FUTURE PERFECT: CONTEMPORARY CHINESE ART AND THE QUESTION OF THE ARCHIVE CORNELL UNIVERSITY
ITHACA, NEW YORK
SEPTEMBER 23-24, 2005
Cornell University recently hosted Future Perfect: Contemporary Chinese Art and the Question of the Archive, an international workshop on art and curating organized by Thomas Hahn, curator of Cornell's Charles W. Wason Collection on East Asia, and Timothy Murray, curator of Cornell's Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art. One of the largest gatherings in North America of Chinese artists and curators, the workshop inaugurated the Wen Pulin Archive of Chinese Avant-Garde Art at Cornell, the first of many planned collaborations with the Dongtai Academy of Arts in Beijing, China. Notably absent at Future Perfect was Wen himself, who was denied a visa to attend the event by the United States government.
Artists contributed about 80 percent of the Wen Pulin Archive's documents. The digitization of the more than 400 analog videotapes, photographs, and other objects that document performances, installations, arts events, artist interviews, and studio tours in the Wen Pulin Archive marks a significant movement away from acquisition and curatorial practices based on connoisseurship and U.S. custodianship toward new conceptual models of collaboration and immediate access. Murray, who curated "Contact Zones" (1999) in Mexico City and "INFOS 2000 Net Art Contest" (2001) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, along with numerous Net art exhibitions, conceives digital communication as a means to interrogate and re-conceptualize centuries-old paradigms within the museum-gallery matrix. "The result," he explains, "has tended to result in an emphasis on concepts, ideas, and collaborations rather than on products, collections, value, and status."
Employing the newly legalized individual use of camcorders, which were once symbols of government surveillance, Wen began his video documentation of avant-garde art in 1985 when he graduated from the China Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. According to Yang Shin-Yi, who assists Wen in the direction of the Dongtai Academy, many of the artists documented by Wen not only produced art that rejected officially sanctioned artistic practice but also violated a law requiring them to return to their place of birth upon graduation from their study in Beijing. Working illegally and without state support, "migrant artists" (as Wen calls them) embody a rejection of the state.
As many of the artists present at the workshop attested, it was not uncommon for police to close exhibitions, installations, and performances shortly after they had opened. While censorship of the arts is not unique to China, Wen's archive documents a period in Chinese history of enormous political and social change in terms of the relationship of China's political leaders to its artists. (The National Gallery in Beijing opened the "China/Avant Garde" exhibition in 1989; a few months later, students were massacred at Tiananmen Square.) Wen completed his documentation of Chinese avant-garde art in 2000, when the Shanghai Art Museum organized its first biennale of contemporary art--that is, the date of the avant-garde's absorption into official art. …