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It's the same battle and the final battle

A conversation between Zhang Ding and Lu Xinghua Author: ZHANG Ding, LU Xinghua Translator: Ariane Sep,2014

Lu: Haha, how did the idea come about to package rock into an exhibition installation and to make it into contemporary art, and to put it into a gallery?

Zhang: The concert that took place in Red Square in 1991 has kept me in confusion. However, in recent years, that confusion has changed. What stimulates me now is that western rock music seemed to be at its most glamorous when it came to Red Square in 1991, but it began to creep down from that moment as well, which led to its degenerating without braking that we see today. It looks as though western rock has some kind of strange connection with communism. It seems as though western rock went to Moscow to commit suicide but didn't achieve it. Unexpectedly, it was praised as a forerunner who overturned the cold war ’ s iron curtain before the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was its most vigorous time as well as the true beginning of its decline. What a pity! So many things come to
such an ending at last.

Lu: Didn't it reach nirvana?

Zhang: No. But luckily, the battle that rock bands preach is what we need actually. Even when rock music is not as
vigorous as before, the amount of fight we need has never been greater. I don ’ t believe a concert can launch a revolution or a coup, but the energy gathered on the square at that time was a kind of great thing or piece of work, I think, which needed so many different factors of time and space to make it come to that explosion point. The collective energy, can you tell it is not as historic as the brushstrokes of Monet ’ s lotus? My recent exhibitions are discussing the relationships between the collective energy that comes from the contemporary art exhibitions and the viewers. In my mind, the energy of the viewers determines the heat of the exhibition as well as foils the exhibition, and the works that artist places there are just props and are not consecrated till the audience ’ s energy arrives. It reminds me that the concert in Moscow Red Square 1991 could probably be an example for historical research, in which might be hidden a deep construction. Would it be an interesting exhibition if the construction is dug out and activated by contemporary sound and music?

I try to have a spot test to see if the collective energy, which is said to have some kind of political power, is still applicable to a contemporary art exhibition today by inviting some of today ’ s bands to replay the key songs from that concert in the exhibition in ShanghART. Now we are struggling differently, could the voice of the musicians bring and make the political power hidden in these melodies live on the stage, connecting the fighting today with the past? Which, in my opinion, can test the stamina of an exhibition.

Lu: When looking back, the western bands that went to Moscow at that time were going in order to express their
radical emotions at the protest site. The players who went seemed to like protesting just to protest within the democratic society of the western world, but they truly went over to another side with the Iron Curtain of the Cold War. The audience in Moscow, however, wanted to imagine with their faint heart, that their fight could be fought by the famous foreign bands. In the concert, the soviet fans took advantage of the western rock bands, while the latter were willing for them to do so. Then things changed and the musicians became to believe they really had done something, and it had worked.

Zhang: Obviously. The performance in the documentary we saw today appeared to be a pseudo-sentiment live indeed. Perhaps they had a rehearsal before. It ’ s known that not only the live show, but also the broad geopolitics and both sides of the curtain of the Cold War, had colluded with each other and were performing in their own ways. Cooperation with each other in the performance had started a few years before. It's like the things that happened between Ai Weiwei and the western media and art world! There probably was some kind of a resonance when we listened to western rock music in the 80s and 90s.

I want to know what is happening in the exhibitions. I think it could be interesting to see such pseudo-sentiments and collusions being cultivated like bacteria, putting them into the exhibition, and showing them to the audience to study the reason for their existence.

Lu: Anyway, the collective energy in the concert reached an intensity as high as the temperature of the fighting outside. It was just like an exercise or test to see what level of intensity such fighting could reach. In the ShanghART exhibition hall, they are connected and shorted. The performance that is being exhibited covers the whole art gallery. Where is the piece of the work in this exhibition about the performance? I think that the battle emotion created by the audience's feelings and energy, is what is shown.

Zhang: Can the battle that rock calls for become a rentable prop in the window display of luxury goods nowadays?

Lu: I don't think so. If the battle in rock music declined, then our politics would be more lapsed. Even if rock became the background music for the square dance of Chinese old women, the fire of battle would still be in it.

Zhang: Is it nowadays that the crazy consumer becomes a rebel, and the performance in today ’ s ShanghART Beijing is in danger of consuming the contemporary fighting?

Lu: It ’ s possible there is that danger. But the performance is an event where we will always have some deception so that we can ’ t know what will happen next. That is why the concert on Aug 17, 1991, is still remembered by us now.

When something is included into a performance, even consuming behaviour, and it becomes possible to find a way
back, then the danger for the consumer is eliminated. To exercise Tai Chi isn ’ t to train how to hit but to make all the Qi gather into one consecutive action. I don ’ t think there would be any problem with the show itself.

I would like to see such a movie where the protagonist enters into a scene of protest, occupation or revolution after consuming. The audience coming to a rock concert may intrude into such a situation. The spectator accomplishes its own work as long as it has a few seconds of intruding. A concert is a collective work that is shared by everyone.

Zhang: When watching the documentary of the well-known concert in 1991 carefully, I find it is possible that the whole show and the lyrics irritate the audience by false rebel fighting, as the lyrics had nothing to do with the political struggle in the Soviet Union. My impression was that the struggle of western rock players didn ’ t go down well with the rebelling emotion of the Soviet people at that time.

Lu: There is probably something presumed or fake, but the tempo is always true. It is the basic political function of music to show tempo, to create new steps for the people. It would move if all the people step on the point. Music has nothing but such a political function, which, however, can not be looked down on.

Zhang: Nevertheless, I had such a haunted feeling when preparing this exhibition that the show would be more realistic than the later conflict. The conflict, which is said to have brought the Soviet Union to its death and change the historic route of human beings, is more likely to be a false rumor asserted as the truth. In other words, it ’ s a repertoire that is essence for a performance that needs to be built up deliberately; otherwise the performance will lose the historic significance. But how to understand that it makes something believed come true during or after the performance.

Lu: The performance is more realistic, while the conflict is a kind of sense after it. I think the relationship between rock music and contemporary art has been clarified, as they are independent but do have the same kind of battle inside. Your exhibition shows both sides to us that the live show is a little insincere, but the fighting is obviously true. Looking from the window of contemporary art, this feeling is unavoidable. The contemporary exhibition should be a platform of observation like this.

Zhang: From the view of fighting and collective energy, I think the replaying is an interesting test by using the songs of that time to see the ups and downs of our struggle and spirit today. To do such a test in a gallery is like doing it in the lab. And it's the audience who judges the quality of the performance.

Lu: Your exhibition provides the rock fans with the treatment of the viewers of a contemporary exhibition, which has a sense of degradation for the big rock fans. Actually, you are using contemporary art to construct a stage for rock music. By placing a rock concert in the exhibition hall it ’ s like putting a performance within a performance and searching for the fighting within the fighting. Actually, within the art gallery, which is the gathering point of our battle, there is only party and performance. Replaying, it has the same meaning, I think. It doesn ’ t matter who the singer is, but singing in the present and reaching a certain level of energy is what is most important.

This time, you exhibit a past event in a gallery, which is the same as redisplaying a prized artwork, profane, also
emancipatory.

Zhang: I felt sorry for the rock show when I started to build up a rock stage within a gallery, as if I had handled it in a minimalist way just like flattening it and thinning it out. I have no idea about how the audience will react when they are exposed to such a stage, what the big rock fans will do, whether they will be allergic to it or not. What I can do is force myself to stay far away from it, and to take the role of producer.

Lu: I think it would be better to act as a producer and let it be when the show starts. It's a cool idea to have a concert in a gallery, and what ’ s more, a rock concert determined by the audience. The practice of taking the gallery as another square to gather and train people is getting more and more popular. For the gallery to host a political party is the best way to open itself to the people. The hilarity of the people, the appearance of the players, the self-reflection of the strugglers, these are the most important things for the contemporary art gallery.
The core of such a gathering and rehearsal is training the effective strength for the battle. Only when gathering together can people ’ s potency be fully charged.

Zhang: People don't have a clear target to protest about in today ’ s rock concert. But I noticed that the live show is still impassioned and reaches the same level of upsurge. I expect the audience to feel if there is any difference between the passion of the present and 1991.

Lu: Actually, the rock concert in 1991 is a kind of intro of background music that has never been changed, it ’ s important to see how we continue to sing and which kind of battle we get into next. I mean, the bottom line of the rock concert today is to act as a tester for the sentiment of protest and struggle.

In the revolution film, the afterthought, the determination, the restart after two generations having a heart-to-heart conversation, which is both a bonfire night talk and the revelry before setting out. We still need to restart. It's the final battle, but we should keep on as before.

Zhang: By the way, what do you think about the rock of today and yesterday? In what way is the concert in ShanghART and the one in Red Square in Moscow in 1991 directly related?

Lu: I think that neither the rock today nor the rock from the past have ever been reduced. Both of them are sunk in a kind of lyric and are carrying on the same struggle. The struggle today and the past are connected with each other, so is the music.

From this point, the one in 1991 is linked with today. The battle people want to carry is the same one as well as the final one.

In the continuation of globalization, we get into the same struggle, protest, fight in the new ecological politics and
geopolitics. It ’ s the same one, also the final one. Perhaps, only by continuing fighting can we rehabilitate or sublimate the fight in 1991. Perhaps.

Zhang: how do you judge the critical altitude in the rock circle today?

Lu: It can ’ t be overrated nor underrated. Rock, which is still a socially critical novel of nineteenth century, is the critic of Balzac, Zola, and Godard, the lyric of it also accompanies the people ’ s step forward. It ’ s an eternal realistic literature or art.

Zhang: Will any other method that is more radical than rock come up in the future?

Lu: Rock is simple if it ’ s taken as a form of music. But it echoes with the meaning and tune of protest remaining in our collective psychology. The wreckage of the half-collective fighting construction still needs a new music form to inspire and agitate. Therefore, it ’ s reasonable that we are waiting for a better form of music.

Zhang: When our critics' protest and fight becomes weaker and weaker, will rock music leave our next generation with a feeling of a group smoking marijuana?

Lu: I don ’ t think so, as we have talked before, the core is the performance, and rock music will pave the way and create heat for the coming new politics. Whilst the situation is getting worse today, it ’ s still a kind of attractive intermediate between two performances, which could stop them leaving the battle field temporarily.

Zhang: Then, at which position should rock stand between rebellion and fight?

Lu: Balter has said that fight and protest are opposite, if not a hippie then it is a fighter. I think the situation that rock wants to express is it wants to be a hippie, and join the battle as well. It ’ s impossible.

But it ’ s charming apart from the impossibility.

To analyze it from a psychological perspective, Zizek predicts that the protest will end in desperation. We fight today in order to show the photos to our grandchildren many years later and say, look, your grandpa/grandma has fought before.

Rock is a more serious symptom when our revolt can ’ t find the way out.

However, in the bad times like today, everybody could be like Jesus, having no choice but to born into a world of troubles and having to accept it. We are not sure about our status; every step is as hard as Armstrong walking on the moon. Is it because of this that we hold up in a noisy rock concert, and express our feeling by cartoons?

Zhang: From the perspective of displaying, if it makes sense that a rock concert is not an isolated work, but a work made up by every audience, a work consisting of many works? Is the work displayed in a contemporary space brought by the audience themselves?

Lu: In the common struggle, every single person composes their own work when the rock concert comes to the upsurge. That is the original meaning of Wagner ’ s Gesamtkunstwerk that the artists-the protagonist in the opera and Terry Stan- who are desperate and get ready for sacrifice, benefit the costars and the audience around and allow them to become artists and complete their own works. Such artist or protagonist is the curator who thinks so highly about itself. He/she must claim to be ready to die, to sacrifice, to be Terry Stan, to dedicate its body to the installation of theater, to help the people around become artists.

Zhang: If there will be rock in the future, what do you want it to be? Would it be a part of Contemporary Art?

Lu: Contemporary Art is refers to the General Art behind all kinds of independent art. So it was hidden behind the rock actually.

For whatever kind of rock we should have in the future, I hope that rock does something to help us train new fighters. The new fight is a wider fight based on the geopolitics, not the ones confined to the Cold War and the globalized politics. It should be fiercer to make everybody more radical, and become deviationist at last!

I hope the rock concert will be a rebellious work made by the audience together with the musicians of the future, to put themselves into the work. People will rebuild themselves in rebellion, and become the rebellious work itself.

So far, the baseline used to measure the protest and revolt is the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, rockers should stick to this underlying principle to avoid becoming an opium-smoking revolutionist in terms of politics.

Zhang: It sounds very optimistic, could rock music go back to the original political function which is to affect a country ’ s rites and politics?

Lu: I ’ d like to quote Attali ’ s view in his book Noise to prove optimistically and attractively why the fate of fight
and revolution could still be reversed suddenly in rock music performance even though the performance has been totally commercialized in a time where music has been changed into a commodity as well as having the right to decide to buy or not. We turn into puppets, sculptures and zombies when we sit and listen to the music silently, but music is still a ritual and an elegant response to the horrible noise in our bodies and imaginations. We should have been able to sing and dance, but now it seems as though the music disappears when we are dancing. We want to keep dancing, but our legs are like rusty scissors. We have begun to want to vanish within the concert.
Music is still the most radical way to return to politics and fight. The scream of the sacrifices is a part of the celebration of the human festival. The darkness and violence in a human ’ s imagination is a murder that is accompanied by ritual music. Music imitates the monopolised right of the massacre, it is an imitation of the ritual butchering. Music reminds the listeners of their inter-community as well as arousing people ’ s desire to revolt and press forward to the key position.

Music is worship and sacrifice. To listen to music is to taste being killed, to attend the rite of a massacre with all the danger and guilt, but with the promise of being free from being killed. When the future becomes our ultimatum, only such a massacre ceremony can pull us back to the subjective position of a real fighter. In this way, rock music is far away from having done enough.

Related Artists:
ZHANG DING 张鼎
Related Exhibitions:
Zhang Ding: Orbit of Rock

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