TEXT BY 撰文 x SOPHIE GUO 郭笑菲
IMAGES COURTESY OF 圖片 x GAGOSIAN GALLERY 高古軒畫廊
“Art is more to do with observation than invention.” Carefully teasing out the globally recognised yet the most easily ignored everyday objects with bright and arresting colour, the British artist Michael Craig-Martin has orchestrated a visual symphony of modern material life in his debut exhibition in China. Entitled Now, the touring exhibition marks the beginning of the ‘2015 UK-China Year of Cultural Exchange’.
As a prominent figure of the British contemporary art scene, Craig-Martin was first known for his conceptual work, An Oak Tree, which established the artist as one of the key figures in the first generation of British conceptual artists. In the late ‘70s, everyday objects came to the heart of his artistic creation. They were displayed in simple form and bold colour, with great visual stimulation. Apart from his role as a leading artist, Craig-Martin was also an important art educator who inspired the Young British Artists (YBA), including Gary Hume, Damien Hirst, and Sarah Lucas. Awarded a CBE in 2000 and elected a Royal Academician in 2006, Craig-Martin has been playing crucial roles in public art programmes on national and international level, including co-curating the well-acclaimed Summer Exhibition 2015 at the Royal Academy and judging the John Moores Painting Prize China.
克雷格﹣馬丁是英國當代藝術的標桿人物。他最初由《一棵橡樹（An Oak Tree）》而為人所知，而這件觀念作品也奠定了他在第一代英國觀念藝術家中的重要地位。七十年代末，日常生活用品開始成為他創作的核心，它們在他作品中常以極簡的形態及大膽的色調呈現。此外，克雷格﹣馬丁也是一位非常重要的藝術教育家，他影響了現在為大眾熟知的“青年英國藝術家一代（YBA）”的格雷·休莫(Gary Hume)、達米安·赫斯特(Damien Hirst)、莎拉·盧卡斯(Sarah Lucas)等著名藝術家。他在2000年被授銜大英帝國司令勛章（CBE），並於2006年當選皇家美術學會院士。克雷格﹣馬丁在不少英國及國際公共藝術項目中扮演了重要角色，譬如他參與策劃了的2015年皇家美術學會夏季展，也曾擔任約翰·摩爾藝術獎中國區(John Moores Painting Prize)的評委。
ART.ZIP: How was your trip to China?
MCM: It was very exciting. I had my exhibition of paintings first in Shanghai, and then recently in Wuhan. Wuhan particularly interested me, because I am 1/8 Chinese. My great grandmother was Chinese and when I was invited to go to Wuhan, I didn’t know anything about it, so I looked up the Wikipedia about Wuhan. I discovered that part of Wuhan used to be Hankou, and then I realised that my great grandmother came from Hankou. My grandmother and father were both born in Hankou. Of all the places in China, it is the most amazing place to have asked for my exhibition. I needed to go back where my family comes from!
ART.ZIP: Was that the reason why you had exhibition in Wuhan?
MCM: Not really. For many years I hoped to have an exhibition in China, because of my family connection. At the Hubei Museum in Wuhan they did not realize this relationship when they invited me. It was all by chance, an amazing coincidence—a very Chinese coincidence. Or destiny.
ART.ZIP: How did you prepare for the exhibition and how long did that take?
MCM: The director of the Himalayas Museum, Mr. Wong, and Marianne Holtermann, a British art consultant, came to visit me and invited me to present an exhibition. Firstly, I went to Shanghai to see the museum and the space, which are very big. It is difficult to decide what I should show and what I should send—it was such a long distance and such a big place. So I decided to make new paintings, rather than do something as retrospective. I wanted to make new works of very contemporary objects, which I thought was interesting because many of them are manufactured in China, but these objects are universal, they go across all languages, all cultures.
ART.ZIP: Yes, it is very interesting that there is an anthropological dimension in the everyday objects that you feature. They are culturally contingent but the globalisation really makes it possible for the objects to be recognised by Chinese people.
MCM: By everyone. There was something really wonderful about being able to feel confident about doing my first exhibition in China, that people would have no trouble recognising the images and understanding my work. I also have a lot of freedom in the way I use colour, and I think that kind of freedom in colour is also understandable in every culture.
ART.ZIP: The images, especially the iPhone painting, are tinged with irony and humour, because in China everyone is holding an iPhone and everyone desires for an iPhone. Also the way that you represent the object is very interesting: you put the object in the centre of the canvas, so that the image invokes a sense of portraiture. Could you tell us a bit more about the politics of your representation, if there is any?
MCM: I am trying to present objects in the simplest way possible, and I don’t want to supply too much context. All the basic information should be in the object itself. The viewer brings all additional information to the image. Many of these objects are mass manufactured. They are essentially impersonal, but if you own one, it’s very personal. The identifying personal association with these objects, which are not personal, is an important modern experience—our real association, the strands of our feelings about the objects that surround us. It’s also because they are so familiar, we don’t think of them as important in the world, but actually they are the world. We are living in a very material world.
ART.ZIP: Are you commenting on the current state of the consumer society or consumerism?
MCM: Not particularly, though I see that as a possibility for others, but don’t want people to see it as a specific intention on my part. If somebody has that interest in these objects, of course they can see that, but from my own point of view, I’d rather stay as neutral as possible.
ART.ZIP: What do you think of cultural exchange between the UK and China?
MCM: I think that the exchange is very important. Before I did the exhibition in Shanghai, I was a judge for the John Moores Painting Prize and that was very interesting for me, because some of the judges are Chinese and some are British, and we look at the work together. It was fascinating that most of the time we were in complete agreement, but some of the time we were not. People send their works from all over China. For a foreigner, this gave me a very good picture about what is happening in China and its art today. It was very special when we looked at 3000 paintings, as most of the paintings were not from well-known artists, but were from people who are not famous in China. The prizewinners have the opportunities to travel to England and meet new people. This is what really cultural exchange should be.
ART.ZIP: There are people commenting that some of the art is quite ‘British’, do you think if there is a ‘Britishness’ in art, or if there is any common character shared by British artists?
MCM: I don’t really think so except in a very general sense. I think that cultural influence is very deep, it is not on the surface and this is true in every culture. For example, in England, we teach about Expressionism, but it is not the same in England as it is in Germany, because Expressionism is more important in the history of German art. So although it is the same history, the emphasis is different. It’s just that some things more important for this and less important for that, and this is true regardless the style of the art. Sometimes we look at a work of art and we immediately think that it is German art, but with some we don’t, it’s not so obvious. I don’t like the idea of nationalism, but on the other hand, I do see that there is a difference between British art, German art and Chinese art. This is because of the history, because each country has different history and each country reads and teaches that history differently.
ART.ZIP: The point of pedagogy is interesting. We know that you were trained under the pedagogy of Josef Albers at the Yale University, and you practiced in teaching at the Goldsmiths. Does the way that you were trained affect the way you teach?
MCM: Although I greatly admired him as a teacher I didn’t teach the same way as Josef Albers at all. In a sense Albers was an authoritarian teacher. He had rules about most things and very definite ideas. When I started teaching in the late 60s, in a time of student revolutions and changes, they changed in question of society and authority. In Britain the power of authority was weakened. There was much more individual freedom and there was great academic freedom. If you were really interested in being creative in teaching, it was possible to try new methods and that was really what we did in Goldsmiths—we used the freedom of the time. Today, in British education, we don’t have that kind of freedom. Now there are many regulations, many rules, and bureaucracies in the education system. So, it doesn’t have the flexibility that it had in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s. This was a period that has the most flexibility in education. When I was in Wuhan, I went to the art school, which was one of the most important art schools in China, an enormous art school. One of the things that I saw is that the schools are very big and there are so many students. It is very difficult to me to teach creative activity to great numbers of people, because I think you need personal contact with students, you need to speak individually, you need individual contact between teachers and students, you need continuity. To me this is a problem in mass education in every society now. In the period of ‘60s to the ‘90s, British art schools were small, and the number of student was small. The personal contact was great.
ART.ZIP: The colour in your work is very stimulating. The colour is often suggestive of the nature of the object, or the psychic effect that the object has on human life. Could you speak a bit more about your conception on using the colour and what goal you want to achieve through it?
MCM: In my early work I didn’t use much colour. I had no confidence about how I could do this. I had been doing wall drawings, but they were always black and white. Then in 1993 I painted all the walls of a room to make an installation and as soon as I saw the colour on the walls, it changed my whole life. Usually people start with painting and then go on to make installations; my painting came from installation. In the studio, it took me a long time to work out how to make paintings that had the intensity that I was able to create by painting whole rooms. There is a very limited number of colours but there are many variations. I decided to use the purest palette that I could. So that’s how I started with the colours. When I look at the objects that I draw, it seems to me so obvious about the contemporary world—these are our world. I decided I should use the most obvious colours – the basic colours with simple names: red, purple, yellow, pink. I don’t distort the objects, I don’t change the objects, I draw them exactly as they are. I do the opposite with the colours.
In the Summer Exhibition at the academy this year, I used the colours for the exhibition that I know from my work. When I told people that I was going to paint the big room magenta, many people thought that I was crazy. It was so dangerous because the other artists might be very unhappy, but once the exhibition took place, it was obvious that the wall colour made the work look better not worse and created a memorable room! The first exhibition that I used bright colours in painting the room was at a gallery in Paris, and there were seven rooms in the gallery. It was very nice gallery, not very big rooms, around the courtyard, it was a very French space. So I painted each room in different colour. When people came to the exhibition, I saw they came with a smile. Everybody smiles— this is something I never saw in my work before.
The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition is very difficult to hang because it is so large and the quality is very varied. There are 1,200 works, an almost impossible number, some are interesting and some are not. Usually when I go to the Summer Exhibition, I think every room is too much the same, and I loose my capacity to look at individual works. So I tried to make each room feel more individual and playful. I tried to play things against each other: big and small, abstract and figurative, painting and sculpture.
When I was teaching I often said to students that you are trying to be too creative, don’t be too creative, because there is so much already in what you are making, you don’t need to do very much. You just need to do a little bit, and that is a lot. It’s always more than you think. You can see in my paintings, I’ve taken away the context, I’ve taken away the shadows, I’ve taken away expression, I’ve taken away the personal, and yet so much remains! I’ve taken away everything I could think of, and yet what remains is enough. These days many more people come to my work, and once they see my work they will always recognize it.
ART.ZIP: We know that you are interested in curating. Could you tell us a bit more about your curatorial idea?
MCM: I look at the character of the exhibition and I treat it as I would a painting or an installation. When I did the Summer Exhibition at Royal Academy, I did it exactly as I would when making a new work. A giant collage with many complicated pieces—this is because I’m trying to find a certain kind of unity and clarity. Usually they put all the largest pictures in one room, the largest room, but it’s hard to look at so many big pictures together – they fight for attention. However, if you mix big pictures with little pictures, and you put big pictures in other rooms, it makes each room much stronger – the big pictures and tiny pictures in the same room. This is why the exhibition looks so different this year. My idea for every exhibition is we should be able to see every individual work without being distracted by the others, and it doesn’t matter if it’s quite crowded. For instance, I would never put a sculpture in front of a painting, so that it is difficult to see the painting. I always place each thing so you can see it isolated. You can focus on every individual work. It’s important for me to give each thing the possibility to speak and also to allow artworks speak to each other. So if things are too similar, the dialogue is not very interesting. If you put in contrast, big and small, abstract and representational, you set up the possibility of a discourse. At the Summer Exhibition, I didn’t really change anything; it’s the same exhibition. All I changed is the presentation. I didn’t really change the rules. People say there aren’t so many works this year, but its only 50 less works than usual. It just looks like less, because it is more structured.
ART.ZIP: There are quite a few Chinese artists who are informed by the visual language of pop art and develop the so-called ‘political pop’. Some critics such as David Joselit suggested that they are speaking in Western language to tell Chinese story, which is more easily recognisable and acknowledged by the Western audience and institutions. What do you think of this phenomenon?
MCM: There is no doubt when one comes from the West to China one understands pop art as having originally developed as part of Western tradition. There is a historical development, in which things find resonance in different places. When I go to China I see many artists whose work reflects on aspects of contemporary popular culture but obviously the history of Western art is not part of their own tradition. I think it is problematic for a person who doesn’t know how it is related. I think from an artist’s point of view, everything in art, in fact everything in the world is available as material. As an artist you are free to use any image, any style, any idea from any culture and any period of history. I think the best approach is not to be too much like the thing that they are referring to, see it as a guide. If you try to copy something exactly you won’t get it correct, because you don’t share the same tradition and context. You can take things from the past, from the culture, from the immediate past and things that have not yet entered the culture, so they have no history yet. You can create your own context.
Often people do not properly value things that they are good at naturally because they find them too easy. That is very problematic. If I did not love the things that I do, how could I spend my life doing this? You have to invest what you spend your life doing with pleasure. It is very important to develop the thing that you are naturally good at, that you are truly interested in. You can’t force yourself to be something you are not. When I was a very young student I loved and admired the work of Sam Beckett, who is famously pessimistic, and whose writing is an extraordinary examination of emptiness. I wanted to be like Beckett. I don’t have the same attitude toward the world, I’m naturally optimistic, and so of course I could never be like Beckett. You can’t force yourself to become like someone you admire. The person you admire was true to himself. You can only truly honour him by being true to yourself. You can’t honour someone by copying them or trying to be exactly like them. If you close the door to the things you feel comfortable with, you will never discover the truth about yourself.
MCM: 上海喜馬拉雅美術館的王館長和英國藝術顧問瑪麗安·霍特曼（Marianne Holtermann）邀請我來舉辦這次展覽。我先去到上海考察美術館的展覽場地。那個美術館很大，讓人很難決定該以怎樣的方式去填充這麼大的一個空間，所以我決定用新作品來布展，用非常當代的新作品來表現非常當代的事物。我認為這樣的呈現方式會非常有趣，因為這些物品的都是中國制造的，而且我認為這些物品是具有普世意義、是超越語言、超越文化界限的。
MCM: 文化交流非常重要。在我的上海巡展前，我擔任了約翰·摩爾藝術獎（John Moores Prize）的評委，這項工作非常有趣，因為獎項的評委們分別來自中國和英國，我們在一起評判作品。我們對於作品的判斷雖然也會有一些分歧，大部分時候意見還是統一的。作為一個外國人我有機會作為一個評委來審視來自中國各地的藝術家作品，這讓我對中國當代藝術的發展有了一定了解，這是非常有意義的文化交流。這些我們看到的藝術家並不出名，但通過這個平台獲獎的藝術家們能獲得去英國旅行的機會並結識其他藝術家，這就是文化交流的意義所在。
ART.ZIP: 教學這點特別有趣。我們知道您曾於耶魯大學師從於約瑟夫·阿伯斯（Josef Albers），您自己也曾當過老師，任教於金匠學院。您怎樣看待自己的教學方式？
ART.ZIP: 很多中國藝術家受到波普藝術的影響，創造出所謂的“政治波普”藝術。評論家如大衛·喬斯利特（David Joselit）認為他們是用西方語言來述說中國內容，這樣可以更容易的為西方觀眾和機構所理解。您怎麼看待這個現象？