ON and OFF with Wang Sishun

by Iona Whittaker 爱安阿
translated by Gu Ling 顾灵

In tandem with the exhibition “ON | OFF: China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice,” randian is publishing aseries of conversations in the lead-up to the opening, offering insights into the concept and planning of the show, and the perspectives of participating artists. 

Wang Sishun

 “ON | OFF: China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice,” an exhibition of the work of 50 young mainland Chinese artists, will open at UCCA (Ullens Center for Contemporary Art) in Beijing on January 13, 2013. Curated by Sun Dongdong and Bao Dong, the exhibition aims to survey the work of these artists in the tense context of recent Chinese history and their experience of life and artistic practice. Iona Whittaker asked artist Wang Sishun about the exhibition in the final weeks of its preparation.

Iona Whittaker: So,  have you made new work for this show?

Wang Sishun: No, it’s one from 2009. But it’s also a new work, because this work is still in progress.

IW: What does the title “ON|OFF” evoke for you?

WS: (Thinks for some time). I’m not that used to considering the ideas of the curators for the shows I am involved in. But I might have more answers to this later.

IW: Is this the case for most of your exhibitions – concentrating on the work, not the theme?

WS: Yes.

IW: Can you briefly introduce the work you are showing in the exhibition?

WS: May I just return to the previous question first? Most of my exhibitions have all been my own solo shows, planned by me, so in those cases the theme already concerned my own work.

IW: And the work in “ON|OFF”?

WS: This work was shown in 2009 in a show arranged by the same curator – Bao Dong. The first time, I had 300 Yuan worth of coins and I melted them down to make a metal piece. After that, I sold the work, and I exchanged this money for new coins; I melted them again and made another work. This is now the 7th time I have done this, and hopefully the metal piece will get bigger and bigger with the increasing price of my work! But if the market is going down, it will get smaller. So this also probably explains my interpretation of “on and off” – making this work is an ongoing process, turning on and off in a repetitive cycle.

IW: What is on your mind for this show? For example in terms of what you hope people can get from it, or in terms of what it means to have this show now.

WS: I usually very seldom consider these kinds of ideas.

IW: What do you think you share in common with the other artists in the show?

WS: This is a third question I have considered very little! But my feeling is that these artists are already showing more differences than similarities and that probably, in the future, they will become increasingly different.

IW: So there is nothing you really feel you share? In terms of experience, for example, or the experience of being an artist?

WS: (Thinks). I think most of the artists are experiencing the same sort of exterior environment – the experiences, atmosphere and information they receive. Each individual is fundamentally different, so the essentials of the work become different, even though the environment is similar.

IW: The current moment presents us increasingly with choices and different perspectives from which to view our situation. How do you think this affects art?

WS: A variety of perspectives is a normal and good thing because each artist is different; the works are different, so it’s natural to have different perspectives contained within them. Now that the audience wants different perspectives, the artists should be more active to meet this need.

IW: Do you feel you’re doing that too?

WS:  I should consider this question, and I hope I can do better.

IW: How do you understand the current broader conditions for emerging artists today – what are the barriers and edges for you?

WS: My main concern is that there comes a point where we tend to believe the world is flat, and that artists from the East and West have reached a point where they can share information. However, as I myself have not taken part in this kind of communication, I am not sure whether this is the real situation. My main concern is still the relationship between East and West; this is an ongoing process – we may believe that this problem has been solved, but I think it is always unfolding and changing. Another issue is how Chinese artworks can be brought into a global perspective and how they can be compared with art works being produced in every part of the world. On one hand, I believe that we have more ways to get to know and understand art from different parts of the world and that Chinese art is becoming more and more competitive from a global point of view. On the other hand, new problems will always come up. One example of these may be that now, artists from different parts of the world have the same starting point; but Chinese artists need their own objectives, goals and ways. Also, I think we need to know what the new approach is and how it should be decided upon, or found out.

IW: And could an exhibition like “ON|OFF” help with that imperative?

WS: I don’t know, but this kind of new thing is always good – a large scale exhibition for a group of young artists. I was going to say that this kind of exhibition is rare, but then when I think about it, I realise there have already been a lot of shows like this! As far as I can see now, this kind of exhibition is always influential, especially when it’s been arranged by a good institution. I want to add that this kind of show is something that everybody wants to take part in.

IW: What is the most significant question facing your artistic practice now?

WS: How to develop some ideas I had previously been thinking about – how to push them further and expand their content. Also, I am thinking about finding interesting and attractive content to work on.

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