About Censorship

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

An interview with the artist Gao Fuyan

Time: 11:30am, December, 22, 2010,

Location: one café near the West Lake, Hangzhou

Wang Dan: I remember that your initial plan was to shoot a series of photos, and it was about people queuing up to entrance of the Expo site. The theme of the works was ‘Waiting’. Purely by chance, the plan was changed into paying attention to a dwelling slum on Tai Xing Road in Shanghai. Why did you choose that slum as your reference?

Gao Fuyan: My proposal was based on the situation, and that is why it changed completely. I used to come up with a plan first and then carry it out. But I don’t think it works well. For an example, when we play chess, we make a move and then we change our strategy before making another one. In any case, there would be a result. Though I was not sure of how my proposal would end up with, the environment and the situation where I had made the direction of my practice. I even forgot why I went to Tai Xing Road. Everything was out of my expectation.

Wang Dan: It is said that you met a peddler who sold fake Haibao near the Expo site. Then he showed you his home located in that slum.

Gao: Yes. at the beginning, I cancelled the plan Waiting because I found it quite hard to realize. The queues formed at the Expo site were far from my expectation. So I wondered around on the street and tried to find new subjects. Then I met the peddler who sold mascot Haibao, and we began to talk. Through conversations with him, I realized that not everyone was willing to support the Expo.

Dan: You mentioned in your article that people there and the whole living environment were waiting, waiting to be changed. In a sense, this went back to your initial plan again.

Gao: The first time I went there, people asked me whether I was from the Relocation Office. This implied that they had been waiting to move out for ages. In terms of general context, people are always in the position of waiting, probably for an opportunity or for a change.

Dan: When I went to Hangzhou to see your draft this summer. One photo was about a vacant room without any dwellers. This impressed me deeply. I could imagine how the house-owners’ life would look like and how anxious they might be to some extent. It is full of a sense of anxiety in the quiet atmosphere. Later, considering the censorship in the process of the works, you changed your plan. If there was no censorship, what would you do?

Gao: I would like to decorate residents’ rooms on Tai Xing Road with neon light tubes. I saw one small and extremely dirty room with all the stuffs piled up on the bed. When I saw that scene, I felt quite bitter. The owner of the room was a middle-aged bachelor in his late forties. If there was no change of my proposal, I would decorate his room. I’d like to insist on looking for other similar rooms.

Dan: Your proposal was to outline the rooms of residents living in Hangzhou by neon light tubes. Why did you change the city? Why was Hangzhou?

Gao: Actually, the difference of territory didn’t seem to be important. Using the neon light tubes to decorate the rooms was just a process that you cannot recognize directly from the works.

Dan: Was each room decorated on purpose?

Gao: Yes, some of them. Though the owners were not in the pictures, there were some objects implying the clues of their identities.

Dan: I saw the two completely different titles in your descriptions, one is Violence of Light and the other is The City Light burns me. When I saw your samples, I found that the room with the colorful neon light tubes as its decoration looked pretty stunning. However, when I saw your real works which were displayed in the light boxes, I felt another way, and my first impression was lifeless. As you said, that modern urban construction has affected people’s everyday life, and even private spaces were intervened by urban symbol, neon light. Personally, I think ‘Violence of Light’ is more appropriate for the works.

Gao: The title Violence of Light as urbanization is a kind of ‘violence’. For instance, the bachelor we mentioned before. Without fast speed urban construction, I assumed that his life wouldn’t change and have less psychological distance between society. He could not compare his situation to others who had better quality of lives. This directly caused his psychological distortion. In the series of Violence of Light, there are two pieces of works, one using red for the background while the other blue. Red and blue are actually the two most violent colors, making other colors in the room unrecognizable and vague. But they are totally different for the other two pieces of works such as yellow and orange as its background color. By looking at the two pieces, we can tell the outlook of the room to some extent. The art works have another name that is The City Light Burns me. I decided to use ‘burninstead of ‘lighten’ after I thought it over. ‘Burn’ gives people the image of ignition caused by human performance.

Dan: You have been talking about ‘what should artists do for the society and their related attitude? Have you ever thought about that the metro station is a closed space with constant moving people, where any eye-catching message could sink into people’s heart because of the highly concentration both on visibility and psychology. It is banal for pedestrians to wait for their trains or pass through the metro stations. So it is crucial to consider what kind of art can be presented in the particular space. And another key point is what kind of attitude can artists take. What role should an artist play?

Gao: Now I find the question ‘what could artists do for the society’ a little bit serious. Artists are actually powerless. How powerful a piece of picture could be? The audience may be touched by your works, but what can be changed after that?

Dan: What do you think that artists could use the transiting public space like metro stations. What can they do for the public? Or could something improve the environment?

Gao: There are advertisements everywhere in the metro stations. When passengers have nothing to do in their short itineraries, they will stare at these advertisements. And then they might accept advertisement actively or passively and resonate in some way. For instance, we see a set of tableware in an advertisement, it leaves an impression on us if we like it and later this impression will lead us to buy it. There was one of my colleague who didn’t know that I made an exhibition in that corridor. When he saw my works, he called me immediately and exclaimed, ‘I couldn’t believe that advertisements on the light boxes now have such effects!’ When he saw my rainbow works, he even started to take pictures. Naturally, he considered them as commercial advertisements, and that was exactly the way he treated them. Later, he did not realize the art works until he saw my name on the label.

Dan: I have talked to Lorenzo Fusi, the curator of Liverpool Biennale, about labeling the public art works. He thought that we should not urge to label art works. Instead, we can introduce the works through media, such as the internet, newspaper and etc.

Gao: I couldn’t agree more. When art works are displayed in the public space, they do not exist for an exhibition any more. Art just like statues in cities actually play some role in the public space.

Dan: While interviewing other artists, you have also mentioned something about the method of contemporary art practices. It was said that a process of experiencing, observing and researching. Then it goes back to the issue when art take place in the public space, there exist three kinds of relationships: artists’ works, the government’s requirements and the aesthetic demands of ordinary people. How do you order three relationships?

Gao: In my opinion, the first and foremost thing is to focus on the audiences. Take an inappropriate example, how can public toilet be categorized? It is extremely private, but also in the public space. In the public realm, artists should take many issues into consideration.

Dan: There is a mediating process. Artists should not make art only serving for audience’s preferences. Instead, they should keep their own ideas at the same time.

Gao: I think it demands a great deal of intelligence. For example, when an artist wants to criticize something, he may use ‘compliment’ in place of the critical language in order to make itself ‘ashamed’.

Dan: So what kind of artistic context do you think is appropriate for public space?

Gao: This is also the toughest part in my own practice. I am always thinking about non-gallery institutional context. Some artists never think about this, their approach is more random. But for me, I would consider how to accord with this kind of context. Actually, I am still focusing on people from other provinces. For instance, there’s one blue colored piece of works, photographing an out-comer who made steamed bread, and another red colored one, picturing the room of a fortune teller.

Dan: If it not for censoring, would your approach still go that slum?

Gao: Yes, I would use my original plan-outlining their rooms with light tubes and making the works rainbow colored.

Dan: Personally, I do not think that public art works as city ornaments or displays near the buildings. They have their own meaning, which can arouse the audiences’ resonance towards society.

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