…continued from the previous blog

Day 3. First up, me! In Hall 2 of the conference, that is. I talk about the history of Circa, and try to draw some parallels with art and criticism in China. No-one boos, but then who’s going to boo a pro-feminist, anti-violence icon? (see previous blogs)

Next up, Li Xinmo. She is an artist and she relates her experiences and shows some slides of her work. Menstrual blood makes its second outing at the conference, after Gu Wenda’s initial offering. Li’s works are informed by Western feminist theory and practice, and I think I got them.

Form and content are usually good bedfellows, the one hopefully reinforcing the other. I imagine – and I was increasingly witnessing, I thought – that form is even more crucial in China than it is in the West, when it comes to social communication. (But imagine a situation in which you become steadily more aware of your own ignorance the more you observe.) Throughout Li’s presentation she smiled. This nonverbal aspect of her presentation was at odds with the serious nature of her work, and bespoke gender and power relations that are not unfamiliar in the West.

The following presentation, by Peter Plagens and built around the work of Bruce Nauman, pulls me out of my temporary despond.

Such is the astonishing adequacy of my notes that I cannot tell exactly what happened in the afternoon session. I can relate that it was before this afternoon session, or perhaps even that of the previous day, that Diedrich Diederichsen and I made a lunchtime break for Tienanmen Square. Diederichsen was well able to follow the subway system. In bright sunshine and 30-something heat, we wandered a bit from one heavenly gate to another. There wasn’t time to enter any of the buildings, but the point was really just to be there. We got as far as the entrance to the Forbidden City, having passed through the Gate of Heavenly Peace which is adorned by that huge image of Mao. There was a commotion about the whole place which I did not find enticing. I was stunned though by the palace walls. In an echo of the scale of some contemporary Chinese art, they are massive.

A shot of one of the conference halls; photo author

A shot of one of the conference halls; photo author

In the afternoon, James Elkins gave a presentation on the nature of art criticism. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the field, an ability to read and remember which is just about the reverse of mine, and a skill with Powerpoint that makes all other attempts look just that – attempts. Debate flowed, but somehow we got back to the old East / West thing and entrenched misunderstandings. Richard Meyer, who has a fine way with words and an ability to inject them with feeling, pleaded with our hosts not to see us as ‘the West’, but as individuals with major differences among us. He was right, but in the end, I was beginning to feel, if it walks like a duck…and every time I opened my mouth I could hear my own quack.

…to be continued