“During the pandemic, I was able to focus on my own research, which resulted in a new dimension to the painting series I am now working on.”
Natalia is a Spanish artist focusing on adapting traditional techniques and formats from icon paintings. Through this, she explores the traces we have been left with from traditions that have prevailed over mainland Europe for centuries and their capacity to continue to exist through time. She is also the co-director of Subsidiary Projects, an artist-led space to promote the work of emerging artists.
The names would be abbreviated as “Isabel” (Isabel DIERINGER) and “Natalia” (Natalia GONZÁLEZ MARTÍN).
Isabel: How did you organise your work and life during the pandemic?
Natalia: With the lockdown measures, many artists weren’t able to access their studios, which has translated into adapting our domestic spaces and consequently our practice, to create. In my case, the main difference is in the scale of the work, which has been reduced considerably to fit in my home studio.
Isabel: What is different from before the pandemic?
Natalia: Before we could discuss our work and other artists’ IRL, now studio visits have been reduced to zoom calls which isn’t the best tool for the appreciation of some mediums. That dialogue has been lost in some ways but enhanced in others. Instead of discussing the work itself, I find myself sharing tips or advice with other artists that I haven’t even meet in person yet – however, I am eager to be able to see art in person again and talk about more formal elements.
Isabel: What is the biggest change you have been through or found? In other words, what is your Covid-pivot?
Natalia: Isolation has brought a lot of introspection for everyone, now that my time wasn’t packed with different events or appointments constantly I have been able to focus a great part of my day on research, which has really given a new dimension to this new series I am working on.
Isabel: What is your most proud creation since the pandemic started?
Natalia: For the past two years, I have been developing the same series of work, however, I am currently working on the development of a solo presentation and creating new pieces where all of these ideas meet.
Natalia: The works for this particular exhibition which will take place in September have been in the making since November 2020. I have been able to explore the ideas and subjects that I had been developing during the past years.
Natalia: It has been an exploration of Spain and its traditions. I have been visiting old photographs, stories, folk songs to develop these. During a time where I could not visit my family and my country, this series of work has been almost therapeutic.
Isabel: Has the pandemic had an impact on your work/work plan? (Was there any change in your thinking focus?)
Natalia: I have always balanced my practice with another job, but with the money, I was saving from not having a studio I decided to focus solely on my art career. This has been the best decision I could have taken as my work has evolved much quicker than it would have if I had had a part-time job. It is not easy to do this and in my case, I needed the world circumstances to change in order to take this step.
Isabel: If this applies, is there any funding for freelancers or artists in your city or in your country?
Natalia: The Arts Council has offered a lot of support for artists and art organisations during this time. Galleries, art magazines and other organisations have also been incredibly supportive by offering grants, free studio spaces or exhibiting opportunities.
Isabel: Have your feelings about art now changed from your first encounters with it, or rather before the pandemic? If so, how?
Natalia: The pandemic has allowed me to realise the importance of a strong online presence. Social media has been key to connect with galleries, artists and collectors from all over the world, which helps expand our networks.
Isabel: Do you think the arts will mostly remain/move online after the pandemic?
Natalia: I still believe it is important to experience art in person, some art mediums cannot be translated to an online format, however, some artists have evolved their practices to fit the digital realm, a very clear example of this are NFTs, and the hunger for innovative digital proposals is undeniable.
Isabel: How do you see the relationship between technology and art?
Natalia: This pandemic has definitely changed the way we approach art and technology, the differences between the two have become more blurry and I think this is a great opportunity towards a more 21st-century approach to art and its market.
OCAT Shenzhen x OCT Art & Design Gallery OCAT深圳 x 华 · 美术馆
“Decentralization” is a different attempt of this project from the past. “What’s Started and What’s Ended” Series 2020 Special Public Project provides an open and empathetic platform for the public to discuss four issues related to the epidemic in the “O₂ Online Chat.” “Design Notebook” used poster design techniques to record the five keywords raised from the conversation. “Collaborative Writing” guides two groups of writers to express their ideas through relay writing freely.
From a macro perspective, the digital tendency of our world might be the most apparent turn involved in all walks of life, including public education. Therefore, R-Lab invited the members working in the same field of public education but from different popular institutions in China. They would like to share their Pivot-related thoughts from dimensions of individuals, project creators, and Art partitioners of the industry. This would include: the personal pivot as art practitioners, the context of the project, how to balance its publicity and professional, the relation between physical and digital, and suggestions for young people who aimed to engage in public education.
OCT Contemporary Art Terminal (OCAT Shenzhen) and OCT Art & Design Gallery are famous contemporary art museums in Shenzhen, operated by Overseas Chinese Town Group (OCT). OCAT Shenzhen was established in 2005. It is located in Shenzhen OCT-LOFT. It is the earliest institution in the OCAT art museums that also opened in Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, and Xian. OCT Art & Design Gallery, established in 2008, adjacent to He Xiangning Art Museum, is the first art museum focus on design and experimental art in China.
CHEN: At that time, we had to embrace the internet to express various emotions and attend events. On account of that, we felt like the project should be transformed to make room for the public, like giving a place for people to speak. There was nothing special, we were in a constricted state at that point in time.
LIU: I felt like everything was nonsense at that moment.
WU: As it was the time for Chinese New Year, but everyone was staying at home with only few tasks to do. My mind felt a little bit scattered because I was being faced with too many intense news updates everyday.
What’s more, as we were with our family, we would watch the news on TV a lot. The updates on pandemic situation and the statistical figures appeared on all the different channels all the time. There were not just announcements about the spread of infection, there were also some reports of improvements we had made. For instance, doctors from hospitals all over the country went to Wuhan (the city which suffered the most from the pandemic) to give assistance, or the people in Shandong who delivered tons of food to Wuhan. This kind of solidarity provided us with warm and positive new updates.
At the same time, various independent sources exploded with negative information on Weibo or WeChat (digital social platforms in China). They were saying that the reports on TV were fake, that the reality was the complete opposite. So, when I read these two opposing pieces of information, I was very confused and felt split when thinking: “What was the truth? How reliable are these reports?” Then I became a little anxious and struggled during that period of time. However, this wasn’t that obvious when it came to work.
LIU: In fact, everyone was on vacation in those days, and we didn’t know when we could get back to work. We could get the news through digital platforms which always kept updating every day. Gradually, there were some institutions or individuals trying to do something through their official accounts online. For example, PSA (The Power Station of Art) began a project about morning reading. Whereas, from my position, things like morning reading was just an adjustment for everyone. In addition to receiving news everyday, we received other content but what else could be given to the public to comfort them in this pandemic?
刘阳：其实当时的情况就是大家都在放着假嘛，你也不知道什么时候能回去。你能看到一方面是网络平台的那些消息，一个接一个新的过来，就每天都感觉不一样。慢慢地开始有一些机构，或者是有一些个体，他们也在通过公众号什么的做一些事情。比如说PSA（上海当代艺术博物馆, 英文名为Power Station of Art）做的晨读，随后晚一点也有找设计师做海报设计。可能就像晨读这种东西，我觉得像是一个对大家的一种调剂，就是每天我们除了接收，你全身心的接收这些新闻，或者是各种各样的一些消息之外，然后我还有什么东西能够给到大家一些安慰？
Actually, during that time, many people read more books. For example, readings about philosophy, history or even the plague. It seemed that everyone was pursuing something. Not just reading, there were also people learn to cook, etc. There were too many aspects of our lives that we had no time to pursue and enjoy during the normal, busy time and, so, these things were brought back to us as part of our adjustment to the pandemic pause, even in the very limited indoor space.
At this time, no one specifically said that we should keep working. This might be because we could not all handle our own situation well at that moment but what could we do to overcome these problems? And how? We could only leave a blank space after these questions. The only thing that might be a reliable solution was keeping calm and thinking, not rushing to act, probably most people were thinking this same thing. Many artists felt that art could not play a practical role within this situation. They had no idea how to respond to that.
I think for arts organisations, some of them were trying to do something. But things of the same kind as before the pandemic were meaningless. And if it acts as merely a calming effect, it can actually be replaced easily.
WU: There were some art institutions which started to publish information online to continue their work at the very beginning of the pandemic. The PSA was one of these institutions which has done quite well and attracted a lot of attention. The project they kept publishing was called the Pandemic Prevention Plan. Some of the content was readings, while other parts involved learning about collections and collaborating with designers. Therefore, when we came to think of our project, maybe just like what Liu said before, we needed to think about how to deal with this kind of new situation and what we could do more effectively because everyone has just experienced a a major disruption or only a small portion of restored reality.
It was the end of March last year when we all returned to Shenzhen to meet up. We sat together face-to-face, had a brainstorm and then communicated together. Our method was to gather all of our feelings and thoughts during the pandemic, and then sort them out. In order to do this, we have held several meetings, some lasting a whole afternoon and, during these meetings, we started to recall and organise those thoughts and memories.
The PSA Series project of Storing Electricity, Smiling, and Getting Together again-from Valentine’s Day to Arbor Day online activities (including the morning reading and the PSD of Pandemic Prevention Plan mentioned above)
Cleo: China has basically returned to normal now, so what have you found as the main change in your personal experience or discovery in this period?
CHEN: Do you mean to say what kind of feelings did we have in the process of returning from the previous online state to the physical world, yes?
CHEN: In fact, I don’t think we have completely returned to normal but have partially transformed into a hybrid form. I say this because, when we were doing public projects, we would still first consider online spaces and platforms. For instance, what are the advantages of doing things online and what new things it could link us to. In terms of the physical world, we would pay more attention to what kind of projects were more suitable for developing in person. Now we had another channel of digital approach, and it was quite convenient for cross-domain or cross-regional programmes. Accordingly, there was already a little part of the physical world which had already been transformed into a digital medium.
WU: If you look at this offline and online problem after more than a year, it is really just a formal problem. At the beginning, everyone might pay more attention to offline activities or exhibitions that are closed, so is that art activity is stagnant, or it has become necessary to use online methods, which is a substituted method, to achieve part of the programme or exhibition.
At the beginning, there were some concerns as well as some technical and platform related problems which needed to be solved. Looking back now after more than a year, it is just a formal channel. It depends on what the project is about, and then you have decide whether to do it online or offline. Many programmes or exhibitions are now combined online and offline. If you are offline, you will have a sense of presence. You can notice the expressions and movements of the guest, and you can communicate with them more directly. This is the advantage of the physical, real world scene. I think online has its benefits, and I find that online audiences are more willing to be more expressive. They may be more willing to ask questions that are not easy to ask offline because there is only one screen-name online, or I can’t see the face of the person or hear their voice, so I would be more willing to throw out my own questions and communicate with guests. This is a very good point that I recently discovered.
LIU: Thoughts and changes brought about by the pandemic still exist now. It has proven to be very hard to gain a consensus from the public. However, after this period, our sense of some problems or phenomena have become more and more intensified. This has also continued until now. When we are talking with the public about some of these issues, this is actually a bit of a minefield that was easy to make mistakes with, so we should pay more attention to these issues. Consequently, there is a phenomenon that things which used to be easily set aside have become intensified and can create ambiguity. It is more difficult for people to have a rational discussion during the current situation.
Another thought is our role as the art museum. Actually, there was a very crucial point in the process of creating this new project. During our preparation, we always felt that the pandemic was about to pass, but we never knew what was going to happen the next day. This was the reason we did not act quickly, and in fact, our actions to it were not prioritized. I felt that I didn’t see it clearly at the time, so when we came back to work, there was a realistic question: how do you reappear as an art institution to the public now?
I don’t think we can act as if no pandemic happened and reopen an exhibition that had been closed just like we’re back to normal, as well as restarting the other related activities. Ignoring it seems to cover up too much from this specific period and it doesn’t empathise with the public. So, this was one of our motivations to create this public project. Even until now, what we have in common in doing public projects is that after some things happen, it is difficult to argue with each other from different positions; if something has been experienced together, there will be a common understanding or overview. I may not need to say anything in fact, everyone can already understand.
When we were doing this project, we took an empathetic view of what the people might need. Therefore, we have made the project have a change of focus. As a result of being over saturated with information, this may stop people from thinking their own thoughts on it. What appeared most from the public were the voices of different people, leaders, or other artists and designers, telling everyone how they were thinking and living. In fact, it was nothing different from others, and I couldn’t see anything particularly unique. As a result, we wanted to give the right to narration and communication to ordinary people. Actually, with so much emphasis on sharing these thoughts, the desire to talk about them gets weaker, but it doesn’t disappear completely. Even in this state, it exists and just needs an opportunity to be expressed. That is how this project started.
When it was completed, we gained much more confidence. I felt that we all could have some discussions restrainedly, and people did want to express their perspectives. This also reflected that the young people nowadays were getting more interested in being vocal and it is something they need to do. A project like this was new for us, a kind of test. Consequently, when we do projects later, we would consider about how could normal people be involved and whether they might need a space of participation. I think the project was affecting all of us simultaneously more or less.
WU: When I was preparing for this interview, I also liked this “decentralisation” idea the most. In fact, this was also reflected by the following question 5 (Question 5-Have you ever thought about what effect or impact this project was trying to achieve?). The OCAT Shenzhen Pavilion has rarely done such activities before. Previously, we used to do more like professional forums or lectures which were academic, rather than some activities closely connected with the audience. In this term, holding the “O2 chat room” last year was also a beginning. Because as usual, whether we were generating reports, exhibitions, or listening to some lectures and forums in the library, it was all knowledge-based sharing with the unidirectional outputting method. The role of the audiences was always very passive, even the section of mutual communication was also around the theme set by the speaker, or the content mentioned before.
When designing the O2 chat room, we intended to only provide a platform and topics that everyone could discuss. Our role was to lead and connect. Just focusing on encouraging the audience to share, tell, and discuss with each other. We had also found the results amazing during the course of four games. Every scene there would be audiences sharing spontaneously, especially during the last two games. Although they didn’t know each other and could only talk through the audios, they still discussed a lot. With regard to the common experiences and feelings between everyone, they did give each other some opinions or suggestions. In conclusion, it was an incredible experience.
CHEN: Every stage the audience participated in was great, including the overall investment and their attention to the public issues. Since it was during the pandemic, it would cause everyone’s thinking to pay more attention to their surrounding environment and the wider context. Because the pandemic contained so many different factors, we’ve selected four main directions that we thought were suitable… (The directions mentioned above were the four themes of the O2 chat room: 1 . When the Internet has become the only thing we have. 2. Public communicating space and independent thinking; 3. Another eye; 4. Tearing and Recovering)
WU: Actually, there were a few great topics that everyone wanted to talk about.
CHEN: They effected everyone’s thoughts, that is, everyone could have something to add. Correspondingly, Consequently, we had a space that didn’t call on anyone specifically, but focused on public discussion. The guests involved were happy to participate by sharing and discussing these with each other. As a consequence of this virtual and online status, everyone could express it even more. The physical social pressure had gone, which could let them be more relaxed.
LIU: I totally agreed with selecting these themes for the chat room and we’ve paid a lot of attention to them. It’s not only about empathizing with audiences, but also about the problems exposed during this and the experience of this current situation that is the focus of our institution. The four themes formed an organic combination, all of them were necessary and representative. Regarding these arrangements, WU is being modest. We’ve made lots of arrangements of the context, it isn’t necessarily about finding only the right guests, you also have to make sure the form of dialogue and communication is right.
I remember at the time we considered which theme should come first, how to cut into the topic suitably, gently, influentially, and effectively, in a way that had the potential to be expanded on, or even which part to talk about at which point, etc. The project was actually arranged by considering about emotion and rhythm.
In addition, if you wanted to mobilize everyone to discuss actively, it’s actually not that simple to facilitate the chat. We’ve even made an Excel form for prearrangement which everyone signed up to, this helped to understand everyone’s situation or what they might want to express, etc. The preparation that everyone can participate in this project, and discussion can cover everyone, when to introduce what kind of topic, who is next to respond, who is the one to share their stories. These are all are related. When you ask a question, many Chinese audiences don’t answer it immediately or in detail. So we need to guide them to offer more details in the project and to help them to express their thoughts.
It’s also not enough just to let everyone discuss with each other, because the audience actually came to learn something. Thus, where this might come from? On the one hand, we did have very insightful audiences, on the other hand, we actually had done a lot of research. We also needed to prepare the propositions, to provide everyone with something to expand on, or create space to think more about the topics. We even interviewed different people about the questions of “Public Space and Independent Thinking”, some things were not easy to discuss, and some people knew a lot but they wouldn’t like to speak out. We also found someone in the press and communicated with them behind the scenes, and then went to analyze with everyone at the site of the project to let audiences realize how would people with that backgrounds face these problems with their judgments and so on. In fact, there were still a lot of things we didn’t cover.
And I was quite satisfied with the “joint writing”. In fact, it had already been done by others before, but it was really suited to our context, like everyone could erase and overthrow each other more dynamically.
But the rule we made at the time was that everyone could not change what the former said, but they could create their own space freely. It could be treated as a mirror image of the real society, like how would we express our opinions on the basis of respecting the thoughts of others. We should still have our own attitude.
However, there were still regrets. It was something we discussed after the text was finished, it was because of the rules we laid down that the audiences were not allowed to change the prior person’s opinion. Despite not being able to change what the previous person had said, if someone was very good at observing the relationship in society, people’s way of thinking, and human nature from the perspective of writing, then he could also see the relationship between people in the process of self-expression. Therefore I always thought: could we tell what everyone was trying to do from the text? They were always trying to confirm the previous one. Hence, it’s not just about a confirmation of the relationship between the front and back ends. It could have been that the second-to-last person disagreed with the person in the middle, so had taken over an answer. Then how could he use his own way to connect several previous stories to complete the whole round? There would be a lot of identities and disagreements involved, and also recognition of others’ expression. I thought that if someone could do this kind of research or analysis, it must be quite interesting. The disappointment was that we did not have time to explore this during that time.
Cleo: The project was still very close to the audience, which was not the same as the previous lectures and forums. In your opinion, how could you balance the popularization and professionalism of public projects?
CHEN: We could neither purely allow one way of doing something that the audience must accept, nor could be completely without guidance and clues. The two states must occur simultaneously, including the interaction and the later status of audiences’ participation which could actually form feedback. It may affect your future plans, or the directions you want to explore.
WU: What kind of activities an art museum does, whether it is more professional or more connected to the audience, are connected to its position. This will depend on how the art gallery positions itself. Whether it’s more professional or community-oriented that has a closer relationship with residents, or is it more focusing on children like A4(an institution). Even if the position of an institution is biased, it should take into account a wider group of people too. I think we need to consider about the audience, they should participate or have a certain connection with the project, as well as interactivity.
LIU: That point is great. In the field of public education, we can feel a sense of unity. It’s like on one aspect art museums were saying that public education was very important. On the other one, the resources available to these museums were very limited. Thirdly, we could find that most of the projects may be the public guided tours for special groups of people, such as children’s education, that’s all the most obvious thing.
What you had just talked about reminds me of this problem, I think the reasons might be: First of all, people working in public education should know to what extent the problem was in their own knowledge structure. When it came to the balancing problem, you needed to have to be able to go deeper yourself, then take a simple matter from this as a goal. You must consider different audiences and adjust to their knowledge level in different ways. But as a working individual, whether it was about the problem itself, or the ideas and the Art world, you should always have professional requirements for yourself.
I don’t think that it is a service relationship with the curator of the exhibition, or what you need to do is to explain or make efforts in simple terms. You have to consider a complex issue first, and then consider how to present this for different levels of understanding. We all should have this ability to adjust to their abilities.
CHEN: I don’t think I can be included in that. (Laughs) I feel that everyone’s demands are still very different. When they were complaining about things whether from the institutional or structural constraints, or the direction and philosophy of their work, they didn’t actually understand it. At that time, it was obvious that everyone was doing various things, including inside of the institutions and outside. At that time, many of the people who participated were from the National Art Gallery or local museums. In fact, everyone did much of the same. It seems that I didn’t want to break through the siege, or to have a new direction of exploration.
We shared the project (In)finite Museum Night at the time. Everyone thought it was good and we did a good job by exploring that direction. However, things like this do happen relatively rarely in art museums and institutions. No one has the intention of developing a new direction. This thinking sometimes prevents actions. It has a lot to do with the awareness of the staff in each agency.
LIU: Public projects are not superficial. There are various kinds of various groups in the public community. If you really want to engage with the public, you may have to be flexible and able to meet the needs of people at different levels. Some people require more advanced engagement, while others are easier. Even just in terms of self-demand, we should at least be able to do this.
So in the process of creating O2 chat room as we said earlier, we couldn’t just stop at letting everyone talk to each other, we still had to do things that could improve and enhance the projects. This is related to our consciousness.
WU: Public projects are quite two-sided. It is necessary to connect with the exhibition and research departments to discuss the exhibitions or research projects together, and know what the concept and topic the curator is trying to convey. Then we have to come to the following consideration of what kind of professional forums or lectures we need to output, and also consider the diversity of the public and what they can accept. Although what we do is to contact the public community more, we would also collect professional concepts and ideas to support it, and we would still throw out some content and information. As for whether the audience could accept or realise these points or not, it’s also a point that we shouldn’t ignore when planning or considering projects.
Cleo: What kind of changes have taken place in the domestic public education industry or the entire art museum group during the pandemic?
WU: Obviously, we’ve all turned our attentions and work online.
CHEN: And at that time, many people were discussing issues around the pandemic, whether to do exhibitions or not. The pandemic topic was even included in the official needs. Despite the pandemic period I wanted to meet the situation head on and I wanted to make things happen quickly, this needed to be done effectively. The entire art museum industry actually had devices and mechanisms for this. It has completely turned to cope with the conditions of the pandemic. However, we still chose the topics we were most concerned about and put them into practice.
LIU: In fact, it is not only for the public education. The public education was most obviously the online one, but there was not only us. We were all the same. As for the art industry, everyone was aware that when we had no way to link with foreign artists and treated them as the main body of art, a lot of artistic creation and artistic attention turned to be internal. One way was the cooperation with domestic artists, and the other was the re-exposure of locality. It was the field of observation within which we currently work in. This was quite obvious and was including artistic creation and the project itself. Like communities and local discoveries, these two directions should continue to accumulate in hot spots. In the past, people regarded this kind of project as something that was done by artists, for the public, and cared about the relationship with the public. Some artists lived in another art system and totally didn’t need to think about the public. After the pandemic, public awareness has increased, and the objects of everyone’s work had been internalized. I think that the entire art world should be allowed to make public and community-based creations or projects. Then there could be more kindness and understanding. I wouldn’t divide it like I used to say, community or connected artists, I’m not that kind of person.
CHEN: At that time, I heard that because of the pandemic, the operation of MOMA was not well, so the marginal public education system staff were fired from outside. In fact, when I heard this news, I was very sad. It seemed that the channel facing the audience was the first to be targeted, we seemed to be seen as the dispensable ones. It was like a crisis of survival and at the end of the world, you were the first group of people to be left behind. This was what I thought, I don’t know, maybe from the view of the public, they might not even know what we were doing. Then I interviewed many interns and talked about that position. The first thing they talked about was exhibition, and the thing they wanted to contact most was curation. Besides those, they didn’t think about anything else in this field. I also asked them what was the role of the public in the art gallery? Or what did they know about it? They would directly say about the curation or exhibition. At present, there were still too many misunderstandings about this field in China. We are always in a marginal position.
LIU: This was more obvious before the epidemic, but it has changed after the period. In fact, the space of the “white box” (a name of the the Art institutions that hold exhibitions) has expired during the period, because there was no way for everyone to enter the space of the white box. Another experimental site during this period of time, was that everyone would find the charm of their experiments in other places, or place art back into the social scene. The vitality and possibility of this was more anticipated and more promising than the white box. Some things that couldn’t be anticipated could even inspire more new possibilities. This was being accepted in the art world, and its charm was renewed.
On the other hand, it’s about whether public projects are equivalent to curation. This is what we practitioners need to show in the creativity of public projects, and the the benefits are not less than those exhibitions at all, and could also impress the public and promote the Art creation. If this is done, everyone would realize that there are many things that could be done in this field. In the past, as CHEN said, in many organizations, there was not enough space for public projects to work independently. We are in a relatively good situation now, including the era we are in, there is also room for full absorption, including the positioning between professionalism and the public, and you can also define it through your own vision and methods. However, how to let it affect more people and get rid of stereotypes? It may depend on something that we do.
The huge difference from the West is that the West would not say that publicity is not only important, but a very important part in the entire system and social fundraising. Actually, when discussing the concept of “public” in China, it is actually more about getting close to the meaning of Western society. However, there are many differences within the inner logic between public education in Western countries and China, so there must be some bluntness to this. Therefore, we still need to combine our own background and situation, and have our own ideas and identification for specific goals.
Cleo: I also followed some activities of art museums, and I really feel that they have shifted from physical artworks to the spread of online artistic thoughts. It feels that public education has become more important. Then I would like to ask what do you think of the relationship between online platforms and physical space?
LIU: They are not a relationship of reflection either. That is, online is the digital community, and offline is the physical space. Facing with different dimensions, there must be different goals and different methods. Advantages WU and CHEN have mentioned are that they could be connected to a wider network, and cross the physical distance to achieve exchanges within a wider coverage. To a certain extent, it has returned to the blueprint that the Internet originally gave to the world— we could achieve an unhindered communication. In fact, it is true that there are some issues that are not easy to implement physically, but if they are online, there will be a digital space, and then more people from different regions could have the opportunity to participate remotely.
CHEN: It is not only about real-time state, but also the state of knowledge sharing. Just like the contribution and knowledge-sharing status emphasized by the early founders of the World Wide Web, comparing with this, offline might be a bit more conservative. Whereas, they are not in an antagonistic relationship.
CHEN: Right. It depends on it and what field the object needs. There is choice to make or it may be a combination of online and offline.
LIU: Current blockchain, digital art.
CHEN: About decentralisation.
LIU: Yes, as a financial investment approach, a brand-new product has been made with the help of online platforms. It’s about how you use the line as a space or parallel world, in which many possibilities might occur. Regardless of whether this thing is being used as art or as an investment, just on its own, it shows how you understand online channels, which is another field of your work, and a world in which art may emerge. If you want to go deeper, there are lots of things worth exploring.
CHEN: This is what happens from using a certain medium, but it’s like that when it comes to relationships.
Cleo: The last question, do you have any suggestions for young people who aim to work in the field of public education?
CHEN: Firstly, figure out what you want to do. (Laughs) It’s really important. And you need to prepare to be an all-rounder, because you need to do everything, from beginning to end, from scratch to establishing.
LIU: In terms of the direction we are doing now, the requirements of comprehensive abilities are still very strict. At the same time, it may not be as simple as the exhibition department producing several exhibitions during the year. You need to have ability of both dealing with extended issues and working with ideas and specific goals. And everyone is also interspersed with each other, so you have to deal various things simultaneously with flexibility. To ensure these, the personal professional ability is still needed.
In terms of this point, if you want to achieve flexibility in public projects, you not only need to have related knowledge, but also need to have the ability to transform the project. If you only stay at the surface level, or you couldn’t go deep into the artistic dialogue, or you just only take it as social services, these are all treated as limitations to public projects. You may prevent other possibilities of the social elements to art.
But having said that, this is still very ideal. It does not mean that there are all the same cases in every organization. You have to look at it according to the needs of the institution, and also the needs of your own position. It is also helpful to do audience surveys and research. The core is still to have the ability of promoting and innovating. This is required regardless of the career.
CHEN: The work of public education is also changing as time goes by. Including the things you care about, or whether you are in contact with the exhibition, or the exploration in the network of your own development, no matter the medium of expression, the topics being discussed, or the people involved, they are always changing. Public education is changing along with the change of perception of society.
After experiencing the pandemic, they have changed from focussing on the ideal to reality in their daily lives. In terms of their artworks, they have all changed from reality to the ideal. Qian ZHAO, Pengyu ZHU and Zixu CHEN were from the same Chinese university but majored in completely different fields—landscape architecture and Chinese painting, but their creations during 2020 all tend to combine Chinese Tradition and Contemporary art techniques and ideas.
Qian ZHAO, Pengyu ZHU: Students of Landscape Architecture at Renmin University of China
Zixu CHEN: Young Artist – MFA Chinese Painting in Chinese National Academy of Arts
陈子绪，青年艺术家 – 中国艺术研究院中国画系研究生
Interview with Zhao & Zhu
The names would be abbreviated as “Cleo” (Cleo CHEN), “ZHAO” (Qian ZHAO) and “ZHU” (Pengyu ZHU).
Cleo: Can you tell us how you organised your life and work during this time? What has been changed?
ZHAO: Before the pandemic, we were in the same class and dormitory at school, so it was easy for us to communicate with each other. The outbreak occurred during our winter vacation, so we could only talk online and at home. My schedule was mostly involved writing papers or graduation projects during the day and then busying myself with other things at night.
ZHU: At that time, the pandemic was serious and the virus was spreading, so I tried not to go outside, and I also felt a little panicky. I seemed to repeat the same routine every day—like searching for materials or creating my artworks at home. The most significant change in this time that I noticed was that everyone around me was now wearing masks.
ZHAO: Now our vaccine programme has been administered widely, and with this, our life has basically returned to normal. Except for we need to report upon entering or leaving our school but there are really not too many restrictions at all.
ZHU: Our lives had returned to normal last summer, but it resurged again last winter.
Cleo: What changes have you experienced or discovered in this time? Whether it is in your life or your creative work? What do you think is your pivot to cope with the pandemic?
ZHAO: Being able to go out was the aspect of my life that was mainly affected, especially long-distance travelling. We were also asked to show the QR code pass whenever entering or exiting the busy areas. There were also restrictions that limited the number of people that could do activities indoors meaning that our sources of entertainment were limited.
ZHU: In this period too, I think the public has become more disciplined. For instance, people would agreeably wear masks or monitor temperature when getting on the bus but it also felt quieter not only at the bus station but in many places.
My mind has also changed a lot, I used to think that I could get what I want only through my own efforts, but now I find that my world can be affected by many other external factors. What is more, my goal was clearer, I would plan everything in advance prior to the pandemic.
ZHAO: Many unexpected things happened during the pandemic, like not knowing when we would be going back to school, for example. I used to think of myself as an idealistic person, this period made me become more realistic in my daily life but, in art, it has gone the other way from reality to ideal.
Cleo: When did you start to create the artwork Dreaming?
ZHAO: We started this at the beginning of last March. Previously, everyone was optimistic and felt that the virus, the pandemic, everything like that would be over soon. Hence, when it came to the theme of our graduation project in mid-March, I decided that I would like to create an idealistic surrealist artwork, and the work was finished at the end of last May.
Cleo: I noticed that you are students majoring in landscape design, so what inspired you to create the artwork? Why did you choose to build amusement facilities beyond the Forbidden City （The Forbidden City, as the palace of Chinese Emperors during the Qing Dynasty of Chinese history) rather than beyond other sites?
ZHU: Both of us were art students and we used to paint. Therefore, we would pursue aesthetics and artistry first and, then, we would plan the details when making the landscape which would have the look of architecture about it.
The context of the work was during the increasing severity of the pandemic period. The meaning behind the work, then, was that we hoped that the people who lived in isolation could go outdoors, so the whole building was in sharp contrast with the solemnity of The Forbidden City.
ZHAO: The Forbidden City was closed after the outbreak. So, we used our skills to design and install a temporary landscape for the future for people to enjoy and play to cope with emergencies of the pandemic. It also had the contrast that Pengyu ZHU mentioned before, that the atmosphere of The Forbidden City was very solemn but the one of an amusement park was lively. There was also a contrast between the material selected for this piece – wood and steel which represented the conflict between history and the present. We mainly used this contrast to express the aesthetic and quality differences.
Cleo: In my view, this work also implied that the country was still very optimistic about the pandemic at the beginning. The Forbidden City symbolised the general environment of China while the thoughts of the mass of people were reflected in the amusement park. There is a tangible contradiction between enclosure and optimism.
ZHAO: Yes, it also meant that no matter what kind of difficulties we’re encountering, we could overcome them with a positive attitude.
ZHU: Yeah it felt like the pandemic was a depressing topic, and the pressure of it all might be eased a bit by making an amusement park.
ZHU: It represents the end of our undergraduate studies. Then, same as its name, it is a design that emerges from our lived reality but carries our fantasy of The Forbidden City which is illusory and exaggerated.
ZHAO: I agree but, what is more, it is also an attempt at something new. Our previous projects were very realistic but, with this design, we have tried a totally new form of expression—to exaggerate without any restrictions.
Cleo: Since this work is still very different from the Beijing Folk House Museum that you had created before, so does this mean that you want to develop more in the field of contemporary art? If so, which direction will you take?
ZHU: Actually no, I would still like to be a designer in the future.
ZHAO: I have not thought too much about it yet. I like to experiment and I do not want to be confined in a simple style. All of my previous projects are different from each other.
ZHAO: The pandemic mainly impacted the form of the work I did which changed from face-to-face communication to being online. This meant that it was very easy for any information about work to be delayed and that always generated many different issues. And, also, the issues I have mentioned before.
ZHU: The biggest issue was travelling. The health QR code, temperature monitoring, and wearing a mask were quite time-consuming. Mentally, I was sort of concerned at first, but then I got used to the online classes and they even felt quite fulfilling and convenient.
Cleo: Has has your perception of art changed since the pandemic? If so, how, exactly?
ZHAO: In fact, there have not been many changes. Art and design were both means of expressing ideas and could reflect current social situations or existing problems. There were some changes in my mindset like, when creating landscapes, we would take this problem into consideration—whether we could have previously prevented some issues that may arise in the future.
ZHU: I feel art has become more fundamental. I used to think of art as something like caviar— it was something only the upper-class people played with and enjoyed, and there is nothing useful about it. After enduring this period, I have found a lot of artistic ideas which emerged from these events, and this made me truly feel that art and real-life were closely related, and art was not just for entertainment.
Cleo: Do you think art would tend to be more online in the future? What might be the relationship between technology and Art in your opinion?
ZHU: Only part of it will go online. It is still the most intuitive way for art to be appreciated physically and, because of this art is something that cannot be copied. Although art can be shared more quickly online, physical exhibitions will still remain mainstream, I think.
Their relationship to me is that art inspires technological development, whether it is through its human application or its design but, in turn, technology will support the innovation of artistic methods for creating and performing.
ZHAO: My ideas are kind of similar to Pengyu ZHU. Like paintings or sculptures, it is very difficult to transfer them online. For example, there may be colour deviations or picture distortions that would be very different to the physical appearance and experience. However, landscape architecture might pivot online.
As for the relationship between technology and art, I think they are complementary to each other. In China, VR, modelling software, virtual exhibiting space and exhibition halls are all being developed in tandem. One day, there might be new art forms along these lines introduced in the future.
ZHU: Being physical and up close to art is still the best way of immersing ourselves in art and feeling its charm.
The names would be abbreviated as “Cleo” (Cleo CHEN) and “CHEN” (Zixu CHEN).
Cleo: How did you do with your life and work during the pandemic? What was changed from before?
CHEN: The outbreak happened during my senior year of college, and I was preparing for my graduation and the preliminary examination for postgraduate. According to the pandemic, the examination was delayed to be held in May or June. Simultaneously, Heilongjiang which is the city I located in was always on lockdown, so as a result of all things mentioned above, I was very depressed those days, the only thing I could do was keep studying.
Cleo: Could you talk about the changes you’ve found or experienced during this period? What’s your Pivot like?
CHEN: My normal life has changed a lot. My high school was in Beijing so I seldom wanted to go back because I was used to living independently. However, I became accustomed to staying at home which caused by the pandemic this year. As for my Art creating, I’ve changed my material from colourful ink to wash painting. I have experienced a hard time doing this because my colourful ink paintings were based on sketching, so I could only create wash paintings due to there was no way for me to sketch with the condition of lockdown. I was used to painting with colourful ink, so at first, I felt particularly dull when painting washes painting which only had one colour of black, which actually just in line with my mood at the time. As a result, my later paintings had some elements of the swimming person or lifebuoys.
Cleo: When did you start to conceive the work of Settled to Look on the Emerging Clouds《坐看云起时》, Growing Freely-Mountains and Seas 《自由生长 – 山海》, and the Scenic Spot series artwork《景区》?
CHEN: The “Growing Freely” series artworks have started long before, I think it has represented the status of my art creation—some of my paintings were conceived previously while some totally weren’t. I always painted by following my vague feeling, I’d like to pile up elements in my mind, so each element was like a USB flash drive of my memory. “Growing Freely” means that I would start with a tree or a mountain, and then gradually growing out of them with significance.
Settled to Look On the Emerging Clouds was the work I created after graduating. Chinese ancient painting was very different from the West which emphasized forms and colours of paintings. Chinese painting focused on the vivid quality flowing inside the painting. Talking about this, I’d like to emphasize the feature of “vivid quality flowing inside”. Aiming of performing that, I try the painting technique of arranging rows after rows, it was also an attempt of experimenting with the traditional space painting approaches. The sharp peaks painted in the”Mountains and Seas” were like the thorns in my life, so after drawing the thorns “out”, I felt much better than before. The Scenic Spot was the work I’ve just started to work on. This work was inspired by the Taihang Mountain and the Sanya Forest Park that I go for sketching a while ago. Mountains performed in the Chinese ancient painting were mostly innominate ones, but nowadays, most of our painting elements were taken from the scenes spots. Therefore, the work was done. What satisfied me more were the little person standing on the bridge and the viewing platform they were more appealing to me according to my aesthetic standard.
The Scenic Spot was the work I’ve just started to work on. This work was inspired by the Taihang Mountain and the Sanya Forest Park where I went sketching once a while ago. Mountains depicted in Chinese ancient painting were mostly unidentified ones but nowadays, most of our painting elements are from scenic spots. What satisfied me most about this work was the little person standing on the bridge and the viewing platform, they were more appealing to me and my aesthetic standard.
Cleo: Among all these works, which one do you like best? and why? What has inspired you to create it?
CHEN: I used to like Settled to Look On the Emerging Clouds most because it has my mood and status during my vacation. In addition, because it took a while to paint, it has collected various elements of different painting techniques or languages making it more complete. Whereas now, my favourite is the Viewing Platform, and later, I would like to keep adding the element of the small person depicted in the painting. In terms of inspiration, I admire the brushstrokes of Western oil paintings. I also like Baroque and Impressionist paintings, so later I may enrich my paintings with these sorts of references.
Cleo: I found that these works were very different from the previous sketches, so do you want to go into the field of contemporary art later? If so, which sort of art theme do you want to focus on?
CHEN: I am longing to go into contemporary art. Chinese landscape paintings mainly emphasising the looks of paintings, sometimes I get tired of this aesthetic, so I want to make my pictures look like works that focus on our contemporary world and which cares more about the different meanings of our lives.
European artists such as Gerhard Richter and Anselm Kiefer both suffered a lot during childhood, so their artworks can be viewed as giving us a sense of reflection, guilt, or anger, which are really powerful ideas to convey. However, I am living a normal life, so I often feel that my paintings are too mediocre. I tried living in an intense and extreme manner, but I found it hard for me to use painting to record my reality and ideas. As a result, I may still focus on the expression in the picture itself at the moment.
At present, I still want to imitate more iconic paintings and many contemporary paintings are inspired by ancient themes. Like Lei XU, an artist who aims to promote the spatial feelings expressed in Chinese Landscape Paintings and his paintings are very novel by use of this method. I see this as a great example of a method for generating a symbiosis between the contemporary and the traditional. I thought a lot about this recently, and I feel there are many different potential ways I can pursue these ideas.
Cleo: How does the pandemic impact your art creation?
CHEN: The pandemic presented me with some barriers, and this period also represents my Pivot from undergraduate to postgraduate. Before the pandemic, I lived carefree like being in an ivory tower, but I was forced to pivot to become pragmatic and think about how to make money because my family was suffering from financial pressure.
In response, I developed my learning to focus more on which styles were popular in national exhibitions, and drawing more completely, in order to find a job. Owing to the fact that holding a solo exhibition or academic exhibition was not as convenient as the national exhibitions, I also thought about developing a fixed painting language at this time. It was a hard period, and I found that I work that I once felt satisfied with later revealed itself to me as something which was not what I wanted or intended to produce. Therefore, I had to adapt again to focus on my mood and surroundings, and I’m trying to let myself be satisfied in any given situation.
Cleo: Has your perception of art been changed now since the pandemic, and can you talk about these changes?
CHEN: At first, I did not think too much about art, it was just something aesthetic. This thought shifted changed during my second year of high school, though, when I went to the Chinese Academy of Fine Art High School. During my studies, I discovered that Art has a huge impact on our society and does so in a lot of amazing ways, for example, in Western Art history, there is the impact of the Renaissance, Romanticism, etc. To my surprise, Chinese Art had a period of realism, similar to this, which also left behind a positive legacy. I also came to feel the Religious power involved in art when I took up my studies. As for contemporary art, I am developing a technique whereby I try to make my work reflect society from an artistic, aesthetic point of view.
Cleo: Do you think art will be predominantly online after this period? What is the relationship between technology and art in your opinion?
CHEN: There are many more online exhibitions and each one keeps getting better than the last. And also, the maturity of online art courses is helpful for art’s dissemination.
On the relationship between art and technology, the development of photography has helped art’s development rather than just being a tool of recording a moment and has contributed to art technologically. For instance, an example from history, the moment of the ballerina lifting her leg in Degas‘s painting, The Ballet Class (La Classe de danse), was probably aided with the help of a camera. The printing technique produced photo albums which helped art’s education a lot. So, to end and, in my opinion, the development of technology has smashed down barriers to aid art’s development and I think this will continue.
Shawn: “without the whirlwind of energy around me, I had to look inwards to find a way to drive me forward, and to translate that into an artwork that was accessible in this day and age. So transform all my work into digital work.”
Tsitra: “the biggest change to adapt to was making work internally, there was a lot of insular thinking, as opposed to being a part of something bigger. We are probably creating the most interesting dialogue in the every day, there are constant pivots and we are constantly aware of them.”
With a combined interest in communication and digital aesthetics, Tsitra Park and Shawn Nayar’s curatorial venture [INSERT ART HERE] develops emerging ideas and methods of making art to create an intimate and engaging experience in a time of isolation.
[INSERT ART HERE] is an online exhibition hosted on Zoom. Between the 12th and the 14th of March, the event featured 13 artists across Europe and North America, each combining a green morph suit with Zoom green-screen technology to embody their work in new ways.
[INSERT ART HERE] website with more information that you can access here:
Shawn Nayar is a practising artist and curator from India who is currently based in Newcastle upon Tyne. His practice traverses digital platforms and media to explore queer and erotic club culture. Amalgamating personal experiences from the club scene with a deeper exploration into the role of POC within the gay community, Shawn creates work to depict and engage a community isolated due to lockdown.
Tsitra Park negotiates dialogues of privacy and identity in the realm of social media, with work that interrogates the role of the individual and art-making in the digital context. Based in Edinburgh, they use their curatorial and art practice as a means by which to engage and unpack new contexts as art and artists adapt to an evolving world.
Interviewer: Hello everyone, and welcome to R-Lab and our interviews. My name is Velia Cavallini and I’m here with Tsitra Park and Shawn Nayar, and I’ll let them introduce themselves.
Interviewer: 大家好，欢迎大家来到R-Lab的采访环节，我的名字是Velia Cavallini，我将采访的是 Tsitra Park 和 Shawn Nayar，接下来让他们为大家做一下自我介绍。
Tsitra: Hi, I’m Tsitra Park, I’m currently based in Edinburgh, I am an artist and curator and I work with ideas of dialogue between social media and the public sphere at the moment. Together with Shawn Nayar we created [INSERT ART HERE].
Tsitra: 大家好，我是Tsitra Park, 目前居住于爱丁堡，我是一名艺术家和策展人，目前我致力于社交媒体 和公共领域之间的对话。我与Shawn Nayar一起创作了[INSERT ART HERE] 。
Shawn: My name is Shawn Nayar. I am an artist from India who is currently based in Newcastle upon Tyne in England and my practice is really interested in queer culture, particularly in queer club culture. And I look and research and explore the place that people of colour have within the gay community and within this really vibrant culture. And yes, together with Tsitra we’ve worked really hard to create [INSERT ART HERE]
Shawn: 我的名字是Shawn Nayar. 我是一位来自印度的艺术家，目前在英国泰恩河畔的纽卡斯尔工作，我对酷儿文化非常感兴趣，特别是酷儿俱乐部文化。我致力于观察、研究和探索有色人种在同性恋社区和这个充满活力的文化中的地位。并且，如你所⻅，我和Tsitra一起创造了 [INSERT ART HERE]
I: For the first few minutes we’re going to focus on your lives as and then we’re going to go into discussing your artwork. So, how did you organize your life and your work during this pandemic?
S: I guess during this pandemic it was a lot about trying to find the artwork that drove me. Before I was surrounded in this really lovely chaos of the art world, there was um inspiration everywhere from art galleries to people around you and suddenly just being isolated and alone without all of this whirlwind of energy to keep driving you forward you have to have to look inwards to find a way to drive me forward. So it was a lot about studying myself and finding a way to translate that into artwork that was accessible in this isolated age so transforming my work into digital work.
T: I found that it took a little time to get used to work in the pandemic and I think my immediate response was to develop a sort of routine and just to do something, to create work and not necessarily think about what I was making, or what I was trying to make, and just doing. And that developed then into ideas.
I: And what do you think is the biggest change that you had to go through, or the biggest change that you have found yourself stumbling into?
T: I’d say that the biggest change has been the lack of everyday communication that you never really planned with people, the kind of the interactions when you’d just be in the studio and someone would walk past, or just on your daily commute where you’d see someone doing something weird that will kind of stem your brain into thinking different things. And the change has been that you’re making work, like Shawn said, internally a lot, so there’s a lot of insular thinking as opposed to being part of something bigger.
S: I think the biggest change for me is that I’ve been actively seeking out communication and talking to other artists. Because initially I was taking, like as Tsitra said, those walks through the studios and seeing something which sparks your brain, just random conversations in the hallway. I completely took those for granted, so now when I was completely deprived of all of those I’ve been actively trying to recapture that. So it’s been calling artists to have meetings, randomly outreach, messaging and such. Essentially, it’s me bombarding all the artists I know being like ‘hi how are you’ and trying to force them into having dialogues just to keep conversations going, to get those cogs really going. Even if it’s not even at an art level, even just a social level, just to get some sort of communication going.
T: I think really grabbing onto the digital sphere as well, and like bouncing off what Shawn said is quite important in that, how do we still re-establish that connection that we’ve kind of lost. So I think uh both of us have been seeing how we can use this new world to our advantage.
T: I mean, I think that the world is constantly changing anyway isn’t it? And I think actually what’s funny about this is that there was one big change, and now it feels like the world isn’t really changing. So you’re much more aware of your own pivots, because we’re probably creating the most interesting dialogue in the everyday. So I definitely think that there are constant pivots, and we’re constantly aware of them, because we’re now our own stimulus and our own world, in a sense.
S: I have definitely noticed that my pivots change depending on my emotions, and how I’m feeling. Because I’m always trying to have this outrageous outgoing-ness, but then whenever I’m feeling down or I just got a lot of work that I need to do, I have this recluse and my pivot becomes internal. I’m like ‘okay, I’ve got this work that I need to do, that I need to develop’. So, it sort of comes in, and then I want to reach out again, get some more inspiration. It’s definitely oscillating, depending on how I’m feeling between the internal and the external. And that’s definitely a really important, pivotal change during this pandemic.
I: So, as artists, what is your most proud creation since the beginning of the pandemic?
S: Honestly, [INSERT ART HERE], and for me personally another project that I’m doing, Freaky Deeks. For both of them it’s less about the work – the work is still amazing and I love what I’ve got out there – but what has really drawn me into it has been the audience, and the artist networks that we’ve created, so the places where artists can talk together, create work together, collaborate, talk. And even audiences, using platforms to see our work but to also talk amongst each other. So, I think that’s what I’m most proud of, creating the networks between audiences and artists, for sure.
S: 老实讲，[INSERT ART HERE], 我同时也在做另一个项目叫Freaky Deeks。对我们来说，令人惊叹并不是作品最重要的，我喜欢的是，我在项目中获得的意义，其中真正吸引我的是观众，以及我们创建的艺术家网络。艺术家可以在这里一起交谈，一起创作，合作，交谈。即使是观众，也可以通过平台观看我们的作品，也可以相互交流。所以，我想这是我最自豪的，即创造观众和艺术家之间的网络。
T: I think that would stand for both of us. [INSERT ART HERE] has been a big part of both of our works this year, it has kind of transformed the way that our own individual practices work, but also the way that we interact with others. And I feel like the idea has caused others to kind of have a bounce point as well and to reconsider their own practice. And we’ve had a lot of feedback from that which has felt really great. So, I’d say that’s what we’re both most proud of, hence why we wanted to put forwards for R-Lab.
T: 我想这对我们俩都有好处。今年的 [INSERT ART HERE] 是我们两个作品的重要组成部分，它在某种程度上改变了我们个人实践的方式，也改变了我们与他人互动的方式。我觉得这个想法让其他人也有了一个“转变”，并能重新考虑自己的做法。我们收到了很多反馈，感觉非常棒。所以，我想说，这是我们最引以为豪的，所以我们想将其展示在R-Lab线上展览中。
I: Thank you for that! So, you talked about [INSERT ART HERE]. When did you start working on it? And if you could just describe the project to me.
I: 谢谢你们!那么，你们谈到了 [INSERT ART HERE]。你们是什么时候开始创做这个项目的?你们能否向我描述一下这个项目？
T: We started it and it was kind of an idea that originated back November (2020). We were just thinking, what can we do with this new space? I was so frustrated about this constant thing ‘well it’s not real exhibition space though’ and ‘oh you know when we get back to the whatever’. And it was just like, we knew we’d be in it for a while so, what can we do to create that sort of atmosphere that feels like it’s a one-time only thing, that used to be there but whatever. And also, I was playing with this idea of the artist compared to the artwork and that relationship. So Shawn and I had a walk and we were brainstorming this idea, about what if we used like the green morph-suits and the Zoom technology – because we’ve been using Zoom so much – to kind of get the artist to embody their own work, so they become their own exhibition space. Because it felt like the artists will see their work anyway but it was interesting to play with that relationship, and then bring it to an audience on Zoom, which almost feels like an intimate platform as well, that doesn’t replace or stand in for the physical exhibition space but it’s something of its own accord.
S: Yeah, and I think as soon as Tsitra brought up these ideas, especially using Zoom in an unconventional way to bring audience and artists together, my mind instantly just went forward and I was like ‘okay, this is such a great idea, it’s so visually striking’. So, what really got me invested in the project were these really strong visuals and I was like ‘I know how to take this forward, and how to reach our audiences’. So in my mind I was instantly thinking about crazy posters, with these green morph-suits, paired with high art, or just our features in the green. So, what really sold me on the project was really the visual medium that we would use to bring our audience together. That was instantly what got me interested, and I guess it was like a snowball going down the hill. Tsitra just had this idea of using Zoom and I was like ‘let’s do this on social media!’. And these crazy ideas were just building and building and building until finally just became this big fascinating project that we just had to do something with!
I: Did you all know each other before or did you just collect new artists along the way?
S: It was a lovely mix of both. We had an open call which we distributed amongst our university, but also on Instagram and Facebook. So, we had people that we knew applying and we also had people who we had no idea about applying from Brussels and from North America, and we were so fascinated by this response. It was a really interesting mix of people that we knew but also people we had no idea about. And no matter what level we knew them at, being able to relate to this idea of wanting to create art really helped to create this awesome starting point to build a really interesting dialogue with them.
T: We gave them a lot of freedom; they developed the idea with us really. We kind of started the project wanting it to be a collaboration, we had this idea to embody your own artwork, but immediately you put it out to people and you get ideas that you didn’t have before. People wanted to use green paint, green clothes, and we thought as long as it’s your body so that you’re still embodying it and not taking it away from that, then beyond that people really went a bit wild. And that’s why you’ve got such a range of artworks in it, which is really great. It was so exciting to see where people would take it.
S: Yeah, because I think as soon as we started getting applications in from the open call, and people with their really interesting ideas beyond just the morph-suits, like as Tsitra said green paints green clothes and different ways of embodying their artwork through performance, through digital paintings, I think we just didn’t realize that this could be so much more. So, we did everything we could to really help the artists to reach their own vision, we did a whole bunch of research as to how we can use Zoom, we looked into webinars, we looked into green screen, the best way to people for up to upload their work, to record their work. Essentially we aimed to provide as much support to our artists as we could, showing them all the options available and discussing their work with them and being and then find out ‘this will work best with your work’, and then watching them take it forward. So it was just a really interesting back and forth to seeing the artist’s ideas and then talking about the platform and how to take it forward, to seeing the work really grow.
I: That’s fantastic. So, of course this as an artwork, as a project is strictly connected to the pandemic because we have the technology we’ve been using, and it’s all online. Do you think that something similar could have come up in a non-pandemic situation? In an alternative timeline, basically. Or do you think that – of course it would have been different but – would you have had the original thought if not for this global situation?
T: I think it could have emerged, but I don’t know if it would have. There’s a great connection of this kind of green suit to digital, and I just know personally, I knew Shawn was using kind of digital platform so it’s definitely something that I was perhaps progressing into, but the pandemic shot me into thinking this is actually maybe the most useful thing to be doing rather than faffing about with other mediums. So I don’t know, I think it may have emerged but perhaps a little bit later.
S: I think definitely, at least from my personal perspective about creating artworks. At least for me it was a lot about creating our artworks for a space. So knowing that we’ve got this physical space, how do we fill this, how do I put my digital arts into the space? For [INSERT ART HERE] if not for the pandemic we definitely would have considered a physical space like ‘okay so we’ve got this green screen technology, how do we translate this to a gallery space? Do we show our screen on the wall?’ So it definitely would have been this digital idea, but rooted in the physical. And [with] the pandemic we decided to just do away with all of that, because especially for this idea it was a lot about the digital. So we did away with one extra step and allowed us to focus on what we really want to get across.
S: 我想是肯定的，至少从我个人的⻆度来看是这样的。对我来说，这是关于我们艺术创造的空间。所以知道我们有这个物理空间，我们如何填补这个空间，我如何把我的数字艺术放入这个空间?对于[INSERT ART HERE] ，如果不是疫情，我们肯定会考虑一个物理空间，比如我们有这个绿色屏幕技术，我们怎么把它转换成画廊空间?我们会在墙上展示我们的屏幕吗?所以这肯定是一个数字化的想法，但它植根于物理。在疫情之后，我们决定放弃这些，因为对于这个想法来说，它更多的是关于数字 的。所以我们多走了一步，并专注于我们真正想要的东⻄。
I: Have your feelings about art changed since your first encounter with it? And has it changed with the pandemic?
S: I’ve definitely been exploring new mediums, even though before the pandemic I was exploring digital art it was more about all right how do I transform this, how do I put this into a gallery space. But now because of the pandemic we’ve had to use new platforms rather than the gallery space to show our work. From there my work has been a lot about using platforms, and then transforming platforms as well, so using a platform as a medium, manipulating it to become an artwork.
I think definitely the pandemic has really encouraged me to look at new mediums, especially digital mediums, and look for ones which aren’t necessarily our mediums. So, even looking at platforms and things which you won’t really consider something you can manipulate in an artistic way, I really push myself to m create something new in this new digital world.
T: I think for me personally I found that I’ve been really questioning the role of art, rather as in the public sphere but bringing that then into the private, and where does it stand there, and what’s its use and purpose, and how do we interact with it when you know it’s from your own home and in your own personal environment. And also the role of the artist and curator, and the interaction of public and private sphere, and all the different roles of art as a way of expressing emotions. But also as an audience member, how do you receive it on a personal level. And so it’s just been questioning that and how we can play with context in relation to that.
I: Yeah because I suppose that the pandemic has accelerated everything, because for years now we’ve been moving towards the digital world, but it has accelerated everything. And now of course we are kind of forced to have everything online, in this very weird space that doesn’t really exist.
S: Because technology advances so quickly, so these objects like VHS and CDs, it becomes this peak and then just recedes and disappears, and now it’s become completely digital in this world that it doesn’t really exist it’s not physical. I guess the pandemic really helped to acknowledge these new objects and these new mediums and materials which don’t exist in the physical realm, but because of the pandemic we had to use them and sort of encourage the new way of thinking and approaching art and objects.
T: It’s all about what you notice and what your way of thinking is, because compared to, rather than a physical object, it’s interesting because it’s becoming more about ideas and art as a way of sharing ideas, and art as a way to propel technology as well.
I: Where do you think [INSERT ART HERE] stands in this? Because of course you have the artists basically disappearing into their own work.
I: 很多观点认为艺术家们基本上消失在他们自己的作品中，你认为[INSERT ART HERE] 在这方面有何意义?
T: Yes and no. I would say it’s a relationship between the art and the artwork. The artist is very much present in the piece because it’s through their shape, through their form that you experience the artwork. So I think in a way the audience sees the artist more than they would have otherwise. And I think Zoom as a platform, as I mentioned I think it’s quite intimate, because I never really facetimed people before the pandemic if I wasn’t particularly close with them, and I still think that people do think it’s a bit odd to be face to face with someone on a call. There’s something about it that feels kind of close, and we’re all getting used to it now but I think there’s still a bit of that in [INSERT ART HERE] and we tried to show that with the private slots. We had private sessions where the artists would have a much smaller audience, and you feel like you’re able to converse with them a bit more, or you experience that human to human rather than being in a white empty room with just a piece of artwork and a silent artist.
T: 是也不是。我认为这是艺术和艺术品之间的关系。艺术家在这件作品中是非常真实的，因为通过他们的形状，通过他们的形式，你可以体验到这件艺术品。因此，我认为在某种程度上，观众比其他人更能看到艺术家。我认为Zoom作为一个平台，正如我提到的，我认为它非常亲密，因为我从来没有在疫情之前真正与人们对视，如果我不是特别接近他们，我依旧觉得人们认为在电话中与某人面对面有点奇怪。但是我们现在都已经习惯了，但我认为在 [INSERT ART HERE] 中还是有一点类似的地方，我们试着用私人会议沟通来展示这一点。我们有私人会议，在那里，艺术家的观众会少得多，你会觉得你能和他们多交谈一点，或者你体验到人与人之间的交流，而不是在一个只有一件艺术品和一个沉默的艺术家的白色空房间里。
S: And I guess another way of putting it would be that initially you’d have the artist and the artwork, and usually they would exist as two different entities. You have the artwork that exists in the gallery space which is up for purchase, and you see the artwork a different way, and the artist you’d approach a different way they explore their work through this and they talk about it. So they exist as two quite different entities, I guess with [INSERT ART HERE] we really wanted to focus on the creation and the unity of both of them. Through [INSERT ART HERE] using Zoom we are able to embrace the relationship between the artists and the artwork, so how they see their work, how they react to their work. And it just became this fluid amalgamation of the two. And which the digital world allowed us to represent and showcase.
S: 我想另一种说法是，一开始你会有艺术家和艺术品，通常它们会作为两个不同的实体存在。你有一件艺术品存在于画廊里，你可以购买，你可以用不同的方式看到艺术品，你接触的艺术家也可以用不同的方式探索和谈论他们的作品。所以它们是作为两个完全不同的实体存在的，我想通过[INSERT ART HERE]把重点放在两者的创造和统一上。通过[INSERT ART HERE]使用Zoom，我们能够理解艺术家和艺术品之间的关系，从而了解他们如何看待自己的作品，如何对自己的作品做出反应。这就变成了两者的流动融合。数字世界让我们得以表现和展示。
T: It’s conversive. it’s a kind of dialogue. There’s art and technology, and art and artist, and audience and artists and it’s like bringing those conversations and encouraging them.
I: And do you think that this moving of the arts online will stand after the pandemic? Or do you think that the art world will abandon the online world after this pandemic? How do you see the next pivot for the arts?
S: I see it as definitely advancing as a separate avenue. Obviously, people are so used to this new normal, but they sort of idealised the past as well because it was when people could meet and talk in person. And it’s the same for art. People like being able to go to a gallery and seeing their favourite painting up in front of them. So people do want to go back, so I definitely see the physical art world still being a big important part, but the pandemic has definitely highlighted that there is a digital route on which you can develop your artworks, that you’re not just tied to a physical space to show your work. You can take it to online platforms, you can show it to a different audience that’s not just based in your city, you can show your art to the world, potentially, through online platforms. And even now with the current craze of NFTs and new digital currencies to promote digital artworks, there definitely is a separate avenue of digital arts which will be progressing after this pandemic ends. At least I personally hope that it will be propelled forward, it won’t just sort of plateau, it’ll just keep going and being spurred on.
T: I hope they develop as different branches, that the physical space isn’t completely forgotten and that the digital space keeps progressing as well. I think that different people have different needs for each one, and different spaces work differently for people, and say different things. And I think it’s just an interesting expansion of dialogue, and it’s an interesting realm to explore, but not to take away from the physical space either. I don’t think we should completely live all online.