Video Documentary Project: Censorship in Chinese Contemporary Art
Joon, Minji, Zach, and I collaborated on a video documentary project
that explores the role of government regulation and censorship in
contemporary art in China, with a focus on the contemporary art scene
in Shanghai. As a collaborator in the project, I organized the
interviews, planning the logistics of our meetings and preparing the
outlines of our discussions with our interviewees.
Along with my
teammates, I also conducted the interviews and edited video footage.
The documentary consists of interviews that we conducted with the
following nine individuals: Shanghai-based artist Xu Zhen;
Shanghai-based artist Jin Shan and American Shanghai-based artist Maya
Kramer; Shanghai-based photographers Song Tao and Ji Weiyu of
Birdhead; Shanghai's OV Gallery curator Rebecca Catching; Shanghai,
Beijing, and Zurich-based curator and artist Li Zhenhua; a
representative of the Shanghai Municipal Administration of Culture,
Radio, Film, and TV; and NYU in Shanghai professor Ge Yan, who worked
as an editor for the Beijing-based weekly publication—World Art in
Fine Arts in China—in the early to mid-1980s.
We asked our interviewees the following set of questions:
From your experience working abroad, can you tell us your impressions
of government regulation and censorship of contemporary art in other
countries in comparison to China?
How is government censorship of contemporary art in Shanghai different
from that of Beijing?
Do you think government control of contemporary art is loosening as
the market for contemporary art is expanding in China?
What specific regulations constitute "government control" of
contemporary art? Can you tell us the specific process by which the
government decides what artworks can be shown in exhibitions, and what
kind of exhibitions can be held? What kind of specific standards do
you think the government imposes on art works? Were these standards
imposed objectively or subjectively? In other words, is there a
common set of standards applied to each artwork, or do the
subjectivities of Cultural Bureau representatives play a big role?
What experiences have you had with government intervention and
censorship? Can you give specific examples of artworks that have been
targeted by censorship, and exhibitions that you or your colleagues
were involved in that have been closed by the government?
From what you've seen, what is the worst thing that could happen to an artist?
Specific question for artists: How has censorship affected your
artwork? When you are creating artwork, do you think about how it will
be perceived by the government? Do you feel pressure to undergo
How come prominent figures like Ai Wei Wei can get away with
exhibiting art and expressing opinions that are often seen as
challenges to government authority? Does guanxi play a role in how
censorship regulations are applied?
Do you think censorship plays a necessary role to some degree in
contemporary art? Do you think there should be complete and total
freedom of expression in contemporary art? Are there censorship
regulations that the government imposes that you think are necessary?
Do you think the younger generation of artists is becoming less
critical? Do you think that young artists are gradually moving away
from creating artworks that openly critique social and political
issues, and that are more subtle or elusive in their meanings? Do you
think this is the result of government censorship? Do you think this
shows the pressures of commercialism and the international market on
Through asking these questions, our documentary seeks to compare and
contrast the various responses of our interviewees to issues about
censorship that we have discussed throughout the semester. We wish to
portray the range of perspectives among a small, yet diverse
cross-section of individuals who have experience in the contemporary
art scene in Shanghai. We hope to show the ways in which various
artists, curators, and art intellectuals' backgrounds, values, and
attitudes towards their practice have influenced their views of the
relationship between government regulation and contemporary art. In
our documentary, we hope to use the issue of censorship as a lens
through which to explore the dynamics between artistic expression and
the political and economic institutions that govern the contemporary