Wenguang: I've been in Flying Circus 4 times since 2000, and I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s not an occasion for art exchange or cultural exchange. It’s used to make me the think about the main question for me: what about art. Why I’m working with art. I think it’s the basic question for artists.
When I was young, I tried to be an artist. Some years later I tried to be a successful artist, or a good artist. But when people looked at me as a successful or good artist, I asked myself, what’s my future? What would make me continue working in art? Because if art is just for possessing, it’s not interesting for me.
I was brought up in the Cultural Revolution in China. When it started I was 10 years old, and when it ended, I was 20 years old. The Cultural Revolution was a very terrible time for our generation. In my time in the Cultural Revolution, all people in China were living a dark life. It was impossible for us to read any good book. We didn’t know anything from outside. But people in the country told us we were the most happy people in the world. And we believed it. So this is the kind of stupid life we had.
So when the doors of the country were opened in the late 70s and early 80s, the life of the country was changed. Before then, my life was like all Chinese young people: after high school we had to go to the village as a farmer, and we had not any chance to go to the university to study. So I was 22 years of age when I had the chance to go to university, after the Cultural Revolution. That’s why I started thinking what art-making is.
Wenguang’s focus during his talk was his work at Caochangdi (CCD), the art space he’s established in the suburbs of Beijing. (It’s vital to have a space of your own: otherwise you need to go through a lot of red tape every time you do a performance or film screening.) This is where he, and visiting artists like KS, have worked with young artists, young filmmakers, young choreographers, moulding them into truly creative beings.
Wenguang: Even though we didn’t have any permissions, we could do anything we wanted in this space. In China, people are used to being against something, campaigning and then waiting for something. This was trying to build something.
What emerged from this was a series of fantastically intimate movies about the reality of village life, with all its associated politics and social issues: pollution of rivers, children losing their education, old folks abandoned in their homes.
Wenguang: The village itself was like a volcano. Anytime it can explode.
Wenguang: People thought this project was very successful. But I found this a big problem for us. We asked, I asked myself the project is just training the village people to be successful filmmakers?
But now the villagers were asking him the same questions
Wenguang: I felt it was very… 讽刺. Ironic. I thought it’s a problem with art. It’s always like this. We try to use art for something, but we can do nothing with the art. Maybe I cannot give a good answer, but it’s better for me to keep the question by my side.
Wenguang: CCD has a number of young people and students who come into the workshops. They have a good education. They’ve studied university in visual arts, painting, usic, dance. But most of them they have a family background in the village. Some of them were born in the village, some of their parents or grandparents were still living in the village.
The common issue for all the young people: they don’t like to go back to the village. You can understand this, being in a country in China. If you have a college education, you have the inclination to go to the big city. Village life became a bad dream for these young people. They don’t like to go back. They don’t like to look back. I can say that everyone just tried to be a new person, a new citizen in the city, and make a new life.
Their assignment was to interview people on film, specifically about a great taboo subject of history: the Great Famine of 1958 to 1961. (The reason why it's taboo is that it was specifically created by the Communist government, by Mao Zedong's cockamamie schemes of how to improve agriculture and industry. 15 million people died, according to government stats: foreign academics pitch the number more around 45 million.
The project continues today in different forms: after the initial feature-length film, the students created performances (I watched one of them in 2011, Memory: Hunger II: it was six and a half hours long and we were advised not to eat anything the night before, to get an authentic taste of the suffering.) The village filmmakers were part of this too - old people, young people, huddling in masses, chanting the diets of grass, roots and sticks that their forebears had to resort to in different village dialects.
And the kids are sticking with it: they're training themselves to become stronger artists through this kind of rigorous commitment. Now, they're going back to the village every winter, of their own accord - no joke to face the frost and the lack of amenities.
Wenguang: It’s about believing. It’s kind of a religion. In China, the country, we have not any religion.so we have to find a religion. So we follow Keng Sen to find a religion in theatre.