Production Void an Installation by Nan Hao (ended 29.10.2016)
Production Void an Installation by Nan Hao “hijacked” by Alessandro Rolandi
In 2007, at Imagine Gallery in FeiJiaCun, I saw a video in which a young Chinese artist was practicing Tai Chi in the middle of a huge crossroads where multiple lanes converged. The traffic was chaotic and busy but the figure kept practicing his moves as if nothing around him could interfere with his concentration. Then I asked who the artist was and if he was present; this is how I met Nan Hao and since then we have become friends. I was quickly impressed by and attracted to the often brilliant and natural spontaneity of his works, (often based on ephemeral and poetic, subtly subversive gestures and action), and his well structured and rigorous intellectual and historical approach. The way he is able to combine the witty artist, the provocative intellectual and the educator in a system he often criticizes, all within his persona is fascinating and deserves much respect.
As he is working and teaching in the South of China, we generally meet twice a year; between Christmas time and Chinese New Year and in the late summer, in the breaks between teaching semesters. These meetings happen in Nan Hao’s Non-Space, a very old pingfang which belonged to his grandfather and which he transformed into an independent art space and studio, to receive friends and hold exhibitions, events and talks.
The hutong where the house is located runs next to Beihai Park in a very traditional and picturesque area of old Beijing. We would spend a whole afternoon drinking tea and beer and chatting and smoking and discussing art, politics, philosophy, society and life. Sometime we recorded our conversations. These twice-a-year meetings have become important for both of us. Each time, after our chat, I would leave for holidays in Europe and he would get back to his university in the South.
Almost two years ago, during one of these meetings, we started talking about the possibility for Nan Hao to start a project in the Social Sensibility R&D Department at Bernard Controls which I founded in 2011. We both knew that the presence of Nan Hao in the factory plant couldn’t be regular; so we decided to organize his intervention similarly to our meetings: two times a year for as long as it was necessary for him to develop his research. After the first visit to the plant, anytime we met, Nan Hao would visit the factory for a week or two afterwards, while I would leave for Europe. I was never at the factory plant when Nan Hao was conducting his research and despite some occasional feedback from the employees and from himself, I saw his work only recently when he felt that he had finished his intervention.
Because of our long term friendship and the fact that the material in this exhibition is also coming from a project I am in charge of, I feel uncomfortable to address both Nan Hao and the show as a curator. I feel it would be very difficult to have the right critical “distance” from him and from an intervention born inside my project, in order to describe what he has been doing and point out what is relevant about the final outcome. The situation would be artificial and forced, and in terms of objective reflection, an inherently problematic element would be present in the form of the exhibition from the beginning and impossible to erase.
So instead of me curating or writing about Nan Hao’s installation, we decided together to treat this collaboration in the same way as our meetings in his hutong. We would discuss it and question it, while confronting and teasing each other and challenging each other’s points of view, as well as our intellectual and artistic stands and habits…
We will do this in a spontaneous, shared text in which we respond to each other’s doubts with more questions, thoughts and ideas, and we will try to do this even in the space, where Nan Hao has accepted that I will try to “hijack” his installation using inspiration from this same text I mentioned before.
We agreed on the word and concept of hijacking because we believe that, in this situation, the only thing we can do to maintain a fairness towards the project, our practice, the public and ourselves, is to try and deeply question what we are doing.
This exhibition is not just about Nan Hao’s intervention at Bernard Controls and the obvious doubts it raises about labor, work, production and the place of culture and art in this complex and difficult context and time.
It is also a different situation and location that aims to preserve and push forward the continuity of our meetings at Non-Space with their sense of the yet-to-be-achieved and their moments of openness to sharing and being alive.