ARTouch:Dialogue Duan Yingmei
Source:ARTouch Author:ARTouch Date: 2012-10-09 Size:
Bornin China, Yingmei Duan is part of the Chinese avant-garde. She worked as apainter the legendary art district of Beijing’s East Village for many years. In1995 she participated in the performance ‘To add one meter to an anonymousmountain’, which is considered to be one of the classics of Chinese modern art.She became a pure performance artist under the influence of Marina Abramović,with whom she studied at the HBK Braunschweig in Germany from 2000 to 2004. Shealso worked with Christoph Schlingensief, filmmaker and action artist, for oneyear during her study.

 

Yingmei Duan

Bornin China, Yingmei Duan is part of the Chinese avant-garde. She worked as apainter the legendary art district of Beijing’s East Village for many years. In1995 she participated in the performance ‘To add one meter to an anonymousmountain’, which is considered to be one of the classics of Chinese modern art.She became a pure performance artist under the influence of Marina Abramović,with whom she studied at the HBK Braunschweig in Germany from 2000 to 2004. Shealso worked with Christoph Schlingensief, filmmaker and action artist, for oneyear during her study.

Dialogue Duan Yingmei

ARTouch Observation:

ARTouchmet Yingmei at the exhibition of Art of Change: New Directions from China(Hayward Gallery, September 7th–December-9th, 2012),where she makes live performance (audio + installation) ‘Happy Yingmei’ everyday in the gallery. The exhibition ‘is the first major exhibition to focus oncontemporary installation and performance art from China. It brings togetherthe work of some of the most innovative artists from the 1980s to today.’ (SouthbankCentre, 2012)

The dialogueprovides a better insight on how a Chinese artist, especially in performingarts, makes a living and pursues her passion for arts in the global artsecosystem. The dialogue touches aspectsof ‘dealing with criticism’, ‘making ends meet’, ‘passion and curiosity forarts’, ’orientalism and western audiences’, ‘experiences on working withwestern arts institutions’, etc.

I’m not ‘museum-type’ artist

I’m not the artist who always presentworks in museums or galleries, though I’m interested in those spaces as well. Manyof my works are done in daily life and nature, since everyday life and natureare more modest and simpler, and of more experiment opportunities. For example, I did a performing work in an oldhospital, which was to be demolished soon, in Germany. There were more than 80 artists took part in anexhibition held by the hospital before demolition. I visited the exhibition and found interestedby many artworks there. Therefore, I hada short-term artist residency. I slept on the floor for the whole week. I hardlywent out of my room in the night, you know, some artworks looked ‘horrifying’,especially in a hospital, during the night. I developed my work then. I asked my audiences to lie in a hospital trolleywhile closing their eyes in a 20 m² room. Some feedbacks are, ‘Yingmei, I feel as if youtour me around the whole hospital’, ‘I’m as if on a strange journey withunknown future’. Artists, especially for performing arts, must explore variouspossibilities. I think the experiences I get by doing is very crucial. Nomatter how many proposals you’ve written, you couldn’t get the experiencesuntil you really do it.

A career in the west

I live in Germany and develop me careeras an artist there. I’m full of the passion for creating arts every day. Compared to other Europe-based Chineseartists, even though I don’t have a better knowledge of fund application orwestern institutions, I do have many opportunities. My opportunities don’t come from socializingand networking, but from my works. Since I spend the majority of time on myworks, sometimes my works are known by someone, who will introduce my works tothe next opportunity. In terms of fundapplications from local institutions, it is not an easy thing for me. Theprocess is very complicated. However, Idon’t feel it hard to develop my career in the west as a Chinese artist. There are a lot opportunities (exhibitions, commissions,etc.), as long as you work hard enough. And some of performing artworks are not ingalleries or museums, but in our daily life and nature. I’m always in a verygood condition to develop my works. I feel confident in any kinds ofexhibitions or commissions, because I practise every day. I can do it with anymaterials, at any places.

Dealing with criticism

I’m used to criticism. There are defectsin all my works, but I just like works with defects. To me, defects are anotherkind of beauty. I love changing and dynamics. In some exhibitions, my work kept changingfrom the beginning of the exhibition to the last day of it. I enjoy trying variouspossibilities; and I’m also interested in destroying. Even when my work brought me a lot of positive comments, I would notrepeat it.

Criticism from my audiences usually willbe reflected in my works. I love listening to others, and always ask for suggestion.I know, nobody will be happy when he/she gets criticism, but I’ve got used toit. Once I didn’t do a good job in my performance in Estonia, and an audiencesaid to me, ‘you look beautiful, but your work doesn’t’. Well, it is not that often to receiving suchstrong and direct criticism. No criticism, no progress. I like to expose the truth to my audience.Sometimes I also feel very frustrated when I fail to do a good job. It is naturalthat audiences will take you as a ‘bad’ artist, when they just happen to see yourpoor performance. If the artist always wants to show the perfectness, I thinkshe/he is afraid of taking challenge.

How would you like to respond to Ai Weiwei’s critique toArt ofChange: New Directions from China (Hayward Gallery, September 7th–December-9th, 2012)? He said,‘How canyou have a show of "contemporary Chinese art" that doesn't address asingle one of the country's most pressing contemporary issues? It is like arestaurant in Chinatown that sells all the standard dishes, such as kung paochicken and sweet and sour pork. People will eat it and say it is Chinese, butit is simply a consumerist offering, providing little in the way of a genuineexperience of life in China today.’(September 10th, 2012,Guardian)

After reading his comments, I just wantto ask him,’ Have you seen this exhibition?’ I think his comments didn’t makeany sense. He said he is familiar with almost every piece of work at theexhibition. However, I don’t believe he is familiar with my works at all. ‘AddressingChina’s most pressing contemporary issues’ is just one aspect of contemporaryarts. And I would also ask why Chinese contemporary arts exhibition has to dealwith Chinese contemporary issues. Exhibitions by Chinese don’t necessarily berelated with Chinese elements. However, my work ‘Happy Yingmei’ actually hassomething to do with Chinese contemporary issues. During my performance, Iwrite some questions to my audience, such as ‘Do you know what left-behindchildren are (which means that one or both parents are working far away fromhome, usually in the city, and rarely spend time with the children. Thesechildren are usually taken care of by their grandparents in the rural area.) ?’And I will tell them what left-behind children are. I’m personally interestedin psychology, especially in the psychological impact on those children.Another example would be ‘Would you like to know how the generation ofone-child-policy think about themselves’. I’m not an artist doing politicalpop; I just want to share my feelings with my audiences.

Can arts be the grey area of morals and ethics? (13September: Dr Katie Hill from Sotheby’s Institute of Art led an exhibition tourin Hayward Gallery. Xu Zhen’s work ‘Starvingof Sudan’ (which involves children protection issues) and Sun Yuan & PengYu’s Work ‘Civilization’ (which usinghuman fat as the material) generated controversy and debates on whether arts couldbe the grey area of morals and ethics.

I think arts definitely should not betreated differently in terms of morals and ethics.

What kind ofartists do you like?

I like Liang Shaoji, who also takes partin our exhibition. I’m very interested in his process of developing his works,which is very touching. By keeping the silkworms himself, he develops his worksin an experimental approach. I can feel his love and passion. In terms of dislike, I would say the TinoSiegel, whose work is currently shown at Tate Modern. Well, I would say it is agood work, but it doesn’t attract me, because it is lack of experimentalapproach.

Contemporary arts

Actually I never think what contemporaryart is. I even don’t think about theso-called ‘meaning’ or ‘purpose’ of artworks. What I do think is ‘to play’ and ‘how to playcreatively’. The organizer of BerlinAutumn Exhibition once invited me to present my work there. They just providedme a space of 350 m² without telling me any ‘meaning’ or ‘purpose’. My task wasto play with the space creatively. ‘Meaning’ or ‘purpose’ is not a must to arts,but the practice itself. I think artistsshould keep practising. I don’t like those artists with a big name who immersethemselves in socializing and networking.

Some said performing arts is more easily forgotten tan‘traditional’ art forms, such as painting. How do you think?

This is huge power and energy insideperforming arts, it depends on how much you deploy. There is no much differencebetween performing arts and painting, but the materials. In performing arts,your body is the pen; and the space is the paper. And you can also add moreelements into this three-dimensional space. I started with all forms of arts,such as paintings, prints, and sculpture, etc. But now I only focus on performing arts.

Is it possible to make a living on the income of performing arts?

It is very difficult. Thanks to my family and my husband. Withouttheir support, it would not be possible. And I personally have got littlematerial demands. And I never sell myworks. I met a young man, who studiesPhilosophy, in London days ago. He told me that I make him see one artist’spassion for arts. He also told me that it would better not think too much onselling my works, but just focus on creating more works. It means so much forme.

[Editor] 马西

    Artintern