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I think of ourselves as brave, living in the 1990s, fighting against society's mainstream values of the time with our limited individual forces. We were just a small, self-supported group, and yet we were delivering on the whole Guangdong’s regional culture. When I look back, I see a naïve soul in myself, one who is a loner, one who bears pride and eccentricity. Although I must confess I find some of my works of that time a little premature, I treasure their bookishness and the language I developed in them. They were less influenced compared to present works, and thus are free from pleasing motives and trending standards. Moreover, all my present works have their roots in my 90s artworks, from language to concept and from philosophy to media application. On one hand, to an artist, such progress and its extension are indivisible. On the other hand, we live in a time of great changes, and everything in the 90s seem to be so far away.
I think of ourselves as brave, living in the 1990s, fighting against society's mainstream values of the time with our limited individual forces. We were just a small, self-supported group, and yet we were delivering on the whole Guangdong’s...
Revisiting this Big Elephant Group discussion in 1993, I must say that, with 20 years gone by since then, much has changed including the environment and our own mentalities. There are at least two things that I had not realized back then. First, I would never have imagined that the “avant-garde art” of the time (nowadays we call it “contemporary art”) would be so much influenced by today’s market and capital. Second, we were then way too optimistic about the withdrawal of a totalitarian Chinese government. In the early 1990s, there was an optimistic atmosphere that surrounded southern China (and perhaps many places around the globe). Consumerism had first landed in China along with its lifestyle and culture, the Chinese government had loosened its control, and the financial circumstance of common people had clearly begun to improve. I felt a sense of relief, thinking that this was the beginning of some post-modernist lifestyle. Looking back now, I realize I was too naïve. When I look around me now, on one hand I see drastic changes in the artistic world, on the other I see that the society’s awareness has weakened, including its resistance to totalitarianism and its will to pursue democracy, which have slowed down. However, there is one thing I can say without doubt: I have never changed in my fundamental philosophy of art, which includes art for art’s sake and introspection.
The Big Elephant Group in the 1990s always tried to surpass the “Orientalism” so popular at the time as well as the trendy Chinese political symbol. We confronted and reflected upon “politics” as well as our early living conditions mingled with consumerism. Apart form that, we tried to present all of our observations and studies of the society with rich artistic language. This effort might seem frail if seen from today given its idealistic mentality, but such effort has never cease to exist in our works that followed through the years.
Revisiting this Big Elephant Group discussion in 1993, I must say that, with 20 years gone by since then, much has changed including the environment and our own mentalities. There are at least two things that I had not realized back then. First, I...
Mao Zedong taught us this: Always self-criticize. I remember when I was at the elementary school, we were asked to write a “self-evaluation” at the end of each semester. Part of this evaluation consisted of our recognizing our own faults, yet, interestingly enough, almost everyone gave cookie-cut answers that varied little. So to reflect on this piece – a discussion that took place 20 years ago – does not seem very meaningful to me. That being said, since these words are to be published, some clarification is in order.
Big Elephant Group was established shortly after the Cold War ended, a time when globalization hadn’t fully taken over the world yet. On the one hand, we were critical to the New Wave Movement in China in the 1980s that bore attributes of Modernism, because it happened in the isolated context with no communication with the international art scene. On the other hand, we sought to surpass Western contemporary art. Because I am against socialist-realism, I turned to pursue a Utopian, new art form in my works. However, without a societal context of discourses, this individual system that relies on solitary imagination becomes weak and can hardly support itself. Three months after the Big Tail Elephant internal meeting in 1993, I adjusted myself and changed directions, and my works turned to efforts of impacting the society from an individual artist’s point of view. After the year of 2000, I have had various opportunities to create artwork in the contexts of different countries, and this sort of influence had to come from opportunities given by the local system; I didn’t belong to those systems, I only came and went between them. A system equates its society, which equates a power of control. I have always pondered about what sort of new weapon could help us fight against this globalized system that becomes more and more rigid each day. Clearly, art itself would not be the weapon. Perhaps this is an unoriginal concern, and yet again it has become an obstacle.
Mao Zedong taught us this: Always self-criticize. I remember when I was at the elementary school, we were asked to write a “self-evaluation” at the end of each semester. Part of this evaluation consisted of our recognizing our own faults, yet,...
Big Tail Elephants: Liang Juhui, Xu Tan, Chen Shaoxiong, and Me