Author of several books, « Contemporary Art in Hong Kong » (2013), « New Japanese contemporary art » (2012), or, more recently, « After 2000: contemporary art in China », (2015), French-born Caroline Ha Thuc is a Hong-Kong based writer and curator. She answers our questions about the new contemporary art scene in Asia.
Moderneast Magazine: What is your view on the young or emergent creation in Asia: which assets does it have, how do you see its future both in Asia and in Europa?
Caroline Ha Thuc: It is hard to talk in general about the emerging creation in Asia.
Which Asia is concerned? Where should we begin? There no unified Asian art form. It is varied, diverse and even indefinable. Art overruns maps and borderlines and scrambles nationalities. The artists themselves increasingly claim to be artists from the world, and not from such or such country.
To answer your question I guess artists from the region can generally benefit from a growing population of collectors, a boom in museums’ spaces (what we now call the “museumification” of China for example), a constant economic growth and stronger art market and educational system. Institutions offer a better framework for creation, which fulfills a basic need for artists in allowing them to evolve.
Yoshishige Saito – Continuation 2 (1987)
Yoshishige Saito – Continuation 2 (1987).Yoshishige Saito – Continuation 2 (1987).
MM: Does this new generation of Asian creators-inventors, some of which are enjoying a significant boom on the international stage, arouse, for you, new questions about the renewal of the means and forms of the artistic expression?
CHT: The young artists do not all benefit from this so-called ‘boom’. Chinese art has been under the spotlights since the 90’s while Vietnamese art is still at struggling to be seen internationally. The art scenes there develop at a totally different pace.
It is also important not to confuse the impact of the market with the creation itself.
Sure, the young artists raise new questions, invent new art forms and search for their own means of expression. But that’s not typically Asian.
They all have to deal with their own culture and tradition, and look for new ways to respond to their times.
MM: Is there any differentiation between the contemporary art scenes of Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, China… in their ways to seize the means of artistic expression and creativity?
CHT: Again, every art scene is different.
Let’s compare China and Hong Kong.
Most artists in Beijing work in studios measuring 200–300 square metres whereas in Hong Kong only a few can rent a space as large as 100 square metres. These enormous spaces in China, which are often to be found in disused factories or warehouses mean gigantic artworks can be produced that are strikingly different from those in Hong Kong. It is impossible to create works of such visual impact due to the lack of space. Moreover, unlike their Chinese colleagues, Hong Kong artists do not benefit from a flourishing industrial economy to provide them with cheaper materials in an uncomplicated manner. In addition, in large Chinese cities there are plenty of art students who are prepared to work free of charge for professional artists. In Hong Kong the artists generally produce their works themselves from start to finish; with the exception of new media, where they might receive technical or technological help, they receive no assistance.
It actually reflects deep choices and attitudes: on the Hong Kong side, there is a desire to operate on a human scale to resist the liberal and commercial art system. At a time when everything is speeding up, and faithful to the image of a human, ethical and engaged art, Hong Kong artists are emphasising the need to slow down.
Yet these differences are beginning to dissolve: monumentality is passing out of fashion in Beijing, conceptual Chinese artists are growing in numbers while in Hong Kong, some artists are venturing into larger formats.
MM: When it comes to the intellectual path, what are its different sources of inspiration, the themes it focuses on: history, topical issues?
CHT: In post-colonial countries in particular, history and the quest for an identity are important topics: many artists position themselves as witnesses of their time, documentalists or archivists who revive memory and who account for history, creating threads between themselves and the recent past.
This is also the case in China where history has for a long time been written by and for the propaganda: generally, it is a whole span of history, since the fall of empire in 1911, which is shortened, transformed, thus blurring the relationship of individuals to their history, and, beyond, to their identity.
But of course deal with issues such as demolition of urban houses, pollution, forced transfers of population, loss of landmarks… in a world having become chaotic and over-burdened, they busy themselves putting some order back, rethinking their relationship with objects and with their environment, weaving again links with a human dimension. The point also is, for many, to express a deep malaise with regard to a future which seems, to many, uncertain.
In general, today’s artists deal with issues that are altogether universal and contemporary: the explosion of the logic of the free market, intense consumerism, urban problems, the repudiation of history in favour of the present and profitability, a loss of values, and the loss of a strong identity, among others.