Interview with Stephanie Rosenthal about the performance “Happy Yingmei”

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What changes did your experience when you performed “Happy Yingmei” in Hayward Gallery?

The whole concept for this piece of work was always changing and developing in my three months at Hayward Gallery in 2012. Compared to the two-day performance

“Happy Yingmei” I created in Lilith Performance Studio, Malmö in 2011 the work evolved over time. At first, I put new elements into this piece of work nearly every day.

Based on my initial quiet interaction with the audience using notes on paper I gradually added more body language and sound/conversation. On the other hand, how to organize and deal with the audience on-site became more and more important. There was often a large crowd so I had to react quickly and cope with all kinds of situations in order to adapt to new circumstances as quickly as possible. The experiences in Hayward gave me more opportunities to handle different situations, and this makes me more flexible and experienced interacting with people from different cultural backgrounds, different social backgrounds and different ages.

During the exhibition “Art of Change-New Directions From China” in Hayward Gallery, you had to keep working for at least 5 hours a day. How did you face this challenge?

It was really challenging to do this exhibition, with different demands coming moment by moment. First of all, around 25,000 people came to the exhibition: so it was a challenge how to face every viewer and make him or her involved with my artwork. In order to meet the challenges and achieve good results, I always needed to be well prepared for the next day, I would sleep well, have a healthy diet and exercise adequately, so that I could create my artwork in optimal mental performance. Second of all, I came up with something new in this artwork daily. I regarded it a challenge to improve and innovate every day.

So, how did the audience respond differently to this piece of artwork?

Basically, I can roughly divide their responses into two kinds; one is positive, and the other negative. I can’t just say right or wrong. Every coin has two sides. Some of them were less cooperative, but that was a small minority. Most of them gave me positive feedback in different ways, some communicated with me directly in the gallery, others e-mailed me, texted me or communicated with me through repeated participation. Here are a few interactions that stand out in my memory: One woman among the visitors saw a paper note written, “Could you please tell me an important turning point in your life?” Then a girl she saw as her own child who committed suicide came to mind, and sadly she started sobbing. There was also an old man who saw a note about the respectful relationship between parents and children. He found my work so instructive that he thought the ideas in my artwork should be adopted into children’s education in schools. And there was a crowd of women who came to the exhibition with their small children. They joined my work, and they all felt thrilled. Most visitors expressed that they attached great importance and affection to my artwork. Also, a surge of positive emotions came to them, which made me delighted.

In the early days of your artistic career you were a painter, how did the transition from painter to performance artist take place?

In my early years when I was living in Beijing’s East Village I primarily used painting for my artistic works. Some artists in the Village were doing performances, which made me very curious. Although I did collaborations with other East Village artists, I did not really engage myself in performance art until later. In 1998, when I continued my studies in Germany I found my answers about performance art from my teacher Marina Abramović. I also discovered that the medium of performance was the best method for me to express my artistic thought.

How do you think your hometown influences you?

The subtle influence my hometown exerted on me came along with my birth, living in my blood. When I was living in China I was influenced greatly by my traditional education and I understand that I have obtained many typical Chinese characteristics. Later on, when I studied in Germany or exhibited all over the world, I accepted western thought but what was inscribed in my bones has not totally changed. This is reflected in my artwork “Happy Yingmei” as many of the paper notes I use in the performance reference Chinese life, such as Chinese geography, tradition, history, and China’s present. This work is an embodiment of the influence my hometown had on me.

How did the performance change in Malmö when you did it for the second time in 2013?

Firstly, from an objective point of view, the date, venue, and cultural backgrounds of the people I encountered changed. The number of viewers and the extent to which the audience were engaged in the performance changed depending on the visitors. The most important changes have occurred within myself; during the process of

making this work my own feelings have changed therefore I feel I have a deeper understanding of myself and stronger sense of self-examination. In addition, I made reference much more to Chinese culture, politics, history and economics in Malmö for the second time. I felt like a communicator of Chinese culture bridging the gap between China and Sweden. Each day after my performance I used to spend a lot of time reading about Chinese culture and through this performance I also have a better understanding of Chinese culture.

Can you talk about your creative experiences in Swansea?

“Happy Yingmei” is a work that is constantly developing, and different themes can be expressed based on the audience and their cultural backgrounds. During the show

“Let’s see what happens” organised by Glynn Vivian Art Gallery in Swansea, my performance was in Elysium Gallery. There I met different people such as students, artist volunteers and also local art lovers. In this artwork I took on the role of performance artist and sometimes educator, attempting to spend more time interacting deeply with everybody. Most students came from preparatory art classes or from the Department of Arts at the University. The starting point for my interaction with them was the theme of “Performance Art” and sharing my experience with them. The difference from other previous performances lay in the addition of role reversal in order to deepen their knowledge of performance art. I hope they can add the medium of performance into their future art works.

你在伦敦海沃德美术馆实现“快乐英梅”的行为作品过 程中,经历了什么样的改变
2012 年,我在海沃德美术馆 3 个月时间里,整个作品的 方案不断地变化发展。相比于 2011 年在瑞典马尔默莉 莉丝工作室实现的两天的《快乐英梅》作品,在形式上 或是艺术效果上都有了不同程度的改变。首先,我几乎 每天不断地向这件行为作品里注入新的东西,在以小纸 条这样安静的方式与观众互动的基础上逐步加入了更多 肢体语言和声音。另一方面,如何组织和把握现场的观众,


也变得越来越重要。观众人数很多,为了尽可能地适应每 次新出现的情况,我必须具备这种快速反应和处理各种情 况的能力。海沃德的经历给了我更多的可能性去尝试各种 不同情况,让我与来自不同文化和社会背景的人,不同年 龄层的人之间的互动变得更灵活丰富。

你在海沃德美术馆参加“变化中的中国当代艺术展”的展 览过程中,每天持续至少五个小时的工作,你是怎样面对 这其中出现的挑战的? 在做这个展览的过程中,我觉得确实很有挑战性,每时每 刻都面对不同的决定。首先,来参观这个展览的人确实是 很多,大约两万五千人,如何来面对我的每一位观众,让 他们感受到我的作品中去就是一项挑战,为了很好地迎接 并且完成这一项挑战,我积极地准备第二天所需要的物品, 让自己拥有充足的睡眠,健康饮食,适量运动使第二天达 到自己的最佳精神状态来完成我的艺术创作。其次,在每 一天的作品里,我都会插入一些新的东西,如何在原有基 础上加工创新对于我来说也可视为一项挑战。


观众们的给我的反应大致可以分为两种,一种是正面的反 馈,另一种就是负面的。不能去说谁对谁错,万事都有两 面性,有的观众也不是十分地配合,当然这是很小的一部分, 绝大部分的观众还是以不同的形式给了我正面的反馈。有 的通过现场最直接的方式进行情感交流,有的是发 email、 短信或反复参与这件作品的形式与我进行沟通 : 观众中有这样的一个女人,看到纸条上写的“你可以告诉 我你人生中的一个重要的转折点吗?” 她想起了那个她曾 视为已出但自杀了的小女孩后,开始伤心地哭泣。还有这 样的一位老人,他看到我为孩子们提供的那些关于他们父 母的信息时,感叹我的作品极具教育意义,应该实践到学 校的儿童教育中去。还有这样一群推着孩子来看展览的妇 人,他们带着孩子参与到我的作品中,而且他们和孩子们 都十分的兴奋。观众们大多表达了他们对我作品的重视和 喜爱以及我给他们带来的情感触动,这让我十分地欣慰。

在你的艺术生涯初期,你是作为一名画家来从事艺术创作,那 么你是怎样下定决心从一个画家转型为一个行为艺术家 的? 早些年,当我在北京东村用绘画来进行艺术创作的时候, 看到周围的一些艺术家开始做行为艺术作品,我就对行为 艺术产生了强烈的好奇心。虽然那时我参与了和其他东村 艺术家合作的行为艺术作品,但我并没有真正地开始从事 行为艺术。1998 年,在德国留学深造的时候,从我的老师 玛丽娜 · 阿布拉莫维奇那里,我寻找到了关于行为艺术的 答案,而且我发现行为艺术作为一种创作媒介可以更好地 表达我的艺术思想。

故乡给我带来的影响是潜移默化的。这种影响伴随着我的出 生,存在于我的血液里的。当我还在中国生活的时候,我所 接受的教育,所理解的传统,所得到的文化熏陶都具有的典 型中国特色。而后在德国学习或是在世界各地做展览的时候, 虽然也接受了西方的思想,但是存在我骨子里的东西不会完 全改变,并且在我的作品《快乐英梅》中也有所体现。作为 艺术媒介的小纸条上有很多内容是关于中国文化的,比如中 国地理、传统历史、当今中国,这就是我故乡给我带来影响 的一种体现。

当你 2013 年第二次在马尔默艺术馆进行“快乐英梅”艺术 创作的时候,作品本身有哪些变化?
2013 年我再次和莉莉丝行为艺术工作室合作《快乐英梅》 艺术创作的时候,我的表演是在马尔默艺术馆,整个展览 的主题是“24 个空间”。 首先,从客观的角度来讲,时间、地点、所处的文化背景等 客观条件多多少少都有一些改变。观众的数量、参与作品的 程度也在随着观众群体的特质而变化。最重要的是,在完成 作品的过程中,我的自身感受也发生了相应的变化,我对自 己有了更深的了解,更深入的自我挖掘。除此以外,在马尔 默的这次我更多地涉及到了中国文化、政治、历史、经济等, 就像充当一个中国文化传播者在中国和瑞典架起了一座桥 梁。每天表演后,我都会利用很多的时间来阅读中国文化。 通过这次的表演,我也对中国文化有了进一步的了解。

谈谈你在威尔士斯旺西时的创作经历 ?

《快乐英梅》是一件可持续发展的作品,针对观众群体和 他们的文化背景在每个地方展示的主题都不完全一样。在 斯旺西由格林维维安美术馆主办的展览“让我们看看会发 生什么⋯⋯” 在展览期间,我的作品是在乐世界画廊进行的。 展览期间,我遇到了不同的人,有的是学生,有的是做义 工的艺术家和还有的是当地的艺术爱好者们。在这次的作 品里,我是以行为艺术家和教育者的身份,尽可能地用更 多的时间和每个人更深刻地互动交流。绝大多数的学生是 艺术预科班和在校艺术系的学生,我和大家的互动更多的 是以行为艺术这一主题为出发点,把我的经验和大家分享。 与以往不同的是我会在创作的过程中,更多地穿插了角色 互换,加深他们对行为艺术的了解,希望他们把行为艺术 也加入到他们的艺术创作中去。