Diacritic, my favorite Southeast Asian art blog, points out a new interview between Paris-based, Chinese curator-critic Hou Hanru and Guangzhou blogger, poet, and curator Ou Ning. Hou was part of the global advisory committee for our 2000 exhibition How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age and most recently he contributed an essay for the catalogue for House of Oracles: A Huang Yong Ping Retrospective (now on view at MASSMoCA). A few excerpts:
Hou Hanru: Exhibitions first and foremost have to be experimental, and should do their utmost not to repeat things that people have seen before–they should give people a new visual experience. That said, a purely visual experience is not enough, there should be new experiences for the mind and body as a whole. Perhaps the most important element in any successful exhibition is its orientation to a certain time and place, its cultural backdrop, its significance within its locale. For me, an exhibition is a special activity, a special event. It is not simply a matter of taking existing works and hanging or installing them. From the choice of theme, artists, and artworks to the actual realisation of the exhibition itself, all of these things represent a living and breathing process.
Contemporary art is not just purely about making works of art. On top of this it also has the possibility of constant continuation, it is a creative process that is always deepening. An exhibition is the equivalent of amplifying or emphasising the development process of a group of artists or a cultural issue, or like showing people a particular moment in time enlarged. At the same time, an exhibition can give artists the opportunity to undertake more experimental work, an opportunity that might not otherwise arise. When I undertake an exhibition, if at all possible I invite many artists to make their works on site. Very seldom do I use their existing works, and on the occasions when I do, I integrate them with the specific locale of the exhibition, re-examining the relationship of the work and the exhibition space, not to mention the relationship of that work to other works and to the local audience.
Ou: Your exhibitions always use artistic forms to touch on themes beyond art, and every exhibition offers a lot of food for thought. Concerning the social and cultural issues that interest you, perhaps art cannot be considered to be the best plan for resolving them, but it can provide an ideological point of incision. I would like to know, after having successfully curated so many exhibitions, what sort of ideas have you been interested in recently, and will your ideas be revealed in future exhibitions?
Hou: The question that interests me most at the moment is the question of boundaries. There are many matters that on the one hand require a highly specialised approach, and on the other hand may frequently require you to break out of that specialisation. When engaging in these very specialised matters you should always maintain a very pure, innocent, amateur attitude. By pure, innocent and so on I mean that you should keep an openness, a readiness to accept things that are strange or unfamiliar to you.
Economies are changing the whole world over, traditional boundaries are becoming blurred, companies cannot state clearly what they are producing, take Sony for instance, they have so many products, anything connected with electricity in some way could be their product, so it is hard to fix their position. The traditional methods of classification are disintegrating, the whole concept system is being reorganised, and this has a great influence on our worldview. The world changes with each passing day, and art is just one tiny segment. Art has to open itself up, it has to go beyond its fixed boundaries and absorb more nutrients from other sources, perhaps even deconstruct itself into something else. Recently these problems have preoccupied me, because I feel they give me great inspiration. But it’s unlikely that I will develop these ideas into an exhibition, because I am very much against turning an exhibition into a conceptual diagram. When I curate an exhibition more than half of it goes beyond my control, and sometimes I actually have no wish to impose control over the exhibition in the first place.
Earlier: A podcast with Hou at ArtCast Basel.