so sincere, and hence touching. What will be the role of the spiritual pursuit of artists today?

Hu: Spiritual pursuit depends on personal choice.

Zhang: We have to focus on the general situation instead of some particular individuals.

Hu: Generally speaking, the power of capital is practical and significant. Hence, the mainstream of society would be affected by such a practical force. From the perspective of the individual, there are a variety of choices available. As far as I'm concerned, I would like to keep a distance from the mainstream of the era. I haven't paid much thought to the conditions those poets faced, but I believe their choices were quite the opposite from mainstream taste or choice. In this regard, we share some similarities. What's the value of these seemingly unrealistic choices? We don't know for sure. But we do need such spiritual pursuits to sustain the structure of our life. On the other hand, despite that I keep a distance from the mainstream, I still regard it as reasonable and un-blameable. For art, the inflow of capital is not necessarily a bad thing, it has some positive effects. Personally, I don't have any objection to the involvement of capital. Though it may be a bit hard to explain the fact that I don't devote myself to it, I don't have much objection to the status quo of art, for it's a reasonable and inevitable result.

Zhang: Let's take a look at New Journey to the West, the work you made in Vancouver in the 1990s.

Hu: Well, the whole piece was like a joke. To dramatize things a little in a humorous or sarcastic way is popular in internet culture and warmly welcomed amongst students. But back in the 1990s it didn't occur to me such an approach would become the hit online language a few years later. The content of the work was about attitudes toward Western cultures, which still has some relevance to the current era. I once communicated with today's college students concerning New Journey to the West, and found that it was well received by them. I think that's because the art language I used in this work also corresponds to what today's students are concerned about.

Zhang: How did they react?

Hu: They think it's interesting and easy to understand. It's somewhat similar to what we often see online now. Compared with my other works, which were relatively more serious, this work was light-hearted and humorous, easy to be accepted by youngsters.

Zhang: Which are the "other works" you are referring to?

Hu: Subjunctive Mood is one of them. A lot of philosophical vocabulary was used and the context was intentionally misplaced, creating confusion on the ideological level. Language games such as the conversion between truth and falsity are relatively dry and boring, not interesting enough.

Zhang: I attended the New Year's Party of Tongji University yesterday. One of their programmes was somewhat similar to New Journey to the West. Some well-known film clips were dubbed in different local dialects and the effect was hilarious.

Hu: By the use of strange audio/visual effects, the once familiar stuff becomes so weird and a special effect can be achieved.

Zhang: Why would students feel New Journey to the West is funny? It's because most of them are familiar with the original Journey to the West – the sense of familiarity could easily foster a bond of sympathy. Subjunctive Mood is a different case, for those young students are not so familiar with philosophy. Today, many artists say that we should shift our focus from figurative art to conceptual art. Such a kind of art has developed in the West for many years. It puts forward a question to us: what would become of Chinese contemporary art? I think it should be rooted in the soil of Chinese culture and characteristics of local culture should be integrated into it.

Hu: These questions are under constant discussion. For instance, localization of oil painting is often a topic of the Chinese art scene.

Zhang: Reviewing the path we've been through, we would notice that the direction we choose is either left or right. But thanks to the experimental and bold exploration of the past decade, we have achieved something. If asked what globalization of art and its impacts are, our answers will be different from that of 1994.

Hu: I mentioned the topic of localization of oil painting because I think it's a false question. It's not worth thinking about. Where you were born and grow up and what cultures you are fostered in decide the structure of your cultural gene. So there's no need to place any emphasis on that question. As far as I'm concerned, contemporary art should pay more attention to further develop and improve under a common framework of rules.

Zhang: I notice that cities, landscape and architecture play an important role in many of your works. Whether the work features the exploration of cities, the creation of a utopia or the inner structure of a family, these elements can always be found in your work. For instance, Hey! A World is under Construction, Where is My Home, Postcard and Son all have something to do with architecture. What's your viewpoint on today's cities and architecture?

Hu: It's hard to give a full explanation to that. I choose these elements because I'm familiar with them. They are part of my life experience. For the same reason, I seldom choose rural China as the backdrop of my work. The content of the work is usually the portrait of the spiritual status and concepts of one's own, a reflection of one's own understanding or criticism of reality. To be more specific, I think at the current stage, the city is the hub of cultural development and exchange. Therefore, complexity, confusion, sensitivity and hesitation are featured in my works. If my way of explanation can gain more recognition, the work would become more interesting and influential. If any special perspective or viewpoint is highlighted, it can be further proved during future development and thus generate value and become a characteristic of the era.

Zhang: How about Where is My Home? How did the idea occur to you to move Shanghai's urban architecture to Guangzhou and create a brand new city?

Hu: Well, as the construction of globalized cities speeds up, cities are greatly influenced and quickly lose their distinctive characteristics. The destructive force is significant. More and more cities, both old and new, now lose their individuality. Constant construction and deconstruction produce more and more standardized cities. The progress of urbanization gives rise to the loss of a "sense of community". By means of the technology of digital images, a utopian vision was achieved in the work. A thorough conversion was completed and a reproduction of Shanghai was inserted to the city of Guangzhou. During the making of the work I was faced with a bunch of challenges, conceptually and technically, and finally conquered all the difficulties by means of digital technology.

Zhang: Does the work share some similarity with Postcard?

Hu: The approaches I adopted were pretty much the same, but the concepts behind them were different. The well-known historical attractions appearing in Postcard were the cultural and historic symbols of different places. The conversion of these symbols represented a conversion of cultures and even histories, creating an absurd reality.

Zhang: Hey! A World is under Construction features a utopian world established on Mars or the Moon.

Hu: Yes. This is a long-term project and I'll continue till I cannot further develop the project. The utopian world could be considered as a true reflection of my state of mind which is developing continuously, just like the real world. A new version will be unveiled every year (or every two years), so I'm unable to predict how the project will look in ten or thirty years. So far the 2009 version has been launched. It was just a part of the whole and was displayed at a gallery in New York. In this project, the world develops as a living creature and synchronizes with my own life. I don't preset a framework for its development. It originates from my thinking and will create a history of this world in a few years.

Zhang: Let's shift our attention to Up! Up!, the work we collaborated on in 2006.

Hu: That was in 2004.

Zhang: Right, in 2004, in the event of the 5th Shanghai Biennale: Techniques of the Visible.

Hu: It's one of my early interactive works. Up! Up! was composed of simple elements. It was in 2003 that my interactive works had their debut. I held a solo exhibition at BizArt, featuring 4 interactive works of mine. My reasons to be engaged in interactive art were to quicken the reading process of work. It's a tendency that the audience spends less and less time viewing a work, which presents a bottleneck for the development of video art. Few people would watch a video from beginning to end in the exhibition hall. Hence, the idea of the work is hardly ever fully conveyed to the audience. As interactive approaches are adopted, the time length of a work seems to disappear. There is no definite beginning or ending points. The entrance of the audience marks the beginning point and when they leave, the show is over. The elements and styles of these works are relatively simple. Simplicity and the erasure of time periods are two major reasons why I chose interactive art. Up! Up! could be regarded as a mature example among my early attempts. There were only two kinds of changes and choices in the work: up or down, and a variety of interpretations, understanding and experience were generated along the way.

Zhang: Changes in forms and approaches are apparent. How do you view the work from the perspective of creation? For instance, what does interactive art bring to the audience? What kind of impulsion do you have during creation? As the biennale of that year featured Techniques of the Visible, transcending the visible was a core issue to think about.

Hu: I gave up the author's point of view for a while and tried to view the issue from a reader's perspective. What was represented in the work was a kind of normality or a will. The intrusion of exterior factors would reverse the will and the result, corresponding to normal behaviour, habits, experience and mind state. I think this is the foundation for a smooth reading. As to how to interpret what they read, that depends on each audience member. I hope the reading process was open and inspiring. The work was just an incident to catch the attention. I remember some of the comments back then were quite interesting. For instance, someone compared the work to Sisyphus.

Zhang: Finally, let's talk something about the Son series. You took three pictures and named them Son. You asked your son to climb the bell tower of the Shanghai Art Museum, Bund 3, and the bell tower of the Customs House. How did the idea occur to you to connect your child with these famous buildings in Shanghai?

Hu: Well, there's no special reason. Different people may have their own interpretation for that.

Zhang: Maybe you first thought of the idea to have someone on some historic buildings and then you thought of your son and these particular buildings...

Hu: Not exactly. The sites were not randomly picked. They symbolized a visual converging point of history, reality and future extension. In addition to their profound historical implications, the buildings I picked were of a certain height, which gave a broad view. And thirdly, about the human character, I hoped this figure could be somewhat related to myself, representing a kind of continuance.

Zhang: Continuance of yourself... did you also climb onto the roof of high buildings?

Hu: I often did that when I was a child. It felt really good and relaxing when you overlooked a place from a high point. In the Son series I represented the work from this perspective and placed my son where I was supposed to be. It presented the audience with a special opportunity to gaze for a moment at the reality: the architecture in the colonial style, the construction sites, glass walls, the Huangpu River and streets, etc. Such explanations may seem a bit too straightforward and restrict the audience's imagination. "The city and the people" (who live in it) was the question I thought about during the process.

Zhang: The city was in continuation, so were the people living there. Son was a continuance of yourself. And art was also in continuation.

Hu: I don't want to restrict what others may think about the work by presenting my own definite explanation. There should be more room and freedom for reading.

Zhang: What will you expect from your future works? What will be your new pursuit or focus?

Hu: Well, given the current situation, I will be faced with more challenges and uncertainties. For instance, I don't know for sure the consequence of the involvement of digitalization. I look forward to conducting my work on an international platform, depriving symbols with features of identity. What I want to make is "work" instead of "Chinese work".

Zhang: You want to deprive your work of any distinctive characteristics of Chinese culture, right? Do you think China is excluded from the international platform?

Hu: On the contrary, it is included in the international platform.

Zhang: Then why bother depriving your work of any distinctive characteristics of Chinese culture?

Hu: I want to conduct work under the same framework of rules. It doesn't mean the content expressed in my work would have nothing to do with my reality.

Zhang: This is a question about methodology. Simply speaking, oil painting originated from the West. Then should we all follow the same rules from the West? For instance, should we all paint churches?

Hu: No, that's not what I meant. Maybe I didn't say it clearly...

Zhang: Should it be more like work by Western artists instead of that by Chinese artists?

Hu: Let me think it through.

Zhang: Let me take the example of Pan Yuliang. Some two decades ago, her paintings were displayed in a touring exhibition in China. I saw her work at the Ge Garden in Yangzhou. I was deeply touched. I was not so interested in her dramatic life experience. What intrigued me were her paintings, the oil paintings. What was oil painting? Was it just an art form? I should say a flavour of Western oil painting could be perceived in her work. In other words, we can take bread, for example. The way we bake bread is different from that in France. Hence the flavours are different. I thought about why her painting was more like genuine oil painting, and had several discoveries. Firstly, the pigments and canvas she used were from France. Secondly, she depicted scenes in France. The streets, costumes and colours were all very French and fitted the oil painting – it felt just right. The same thing happens when we Chinese practice calligraphy. There were also oil paintings in China, featuring villages, fields, peasants and chicken farms, etc. It just didn't feel right. They didn't feel like genuine oil painting. When you said to deprive the work of distinctive characteristics, do you mean that?

Hu: If only things could be fixed that simply. Is a video featuring Western actors and actresses a genuinely Western video? It's not that simple.

Zhang: Pan Yuliang was based in France and used all kinds of elements from France. Why is her work different?

Hu: The key doesn't lie in the changes in the images presented. I made work in China so it's natural what I presented was the image of China. When considering how to make a work international, we should focus on the language used. We should not put emphasis on Chinese symbols, which would only conceal problems that need to be thought out and solved. Such problems should include whether the art vocabulary, the expressive approaches and power meet the international standards. I think there is still a long way to go before solving these problems. Since it cannot be solved in the short term, many of us resort to the unique resources of Chinese cultures to meet the standards. Such a strategy does achieve some special effect during a certain time period. But this is the result of double standards and is highly restricted in time and geography. This is a very practical problem and we have to be aware of the gap. Let's take photography for example. From shadow tone to the control and quality of inner language, we all face a huge gap. Only by solving these problems can we truly be integrated into the international stage.

15, Jan, 2010, Shanghai

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