18 August 2011

Mike Stubbs has been Director of FACT since May 2007, has commissioned over 250 artworks during his career, and is a film maker and artist in his own right. You can submit your questions for Mike and we'll select some to be answered in future blogs.

To kick off the series, we asked Mike "Why are cross-continental dialogues important?"

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Before joining FACT in 2008, I ran the artistic programme for ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image). Those old clichés about Australia are true (BBQs, beaches etc) and so is the one about isolation - Singapore, China, Japan, Korea are “neighbours” – a mere eight hours down the road! So it’s little wonder that my introductions to Asia were through ACMI – a visit to ICC Tokyo (a Japanese equivalent to FACT) and then scoping out Taiwan’s Museum of Contemporary Art’s Pixar show for them. My lasting impression of the Asian artists I met was that they are adept in working with technology and across disciplines, but also less hung up on context and history.

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When I moved to Europe from Australia (every Aussie’s dream?) some four years ago, I made it my business to keep the relationships going with Asian partners.

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Following on from a collaboration with NAMOC in 2008, I was lucky enough to be invited to curate the UK selection of Synthetic Times, an international art survey that ran alongside the Bejing Olympics. It was a significant moment - radical art presented within the highly conservative National Art Museum of China (NAMOC) under the auspices of the Olympic Cultural Programme.  There was immediately talk of a follow up - maybe a Triennial of media art…. Would I be involved?

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My recent trip to China for TransLife (the very first International Triennial of Media Art) is really the fruit of those early conversations. The quality of the exhibition is world class, it’s accessible (as is most interactive media art) and was a treat to witness the local excitement over an exhibition of its kind (60-100,000 visitors anticipated for its three week run and queues at the ticket office from 8.30am).

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Of course, Liverpool had strong presence in the Shanghai Expo (one of Liverpool’s most important twin cities with which it shares a similar skyline, architecture, as well as a large Shanghai diaspora that forms part of Liverpool’s Chinatown - Britain’s oldest Chinese community). FACT contributed to the Expo year in the grounds of the Rockbund Art Museum when we presented KMA's Congregation originally for FACT's AND Festival, in partnership with the British Council.

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In this trip and others I have come across truly exciting artists, often unseen in Europe. Tehching Hsieh (Taiwan) and Minouk Lim (Korea) were commissioned by FACT for last year’s Liverpool Biennial and important artists such as Cao Fei, Yang Fudong and Feng Mengbo all had their first UK exhibitions here.

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Histories of perspective, Confucianism, technological change, post second world war history, political unrest and the need to modernise are some of the ingredients which have led to such interesting art coming from a region made up of radically different political, economic and cultural histories.

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Of course there’s an argument that in a global context, national identities for artists becomes less and less important.  The local conditions for Shanghai and Liverpool may be very different – but what about Shanghai and Frieze art fairs? The art market like the stock market has few local loyalties.  Good art is good art and generally mechanisms to characterise a national type of art does nobody any favours.

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Last Friday I had the pleasure of dinner, whiskey and ping pong (a hobby/addiction of mine) with the Chinese artist Zhang Qing. Zhang Qing is artist of increasing profile in China who exists in a system, like the recently interned Ai Weiwei, of which he is critical. His recent work The People's Secretary is a reflection of that. It’s very political, challenging truth and state propaganda, and I am thrilled to say show at FACT at the end of September as part of this year’s AND festival.

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For me it’s important to see for yourself and make up your own mind up. How we form opinion is through the act for seeing with our own eyes, keeping dialogue open and being part of the conversation - no single truths, only comparison of experience and discussion.


 

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