Mail-Interview mit Hu Qingtai (english)
Roxanne Goldberg (RG): Can you tell me about your methodology (artistic practice)?
Hu Qingtai (HQ): To be honest, I cannot yet precisely answer this question. Mainly because I still don’t know what I am doing. Most of the time, the reality and everything around me are forcing me to do different artworks and issues. I slowly started to become less concerned about the future and myself, and became more interested in the “current moment,” interested in other people’s issues, the people and the things around me. Among all those interesting issues, the tragic things fascinate me the most, because these matters contain more emotion and love. Therefore, my past projects are all closely related to the people I meet, including the relationship between us, for example: our common interests, friendship, love and more. What is going to happen next? Who am I going to meet? I cannot predict them.
RG: You received your degree from the Video Media Department of Hubei Academy of Fine Arts. How did you come to your current approach to art making?
HQ: My educational background has a great impact on me. My school has provided me with infinite possibility, because it didn’t offer me any art-related concept and opinion. Honestly, I have learned almost nothing related to my major from my school. On my graduation day, I didn’t know what I learnt in school. Even my professors didn’t know what they had taught. I graduated with a blank, ignorant mind. But later on, I became very appreciative toward my school, because I realized it taught me with infinite freedom, which directly influenced the way I think and how I do my artwork. At the same time, it made me become careless about what art is.
RG: In your work, you sign contracts with artists that give you permission to copy their artworks in exchange for money or some other service. In my view, signing the contract appears to be a ritual. Can you comment on this and explain what interests you in the process of signing contracts.
HQ: It is indeed a ritual behavior, and I think it is very important to have this process. In fact, this is how I work and live. I hope everything has a standard like this. This ritual behavior contains the process of communication, the exchange of emotions and finally enters into an agreement. At the same time, it is also a guarantee of trusting and promises. The agreement is a source of emotional support in good and bad times. But I tried to maximize my benefit and minimize my risk. This is a common behavior in our society, not only for businessmen, but it also exists in human nature. On the other hand, I also put myself in the position of the other.
The agreement also prevents me from other risks and responsibilities. For me, I only do things by the book, while how the work was made is not my responsibility. I keep myself at a safe distance.
At first I was just curious about where and how the idea comes through the artist’s mind. I was questioning myself, how come I didn’t have those imaginations? I also started to doubt if humans even have the ability to create. To resolve these questions, I started to communicate with artists, and gradually became interested in the topic of disappointment coming from human interaction, power and self-interest. The charming part comes from the process. The harder to get a deal, the more I want to keep going on with the project. I feel disappointed when the deal goes smoothly.
RG: The contract terms are very interesting, such as your contract with Li Lao, in which you must keep in touch with Li Lao for the rest of his life. How do you decide on the terms? Are they written collaboratively with the artist whose work you’re copying?
What are the contract terms with your brother, Yang Xinguang and Zhuan Rui, the three works being exhibited in Die 8 der Wege?
HQ: The terms were written collaboratively with the artists, not solely written by me. The terms are the product of the two sides. I have no limitation on the terms. I tried to go along with the other party and hoped they got the best deal. Therefore, there are some extra terms of their wishes. All I did was give them some examples of the terms, for example, pay in cash, pay with physical labor, or relationships and more.
The contract term with my brother is: Divide the works into three groups, or three versions, according to the proposal. One of them goes to my brother. But this contract might not be upheld, because once my works and contracts were sold together, I have no right to reproduce the work.
The contract term with Yang Xinguang is for 1500RMB worth of labor services and the contract with Zhan Rui is for 500 RMB payment upfront, directly to him.
RG: How do you select the artists and artworks that you copy?
HQ: There are usually two reasons I select the artists and artworks. One is, people who impress me with their artworks, and the other is people who move me because of our relationship and friendship. In general, both types are the people I admire. But we must realize that people that you admire and the people you hate have the same weight.
I need to clarify that I prefer to use the word “exchange” instead of “buy”, because only the word “exchange” could summarize what I did in my project. “Exchange” included a lot of methods that money could not approach, including friendship, feelings and different agreements. The emotion is very important to me and the word “buy” is too restricted and cold.
RG: How do artists typically respond when you ask to copy their artworks?
HQ: Most of them were surprised at first and rejected me. Some of them tried to keep the situation less awkward so they didn’t say yes or no, and some of my good friends said yes without hesitation. The funniest out of all is a famous artist called Not Vital, he told me I should go travel and see the world if I am out of inspiration.
RG: Your artwork also seems to comment on roles in the art world. In your projects, you become curator, dealer and artist. Can you talk a bit about roles within the Beijing art world?
HQ: I try to forget about the border of the art world because I think the problem is not limited to any specific place. It is a problem that exists in human nature. Humans are complicated subjects, and that is why we display complex emotions and identities. Therefore, some people are accepted and some are rejected. There are two sides of everything and it is also true in the art world.
In my project, I just want to share my personal opinion. I try to express an equally important world, in which there is some good people and some bad people; where some are famous and some are not. Some I made well and some I was bad at it. In the process, I switched between different roles, talk differently to different people, but at the same time, retained my honesty and safety. This is because I knew the project could only go well if I made right and safe terms. The switching between roles was not intentional; it is a natural thing that I was doing when I was doing what I was supposed to do. Therefore, I overlooked the complex relationship and went directly into the process. This ignorance contained the dissatisfaction with myself, so I didn’t want to care about it and go directly to the things I think that are necessary. This is what elder told me “Less talk, more action.”
RG: What interests you in concepts of borrowing, of real and fake?
HQ: There is no real or fake. Everything is real, because the friendship and emotions are real.
RG: This project was exhibited in full just recently at White Space Beijing. How do you feel the Western audience in Berlin will respond, compared with the Chinese audience in Beijing?
HQ: I am actually not sure about how the Chinese audience responded to my works. People I know told me they liked it, and I have met a lot of new people who like my work. However, I have doubts about it, because I have not gotten response from the majority audience. Also, I don’t really care about what they thought since it is ordinary that people have different opinions. Therefore, I have no idea how the Western audience in Berlin will respond. But I hope more people could see what I am doing because I am affectionate and live a life filled with love and responsibility.
Interview conducted over e-mail by: Roxanne Goldberg
Translations from Chinese to English by: Lily Yuan-Yuan Ma