Considering the Lineage of Chinese Art, Partners in Life and Work, Breaking Down Hierarchies and Authorship
All answers are given by both LIU Ding & Carol Yinghua LU, unless stated otherwise.
At the beginning (Carol Yinghua LU) We have been married since 2004, and have been working together since then as well. I went into the art world because I met him and he taught me what it’s all about. I was working as a journalist in an English city magazine, which led me to visit exhibitions and report on them. That’s where I met Liu Ding, who was curating a solo exhibition of a senior artist in Beijing. He was the one who convinced me that there would be life-long career in the art field and he’s shown it to me.
When growing up, Liu Ding was taught art by private tutors and never attended any art academy. He always attributes his understanding of the art world to his early experience of hanging out closely with a group of outstanding writers in Nanjing in the 1990s. They taught him about creating. That’s why literature remains central to Liu Ding’s practice till today.
Equal practices (LU) While Liu Ding does nearly all the conceptualization, I usually translate his thoughts into writing so I do think all our curatorial ideas originate from his thinking. But as I speak English and he doesn’t, people tend to invite me to speak about our curatorial projects. As he’s an artist, many people tend to think that I am the curator while he’s just the artist. But in reality, we work as conversation partners and formulate our ideas in close partnership with each other. We are just two people working very closely as one.
Letting Go of Hierarchies in Art Practices. In 2010, we co-curated an exhibition entitled Little Movements: Self-practice in Contemporary Art, at OCT Contemporary Art Terminal Shanghai, which was a kind of manifesto we made. We are very tired of the cliched and superficial hats assigned to practitioners, such as curators, museum directors, so we made a show to stress that all these professionalized roles are equal practices on the basis of their intensity and quality and there should not be any hierarchy of practices.
Chinese Art Lineage. It’s exactly what you pointed out about Chinese art— bringing forth the complexity of art historical narratives in China, as opposed to a uniform vision—that makes it both challenging and exciting. We feel that as art practitioners coming out of the lineage of Chinese art, we have a responsibility towards ourselves to understand what exactly is this lineage, its specificity, which cannot be generalized or squeezed into a homogeneous vision of global art. Such a discourse or awareness has been nearly non-existent in China. While constantly researching about the contemporary art history in China, we do not isolate ourselves from a broader discourse about contemporary art from outside of China. Rather, we are convinced that Chinese art and art from elsewhere are both specific to their histories, contexts and in the meantime, connected on the level of artistic spirits and thinking.
Working together. We live together so our conversations happen organically. Whatever thoughts come to mind, we share with each other nearly simultaneously. We talk when we are in the same space and we write to each other on the phone when we are apart. We both write and edit each other’s writing so every piece of writing is jointly developed. Even in the cases of essays signed by one of us, they are often results of close conversations and thinking together.
Inside-Out Art Museum. The curatorial projects involving Liu Ding at the Inside-Out Art Museum are primarily coming out of our mutual research and long-termed projects. This collaboration is first of all made transparent to the board of directors in the museum, who gave consent based on their understanding of the history and significance of this research project. This research project started in 2013, prior to Carol’s appointment in the museum and is still ongoing. In the meantime, Liu Ding doesn’t receive any payment from the museum for any work he’s done in the curatorial projects by both of us at the museum.
Always collaborating, officially and non-officially (LU). My contributions to collaborative projects with other partners are all results of consultation and conversations with Liu Ding. In the case of the Gwangju Biennale for instance, my curatorial contribution was born out of our persistent insistence on the significance of individual experience in perceiving artistic practices as supposed to generalized and structural conditions. Before the Gwangju Biennale, Liu Ding and I co-curated the 7th Shenzhen Biennale, which was themed as “Accidental Message: Art is Not a System, Not a World.” It was an exhibition that advocated the agency of individual actors in art history. I titled my section in the Gwangju Biennale as “Back to the Individual Experience,” and Liu Ding designed the exhibition layout without signing his name to it.
Personal Growth. We are lucky that we share both life and work but above all, we are both convinced by the necessity to keep growing in life. We are both committed to our personal growth, which is realized in our daily conversations and practice, which involves a lot of reading, discussion and thinking.
Merging Artistic and Curatorial Practices as One (LIU). From the very beginning of my artistic career, I was convinced that both my artistic practice and curatorial work are one. There is a lot of curatorial consideration in my own artistic practice. I am always convinced that all forms of practice lead to one another in some way. While we work together in our curatorial projects, we have very different paths of practice but we do inspire each other a lot.
For fun, we travel as much as we can and see a lot of things other than art together. Liu Ding is passionate about classical music and traditional art, on which he spends a lot of time. Carol loves hanging out with friends and watching the American soap opera Elementary, over and over again, probably over a thousand times.
We read a lot together, especially works on historical discourses on contemporary literature, such as all of Professor Hong Zicheng’s works. Liu Ding reads a lot of books on calligraphy, rubbing and other forms of traditional art and Carol reads a lot more in English. The current book we are reading together is written by Qian Liqun a great historian of modern literature in China. He wrote about the life and creative experience of many writers in Chinese literary history. They remind us of how as practitioners, not to be hijacked by political agendas of the government.
Local Cuisines. Liu Ding is from Changzhou in Jiangsu Province and Carol is from Chaozhou in Guangdong Province. We are both loyal and biased to our own local cuisines but being stuck in Beijing, we tend to like Peking Duck.
We do collect a lot of art by different artists but it’s mainly Liu Ding who makes the decision in terms of what to collect.. There are two ways with which we approach collecting. One is out of interest in a work and the other way is not unlike curatorial work, where connections and value are being established based on both artistic quality and historical relevance.
If we were to record a message for our future selves today, it would be: good to see you and good to be seen by you!
If we weren’t curating… We like the company of each other so whatever we do, we will do it together.
Liu Ding, independent artist and curator
Carol Yinghua Lu, art historian, director of Beijing Inside-Out Art Museum
Liu Ding is a Beijing-based artist and curator. His artistic and curatorial practice focuses on multiple viewpoints and modes of description, exploring a trajectory of discursive thoughts that connect the historical and the contemporary. His work seeks to broaden possibilities for a more manifold understanding of the historical narrative of subjectivity within Chinese art.
He has participated in international biennials such as: Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul (2015); Asia Pacific Triennial, Brisbane (2015); Shanghai Biennale, Shanghai (2014); Prospect 3 New Orleans, New Orleans (2014); Taipei Biennial, Taipei (2012); Chinese Pavilion, 53rd Venice Biennial, Venice (2009); Media City Seoul, Seoul (2008); and Guangzhou Triennial, Guangzhou (2005). His work has been shown at numerous major art institutions all over the world.
Carol Yinghua Lu is the director of Beijing Inside-Out Art Museum and has recently received her Ph.D. degree in art history from the University of Melbourne. She is an art historian and curator. Lu was on the jury for the Golden Lion Award at the 2011 Venice Art Biennale, and also a jury member of the Philippine Pavilion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture of 2018. She was the co-artistic director of the 2012 Gwangju Biennale and co-curator of the 7th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale in 2012. From 2012 to 2015 she had been the artistic director and chief curator of OCAT Shenzhen. She is the first visiting fellow in the Asia-Pacific Fellowship Program at the Tate Research Centre in 2013, and she was among the first recipients of the ARIAH (Association of Research Institute in Art History) East Asia Fellowship in 2017. She has been on the jury for the Tokyo Contemporary Art Award, Hugo Boss Asia and Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative. Carol Yinghua Lu has been In collaboration with Liu Ding, she is in the process of researching into the legacy of socialist realism in the practices and discourses of contemporary art in China, entitled “From the Issue of Art to the Issue of Position: Echoes of Socialist Realism.”
Since 2011, they have co-curated Little Movements: Self-Practice in Contemporary Art at OCAT, Shenzhen (2011), which travelled to Museion in Bolzano, Italy (2013) and Asia Cultural Complex, Gwangju, (2015). Other curatorial projects include: Waves and Echoes: Postmodernism and the Global 1980s (2021), Waves and Echoes: A Process of Re-contemporarization in Chinese Art Circa 1987 Revisited (2020), Factories, Machines and the Poet’s Words: Echoes of the Realities in Art (2019), Salon Salon: Fine Art Practices from 1972 to 1982 in Profile – A Beijing Perspective (2017, 2020); New Measurement Group and Qian Weikang (2015); From the Issue of Art to the Issue of Position: Echoes of Socialist Realism (2014); and the 7th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale (2012).
Their writing and editorial works include: Little Movements: Self-Practice in Contemporary Art (Guilin: Guangxi Normal University Press, 2011); Little Movements II: Self-Practice in Contemporary Art (Cologne: Walther König, 2013); Accidental Message: Art Is Not A System, Not A World (Guangzhou: Lingnan Art Publishing House, 2012); Individual Experience: Conversations and Narratives of Contemporary Art Practice in China from 1989 to 2000 (Guangzhou: Lingnan Art Publishing House, 2013); Reef: A Prequel (Bonnerfantenmuseum, Maastrict, Holland, 2016); Salon Salon: Fine Art Practices from 1972 to 1982 in Profile – A Beijing Perspective (The Chinese University of Hong Kong Press, 2019), and so on.