TEXT AND IMAGE BY 圖文提供 x Cai Yuan 蔡元
TRANSLATED BY 翻譯 x Bowen Li 李博文
We used to hear this Chinese proverb often when we were young: thirty years on the East bank, thirty years on the West bank. Describing the ever changing situation of the Yellow River, this proverb was quite popular amongst the elderly. I spent three years in prison from the age of seventeen to nineteen. In the 1980s, without disclosing this history, I enrolled into Nanjing College of Art. Three years afterwards, however, because of my long hair, bell-bottoms, indulgence in pop music and Swing dance, I became the ‘worst’ student, or rather, a so-called ‘hooligan’. The college finally discovered my anti-revolutionary identity and punished me by keeping me under supervision for a year in school.
8 0年，我隱瞞了一段從17歲至1 9歲，三年的坐牢經歷，考取了南京藝術學院。入學三年後，卻因留長發、穿喇叭褲、聽流行音樂、跳搖擺舞，成了全校最壞的學生和流氓，學院政工科終於查出了我隱瞞的反革命政治身份，給了我留校察看一年的處分。
It wasn’t at all common to get married to a foreigner at that time. I left school because I wanted to marry my ‘foreign chick’ of beauty and kindness. During the visa application process however, both the Office of Foreign Marriage and the Public Security Bureau tried their hardest to stop me. The Nanjing PSB only permitted my visa application after the British Embassy in Beijing had stepped in. The officer in charge of foreign affairs lectured me, holding the bilingual letter from the British Embassy in his hand: “So you are going to the UK? Remember this, the UK is the country of least culture, the Eight-Nation Alliance that burned down Yuanmingyuan.” Hearing this, I decided that if I walked out of this country I was not coming back. In order to control my own destiny, I willed myself into exile. With a fantasy of life in the Western free world and a dream of being a great artist, I could give up everything.
On the 1st of October 1983, we landed in the UK and started liv ing in the beautiful countryside of East Sussex. I started using the g arage as a studio and based on materials brought from China, made a number of oil paintings. In the second year, I sent my paintings to the Mall Galleries for exhibition, won the first prize of the Federation of British Ar tists and Young Artist prize and was awarded a certificate, a box of Rembrandt oil paints and one hundred pounds.
In the same year, there was a massive anti-nuclear demonstration in London. I put on my People’s Liberation Army suit and joined the march, hearing: “Maggie Maggie Maggie! Out out out!” When we got to Trafalgar Square however, I could not resist the temptation of the National Gallery, so excused myself secretly, rushed into the building and finally got to experience face-to-face masterpieces of Western art, as I had always wanted. Facing the paintings, I was reminded of the moments when my lecturer of History of Western Art spoke of and analysed wonderfully the works and schools of Western masters.
19 8 3年10月1日，我們的飛機抵達英國，住在美麗如畫的東薩塞克斯（East Sussex）農村。我用車庫作畫室，根據從中國帶來的素描寫生，斷斷續續畫了些油畫。第二年，我把畫送到白金漢宮旁的摩爾畫廊（Mall Gallery）參展，得了藝術家聯盟的青年藝術家一等獎，包括一頁獲獎證明，一盒註冊倫勃朗商標的油畫顏料和一百英鎊獎金。
這一年，倫敦舉行了一場反核大示威，我穿上人民解放軍軍裝，加入到浩浩蕩蕩的遊行隊伍裡，整個大街響徹著有節奏的呼喊聲：“Maggie Maggie Maggie! Out Out Out!”在遊行隊伍到達特拉法加廣場時，看著對面的英國國家畫廊，終於經不了誘惑，逃離了人群，躲進國家畫廊，如願以償地，親眼目睹了西方自文藝復興以來大師的繪畫原作。
In 1984, my wife and I left the quiet countryside and started l iving and working in London. I then spent seven years in Peckham, wrote t o family monthly but only went back for visit when my first daughter was born in the 1990. Peckham was one of the poorest boroughs filled with vario us ethnic groups but barely any Chinese. The building I was in was filled with jobless youth. After moving in, I painted the wall with Chairman Mao ’s quotations, and a line with black gloss on the glass window : Chinese man Cai Yuan lives here and co-exists with his spirit. I resorted to SOAS library at the University of London in the daytime, greedily reading books and periodical s; at night, I would go to Piccadilly Circus with my easel and paint in front of the Barclays Bank building under the dim light. The spot was crowded with a dozen painters fighting constantly for seats and clients. Feng Dawei from Shanghai and I were the only Chinese there. Among the painters, there we re a couple of alcoholics; after each job they would immediately go to buy beer, get drunk and pick fights with everybody.
At the beginning of 1985, I finally made it to the continent with my savings. I went to the Netherlands, Italy, Greece, France, Hungary and Germany in this order. There was still that wall separating East and West Germany, guarded by American and British soldiers with guns and graffiti. I went straight into East Germany with my Chinese passport. The wall of the East German National Museum was full of holes created by the war, and there were many buildings bombed but not yet repaired. One deep impression was a big painting by Menzel under the sunlight in the National Museum. Museums were the only thing I was after, so in order to save money, I lived in hostels, ate bread and walked all the time, took ferries, buses and trains for long distance travel.
I decided that I was to start again in art school in 1986. I studied at Maidstone College of Art in Kent for a year, then moved to Chelsea College of Art, participating in a three month exchange program to Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-arts de Paris. I received my first class Bachelor of Arts in 1989, and immediately enrolled in the Royal College of Art.
8 6年我有了新的打算，決定去美術學院從頭學起。在肯特（Kent）的邁德斯頓美術學院（Maidstone College of Art）學了一年，後又轉到倫敦切爾西美術學院（Chelsea College of Ar t），還申請去巴黎國家美術學院做了三個月的交換學生，8 9年獲得一等學士學位，同時考取了皇家美術學院（Royal College of Art）。
Under the influence of Thatcher’s politics and total privatisation, there was a lot of discontent amongst young people in Britain by the 1990s. Against this background, the Young British Artist movement was born, rebellious and free. You have Tracy Emin, the Chapman Brothers, Gavin Turk, Chris Ofili from the Royal College of Art, and even livelier in Goldsmiths, you have Damien Hirst and his fellow artists. “YBAs”, “Saatchi”, “Sensation”, the whole international art world paid great attention to British artists.
20世紀90年代，英國在撒切爾政治和經濟政策全面私有化的影響下一片蕭條，到處是民眾的抱怨聲，反叛現實和自由奮鬥催生了英國年青藝術家（Young BritishArtist）。皇家美院有崔西·艾敏（Tracey Emin）、查普曼兄弟（Jake & Dinos Chapman）、加文·特克（GavinTurk）、克里斯·奧菲利（Chris Ofili）等藝術家，而金史密斯學院（Goldsmiths College）更為活躍，湧現出以达明·赫斯特（Damien Hirst）為領頭羊的一批年輕藝術家。“YBA（年輕藝術家一代）”,“Saatchi（薩奇）”，“Sensati on（轟動）”，英國藝術家被照射在國際藝術舞臺的聚光燈下。
In 1991, after graduating from the Royal College of Art, I had no luck approaching galleries, applying for artist residencies or teaching positions, but I was welcomed by another international wave and started working within the field of cultural studies, Third World theories, post-colonialism and in the so-called ‘in-between’. For my dream of becoming an international artist, I spent a fortune renting a studio in King’s Cross and swore I would keep fighting the system.
More and more Chinese artists arrived in London. They were from all over China, and they all went down to the streets and worked for money, in the centre of London, Paris, Berlin and New York. In 1995, Ms. Jessie Lim from Lambeth Chinese Community found me and invited me to research an upcoming exhibition Journeys West, for the production of which they had recently received a grant. As Jeremy Theophilus, the curator, wrote in the catalogue: “The motivation for Journeys West has been the recognition that there is an important and growing group of artists in the United Kingdom whose roots are based in Chinese culture, yet whose identity and aspirations are focused within a European context.” I had previously published in 1994 in Orientations magazine (Hong Kong) and Overseas Chinese Huaren magazine (London) “A Study Concerning Chinese Artists in the UK”, in which I addressed problems related to the artistic practices of Chinese artists in the UK in the modern and contemporary period, and explored their situation through examining identity and cultural issues. I had seen something very distinct in Li Yuan-chia. Artist Li Yuan-chia was born in Guangxi, China in 1929 as an orphan.
He moved to Taiwan in 1949, and was a member of the Orient Movement. Li moved from Italy to the UK in 1966, settled in the Lake District in 1968 and founded his museum LYC Museum in 1972. He passed away in 1994. I saw in him the destiny and situational limitations of a Chinese artist in the UK.
1995年，蘭貝斯中國社區（Lambeth ChineseCommunity）的傑西林（JessieLim）女士找到我，說他們申請到藝術委員會的經費，要我為展覽做些研究工作，由當時在艾塞克斯大學畫廊的傑里米（Jeremy Theophilus）策展，畫冊前言中寫道：“ 這次展覽的動機是因為我們認識到英國有一群正在崛起的中國藝術家，他們根植於中國文化土壤，然而，他們的身份和抱負卻形成於歐洲的範圍中。由於各種原因他們從未在一起展覽和探討他們面臨的問題”。94年我曾在香港的《方向（Orientations）》和倫敦華人雜誌《中國人》同時發表過《關於留英的中國藝術家及其研究》，從近代到現代留英藝術家的創作看問題，從身份和文化認同上找原因。後來我在中國藝術家李元佳身上看到了一個不同的例子，李元佳1929年出生中國廣西，遺孤，1949年去臺灣，東方畫會成員。1966年，他轉從意大利移居英國，1968年定居在湖區，1972年建立了李元佳博物館（LYC Museum），1994年病故。從他身上我看到一個旅英中國藝術家的命運和環境的限制。
In terms of public presentations of the artistic practices of Chinese artists living and working in the UK, the 1996 exhibition Journeys West has been the biggest of its kind so far, also the only touring exhibition of this specific nature. It was first presented in the Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester, then in the gallery of University of Essex, and at First Site gallery, Colchester. Critics Hou Hanru and Kong Chang’an both participated, and together discussed the problem of cultural identity expressed in art in the postcolonial world. I submitted two installations, Encyclopedia-Art International (1994) a collection of 56 paintings and Ismatic (1995) composed with 100 prints of words with “isms”.
I started collaborating with Xi Jianjun in 1999. During the time of the Turner Prize, we jumped on Tracy Emin’s work My Bed. Our action was recorded and widely reported. One day before the performance, we contacted reporters of The Guardian and distributed our manifesto and press release. Immediately reporters called and asked for details. About midnight, we received another phone call, telling us that The Guardian newspaper had already posted the news and, as responsible as he was, the reporter already notified Tate Gallery of our upcoming action. It was a Sunday morning, there were many viewers in front of “My Bed” already. It was also surrounded by security guards with walkie-talkies. I pushed my way through, yelled “J!,” and jumped on the bed. I jumped and jumped, made a few Kung Fu moves, but Xi Jianjun had already been held down by one of the security guards. After a few minutes, the security guards started controlling the crowd and a number of policemen rushed in, while I was already on the floor. We were taken to Belgravia police station. After a couple of hours, we were notified that Emin and her gallery had decided not to sue us. We walked out and were surrounded by reporters, and the whole country heard the news the next day.
Since 2000, we collaborated on a number of performances including Two Artists Piss on Duchamp’s Urinal (Tate Modern, London, 2000), Soya Sauce & Ketchup (Tate Britain, 2012), Two Artists Crawl through Central London (2000) , Two Artists Swim Across the Thames (South Bank, 2000), Two Artists Run Naked Across Westminster Bridge (Westminster Bridge, 2000). We transformed cities, public spaces and museums into stages for performance, put our bodies into the society, culture, politics, events and situations, expressing the wildness of contemporary society and the true reality.
In 2004, Xi Jianjun and I had our first solo exhibition Happy and Glorious in the Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester. At the opening, hung upside down, our bodies wrapped in the Union Jack flag, we sang the National Anthem and made our pledge to the Queen in the words of the citizenship oath. In the centre of the exhibition there was a customized 9-metre long coffin. Within it there were chandeliers, golden wallpaper, a red carpet and Chinese dim sum for the audience to take.
One Man Demo (2010-ongoing) is an individual project of mine that has lasted four years since 2010. A number of keywords have been chosen for it, including Occupy, Global Democracy, the Arab Spring, Jasmine Revolution, Anti-War, Unemployment, Deficit, Cut, Copyright, Self-immolation, Suicide Bomb, Riot, Murder, Assassination, Institution, Celebrity, Immigration, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Tsunami, and Carnival. During the time of Kassel dOCUMENTA(13) in 2012, Xi Jianjun and I occupied a space in front of the Fridericianum Museum with a tent covered in ‘isms’. By the end of the dOCUMENTA, there were about thirty tents.
20 0 4年，我和奚建軍在曼切斯特華人藝術中心舉辦了第一次個展，我們以英國國歌中的歌詞《幸福和光榮》為展覽主題，開幕式身披國旗，高唱國歌，向女皇宣誓。展廳中央放置定制的9米長的大棺材，裡面布置了水晶燈、金墻紙、紅地毯，邀請觀眾吃中國點心。《個人遊行或一人示威（One Man Demo）》，是我持續了三年的行為計劃，以示威抗議的形式，選擇當代關鍵詞，其中有：占領、全球民主、阿拉伯之春、茉莉花革命、反戰、失業、赤字、削減、版權、自焚、人彈、暴亂、謀殺、行刺、體制、明星、移民、臉書、推特、優屏（Youtube）、海嘯、狂歡節。2012年夏季，我和奚建軍在德國卡塞爾文獻展(Kassel Documenta13)實施了三個月的占領期，在主展場美術館（Fridericianum）門前安營紮寨，在展覽結束前，發展到近30個帳篷。
In recent years I established OCCA with my wife Katie Hill, in which we conduct exhibitions, research, education programmes, projects and develop collections to promote artists in the Chinese diaspora. We built a space in our house in the countryside in Oxfordshire, which can be used as both an office and a studio. My most recent project was my collaboration with artist Duan Yingmei who lives and works in Germany, when we organized a month-long performance Optimism in the Oxford project space in February 2014. I Grew up in a Honey Jar served as my opening performance: I wrote down numbers from 1 to 1095 on a 9 metre-long wall, representing my lost youth and freedom.
In front of the audience, I read my confession composed some forty-years previously when I was eighteen, on a ‘criticism tour’ in Nanjing, made to recite it in mine fields, companies and schools to large crowds: “I was born in a revolutionary family, raised in a honey jar. Reviewing the whole of my criminal path, I am ashamed and am filled with self-hatred. I must purge the antirevolutionary thoughts from myself, split away from my evil history, come back to the side of the people, and beg for mercy from the party and the people.”
近兩年我和凱特（Katie Hill）在牛津創立了中國當代藝術班公室（OCCA），開展研究、教育、計劃、展覽和收藏等合作項目，在我們牛津農村花園裡增加了一個用於施工的活動房，不僅做辦公室，也可以做作品。今年我和旅德中國藝術家段英梅合作，在牛津計劃空間創作了為期一月的《樂觀主義》行為作品，《我在蜜罐裡長大》是我的開場白，在9米長的墻線上，從1寫到1095，1095天代表我曾經失去的青春和自由。在觀眾面前，我讀著4 0年前在南京工礦、企業、學校巡回批鬥時的坦白交待書：“我出生在革命幹部家庭，從小在蜜罐裡長大，回顧我走上犯罪道路的全過程，我不禁悔恨交加…我必須徹底清算自己的反動思想，和罪惡的歷史一刀兩斷，回到人民這邊來，爭取黨和人民的寬大處理。”
East by South East
Old Big School Gallery
18 September 2014 Category: Art