A conversation between Alexa Haas and Lisa Lim
>Haha are you nervous? Don't be nervous.
~Haha I am nervous. I don't know what I will say. I think ever since I
started getting serious about a film career I've been scared of that
one day where I would be interviewed and what I say really matters.
>No, you shouldn't think of it like that. This is really casual, don't think of it as an interview, I mean an interview is really just a conversation. I just want to know about your experience and thoughts this semester.
~But in relation to art, right?
>Well, this is for your art class.
~Yea, but I think what I am scared of going into this is that I think
I have to talk about everything at once in order to express anything I
>I know, I know, that's why we decided it would be better for you to record this conversation than write an essay…So where should we start?
~I guess…we could start from the first exhibit we went to. The
Propaganda Poster exhibit. Because looking back now, it seems like I
didn't really know anything then. I mean, that is day one, so. Well,
it was called "Art is History," which I personally had always believed
too. Once when I was taking psychology, which I failed, my professor ~
Professor Coons ~ wrote this one thing in the course reader. We never
talked about it in class or anything, but when I read that line, it
seriously altered they way I looked at society and people and film and
art especially. Ugh, I wish film and art were seen as the same thing,
but they are such different businesses. But they are so…!! They are
recording the same history!!! If you look at film in China after the
Cultural Revolution, it tells exactly the same story.
>Wait, tell me first about what your professor said? Or wrote I mean.
~Oh sorry sorry, it was something like…wait, I want to say it exactly
how it was: Myths and…legends….oh, "Myths, legends and fairytales
allow us to glimpse into those hidden concerns that are shared by
whole cultural groups." I mean, I've been reciting this sentence to
people for years, for three years since I took that class. It's like
on my facebook haha. Sometimes I say it and it feels like it loses
it's meaning. Like I just said it, and I'm like no wait, that's dumb
because that doesn't really have to do with anything.
>No, no, it makes sense. It is true. Do you think we can just reword it and say, "Art allows us to look at concerns shared by a peoples?" I mean who is telling today's myths and fairytales if not art? Like, is it politics…or…?
~Like maybe its newspapers too.
>Haha yea, I mean, well...actually, that's true. Actually, it is newspapers too. I think the media is telling its own myth too, maybe the myth the authorities want you to believe.
~God that sounds so ridiculous when you put it that way, for someone
to want to force you into believing a myth a certain way. But the myth
of the authorities doesn't express the hidden concerns of the people.
So it is really the art that does. Like the hidden concerns are in
reaction to the authorities' myth. The propaganda art museum is an
interesting place to begin, because no one was saying what they were
actually thinking. But it still expresses so much about that mindset
of that time.
>Mm, definitely, "the boundless power of people!" 努力努力！
~No that's that exactly it. Its like all about The People. Like, ughh,
I wish I could say it so simply! I am quite obsessed with the concept
of 'man and nature.' Like I seriously dig the concept of A Harmonious
Society of today's China. But listen, listen.
~haha I know I just want to fully convey this thought to you: okay
so…Okay…Alright, so traditional Chinese paintings. Let's start there
and then go to now, okay?
>Haha okay, I'm with you, chillax~*
~So! Chinese traditional paintings. In the beginning of this semester,
the way people looked in the paintings quite bothered me. They weren't
particularly, I don't know, beautiful I guess? But then one day when I
was in the Forbidden City this guy asked me and my friend to come into
his studio, which was right inside the Forbidden City, to look at some
artwork that him and his art classmates made. They were studying
conventional form like traditional Chinese paintings. He said to me,
"look, look you see, the person is so small in the scene. It
represents the harmony between man and nature…" and I was like,
"ohhh!" that was a big realization for me. That is a concept that
doesn't exist anymore. The person is always emphasized.
>mmm…Lynn Pann showed us a painting during the HaiPai time, of a man etched in with full detail but his clothes are painted broadly in traditional smooth one-lines. She said that it was a painting in light of the Western model because of all the detail paid attention to the human figure. HaiPai.
~Ughhh everything is in light of the western model, it is so
frustrating!!! The western model suuuuucks.
>Don't you think it is necessary though to dissect the human before realizing themselves in accord with nature?
~mmm…that's quite a beautiful thought. Like exploring the oceans
before going to space. I think maybe that step is necessary, actually.
But I hope we are getting out of it and focusing on other things now.
Doesn't it seem like Chinese artists focus more on nature than the
authorities do? I think it is possible for a people to move forward
without their government. Wait…this is what I wanted to say. Tradish
Chinese paintings to propaganda art. they are complete opposites from
each other. And I think that mindset still exists today in today's
advertisements. Like for the expo especially. Like people perfectly
lit up by the sun, perfect conditions for people. Big smiling faces so
>Mm, I'd agree, it is an interesting connection. It makes it seem like maybe people in China haven't really changed in what they want. Because they are still advertising that big smiling face. Do you think that is what Yue Min Jun is poking fun at with his signiture smiling face.
~Ugh, you know I used to really like him. I mean, when I was signing
up for this class, I just typed in 'Contemporary Chinese Art' into
Google Images, because I actually had no idea what that would
entail…and I saw him. Or his work, I mean lol. I really loved him at
first seeing him, I felt like I understood the work on first viewing,
I felt like it made sense that it was Chinese Contemporary Art. Even
though then I was SO naïve, haha, it's ridiculous. I like didn't even
really know what happened at Tiananmen Square at that point,
god…that's so sad. I mean I had a general idea! Ah! Don't judge
me!...Anyway, when I first saw his work I thought it was a comment on
Chinese culture. I saw it quite positively. About real happiness, and
gay outings, and a comfort with the body ~ because I think the first
painting I saw was a painting of men in their slinky bodies laughing
with each other in their underwear. Now I see his paintings like
everywhere, like lots of fakes actually. Like in the fake market, they
have a lot of re-do's of his paintings. Isn't that interesting?
>I mean, he's been painting that face for more than a decade now. Like that's sort of absurd, don't you think? You think he would have had some like, life changing experience since then or something, that would make him look upon things differently. Even his compositions are pretty much consistent.
~Barbara said we could see it that he figured out a marketable icon,
and has just been making money off of it since then. And then JJ asked
us if we would want it hanging in our house, and we said yes, because
it is really happy. But I don't think I think that anymore.
>Propaganda Museum. Chinese Paintings.
~Mmm, I know, I think that really what lasts from each era is the art.
I mean maybe the newspapers will be kept on record, but I don't know,
I don't think it is taken as seriously as the art of a time. What is a
<<collective memory>>? You know, it is the images and songs of a
>But you know, just because traditional Chinese paintings expressed harmony between man and nature, doesn't mean people in that time lived in that principle. So art can't really represent time.
~But what about "the Garden as the setting for a good life" ~ it was
more embedded in the everyday life of people in that time. Wasn't the
garden a necessary part of a family's house. I feel like that
represented an accordance with nature. Like right now, cities are so
gray and removed from nature. Mm but I guess I actually don't know
enough about how people actually acted in their everyday during that
traditional Chinese painting period, but like, I think it became like
a practice. I mean, like those students in Beijing are still painting
Chinese paintings in the same way right now, but maybe without fully
understanding the principles. Or I mean, they must. But those
propaganda posters encapsulate it all about that time. Even the lies,
and especially the fantasy of the time.
>Did you see Zhang Dali's: A Second History ? That book is in Defne's library in the student lounge…?
~Mmm, I've looked at it. When Gu Zheng, the photographer/Fudon U.
professor came to visit he showed us some pictures from that book. Mao
digging a hole with a fellow comrade, whom he later denounced, so the
picture was modified to be just Mao digging alone. So crazy…
>Ya, I know. That book is like, incredible.
~Gu Zheng introduced to me the idea of reality vs. 'posed reality.'
Like he personally really enjoyed going into the street to take
pictures, in response to propaganda photos. People look at a
photograph to confirm something about reality. And he thought that the
street is a stage for the truth of everyday life. He found the work he
was producing to be very political because he was showing real daily
life in a way that the authorities try to hide.
>Yea China did that again in order to prepare for the expo. It's like cleaning your room before the maids come, because you don't want to be thought of messy. They want to appear a certain way.
~Yea but you can't pose people in real life the way you want them to
be. So taking pictures of real daily life is really the opposition of
a <<forced image>>. Naturally, I started thinking about film, because
it is so often all posed. But that is not all true, because right now
there is a strong movement of shooting on location, heavily
improvised, low-budget, independent films – all around the world
including China. But it is always true of Hollywood. Hollywood's
representation of life is as fantastical as propaganda art. I thought
about how China Film Bureau only imports twenty foreign films a year.
Most of which are Hollywood movies. So this is how the Chinese people
view American society really. This semester, I got with a Chinese guy,
BinBin. And he like completely misinterpreted what people are like in
America. I think he thought we were like out of a Hollywood movie. It
was like, ridiculous. He told me he liked me then immediately went in
for a passionate-ass kiss. Like it could be so simple! I asked my
Chinese friends if this was normal Chinese behavior, and they said,
"no it means he is a bad person." Haha. But we had sex later in the
year, he put like the craziest cheesy song ridden with electric violin
on repeat, and it must have played like 90 times that night. It
reminds me of a quote from this Brazilian movie, Eu Sei Que Vou Te
Amar : "Do you think love has always existed? No…there was no love in
Babylon…Love was invented by American movies to make money."
>Mmm…I think the Chinese are rather fond of the Hollywood mindset, but I think that is because Chinese itself is just a very sentimental culture. Especially the language. I think the Chinese, culturally, perceive that fantastical happy world as something that is attainable. Like look at "harmonious society."
~Defne put it like, "a perversion of emotions."
>mmm…but there is another thing about Hollywood's influence on China. I mean, just that American mindset. In the 90s, mimicking consumer culture, mimicking the way American movies look even, let's think about China in the 80s. How would you describe the way art of the 80s looked in like, let's say, three words:
~mmm…Earthy – like I think of a lot of black and brown,
mmm…oil…annnd…idealistic. Mmm but it is defiantely a backlash to all
the propoganda art like Gu Zheng. And now I'm thinking about JJ's
symbols of nature, the moon and rocks and soil.
>Yes, yes, yes. And you were talking about man's relationship to nature before. I think the artists of the 80s in their idealism thought they understood how to get to a utopia. There was this fallback onto nature. A reemphasis of the elements and of spirituality. But then came the anti-spiritual pollution campaign and then the June 4th incident. And then started the economic reforms, the mimicking of western culture.
~mm, mm. and why is Chinese sentimentality so funny in English, I
think has to do something with the spirit as well. That the Chinese
language has such a beautiful emphasis on the heart, the body and the
mind, and the harmony between them. This is where the American mindset
fails. Spirituality and like even the word, 'meditation' is funny in
English. It conjures up images of like guru hippie, drugged-up…I don't
know. I think people find it quite insincere.
>And if you look at the composition of the Hollywood movie, where is the emphasis? On the people.
~Why are people always the subject?
>It is just what interests people.
~Well like in the 90s, all of political pop art and everything. People
became so like self-involved. It was just a very cynical time, where
like irony was emphasized. Does the environment ever become the
>Do you think right now is the least spiritual generation for China because of these 'Hollywood' influences?
~mmm….no. no no no. I am really liking the direction of Chinese art
today. I think, a lot of Chinese artists have had this same
realization subconsciously. I think people see where human
civilization is heading in all this urbanization, and they are scared.
So I think maybe in reaction to the economic reform of the 90s, and
human self-obsession there was a move from the body as a landscape
(like Xu Zhen's Rainbow 1998) and then now there is a fallback on
>At the very beginning of 2000s, Yang Fudong has this picture called, "The First Intellectual" and it says that on this photo of a bloody man in a torn up suit standing in the middle of the road holding a brick. It is a funny picture. But I think it is about a guy who has a realization that there is something fundamentally wrong with human society. It is like a reawakening, as though we had become monkeys in a society again and people are realizing it doesn't have to be this way.
~Yea, I think there are a lot of artists going back to promoting
reverence for nature. I think that is one of the key things askew with
modern human society. Even my art is heavily reflecting this emphasis
on nature, because I am also concerned. My favorite artists I have
seen is a couple: Ji Wenyu and Zhu Weibing. They have a few pieces, do
you know them? ahh I love them. They have this one piece called "Enjoy
Flowers" (2006) where they have these cloth sculpture men with their
hands folded in front of them looking at a tree with pink flowers on
it. It is so sweet and warm. I really feel good looking at it. They
also have another piece where all these businessmen in suits are
holding this big giant pink flowers. And both pieces have no specific
arrangement, they are like dolls of a set.
>mmm, yes I think we are in an idealistic stage right now. ~Harmonious Society~ 大同世界 ～It is a Confucian idea – "big same world." I think a lot of Foreigners think the concept of a harmonious society is funny but, I don't think the Chinese do. Like "Happy Street," the Dutch pavilion at the expo, is supposed to poke fun at the idea of a Harmonious society. But harmony to the Chinese "refers to harmony at every level, from the cosmic world of the two ultimate forces, to the social, interpersonal, and individual biological level of the human body." (57, Dragons of Tiananmen, Jeffrey F. Meyer) It is the idea of utopia. China is trying to figure out how to get there.
~Mm, maybe it is those happy advertisements that people find funny. Or
they find China to be really fucked up. I think people have bad
connotations with the word: "communism" because of the way it is
taught in school. It has such a bad history tied to it. So a
"harmonious communist society," is a funny idea to foreigners. But, I
agree, 'harmony' is not a funny idea. Wait, I think also the reworking
of museology and exhibitioning is part of this idealism. It is really
quite beautiful. Like The Long March, which is, literally a long
walking march of an exhibit, retaking Mao's steps on the Long March.
It is the idea of realizing looking at art doesn't have to be
concentrated into a room, and be a one-way transaction.
>Wait I actually have the curator's notes on that exhibit right here in my folder.
~Oh good, good.
>"The Long March looks to integrate the production, consumption, and interpretation of art in a single scene, three issues which have traditionally remained separate. It looks to overcome the traditional distance between viewer and creator, to close the gap between "host" and "guest," and to seek a new understanding of space. In this way, The Long March will merge exhibition with creation and allow consumption and production to interact."
~Mm mm, also like at Double Infinity they wanted to encourage you to
play with a museum collection, in order to backlash against that
"usually untouchable" feeling at museums. But it's weird because when
I went back to Double Infinity a few weeks later, that parking rug
that they said we could walk over was off limits. And the security
guard would point to the floor and be like, "do you see what you just
>People are still so used to the conventional model. So..if we were to look at right now like a story, what point would be at right now?
~I don't know, I think I might be a little too optimistic. I think
this time represents an ideological shift. People are rerealizing
themselves as nature again. I hope I hope anyway. I think the expo, to
my very pleasant surprise is trying to show to the world this
classically Chinese concept of harmony between man and nature. There
is a statue in front of the Chinese Pavilion called "Never Ending
Life" bye Yang Jian Ping. JJ is friends with her he said, and he told
us to note the sizes of the animals and the leaves and humans. They
are all the same. I think this is so important! I hope it is important
anyway!! It makes me happy!
>Do you think it is only represented in art or is it moving to the mainstream? How will people get this concept if it is only in the art?
~Mmm, again I think I am quite optimistic. Even if it was just the
West looking upon Chinese Contemporary Art, then the West will learn
this concept, and that is where it is especially lacking. Also, I mean
Avatar did extremely well worldwide, especially in China. This idea is
the main feature of the movie: reverence for nature and the human
body, harmony. And doesn't that mean that this idea is starting to
move into the mainstream? I think it is, I think it is, I hope it is!!
>Haha, that would be quite wonderful, indeed.
~Wait…before we part, I just want to tell you a dream I had about Ai
Weiwei. It is funny: The first thing I remember is that he lifts this
smashed automobile with panda pictures onto a tow truck with his bear
hands and shear strength. I looked over at him and he had dyed his
beard bright red. He was looking back at this old man, who he had
appeared to be helping. The truck drove away and the pieces he just
threw on began tilting off the tow truck, so I started running after
it yelling back to Ai Wei Wei, ahh look!! Ahh!! Ai Wei Wei started
running after it too, looking back at the old man laughing. I
understood that this is what they wanted, to destroy these pieces. I
stopped running and a dog came toward me and I started giving it
kisses, and Ai Wei Wei with his red beard told me "Don't eat him!"
haha that's the end of the dream.
Self-interview by Alexa Haas.
Lisa Lim is an alter-ego whose name is formed by: Alexa>Lessa> Lisa
(this is what my martial arts teacher called me) and Lim, her mother's
A conversation between
Chen Zhen and Zhu Xian
Ishmael, David Quinn