Re-Imagination in Visual Narrative: History, Memory and Archives

Time: April 14, 2019

Venue: Auditorium, 1st Floor, OCAT Institute


The second symposium of Abode of Anamnesis aims to investigate the complex relationship between history, memory and visual narratives, to explore the different strategies contemporary artists have adopted in order to enter historical narratives with images, and to conduct contextual analyses on the causes that led to this trend. The symposium also attempts to examine the connection between these artists’ strategies and their works, and to navigate the unique perspective photography has contributed to historical narratives from different viewpoints.

 

Panel I: Historical Narrative and Memory Reconstruction

Time: 10:00-12:20

Moderator : Change Mengsu ( PHD Candidate in History, Stanford University)


“Narration” refers to the incorporation of historical events in a fixed linguistic structure; its goal is not only to “represent” history, but also to secure the right to interpret historical events. 40 years ago, Jean-François Lyotard already examined the decline of grand narratives in the postmodern world in his book, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Within the field of contemporary art, artists’ attempts to narrate history with various media and strategies are manifestations of their efforts to reexamine the authenticity of history and memory, and of the possibilities of rewriting history and reconstructing memory.


10:00-11:30  Guest Talks


The Imaginary of the Image

Speaker: David Bate (Artist, Writer, Professor of Photography, Westminster School of Arts, University of Westminster)

Bio-Archiving: Shenyang Underground Music and Chinese Art in the 1990s

Speaker: Dong Bingfeng (Curator, Researcher of Cross-Media Art Institute, China Academy of Fine Arts)

Picturing Histories: Re-writing Family Album

Speaker: He Yining (Writer and Curator)

Anthro-Photographic Studies: Narrating the Past with Imaginations from the Future

Speaker: Yang Yunchang (PhD Candidate in Anthropology, University College London)

11:30-11:45  Coffee Break

11:45-12:20  Panel Discussion

Guests: Chang Mengsu, David Bate, Dong Bingfeng, He Yining, Yang Yunchang

 

Panel II: Re-writing Archives in Contemporary Art

Time: 14:00-16:30


Moderator: Hu Hao (Writer, Curator)


When we walk into exhibition halls, flip through documents and read the news, it’s easy to notice that what we see as “archive” or “archival art” is gravitating naturally toward highbrow concepts such as knowledge, libraries and museums in the way it carries itself. It moves ever closer to solemn topics such as history, memory and trauma in its flesh and blood, as if—by being tactile—an archive is valuable simply by being present, or at least by its automatic ability to be serious and profound in a “high-quality” way… But because this is taken for granted, archives and the art behind it now find themselves in an awkward position under this scam wherein superficial perspectives are also caught in games of jargon. In this panel, curators, artists and writers will talk about “archive fever” in the context of global culture since the 20th century from different perspectives, and explore questions like the definition of “archive” and “archival art”, and how we should go about “practicing archives” in the context of contemporary art.


14:00-15:30  Guest Talks

What is archive? What is archival art?

Speaker: Hu Hao (Writer, Curator)

Reliving the History through Archives: A Case Study of “Crescent: Retrospectives of Zhao Wenliang and Yang Yushu” and “The Lonely Spirit” and “The Lonely Spirit” exhibition

Speaker: Su Wei (Senior Curator, Inside-Out Art Museum)

Why Rewrite?

Speaker: Li Ran (Artist)

“Archive”: Reflexivity

Speaker: He Wenzhao (Writer, Curator)

15:30-15:50  Coffee Break

15:50-16:30  Panel Discussion

Guests: Hu Hao, Su Wei, Li Ran, He Wenzhao, He Yining

 

Abstracts of Speeches


David Bate: The Imaginary of the Image


How does a spectator navigate the meaning of an online or offline image? When does “archive fever” play a role in developing a historical imaginary? Where does a memory of the observer intersect with the meaning of an image? Why does the composition of a photographic image matter as a strategy for the production of the imagination of the viewer?


Dong Bingfeng: Bio-Archiving: Shenyang Underground Music and Chinese Art in the 1990s


“Shenyang Underground Music 1995–2002” is not only an exhibition project (shown at Taikang Space and the Art Gallery of Luxun Academy of Fine Arts in 2017), but also a textual project that aims to conduct critical research on artists, artworks and visually-oriented narratives of art history from art under the influence of marginalized concepts and alternating modes. At the same time, “Shenyang Underground Music 1995–2002” entails a variety of cross-disciplinary exhibition and performance modes, such as underground music, performance art, independent films and experimental theatre, which correspond to the trends of institutional experiment and self-organization in the 1990s Chinese art scene. Together, they combine to form a unique historical narrative and “bio-archiving” in memory. This talk will focus on Dong’s latest research projects.  


He Yining: Picturing Histories: Re-writing Family Album


In the past decade or so, Chinese photographic practices that utilize vintage photographs in the biographic construction of individual and family histories in have illustrated the importance of family albums in the artistic exploration of personal, family and collective memory, as well as the numerous possibilities for artists to enter historical narratives through the rewriting of family photos. This talk will focus on the works of four Chinese artists who use photography as their main medium, and reexamine three ways family albums are transformed into works of art: first, through the investigation, organization and reenactment of images found in family albums; second, through the attribution of new objectives as a result of rewriting family albums; and third, through the artists’ continuous exploration of the connection between collective history and individual memory, which has been divided in collective consciousness.


Yang Yunchang: Anthro-Photographic Studies: Narrating the Past with Imaginations from the Future


The history of anthropologists’ encounters with photography is a history of “taming” the wildness of this medium of modernity. While such effort has proven to fail, anthropologists and visual culture scholars have provided us with an alternative approach to understanding photography—to confront the exorbitance and contingency of the Photograph, as to liberate the medium from singular definitions and static discourses, and relocate it as a social actor that bridges historical narratives and future imaginations.


Hu Hao: What is archive? What is archival art?


Although we can often spot artworks that look like archives in appearance or that have actually appropriated what’s classified as archival material in many self-defined surveys of contemporary art, it is far from wise to equate these artworks with archival art. As a noun that has never been clearly defined but has hurriedly acquired an unreserved philosophical air, “archive” itself is obviously not enough to be the only prerequisite for the imagination, description and even judgment (which can be called criticism) of an “archivist.” Aside from the unacceptability of the disconnection between this approach and the artworks, its ambiguity is also problematic in itself. With archival art, can the question of “archive” as “archive” really be so unimportant? Is it really so self-explanatory that “archivists” can delve right into it and patter in miscellany? I think we only have the right to judge the value of “archive” in relation to archival art and critiques of archival art when we have clarified the concept of “archive.”


Su Wei: Reliving History through Archives: A Case Study of “Crescent: Retrospectives of Zhao Wenliang and Yang Yushu” and “The Lonely Spirit”


The evolution of consciousness and value in historical archives, individual cases in history and historical progression has received renewed attention from art researchers as well as public and private art institutions in recent years. In the context of this trend, what has resurfaced is not only the desire to dig into the past along other miscellaneous reasons, but also basic questions related to research, the core of which lies in our perspective and urgency to reexamine and catch the individuals and moments that have largely remained silent in archives. When we try to reimagine the condition of archives back in the days, we have to restore their “vitality” while introducing today’s zeitgeist and uncertainties, rather than falling into the sentiments evoked by a solemn, distant past. I hope to share my approach to archives in “Crescent: Retrospectives of Zhao Wenliang and Yang Yushu” (Inside-Out Art Museum, Beijing, 2018) and “The Lonely Spirit” (Inside-Out Art Museum, Beijing, 2018–2019). These two exhibition projects I curated last year heavily rely on archival research. I wish to share my thoughts with art professionals on the ways to translate a facet of history into exhibition making.


Li Ran: Why Rewrite? 


When we are once again faced with the application of “archive” in creative and curatorial practices, we must see that it is not a type of categorization in art. So how should we understand the involvement of this practice as a phenomenon? Some artists have called it a fight for the right to speak, but then the question becomes—how should we understand its political nature? Who is the enemy we are fighting against? If we win, where will this right to speak take us? I’m afraid we have to admit that, if we don’t clarify the definition of “archive,” it will remain an abstract fragment of data without direction. But if we define “archive” as a piece of evidence that has already become normalized historical expression, it will look like we have new objectives and questions when we reprocess this data from the past… in this “political” act, along with the careful examination of the data, we can complicate the situation further. In my work, the sources of historical photographs, documents, and other materials already come with fragments of data that are formal and informal, unknown and well-known, so the individual capacities needed in the process of organizing and editing must take place together. The process is full of complications that come with experience and history. When it comes to this realm, I think we no longer look at a tug-of-war between concepts of historical writings, but something more like an entry point outside preexisting frameworks. Here, “outside” does not refer to a kind of otherworld found in literature and poetry, but rather to more specific creative demands…In this talk, I will use two recent works as examples to explore artistic creations involving “archive.”


He Wenzhao: “Archive”: Reflexivity


People tend to forge, or tend to obsess. But “archive” is neither. It is much more composed, goal-oriented, and determined. It forgets and remembers not as a result of human negligence, but as a result of its instrumental nature and technological ethics. As an instrument of power, a set of governing accessories that come from, point to, or identify with others, “archive” needs to be clear, logical, readable, and ready for enlistment whenever it’s required. We have good reasons to often suspect that “archives” actually control and own the truth. It is responsible not only for collecting and outputting selectively reliable versions of reality, but also for arranging and allocating powers of ordinary and unusual phenomena in discourse. In some extreme cases in history, it even appears as a form of oppressive discourse in charge of escorting different bodies to different execution grounds. When I try to “objectify” archive in my teaching and emphasize its effectiveness as “methodology,” I merely share the right to abuse a certain kind of administrative strategy with many artists. Although the ascent of power that accompanies technological uprising is coming at us with full force, our blustering with outstretched necks and reddened faces is just a haphazard imitation of real power and historical configuration. We are fooling ourselves by self-indulging our avoidance of this context. I will discuss my present doubts regarding “archival art” from my own ruminations and experience of the exhibition.

 

About speakers and moderators


Michelle Mengsu Chang is a PhD Candidate in History at Stanford University, where she studies totalitarianism in the 20th century. Her research focuses on the interface between state and individual under totalitarianism, as well as how economic organization and material reality influence political consciousness and identity. Prior to pursuing her doctorate, she worked as a researcher at the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin. Michelle received an MA in International Relations from Yale University and a BA in Economics from the University of California, Berkeley. Beyond academia, Michelle also works as a photographer. Her first exhibition—“The Atlas of Stranger”—which features her street photography work from the past seven years, opened in Beijing last November.


David Bate is an artist and writer with a well-known international reputation for his work on photography, visual arts history, theory and culture. He is a Professor of Photography at the University of Westminster, supervising PhD work and teaching in the MA Photography Arts programme. He is also an editor of the international photography theory journal Photographies started in 2008: https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rpho20/current.


Dong Bingfeng is a curator and producer based in Beijing. He is a research fellow at the School of Inter-media Art, China Academy of Art. Since 2005, Dong has worked as a curator at the Guangdong Museum of Art and the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Deputy Director of Iberia Center for Contemporary Art, Art Director of Li Xianting’s Film Fund, and Academic Director of OCAT Institute. In 2013, Dong was awarded the “CCAA Chinese Contemporary Art Critic Award”. In 2015, he was awarded the Chinese Contemporary Art Critic Award of Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art. In 2017, he was awarded the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Greater China Research Grant.


HE Yining (born. 1986) is a curator and writer of photography. She is a graduate of London College of Communication, University of the Arts London. In 2010, she began to work as a curator, translator, and writer specializing in photography and visual culture. Her work is principally focused on the way in which photography is able to freely straddle the boundaries of contemporary art, responding to and raising questions about contemporary and historical social issues through effective, diverse, and interdisciplinary means. He's exhibitions have been held in museums, art museums and galleries, and other institutions in China and Europe. Her publications include Photography in the British Classroom, and The Port and the Image, among others. Further information and detailed descriptions of her work can be found on her website, www.heyining.com.


Yang Yunchang holds an MA degree in Anthropology of Media from SOAS, University of London (2014) and an LLB in Anthropology from Sun Yat-sen University (2013). He is now a PhD Candidate in Material and Visual Culture at the Anthropology Department of University College London (UCL). His research area includes inter-disciplinary studies across photography and anthropology, and visual culture and arts from early modern to contemporary China.


Hu Hao is a writer, curator, researcher at Taikang Space. He graduated with a BA in philosophy (2013) and an MA in aesthetics (2017) from the School of Philosophy at Renmin University of China. His essays were shortlisted for the International Awards for Art Criticism (IAAC) in 2016 and 2017. In 2017, his research project was selected for the inaugural “Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Greater China Research Grant: Research Workshop”. His curatorial projects include “Border Resonance” (with Zhang Wenxin, Goethe Institut, Beijing 2018), “Metamorphosis: Art Practices Now Activating Archives and Public Memories” (exhibition preview, with Liu Zhangbolong & Nie Xiaoyi, OCAT Institute, Beijing 2018), and “The Card Players” (Lianzhou Foto, Lianzhou 2018).


Su Wei is a curator and art critic based in Beijing. He is the Senior Curator of Beijing Inside-Out Art Museum.


Li Ran 1986 Born in Hubei, Li Ran currently lives and works in Shanghai, China. Graduated from Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, Oil Painting Department with BFA. Li Ran has exhibited at the Center Pompidou, Paris; basisvoor actuele kunst (BAK), Utrecht; Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Berlin; Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH), Houston; Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, Montreal; The Museum of Moscow, Moscow; Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, Geneva; CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco; NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore (CCA), Singapore; Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MCAD), Manila; Sifang Museum, Nanjing; OCT Contemporary Art Terminal (OCAT), Shenzhen,Shanghai and Xi’an; Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA), Beijing; CAFA Museum (CAFAM), Beijing; and other venues, He has held solo exhibition at OCT Contemporary Art Terminal (OCAT), Xi’an (2015). He won the “Best Artist Award” at the 2014 Moscow International Youth Art Biennale and was nominated for the “Future Generation Award” by the Pinchuk Art Center in 2017.


He Wenzhao is awriter with an ongoing interest in local practices and social art,andguest lecturer at various institutions. 




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