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Roundtable Discussion in Thailand (2)

Josef Ng

Josef Ng: Thank you Chen Tong. There are a lot we have to digest but after hearings all the speakers, I think I did identify certain connections or relations between law, belonging and imagination. And that is also a contestation of territory, ideology and commodification. I want to bring these back to Pandit Chanrochanakit, who seemed to have quite a lot to contribute. Is there anything you think, of particular significance to this project that we have discussed so far?

 

 

Pandit Chanrochanakit: I would like to talk a little bit about the past part of my thought, that the work I read of Lin compared to the other artists I mentioned. I think Yilin has shown in particular you see here (showing slides). He chose the notion of alienation. When the artist walks around the former village or former site, that the negotiation happened, he chose the notion of alienation of space. According to the notion of the project of communist development, the project of socialist development, people should enjoy the freedom together and create the products together. But instead I saw the sense of alienation emerged… from the artist walking around… That reminds me the notion of public and private. In western ideology, we sometimes call this public space, and sometimes call that private space. You can do whatever with the public space but according to the law you can not do anything else.

 

So you see a lot of things happened. Like Kamin mentioned in his presentation that The Land is supposed to be ownerless. But sometimes having an owner is better. You need to have someone to design what should go on, what can be done and what can not be done. So as the idea of Land emerges, the ownership has to constantly be shown in the land. So even Kamin said the main idea is to have no ownership but still the negotiation goes on. I think this is fascinating. Sometimes it’s not too bad to be leadership in the land. I can imagine a lot of ideas come across the land in particularly Chiangmai at The Land Foundation. Everyone wants to do something in The Land. I think maybe Kamin is the one who has to say that “I don’t think this is going to work in my project here.” So it became private at that moment.

 

What you see in Yilin’s work is negotiation: state, individual, collective and private go on during the show all the time. And the reconstructed wall is quite interesting that the negotiation between people and space in Tang and in The Land in Chiangmai. The site in particular itself is very fascinating and interesting to allow the audience to imagine. For example, if I saw Yilin’s wall in Tang, I can imagine how hard the farmers in China has to encounter in everyday. I have seem documentary films many times that people would be chased off their property just because the government and developer want to take it back for the sake of the “good” society. Something was supposed to be public but it was privatized.  

 

 

Josef Ng: I think Lertchaiprasert would like to response to Pandit Chanrochanakit’s notion of public and private, the ownership in The Land Foundation. Maybe perhaps you could give us a brief reason why The Land, this project is developed.

 

 

Kamin Lertchaiprasert: Now, I will try to explain further about what we mean by trying to be a ‘no ownership’ concept. That was the initial concept when we soon got the land. I soon realized, of course, it was very difficult to just be that as I think it’s impossible in our social and living reality. However, I think it is challenging to put this as an issue to ponder and try to ‘look’ into your ego of self and hoping to compromise with my colleagues or young artists or between Rirkrit Tiravanija, my co-founder, and me. We have a lot of discussions about this issue. From the beginning, we have had lots of misunderstandings. But it has been a decade since we started and I have learned a lot. Having The Land, it created a lot of opportunities for me to learn and open up my mind. I experienced many incidents and if I do what I want, something may go wrong. Looking back, I thought that seemed to be a good path. Then you learned a lot from listening to others and do something about it.

 

We have a group of members who decide what to do or not to do. So, there are constant discussions on whether a project would be feasible or not, such as functionality etc. Whether we can ‘use’ the work or not in the daily lives. Not just accepting a project for art’s sake, or just to put at the Land to look at and etc. No, we don’t need a kind of sculpture or object. We want to accept and produce what we see it as a need in terms of being functional and the proposal of Lin Yilin’s project is kind of in-between. Initially, we have had a long discussion and decided to go ahead with the project. After which, Lin changed the proposal to construct a wall of a shorter length of 12 meters than original proposed. We came together to decide again whether we were going to do it or not. It seemed to be more of a sculpture and not the ‘wall’. Some people decided against building it, some people agreed with it but most of them don’t want it but for me, it was a 50/50 possibility. What is the wall that I want, I asked myself. The team discussed again in regards to the new size and how Lin wanted it. I don’t know what he wants but I know what I want. I know what The Land wants.

 

For me I think it has become a door. We open the space in between and invite people to get in. It becomes a public space. We can sit on the chairs, if you see them; and even you can use the wall to measure weight. From the farmer or somebody who want to know the weight it’s possible. You can sit on the top of the wall to see landscape. You can use that wall to project a movie. That’s when we think “OK”. So there are many functions for that wall. We didn’t think that’s the same as what Lin thought in China. If it’s gonna become a sculpture piece then we don’t need that.

 

I also want to talk about ownership and no ownership. I think that in the end we don’t own anything: we die and we get nothing. We just live here. How you handle it in your life? When you have a life now and how to share what you have. I think that’s not about you own it or the state owns it. It’s about how you think about that space. I think it’s more important than the real space, and the way how people think about your space or how you think about your space. That’s the more important than law owns it or government owns it or you own it. You know, like my house I try to think it’s just not my house. All my students come through it and my friends can stay in it. It’s not about I own it or my wife owns it. The real land is in your mind of thinking. Then from this, you change the perception on the function of everything. Even if state owns it does not matter. If you think you are part of this society and you use it and share it. The problem of our society now is people don’t have concept in their mind about how to share. It’s not about the space for me. That’s I want to say. This what I learn from you, from The Land and from art.

 

 

Josef Ng: Before opening the forum to the floor, maybe I want to go back to Yilin’s project. After hearing the other speakers share their thoughts about land, and about Lin’s project, in particular, I identified some connecting points such as the contestation of territory, ideology and commodification. I like to raise a question to the speakers whether are there other platforms that you think are particularly significant?

Oh I actually have to do a performance, an intervention from Beijing. I have to read a passage. This is from Lee Ambrozy, a current correspondent from Artforum. I received this email this morning, so I should just read it:

  

Lin Yilin’s Whose Land? Whose Art? speaks on authorship and ownership. These issues are addressed at a socio-political level, obviously involving economic or legislative issues, but touching on religious beliefs as well. This became most apparent while visiting the Land.  Preparing for this trip, I was very interested to observe the interaction and contrasts between Chinese and Thai artists. The cognizant role of spirituality in the individual’s life in Thailand, or its subverted postion in the collective Chinese psyche emerged as among the most outstanding differences to me. Among the questions and issues Lin raises by asking Whose, differences in dominant collective vs. individual spiritual ideologies seems to answer why people might answer differently. 

 

In Chiangmai, Lin was immersed in the Thai ethos. He provides a wall, a symbol associated with his early work, and perhaps a signature of sorts for the artist. But in the context of the Land, the obstructing/segregating/authoritarian nature of the wall has been completely subverted by the dominant Buddhist ideology in the Thai countryside. The wall is a “window” from the Land, onto the surrounding landscape, a “door” to neighboring plots of land instead of a hinderance. Individuals can make use of the wall, to sit on and view the scenery, they can use the scale if so inclined, they can see and enter into the semi-public space of the Land Foundation. The wall here does not work for the state. 

 

In the Bangkok gallery space, the wall is a physical manifestation of Lin’s very different experience in Beijing. Its temporary nature of alludes to social instability and changing, to frustrating and opaque land-use policies in China. We could even say that Chinese citizens’ acceptance of the temporary nature of their “land ownership” (in 70 year leases and state ownership on all land) is also Buddhist in nature. Although, unlike the Thai citizen, whose cognizant choice to accept his or her philosophy, the notion of land impermanence in China has been imposed on citizens by the state. In Beijing, the collective benefit reigns, and unspecified groups in power will use land as they see fit, the decision making process involving land use has been surrendered to the collective will. These differences of the collective vs. individual are national differences, and they obviously extend to notions of land ownership, to art production, and to spirituality. Lin’s question could be shortened to simply: Who? What is the role of the artist within each respective culture? As the audience, who are we representing? And what do we bring to our viewing experience? There are a million permutations. 

 

These are just a few thoughts on what I saw as the most distinct contrast between the Thai social consciousness, and the Chinese social consciousness. Lin’s work is successful in part because it raises those questions, instead of trying to answer them.

 

 

Chen Tong: I want to add, just now I mentioned that Lin Yilin’s works cannot be said to address legislative issues, and that they are primarily rooted within the scope of political economy. Of course, law is never completely unrelated to art. I would like to present the most recent tableau, related to the escalating Chinese GDP. Today, if there were a foreigner, or a Chinese, who felt that China is especially modern, then this impression comes primarily from China’s enormous investment in its infrastructure, especially its highways and high-speed railways. Both of these give landscapes a new form.

 

Thus, some people ask: Why hasn’t the United States constructed a similar railway in such a short amount of time? The number one answer is that the United States doesn’t need a high-speed railway, and number two, even if it did, its democratic system wouldn’t allow citizens to agree to a high speed rail traversing their land and forcing them to move. That would be impossible, no matter how much compensation was involved. But for Chinese people, as long as the reparations are feasible, we are willing to envision that future––that is, we are willing to relinquish our rights.

 

And then the issue of law can be paired with the landscape.

 

 

Josef Ng: Maybe Lin now would like to response to all the speakers?

 

 

Lin Yilin: Just now, Pandit talked about the concept of the western landscape, actually the Chinese concept of the landscape has its own fixed model in traditional painting, where painters would play games with ink and brush, searching for creative possibilities.

 

In 1949, after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, many social movements ensued, this kind of landscape was replaced by the image of people, which became primary themes in landscape painting. The Communist Party criticized traditional landscape painting because the genre used ink to portray landscapes, and used only black to render scenery, they proposed a new kind of landscape, one that used brilliant colors.

 

In the late 1970s, as a result of society’s opening up and reforms, a pleasant new hope was integrated into landscape painting, conceptualized landscapes that continued for a short period. In the mid to late 1980s, modern art forms appeared, and these kinds of landscape gradually retreated from center stage to the popular or folk realms. In the 1990s, increasingly frequent economic activities contributed to the rise of various social problems, and people became the most important element in any landscape. I think that the video that I showed in Tang Contemporary’s gallery space, especially the portion where people are fighting, it is a typical landscape in contemporary Chinese society.

 

 

Josef Ng: Any further questions or comments for the floor? Sun Dongdong, he is an editor of Leap magazine from China, a bilingual magazine of contemporary art. .

 

 

Sun Dongdong: I feel honored to witness Lin Yilin’s “the Land” in its entirety, at both Bangkok and Chiangmai locations, I think it’s a very interesting project, and the two site installations present two different aspects of the work.

 

As a Chinese citizen, I almost certainly prefer the Chiangmai location, because when I saw the wall interjecting into the Land, it evoked a kind of universalist literary mood that it deposited on the native Thai land. It is obvious that the artist himself has an essential understanding of Thai national characteristics or the local community.

 

Comparatively, the exhibition in Bangkok appears more solemn and heavy. This work touches upon a series of land-related issues have been widely discussed in China, especially in the past two years. Such issues are also the cause of the majority of social incidents, there have been incidences of self-immolation, collective social action, and just recently our magazine ran an interview about one incident in Wuhan related to the filling in of East Lake. This also touched upon issues related to land development.

 

The previous speakers have already discussed historical conditions and the current situation of land use in China, but I would like to add how, when artists confront such issues, their unfortunate circumstances take shape.

 

In Beijing, most artist studios are built on lands rented from farmers or on collective farmlands. Sometimes these lands are subcontracted, and a group of studios are developed and subsequently rented to artists. Beijing’s art districts generally develop around 798 as an axis, reaching perhaps Beigao village at their furthest, and Heiqiao (Black Bridge) art district at their closest.

 

If we were to examine their development from a legal perspective, the question of contradictions arising because of the land, are not the result of artists’ conflicts with the government, but artists’ economic disputes with unsavory businessmen. If we regard art as an industry, and in Beijing it has actually already industrialized to an extent, then when this art industry encounters either urban development or the real estate industry that is related to the national economy, it is inevitable that art will be obliged to make way. Therefore, I think that the title of this project, “Whose art? Whose land?”, is unusually becoming, this question is not only posed to the audience, but is a question that artists should answer themselves.

 

In China, artists once played a role more similar to observer, surveying social transformations, and due of the enormous changes that transpired during opening and reform in China, although anyone could be considered an observer, artists were observing from an even more marginalized position. But because of the problems with land in China, many artists today have truly been thrust into the center of urban progress, and their personal interests are threatened.

 

In one of the Bangkok videos, we are entreated to the familiar character “Old Gao,” after circling the peak of an already demolished pile of earth, he descends and says to the camera, “He thinks land is driving people to their death, but I don’t know who.” I think that this quote, in fact, reflects a strong sense of contemporaneity and historic significance.

 

Judging from the outcome, art’s actual function as a tool of social intervention will never be too significant, especially in China. But its value lies in the questions that it raises, and in the foresight it offers into certain inevitable events.

 

 

Lin Yilin: Can we now invite Zheng Lin to say a few words?

 

 

Zheng Lin: Tang Contemporary has been in Bangkok for many years, and since we opened in Beijing, I’ve of course continually advocated for bringing Bangkok artists and interesting projects to Beijing to promote and develop their work.

 

In Beijing, I first did a group exhibition of Thai artists, a large Rirkrit Tiravanija solo exhibition, and we hosted Navin’s solo exhibition and a project by Surasi Kusolwong; we plan on realizing some of Kamin Lertchaiprasert’s projects in Beijing in the future.

 

Even though we’ve realized many Chinese artists’ projects in Bangkok, all of them were realized within our gallery. You could say that the scope of our interaction with local Thai artists has been relatively limited.

 

Earlier this year, when we hosted Rirkrit’s exhibition, both the artist and Kamin were in Beijing, and we were fortunate to visit Lin Yilin’s studio, where everyone began their understanding of each other.

 

With Joseph Ng acting as curator, we have widened the possibilities for discussion and interaction, and last spring we traveled with Lin Yilin to Chiangmai and Bangkok to investigate and explore the scene and local environment.

 

I think that this project––in which a Chinese artist works in Thai artistic circles––is significant, it has produced a more effective communication, and simultaneous to this project, artists back in China are dealing with an important event happening related to their studio space and land, which finds an important resonance in the projects that unfolded in both Chiangmai and Bangkok, I think that it fosters a good relationship between the two sides.

 

So, for this project we allowed a Chinese artist to communicate and exchange on an international level, especially with Thai artists. Academically speaking, the project is unprecedented, this is especially so in Thailand.

 

Of course we are fortunate enough to bring together so many specialists, scholars, and media to participate, which I think will help the entire project receive greater attention and communication.

 

Thank you!

 

 

Selected dialogue translated by Lee Ambrozy