…continued from the previous blog

Those of us in the hotel meet in the lobby around 8:15 and walk the short distance to the Wall Art Museum, where the conference is being held. There are two large rooms, and two parallel sessions. The first talk I attend is by Gao Xuan Yang, who is an expert on French theory but can – by his own report – claim about eight languages and seemingly has published in many of them. He talks about Derrida and others. The argument seems to be that Chinese artists need to absorb all manner of languages and influences from the West and elsewhere, and that Western artists should reciprocate. To be honest, I don’t think I’m jet-lagged, but I am pretty confused. The construction of the argument is, very appropriately, China-style – roughly from the general to the specific in a sort of circling pattern. To say the least, I need to adjust to this style.

Next up is Li Juan Qun. She is talking about women’s / feminist art in China. Her Powerpoint presentation includes one quote after another on the quality and qualities of women’s art in China. Each quote is accompanied onscreen by a photo of its author. After around fifteen minutes of this, I have the first of what will prove to be many slam-on-the-brakes experiences. I’ve seen maybe ten writers / critics cited, each roughly favourable to women’s art, and eight – if memory and jet lag do not exaggerate – are male. I survey the table. All but one of the eight or so at the table are male. I’m not happy.

After the coffee break – and I wish I drank the stuff, as stiff caffeine is needed – we all shift to the larger hall where we sit around a large table-arrangement. There’s a bit of an east-west split in how things are arranged. It sounds as though the presentations in the other hall, by Diedrich Diederichsen and Astrid Wege, went well.

My notes, such as they were for this session, have disappeared. No matter – it allows me to inflate my role. At one point I ask if anyone’s bothered by the male / female ratio we have here? I can’t detect an answer in the translations that come through the headphones.

In this session we’ve hit on two fundamental problems. First, questions tend to be answered by context-setting, on both ‘sides’. By the time the explanations have gone through translation, nuances and body language have been stripped off, sometimes with the meaning in tow. So I think I’m not hearing an answer, when what I’m hearing is context-setting allied with the Chinese, Derridean, outside-in approach to explanation. Add into the mix that I’m not able to read between the lines – an ability which, it turns out, is even more critical here than in Ireland – and I’m at sea. So if anyone said, “Yes, of course we should have 50/50 gender representation," I missed it.

…to be continued