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Skip to 0 minutes and 8 secondsI think as soon as you decide to enter really an environment, that superficial level of confrontational dynamics makes less and less sense. As soon as you get a little bit deeper into things, you start to analyze the situation, and needs, and things. So, what is the free will of a worker in a factory? Just like... We could say it's very limited, or, especially in China or something. But actually I think where we can bring something is that is not pretending that art is giving them a way of life, or teaching about their condition. Because my experience is that workers, at least in this factory, are totally aware of their condition. And they don't need artists to explain it to them.

Skip to 1 minute and 1 secondActually some artists do make some more provocative intervention in that sense. Well often, not to dismiss, but like in a discussion with the workers, just like "yep, I know that, this is my condition." So you actually have to deal with this thing that... I think what you can provide is to provide something there that they can choose or not to engage with. That is probably a very small window but it seems to me at least something quite honest. But to provide that opportunity and also the lexicon of how to use this opportunity or what that means or what it can bring to your life. Then you are just enforcing another vision of the world.

Skip to 1 minute and 50 secondsSo when I make a joke I just say… I'm saying, bring art there, if people get something out of our art and they, I don't know, become better serial killers. I just hope not to get in their way. But I just think that it's providing this "something" there that is something you can choose to engage or not, and then can eventually bring something in the person's life. that you don't want to control, don't want to define. This is for me the level of action that you have. In terms of the artist and the free will I think, honestly as an artist myself, and before I came to these practices, I had this...

Skip to 2 minutes and 35 secondsI think it can become very tricky because you might have the illusion that you have a lot of free will, because you are in your studio and because you are protected by this aura of being an artist. Or you can accept maybe to live in poor conditions and challenging social conventions. But ultimately, I feel, if you are not engaging in the community, if you are always staying on the side of things, I think it's a way to escape. You know, like... So, it's a practice. I think in China you have this saying "the wise person lives on the mountain, and the very wise person lives in the center of the market."

Skip to 3 minutes and 22 secondsSo, I think even for the artist the privilege of being in your studio and doing whatever you want, in the 21st century, perhaps should be confronted with the idea of what is this "whatever you want?" What kind of impact does it have outside? Are you really interested in what your work could bring to the world or what is expected to be? Or you can just work in a sort of artistic way. I think it's very... that's what I hope to discover.

Skip to 4 minutes and 5 secondsTrying to be as neutral...or stand back enough to let things progress. And if things progress when there's been a confrontation, that's very interesting, because that introduces that element that is the most difficult to make it acceptable in a company and in a for-profit thing. It's this dealing with failure, like you say, but also with criticism. The opportunity of expressing criticism. So, I'm actually very glad inside of me if there is a problem, because people think maybe an artist has been, I don't know, a bit rude, or they doesn't understand what he's doing. But if the project continues beyond that step… because that means we are really entering a real conversation.

Artist interview: Alessandro Rolandi

We interviewed Alessandro Rolandi at the factory in Beijing in early 2016. In this excerpt, we asked him two questions:

  • What is the difference between the free will of a worker and that of an artist?
  • What does he do if a situation becomes confrontational?

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    This video is from the free online course:

    Discovering Socially Engaged Art in Contemporary China

    City University of Hong Kong