Artefacts | Tuesday 4 June at 7.00 pm
Chair: Chris Dercon
Speakers: Nicholas Serota, Elvira Dyangani Ose, Wu Hung and Olav Velthuis
Nicolas Serota (NS): Good evening Ladies and Gentleman I’m Nicholas Serota, Director of The Tate and it’s my pleasure to welcome you here this evening for one in what is a series of debates taking place here at The Tate on what will address the issues political, economic, social and cultural dimensions of globalisation at the start, no longer really of the start of the 21st century.
I think Tate is a very appropriate place for these debates to be taking place, sometimes thought that art should be removed from society, that a museum of this kind should be in some way a refuge from what is happening in the wider world but I think we all know artists are determined , or many artists are determined that there work should address some of the issues in that wider world and some of the issues that press most urgently upon us at the beginning of the 21st century so we make no apology, indeed are rather proud that this series of debates should be taking place at Tate Modern. They have been organised as you are aware I think, by Zamyn and I would like to thank Michael Aminian for conceiving the series, for working with us in presenting it and Michael you are a force to be reckoned with and I think the quality of those engaged in the debates over the past week or so and the next three weeks is very much a product of your energy.
Here at Tate I want to thank Marco, Daniel and Chris Dercon, who I will introduce in a moment for being involved in the presentations and in the series and I also want to thank the partners for the whole project. Those partners are Accenture, Africa Progress panel, Barclays, School of African and Oriental studies here in London and of course Zamyn and those partners are genuinely partners and not just financial contributors.
Tonight, Chris Dercon, Director of Tate Modern, will act as moderator. Chris, formerly Director of Witte de With, Rotterdam then the Boijmans Van Beunigen museum also in Rotterdam and most recently, before he became Director of Tate Modern he was Director of the Haus der Kunst in Munich from 2003 until 2010.
The debate tonight is about the role of museums not just as collecting institutions but as institutions that display works, bring together artists and the public and debate the place of art in society and debate interpretations of history. What this panel will do will be to question the way in which museums have played this role in the past, how their role is changing and what it might be in the future and with that I will hand over to Chris Dercon. Chris, thank you for moderating this evening, we look forward very much to the discussion.
Chris Dercon (CD): Thank you Nick, thank you Marco and thank you Michael. What an agenda we have tonight and we only have 2 hours, my goodness.
Ladies and Gentleman, I’ve conceived after coming back from Venice where we had similar discussions and Germany where people are discussing the same kind of subject I wrote this morning on the lane a little statement and I would like to confront you with that statement.
Ladies and Gentlemen it is true that we live in an époque when the old economy, the western world by which of course, I mean especially Europe and America is, if not declining, at least in crisis. It is in crisis for of course an economical point of view if only because new economic powers are emerging most of which are challenging quite seriously western domination, but its economy is even more in crisis in the field of cultural production. The epicentre of global transformations is located very firmly in global south and in the east and it seems to me that these transformations call for completely new forms of engagement. Engagement with foreign worlds and foreign cultures, they also call for rethinking of cultural institutions that have to recalibrate their traditional roles in order to take into account the creative forces that are emerging in the global south in particular. What is striking is the high velocity of circulation of creative forces and forms and the huge desire form local actors to be connected to larger entities and ensembles and in that sense we will have to invent new forms of intervention all of which aim not only conciliating what already exists but helping cultural thinkers and cultural creators to enter into cross disciplinary conversations such as the one we had yesterday and the day before yesterday and the one we have tonight. Cross disciplinary conversations which are involving politics, economics and of course culture because without taking into account culture I don’t think we can reinvent economics and we definitely cannot reinvent a new form of politics.
Tonight we will debate with Professor We Hung, next to me and Elvira Dyangani Ose and Olav Velthuis and all of us will discuss these and other matters. We and the organisers put to these three speakers three provocations and I will come to you later with these three provocations, they worked on it for a very long time.
Elvira Dyangani Ose is working with us at the Tate Modern since 2011 and she is Curator of International Art and we were able to work with her thanks to the support of the Guaranteed Trust Bank in Lagos Nigeria. Guaranteed Trust Bank which of course has also very important economical relationships with the rest of the world and while she was born and has her roots in Equatorial Guinea she studied art history and the history of architecture in Catalonia in Barcelona. Since then she is doing many many different things, amongst others she is completing at Cornel University her Master of art in History of Art and visual studies and specialising in African culture and African arts with somebody you might know well Salah Hassan. She also has been working in the Garn Canaria in Las Palmas and she has been working in Cameroon in Douala and she has also been working quite recently, and has continued to work in Congo in Lubumbashi and Elvira she is going to publish very soon an essay which is inspired by the famous sociologist Achille Mbembe who is teaching in Witwatersrand in South Africa and he wrote this fantastic book ‘Sortir de la grande nuit’, Let’s get out from the big night, and he introduced, together with the famous Nigerian writer the word Afropolitanism and she is now writing and publishing an essay which is called ‘Are you an Afropolitan’? In that essay Elvira suggests it is time to get rid of the qualification of African. OK? If we have to get rid of the qualification of African or Chinese for that matter or the Middle Eastern so how are we going to all these things and how are we going to call these things which we call new forms of engagement and intervention?
And of course Wu Hung who is the Harrie Vanderstappen Professor in Chicago since quite a while, he is very interested in that because he thinks we have got it completely wrong in the way we in the west look at this thing we call Chinese modern, Chinese contemporary art and he has been writing about this. He has been writing about this always like playing ping pong with the old. The old and the new. He is very interested in the relationships between older visual forms and traditions and older forms of ritual, social memory and even political discourses and he looks at the new through the eyes of the old and he looks through the eyes of the old at the new and his book which he published years ago, ‘Transience, Chinese experimental art at the end of the 20th century’, published by the University of Chicago press is for many of us interested in Chinese modern and contemporary art a true bible. Last year he published ‘A History of Ruins’ which is a story which an analysis of the concept of absence in Chinese, traditional and even contemporary culture and now he is working for Thames and Hudson on a book called ‘Chinese contemporary art, A History’. I’m really curious and to how you are going to combine the old and the new today in this debate because of course you have competition. Think of somebody you might know, Lothar Ledderose at the University of Heidelberg who keeps telling us stop at the way you look at Chinese contemporary art, try to understand at first the old and then talk about the new. Let’s see what you do with this.
Then Olav Velthuis. I’m not going to speak Dutch with Olav tonight, I am not from Holland but he is from Holland and we speak the same language. He is now Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology of the Universiteit van Amsterdam, see that’s Dutch, the free ………
Olav Velthuis (OV): University of Amsterdam
CD: Oh the University of Amsterdam so he understands Dutch, it was just a test. And he is there at the department, he is the Director of the master programmes but before I was an avid reader of his pieces, of his essays, before he was the staff reporter of globalisation for the Dutch newspaper The Volkskrant, the people’s daily. His books and he published amongst others this red book about the globalisation of the art market which was published by Sternberg Press in Berlin thanks to an initiative in Stockholm to Tensta Konsthall and in that book which he co-edited with Maria Lindt he’s speaking about contemporary art and its commercial markets report on current conditions and future scenarios and also he is publishing about patterns of globalisation within the contemporary art market. I mention these two titles, he has many more provocative titles but every time he is publishing in the Volkskrant, Corriere della Sera , Le Monde, people in the art world get a little bit anxious, they get a little bit upset because I think he starts to understand how it all works and he is making of course the difference between the cultural and the economical powers and one of his stronger statements lately has been ‘don’t worry so much about the economical powers they are there and they are big and powerful but cultural power might be just as important and maybe even more important’.
To these three speakers we put the following provocations, now listen carefully
- The appropriation and ownership of art mirrors the world of commerce. True, not true?
- The display of art, artefacts and works of art fetishes them and perpetuates archaic definitions and perceptions of other cultures. Perpetuates archaic definitions and perceptions of other cultures. True, not true?
- Art can provide the mode of engaging with the conditions of globalised culture that gives voice to individuals and makes material their concerns.
Wu Hung, now it’s up to you react on these three provocations and I believe you have some images.
WH: I have three images. I have also have 3, 4, 5 minutes
CD: But not more
WH: No more, so yes it’s very exciting to be here to join this panel discussion where we debate. I would respond to these questions with a few remarks. I won’t answer these questions because these are very big issues. I am just paid a very interesting discussion. I wrote down some remarks I want to read. I will start from the topic of this panel, Artefacts. Artefact is a word favoured by archaeologists, art historians and art museums where we prefer the more lofty word the work of Art. By calling an artefact a work of art we give it a special status as well as a distinct aesthetic and commercial values. How these values have been established is a long story but we should keep in mind that the concept of art or fine art is how we historically and culturally defined. In China for example the idea of fine art was restricted to painting and calligraphy before the 20th century. No sculptors, print makers or architects were ranked artists before 20th century. Their works didn’t exist in so called art collections of emperors and scholars. This situation changed fundamentally in the 20th century when the country embraced the European art system. As a result art museums not only in London, Paris but also in Shanghai and Beijing started to reinvent independent art histories of Chinese sculpture and architecture. Such a historical reinvention of artefacts was not just realised in museums and art academies but was also realised in the field and the market place through destruction and through shady transactions. Buddhist statues for example were removed from cave chapels to become transportable works of art as wealth commodities. Sometimes an entire building was relocated to a western museum but if this process of decontactalisation and the redefinition started as a colony or imperial practice it soon became a basic technology of the new nation’s state in rewriting its art history. For example no Chinese art collections in China before the 20th century included this kind of work, beautiful clay statue filigree because everybody knew it was created for the dead and belonged to the tombs so nobody collected it before the early 20th century. Such works called spirit articles first appeared in the market place, the antique market in the early 20th century when China entered modern era so it’s very interesting there is a coincident timing became commodity enter the market became museum objects and in the early modern era, but now they have become indispensable for any museum display in China and in the west. So, should we cast this modern art historical system away and then re- embrace the pre modern concept of arts and artefacts? I don’t think it can be done so easily. The dilemma is how to integrate indigenous aesthetic standards and art historical discourses into a modern system that is essentially homogenous and alien.
For art historian museum it is a very difficult challenge how to integrate, to explore the complexity of this situation it is interesting, I put a comparison here, it is interesting to juxtapose, here, a beautiful statue of Buddivista in an art museum with this installation by Ai WeiWei, contemporary artist Ai WeiWei, which displays, as you can see, ten pairs of stone feet broken off from Buddha statues. So this consider this feet, broken feet considered useless for their damaged condition. But this pair of images raises a more challenging question for me, where Ai WeiWei work delivers a sharp critique of the antique market and the system of art collecting that supports it, this work nevertheless transforms ancient artefacts, in this case the broken ones into art by means of what we call the readymade. Thank you.
CD: Thank you. Elvira
Elvira Dyangani Ose (ED0): Well it is really exciting and challenging for me to be here since I am part of this house, this is my home. I said to myself in order to respond the these provocations I will use two of them to frame my ideas and I promise to respond to your question which is a fourth provocation later on in the debate because I think it is interesting to talk about why we should get rid of the African artists in a specific context but in order as I said that to talk about artefacts and the subject of this panel I decided to give two examples and the first one is the ‘Statues Also Die’ a film, a short documentary that was made by Chris Marker and Alain Resnais in 1953, and commissioned by Alioune Diop a Senegally intellectual who in 1941 was started to conceive these magazine which would reflect on ideas of revised , let’s say, African socialism and will try to convey the new ideas beyond the subject of the male or the female black men and women. What I, what they wanted to do at the time was to reflect on ideas that Nkrumah and George Padmore, Jomo Kenyatta and William Du Bois were considering through one of the congress, the panafrican congress that happened here in 1945 in Manchester and the idea was to reflect on the, how we can conceive a new African personality if we want to use Nkrumah’s term. So Alioune Diop asked this question to Chris Marker and Alain Resnais, why is African art displayed in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris while Egyptian and Greek art is displayed at the L’Ouvre and that was what triggered the film. As you know in 1941 they couldn’t do the magazine. They wait until the Second World War came in the way and they decided to move ahead in 1947 with this. Presence Africaine, we became one of the most challenging magazine sort of trying to collect all those and convey those ideas.
What they did with the ‘Les statues meurent aussi’ is to explore how the meaning of African institutes, the traditional African Art, was changing when displayed in the museum and the movie star with this sentence that we can also ask ourselves in the context of these panels, they say when men die they enter into history, when a status die they enter into art and the botany of death is what we call culture. And I think it’s an incredible and a provocative way of addressing the subject and I wanted to bring a couple of images and a little bit of a movie but I am going to try to summarise very briefly what I think they camera does to present us with these ideas.
So the camera guides us through the shadows by a thoughtful narrator commentary using the words that I just pronounced take us inside the museum. He poses for a seconds to each shot and he stares excessively at objects which leap to the screen at each shot as he is trying to engage us in a dialogue that could otherwise not take place.
The images make us accomplish this to the date of these works which become mute as soon as they appear since nobody is prepared to listen then and to confront there through. The field announces their forcible insertion into a commercial circuit that you and Chris were talking about in which a relationship with the art world is based shiftily on the detached observation which is far removed from the role played by this object within the environment and the context of social and cultural practices in which they are made and my provocative question is to think about how objects of that kind nowadays but also, as they were put in the provocation, the archived definition and perceptions of other cultures production still prevail and I see a movie like that one is still valuable today and this is a provocation that I send to you guys in order to reflect on the ideas presentenced to the panel.
The second example that I want to use and I have still have my minute and a half is the Angola National Pavilion Participation which is this one for those of you who that can attend to the preview maybe you already have collected the return of 5 or 6 of these 23 offset posters that were displayed in this room, these large pieces of found objects that the artists Edson Chanas found around Luanda.
And what is interesting about the pavilion is that it’s a way of reflecting in the public space and in the changes in the future that is occurring nowadays in Luanda but it’s also a reflection for me in how important it is the way in which art is intervened in the public space because as some of you know, some of the objects were found in the place where the photography was taken but some others of these were removed from the original setting to sometimes meters away but also sometimes 2 kilometres away to state a perspcific meaning. So there is also the action taken by the artists and made that the record of this event and this particular work very very interesting.
Angola’s National Participation I would entitle ‘Luanda Encyclopedic City’ in parallel to Massimiliano Gioni ideas on the encyclopaedic, his exhibition on the encyclopaedic world and it was curated by Beyond Entropy which is a duet, curatorial duet formed by Paula Nascimento and Stefano Rabolli that are looking at also the way in which the public space was also challenging in the case of their participation in the biennale in architecture.
So for me also I wanted to use that to respond to the second provocation that was how I can provide a more disengaging with conditions of globalised culture and Luanda is one of these spaces, one of these cities in the global south that is connected ideas and consumerism, that is connecting artists that are challenging the public space and there is just a lot of potential and there is strong activist potential of this kind of project in order to interrogate the public space but also the role of art as an agent for social transformation. And I want also to use that to talk about in the debate about the dislocation of certain words, the location and sort of like joining together these two proposals. The location within the displays as a dislocation of those works and I think I am going to stop there.
CD: You should.... Elvira...bravo.
OV: I will mostly respond to the first provocation that the appropriation and ownership mirrors the world of commerce which is a bit of an ambiguous provocation but if you think of it as well we live in an era of profound economic globalisation so that will lead to or will somehow produce or coincide with profound cultural globalisation at least for official art, for high arts, then my answer to that provocation is very simple. Its no. Not at all.
I think it is very easily overstated how profound, how deep cultural globalisation is. I am studying at the moment art worlds in four of the biggest emerging economies, China, Brazil, Russia and India, together with a small research team and one of the things that we are doing is basically counting in Europe and the United States but also in those countries what people are really at. What they are collecting, what museums are exhibiting, what galleries are showing and what we find is that all these worlds and that I am not talking just about those BRIC countries but also about Europe and the United States are extremely local. If you walk into a random gallery in New York or in London or in Amsterdam what you will mostly find are local artists. If you walk into a random museum, if it is not that Tate, but if you walk into a random museum you will mostly find European artists in Europe and American as well but very little from other regions. There is a lot of discourse about cultural globalisation but if you look at the actual collection policies it’s only a couple of percent. It’s on the rise that’s right but it’s still only a couple of percent.
Now it’s not very different in the BRIC countries, in Brazil, Russia, India and China. I was just a couple of weeks ago I was Dehli visiting one of my PHD students who is there for a year studying the world in depth and I was talking to some art collectors and I was quite amazed, I mean not positively or negatively, but just amazed how shallow their knowledge and information is about what is going on in contemporary art worlds in Europe and in the United States. To some art collectors when I was mentioning the name of Damien Hirst they would really have to think hard. Well yeah, I think I have heard that name once! And that is as far as it goes. In New Dehli what people are collecting is almost exclusively Indian art, Indian art that gets consecrated very good Indian art but it’s Indian art. There is very little collecting of European art, American Art.
Now you might say well maybe this just a beginning of an era and with globalisations people travelling around things being shown abroad that will happen. I mean it is just a matter of time. I have serious doubts about that. I don’t think we should think of cultural globalisation as a linear process, as something that it starting off, that is being propelled maybe by economic globalisation and that will lead to a further integration of a global art world. I don’t think that is going to happen and I think actually the discourse that you find right now in art world, it reminds me very much of the discourse in the 1970’s when I wasn’t around. Well I was around but I wasn’t participating in a discourse but at least what I read in books from the 70’s and 80’s about globalisation of the cultural industries of, for instance Hollywood, we were thinking that there would be this tremendous Americanisation of the cultural industries. That everybody would be looking at Hollywood movies and would be looking at the soap operas being produced in the United States and look at what has happened. A little bit of that but am the same time what you see is all kinds of regional centres around the world that are as productive when it comes to the output of movies for instance in, say, Bollywood or in Nigeria in, is it the word...how do you call the Nigerian film industry? Is it Nollywood? Yeah that’s how you call it.
So what you find is a strong regionalisation and I think that is also what we are heading for in the art world and one reason, and it’s what I probably should already be stopping with, one reason for that...No I will mention two reasons for that. One simply has to do with taste. If, taking the cultural industries again as a example, the cultural repertoires that you find in different countries are not compatible to once source of production that has been spread all over the world. There are local repertoires taste repertoires that people have and that make them prone to understand, make sense, like certain types of cultural products and others not. So there is a taste component to it.
But apart from that there is also an organisational reason. I think actually the Tate here is one of the few institutions in the world that has the organisational capabilities, that means people all over the world, networks, travelling almost continuously all over the world to have a good grasp of what is going on in those different regions and very few institutions have that type of organisational power. I mean it’s not easy to have a good grasp of what is going on in, I don’t know you name it, Sao Paulo or in Buen Asiarias at the moment. You have to have a very deep presence there. You have to be there for a long time and organisationally that is just not what is possible for a lot of cultural institutions in the present world.
Now what that leads to and that is what I am stopping with, what that leads to is, you know, these...it’s a form of globalisation that is taking place right now where curators are travelling around the world but what they are basically doing is just working off those lists, kind of preconceived lists of artists that are considered to be hot at the moment and they will pay a quick visit to their studio and they might be included in shows that are about something new Indian this or contemporary Brazilian that and that is what I hear artists in this country complaining a lot about. That they are in the end selected frequently not just for their artistic merits but more for their nationality and I think that is what is irritating in those worlds.
Just to round off, so cultural globalisation yes it does exist but I think it is overstated. There are very strict limits to how far in the visual arts globalisation can go which you will...I think what we are heading for is more like in the cultural industries regional centres that are to some extent connected through a smaller group of artists that really have a global presence, that are being shown and talked about, understood and made sense of in a more global sphere but mostly predominately it remain organised in a local way.
CD: Thank you Olav.
Olav, are you still a journalist?
OV: If I say yes are you then not going to tell me interesting things or....I am not a journalist!
CD: I am just going to bring you the news about globalisation. I mean you heard this morning, you read probably, all the newspapers that the Americans and the Europeans they want to break open NAFTA and that also culture is up for grabs in Cairo. Charles Tannock, the European Commissioner, was responsible and was presiding the negotiations. You know he doesn’t consider culture anymore a taboo and its David Cameron ladies and gentlemen who is really at the, I would say, at the forefront of breaking it all open. I mean you are talking about the fact that globalisation is in terms of cultural networks is not happening, is not going to take place but now we see that Hollywood is already like celebrating tonight because they know that they can defy la culture ou bien the exceptional idea of culture the French would try to protect French products and many filmmakers this morning they signed together a piece of paper saying we don’t want this to happen. We are afraid because if we break open after then it’s over. So US journalist, how do you react to that?
OV: Well yeah it’s very simply. A lot of countries don’t have those protective measures that France has at the moment and still you find that local culture remains strong there. By the way, the dynamic of the high arts, of the visual arts, is a very different one than the dynamic of the cultural industries of the movie industries.
So my main....
CD: How do you see the difference?
OV: Well, I think partially, for me, I think what puts a break on globalisation – so I am not saying it’s not happening – what I am saying is it is happening in a very small group. In a group of artists that you see at the Biennales for instance. But we don’t have a clue here in Europe about what is going on for instance in China, in like a market that is very strong there of these, what we would consider, sentimental kitsch artists who in the market are doing extremely well but we just don’t know what is going on there and we don’t have an interest in either.
CD: Wu Hung, do you agree with Olav who tries to make a difference between let’s say the cultural industries and culture industries it’s music, its cinema, it’s all the visual products and this thing which we call artefacts of works of art. Should we make a difference?
WH: Yes. I think we are making a difference when we use these words. But I want to come back a little bit to your discussion because these global, local things have been controlling our discourse, discussion for quite a few years but I feel, just say your discussion, also suggests...seems this polar concepts themselves probably need to be re-examined. For example, when we talk about global we mean kinds of networking, when we are talking local it’s some kind of place. It’s already within this network.
I just want to use Hong Kong as the example. It’s very hard to define. Hong Kong now, you probably know, is emerging as a major centre of contemporary art, especially commercially. Now these commercial artists have however moved there from London, from New York, from other parts of the world that are fast becoming the most powerful one but Hong Kong by definition is a Chinese city. It has a colonial past. People are educated. They speak Chinese and English. Often studied at Oxford or Cambridge. So it’s an interesting example. Can we use local/global, these polar concepts to describe....
CD: Do you agree this whole idea of taste as a regional product or as a regional expression? Do you agree with that?
WH: ...what is Hong Kong taste? What are Hong Kong artefacts and what is global here? So that’s also...I join your question.
CD: We were talking before about Francois Julian who is a very famous French sinologist. He brought this book in praise of blandness and he, you know blandness, and he considered for instance the work of Ai WeiWei as bland. But bland in the words of Francois Julian is a quality.
Now the interesting this is that we don’t have yet I think a system to measure these kinds of expressions which are belonging to a very kind of local, I would say environment-like, local context. So is there a future for global art Elvira?
EDO: I do think there is a future for global art. I do not if we will qualify it as global. And I want to add another reason that may we also have to connect these local and global and what you were saying because one of the most important things to remember here is that colonisation was a kind of globalisation as well. So in the case of African countries, African societies and I am talking, you know, for the sake of the conversation and the argument in general terms but we should make distinctions between countries because Africa is a huge continent and within the continent there are countries that have within them societies that operate in different ways. But I wanted to say that colonisation also brought to most of these communities an understanding of the world before they could really even define or put on stage their own culture. So when you have Nollywood or you have other ways in which the local is integrated into that long conversation we are talking about an understanding and a production of culture, a productions of knowledge, that is very much localised. But within these as the Afrapolitan intense states within a regional as you were saying conversation. So people are focusing in Nigeria or in Lagos in expressing things or in rethinking history in their own terms because they need that history to be said, to be written. It doesn’t exist in the context of the colonial and it exists through the independence as a way of conversation that has overlooked certain aspects of the history. So there is a need of producing knowledge culturally, locally. That is one thing.
And just I wanted to...just a second thing...
EDO: The second thing is to respond to your comment before on the African and we should get rid of the African, the qualification as African only if African means, as you were saying before, to localise the artists in a confined framework, conceptual framework where they can remove from a set of motives, they can remove from a certain ideas or topics and what I say is that this artists are working and talking to the rest of the world. They shouldn’t be defined only by their cultural background in that sense cultural identity and cultural branding works as a confined territory which to the artist seems like a kind of removed from them. So I think that when you talk about, you know, these curators, certain curators not certainly Tate curators, that go around the world just looking at a given list to invite these artists to participate is that curators are looking at geography as an aesthetic value and that is the thing that we should avoid. That’s why I am saying, you know, African if that is the user of Africaness that you are claiming for should get rid of and you should talk about, I don’t know, other international and certain global...
CD: I think what Elvira is saying is extremely important for our debate because I have the impression that if we would have done this debate with you in ‘58 when Chris Marker and Alain Resnais produced for French state television ‘Les Statutes Meureit Aussi’ it would have been a completely other debate because in the ’50’s and the ‘60’s we have seen all these world cultural festivals, Jeddah, Shiraz, we went with famous Dutch filmmakers to China to celebrate what was going on there.
Now after ‘68/’69 and especially with the opec with the oil crisis we have a completely different situation. Not only tensions between the West and the East, not only in terms of what’s happening and going on with the cultural revolution but also locally we have many many corrupt regimes which are stepping up. So the whole idea of global ‘40’s/’50’s/’60’s and our optimism of Chris Maker and Alain Resnais suddenly gets interrupted and there is a stasis of about 30 years and now we are starting again. Did we miss something out? I mean would it be interesting for you for instance to go back and say ok, let’s think what’s going on in the ‘50’s and the ‘60’s.
WH: Very interesting historical perspective. Actually I think it’s when we think back, 1920’s/’30’s, even part of ‘40’s, represent the global moments actually than like Tokyo or like Shanghai were global cities but what was true somehow created a very deep gap separation...
CD: It was the first gap...
WH: And that reinforced by cold war. So somehow we started all over again and from ground zero somehow, you know, the Shanghai was Paris in the East, you start a visual culture, started ballroom, started music, jazz somehow restarted in 1980’s/’90’s, somehow East/West is suddenly pulled apart.
I feel your question is very interesting. You see the local, global is not only currently, the shifting, negotiating, but historically sometimes gets together secluded in the past from Ancient Rome all the way to China Sui/Tang dynasty were connected but then some point were pulled apart then I think now probably we tried for close again to close the gap but again starting from very different points because separation you cannot naturally get back together. There different rhetoric, ideology, politics and the new situations so I feel your question in very interesting. We now have a different layer. It is not just a global/local, also different histories, different memories like Africa this local memory. How this memory can become global? Actually it's....
CD: Local memory might be a very viable alternative for your local tasting.
WH: Yeah, like these local memories somehow in Venice.
CD: Olav, why don’t why we use local memories instead of taste?
OV: What is wrong with local taste? What irritates you about this?
CD: It irritates me because, you know, I mean I am irritated since a couple of years by our taste maker bourgeois. I mean I think the whole idea of taste is for me especially in these very complex new societies, I think taste is something which is not a given. I mean it’s a complete construct which changes constantly so the whole concept of taste I have a problem with and I think we should speak about local memories because Elvira what can we learn from the ‘50’s and the ‘60’s of the l’congrès Africa in algérie the optimism around Senegal and all these cultural festivals.
EDO: Well I mean....
OV: Can I just say, all this cultural...it’s still, it’s a very small fraction. I mean I don’t...so for me it is partially I want to understand like how deep do these processes go and if, I mean honestly, what we do in our project is partially just counting. We go to collectors and count in their house what they have there and where it is coming from and we do the same with museums, with galleries and we find that it is very very little is cross-border, is art that is coming not from the country where that institution is or where the collector is and I find it important because it is a different picture if you just look at what is being collected, what is being exhibited.
Even in biennales, I mean look at the Venice biennale now, in the end the number of artists coming from outside of Europe and the United States remains a small fragment. So I think there is a disconnection between the discourse about globalisation and that it is all the time about those events that do happen and yeah, of course, where great dialogue exists between different regions but it is a minority of what is going on in the art world.
CD: But our provocation Elvira and my provocation is that it used to be different. Even in the ‘50/’60’s we can give you examples of China, we can give you examples of India, think of the Ahmedabad factor, we can give you examples of Africa, so Elvira what happened in Africa in the ‘50’s/’60’s? What should we learn from the ‘50’s/’60’s from Africa to do, to make this discourse which we use to today which is finally an economical discourse to improve it, to correct it, to remediate it so to speak.
EDO: Well I mean I think the question here will be, first of all ask when they start to collect because I think that is important as well and also in the case of African countries or African festival in biennale I think I will agree with you like for me we are more interested with what’s happening in the 60’s and 70’s in Lagos, Algiers and Dakar than what is happening in the biennale Dakar nowadays or maybe even in the biennale Mumbai where reaching into, for obvious reasons in terms of like shipping the work to those cities etc the understanding of the connection with like global I think could be limited but I think what is important and that’s where I get the title or the term of local memory is that that was already in the way in which people in Dakar, Lagos and Algiers wanted to embrace the world. Looking at that internationally more inclusive narrative. So the problem now is what happened with that and I think examples like the biennale Dakar which also as I say when you were from the ‘80’s and ‘90’s and also in 2000, what you want is to create events that are, of course, international but that help to showcase local culture and local I mean in this case regional because this is what happened in Dakar and what happened in Lubumbashi and what happened in Bamako, what happened in Ethiopia there is a need of platform that will give opportunity to local artists, so it’s about the production of local knowledge that will then engage with other networks and in the case of African artists today it’s also they are participating in a conversation, very much in the global south, so again we are making this connection with a local memory that tried to embrace the international but this time escaping let’s say the west.
CD: Question for Wu Hung and for Olav, shouldn’t we stop being cynical about these Chinese auctions houses and Chinese collectors who only buy Chinese art and try to reinvent even the tradition of collecting Chinese ink paintings because when I read reports in the art world but also beyond the art world it’s complete cynical. These Chinese they have too much money. They don’t understand what’s going on. Would that be a first step, a G8 step to stop being cynical?
CD: He’s not a journalist anymore...
WH: I feel as a curator I cannot afford to be cynical otherwise I just become a journalist.
And so being a curator you have to be positive. You see, of course, a lot of garbage, a lot of commercial, a lot of bad things, a lot of these things floating on the surface. You just see a beautiful lake and there’s always something of dirty things.
But curators see reflection, you see what’s brought them and I feel that a lot of things very interesting like that piece Ai WeiWei piece its nowhere no, actually I don’t he will ever be published. I think it’s about absence. It’s not the beautiful statue is absence, is something we talked about, these very difficult Chinese term called the ‘dan’ meaning insipid. Insipidness, how can insipidness be beautiful? It’s boring right? How can boring become bland become beautiful?
WH: I feel still modern people still try to remember it, some artists not all artists.
CD: So a curator cannot afford to be cynical but you can suffer as a curator...when you look at the prices of the Chinese auction houses you must suffer!
WH: I can suffer... I am sure you suffer a lot and especially you do visual art I feel, oh my god, I had to watch hours and hours and hours in the hope to find that a 5 minutes, you know we have to go through it but art is there.
CD: Olav, should we stop being cynical about these local markets? About the Chinese paying too much money for art, are the Indians paying too much money for art? Should we stop being cynical?
OV: Yeah, I am not cynical about it at all so I will continue being positive or optimistic about it and for a couple of reasons.
Once thing is that these collectors, a fraction of them, after having collected that type of stuff and brought amazing prices and we are talking really about multi-million dollar prices for those types of paintings, they sometimes get into collecting something more seriously which requires more... a different type of knowledge of contemporary arts. So that’s one reason not to be cynical about it.
Another one is what I particularly actually like about China and the way art is being marketed there is that it also has a refreshing directness about it. I mean here in Europe and in the United States, of course, still the model is even in the upmarket, even in the galleries is that you shouldn’t talk about money. I mean it’s all about commerce but don’t mention it. And there it’s the exact opposite. It’s about commerce so let’s be as in your face about it as you can. So you really still have those practises there of artists that will bring their own work to an auctions house and sit in the front row and see and participate how the work is being bid up and it has something refreshing to me as well.
CD: Back to the news. Two weeks ago at the occasion of Art Basel in Hong Kong, the Financial Times published this special, it’s called, of course, ‘Collecting’ but I think that the first essay, the head one, on the front page was kind of interesting. It’s called ‘Beyond the Samosas’ and this essay was interviewing witnesses, artists, curators and these people, Aaron Cezar here from Delfina, were saying let’s stop this whole regional thing because what the new thing should be is that we are connect Latin American artists with Indian artists, Chinese artists with artists from Angola. Is that a gimmick or is that something which you as a historian can you live with that?
WH: I feel it’s a particular agenda and prospective just to see local artists in a kind of international framework because that’s typically like a Guggenheim they are doing that. They select a particular kind of local artist from a different place. If you ask them they have a reason. They say we are looking for that particular kind of artist. They are international, they are transnational so they are very clear. I feel it is a particular agenda. It doesn’t represent a place, represent a particular kind of natural being ambitions from
CD: How do we feel about that Elvira? Is that something you would like to propose to the Tate Modern? Say we want now to go beyond the cliché of the national identity?
EDO: Beyond the Samosas...I think samosas are delicious but anyhow I think one of the things that I will add to that is that we are trying to do a list at Tate and with the strategy in Africa is to also rely on local expertise. The way that you avoid the list, the given list of 100 most important artists in Africa is that. Is to work with local expertise, to work with local artists that are the ones that are defining their countries, that are the ones that are in contact with their society, with their communities that surround them but also they are the ones that are creating these conversations, global, south to south, in defining a global arena in the sense that somehow escape the west and I think that’s the only way to escape cynicism. And I think this is also something very important is that what are we going to tell as a story about these regions within the international context, the Tate collection for instance in this case operates but also I think one of things that you were saying Olav is also important, is what are these local stories telling. And I think there is going to be a moment where we are going to see a conversation happening locally that is not necessarily the one that we are going to have a conversation here in which we include certain figures that will help us to tell a story Tate way, there is not necessarily this story that other countries, regions collectors are going to tell and I think that is also crucial.
So there is a moment in which the popular and the significant are going to be classing and I think this is a very interesting moment and the fact that we won’t have ways in which to consile those histories, to agree on those histories for me is the most beautiful aspect of this job. As a curator I feel like very engaged with the possibility of embracing the uncertainty. Yes?
WH: I have a question. I just want to say Guggenheim that’s actually very understandable for the New York audience, you present this kind of artist, everybody can immediately understand but as you say we want to represent the local story and the local memory in a city like London or New York or a different place like in Marmaris I say somehow insert them into a different system, different kinds of cultured history can we actually do that or we have to do some kind of very complex translation and in the process of translation we turn them in to someone else. There is a possibility...
EDO: Well I mean there is obviously and I agree with you there will be something that will transform that but what is interesting to hear now is that as celerity will say this is not only creating a history or creating a new history but repairing. So reparations is a thing here. I mean it’s not that we are going to be corrective but we are going to tell a story that was actually happening, you know, like people like Ibrahim El-Salahi was already in touch with people in the Mbari Club in Ibadan in the ‘60’s and they had conversation with this Spiral Group in ‘60s New York at the time. We haven’t told the story yet. We are going to tell the story through including his work in the collection. So it not about inventing history, it’s that putting in the platform things that were neglected or overlooked.
CD: Olav, you are writing in our red book about contemporary art and its commercial markets. You are saying in other words that super wealthy collectors, they behave more as taste followers than as taste makers. The economic power of these collectors may be enormous. Their cultural power is very limited. Is this helping us to not, I mean, regulate a little bit this new markets, that we say ok let’s not make the same mistakes as in the past. How can we increase our cultural power over these artefacts, these new works of art? Should we do something extra? Should we do something which is firmly saying, you know, we want first to culturally establish these things. Maybe we need new institutions, institutions which are not about curating but about remediating because, you know, remediating means correcting and improving. Would it make sense to reinvent institutions in order to protect and to create more of a kind of cultural power?
OV: Let me just, I mean you present a bit out of context. Let me first, let me say a little bit.
CD: I am not a journalist.
OV: What I mean with that phrase there, I think there is at the moment in the art world this discourse. You can put names with it, Isabelle Graw in Germany very strongly who talk about this in a global art world about this dealer/collector figure. So what she is basically arguing, and I think a lot of people in the art world agree with her, is that in this new global art world/art markets the people who determine the cannon of contemporary art are more and more the art dealers, super powerful art dealers, and their superrich collectors. They are billionaires whether they are from Russia based in London or in China or in Sao Paulo or just in the old centres like London and New York, they would be determining the cannon and I don’t agree with that. I think that collectors, especially collectors in these newly rich economies, these new billionaires, that they are in a tremendous need of legitimation. They are in a tremendous need of hearing from all kinds of institutions, including the Tate that it’s really good what they are doing and they are looking very closely and what is going on in the old world institutions, at the Museum of Modern Art and the Tate and the Centre Pompidou. So they are not making taste, they are following what the institutions are doing. That’s just the context...
CD: Ok, that’s number one. But number two, question to the three of you, in order to do things differently with these new works of art, artefacts do we need to reinvent our institutions? Do we need institutions which are not as much about curating, which is selecting, embodying with meaning but maybe remediating which is improving, taking care, correcting. A kind of new type of institution. Modern anthropological museum, not an entomological museum, not a Tate Modern, not the Guggenheim. Something new maybe?
OV: Why is everyone looking at me? I mean partially things are being reinvented. I mean the Tate is reinventing itself partially with its acquisition committees and....
CD: I am just the moderator, I don’t...
OV: Yeah, yeah. So I think there is quite, I mean it’s not like the present institutions are non-responsive to what is going on in this limited global art world.
Would it need like entirely new institutions built from scratch? Well I don’t think it makes much sense to talk about it in such a way, as if you can design them like on a drawing table or we are in this world now so we should have that type of institution there and no that’s not what is happening but I do think that all the present institutions, the way the biennale’s work, the way in the market the fairs work, that they are reinventing themselves permanently. I think everybody realises right that now the dynamism of the present art world, you cannot stand still.
CD: Wu Hung?
WH: You raised two questions. The first one I think your remark, your writing is very interesting because as a historian I think that your statement really challenges the old notion of patronage because in our history we, since the 1980’s, there is a brand of art historians that place very heavy emphasis on the role of patrons, basically like Maddie Chu, like those kind of powerful patrons, they define the taste, they chose the best artists then they were followed by other less noble...whatever.
So what you are suggesting maybe that’s a new condition. Right now the museums and other institutions, even art fairs whatever, who chose those works. The selectors’ initial people who screens artist’s work so...that’s just a comment. I feel in the current condition maybe what is real patrons? Even the notion of patrons. Who patrons now? And what is the role of money in this? That’s become really interesting.
The second one about museums actually is related now exactly your question I am thinking about when we thing about museums we immediately think about the British Museum or Metropolitan Museum, these kind of what we call super or encyclopaedia museums but I feel we have to put it in a historical perspective because these kind of museums resulted from particular historical condition basically colonially, imperialism and today no other countries can do that anymore. No other country can go to Africa to collect all this work, go to China to take away all these statues. So that what to do with other countries now, how can you have museums even, if a country, China has a lot of money but you cannot just buy a museum like that.
CD: So how are you doing that?
WH: Exactly. So that’s really if you come to this kind of encyclopaedia museum can represent different cultures, less than 10 in the world, some are smaller. I mean the big ones you really can cover every period, every country, that a totally new notion of imperialism.
What can China do? Actually I have been talking to them and talking to India and some other, maybe there is a different notion of museum, just a collection is not really important because collection means possession. You just possess things through markets, through powers, through army, who bring things back often break them away from their contacts.
WH: Yeah, something’s were created apart portably that’s fine. Something’s actually belong to the place. You have to physically take them away. So I feel that’s really terrible, unhealthy acquisition in the name of beauty we still enjoy them. But today I feel maybe that sort of museum is now really our dream, our purpose is not to add more collections especially from other places but rather something more...like things can move or people can move. You don’t have to see everything here you can go there you know. You want to see Africa, you go to Africa. It’s not in New York. You see it there you can see everything. That is sort of my notion. Museums should change, should be challenged, should be criticised. Sometimes condemned! Anyway, so I feel like we can have a new version of an exhibition, museum artefacts and people.
CD: So the Louvere in Abu Dhabi and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is your ideal museum then.
WH: No, actually I am sort of on the community with Guggenheim. I have a difficulty to see a big, these looming beautiful like mirage in the desert and the Guggenheim is selecting artefacts for the museum. I don’t know. I feel that’s not the issue I am talking about.
CD: What is your idea of place?
EDO: Well my idea is that museums have always been about the truth, about certainty and I wonder what will happen if museums start to embrace uncertainty. If museums start to display questions instead of presenting the history as it is, if we embrace the moment that we are living as something that is transitional ephemeral that refers to that and maybe in that sense collecting is less important and it is more important the programme and how the programme brings this other context. You know when you think about the notion of the museum linked particularly with colonialism was one of the, not together with the census and the map which one of the things that helped to shape and confine the colonised countries. If we think that in reverse, if we think about how we want to engage in a conversation, in a larger conversation, with people and cultures from other regions maybe what we need to do is something that is, as you were saying, mobile, more ephemeral more flexible, more organic there are loads to that. I think in a way we are doing that with all the programmes that we do at Tate in relation to the exhibitions that we bring but also what our colleagues are doing in learning what we are doing through projects like turbinegeneration or there’s that connecting schools because I think learning processes is also very very very important for this so uncertainty and the way that uncertainty reflects on things that are immediate that I think this way.
CD: Olav, you are a sociologist and I know sociology is the art of asking the right questions in order maybe to find a perfect answer. I am going to ask you a question maybe not perfect but how can we for god’s sake organise a museum of uncertainty? How do you do that?
OV: My god!
CD: You want to think about it?
CD: Ok. Give us an answer in half an hour. The floor is open to you and questions for Elvira Dyangani Ose, Olav Velthuis and Wu Hung and don’t forget Olav, you have half an hour to think about my question.
Who has a question? We need a microphone. You want to give a remark, that’s also possible.
The remark here on the second row. Please tell us your name.
Audience 1: My name is Youngsook Pak. I am a Korean art historian, formally taught at SOAS and Hung is very good friend and colleague so I am very happy to be here.
Since I have been teaching art history I am educated in Heidelberg in western art history and East Asian art history. I found Europe has a great tradition, however in many cases I found Europeans fairly Eurocentric. No matter how long I am living here but I still find in every aspect. For instance, Elvira already mentioned that in the early period in France they showed African art in Ethnography Museum while Egyptian art in Louvre. For instance, that is their concept of ancient culture. Except China Europeans have very little knowledge, except China and Japan I must say. Very little knowledge on Korea as well.
Just coming back to your comment on localisation versus globalisation and here local galleries and European galleries show mostly contemporary local artists. It is not the case in Korea for instance. We have Samsung company built famous modern contemporary art museum which was built and the most famous contemporary European architect were invited to build this museum, for instance Renzo Piano and Frank Gehry, they all participated in this new building and I was very pleased to find in the museum Yousef, Bouise for instance, great German artists as well as Damien Hirst, also represented there.
CD: So what do you...
Audience 1: My question is, in many other parts of the world, except India probably, China and other parts of the world they are more interested in globalisation, in art and culture.
CD: Than in Europe?
Audience 1: Than in Europe.
CD: Ok. Olav?
OV: Yeah. I mean the example that you mentioned, there are many of them. By the way it’s interesting that it’s always a small group of architects Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Renzio Piano that are building these global museums all over the world. But anyway, I really don’t agree with that it is something about Europe or the United States. It is in China as well. If you talk to European or American, I am sorry that I am making references to the markets all the time, it’s my specialisation, but if you talk to Europeans and American art galleries who are active in the Chinese market and they tell about the difficulties they have to represent and promote the work of European and American artists there. They have to have a very very long breath. It is not something that is going overnight.
In Brazil not that last but the art fair of last year which was a great art fair, there were I think about 5 galleries from outside of Latin America. There were hardly any artists being presented from other regions than Latin America. It was an extremely local affair. Extremely dynamic, extremely interesting. I mean these are not judgements about qualities but this local orientation of art worlds I honestly find everywhere and there are many exceptions everywhere just like the one you mentioned but it is not the norm as I encounter it in my research.
CD: Another question.
Audience 2: I was just wondering how global the panel thinks what we are talking about is, if you think about the countries that keep getting mentioned and I thought about this not long ago, Brazil, India, China, Azerbaijan, Angola, Nigeria, it seems a bit diverse but the commonality is that these are countries that in the last few years have had GDP growth of over 7% and have an incredible dysfunction in the spread of wealth. So it’s about the commerce driving globalisation. I was just wondering what your views are on this.
OV: Well, yeah it is one of the drivers. I think why there is a moment of globalisation right now is, of course, partially because of economic globalisation and because of wealth in these countries, usually it is wealth that is spread very unevenly so a small class of very rich people but it’s definitely not the only driver. I mean there are many other drivers. Of course it also has to do with migration more generally and museums getting interested because they want to be in dialogue with the society that they are in and it’s a multicultural society.
Another driver is the art world itself. I mean what has been briefly mentioned, this search for new geo-aesthetic franchise. A curator can make a reputation by kind of well, yeah that’s the way it is, by at least it’s the way it used to be by finding this new region that nobody didn’t think of yet and hey we find some very interesting, and this is not meant cynically, we find some very interesting art being produced there as well. So well let’s try to introduce it in this or that biennale and then it filters into the system.
So that it has many different drivers and I think the reason why the current moment of globalisation is relatively strong, if limited, the reason why it is also strong is that you have a couple of those motor engines working at the same time in the last, I would say, two decades since the late ‘80’s.
It also, of course, has to do with like in China and in Russia with just political reasons. With the collapse of...
WH: I follow your last sentence. I feel economy, of course, very important but there are two other factors and I want to emphasise one is technology and another is politics, political condition.
Just now thinking about internet, computer as taste makers. So anywhere you can see almost same thing if you want and also talking about different countries you are totally right. Each country had a different condition but somehow you see after 1990 or the 80/90’s the movement of the people, the artists, they travel including the biennales and this kind of movement also plays down local political conditions like China before 1980’s people couldn’t move. I couldn’t go out! I went to America in 1980 and most artists, thousands, moved to different parts including London in the early 1990’s. So that is a globalisation on these kind of individual levels. They moved around and now they go back to China, you know most of them go back to China. So that’s very interesting so we see this....
EDO: And I wanted to follow up in your last comment to say that another thing that drives that kind of phenomena is the diaspora, the role of the diaspora and also the role the diaspora plays in creating ownership because all these comments on local culture is about owning, you know, the narrative, being the agent of your own narrative, being the narrator of your story.
CD: And now we have after the diaspora, we have even a new phenomenon which Achille Mbembe is describing also which is, of course, China taking over Africa. Right?
EDO: Indeed, yes.
CD: Go to Bamako, go to Ouagadougou Elvira, I mean you are travelling a lot in Africa and what you see are not the Belgium’s or the British of the Germans but Chinese. So I wonder when the first Chinese museum will be in Bamako.
EDO: But I think in terms of that, I think the conversation between China, I think it’s happening in two different rather lists but I can tell in my experience in Lubumbashi you have that conversation in the political realm so it’s authorities talking to authorities, corporations talking to authorities and the other way around and also people imagine a different world like there is sort of a different demographic. In 50 years or 20 years we will have these new kids. Michael MacGarry the South African artist is calling one of his series ‘Chocolate City’ which are a neighbourhood made sort of in full by immigrants from Africa living in Chinese urban areas. So I think that conversation is happening in a way. I don’t see much happening in the cultural realm. What we are seeing is the witness, like how photographers, artists are reflecting on that kind of conversation but I haven’t seen yet the museum or like a very much integral conversation between these two communities.
CD: Question? First gentleman over there? And then you.
Audience 3: Just to pick up on your point there is that I am South African but I live in London and I am very aware that the art world in Africa is quite fragmented and I have South American friends and where the South American art world generally, that’s Brazil, the whole of South America is not fragmented and it seems to me that if we are talking about the role of places like the Tate of big museums and biennale it’s both to mirror the local culture but also to act as a repository from which people can act. So it’s both something that is deep and also generative and really just to think about how that might be achieved in Africa.
EDO: Well I think that you are totally right. On the one hand because collecting hasn’t been, at least privately and in terms of public institutions, hasn’t been that prolific in the continent.
First of all I think in the case of Latin America there have been all those conversations happening and in the case of...and it also has to do with the language...most of these Latin American countries speak in Spanish. What happened in Africa is that you have the Francophone areas talking to each other, the English speaking countries talking to each other, the Luciferian countries talking to each other and that kind of regional configuration, they respond to that, also in terms of the culture that they present and as I say because they were not strong or as strong as they are now at collection or collecting activities. The festival had a crucial role. If you think about 60’s, when they needed to set up the cultural policies of Senegal became the main motive of a city but also a way of understanding culture throughout decades until, you know, the new government replaced those policies in the 80’s.
If you think about how for instance the importance of the discourse of negritude but also Africaness in the countries of Algiers also reunite everyone and told an idea that pan-africanism could only be what was happening in Dakar because it was more about blackness and that excludes the North Africa or if you this about Festac and I think about Festac in ’77 which for me is the most important of these different festivals throughout the country that the period because in the Festac they were asking the question about the black and the African world together and they were looking at not only what was happening within the region but what happened around the world with black communities that were as far as you know in Russia. All those communities. There is an incredible book called ‘Lagos Programme’ which looks at twenty years time from the ’77 to see how culture and education will embrace those aspects. The problem was that the programmes, the economic programmes and the World Bank in the ‘80’s killed those ideas and people started to be worried only about what was happening in their own communities, in their countries, look at cultural policies and the pan-African conversation never took place. So that is why for instance like in a place like South Africa you had the cohesive Gibran art scene and in places like Dakar it seem that there is a momentum sort of like months before the biennale and right after but then you know for almost a year and a half things sort of like fade away although there are people responding to that and in Bamako the same.
I mean what is interesting is there a very rich and vibrant art scene in all these places and what we are trying to do for instance is not to, I don’t think it’s the role of a museum like Tate to create...to be the depositary of the knowledge. We have to help and if that is what they want to produce these things there locally. Once of the scenes that I encountered when I was in Ghana recently and invited several people from different areas is that they are having several conversations that are almost the same. That they are talking about what is happening in the public sphere, they are talking about how the artists engage with society in the local context and that conversation is happening in Johannesburg, in Addis Ababa, Bamako, Luanda why does these you know things connect more? Why don’t they connect in a different way? So this is something that we can provide, have a conversation between different protagonists for that to happen. But in general these things are happening. There are local experts that are taking care of that so it’s not our role to do it. It’s our role to be in the conversation I think.
CD: She’s good no? Third row, your question.
Audience 4: Thank you. My name’s Lang. My question is to Elvira, because just now our conversation didn’t use the power directly but everything we talk about is about power so we want to think about the power in the art industry. Do you believe that we are still on the continent we call the postcolony coined by Achille Mbembe postcolony do you believe that there are only western artists versus the non-western artists giving the example do you know Venice Biennale this time there are other than the Chinese pavilion there are more than 300 Chinese artists went there then why is this phenomenon and usually in recent years a lot of Chinese artists come to New York or London to help their exhibitions not necessarily to be invited by those top level institution but they pay the venue themselves and then they write this exhibition on their CV and when they go back they can show off, ok I had an exhibition in a certain western place.
So what do you think? Is it because they are non-western identity? Are we still the post-colony something?
EDO: I mean I think in a way I agree with you. There is very much, it’s a question of power I agree with you totally. What we need, for instance like think about the Angolan pavilion that now wander the golden lion. Is this going to change the art in Angola? Is this going to change the way in which we perceive the art from not only Angola but other places in Africa or other areas in the world. This is the question. What is that about? Is that about sort of like our knowledge in recognising that they cannot change.
I think what is important is that and this is what I learned from my research in Africa, is that people try to create new role models and maybe the museums that they are embracing is not the museum that we know. They are doing platform art centres, companies, things that somehow are more organic and help to create an easier conversation, a more nuance conversation with things that are happening locally. That doesn’t mean that it’s not connecting with the rest of the world. It connects with the rest of the world in their own way.
What we need to think is what is the definition of success? Is success to be displayed at the Tate Modern? Or is success to be you know resourceful and provide different ideas and different elements in locally? Is successful somebody that goes to Bamako and then goes you know to the Bamako in countries and became you know displayed in New York? Or is successful somebody that maybe had used that success in order create a Biennale for the artist locally to display their work and be presented you know beyond the framework of the local.
CD: It may be interesting to ask our sociologist also how can you...are there new ways of measuring success which is equally important for alternative institutions by the way?
OH: Yeah, this would be typical I would remark to a student that an empirical question that is easy to find out and this is partially what we do. You can just ask artists what are your aims. I mean what would be your biggest dream, what are you achieving for. And what we hear a lot in our interviews is still that they want this solo show in an institution in Europe or the United States. That’s unfortunately...
EDO: But then do you think that this is a construction like the taste, like being at the Tate Modern, having a large show at the Tate Modern is a construction...
OH: Of course it’s a construction. Of course it’s a construction. It’s a construction absolutely. But it’s a real answer. It’s a real dream.
WH: Yeah, the question you just mentioned the Venice Biennale that’s amazing to me. This kind of army of Chinese artists and I wonder actually [inaudiable] I don’t have answers but just talking about powers still, where is the power located there? I still return to your answer. The power still is held by the curators, the gatekeepers and these people, 300, try to the gate but they are still outside. So I feel there main audience is in China. They go to Venice, they can tell the people in China oh I was here you know among but for the mostly international curators in Venice they are still remain outsiders. So your gatekeeper is I feel is an interesting phenomena.
CD: Jurit Nesbitt
Audience 5: Thank you. We hear a lot about the hundreds of museums that have been built in China and there is a very common place observation that they are just buildings and there isn’t the software, the people, the expertise, the art to fill them but I would very interested to hear Wu Hung’s response to that. What impact do you think these museums will have over the longer term and if you were emperor and in charge of all of these hundreds of museums what would be your dream for these museums?
CD: He said he doesn’t want...
WH: Definitely not emperor! But it’s a good question. It’s really I see [microphone distortion] you know it’s a transition from like China was dominated by politics than dominated by many markets now the culture becomes catchwords so culture. So right now these museums are still hard words, they are not soft words yet. They have these buildings very one big than the other but they don’t have people, they don’t have a good show, they don’t have a curator, even handlers so I feel in time there will emerge a public culture, people go to museum, maybe new kinds of museums. So I go there I don’t work to talk about the just use MOMA or use metropolitan as a model those are experienced, those you can use including Tate.
The important thing I feel, they have a lot of younger directors, younger curators. They can talk to people here. What would be the next generation, next future now based on the past, based on what’s going on here including our discussion. So I feel it takes a lot to realise including what kind of museum, private museum and government museum, public museum. The definition is, at the moment, very confusing. I feel it’s a process.
CD: You had a question.
WH: He is a curator himself.
Audience 6: But I don’t have any comments on the Chinese army artists in Venice.
Following your discussion on the museum Olav, I would like you extend a little bit about the re-examination on the notion of museum particularly when you say that some artefacts or artworks can go back to the original context which will make a lot of sense and it’s sounds so encouraging that some artefacts in the super museum can find their way home but I think on the other hand but within the museum that the collections, some artefacts or artworks, they are produced for exhibiting but some are out of the context. So would you like to discuss a little bit more about this please?
WH: You mean produced in China?
Audience 6: I mean not necessarily in China overall because some artefacts are produced for exhibitions and some...
WH: ...these ideas of art emerge that arts were produced for no exhibition, collection. I feel in that case but still there sense of context. Like here the third question is that art can become a kind of way to connect people, to make people in different places to understand each other. I feel that’s part of an idea, art should travel, so including all sorts of art should travel, like the thing that art created for exhibition or art not created for exhibition but for separation from...I feel right now just how to travel is the question. So I talked to big disgruntled Chinese museum. I said you have the money, you can use this money to buy things. You can also use money to fund the high quality temporary exhibitions. For example you buy one little painting, you can probably organise ten good exhibitions from anywhere around the world, then the people in the city you have this stream of exhibitions from anywhere. That’s much more important then so-called permanent collection.
I just feel just from receivers end that what a museum can do to the community, to a city, even a city like Beijing and Shanghai if there is, say, hundreds of museums. I think it’s thousands of exhibitions would be better just because exhibitions represent ideas, curatorial ideas, not just objects. Because in exhibition there is gender, there’s a new plan, there are new aspects I feel...
CD: Question and then you. In the middle, seventh row.
Audience 7: Hi. Thank you for that. I was just wondering you haven’t talked about the authority of art schools that are for most of them in Western Europe or America and also about how local the artist is when he wants to study in such a school. For instance, Shonibare and then comes back to his county and gets an international representation.
EDO: Well I think in the case of African countries there was a very interesting initiative in the ‘20’s in Lagos, Nigeria lead by Aina Onabolu who thought that he wanted to have art schools and art education as part of the curriculum of middle school. So that is to put to you an example of somebody that within his own sort of practice decided to learn art and art will be something that any human being should have. After that in the ‘30’s, ‘40’s, ‘50’s they had been a number of art schools in Africa that were sometimes lead by colonial administrators, colonial teachers etc that somehow also lead to different understanding of the arts, sometimes where you know art is where following specific curriculum that was exactly like the one that you will be taught in Paris or London but some other in other cases like in Lagos with Benin for instance that will change and will ask the artist to look at the inner self to transform that and there are many cases modern art schools in Egypt, in Sudan, in South Africa, in many places where the artists and the local authorities and local artists create a new understanding of modernity, their own understanding of modernity through that in which many cases has the western world asked as a way forward but in other cases was, you know, linked in the case of Sudan for instance with koranic art school, koranic school sorry not art, and a different understanding of how the visual vocabulary of those, you know, different places happened.
What happened in most cases is in the ‘30’s or 40’s depending on which area you are looking at. For instance, if you think about somebody like Ernest Mancoba that had to travel to Paris in order to produce his work because he was limited by the South African understanding of the apartheid and the South African understanding of what a black man could do at that time. He had to go to Paris, he travelled also to London and connected with the Cobra Group for instance, people like Gerard Sekoto happened to the same but somebody like Ibrahim Al-Salahi for instance was educated in the arts in the context of Sudan before he travelled to do masters studies here. So again it’s of course there is a western colonial power behind the idea of art education but there were also examples before that were linked to art education as well and we have to also take into account the traditional understanding of the art, if you think about somebody like Benny Voodoo. The way that he conceived art is an igbo understanding of the arts. So he is an igbo man and wants to reproduce his work as it was conceived as connected with nature, as connected with a specific cosmology. So art in that case also refers to or arts education in that case also refers to a local system. An artist in the ‘50’s somehow challenged a curricular, for instance the Saudi Arabian’s in the late ‘50’s in Nigeria they challenged the British curricular in order to achieve a different aesthetic that connects both their post colonial subjectivity and their tradition to produce some examples of things that were happening in education.
CD: First over there and then you.
Audience 8: Hi, on the note of it all going global and I would like to make a short remark about Hong Kong. I think Hong Kong is maybe a bit of an extreme example. If you look at how Art Basel took over art, they just came to Hong Kong. So it’s actually it’s like part of a globalisation and this kind of globalisation is not only on a cultural level but then also on capital, like for example with USB now is going to sponsor Art Basel HK next year so DeutchBank is being kicked out so this is also a kind of globalisation. And then during the art fair the international galleries, western galleries in particular, they did really well in terms of the sales but then for the Asia-pacific galleries like from what I know is that they have to struggle for the first few days and then....
CD: So what is your question?
Audience 8: Well my question is, in the other Asian cities they are all very curious of Hong Kong’s situation and that actually they aspire be Hong Kong, like for example Singapore, so I am just wondering if Hong Kong is actually this window or a gate to globalisation for Asia as a whole.
CD: Wu Hung or Olav maybe?
WH: I can say a few words because we were talking about it, Hong Kong. I feel again just to return to my earlier suggestion, I don’t think Hong Kong is really either local or global. Actually it’s established the current situation really is supported by these transnational museums, galleries and the art fairs. Somehow they have this idea, it’s a global mapping, but Hong Kong is just exactly because it’s both, it’s a hybrid. It’s both English, there language and Chinese. They are very close to all these Asian and Chinese cities so it can become like a very ideal connector. So I feel it’s really maybe represents. As you suggest, it’s a kind of new networking. So these very powerful institutions try to find those space which is both global and local you can form some kind of pattern.
CD: And a new word, hybrid.
OV: What is interesting about Hong Kong is that it is one of the few new art capitals that is not completely but quite disconnected from a community of artists. Of course there is a community of artists, a very vibrant one, but not as vibrant and not as big as it would be in, say, Beijing or especially in Beijing or in other Chinese cities. The reason why it became in a very quick time like only over a couple of year why it became such a strong centre in Asia partially had to do with very mundane reasons that for, especially for, the galleries and also for the fairs it’s much easier to organise things there because there’s much less red tape, you don’t have the taxes that you would have in mainland China. So there are very mundane reasons why Hong Kong got there, which also means by the way that it could be kind of a fragile situation.
Coming back to those European galleries that did very well there, yes they did indeed very well but not necessarily selling to local clients there. They also sold a lot to like Europeans and American collectors that were flying in to Hong Kong as part of this whole welfare biennale circuit that has emerged.
CD: Last question. Very last question because Olav still has to respond to...
OV: That will only take 5 seconds so you can easily put another...
Audience 9: I was just wondering how globalisation will impact, whether your views on globalisation in relation to art history and how those new art coming from China and those new emerging places could be incorporated in this discourse which is fundamentally European or Europe centric, I guess. So I was wondering your thoughts on this issue concerning yeah...
CD: Can you speak a little bit louder? Just...
Audience 9: Yeah, how do you think, how will it be possible or how art history as a European mainly discourse from its origins...
WH: So we return to art history.... [inaudiable]
Audience 9: Will be able to embrace or to incorporate.
WH: So you know, you must know, the recent years has been a trend to try to find, to write a kind of global art history. It’s not just a European but all different cultures. There are some efforts by colleagues and including myself. It is very difficult because the result can be very boring, just like different chapters covering just like you put ten books together as one book but there is not actual connections. So I feel people are still trying, trying very hard. There is a different ways, so for example talking about the interactions, it’s not chronology but find the interactions, like colonialism, even before like a circle like people travel, objects travel. Use those as a kind of narrative strand. That’s one possibility.
The other kinds of evidence, so every culture went through for example from these crafts to art stage, like they created ritual art, religious art and then gradually the birth of the artist, every culture went through that. So we can talk about the evidence once we study ancient art. It’s not just ancient Greece, Rome but it’s about archaeology. We all use archaeology as our evidence. What we, we began we talk about artists, biography, painting, portable, easel painting, and scroll painting. So I feel those parallels can provide a very strong methodological tools. So I feel that sort of I have been talking to my colleagues.
CD: Interesting. Olav, can we organise a new type museum, a museum of uncertainty?
OV: On a very general level I think museums are by definition in the business of uncertainty. I mean because the contemporary art is about uncertainty. What contemporary art museums are doing, not knowing how an audience will respond to the way it puts together it’s exhibitions but also much more fundamentally that being certain itself about artistic worth and what will remain worthy in the long run. It is already about uncertainty and I think they are also limits to the amount of uncertainty an audience can bear so please don’t make it more uncertain than it is already.
CD: So will Chinese contemporary art, will it stay forever?
WH: Contemporary, contemporaneity stays forever. Contemporary art comes and goes. Actually the terms itself was meaningful in the ‘90’s because contemporary art as a term carries a lot of meaning in China, political, alternative but we know just a word like here is contemporary art [inaudiable] something we don’t know.
CD: Elvira, contemporary African art. To be taken seriously?
EDO: It is taken seriously. Just wonder when it’s Golden Lion. More settled than that.
CD: Ladies and gentleman, global citizenship and culture. Angola one the golden lion to the best national pavilion. I think we learned a lot today. One of the first things, one of the most important things is that talking about global citizenship is not, we cannot afford to just talk about economics, about religion, about power. Because so many things are coming together finally in this thing called art, artefact, work of art. We don’t even know anymore how to name it and maybe the naming of this thing is becoming another form of interesting certainty.
What we do know, what is a certainty however, is that we have to stop being cynical. We have to stop being cynical about for instance the Chinese auction houses. Are these incredible prices some collectors want to pay for Iranian art involved in Dubai. Stop being cynical.
Maybe local memory is as important than local taste. Do we really still know what is going on in the ‘40’s, in the ‘50’s, in the ‘60’s? And maybe we have to give up this linear concept of time because things are coming back in cycles, especially when we start talking about global art.
And maybe we have even to invent a new type of museum. Uncertain, mobile, stop possessing, we don’t know yet and even a new form of artistry.
I would like to conclude with the following words: global citizenship is not the same as global art and global art is not the same as global citizenship but citizenship, our civitas, our civic society spreads over the world and we have to work on that, that society is getting even more civic and not do without art because art is just as important as religion, as political power and definitely as economical power.
Thank you so much Wu Hung, thank you Elvira Dyangani Ose, thank you Olav Velthuis...
I still have one minute to go.... and thank you so much all the partners, all the project partners. I would like to thank Accenture, Africa Progress Panel, Barclays, SOAS, Zamyn and especially our director, director of Zamyn, Michael Aminian. Michael thank you so much. Thank you Marko Daniel. Thank you everybody. Thank you.