Wang Qingsong, Follow you
KØS, Køge, Denmark, March 15 — August 3, 2014

Wang Qingsong exhibition invitation

Follow me, 120x300cm, 2003

Follow Him, 130x300cm, c-print, 2010


The Chinese artist Wang Qingsong is at the forefront of Chinese contemporary art, both in his own country and internationally. Since the mid 90s when Chinese art first gained momentum and international expansion, Wang Qingsong has played a key role as lead figure. Along with colleagues, he is considered to be responsible for the importance that Chinese contemporary art has acquired as one of the few platforms of not only artistic expression, but also social and political discourse in the country. China remains an enigma - fascinating and scary in parts, and the transformations of the past 30 years are constantly visited in Wang Qingsong's works. The importance of Chinese contemporary art is seen as a kind of link between East and West, as to develop a greater understanding not only of ancient culture, but also of Asian customs, ideology and perspective.

Wang Qingsong was born in 1966 in Daqing, in the province of Heilongjiang, and was witness to a country dominated by the "Cultural Revolution"1, which began also in 1966, and represented a significant setback not only in rich local culture, but also in major aspects of Chinese society. Since his early childhood, Qingsong had the intention of becoming an artist. His childhood was filled with responsibilities; he had to begin working at the early age of thirteen to support his family after the death of his father. Qingsong studied painting at the Sichuan Art Academy, and he devoted himself to painting until the mid 90s. In 1993 he finished his studies, exactly one year after Deng Xiaoping declared the liberation and economic acceleration of China. It was at this time living in Beijing that he realized his painting did not match the new dynamics installed in the country since the mid 80s. Changes in the mid 90s when the artist's career intensified were very sudden and constant so he opted for photography as a means of representation, aiming to register and report the experience of accelerated local changes. Commenting on these changes in everyday Chinese life, Wang Qingsong developed from early in his career his own sense of humor, sarcasm and criticism.

The new local reality of China exists in two spheres – public and private. The public is ruled strictly by a rigid political system, which does not allow for manifestations of any kind in public spaces, exemplified in the massacre of Tianammen Square in 19892. Private life, which ends up mirroring all anxiety, frustration, vividness and intensity, is officially regarded as nonexistent– all that does not happen in public, does not exist - could be one of the slogans of the current system. This is a great challenge to Qingsong's need and determination to represent reality in all its facets.

It is the existing and imposed difficulties that guide the artist to his current path. He creates his photographic work in the same manner as a film director who conceives and builds a scene, hires the main protagonists and hundreds of extras. His work has a direct visual appeal due to simplification of details and focus on content, wishing to reach the public in general, the masses, without advocating any specific ideology creating a dichotomy of discussion and controversy - the duality between tradition and innovation. His artistic technique was influenced by theatrical staging, a very common and widespread custom at the time of the Cultural Revolution, the appropriation of traditional Chinese opera with political ideology, as an effective means of political propaganda affecting the population throughout the country. Wang Qingsong was familiar with this practice during his childhood and is one of the greatest artists of staged photography today.

Actually the artist draws on traditional Chinese painting techniques such as color theory, composition and perspective, applying them to the three-dimensional movie studio and creating the necessary sets, costumes, and choreography to represent his ideas. At first his work was closely connected with Chinese pop art of early 1990s, where he integrated symbolism of the Western world as representation of a dialogue between East and West. Most of this symbolism came from the United States as if the Iron Curtain and the Cold War had never existed. Wang Qingsong's representation of this context was intentionally full of humor and self - critique of his own environment, after the opening of economic power. The artist often poses for his own photos in an ironic, subtle and colorful way, for example with a Mc Donald's logo tattooed on him. At first glance, the logos of international corporations appear ornamental in their representation, yet the artist is fully aware of this as an attack on Chinese society, exacerbated by consumption, materialism and loss of ethical and spiritual values. His enactments are full of humor, the artist usually places himself discreetly on the scene as an allusion to his complicity in this process.

The first solo exhibition of Wang Qingsong in Denmark conceived for KØS Museum of art in public spaces, an institution that focuses on public art works, is unique in the artist's career because it intends to emphasize the artist's concern with public space or performances in this environment, even if they contradict the precepts of the current system in China. His work speaks out for the achievements, losses, and anxieties of the Chinese people. Authorities have persecuted the artist, due to the critical nature of his work; having had negatives confiscated, and even sudden visits of government officials in his photography sets.

This particular exhibition is also unusual due to the site-specific work built on the top floor of the museum, where the artist transforms the room into a very common Chinese public space - a construction site. A plastic material typically used to cover buildings and other construction sites will obscure the monumental arch-shaped sidewalls of the museum, which refer to a cathedral built on top of what used to be a public school transformed into a museum. Faced with the rapid process of Chinese development of urban centers, one can doubt whether it is construction or deconstruction!

This ambivalence is typical of the vast changes occurring in China, leaving both participants and observers perplexed with this constant metamorphosis. Visitors to the KØS Museum of art in public spaces will be brought into a unique materiality of a Chinese habitat, through this cloudy environment. But here in front of the monumental yet simple installation, the set becomes elegant in contrast to its original locations , the alive, chaotic, dusty, noisy construction sites of Chinese cities.

The transformation symbolized in Wang Qingsong's installation in the great attic of the museum is also a metaphor for social transformation in Denmark, especially the discussions around education in all Nordic countries. The recent education reforms suggest that both teachers and students spend more time in school increasing and taking advantage of the potential of the educational system. The new proposed educational system has an intensive dialogue with the current education system in China. On the other hand there is much debate in China at the moment to whether the students should have more free time to develop their own personalities and abilities without any pressure from the system. At the end of the day we can assume that both educational systems in Denmark and China are developing in a similar direction making both societies competitive for the globalized world. These discussions around education both in Denmark and in China are of great interest, as both countries can learn from each other. This is a very important theme in this exhibition, as Wang Qingsong has been addressing these issues for over a decade in his practice. For this reason, we have included in this show his photographic works "Knickknack Peddler" (2002), "Preschool" (2002), "Follow Me" (2003), "Follow Him" (2010) and "Follow you" (2013), all of them with specific views on the Chinese educational system. "Knickknack Peddler" is a reference to the Chinese folk history of "knickknack peddlers". These peddlers move from town to town to sell their wares. In the past, they carried information from place to place for locals to learn about the outside world, acting as lecturers. During the Cultural Revolution they were also seen as spies. They have been subject of ancient painting from Song Dinasty, which inspired Wang Qingsong to use this motif in his artwork. Wang Qingsong replaced the ancient items with modern elements of daily life. This is homage to the Peddlers, who will probably not exist anymore in the near future.

"Preschool", according to the artist, is a reference to the well-known Chinese slogan "Education Should Start Off From Children". While the children nowadays show less interest in learning and much more interest in the exaggerated consumer culture related to fashionable products in general, which loose their value very quick comparing to culture itself.

The title of the work "Follow Me" is a reference to the first and most popular English language-teaching program introduced by CCTV (China State Television) in 1982, during the early years of economic reconstruction in China called "Follow Me". Millions of Chinese People from different social backgrounds watched this series on TV all over the country. It was also a bridge to western countries during the first changes in Chinese political system. Wang Qingsong also watched "Follow Me" and now with this art work and posing as the teacher he declares: "it has been my dream to see to realize the well-known slogan "China Walks towards the World, and World Learns about China" even if it was constructed at the Beijing Film Studio demanding a blackboard with four- meter wide and eight-meter long completed with Chinese and English slogans with reference to the changes in his own country. It seems that dreams come true.

"Follow Him" is another critical work by the artist, where he collects books, magazines and dictionaries about different subjects, and stores them on shelves waiting for them to get dirty and destroyed. Wang Qingsong places himself as an intellectual trying to write his thesis but we notice that he fails on this proposal due to the amount of paper wasted. In this work especially, the artist addresses his worries about the education system, which demands that the children learn for their parents. Grandparents and teachers without knowing the meaning of it for themselves. They have no interest in the content especially because they are extremely under pressure.

"Follow You" depicts a large classroom filled with hundreds of students, most of them sleeping over piles of books. The room is covered with texts and questions, instigating the children's perspectives of their own future. The teacher is not seen in the room, as if the kids were abandoned. Could this be a metaphor for the feeling of abandonment and uncertainty felt by the youth after finishing school?

Based on this body of work, we are emphasizing the importance of this exhibition, which deals with current themes so pertinent for two distinct cultures, the Chinese and the Danish. This exhibition brings to light complex current developments experienced in China and the tentacles that this country throws westward as an effort of reconciliation, dialogue and integration.

Wang Qingsong gives us a unique opportunity for intercultural social dialogue to an audience of wide international range!

Tereza de Arruda, curator.
Berlin, December 2013

1. Between 1965 and 1976 dominated the called Cultural Revolution imposed by Mao Tsetung, who desired to create a China which had peasants, workers and educated people working together in a kind of a classless society. As a result of this radical movement Schools and colleges were closed and the economy started to suffer, foreigners were attacked and China endet up into an introspective system. This short and destructive period finished when Liu Shao-chi, the biggest concurrent from Mao Tsetung was expelled from the party, causing no risk for the power of Mao, who then decided to finalize this radical structure. But formally finished the Cultural Revolution 1976 when his wife and his closer followers were sent to prison. After that started the political reforms intiated by Deng Xiaopin.
2. Protests took place between April 15th and June 4th, 1989. The protesters, about 1000 people, were from different ethnic groups, students, intellectuals, workers who believed that Communist Party rule was repressive and corrupt, while denouncing the economic reforms in China had been slow and that inflation and unemployment were hindering their lives. The government decided not to comply with the request of the demonstrators, much less negotiate with them. On June 4th the government sent the police and the army to remove any protests. The death toll is debatable - Red Cross of China speaks up to 2,600 civilian deaths entquanto protesters warn that the number of vítmas reaches 7,000.

KØS Museum of art in public spaces [visit website]
Nørregade 29, 4600 Køge, Denmark
Exhibition: March 15 — August 3, 2014