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Artist interview: Wang Haichuan

Artist Interview: Wang Haichuan
The residents… through the activities during the years, they grasped a certain idea of artists and art projects. They think, “Oh, now we understand something about so called ‘art’.” They knew what the artists were coming for. They accept the presence of artists. And they didn’t dismiss art. They even showed me what they made and what they considered as art. They presented me handicrafts and all kinds of curious stuff. This inspired me to organize the photography class. I handed out many film cameras and let them record whatever they thought worthy to be recorded. It could be memories, any accidents, or all kinds of things. At that moment, their identity might have shifted.
For example, in the first class, they claimed, “Oh, we start to make art now.” Just then, art was having some effects on the residents. But it’s hard to say if art would influence their lives in the future. Even the artists themselves could hardly make a difference in life though art; how can we expect the residents to do so? I have never expected that. However, I saw potentialities in it. They would treasure what I brought in. Why did I give film cameras to them? Because they will press the shutter button with extra care. They will shoot what they find really worthwhile. Every time I loaded just 36 shots for each camera.
They wouldn’t get a refill until the next time I came. So they started to distinguish images. That’s the possibility of change hidden in the activity.
Once I discussed with friends about the ethical issues of art. I will try my best to enter the community as an individual. Because to my knowledge, it’s the best way to avoid misunderstanding. If you bring a lot of people to the community, you will become a representative of a group. If you always come alone, they might think you were on your own. The difference of statuses might be diluted through language and time. The locals would say, “Ah-ha, here comes Mr. Wang.” Then they called me Director Wang. The change of titles indicated the decrease of unfamiliarity. Because I always went there alone, they just thought “that guy came alone again.”
If you always bring a bunch of people, to use a lot of equipment for the events, they will think the group are the people from the other side, from the other side of the river, or from the mountain, this kind of feeling. I was carefully avoiding this situation. Frankly speaking, if you’re not able to change their conditions, you’d better keep a low profile. That’s the best method. If you want to change them, go with real action. That’s another way. You should probably act like an NGO, doing something like some civil societies, to answer their requests and fight for their rights. But I think it’s beyond my individual ability, and it’s not my point of interest.

We interviewed Wang Haichuan in his studio in Chongqing in October 2015. In this excerpt, we asked him two questions:

  • How can art influence the local people?
  • What is his position in the community?
  • This article is from the free online

    Discovering Socially Engaged Art in Contemporary China

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