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Interview

March 21, 2007

Long March Project

Inspired by the historic Mao Zedong-led Long March — the Red Army's grueling 6,000-mile retreat across China from pursuing Nationalist forces — the Long March Project was founded in 1999. In 2002, it enacted The Long March: A Walking Visual Display, a series of performances and interventions at sites along the Red Army's original route. In 2003, the 25000 Cultural Transmission Center (the Long March Space) was established in Beijing as a dynamic exhibition space. The Long March Project also continues to participate in international exhibitions and is included in the Fifth Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art. Artkrush reviews editor Andrew Maerkle spoke with founder and chief curator Lu Jie about the project's history and current activities.

AK:  What is the inspiration behind the Long March Project?

LJ:  Recalling the Red Army's historic Long March, China is now on a new Long March, experiencing rapid change in geographic and social landscapes and artistic expression. The Long March Project seeks a new approach to contemporary art, using China as a platform. Participants work together with local communities, exploring the relationships between individual and collective, theory and practice. Unlike an art collective, the Long March is not composed of core participants; rather, it is an ongoing art and curatorial project, which I started and continue to serve as chief curator, and from 2002-03 the artist Qiu Zhijie was co-curator.

AK:  What is your view of the conditions for contemporary art in China today?

LJ:  Contemporary Chinese art is developing with great diversity and inspiration, but with the current period of success, there are also concerns about the market's influence on art, exhibitions, and opinions. While still taking advantage of the market's positive aspects, how do we maintain artistic originality and an engagement with society in an atmosphere of consumerism and transformation?

This context is also indicative of a greater uprooting of contemporary Chinese art as it moves further into the international system — an unmooring from history, tradition, and the creative capacities of folk culture. The Long March looks to re-establish these connections. For example, the painter Yang Shaobin's 800 Meters Under is a two-year, nine-month project involving coal mines and the history and current state of industrialization in China.

AK:  Did your Long March interventions in 2002 reflect a specific moment in recent Chinese art history?

LJ:  The Long March: A Walking Visual Display definitely responded to a particular moment. We felt limited by the fact that the primary audience of Chinese art was in international or urban centers, and we were also addressing the narrowness of postcolonial and identity-politics debates. The frameworks have changed since then, with creative networks emerging in different forms and greater complexity, especially in Asia. However, the overall calling of the Long March and its methodological and organizational structures laid the groundwork for debates that are still relevant. We no longer follow the historic route, but have instead embarked upon a broader metaphorical Long March, reflective of the shift of movement and migration from a linear progression towards ever more distinct and fragmented spaces.

AK:  The art scenes in Beijing and Shanghai have grown tremendously in recent years. Do you see similar growth elsewhere?

LJ:  While everyone discusses urbanization as one of the most apparent effects of globalization and population migration, it is also important to examine the role of rural areas in these processes, in terms of rural flight and the decline of industrial cities. Without a doubt, the Beijing and Shanghai art scenes have grown tremendously, and this does encourage arts in other areas. But are these models applicable to other contexts? How can we collaboratively construct new possibilities for art, for its production and display, with regard to specific localities? These are questions we raise through our projects.

AK:  The Long March Project is currently included in the Fifth Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT5) in Brisbane, Australia, as well as the Auckland Triennial in New Zealand. Are new projects created for every exhibition?

LJ:  For international exhibitions, we might prepare new projects, such as the No Chinatown project we are showing in Auckland, or we might contribute a selected Long March project, such as the Great Survey of Papercuttings in Yanchuan County at last year's São Paulo Biennial, or a selection of Long March works, as seen at APT5.

AK:  How are the principles of the Long March Project applied in an international context?

LJ:  The Long March Project's challenge to fixed display and interpretation inherently acknowledges the instability of translation. Once our projects enter a museum space, there's a danger that the institutional setting will co-opt our efforts to enter the public realm. Confronted with this situation, we decided that when the Long March enters international space, it should be as an intervention into the site — a simultaneous arrival and departure point. The Long March should not be a "thematic" placeholder for a Chinese national pavilion filled with contemporary Chinese art, but rather an international campaign that enters into the different temporal and spatial sites of experience and action, as well as construction and reproduction.

AK:  What other projects do you have planned for the next year?

LJ:  Several projects are slated both internationally and locally. We are currently conducting a three-year art-education initiative entitled Yanchuan County Primary School Papercutting Art Education Curriculum, which involves art-teacher training programs in villages, as well as pilot programs and curricula developed for the local context through papercutting. We are also on the second stage of Yang Shaobin's 800 Meters Under.

Long March Project artists Hong Hao, Li Tianbing, Liu Jieqiong, Mu Shen and Shao Yinong, Qin Ga, Shen Xiaomin, Wang Wenhai, and Zhou Xiaohu are exhibiting at the Fifth Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in Brisbane, Australia through May 27.

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