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An Interview with Victor Wang王宗孚, Curator of the Upcoming 'Insights' Exhibition at PHOTOFAIRS, Shanghai


An Interview with Victor Wang王宗孚, Curator of the Upcoming 'Insights' Exhibition at PHOTOFAIRS, Shanghai
Image Courtesy of the curator

Having recently been announced as the guest curator of DRAF (David Roberts Art Foundation) in London, Victor Wang is additionally making tracks as the curator of this year’s ‘Insights’ exhibition at PHOTOFAIRS Shanghai. Here he talks to The Artling about how his curatorial projects are all interrelated as they constantly bridge the gap between East to West, how it’s a major curatorial prerogative of his to destabilize singular art historical cannons, and what we’re to expect from his exhibition at PHOTOFAIRS Shanghai in September.

First of all, congratulations on being announced as the guest curator of DRAF (David Roberts Art Foundation)! What has been the highlight of your curatorial journey so far?

Thank you! I see all my curatorial projects and exhibitions as interrelated, and as having strands of research that run through them in different ways, so it’s difficult to isolate one. But in light of the ‘Institute of Asian Performance Art’ project I have developed for the DRAF, London, I think it makes sense to mention both the exhibition ‘Rehearsals from the Korean Avant-Garde Performance Archive (2017), at the Korean Cultural Centre UK, London, which saw the first performances by Korean artist Lee Kun-Yong in the United Kingdom, and exhibited works by artists such as Kim Ku-Lim and Lee Seung-Taek, and the exhibition ‘Ensemble sin órganos’ (2016), which I co-curated with Blanca Victoria López, at the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Wifredo Lam, Havana, Cuba, which was the first international performance-based exhibition to take place in the museum, and presented works by artists such as Xu Zhen, Trisha Brown, and VALIE EXPORT for the first time in Cuba.

Your career as a curator consists of collaborating extensively with institutions and galleries in Mainland China with the effort of bridging the gap between East and West. Tell us more behind this initiative and why it is such a strong curatorial objective of yours.

I’m interested in forms of horizontal collaboration, exhibition making, dialogue and exchange that de-centralize and disrupt ideas of periphery, margins, or singular art historical cannons. Often these collaborations are to reconsider the once believed division between the so-called East and West. Also, moving between geographies helps me unpack and problematize these labels and divisions, and so does working with artists in these different regions.  

Working in Mainland China has been important for me, and my practice for many reasons. Asia has an extremely dynamic art ecology and provides opportunity to create different models and systems than that of North America or Europe. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a generation of museum owners, gallerists and artists that are rethinking what it means to build institutions in Asia, cultural infrastructure, and how to engage with contemporary art within the region and internationally within this context – which is really exciting.


© LIANG YUE, Not the Same Time, 2008. Courtesy of ShanghART Gallery (Shanghai, Beijing, Singapore)

Conceived in 2016, Insights zones in on particular themes throughout the development of photography. How does this year’s title ‘The Same But Also Changed’ add to the exhibition contextually?

It was necessary for me to consider the context in which this original 1999 exhibition was made, but also the rich local histories in Shanghai. With the growing number of fairs locally/globally, and the growing number of people visiting them, art fairs are quickly becoming important spaces for cultural exchange, debate, and in a Chinese context spaces where you can converge many of these complicated conversations and relations. In China the division between private, public, commercial or state, is far different then that of Euro-America.

Therefore I was interested in making an exhibition that spoke to both the focus of the photo fair, but also to the exciting (unofficial) photo history of Shanghai itself, and more broadly, to explore a history of photo exhibitions in China.  In part, I wanted to highlight this rich and complicated history for the local audience – and to continue a conversation with the local art community, but to also show that the concerns of artists in China in the 1999s are today also being dealt with in Euro-America through different platforms. For example, the policies of image sharing on different social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, and how they also limit certain content and images from being displayed.


© XIANG LIQING, Haul these stuff - 4, 2007. Courtesy of ShanghART Gallery (Shanghai, Beijing, Singapore)

The seminal 1999 exhibition with the same name was prematurely closed, and holds thematically close to its 2018 counterpart. Will we expect anything different from the artists featured in 1999 in this re-awakening?

The 2018 edition will show recent works by the original participating artists, and will stick closely to the medium of photo and image production. Some of the original artists do have contributions that are not photo based. Perhaps important to note is that many of the original artists have very dynamic practices. And I have also invited a new generation of female artists based in China to participate in the exhibition, such as Chen Zhe, Fan Xi, Ma Qiusha, and Miao Ying. Each of these artists approach image making in different ways and will expand on the original scope of the exhibition.


What would you say are the differences in how photography is perceived under the umbrella of Chinese contemporary art now as compared to how it was in 1999?

I believe the medium and concept of photography has greatly changed internationally since 1999.

Photography has always had a relationship with technology. Therefore one could look and the innovation and development of image making technologies since the 90s, and how that has greatly changed. For example the integration of cameras into smart phones. This has also expanded and become more complicated with the development of image sharing platforms, such as Instagram or Wechat, which have also shaped how we view and make photos. For example, the selfie VS the portrait, and so on.

I’ve always seen photography in the Chinese context as having a more anachronistic state that transitions between having ties to trade and Western exchange, to aiding in formulating the development of conceptualism in China, to occupying a pivotal position in new media and digital art. I’m also weary of the position of images in the current larger post-production world.

© XIANG LIQING, Press 1, 2007. Courtesy of ShanghART Gallery (Shanghai, Beijing, Singapore)

In your opinion, in what way does this exhibition question the definition of contemporary art?

I’m not sure the exhibition itself has this focus or agenda. But the context in which it was realized – the 1990s is a very vibrant and experimental decade for contemporary art in China that requires further examination - especially in understanding the development of a type of DāngDàiXíng’, or a Chinese contemporaneity, that brought strict socialist realism to mature experimental and conceptual art practice in just a few years.

China, in an art historical context, has a very different timeline when compared to many other parts of the world.  And revisiting its exhibitions history can help explore this. In 1999 there was little to no art infrastructure, with the first commercial gallery only being established in China three years prior. This does not mean, however, that there were no arts movements – there were plenty.  

Some of the original artists in the exhibition such as Geng Jianyi, was a seminal figure in China’s ’85 New Wave movement, and artist like Yang Zhenzhong who since the late 1990s, as a curator, was important in curating and organizing numerous highly influential contemporary art exhibitions in China. In fact the original exhibition ‘The Same But Also Changed’ was an artist-organized exhibition, and part of a larger movement of self organized exhibitions initiated by BizArt and its affiliates. So it’s important to look at the show as belonging to a larger cultural landscape of art making and exhibition making in China at that time.

© YANG FUDONG, Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest, Part IV, 2006. Courtesy of ShanghART Gallery (Shanghai, Beijing, Singapore)

Tell us a little more about how the medium of photography has been used to reevaluate China’s cultural history?

Photography has a great role to play within the region, as China’s cultural history has many photographs missing from its timeline. Yet I think it’s worth questioning, especially as of recent, both what it means to look at a history of a region through photographs, and what can images now do for an already over pictured landscape. When examining any history through images, it’s important to think about photography’s aestheticism of history, and what kinds of concepts of truth and reality photographs now hold in the age of post-production and fake news.

What do you hope to achieve in your future curatorial projects?
I hope to develop more inter-regional conversations between ‘Asian’ countries. More collaborations, and to build more dialogue between East Asia and South America.


‘Insights: The Same But Also Changed’ opens as part of PHOTOFAIRS | Shanghai from 21-23 September 2018 at the Shanghai Exhibition Centre. 
For more information, click here 
Instagram: @viktorwang  / @photofairs


Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.

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