Berlin is hosting a series of presentations intended to give Westerners a glimpse into Chinese art. Also in the frame is China's own relationship with its past and its future.
Known mostly for his calligraphy, photography and video-installation works, Beijing-based artist Qiu Zhijie is now one of the most active and radical figures in the Chinese art scene.
As both a critic and director of the Shanghai Biennale, Qiu examines the modernization and ideology of China.
"History is religion in China," Qiu told an audience at Berlin's Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW). It was the second in a series of talks, "Hidden Images - on the situation of Art in China," organized by Berlin University of the Arts (UdK).
Qiu is one of a series of artists participating in discussions, lectures and artist workshops as part of a year-long event intended to give insight into the artistic visions that currently move China.
"We live for our history," said Qiu. "It's all about leaving a legacy behind. History is not only documented, but it's elevated to the passion and fervor of religion."
An example is his 2006 work, simply titled "Monument." Qui selected various revolutionary slogans and discourses from Chinese history; from the first revolution against the Emperor in 300 BC to the most recent ones. He chiseled the characters on a piece of cement board, printed it, then covered it again with cement and chiseled the sentence from the next revolution, repeating the process for 20 layers.
Past, present and future
The eyes of China were always fixed to the past, Qiu explains, but both Christianity and communism have pushed the nation into the future. He believes the focus toward the future means more pressure for success in every-day life, which, in turn, leads to suicide. His most extensive work, "A Suicidology of The Nanjing Yangzi River Bridge," is a series of sculptural and performance installations that reflect the consequences of rampant globalization. The work shows the ambivalent nature of the infamous Chinese bridge - both a symbolic monument to modernization and ideology, and the scene of thousands of suicides.
The "Hidden Images" series is curated by the artists and China experts Andreas Schmid and Bignia Wehrli. Its key aims are to promote intercultural dialogue and examine the role of the artist in society.
"There is a big gap and vacuum between the historical Chinese identity and this new modernized China, which is accelerating towards the future," says Wehrli.
UdK has now established strong ties with China, having set up a joint Master's program in Visual Arts and Design with the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou. The appointment of Ai Weiwei as Einstein guest professor at UdK Berlin is also a step in that same direction.
"UdK Berlin has a special relationship to China and has been engaged in developing contacts (there) for many years," Wehrli explains. "With 'Hidden Images' we would like to open up the road for a two-way exchange."
"While in China every art student studies western art history, art students in Europe know very little about the historical and the contemporary situation of arts in China. Our picture of China is often based on the narrow information we get from Western media."
Wehrli draws an analogy between Chinese art itself. "The Chinese title of the series is 'San Dian Tou Shi.' It means literally 'scattered-point-perspective' and describes the specific perspective of Chinese painting, which is not a central one but is derived from many field of views, one could call it a de-centralized perspective. A de-centralization of our Western view on China is also the aim of this series."