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Curator Fumio Nanjo on 'Forms in Flux'


Curator Fumio Nanjo on 'Forms in Flux'
Portrait of Fumio Nanjo (Image courtesy of the curator and Long March Space)


On the occasion of Chinese artist and sculptor, Zhan Wang's, biggest and first solo exhibition in Shanghai at Long Museum (West Bund), we speak to exhibition curator Fumio Nanjo about his relationship with the artist and the curatorial process. Mr Nanjo has been Director of Mori Art Museum since November 2006. Prior to taking the directorship at the Mori, he had served as the Museum’s Deputy Director (2002-2006) after working with cultural organizations including the Japan Foundation (1978-1986). He has also curated many biennales as well as commissioned the Japan Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1997.


First, how did this exhibition come together? What made you accept this project?

It was around the autumn of 2015, Zhan Wang and his team started to talk to me about the possibility of working together for this show. And early last year I had a project with him, along with this circumstance I decided to join this solo exhibition of Zhan Wang as the curator. I had known his works for long time but I thought this is a good opportunity to learn and explore the developement of his art works.

I think sculpture is very important area of art but nowadays there are so few good and meaningful sculptures. Zhan Wang had followed one unique line for sculpture, and I believe it's worth understanding deeply.

In addition, I was realizing some other art projects, such as Kenpoku Art 2016, a new art triennale in Japan, and the first edition of Honolulu Biennale that took place in March of this year, both of which I invited Zhan Wang to participate in. Last but not least, we've known each other for a quite long time. I saw his solo exhibition at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing back in 2008. In the same year, I invited him to exhibit in the Singapore Biennale. So fundamentally, I was already interested in his works and witnessed the progression of his art, which is greatly interesting.


Installation view of exhibition 'Zhan Wang: Forms in Flux', featuring "Forms in Flux" (2016) by Zhan Wang
Image courtesy of Yanqiu Autumn Dai


What was the the selection process behind the works that are showing in the Long Museum? Is there a meaning behind behind the choices?

Actually, [the selection process] is based on his proposals. The exhibition showcases many different types of works, so it looks like a retrospective. However, it is not a retrospective; it shows the methodology of his sculpture making. It shows the process of how to create forms and sculptures. It shows how to create forms and sculptures. He makes his forms with an intention, but at the same time, it is filled with a sense that it has been left up to chance. Half of the process naturally happens. [The process] is an interaction between human intention and accident. He is not just showing different types of artworks, but he is showing different types of form creating.


In the exhibition press release, you mentioned that Zhan Wang’s works is “a key of understanding contemporary art”, could you elaborate on that?

For example, the father of contemporary art is Marcel Duchamp, right? Marcel Duchamp has shown several new concepts of art. One is ready-made, and another one is the chance of operation, which is similar to accidental form making. This concept of accidental form making is what we can find it in Zhan Wang’s works. So [Zhan Wang’s works] is related to the origin of contemporary art, but also it is still meaningful in this time in contemporary art.


Installation view of exhibition 'Zhan Wang: Forms in Flux.', featuring "Fragmented Rock" (2013-2015) by Zhan Wang
Image courtesy of Yanqiu Autumn Dai


Does this “accidental” type of making forms also shows the consistency in Zhan Wang’s works?

Yes. He treated his works in many different ways. He showed how to make works, but he also showed how to deconstruct works, like what he did with the explosion. All these times, the form of works is accidental, because it is not a human who forms these shapes, but rather the explosion that makes it, or maybe natural process of rock making creates it. He just lets things happen. It is not he who is creating the form, but the form is taken from the nature, so again, it’s not from his intentions. He uses his hand, which is human labor, but the form already exists in nature.


What is your experience working on the project? What are the challenges, and what do you enjoy the most?

Because I’m far away, I cannot always talk to [Zhan Wang]. That is the challenge. If you produce a solo show, you spend more time with the artist. It is hard, because we are living in different cities. Also I have to go through translations, and his concepts are very much from Chinese language. I can get what he means, but it is sometimes vague. I can guess, but I don’t get the real sense of Chinese language.

Notwithstanding these challenging processes, at the end of the day, the exhibition has a huge impact, and it fits the architecture [at Long museum]. Not every work can fit in its brutal concrete and huge space, but his works really fit.


Installation view of exhibition 'Zhan Wang: Forms in Flux', featuring "Forms in Flux" (2016) in the foreground and "Universe" (2010) in the background by Zhan Wang
Image courtesy of Yanqiu Autumn Dai


After having worked closely with him, since 2008, which work is your personal favourite?

Because of the space, I like the first room where there is "Universe No.5" hanging on the wall, and a monolithic sculpture, "Forms in Flux" suspended from the ceiling. That space is something really special. In the mirror of "Universe No.5", you can see the sculpture from the outside, so there is a dialogue happening [between them]. In that room, you can see his work inside of his work.


what are your thoughts on the art scene here in China? Is art in China becoming more internationalized or westernized? What do we need to do to introduce Chinese art to the world?

China is a strong country for contemporary art. There are some characteristics. The message is often very clear, comparing to other places. There are some kind of differences between Chinese contemporary art and the art from Southeast Asia or other places.

I don't think Chinese art should become more westernized, it should stay as Chinese. But the context of Chinese art should be well understood by others, that is more important. So how can you do that, do you explain or do you show more? You should not just explain the context but also show the link between the arts in other regions of the world. You [need to] show the difference but also show the similarity. You contextualize it within the international context. That is important. So for example, some artists are using Chinese material but its expression is more western. In this way, western audience in America and Europe would feel that they understand more. You have to analyze how these perceptions happen, and what’s the mechanism of these perceptions, then you will know where the Chinese art locates in the international context, and then you can explain it to others.


Installation view of exhibition 'Zhan Wang: Forms in Flux.', featuring "Morph" (2004-present) by Zhan Wang 

Image courtesy of Yanqiu Autumn Dai


Speaking of the museum industry, in the future, with more advanced technologies, what will be the role of the museums? Will technology really help the audiences to appreciate and understand artworks?

It’s interesting to think about it, but I’m not a futurist. There are different points of views that exist. There was one museum director, who is much older than me, who said that art should be in the daily life of people. And if it's completed, if it's achieved, we don't need museums anymore, he said, because art will be integrated into the lives of people, in the city, in houses, and in working spaces. The art will become omnipresent, and then we don't have to have a museum. That was what he said. This is one point of view.

At the same time, maybe in the future, if artificial intelligence progresses, most of the things will be done by computers. So, we will lose jobs, but at the same time, we will have more free time. Then what can we do? The major issue will become how to kill the time, because you will be fed by the government, since the efficiency will be very high. You will get a basic income, so you will survive, but you will have plenty of time. So what can you do? There are two things only: sport or culture - you will use your body or brain. Therefore, the culture becomes important, more than now. Then art becomes more important. People will make more art, and then they will enjoy looking at art more, so maybe museum are more necessary. More private museums might be born. More public museums will provide people the opportunities to see art.

So these two visions are just the opposite.


Installation view of exhibition 'Zhan Wang: Forms in Flux.', featuring "Artificial Rock" (1995-present) by Zhan Wang 

Image courtesy of Yanqiu Autumn Dai


What’s your next plan in the future?

There are many exhibition ideas. but I don't know how much I can realize. Basically, I want to focus on something new. Something of a different vision; different concepts of looking at art. For example, the Honolulu Biennale I did in March was not the biggest exhibition, but I focused on the artists from the Pacific area. I found there are quite many interesting artists from Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Marshall Islands... etc. Many artists from the islands are located in New Zealand. This Honolulu Biennale shows one side of local artists, one side of Asia, one side of North America. Since Honolulu is in between, the Honolulu Biennale shows different geographical views on culture. I think it’s quite important, and that’s the kind of things I want to continue: regional exhibitions from new areas.

Another idea I have is technology and art. I have already showed an artist working with biotechnology. I am thinking of organizing a major exhibition relating to city and biotechnology. For example, although cities today are now iron and concrete, in the future, the material could be different. Someone has proposed an idea of nanotechnology city: very fine fiber, like spider’s nest, will be created, so everything will be very light and buildings don’t have to be on the ground and might be floating in the sky. There was one artist made a rabbit with the gene of a squid. As a squid shines in the darkness, this rabbit similarly shone in the darkness, but it died in two weeks. Another guy made a very small jacket with human skill. It’s showed in MoMA already. I have many different ideas, but I also want to take some time to relax.



'Zhan Wang: Forms in Flux' is on show from 25 June till 22 August 2017 at Long Museum West Bund. For more information on the exhibition, click here.

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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