21 Oct – 23 Nov 2014: Art Exhibition “Master Mould & Copy Room”，CAFA ART MUSEUM 中央美术学院美术馆
OPENING OF THE EXHIBITION “MASTER MOULD & COPY ROOM” ON TUESDAY, OCTOBER 21ST AT 16:00 AT THE CAFA ART MUSEUM, hosted by H.E. Rudi Vervoort, Minister President of the Brussels Capital Region and in the presence of H.E. Mr. Michel Malherbe, Ambassador of Belgium to China. This exhibition is curated by Prof. Hans De Wolf from VUB.
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2013: Our Memory? (Shanghai Jiao Tong University)
Our Memory? is a modest but very refined exhibition project that will become the central event of the “Belgian Week” at Jiao Tong University in Shanghai. It is mod- est in terms production budget (with VUB bringing in artists and art works with a minimum of transportation costs and Jiao Tong guaranteeing the in situ production) however, installed in the central hall of the main library, the project will have an ex- tremely high exposal rate in the heart of Shanghai’s most famous university.
Taking the intentions of the organizers – to bring a special focus on a foreign coun- try – seriously, the exhibition aims to offer the Chinese audience a particular per- spective on Belgium today, however one they might not expect. The main guideline of the project offers a reflection on the idea of collective memory, a theoretical tool that became rather popular in Europe at a moment in time when the old standards on Western modernism started to lose their influence and people were looking for new concepts and frameworks that could help them to find out who they are and where they belong to.
So, in the centre of the exhibition that brings together the work of eight Belgian artists we find the idea of identity, not as an administrative issue, but as a philo- sophical and aesthetic inquiry. Unlike the French, Chinese and many nation states in the world, Belgians, and in particular the artists and intellectuals, are known for cultivating a rather ambivalent relation with their national identity. However, this is not necessarily a source of frustration or unhappiness. The Belgian artists in the exhibition like to question and trigger their unstable identity. It serves them as a permanent source of inspiration and pushes them into new experiences.
The monumental video work “PATRIA” by Koen Theys will serve as the central piece in the exhibition. It can be understood as a “farce” caricaturing Eugène Der- lacroix famous “Freedom guiding the people”. However his real source was a huge work in which the Belgian painter Wappers tried to copy the French model of revolu- tion as a source of inspiration for the young Belgian state in 1830 that badly needed a national pathos. Theys work suggests that this never really worked out well, thus creating the conditions for the development of a highly unstable country in the heart of Europe, a condition the artist warmly accept as a kind of fascinating ambiguity.
The exhibition features next to Theys work by Els Opsomer, Lara Mennes, Rinus Van de Velde, Oscar Hugal, Sven Augustijnen, Peter Krüger and Jasper Rigole. The project comes with a certain amount of source material, documents, books, illustra- tions and small objects that will help the audience (most of it within the university context) to obtain a more in depth grip on the project. In one of he showcases the public will encounter some of the main sources of a typically Belgian brand of skepticism that has been an important source of inspiration to all of the artists in the exhibition: René Magritte’s famous pipe which is not supposed to be considered a pipe, and Marcel Broodthaers bone painted as a Belgian flag.
Our Memory? will be accompanied by a series of lectures and workshops within the campus of Jiao Tong University offered by the curators Hans de Wolf and Carl Jacobs. Koen Theys will offer a lecture and will be available for individual talks with artist students from the university. Ever since our first exhibition project that took place in Shanghai in 2010, we developed excellent relationships with entire art world in the city, which allows us to expect that the exhibition will also be visited by a larger group of interested Shanghainese. We are also in close contact with the main communication networks in Shanghai, which makes us believe that – despite our very modest budget – the exhibition will be well communicated. As happened in all of our previous projects, a group of students from Jiao Tong University will be trained by the curators in order to constitute a docent program available for guiding groups and individuals through the exhibition.
This project also stands for a new and promising evolution in our model for the ap- plication of cultural and academic diplomacy. For the first time the exhibition was developed under the form of a co-curatorship, with Carl Jacobs being responsible of some of the key ideas of the project. He will also be the operating curator in Shanghai.
2012-2013: Wanderlust, Seoul 2012, Gwangju 2013, Chengdu 2013
Wanderlust is the title of our forth intervention with the excellence of Belgian art and imagination in the Far East. It was the first time we operated outside China and the choice of the title is, of course, intimately related with the country the project was destined for: South-Korea.
One of the first lessons we learned in Korea is the fact that this particular country cannot by understood without considering a larger geographical context that is historically dominated by two major empires, China and Japan. Nowadays the three countries can be eas- ily considered as one booming economical free zone, however the marks of historical injustice are still deeply engraved into Korea’s common consciousness. It ex- plains the country’s obsession with identity and with the need to affirm the Korean tradition in a spirit of local competition.
On the cultural front, it was this regional context as well that helped us gain the re- spect and support from local institutions. The reputation of Brussels Body Speech had already reached Seoul, and a meeting between Sunjung Kim (considered as the Peggy Guggenheim of Korea) and Zhou Tiehai from Shanghai, made us become an interesting partner to work with. Again, time was very short, and as in Shanghai we succeeded to realize a little miracle, part of it made possible by the willingness of Sunjung Kim to reschedule the program of the Artsonje Center that she is heading. Again we had an incredible opportunity to show our artists in Seoul and at the best place possible.
In another way, Wanderlust became reality as a di- rect result of Brussels Body Speech. In 2010 the Brussels Regional Government (that had com- manded the project) had been extremely satisfied with the results. Looking forward to the World Expo of 2012 in Yeosu (South-Korea), they want- ed the same team to conceive a similar project. Our choice to focus on Seoul where Korea’s art world operates and all the main universities are based was accepted.
Wanderlust is probably the most beautiful word in the German language. It stands for an irresistible desire to leave everything behind and to check out what lays on the other side of the hill. It became one of the characteristics of the romantic scene in early 19th century Germany, however it is also related to a form of curiosity that makes us question the conventions that regulate every day life over and again.
After having understood the traumatic history of Korea, we thought it a very good idea to present our Korean audiences with five of our very best “Wanderlust art- ists”. Honoré d’O designed a poster for the exhibition. It shows a pedestrian strip that crosses a river. This image immediately became an iconic trigger for the exhibi- tion and we even succeeded to install it for real on a small river in down town Seoul. The project brought such famous artists as Panamarenko, Francis Alÿs and Marcel Broodthaers to Korea for the first time as well, however one of the most discussed installations was the collection fondamentale, a monumental installation by Joëlle Tuerlinckx.
2012: Bringing Broodthaers to Beijing and Shanghai
The accumulated experiences from the two projects we successfully launched in Shanghai 2010 and Beijing 2011, and our in depth contacts with scholars, artists and institutions allowed us to come to some conclusions. We found that the art worlds in both cities were extremely fertile grounds for artistic models and traditions with which they were as of yet unfamiliar. This was a perfect moment to introduce some of our best artists to China. However we also found out that, although the local art world has come forward during the last decades with many excellent Chi- nese artists, there was very little theoretical background around these new artistic positions and none of them could really cope with the western theoretical models and formats. On the other hand, members of the Chinese art world seemed to have great difficulties understanding the conceptually more complicated work of artists such as Marcel Broodthaers and Joëlle Tuerlinckx.
A second motivation for us wanting to bring the thoughts and idea’s of one of Bel- gium’s most prominent artists of the 20st century, Marcel Broodthaers, to Beijing and Shanghai, has to do with the fact that the model which we developed during our previous projects, includes the idea to keep our networks operational, even af- ter the project ends. The organization of an academic colloquium which would take place in the period between two major projects seemed to be an excellent way to do so. Moreover, we conceived it as the perfect preparation for the upcoming pro- jects in 2013 in which Broodtaers will play a major role.
Over the past few years, several European countries have developed cultural pro- jects in China. Beijing in particular has seen the presentation of many European art treasures. However very often those efforts resulted in having very little effect, because merely showing art works in China does not work. One has to make them land and we found out that in order to succeed in such a difficult operation, one should first activate the local art world and secondly explain what cannot be under- stood right away by Chinese audiences.
All those considerations made us decide to organize a Broodthaers colloquium in Beijing and Shanghai and we were so fortunate as to win the support of the wid- ow of the artist, Maria Gillisen and two of the most prominent scholars that have worked on the oeuvre of the artist. Jean François Chevrier came from Paris and Anne Rorimer from Chicago.
On March 15th 2012 the colloquium Bringing Broodthaers to Beijing took place at one of the most prestigious venues one could think of in Beijing, namely Tsinghua University. On March 16th the Bringing Broodthaers to Shanghai colloquium was organized at a place we were already familiar with: the Minsheng art Museum in Shanghai. Both events were well visited by scholars, artists and students.
2011: Belgian contribution to the first CAFA Biennial, Beijing
Belgium as a guest country represented at the first CAFA Biennial, Beijing 2011. The success of our project in Shanghai 2010 brought our new format of academic exhibition projects to the attention of Belgian diplomats in Beijing. As 2011 marked the celebrations of 40 years of diplomatic relations between the Peoples Republic of China and Belgium, the same team was invited to bring ‘Brussels Body Speech’ to Beijing. However, we quickly understood that it would not be a good idea to sim- ply repeat the project in the Chinese capital. As
such, we suggested to develop a new concept that would be better suited to this very differ- ent environment. While reflecting further on the plagiarism case, which had placed Ann Veronica Janssens in direct opposition to Olaffur Eliason in Shanghai, we started to develop a more fun- damental reflection on the tension between the notion of the unique and the culture of the copy in both China and Europe. Only months before the project was supposed to be opened officially, the situation changed dramati- cally. In Beijing we had decided to collaborate with the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), China’s most celebrated educational institution for the arts, which also happens to host an outstanding museum on its campus. However, the first CAFA Biennial would take place in the same museum at the same time as our project, making our position in the museum problematic. Discussions between the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Presidency of CAFA led to the following results: considering the conceptual qualities of the project proposed by Belgium (‘Master Mould and Copy Room’), CAFA accepted to host the project on a later occasion. As a compromise, the curator of the Belgian project was invited to become part of the curatorial team that organised the first CAFA Biennial and was asked to pro- pose the contributions for a special focus on Belgian art.
Finally, eight artworks and installations were selected by five Belgian artists, each one reflecting the tension between a small but exceptionally creative and innovative country in the heart of Europe and the Empire of the Middle in a very subtle and poetical way. Drawings of David Claerbout were confronted with a film about prob- ably the most eroticised choreography of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. A ‘blind spot’ by Joëlle Tuerlinckx was evoking notions of freedom of speech, whereas a beautiful light sculpture by Ann Veronica Janssens made the spectator disappear in a spectre of light. An experimental film project by Frank Theys closed the Belgian contribution to the Biennial.
In order to offer some additional weight to our presence at CAFA during the visit of the Belgian mission, we invited the Jin Xing Dance Theatre from Shanghai to perform the Rosas danst Rosas choreography by Anna Teresa de Keersmaecker for this special occasion. Taking advantage of this opportunity we were also highly successful in bringing this Belgian piece, performed by Chinese dancers, to the Beijing Dance Academy – probably the most acclaimed dance school in the tradition of ballet in the world. This resulted into a interesting clash of schools and although we initially though that the weight of tradition within the Dance Academy would not allow for the dancers to understand the innovative character of the piece, the final results were endlessly more positive.
19 Sep -07 Oct 2010: Brussels days at the Shanghai World Expo 2010
Brussels Body Speech
Brussels Body Speech was the first trial run in what would eventually become an academic exhibition project. Commissioned by the Brussels Regional Government, the main focus of the project was to create visibility for Belgium’s excellence in the visual arts at the World Expo of 2010 in Shanghai. The project was realized under very difficult conditions: not only did we have very little time to develop the concept and to select the artists, moreover the competition among countries for visibility in Shanghai was tremendous.
However, we were lucky to meet with the staff of a brand new museum, the Min- sheng Art Museum, who were fascinated by the quality of our proposal and decided to invite us to realize the exhibition there. We decided to introduce two debates in China on topics we knew Chinese audiences were unfamiliar with. In the first one, we wanted to pay tribute to Brussels’ contemporary dance scene by bringing one of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s classical pieces, “Rosas danst Rosas” to the city. However, for the very first time ever, this famous choreography would not be performed by the dancers of Rosas themselves. The artist accepted that four young female dancers from the Jinxing Dance Theatre in Shanghai would perform her choreography. The result was spectacular. Contemporary dance became thus the first focus point in our concept, considering that dancers use their own body as a basic format and celebrate it everyday. As a second focus point, we wanted confront this position with a special brand in American science, called ‘transhuman- ism’. In his acclaimed documentary, Technocalyps, the artist Frank Theys follows a series of scientists who firmly believe that the human body should be technically approved in order to become fit for the challenges of the future. Some of them even believe that at one point we will quit the format of the human body alltogether. Three other artistic positions were integrated into the ex- hibition, because they fit perfectly in this tension be- tween those who celebrate the body and those who want to get away from it. Ann Veronica Janssens’ huge mistroom was conceived as a formal answer in reaction to a case of plagiarism comitted by Olaf- fur Eliason, who had produced a similar mistroom in Beijing only six months earlier that year. Joëlle Tuerlinckx’ installation represented the first contact of Chinese audiences with conceptual art and David Claerbout’s acclaimed film installation ‘Sections of a Happy Moment’ could be considered as the perfect illustration of the curatorial concept.
During the exhibition no less than twenty activities were organised, all of which had the purpose to settle those avant-garde artworks into the hearts and minds of the Chinese public. The artists gave lectures in art schools and universities, and an international colloquium on Quantum Physics was organised within the framework of the exhibition (‘Einstein Meets Magritte in Shanghai’). The whole team – curator, assistants and artists – was invited to one of the most prestigious art institutions in China: the China Art Academy in Hangzhou (CCA).
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Prof. Hans de Wolf
Hans de Wolf is an art historian who focuses mainly on modern and contemporary art, philosophy and aesthetics. He studied at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and the Columbia University in New York. In 2002, he obtained his PhD degree for a voluminous and fundamentally innovative interpretation of one of Marcel Duchamp’s major works, La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires même. Since 1998, he has been involved in the development and realization of various exhibition projects in the Neue Nationalgalerie im Hamburger Bahnhof, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Berlin. At the Kunsthochschule Berlin-Weissensee he has been giving theoretical art seminars since 2002.
In 2004 Hans de Wolf was appointed Professor of Art History and Aesthetics at VUB. That same year he was invited as a senior consultant by the Palais des Beaux-Arts in particular to develop further relations with Germany. In 2005, he was mandated the creation of an institute (The Platform, known as the “Brussels model”) in order to create an institutional environment for the implementation of artistic research. He then launched a whole series of prestigious research projects involving some of Belgium’s most famous artists.
Since 2009 this global context of intermediation between the worlds of art and academia took on a whole new dimension when he was mandated to create a first project for Shanghai 2010. Several other projects would follow, all conceived according to the same philosophy, bringing some of Belgium’s best artists to cities such as Beijing, Hangzhou, Seoul, Gwangju, Chengdu and Beijing again. In 2011, as the result of a three year long research project, The Crooked Path, an art historical exhibition project on the Canadian photographer Jeff Wall, conceived in tight collaboration with the artist, opened at the Palais de Beaux-Arts in Brussels.