Opening: 4:00--6:00pm, June 16th, 2012 (Saturday)
Organizer: A Thousand Plateaus Art Space
Wholly Sponsored: Tianfu Park Island
Curator : Du Xiyun
Director : Liu Jie
Artist: He Gong
Media: Painting, Installation
Book Name: Patagonia Wind
Producer: A Thousand Plateaus Art Space
Print: Printing in full colours
Publication Time: June,2012
December 29, 1951, the legendary Latin America Marxist revolutionary¡ªChe Guevara started with a friend from the Argentine city of Buenos Aires, through Argentine, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Venezuila, taking eight months to complete a motorcycle tour, which changed Che's life, as well as the pattern of South American ideology, and the structure of the world's political discourse.
December 29, 2011, the famous contemporary artist in China¡ªHe Gong started alone from Buenos Aires to re-take the motorcycle journey of Che Guevara, taking months to complete a long-planned spiritual baptism, recording a series of travel literature, creating new works of self-transcendence.
Between two pure and idealist dream chasers, thus a spiritual conversation begins.
It is my honor to pronounce that the "Patagonia Wind",He Gong's 2nd solo exhibition in A Thousand Plateau Art Space,is going to open on 16, June, 2012. The works in this exhibition were made after his motorcycle tour following Che Guevara's path from the end of last year to the beginning of this year. These works include large size paintings,installations and pertaining documentaries. From these works we can see Mr.He's continual and deeper concerning on previous issues and his spiritual conversation with another great idealist Che as well.
He Gong, the famous contemporary artist, was born in Chongqing£¬China in 1955. In 1978, he was admitted to the Fine Arts Department of Southwest Normal University, and won the Master's degree at Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts in 1985. He is now a professor and doctoral tutor in Arts College of Sichuan University. Since the early 1980s, when Chinese contemporary art started to thrive, He Gong began his personal art practice. During the period of postgraduate, he created works such as Dilute Memory and Bach's Metaphor to show his reflections on history and culture and the concerns of man's present living condition. From 1986, He Gong studied in the United States and Canada as a visiting artist and visiting professor at several universities, during which he had actively participated in the international academic forum and continued his personal art activities. In the process of studying Western post-modern movement in art, he created paintings, installations and conceptual art, such as the installations Dream of Ark, This is Not The Mayflower, Program of The Post-Yangtze Dolphin, oil painting European Station, The Subway to Brooklyn, and so on, to convey the cross-cultural feeling and thinking. After coming back to China at the beginning of this century, the works of He Gong tended to be more concretely presenting the cultural and philosophical speculations. A strong tension exudes from the paintings with seemingly casual and random brushstrokes unveils He Gong's doubts and his pursuit of ideal as an intellectual artist. It is exactly this pursuit that inspired He Gong, the dream chaser, re-embark on the trip to Patagonia Plateau at the 60th anniversary of Che Guevara's motorcycle trip.
Patagonia Wind is a personal art project carried out by renowned artist He Gong with the assistance of A Thousand Plateau Art Space, TIANFU PARK ISLAND and other individuals. The project was initiated by Mr.He and accomplished jointly by himself, A Thousand Plateau Art Space and curator Du Xiyun. This project is a necessity for Mr.He as an "organic artist" who has always been scepticizing, questioning dream-chasing and experimenting and it's also the extension of his substantial art works. We can even say, Mr.He's best and greatest work is exactly his constant scepticizing ,questioning and chasing of his ideals and this could possibly be the most important historical value created by Mr.He as one of China' first generation of contemporary artists. Based on the same or similar reason, A Thousand Plateau Art Space and relative organizations and individuals also took part in this project with great passion and responsibility. The accomplishment of this project will undoubtedly promote and elevate He's individual value as an outstanding artist, meanwhile, it will present a valuable reference for the developing Chinese contemporary art and culture, especially in today's chaotic and fickle China.
Hypoxia, escape, respiration, making oxygen—a conservation with He Gong on "Guevara Tour" and Chinese contemporary art
Interlocutors: Du Xiyun & He Gong
Time: May to June 2012
Works of He Gong exude a strong breath of intellectuals and idealism. His solemn sense of history, intense criticalness, feelings of compassion and romantic character, are impressive. Returning to China in recent years, his works clearly focused on the core issue of the Chinese scene, with the individual cognitive and artistic accomplishment, he had an ongoing visual expression: pointing to past history in appearance, while pointing to the moment in fact; a game of artistic language in appearance, while the spicy allegory of social reality in fact.
Recently, he passed though South America along the way of Che Guevara's Motorcycle Tour. The romanticism and idealism complex of such acts is obvious. While compared with the status quo of Chinese showfolk, especially with the pragmatic, this performance seems far from reality, even as a daydream. However, wondering whether the performance is just a travel for pleasure driven by the romantic and idealistic complex, we can only read the notes and works of He's tour, and leave room for the future art evaluation.
In addition, it is worth noting that: He Gong's Guevara Tour, as well as his feelings and expression on the situation of China( including the situation of Chinese contemporary art), although appearing extreme or too Utopian to some people, is built on the basis of his international outlook and experience, rather than just evaluating the country at home.
Du Xiyun(hereinafter referred to Du)：What was the reason why you began your "Guevara Tour"?
He Gong(hereinafter referred to He)：When I was in Grade One, I marched along with the school to protest against the US invasion of Cuba. Che Guevara portrait was printed on the placard. As a memorable impression to me, his face was profound and determined. Of course, I hadn't known who he was and what he had done until many years later. The portrait of him taken by Korda, as a single picture, has been the second most printed image in the human history of printing(second to Jesus).
Du: What do you think is the reason?
He: I also ask this question. I suspect that when a Mexico's indigenous youth silently works in a California vineyard, his Che Guevara T-shirt seems to be telling the farmer:"Originally, we were the master here"; When a staff dresses the same T-shirt, he is maybe suggesting his boss who has always been reprimanding him:"I don't like you". In short, there is a Che, there is a disapproval and a kind of non-collaboration. Nelson Mandela said:"Che is an inspiration for every human being who loves freedom", Sartre said:"Che was not only an intellectual but also the most complete human being of our age". Che is an intellectual, not a politician, not a conspirator, he is pure.
Du：How do you see the relationship between Guevara and communist ideology?
He：In Canada in the early 1990s, I had the impulse to study art sociology, although I failed because of my little talent and learning, there was one thing surprised me in the process of preparing. In any degree of Sociology Department in York University, they put Das Kapital, which was written by Marx, in first position of the required reading, and so do most of the other colleges and universities in North America……. The greatest contribution of Das Kapital is precisely to provide the basis and nutrition for the rationalization process of modern capitalism. As a political and economic writing, it achieved the transfer to the doctrine of ideological beliefs, through the Communist Manifesto written by Marx and Engels.
However, there was a paragraph of Engels in Introduction to Karl Marx's The Class Struggles in France 1848 to 1850:"But history has shown us too to have been wrong, has revealed our point of view at that time as an illusion……." In today's perspective, communist ideology is not a generally successful experimental interpretive theory of human sociology. Engels's self-examination in 1895 was made on the basis of the half-century pattern in Western Europe since 1848. If they are still alive, in the face with today's Western scene, which is different from the ruthlessness of the primitive accumulation of early capitalism, may do more self-examination and correction. To non-western nations and civilizations, it is inevitable for a western theory such as communism to be misplaced between its own history and culture context in the social practice. When the local feudal autocracy combined with the idea of dictatorship of a single class, there will be dire consequences. At the same time, the existing socialist regimes are far from Marx's original idea, Korea changed into a family dictatorship because of the hereditary, even if Cuba where Che had fought in, also has a suspects of a dictatorship, as the brother has inherited the throne.
Of course, all these problems had not been highlighted when Che was still alive. In fact, we can not use today's knowledge to be demanding to the ancients, because Che didn't have the same vision of history as we do now. After all, during his lifetime, the concept of communism was a global and popular"political correctness". For him, it was not a ridiculous dream to firmly believe that the communist world was certain to come, or to fight for the liberation of all mankind, but a goal worth dying for. Although there would be setbacks on the revolutionary road, it is almost impossible for him to imagine the total failure. Moreover, at that time, there were many Latin American countries in the post-colonial era, suffering from the repeated military dictatorships, the social situation and people's living conditions were still calling for liberators and revolutionaries.
However, we have to take Che's temperament into account, too. He is a romantic man with the pursuit of excellence, and he is also compassionate. If we study the reason why he became a revolutionary, maybe all kinds of sufferings of the lower class people he saw shocked him more than the theory of communism. His famous quote:"How can I turn away in front of the suffering of others ？" It is shameful to be indifferent. In my opinion, Che didn't sacrifice himself for the political ideals of communism as much as he embarked on the road of martyrdom with the inspiration of salvation spirit, hoping to save others from depression.
Du: Guevara has become a totem of "revolution", and how do you think of the relationship between Che Guevara and violent revolution?
He: Lu Xun once said:"Revolutionaries were killed by counter-revolutionaries, counter-revolutionaries were killed by revolutionaries, non-revolutionaries were killed by counter-revolutionaries as revolutionaries, or by revolutionaries as counter-revolutionaries, or killed for nothing by revolutionaries or counter-revolutionaries." It can basically summarize the violence problem since the French Revolution, which is all related to the word "revolution". Che Guevara chose the way of violent revolution, theoretically on the basis of Marxism's claims about the armed struggle of the proletariat, while actually both the revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries at that time were armed and violent in Central and South America. It was the real context then. Gabriel Garcia Marquez's description in One Hundred Years of Solitude, about the solitude of the banana plantations and the armed repression of the military governments to demonstrators and dissidents, was not fictional. When I was in Peru, I witnessed that several times: Heavily armed military police stopped long-distance vihicle at any times for the examination of documents and check luggages, and easily confiscated the goods if they could not tell the origin. Along the way we saw many military policemen hitchhike for free on the excuse of "official business"(I could only interpret it this way) , and they were offered in the best seats. Once there is a resistance to such legitimate violence, it must be violent, too. Che Guavara, who took violent revolution as the means, joined the revolution mainly because of the humanitarian motives. When the motivation turned into an ideal,he went for it without turning back, until his own life was ended by violence.
In fact, Che Guevara is not only the totem of revolution, but also a very meaningful image, such as the ancient Greek gods,in charge of not only one erea. But whatever happens, he will not become a symbol of power, or the God of Wealth.
Du：You've been back, living in China, so why did you re-take the Guevara Tour?
He：A few years ago, I came back to Sichuan University as a graduate teacher. The president is my old classmate, the great care has become a huge favor and pressure. I married here, bought a house here, thinking that it would be the place I belong to. But I forgot that in my heart I could not get used to be living in a place for too long, with increasing familiarity, boredom was on the rise.
Among the cities I have lived in, Chengdu has the least vivid style and the most complex character. Of course, it is just a microcosm of China. In the past few years, I spent most of my time living in Chengdu, after the short-term fresh feeling, I felt lack of oxygen. It was a good excuse that I re-take the Guevara Tour, to flee, to breathe.
Du：Compared with the feelings in Chengdu, what is the difference along the way of Guevara Tour?
He：Last winter when I left Chengdu, it was in winter, gray and chilly. When I reached South America, it was hot summer. In addition the chill in south Patagonia and Ushuaia, most of the rest time I was either embraced in the hot sun, or baptized by the rainstorm; especially on the trip through Peru, from the hot and dry desert by the sea, to the snow plateaus with an elevation of more than 4,000 meters, and down to the stuffy and wet Amazon jungle, I was left a profound memory of skin by the clear weather. I could only use the word "thrilling" to describe these feelings. This must be relevant to my dull sense, I could drink either hot water or iced water, but not warm water, which is equal to a kind of punishment tome.
Of course, different places in South America are not the same. The day I arrived in Buenos Aires was Christmas Day, it was dead silent like a ghost town until the next morning, when people came together from all the corners of the street, walk in a rush with colorful expressions, which was better than the indifferent New York faces. From dusk to late night, there was dreamlike tango in the Plaza de Mayo, that is much more romantic than staying in the city. It was the New Year's Eve when I was on the coach to Ushuaia, the whole car was singing and dancing with the guitarist in the wilderness of Patagonia to greet the New Year. People exchanged their own mate teapot under the waning moon in the western sky. Most of the people I met were enthusiastic and simple, even to a state of relaxation. Outsiders always exaggerate the minor deceitful tricks, but they can't changed my good feelings. From south to north, I cross the Atacama desert, which is more like Mars than any other place on earth. It was dazzling golden in the sunshine, and revealed patina-like phosphorescence in the moon. The bus stopped in a place with several metal barns, where the horsemen was sitting on the wooden railing, next to his handicrafts made of copperore and copper. He was silent, I could see the dull brightness from his eyes in the darkness. It was so quiet that I could only hear the sound of horses chewing hay. As Peruvian plateau was sparsely populated, during the ten hours' drive from Puno to Cuzco, we had only passed several settlements, which were all next to the churches. There was a small market town surrounded by churches at the foot of snow-capped mountain Chimboya. I bought an alpaca sweater there, the colors match was so good to be a model for the textbook. The Yahua indigenous in Amazon live on hunting and fishing, so far they are self sufficient, as a result, there is no word like"greed" there. Even in developed cities such as Buenos Aires, Santiago and Lima, South Americans have an extremely rich and diverse life styles. Even in a place with obvious social classes , both the religious and conservative middle class and the rebellious graffiti artists live hormoniously. Especially in Argentina, the immigrants are from every corner of the world. Although there are conflicts in the extreme plural culture, it ends up eventually in peace. You can see no dominant ideology or culture here，on the contrary you can see many stuff which are out-of-date in other parts of the world are still popular here .In big cities,books of Marx, Lenin, Gramsci and Hitler are still in the best-selling position in the bookstores, let alone books of Guevara. Perhaps South America destines to be filled with various romantic ideal and magical passion, to make all the ambitious ideas of domination suffer a crushing defeat.
Du：In contrast, what do you think about Chengdu life? Chengdu is well-konwn for leisure and ease.
He：life in Chengdu is not so leisurely as advertised. The endless similarity and the herd mentality is almost morbid. Mavericks are immediately regarded as heresies, and rejected by the circle. As a result, many people cautiously stay in the safe area, not daring to cross the limit but fawning on kitsch. In fact, is it not a common phenomenon in Chinese contemporary art circles of interest?
Du：What did you learn from "Guevara Trip"?
He：I planned the trip for over two years, although people around me might regard it as an impulse. It's what I have to do. It is an art performance for me to re-take "Guevara Motor-Trip" after sixty years(In the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, I also did "Victory Kiss" in New York Times Square ). I'm not a wise man, not able to do riddles, Whenever I do something,I must convince myself with meaningful motivations to take any actions, otherwise it'd be a self-deception to me. Determined to start off this trip is easy for me, but I nearly gave it up in the middle of the trip several times because of visa problems as a Chinese passport holder. Thank the blessing from high above, after all the difficulties, I completed the trip almost as the original plan, it's what I learned.
Du: Why did you have to do "Guevara Trip"? Before starting off, what was the meaning that convinced yourself?
He: When I gave lessons to the art graduates, I played many films as teaching materials. In 2009, when I was preparing lessons for Cyrus "Motorcycle Diaries", I learned the accurate departure time of Che Guevare—November 29th, 1951. I realized it will be a solid sixty years by 2011. I was a little impulsive to make the decision of "re-take Che's trip" after sixty years. With heart aflame, I introduced the film, introduced Che Guevara, and announced my re-taking program. Completely disappointedly, there was no warm feedback, and no one wanted to sign up to travel together. All seats were occupied, while none of nearly a hundred people gave it a damn. Immediately I felt I was blowed……. Meaning comes from action. As the result of the popular pragmatic logic, so-called contemporary art is losing its critical stance and cultural resistance. With almost all the people choosing a broader road, don't we need someone to choose a single-plank bridge? Chinese people always talk about democracy, and often confuse it with majoritarianism. There are vivid examples in today's networks and microblogs. Many "democratic" voice remind me of the scene in Durrenm "The Visit" that the majority voted for death in the profit-driven. It is precisely the indifference make me more determined, I immediately felt the pleasure of acting as a oppisite example. For me, it is the significance that departing from the herd of mob, defiance of vulgar politics and its derivative concept, and making the independence of artistic behavior.
Du：Fleeing from anoxic Chengdu, what do you want to pursue in South America? Have you got it?
He：In fact, it is important to observe myself on the way: I can't help being considered incompatible. I reviewed my own experience, knowledge structure, and the way of thinking and behavior. I can not claim to be an intellectual, but I always find myself on the opposite of the power(sometimes it seems to be subconscious) , to express a critical attitude mainly by works, to issue alert. In the domestic, such attitude and voice is very necessary, and surely not expressed by me alone. But in today's contemporary art circle is being corroded rampantly by capital, power, media, vested interests and massive followers. What is my pursuit exactly? Although I have said so much, I myself can't be sure at all. But I can feel that I will flee for oxygen more often in the future.
Du: After Guevara Trip, you have known yourself better. Could you briefly talk about your experience and knowledge structure? What is the basis of "critical"? What is the "spirit" you respect? What is your "oxygen"?
He: It's complex. I prefer to tell the main clue. When I was a college student, I was strongly interested in art history. Later, I was inspired by the iconology work The Painter's Secret Geometry, which was sent by my foreign teacher. I have also read Chinese translation of Arnheim's, Chinese translation of Gombrich's organized by Fan Jingzhong; In Kansas during the mid-1980s, the art education emphasized reading Benjamin's, which was too hard for me. I actually somewhat like the relatively easier post-modern theory and the interpretation methods of art of Charles Jencks. Early 1990s in Canada, I was an assistant working for Bruce Parsons(who was an important communicator and facilitator of 85 movement in art in China). It was him strongly recommended that I should learn sociology as complementary knowledge. Originally I had read some books such as Mixed Blessings written by Lucy Lippard, it was a multiculturalism work with a post-colonial writing style. Later I got up to British magazine Left Review, Edward Said's radio interview shocked me tremendously , perhaps related to my identity. Said has an important impact on my way and idea of art. If you study my installations and paintings since 1990, you will see obvious traces. In short, I rather approve Said of the theory on the peripheral (even opposite) position and sustained power criticism, which is also my important thinking basis during the past two decades. I had also studied under Gramsci and Banda, for the purpose of proving Said thought. The circle is too fickle, the only method is to pay attention to the problems but keep a distance. I can't clearly tell what "oxygen" is, maybe it is the imagination of something or some place that is strange, distant and attractive.
Du: After fleeing and breathing, you returned home. So what is your concern now?
He: It was as long as 100 days since I left Highland. Various publications and catalogs sent piled up in International Pot(artist canteen in Highland). Massive artists have produced massive works, the metamorphosis of the academic text make reading distorted. In my mind, the title of Carver's novel, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, is replaced with this sentence: What We Talk About When We Talk About Chinese Contemporary Art? It's really not easy for Lun Xun to read the word "cannibalism" in Chinese ancient books, but it's really not hard for us to read the word "business" in "Chinese contemporary art", while they make effort to hide them. It's the problem that business becomes the power, the core and even the entire Chinese contemporary art. However, such a big problem is not a problem in our opinion. It's really hard to change the situation, but I always think: How did we come to such a situation?
Du: You doubt on Chinese contemporary art?
He: Where did the concept of "Chinese Contemporary Art" come from? It's what I've been always thinking about. At fist, they call it "modern art", then gradually to "avant garde", "contemporary". As a clue, the Stars may be called the beginning,through the "85 Movement", 1989 Modern Art Exhibition, to "China experience". It is a non-institutional and antagonistic. On the other hand, there is another clue since "Scar Art", "Chinese National Academy of Arts", to today's fully "nationalized" contemporary art which has been institutionalized. The further the opposite value systems go as it is actually the same group playing the game,as a result, it is more inevitable for Chinese contemporary art to have a dual nature. With the dual-nature, Chinese contemporary Art easily degenerated into opportunistic art, and all of this was done by the elite community. Contemporary is political, of course, I mean the political concern. Today's Chinese contemporary art is sliding into the vulgar politics, where there are lots of "politicians". Not only the independent personality of contemporary intellectuals, but also the difference and clean of ancient literati has gone.
Du: Have you thought about the reason for this situation?
He: Yes, it' s what I am always thinking about. Actually we can see that "85 Thoughts" is with a strong tendency that "art for art's sake". Seeing from the visual representation, it is to explore the modernist formatting and stylized language, emphasizing art autonomy to get rid of political constraints. Because of the special reason in 1989, after Modern Art Exhibition, there came a standstill. The avant-garde art(then so called), wake up from dreams of "pure art" and focus on politics instead. From 1985 to 1989, the change from alienation to returning showed that Chinese art has altered its way from escaping from the Chinese realities to concerning about it. In the West, contemporary itself is political. In the second half of the last century after the modernism peak, generations of artists after the war were ideologically covered by postmodernism, feminism, post-colonial writing and so on, which was, fundamentally speaking, a contemporary political impact. It has generally facilitated the transformation of the Western artists to intellectuals. After 1989 in China, there came a large number of translation and introduction on the above western theories, as well as a great discussion about the intellectuals. This translation and discussion has also promoted the transformation of many people in Chinese literary world from scholar within the institution to intellectuals upholding the consciousness of concerning about society. However, such things did not happen widely in the field of Chinese art. In my opinion, Chinese contemporary art without the comprehensive presence of intellectuals is bound to become an outlaw world, bonding and sharing benifits with the system, in league with captial to seek "win-win", conspiring with the real estate industry for "intensive development". In these outlaw worlds, there is no worry and concern of intellectuals, and even the ever chivalric characteristics in outlaw world are lost.
Du: Do you think there are new possibilities?
He: In modern China with an endless stream of wonders, too many things can be done in contemporary art, instead of nothing. When the once lively and vivid contemporary art is changed vulgar by politics and economy, there comes background for new possibilities. Of course, above all things, new possibilities are in the hands of responsible and capable artists.