Talk: Post-pandemic Curating
Bing SU 苏冰
Bing SU: Chinese famous disciplinary curator, artist
Bing SU aims to take the multidimensional view of this period by inviting the artists, designers, art patitioners and institutions from different regions, and also, researching their artworks during different period of the pandemic. He hopes to use the impulse of Culture, Art and Creativity to let people ease their anxiety. In order to achieve that, he also interviewed artists all over the world and generated the CC Project as an online communicating platform of Artworld to scope artistic impacts and changes of the pandemic.
There are three parts of this event：
- Video of a conversation with the curator Bing SU 访谈策展人苏冰
- Video transcription in English and Chinese 视频内容文字版（中英文）
- Call for discussion on topics of art in the post-pandemic era 后疫情时代的艺术话题讨论
Host: Nerissa YUAN (袁嘉苡）
Guest: Bing SU (苏冰)
The names abbreviated to “Nerissa” (Nerissa YUAN) and “SU” (Bing SU)
主持人：袁嘉苡 Nerissa YUAN
嘉 宾：苏 冰 Bing SU
Nerissa: Hi, Bing SU, it’s so nice to have you as our guest today.
Bing SU: Hi, Nerissa YUAN, thanks R-Lab for inviting me to join today’s online interview.
Nerissa: Our pleasure! Okay, now we are going to start our interview. As we all know, the outbreak of Covid-19 has had a huge influence on our lives and our work, accompanied by a multitude of changes. Could you, therefore, tell us about the ways you have arranged your work and life during this period?
SU: Due to the outbreak in January 2020 in China, and we spent three months controlling the spread of the pandemic until April, it was really a tough time for which had a significant impact on everyone’s daily life. I remember clearly when we were able to get back to normal life (and work) gradually at the end of March (2020). I am based in Shanghai and the pandemic situation there was relatively optimistic, both my team and I were trying our best to do our work at home remotely. Then in April of last year (2020), we had basically resumed our normal lives and we curated an Art exhibition in Shenzhen. The exhibition was one of the earliest art exhibitions in China after the outbreak and it was clear that it had influenced the work we curated. What’s more, I think all the art institutions and curating companies were impacted during the pandemic and started to recover in April (2020).
Nerissa: Now it seems that we are gradually getting the pandemic under control in China, our lives and work are almost back to normal, so could you tell us a little about the differences you have found in your life or work after the pandemic? Are they different from the period before or during the pandemic?
SU: Basically, in China, our lives are almost back to normal, so there are less exhibitions themed around the pandemic and everyone is focusing on what’s happening now instead of looking back. There was a variety of exhibitions about the pandemic covered throughout 2020, but our present situation is much safer and controllable, so our artistic themes are more about vaccination and our status quo.
Nerissa: You have been visiting the art studios of different artists since 2014, have you noticed any changes during the pandemic in what they are creating? Could you tell us about the most impressive change among them from your perspective?
SU: Do you mean the differences that have emerged since I started visiting art studios? I think all arts-practitioners in China were badly affected by the pandemic, as a result, they started to have some new perspectives of our society and on the whole world. Some of these changes in perception are reflected in their lives and even in the art they create. I have a lasting memory from June of last year (2020) when we had an exhibition in Chengdu on a national tour in Xu Liaoyuan Art Museum. At that time, because of the pandemic, many artists, their work, income and living conditions were impacted so significantly that some of them were seeking part-time jobs. Obviously, their work would be affected by these circumstances.
Nerissa: The CC Plan ( an artistic project raised during the pandemic, the CC is about Communication and Connection) you have created during the pandemic really inspired those of us who would like to engage in the future of the Art world. We have noticed that the keywords of the “CC plan” are “minority”, “deep”, “thematic” and “in any way”, could you talk about that? What are your intentions with this plan? And why did you pivot to create this plan during the pandemic?
SU: That’s really a good question. In fact, after the outbreak of the pandemic last year, we have started a project called “Post-Pandemic Era” at home. I think we have published more than a dozen blogs through our official account on WeChat. There were nearly 100 artists and their artworks which were created during the pandemic and published in form of interviews and articles that divided into different but related themes like the contents of our blogs, and the blogs were published according to different relative stages. We are pleased that all those blogs received a great reception.
The CC plan is a section of the Post-Pandemic Project formed as a dialogue column. We decided to organize artists, art critics and art lovers through online conversations because meeting up during that period was not prohibited. So, the CC plan was an independent section of the Post-Pandemic Era project’s program.
Speaking of which, I have just remembered that after publishing blogs online, we launched another part of the “CC Plan” when the lockdown was lifted in China. We launched a call for artworks together with the organisation of Shanghai Design Week, about a thousand artworks were collected and we selected works from this to join our exhibition held at the Shanghai No.10 Subway Station.
(PS: the number of the artworks published by blogs during pandemic is also 100)
Nerissa: That is incredible. I am wondering, then, if there were any difficulties you needed to overcome during the project?
SU: There were a few problems. For example, when we were going to contact the Chinese artists abroad, a few of them refused. I can understand that they didn’t want to participate or talk about the pandemic because they’re in a foreign country at that time. We were still very lucky that most of the artists invited took part and made a positive contribution. Another difficulty was that also suffered different problems which emerged from relying on online communications. This meant that our conversations did not always go smoothly. These were the two main points that caused us problems.
Nerissa: You mentioned the “Post-Pandemic Era” project. Before our interview, we had noticed that the blogs you have posted on the WeChat account were named “Post-SARS Era” previously, then the name was changed to the “Post-Pandemic Era”. Can you tell us the reason for doing that?
SU: This was because when the pandemic first broke out, we really didn’t expect it would be so severe. Consequently, I just made an analogy. If SARS was mild for all of us, then the pandemic affects everyone. My original thought was that after a period, the pandemic might have been controlled and eradicated. We did not expect it to last so long, and that this time it would be so hard for the whole world to overcome. As we know, SARS subsided within half a year, so at first, the name used was “Post-SARS”, and this was intended to make sure that people would never forget the impact of SARS, and I had realized that this time it would have a profound impact on the whole world, whether it would be economic, cultural or artistic aspects. I did not expect the pandemic to exist for such a long time, however. Later, my colleagues and friends suggested that the word “Post-Pandemic” fits our situation more, so the name was changed.
Nerissa: Yes, I agree with you. I’d like to ask whether there are any artists that impressed you during the process of your call for artworks? Would you like to tell us about these artists or their artworks?
SU: Sure. You have reminded me of two artists. The one which especially impressed is her name is Shuai Wang from Henan province. She produced hundreds of black-and-white illustrations throughout the pandemic, this series of illustrations is called “Stories and Living Beings during the Pandemic”. After the completion, we helped her to publish it, the response was great, with tens of thousands of hits and a lot of attention, including media reports about her across China. She used hundreds of illustrations to describe her feelings, her friends’, and the conditions of people during the whole pandemic.
There is another artist who is an internet celebrity in China, named Jingyi ZHU. I interviewed him during the pandemic, and, he has produced some artwork in that time.
No one suspected that there were problems of health which affected his work and even his whole life hugely. These two artists are the ones who really impressed me.
In addition, something regrettable happened during the pandemic last year (2020). Some of our art colleagues have left the industry for different reasons, physical or circumstantial, some of them were good friends. I always feel sad when talking about these things. Therefore, I think the pandemic really is forcing us to re-recognize and rethink different aspects of the whole world, whether as artists or as arts-practitioners.
Nerissa: You have conducted a lot of interviews with both foreign and domestic artists, like the Italian artist Salvo Pastorello. Have you found any differences among those artists in different regions during the pandemic, such as the difference of their artworks or their creative mindset, especially the differences between those Artists from Europe and from China?
SU: You have asked a great question. All the interviewed Artists who are from countries outside China had visited China before. They said they had a great affection for China and really wanted to visit China again soon. They were very when I interviewed them, and they told me that it reminded them that they still had friends in China who were taking care of them. This is the first point. Another point is that they were happy to have the chance to express themselves and talk about their art.
Nerissa: Since we are here, I would like to know whether you have noticed the different policies for artists adopted in different countries during the pandemic?
SU: As far as I know, some those artists in America, France and Germany have already got some state support but there are still people in other countries who have not received any yet. For instance, the Italian artist Pastorello, he said that “The Government doesn’t care about us.”, and “I didn’t get support”.
Nerissa: Then I would like to ask about your thoughts on the recovery of the artworld. In your three articles of “Post-Pandemic2020—New Fields”, you have focused on the post-pandemic development of some rural regions in China. With this in mind, we would like to ask you to discuss the future development of the art market?
SU: I prefer to focus this on China which I am more familiar with. The art market in China has undergone tremendous changes in the past few years with several distinctive features. The first one is that as a result of the rapid development of the Internet, more people have joined the arts industry, which has created more possibilities for the spread of information about art to take place a lot faster. This is especially the case in China’s first-tier cities. Similarly, we found more information about exhibitions or news all over the world.
The second aspect is, in China, Art is becoming more and more trans-industry and inter-disciplinary. Today in China, there are different exhibitions held not only in the museums or galleries but also in some public commercial spaces, such as shopping centres and plazas which is a characteristic feature of the spread of exhibitions in China.
The third aspect is that Art in China today is more “down-to-earth”. Art does not just appear in galleries, it has gone into our daily lives, appearing in streets and communities, even rural areas. Although, I have to say, that Japan is best at moving Art into the countryside—like the “Echigo-Tsumari Art Field” held every three years. However, many villages that have their own features are also integrating Art with their distinctive cultures to achieve rural revitalisation. This is also a trend now in China. Now we’re in a digital era, this digital tendency is promoting not just the development of digital and multimedia art but also the cohesive collaboration of Art and Technology.
Meanwhile, the digital continues to influence the art world of the future. The “poping art” (the artistic style popular with the young people) raised by young artists is a major direction of digitisation. This phenomenon is controversial. My own position is that it is a positive development, while some art practitioners do not think so as they have traditional perspectives, and they hold dismissive attitudes toward its impact on the art market.
Nerissa: What do you think could be the negative aspects?
SU: Their lacking optimism reflects various aspects. As I’ve said before, the domestic art market is experiencing a rapid change in the economy, technology and culture. I would call this a kind of “iteration”. During this “iteration”, it is unavoidable that those arts-practitioners holding a conservative view that they cannot keep up with the times. For instance, there are lots of young artists who use social media platforms to post their artworks, such as WeChat, Facebook or Instagram, but those traditional artists won’t do that. What’s more, there is an increasing number of artists born in the 1990s, who have been abroad studying art and come back to China to work as arts practitioners.
I was always joking that the art market was like a piece of cheese. Previously there were few people sharing the cheese but now there probably thousands of people, which is tenfold number of before, as a result, the competition inside must be much more intense.
Nerissa: You have talked about an “iteration” caused by digitalisation, and we are currently using the digital technique to conduct activities like art exhibiting, so could you tell us what you think about the combination of Art and Technology?
SU: I see this combination as two-sided. It has both benefits and drawbacks. The benefit of it is that it could allow art to have more potential to be created using new methods, and its ability to spread art offers more possibilities for art to be accessed by more people. In addition, it also makes it easier to engage art in our daily life, watching live events or broadcasts, for instance, this feature is enhanced with the application of 5G.
We now have more ways of interacting online and can access more exhibitions and art events, like the exhibition of “teamLab” in Japan was held in China in that way. This is my point; the technology helps people access art and feel its charm in a more convenient way for people who are not on the site to engage the live events remotely.
However, the technologising of our world leads us to lack humanistic care. When we’re going to some exhibitions of new-media art and multimedia art, our focus would be more about the visual stuffs rather than the resonance of humanity. This is also a significant phenomenon of our current situation.
Totally, the benefit is greater than the drawback. According to the development of art history, from the classicism to the impressionism, the invention of the camera, computer, telephone or smartphone, step by step, every artistic revolution or campaign has an aspect of technological promotion. Therefore, if we take a long-term view of our situation, it seems technology will have a positive tendency, but it is inevitable that there would be drawbacks when we move forward and develop.
Nerissa: That’s true, sometimes we miss the importance of humanistic care.
SU: Definitely. Your question before tends to be more about the relation between art and technology, so I will say it is more positive if we look at this combination of art and technology as a whole. It should be revolutionary, especially the advancing techniques of mobile Internet, artificial intelligence, they must be beneficial, but what we need to do is to take them as two-sided, to let ourselves be more objective to avoid losing our humanistic quality of art.
Nerissa: You’ve said that the artwork of Shuai WANG is a long-term plan, this reminds me of the CC plan. As a project themed around connecting and communicating, it does have the potential to keep ongoing. I would like to know whether you’ve thought about that?
SU: Definitely, it was intended to be a long-lasting program. Likewise, the Post-pandemic Era is part of long-term planning. It is expected to last about three years and we are looking forward to having an exhibition in 2023. Here, we will perform all our works during these three years, such as CC Plan, our interviews with artists, artistic creation, etc.
Nerissa: That would be great! You have said that the artists you interviewed had talked about the obstacles presented by living and working during pandemic, well, for my part, I know, that there are also artists in need of a platform to be shown to the public, this is a main factor of establishing R-Lab. R-Lab is aiming to provide more exposure for the artworld to have more potential to develop, in the context of looking at the pandemic as a Pivot. We are aware that you have contacted the young artists group by curating an exhibition with some of them, called “Deep in the Life”. Therefore, with the young artists group in mind, could you talk about what they might find meaningful from our project of the “Pivot Culture”?
SU: Do you want to to talk about the “Deep in the Life” exhibition? Or?
Nerissa: I mean could you take that experience as a way of scoping the young artists group and plot some ways they can benefit from our “Pivot Culture” program?
SU: Got you. I don’t know much about the specific situation of the UK, but you have mentioned that basically you are still holding exhibitions online. On our situation in China, basically 70%-80% of exhibitions are able to be held physically, the young artists group in China now is very active, so with that in mind, I think it would be great for you to invite some of them to contribute to your program on “Pivot Culture”, because they could contribute to the post-pandemic view of art-making and rethinking the different situations, and different cultures could bring more possibilities for all of you.
In addition, from my point of view, the key thing you might to consider is: What kind of platform are you going to offer? How could they participate in it? And the last which may take the most amount of care – how are their artworks are going to be hosted on your platform?
Nerissa: Could you give us some advice for us to promote our works or ways of hosting artworks?
SU: You could host and exhibit all your work in this digitally. We’ve launched a project that could cooperate with you guys. The people born after the 1990s are called Gen Z right? I think you’re the same. There is a group called LineZ, its members are the students studying abroad, they are all Gen Z. They have their own platform which we are supporting, and they want to hold an exhibition in the latter part of this year, themed on Gen Z. This would be held both online and physically, so I think you could co-operate with them.
Nerissa: That sounds interesting, we could talk about that after the interview. Well, thank you for accepting our invitation and talking with us, Bing SU, it’s so nice to have you here.
Topics of Art in the Post-pandemic Era
As a result of this talk, R-Lab has prepared two interesting topics, please feel free to interact with us on our social media and share your thoughts on the following topics, or submit to our mailbox: firstname.lastname@example.org
In the interview, Bing mentions a female artist in Henan, China: Shuai WANG. She created a series of black and white illustrations during the pandemic which called “Stories of the Pandemic and the Lives of People”, and her hundreds of illustrations depicting feelings and the state of she and her friends during the pandemic, these artworks received a lot of attention. She also organised an art community called ‘Painting and Drawing’, in which hundreds of artists exchanged artistic creations and used art to comfort each other’s anxious feelings during the pandemic. Bing believes that this can be described as ‘art having a healing effect’.
- Share a work of art that you think has healed you and briefly explain why
- Share the experience of how art has healed you
- Share an artwork/act that you have created that has healed you/others
Humanism in Art
In the interview, Bing answers our question about the relationship between technology and art. He believes that in the long run, it is good for technology to drive the development of art, because “every movement, or big revolution, or big transformation in art is actually driven by technology”, but he also believes that this “double-edged sword” also has a downside, that is, when art becomes too technological, it may simply pursue sensory stimulation and lack humanistic care.
- Share a work that you think shows a humanistic approach to art, and briefly explain why
- Can art with technology bring humanism to the table?
- Where do you think humanism in art can be found? From the actual work? From the connotations conveyed? Or from the whole artistic atmosphere?
Host: Nerissa YUAN
Contact Person: Ifance FAN, Christy YANG
Planner: Christy YANG
Text: Christy YANG, Ifance FAN
Translator: Jiaqi GAO, Christy YANG
Proofreading: Calum BAIRD