Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei: Can you discuss particular some works to talk about your artistic development?
Lin Yilin: I think my first piece, done in 1991, was already quite mature and relates to the way in which I practice art. I usually spend a lot of time experimenting in the studio. These thoughts build upon my interest in art history.
I majored in sculpture at the Art Academy, and every time I did a class assignment regardless of whether it was drawing, a sketch, or making a clay sculpture, I always felt that it was very hard to control my hands. I usually got very excited for a moment, but it was difficult for me to preserve a calm attitude to do the assignment for a whole week. I did not possess the patience of a sculptor, but from my training I attained a feel for three-dimensional space, which is hard to gain from training in painting. This had an influence on my later installations, where spatial elements have had a large effect. In addition, there are obvious architectural elements present in my work; actually I had a great deal of interest in architecture as a student, so from the very beginning my work was linked to weight and physicality. But these formal elements are merely the outer shell of a work, I really don't like complex forms, or forms with complicated relationships.
I spend a lot of time thinking of the reasons for the existence of every piece of art. I remember the term "motivation" that was so popular in Chinese art criticism of the 1980's. I'm filled up with the phrase's "poisoning" and 'torture' even now, so I have time making more relaxed pieces. Research into art history has made me feel the importance of each artist's "motivation," but later this term was overused and lost its lustre, and in another respect, in an age of rapidly colliding information, the environment necessary for "motivation" has disappeared. It seems that what we have to do now is rapidly insert artwork into society in order lo excite people's overly fatigued nervous systems' in this way a new piece of art can turn into a dose of excitement.
AW: How do you see the relationship between Chinese contemporary art and western contemporary art?
LYL: The relationship between Chinese contemporary art and western contemporary art is lust as inseparable as the relationship between contemporary Chinese society and contemporary western society. It is harder and harder to distinguish between clearly defined cultural areas, we have no alternative but to press forward in an age where we are always seeking common ground while retaining our differences Today when a certain country says it has cloned a sheep, a few days later a different country will announce it has cloned a dog. Today, AIDS is invading the African continent, and now they are saying that tomorrow China will quickly become next to face the AIDS crisis. People in different areas are faced with lifestyles that are becoming more and more similar, things like subways, highways, fast food, and the internet, etc. Art as a means of communication also cannot escape the influence of modern life. Technology and commercialism under the conditions of the development of global capitalism is sweeping every nook and cranny of the globe, the world has become smaller, can art still preserve traditional boundaries between north' south, east, and west?
Although this is the case, I cannot help but admit that there still exists a great difference in Chinese contemporary art and western contemporary art. Most importantly, Chinese contemporary art has not yet formed a perfected system, it particularly lacks a discourse that has the ability for self-regeneration. During this phase Chinese products cannot help but be taken to the west for their final appraisal and inspection, for these are the conditions which cause Chinese artists to endlessly participate in all kinds of large western exhibits.
AW: What do you think is the value of Chinese contemporary art domestically? What kind of development will it have?
LYL: It is easy to see that the value of Chinese contemporary art is produced from the fact that these works and events happen in their own country. Regardless of how western or international the forms of these pieces, their nucleus and motivation come from our own society. The difference in the appearance of Chinese and western society is too great, it would be impossible for an artist to simply copy, imitate, and repeat.
AW: Is there a regional question in Chinese art?
LYL: The question of region does exist, but it does not have a big relationship to art. It's just that artists living in big cities may have an easier time getting attention, just like artists living in New York, Paris, or London will be more widely known.
AW: Which artist or work has had a significant influence on you?
LYL: Many artists have a great influence on me, including ancient and contemporary Chinese and foreign. This is because my experience of art began mainly from the study of art history. When I was a student I was very interested in the careers of many great artists, and I was often very moved by my studies of them. I prioritised my reading of autobiographies, biographies, and interviews of artists. Some noteworthy examples are Duchamp, Beuys, and Van Gough, etc. But in terms of the development of my artistic philosophy, the conceptual art and minimal art that came out of the 1960's, these two styles rid us of the dependence on our hands; they taught me to liberate my two hands.
AW: At present there is a debate over “the Chinese nature of Chinese contemporary art,” Is there a Chinese nature visible in your artwork? Or is this idea of Chinese nature not important lo you?
LYL: As Chinese artist living in China your works will naturally poses a "Chinese nature." The question is whether you will make it a goal of your creative work, or whether it is a natural result that will come out of it. This is a problem of tactics. Frankly speaking it is a kind of management or business, a kind of trafficking. If you use these tactics, you are starting by putting yourself in the position of The Other to the west. But the majority of artists in China have not felt the crisis of existence in the position of the Other' Having a long discussion about Chinese nature isn't as good as returning to the environment in which the artist lives, because reality includes everything that happens in a defined space and time and nobody can escape that. Chinese nature signifies a concept that can be interpreted as symbolic that is too simple, too concrete' and by using this to make a differentiation from western art, this attitude is the heart of what causes the lack of vitality in modern Chinese culture.
AW: Do you think Chinese contemporary art will be wiped out by mainstream international art, or will it preserve its own personality?
LYL: I think only when China has become strong in every regard will it be able to participate in international art activities. When China appears either as the sponsor or guest, Chinese artists and foreign artists have the kind of relationship in which they are both 'Others'. Chinese art is already a part of mainstream international art; do you think that it has been wiped out? Or has it wiped out others? I think that the face of Chinese art at that time was very different to today. The value it will have will be produced from the "reality" at that time, so I don't know what we will concern ourselves with when facing the future.