November 24th, was the first time I participated in an exhibition outside of school. Compared with my classmates, I belong to the artists who participated in off-campus exhibitions later on. It’s not that I didn’t have the opportunity before, but I’m really not very interested in exhibitions full of students. I can imagine that the only audience who came to the opening ceremony are the friends of this group of artists, and the exhibitions organized by students in London usually need to pay the curator a participation fee of 150 pounds, which further reduces my enthusiasm for participating in the exhibition. To be honest, I would rather spend the money on artwork.
The theme of this exhibition is cloud, and the curator is Grace. She is a curatorial student from Chelsea, and my friend Dalin is a classmate. The first time we got in touch was after my graduation show when she privately messaged me on my Instagram asking if I would be interested in participating in her show in early September. I immediately gave a positive answer, and I hope we can keep in touch. Because such opportunities are not common after my graduation exhibition, I hope to make a jaw-dropping piece of work before my graduation exhibition, so that everyone can know who I am, but the situation is not as good after the graduation exhibition as usually the galleries and curators I contact are discouraged by the size of my works and the rate of return that I can bring, so most of them stop at the communication stage, and there is no clear answer for cooperation. For Grace’s proposal, I have always taken it to heart, and I can feel her sincerity.
Summer vacation is very boring, at least for me, the confusion about the future occupies the whole summer. The highest temperature in London can reach 40 degrees in summer, but most houses do not have air conditioning. In such a hot and dry environment, people will inevitably get tired, especially after spending two months completing an exhibition. I’m so confused, I’m not sure if I can rest, the social media is going into tourist mode, which keeps tempting me. Kassel Documenta 15 and the Venice Biennale will both open this year (2022). This is a good opportunity for me to learn about the art industry. I think this will have a positive meaning for my career. But the graduation show put me in a tight spot. I spent almost all my money. Each cymbal cost me enough to live in London for a week, and I bought twenty. but I don’t regret doing this, at least in terms of artistic creation, I can’t compromise with myself. This is how I behave.
Finally, after I had saved money for two months, Dalin, Zihan, I and I bought air tickets to fly to Germany. And several other friends who originally wanted to go together have shelved their travel plans due to financial problems. Berlin-Kassel-Weeze-Ancona-Venice, this is the cheapest travel route after I did a lot of comparisons.
Two days before departure, Grace contacted me again, and the exhibition was changed to the end of November. She wanted me to create a new work for this exhibition, which was beyond my expectation. I always thought she wanted to show my graduation exhibition work again. Two months is plenty of time, I hope this trip can bring some inspiration to my work.
At first, I thought that everything was ready, but the day before the flight, an accident happened. Because of the problem of moving, Zi Han paid a large bill and had no funds. And Dalin’s ticket was bought on the day after mine, which meant that I had to stay in Berlin for two days by myself, originally I was meant to set off with Zihan.
I don’t have much to say about the Berlin Biennale, because it’s hard for me to think of works that stand out in my memory. The only thing I can think of is a few words, capitalism, colonialism, fascism, post-colonialism. The intensification of various contradictions around the world has made the curatorial focus of the art circle more political, which makes me a little tired. I have never had any opinions on works with political themes. Politics and life cannot be separated. It’s just that such artworks usually don’t help much with the artistic concepts I focus on. Of course, the city of Berlin left a deep impression on me, and the impact of the war on this city is obvious.
After three days, we set off for Kassel. It is said that there was some controversy at the beginning of this exhibition, and some artists withdrew from the exhibition because of this. After knowing the reason, they were speechless. Europe has a long way to go on racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and the right to create art freely.
I booked very cheap accommodation through the booking website, about 30 euros per person per night. But we were shocked when we arrived, it was not a standard accommodation. The host took us up to the attic, which was barely half a room, and had no heating. Because of the attic, I can’t stand upright completely, and I need to walk in it with my body bent. This made our Documenta journey not so smooth from the very beginning.
During the two days we spent in Kassel, we walked an average of more than 20,000 steps a day. Even so, we failed to finish the exhibition. The more than 30 exhibition halls all over the city are not the main reason for stopping us. . What’s more, this exhibition has almost no artworks about physical visual objects, and has become a so-called open workshop and an event that invites the audience to participate. There is nothing new about other expressions, materials, volumes, etc. of artworks. Moreover, there is no legendary sense of participation. For example, there are no commentators in many exhibition areas, and the messy pile makes me very tired.
On the day when we were about to finish watching the exhibition, Dalin slipped and fell into the water trying to take a photo of a bridge in the park. We had to stop watching the exhibition and immediately set off back to Berlin to repair the mobile phones and cameras that had entered the water. I think Dalin never wants to come back to Kassel again. On the return train, he seemed very disappointed, because the expensive electrical repair costs and electrical prices in Europe did not make him feel optimistic. Fortunately, in the end, the mobile phone and camera returned to normal under Dalin’s own remedy, which made our journey not so unlucky.
The train from Berlin to Weize takes 8 hours, and it is not cheap. After discussing with Dalin, I booked a direct ticket from Berlin to Venice.
Venice is very different from Berlin. The people here are the same as the climate here, which makes people feel the vitality. There is an old saying in China: “When all hardships come, the rewards come.” This is my hope for Venice. For it to at least, to be a little friendlier to us than Kassel.
Before coming to the Venice Biennale, I have always heard that this year will be very different, because for the first time in history more than 90% of the artists are women, which makes me feel unnecessary fantasy, hoping to get something to stimulate me. But obviously, I was wrong. This is obviously not an art exhibition for people like me. These artworks are so exquisite, the exhibition is so professional, but there is no work that catches my eye. It’s hard to say what I can learn from the works of these artists. I don’t know if I will participate in the Venice Biennale in the future, and I can’t imagine what this exhibition means for these artists, because there is something happening here, but I am sure it has nothing to do with art. But at least, for these participating artists, they can add a note to their resume: they have participated in the fifty-ninth Venice Biennale.
It’s hard for me to say what kind of influence this trip had on me, at least artistically, I didn’t get any enlightenment. I think I’m going back to my creations, after spending close to ￡2000.
Creation almost drove me crazy. I fantasized that amazing ideas would appear in my mind all the time. It would be best if the work would come out by itself. I never felt that the creation of the work had much to do with me. I just hope that there will be works that meet my taste and value to excite me. Maybe I am too difficult to please, and such works are rare. So my creation can be said to be a helpless choice. If there are works as good as my ideas, I don’t need to create them. So I also know that my work has nothing to do with me from the moment it is completed.
My girlfriend is studying fashion at Central Saint Martins. The teaching building is more advanced than the teaching building in Chelsea, but all kinds of fashion people make me a little upset. Every time I go to see her, I always want to leave earlier. Staying for a second will make me feel that I am no longer myself. I’ve always had a childish distaste for Pop culture.
I was sitting in front of the library of Central Saint Martins one day, bored, and I began to doubt whether I could finish this work in the end, because a month passed, and I still didn’t have an idea that satisfied me. Looking at the fountains downstairs, I was in a daze. An exciting idea came to my mind, what if I turned the fountain upside down? At this point, an image has been generated in my brain, a beautiful work has been completed, and now all I need to do is find suitable ready-made materials.
I wanted to make this work look historical, at least with some classic elements. Because challenging the established aesthetic habits has always been my usual artistic language, changing the meaning of the existing value system will produce a kind of contradiction, and discovering this kind of contradiction is a kind of learning for me. This process of imagining itself has a kind of thinking function.
I bought a couple of resin fountains and started working on them, and I tried hanging them upside down from my ceiling. Now it stands upside down, it has lost its original meaning. In a sense, it disappeared. But when Solenne said to me, can you clean up this home please, I could realize that it’s still there.
Changes in practicability lead to changes in the identity of utensils, resulting in uncertainty, with multiple meanings of separation and conversion. Deconstruction and reshaping allowed my interests to find an outlet.
A couple of resin fountains cost me all my savings again and I had to find odd jobs to keep me fed. Soon, Solenne helped me inquire about a job packing magazines in a magazine agency, at 12 pounds per hour, which gave me hope to continue. So in my free time, I went to help the magazine three days a week, because my visa only allowed me to work 20 hours a week. Every morning, I would travel across London to Notting Hill, packing alone in a basement, and sometimes my Italian employer would come and chat with me. He asked me if I like London? I said I don’t like it, the weather is terrible and the food is not good. He smiled and said that he didn’t like it either. He planned to quit next year and go to other countries to do his own thing.
This job is an irresolvable torture for newcomers, constantly putting the same magazines into cardboard boxes, then folding them and labelling them. Time is ticking away and I’ve become a robot. The only thing that comforts me is that this job requires almost no thinking, and I can use my brain to deliberate on my works while packing. The repetitive work made me lose the sense of time, and only the getting darker earlier in London every day reminded me that it was almost time to get off work. I get almost twice as much work done per day than my co-workers, the employer and his co-workers are amazed at me, his daily goal is for me to pack 200 copies. I always get double the amount. It makes the whole magazine surprised they never had gig workers who worked so hard. And the only thing I want is to do my best not to waste 8 hours a day fighting wits with the people who give me money.
I am very grateful to Solenne for helping me in my life. Being with her has made me realize how far-fetched my life is. One day, my gas bill ran out, but I still spent my only 30 pounds and ordered a Mexican-style takeaway. When she asked me how to solve the heating and shower problems, I was speechless, but felt none of this is too bad. In London, everyone here hopes to have a stable job or to get legal status, and they are all eager to gain status in society. Everyone wants to get ahead, live a more comfortable life, and move towards so-called success. And I realized that I was clearly missing speculative and self-interested ideas. I never doubted the relationship with Solenne, there was clearly nothing profitable about me.
Two weeks passed quickly, and the magazine completed the magazine mailing task for this quarter ahead of schedule. They don’t need me anymore, and the 450 pounds was immediately used by me to buy a game console, which made Solenne a little speechless. But I know that my nerves are a little tight during this time and I need to focus on something lighter.
In my last semester at Chelsea, my tutor was Sacha, a British critic. Patti described her as a big shot. In the first class, when she came to my work, she just said, this is too much like a stage, you need to turn off these useless lights. Sacha believes that the work needs to exclude all external elements and return to the idea itself. This reminds me of Ad Reinhardt’s famous quote “Art is art as art, and everything else is everything else. Art as art is nothing but art. Art is not what is not art.” Stepping out to subtraction That step is always tough. Sacha’s criticisms are always so direct, which is quite different from the feedback I usually get in Chelsea, which is more like a large kindergarten, with teachers primly coaxing a group of self-righteous wayward children.
The exhibition went on as scheduled, and the installation of my work went smoothly. The only regret is that I really don’t have more money to get a bigger basin, so I need to use the container to scoop the splashed out water back into the basin, which made me have no chance on the opening day to be able to rest. I think my work has always been like this, always needing to keep it going because of financial reasons. Just like my graduation project, I have to climb up the ladder every three hours to put ice on my work. It actually made me feel awkward because it wasn’t part of the work.
I named this work Silver River, which comes from a poem written by Li Bai, the most famous poet in China:
The sunlit Censer Peak
exhales incense-like cloud;
Like an upended stream
the cataract sounds loud.
Its torrent dashes down
three thousand feet from high
As if the Silver River
fell from the blue sky.
December 5, 2022
Written in London