Not Stars, Not Art

Critique

If the Stars Art Exhibition was not “art,” then what was it?

As one of the major initiators of the Stars Art Exhibition, I have no intention of engaging in self-criticism about that period of history. The moment at which the Stars Art Exhibition shook the capital has disappeared with shocking ease. Like later controversial incidents, the very question of whether it marked a milestone in the flow of time is open to debate. I don’t care at all whether I was a transmitter or a medium, a voice or a beam of light. History has not denied me of my place in the memory of that time. If I am to continue to strive for a subjective spiritual perspective, and to seek artistic breakthroughs, then I have no need to return to these memories, just as I refuse to delve once more into the trivial matters of the Stars.

The problem is that a number of authorities in the art-critical world have frequently claimed that the works in the Stars Art Exhibition were overly politicized, lacking in artistic creativity. For this I am grateful. I will not forget who made these claims, nor how. It is extremely difficult to understand these irresponsible frivolities. What, exactly, does “politicized” mean? What is artistic creativity? One all too common, strangely accepted reality is that some people, as soon as they amass some semblance of discursive power, insist on turning history into semantics, imposing their preconceived definitions onto primarily historical phenomena. History then becomes conceptualized. The more authority one has, the less responsibility, and the more easily he can peddle certain concepts of definitions.

As for the critique that the Stars “are not art,” or “not creative art,” the more fitting question is when China’s so-called “creative” art emerged. Did it begin with the “’85 New Wave?” With the China/Avant-Garde exhibition of 1989? Or was it later, with the New Art, Pop Art, and Gaudy Art of the post-89 period? Where indeed can we fix the beginning of contemporary Chinese art history? When I think about this, I can’t but be disturbed. If Chinese contemporary art still exists—as some have claimed—in some sort of juvenile state, then those of us who experienced this early phase of its history are even less than duckweed atop the waters; we are not even bubbles in the water. And what of the originators of these “definitions?” Are they to be considered the mothers of the precious baby they consider Chinese contemporary art to be?

I don’t understand the origins, and even less the correct meanings, of these definitions. Their intellectual import seems to lie simply in making it easier for Westerners to understand things, or in looking to raise the educational levels of ordinary Chinese. We know that in this world any cultural incident, including Chinese contemporary art, is not the result of any single instantaneous development, nor the product of scholars, theorists, and critics. The maturation of art requires the passage of time and the intervention and fermentation of numerous factors. It needs to climb and roll, it requires sacrifice, it needs the sun to rise and new life to be born. Taking to the streets in protest (as the Stars did) was no amazing feat, but it was also not a mistake. At a moment when democratic consciousness was reaching a new fault line, this sort of choice or experiment was not only helpful but necessary.

Artistic creation derives from intellectual independence. In this sense, the Stars Art Exhibition represented a challenge to inherited concepts grounded in precisely this kind of independent thinking, and for this reason it was taken as a challenge to mainstream art. Facing the obscuring walls of conservatism and politics, the Stars articulated the earliest oppositional stance. This stance is a form, and a form that belongs distinctly to the Stars.

Or rather, the form of the Stars was precisely the form of opposition. Opposed to the mainstream, it expressed independence. This was a historical choice exclusive to the Stars, a wise and extremely creative choice.

 

Value

Where lies the value of art: in action or in artworks?

Fortunately, the members of the Stars never achieved utilitarian success.

Writing in the White Cover Book that he published in 1995, Ai Weiwei stated that “The importance of the Stars lies in having taken up two questions that artists must face: artists must express themselves, and at the same time they must struggle for the power to express themselves. When expression is threatened, the artist must still seek this power; this manifests the artist’s dignity, and dignity in and of itself is often more important than any single good work of art.”

In an extremely ideological national situation and era, art inevitably faced challenges coming from the absolutism of politics. Regardless of whether one employed a strategy of passive avoidance or active confrontation, one had to raise the status of art itself. Otherwise, the place of art could only be defined by the political situation: At that time, people were encouraged one day to go out and stimulate the economy, then punished the next for violating the moral order. In the face of such overwhelming political dynamics, the Stars maintained their own attitude, and thus won dignity. This was not politics proper, nor some strange alternative form of politics. This was art—the basic condition and value of the artist.

Now that a quarter-century has elapsed since the Stars Incident, the questions of whether it will attain its proper place in the critical conversation and whether it will be seen as having a certain kind of value already seem incidental. But indeed there are some things about the Stars that can be confirmed, namely the form that the Stars took, its stubborn opposition to anything and everything “mainstream.” That is the spirit of the Stars, and the action behind its dignity.

When art is made, some people are inside. They are lucky.

The goal of art is to improve life, and the process of art elevates the individual.

In the process of improving artistic taste and quality, some people contribute action, and others contribute works. Both of these activities are human and spiritual, with the same creative value.

I have preferred to take both of these methods as my direction. In a situation that has not yet reached its ideal state, I feel an even greater sense of responsibility, and this sense of responsibility guides my choices. Just as in the thinking of the Stars, when the “timeliness” of art becomes a “problem,” responsibility leads me to press for action as a way of ensuring the completion of the creative process.

I also often feel that I am reaching for another extreme of art, or another side of the unlimited freedom of art—the unlimited power of freedom that lies inside art.

Now, having seen the almost magical success of certain schools and artists, can we truly say that the creative environment is mature? Can we really claim that a bright, shining age of contemporary art has arrived?


Huang Rui     2004-2005

不是星星,也不是艺术

评价

不是“艺术”的星星美展,那是什么?

作为星星美展的主要发起人,我并无意对当时的历史事件做任何自我评价。星星美展轰动京城的一幕已赫然远去。如同后来发生的引发争议的众多事件一样,它是否属于时间过程中的一个碑记都会引起疑问。我是否曾经作为一个传达因素、一个媒介,或者一个声音、一道光线,全无所谓,我已经不会是被取消的时代记忆里的缺席者。如果我依然坚守精神上的主观主义立场,并试图在艺术上有所突破的话,那么我就没必要拾回这段记忆,正如我不愿在这里对有关星星的琐碎事实旧话重提一样。

问题是,美术理论界的一些权威们动辄说星星美展过于政治化,星星的作品在艺术上缺乏创造性。对此,我有所感铭。我不会忘记谁以怎样的方式说过这些话。也很难理解这种不负责任的轻狂。什么叫政治化?艺术中的创造性又是什么?一个因司空见惯而变得见怪不怪的事实是,一些人一朝拥有话语权,便会风急地强加某种语义给历史,赋予本来是原色的历史现象以某种预设的定义。于是,历史变得概念化起来。越有权威,越可以不负责任,就越是轻易贱卖某些关于定义的概念。

假如星星“不是艺术”,或者“不是有创造性的艺术”,那么中国所谓“有创造性”的当代艺术从何时肇始?从“85新潮”吗?从89“现代艺术大展”吗?还是后89时期的新艺术、波普艺术或艳俗艺术?中国当代艺术史的源头到底在哪里?想到这里,心中不免忐忑。如果中国当代艺术仍旧存在于以某人名字命名的童年期的话,那么我们这些曾在其中打过滚的亲历者不仅成不了流水浮萍,甚至连水中的泡沫都不是。那么“定义”的始作俑者呢?难道是中国当代艺术宝贝的奶妈吗?

我不了解这些定义的出发点及准确含义。其知识含量是帮西方人看图识字呢,还是在照顾国人的一般文化水平。我们知道,在这个世界上,包括中国当代艺术在内的任何文化事件都不是一时一事的结果,也不会是学术、理论界批评家的制成品。艺术的成长须经过时间的淘洗及诸多因素的参与、酝酿,需要摸爬滚打,需要牺牲,需要太阳初升、婴儿呱呱坠地。上街游行,大概并没有什么了不起,但也没有错误。在一个民主意识的断层时代,此类的抉择或试验不仅有益,而且需要。

艺术的创造始于思维的独立。从这个意义上说,星星美展恰恰是基于这种思维独立性的一个对即成概念的挑战,它因此被置于与主流艺术相对立的位置。在保守意识和政治环境的坚壁面前,它构成了一个最初的反对派的姿态。这种姿态是一个形式,一个属于星星自己的形式。

或者说,星星的形式就是对立的形式。以与主流的对立,来表达独立,这是星星惟一的、历史的选择,同时也是智慧的、富于创造性的选择。

 

价值

艺术的价值是什么,行动还是作品?

所幸的是星星的当事者们尚未取得功利上的成功。

艾未未在95年出版的白皮书里说过这样一段话:“星星重要的一点在于,艺术家的一个兼职的问题,艺术家必须表达自己,同时争取这个表达的权利,当这种表达遇到威胁的时候,他仍然能坚持这个权利,这体现了艺术家的尊严,而尊严本身,常常比一件好的作品更重要。”

在一个高度意识形态化的国度和年代,艺术无可奈何地面对来自政治的绝对性的挑战,不管你采取的方式是消极回避,还是积极面对,你必须努力提升艺术的地位。否则,艺术的位置势必任由强大的政治做出处置:今天让你上街揽客,为了经济;明天抓住罚款,为了道德秩序。在强大的政治面前,星星有了自己的态度,因此获得了尊严。这不是政治,或者说是一种另类的政治也无所谓,但这是艺术——艺术家的基本条件和价值底线。

星星事件已经过去四分之一世纪,它能否获得相应的评价,被赋予某种价值已然成了身外之物。的确有一种关于星星的东西得以确立,那就是星星的形式,对一切“主流”执拗地保持对立的形式。它就是星星的精神——有尊严的行动。

艺术发生的时候,有一些人在里面,在里面的人是幸运的。

艺术的目的是提高生活,其过程是提升自己。

在提升艺术品位和品质的过程中,有人付诸行动,有人付诸作品,两者均是人类的精神活动,具有同样的创造性的价值。

我个人喜欢上述的两种方式并引以为方向。在一种情况尚未达到理想之前,我更多地意识到责任,而责任会自动地导引我的选择。与星星的理念一样,当作品的“正当性”成为“问题”的时候,责任还会指引我诉诸行动,以确保创作过程的完成。

我也常常意识到我在追求艺术的另一个极端,即艺术的无限自由性的另一面——艺术里无限的自由权利。

现在,当我们目睹了某些流派某些人像变魔术一样的成功之后,能说这是艺术创造的环境成熟了吗?能断言当代艺术星光璀璨的时代已经到来了吗?

 

黄锐 2004-2005