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100 Years in 1 Minute

Interviewer: Hu Jieming/Lu Leiping/Li Zhenhua 2010-10-07

A Dialogue between Hu Jieming (HJM), Lu Leiping (LLP) and Li Zhenhua (LZH)

LZH: I'm particularly interested in the sense of time in your work. On the one hand, it reveals the progress of contemporaneity in terms of art; on the other, it's teeming with the philosophy of Zen. I'd like to hear your views on it.

HJM: I've come to realize that I have a special feeling for the concept of time: it often makes me feel anxious. I don't like such a feeling, but it's just there. Looking back upon my previous works, despite the great changes in terms of expressive approaches, such an unspeakable feeling still lingers. The other reason for me to pay such attention to history may sound a bit ridiculous: when immersing myself in history, I feel like getting rid of the sense of time. Or in other words, it seems time has nothing to do with me anymore – it no longer exists. When reading the profile of a historical figure, normally I would first notice his/her years of birth and death, calculating in my mind the history s/he has been through and how far the figure is from me on the time line. To some extent, it is only wild and pointless thinking, but it would give me a preview before I get to really know this figure or event. It's hard to judge the value of such a "preview", but one thing can be certain: time no longer exists. I feel suspended in the air. Such a state helps me achieve the inner peace to read the specific history. Thanks to the disappearance of the sense of time, such a special mind-state is created. Probably that's the essence of Zen.

LLP: What intrigues me the most is the way you view history. You view it from an artist's perspective. 100 Years in 1 Minute showcases the evolution of art during the past century. Moreover, it can also be seen as a one-minute dialogue between contemporary artists and their predecessors. Why did you choose art history as the subject matter of the work? And why 100 years?

HJM: It is a choice based on my own identity and background knowledge. In other words, I choose something I'm familiar with and it happens to be a popular and broad realm. Generally speaking, I want to use topics, materials and approaches that are straightforward and this work is no exception. As to concepts such as 1 minute or 100 years, they are a bit different from traditional time measurements. Here, "1 minute" doesn't mean "60 seconds" and "100 years" doesn't refer to one century, they are used to refer to different time lengths. I created a work entitled Dozens of Days and Dozens of Years in 2007. My concepts of time are relatively the same in these two works. To each one of us, what we've learned and experienced and the concepts and ideas we have are generated during the transition between different lengths. The transition process involves educational factors. During the creation process of the work, our education background and perspectives will naturally become relevant to each member of my team and myself. This can be deemed as a supporting point for the "present" I set for the time line of the work. Videos of different familiar works (we need to note that familiarity also has something to do with education) constitute the "past". It is through such interactions and transitions that 100 Years in 1 Minute is presented.

LLP: You mentioned that the production of the 1,000 videos was done by your team. Can you please share with us how your team works?

HJM: The videos were produced by 18 team members. The contents were excerpted from classic works in the history of art and my understanding and access to information were the basis for my choices. I gave each of my team members some suggestions and encouraged them to explore further: history consists of pieces of time. Let's assume that the concept of time is detached or the dimensions of time are altered. Under such circumstances, I would like my members to consider what would happen to the images at hand from the present perspective. With this principle and with a certain workflow, this grand project turned out to be quite feasible. During the whole process, I mainly needed to focus on three aspects: to encourage the team to make contributions; to consider which parts of the images needed further changes; and to feel the subtle differences between the senses of the members in order to create more interesting combinations. In terms of audio production, there are 120 stereos used and 31 soundtracks of synthetic sound broadcast. Among the 31 sound tracks, 30 of which were selected from past events and were broadcast from the 120 stereos. The other soundtrack is produced by a live transmission. The 30 kinds of sounds broadcast on site are processed by custom programmes and then output to 10 loudspeakers. Our approach is a bit different from before. We tried to "disturb" the norm and obtain something unexpected, looking forward to seeing more possibilities of change.

LZH: During our discussion about the work, you also mentioned the medium. You said you wanted this effect created by storage bags. In this way, images would seem to be some daily items that can be taken and utilized. I wonder why, and how did the idea of using storage bags occur to you?

HJM: An artist spends a lot of time and effort thinking about what medium to use, for it is a major part of a work. According to Marcel Duchamp, art is more than creation, it's the result of choices. It took quite some time before I decided to use storage bags. It is something people are familiar with and has a very specific function, so I think the implication of it is clear and easy to understand. In my view, the use of materials with too many obscure implications is a sign of a lack of confidence.

LZH: A lack of confidence? Why is that? Did you ever have such an experience before? What do you mean by too many implications? From Rauschenberg's installations to Duchamp's use of the ready-mades, every item has its meaning in an artwork. What do storage bags mean to you?

HJM: I may need to elaborate a bit. I was referring to works with too many obscure or unspecific materials and approaches – I feel this is a sign of a lack of confidence. It's not uncommon: when we are asked to make a comment but don't know for sure what to say, we tend to say something ambiguous. The meaning of a work is actually beyond the control of the artist. It is a result of interactions with different audiences. Storage bags are simple, easy to understand. However, how the audience will interpret the bags is beyond my control. I look forward to seeing more possibilities.

LLP: Looking back over art history, it's common that artists create new works based on previous works. Duchamp's Mona Lisa parody is a prominent example. In 100 Years in 1 Minute you made use of over 1,000 pieces of artworks, including painting and video, to create 1-minute video clips. Would you please share with us your idea behind the work?

HJM: I paid a lot of attention to figuring it out. From conception, creation to public presentation, Marcel Duchamp's work was widely considered as obscure. As time has gone by, such "obscurity" has become "standard". Even if you don't quite get it, there's no necessity to put forward "why". What I'm concerned about is whether it's necessary for me to deny classics like Duchamp. Are classics that horrible? I don't want to avoid the question anymore. No matter what you do, you cannot avoid the influence of predecessors and classics. It's rarely possible for a concept or expressive approach to come into being from scratch. To live our life in a certain time period is not a choice up to us.

Therefore, what I consider more is to create more possibilities through the transitions of different time dimensions. Perhaps it sounds a bit hard to understand. But it really took me a lot of time to think about this and this is a question involving multiple relations. Anyway, in the end the visual images presented are still a kind of misrepresentation or reinterpretation of history and of the classics, or even a kind of disrespect and negation. I want to say that that was not my original intention. I don't want to negate for the sake of negation, nor to reinterpret for the sake of misrepresentation. I just don't know how to avoid such effects and to represent my reflection upon the transition of time dimensions in a purer way. I do feel a sense of helplessness in this regard.

LZH: As to the question about art education, you learned Western art history in school, but there's the obvious absence of the context of the development of Western culture. What's your view about this? Furthermore, what are the limits of the current art education system in China?

HJM: It's a broad question, the essence of which is closely related to the era. In other words, it's a question existing in a given time and space. Let's take my personal experience for example. I started to learn painting in the 1970s and as a starting point I imitated a lot of paintings with strong political propaganda meanings, which were quite popular back then. Then I gradually got to know The Peredvizhniki (Wanderers or Itinerants) of the 19th Century and their prominent works, as well as political propaganda paintings after the October Revolution. This was the first time that I had the chance to make a comparison between Western and Chinese paintings. I could see that Repin's Barge Haulers on the Volga was better than Wang Shikuo's Bloody Clothes, and Moiseenko's The Reds Have Arrived intrigued me more than other revolution-themed paintings at that time. It is also from then on that I got the impression that "foreigners paint better than Chinese", which pushed me to choose oil painting rather than traditional Chinese brush painting as a starting point. As time went by (once again the concept of time is mentioned), my mentor Li Shan told me to not focus all my attention on Repin and Surikov. He said I should also get to know more about Pisarro and Monet. That was the first time I ever heard of Impressionism. To be honest, back then I thought Monet and Pisarro didn't paint as well as Levitan and Shishkin. Gradually, I got to know Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso, Matisse, Duchamp, Beuys, Andy Warhol and Bruce Nauman. I need to point out the fact that this whole process happened in compliance with the broader environment of the era and didn't have much to do with our education system. Hence, we can see there's a question that cannot be neglected: We can gain the same information as the Westerners, we can share the same time and space with Europe and the U.S., and we can enjoy the same cultural nutrition, but do we have the same capacity as the West to digest all this? Where is our own cultural research and archive? How good are our education institutions in terms of cultural digestion and output? How good are we at learning from the past? Do we have enough "storage bags"? What kind of treasures do you put in those "storage bags"? Are they "living things" or "samples"? Are they able to undergo "compaction" and "transition"?

LZH: I didn't expect to trigger so many questions from you! I wonder why and how you chose painting in the first place. Moreover, I remember you once mentioned in an interview the shocking impact of the exhibitions in the U.S.. What is the role of new media in the concept of "refresh" in your understanding? I mentioned in my article the disconnection of those born after 1980 with the past. As a matter of fact, "past" is a very broad concept. Which aspects of the past do we say goodbye to? As you chose painting as a starting point, let's treat it as a beginning point for your own exploration for contemporary art. Where do you think is your position now?

HJM: It's hard to give a specific answer to why I chose to learn painting. Young people always have a lot to express. I guess painting was an efficient way for me to reveal my inner world. In addition, I happened to have a group of friends who were also fond of painting. Grand ideals and ambitions didn't play much of a role. "Artist" was not really a career back then. If there were any direct external influences, I would attribute them to those who stood on scaffolding, wearing their blue jackets and painting the portrait of Chairman Mao. (Such a scene would attract many people to take a look at that time). Whenever I looked up at them, I would feel my heart brimming with admiration.

To put it in a simple way, new media pushes me to reflect upon the concept of "refresh", to genuinely feel the transience of time. From birth to death, things follow their own path, not leaving much room for you to change. Certainly, you can ignore it and live your life according to your own pace, but if you truly integrate yourself with the surroundings and feel the indispensable context, I believe you would sense the feeling of "refresh". Moreover, "refresh" also has another layer of meaning, which is "no specific position", referring to a constantly moving state. But in the meantime, such a state would give you the feeling that "I'm at the forefront". Such an illusion (let me just call it illusion for the moment) makes me trapped in an uneasy and moving state. It's hard to define but you can feel its presence.

LZH: As an educator, how do you view the relation between new media education and individuals?

HJM: I've been engaged in education for 26 years. I think I'm a qualified witness to the development of the cause of education. I enjoyed the lift in the social status of teachers. I saw many colleagues choose to study abroad or become businessmen, and I also witnessed how academic degrees and titles became the most important standards to measure the value of people, which gave rise to the increasing problem of fake degrees and dissertations. The identity of the teacher, which is supposed to be simple and clear, has been imbued with a variety of influences in different grids of time.
In essence, new media and other disciplines are no different. Probably it's more interdisciplinary and hence, more embracing.

LZH: How would you define the grid of time? If the natural passing of time constitutes the longitude, then what constitutes the latitude? What kind of difference do you look forward to seeing in the various influences? How do you view the relation between the education system in China and your own vision? What do you expect from the system?

HJM: "Grid of time" is a phrase I coined by chance. It can refer to the era or a certain period of history. It can be the result of natural formation or human definition. Each grid time is closely related to its previous and succeeding ones, and also has it own distinctive characteristics. Generally speaking, the formation of these grids of time is indispensable from the recognition to its content. The problem is when a certain grid of time becomes past tense, does it still exist? And does it still have the same relationship with time and space? What's the relation between these past grids and the time we are experiencing? The difference between the two is obvious and I believe they can make use of and influence each other.

Speaking of education, it is a realm I'm quite familiar with. I've been engaged in this realm for many years. I'm devoted to the cause and passionate about it. The function and direction of education in China is under constant change. All these changes center on one theme, which can be summarized as "to serve society". Within each grid of time, society has different needs, which should suggest new and specific directions and requirements for education. Under such circumstances, educational institutions naturally become some kind of "processing factories", and how their "products" are accepted becomes an important evaluation index. On the surface, it seems quite reasonable and hence, acceptable. But if we take another perspective, as the relation between time and space changes, we can see the Bauhaus, the Black Mountain College, the ‘73 Noble prizes for MIT, and conceptual innovation, as well as creativity, brought about. This is what I expect from education and universities.


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100 Years in 1 Minute


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