Yang Shaobin is
one of China's most famous Contemporary Oil Painters. Together
with Fang Lijun And Yue Minjun he is a leading figure in the
movement known as Cynical Realism. He belongs to the generation
which represents the roots of Chinese experimental art.
with Yang Shaobin
is an integral part of a society. Art is a mirror, which
reflects all aspects of people's spiritual life in a society.
Art should be a spiritual product of a living era. Most great
artists are seen as changers of their culture or ahead of their
time. Their views are avant-garde and will become those of the
dominant elite in the next generation. ó
In the early 1990s, freelance artists from all over China came
and settled in Song Zhuang, a village in the eastern suburbs of
Beijing, 17 kilometers away from Tian An Men Square. Now nearly
200 artists living in Song Zhuang have made it the largest art
community in China. Song Zhuang is now seen as a synonym for the
Chinese avant-garde not only in China but also in other
countries. In 1999 three artists living in Song Zhuang were
selected for the 48th Venice Biennial. Where are they from? Why
have so many artists selected Song Zhuang as their living
quarters? How can they make a living? Are they living there for
art or for a life style? How do they live and love? What is
their perspective on their own future?
I visited Song Zhuang for the Spring Festival this year, the
year of the Dragon. In February winter still clings to Beijing
with an icy maw. Trees like sticks line the city roads and the
highways out of town. While driving eastwards to Song Zhuang
from Tian An Men Square, the political and cultural center of
Beijing along Chang An Jie (Boulevard of Longevity and Peace), I
am impressed most immediately than ever before by large shopping
complexes, hotels and high-rise glass towers topped with
Oriental pagodas like bad hats. Some local youngsters jokingly
call them 'glans). Coca-Cola and Motorola billboards.There are
also political slogan signs of wu jiang, si mei and san re ai in
large Chinese characters (Five Emphases referred to civilisation,
politeness, sanitation, order and morality. Four Beauties to
soul, language, behaviour and environment. And Three Loves to
motherland, peoples and the Communist Party). These scenes
encapsulated to my mind the transitional nature of Beijing Í
from socialism to capitalism.
I interviewed several of the artists living here to discover why
they have selected Song Zhuang as their home, how each of them
makes a living as a Bohemian artist, and to reveal what
psychological factors influence them as they face the transition
of China. I am also interested to discover their present
situation in relation to art — creativity, living, love life and
what perspective each of them makes on his own future. The
interviews were intended to probe the artists, not the nature of
their Bohemian art, since there is no criteria to examine each
individual artist Í and art is egotistic.
Born in He Bei Province in 1963, Yang Shaobin was one of the
three artists (the others are Fang Lijun and Yue Minjun) from
Song Zhuang, who were selected for the 48th Venice Biennial in
1999. His house looks like a huge studio.
Q: When and how did you select Song Zhuang as your living place?
A: I moved to live here in 1995. Then a group of my friends
wanted to find a place just for painting. We could not keep our
former living quarters, in Yuan Mingyuan, during that period.
Our minds were very uneasy. But also at that time, people were
very funny. We were given a time limit to leave Yuan Mingyuan.
So every artist there was busy with finding a truck and tried to
move away, but nobody knew where to move to. Yuan Mingyuan is
located in northern Beijing, about 10 kilometers away from the
city center. In the late '80s, artists from all over China
settled there. Most of them were deeply involved in Political
Pop art which satirised the political realities of Communist
power. In 1995, police crackdowns forced the evacuation and
scattering of Bohemian communities like Yuan Mingyuan. Artists
were retreating to far away suburbs like Song Zhuang
Wang Neng Tao was born in He Long Jiang Province in 1962 and
completed his higher art education in Beijing, before he became
a freelance artist. In 1997, he bought and rebuilt his house,
which looks like a manor. When we walked in, it seemed that we
have stepped into a fairyland. We sat in front of the warm
fireplace, and were provided with French wine before the
Q: How did you select Song Zhuang as your living place?
A: I went to visit my friend and slept there overnight. I also
paid visits to other friends like Fang Lijun, who also lives
here. I sensed the way of living in the countryside. When I woke
up the next morning, I decided to buy a house here. As an artist
living in the urban city for painting, I do not always feel like
enjoying the city life. Since I moved here, I have had the life
of an artist. You can do whatever you like, farm, plant trees or
grow flowers. When you live in the city, you have to deal with
concrete, very cold, no feelings. When spring comes here, you
feel that everything is smiling at you. For an artist, the
liberty of life means freedom of art.
He Daqiao is known in China as a mainstream artist for his
realistic style. He might be the only realist who has selected
Song Zhuang as his living place. All others are doing abstract,
conceptual, installation or electric art styles.
Q: As we know, you are considered as a good artist in China
doing a realistic style. Why have you selected Song Zhuang as
your living quarters?
A: Most artists living in Song Zhuang have left me with a
feeling that they are proactive in thinking. Regarding their
work, I don't know clearly. But through my conversations with
them, I feel that they are very active and that I can
communicate with them.
Li Tianyuan is a full time lecturer at the College of Fine Arts,
Qing Hua University. In the mid-1980s, he was one of the leading
artists involved in the "'85 Movement"
Q: What is the advantage for you to buy a house here, since you
have to spend a lot of time each day to teach at the other end
of the city?
A: The advantage in purchasing a house here is the cheapness and
location to Beijing center. Therefore, a lot of artists have
flooded into this area. Since my graduation, I have changed my
painting studios seven or eight times in the city. It is like a
worldwide phenomenon. When artists build up a community in an
area, that area would be developed rapidly. Finally those
artists have to move away.
Both Wang Gongxin and his wife Lin Tianmiao are artists. The
former is doing electric art while the latter makes
installations. This couple has been living in the United States
regularly for some years (they are citizens of the U.S.A.).
Q: Why have you chosen to live here?
A(Wang): Ten years ago, almost all artists had to have an
employment. Who dared to say that he or she had no employment?
At least, he or she had to work for a publishing house. Nowadays
artists upon their graduation from college may become
freelancers. If they had resigned from where they had been
employed, it would be quite natural that they would select such
a place as this to live in. The transactional nature of desire
in Beijing is made everywhere apparent. Even in the countryside,
the beauticians and hairdressers coo and curl their fingers
towards you through narrow road-front windows. That's why so
much of the contemporary art scene is obsessed with the body in
some way Í confrontational nudes in oil, pornographic art,
installation art pretty in pink-stained period blood, painting
on the subject matter of violence by using images of wild red
and white skulls and babies. All viewers are thrilled with a
hysterical desire while aiming at these images. Pornography and
art are confused as a matter of convenience. Money seems to
control everything. In Song Zhuang, the enthusiasm of creation
has made interaction among artists, but poverty has at every
moment brought trouble to most of them. Every freelance artist
has had to rely on their own efforts to survive awkward
Lu Lin from Shang Dong Province is a very emotional artist.
Q: How do you consider your art and living condition here?
A: For artists living now, the period of Van Gogh has already
gone. My paintings are of loneliness and I personally feel very
lonely and isolated as well.
He dislikes the crude capitalism of the local art market, and
gives the example of a particular auction house.
A: This auction house is located inside Cheng Xiang Trade Center
(one of the biggest shopping complexes in Beijing.), which makes
people feel good. Once at auction, one hundred yuan was paid for
an excellent piece of art. This has been sold out without the
bottom line. When it was almost my turn for my work, my friend
said that he would make a bid for my work. I told him directly
that my work should be taken out of auction. I think that the
practice of art is a by-product of our living period. If he
assisted me to win the bid, it seems quite inappropriate. When I
walked downstairs from the auction house, I felt that it was a
sea of people buying all sorts of disposable goods, e.g.
computers and cosmetics. I really felt embarrassed, very
Born in He Bei Province, Liu Guo Qiang went to live in Song
Zhuang since he separated from his first lover, a policewoman,
ten years ago.
Q: Are you married? How about your living here?
A: Never. I have had almost ten times, experience of true love
including once with a prostitute. Since I moved to live in
Beijing, all the works sold have all been painted ten years
before, no recent works have been sold. I do not want to relate
this awkward circumstance to others. This is me.
Q: How can you make a living without selling your work?
A: I can say life is very hard.
Q: Where do you get money?
A: Money? I can make a decent living, though I have a very
simple standard of living.
Q: How much do you need for a basic living standard?
A: Three to four thousand yuan (A$800.00) a year, about the
equivalent of the cost of a rich man's dinner. But I feel
comfortable in spirit.
On the first day of the Year of Dragon, we walked into another
Bohemian house to say "Happy New Year". There we met several
artists with their wives or partners. Because of the importance
of this festival in traditional Chinese culture, it is very rare
for these artists not to enjoy the Spring Festival with their
parents, families and relatives. Maybe they cannot even afford a
train or long-distance bus fare, or to buy any gifts for their
nephews. Maybe some of them left home after a divorce, or they
are alienated from their hometown. At one point, a wish by one
of the artist's wives that her husband may sell some paintings
during the coming year causes half a dozen of them to break down
crying. I can imagine that their time spent in Song Zhuang these
recent years has reminded them of their sadness. Their future is
uncertain in the transitional nature of China into capitalism
under socialism with Chinese characteristics.
When I leave Song Zhuang that night and drive past Tian An Men
Square, I cannot hesitate to sing one of the most popular songs
for Chairman Mao:
Arrive at Tian An Men Square from the wild grassland,
Holding a gold cup highly in hands;
Sing a paean of national solidarity;
All brothers of different ethnicity gather together for
Let's pray for the longevity of China ó
Copyright ©2005 Art Realization (tm)
- The World of Chinese Art (tm) -
Site implementation by