|JEREMIE THIRCUIR: LAPTOP LIFE IN CHINA
Jeremie Thircuir is an art book publisher www.en.thircuir.com who lives in Beijing, China. He’s originally from Paris and decided to leave France and became part of the Chinese contemporary art scene. He publishes artist monographs and seems pretty passionate about his work. Here’s our cool chat…
MICHAEL: Jeremie, I'm glad we connected on social media! First of all, I'm guessing that you're French and you live in Beijing? How did that happen? What are you doing in Beijing? That's a very exotic place for a Frenchman, No?
JEREMIE: You're guessing right! I left Paris in 2006 to relocate to China and see what was happening there. I did not plan to stay so long, but one thing led to another and after eight years, I'm still here. I first settled in Shanghai, working for some galleries, but in 2008, after many trips, I realized Beijing was much more fun, artsy and real, so I moved here. I worked for a gallery, a museum, a foundation and then decided to go solo.
MICHAEL: And so, what are you going now in Beijing?
JEREMIE: I'm kind of diffusing Chinese contemporary arts toward the West.
It comes under many forms. The main and most important thing would be my publishing house, Thircuir Books, that I founded couple of years ago. It started from the fact that people were not familiar with China or its contemporary art scene apart from couple of names. The idea was to create coherent series of artist monographs, sold at affordable prices to give people both content and context. So far, we've released six monographs of Chinese photographers and four are going to print soon. We're also launching a series of titles with painter Liu Xiaodong from his travel diary. In the same perspective, aside from the publishing company, I'm also sometimes working with foreign publishers on their Chinese projects, writing for a couple of French publications about Chinese contemporary art, curating shows, introducing artists to galleries ...
MICHAEL: That's a very exotic place for a Frenchman, No?
JEREMIE: I just was at the French Embassy’s National Day Celebration last night and I think I was not the only one of my fellow Frenchman around here. Beijing is not a little village in remote rural Laos. It’s a hyper-modern city with heavy pollution. Remote isn't always exotic (unfortunately) I'm sure Indiana would be far more exotic!
MICHAEL: Paris is a world class city. Americans are very romantic about Paris. Do you think you will ever go back there?
JEREMIE: Paris is the best city in the world to be a tourist. Living there isn't as nice and I would really not live there again. I often go back there as France is the main market for my books, but I guess I got used to China and don't plan on going back. The longer you stay somewhere, the more wires get a hold on you and the thicker they get. It becomes difficult to leave then. I believe in the laptop life, the possibility to live in many places at the same time, where you are based doesn't really matter. We'll see what comes next, but have no idea at the moment.
MICHAEL: China's contemporary art scene is very hot right now and China seems to be booming economically. What's happening over there?
JEREMIE: Huge question! Some of the answers might seems contradictory because we'll be talking of many different things at the same time and mixing together many things. The reality is not as simple as this.
The economic boom of course had a very strong impact on the art scene here. Not to forget the background of the country that has a huge art tradition. It's been reactivated in the past 20 years. Beijing now is kind of crazy. You have dozens of art districts where artists have huge and quite cheap studios in the eastern suburbs of the city. You find yourself in kind of a semi-rural atmosphere just a five-minute drive from the city. You maybe have thousands of artists living and working in Beijing. It creates something really dynamic. Very often people wonder about how hard it is to be an artist in China. I'd say it's far easier than many other places not to mention France where artists have no market support at all. The gallery system is working well, rents and art supplies are cheap. A fresh graduate is really likely to have a 100sqm studio and their teacher is very likely to be a very established artist willing to help him get good connections to start his career on a good path.
MICHAEL: Wow. That sounds fantastic!
JEREMIE: In the market, we're in kind of a transitional phase at the moment and it is not as hot as it used to be let's say in 2007-2008. Western collectors are kind of stepping down a bit with Chinese collectors slowly pouring in. The market is kind of dual, hyper-realist paintings of pretty girls and classical Chinese paintings are mainly praised by mainland collectors while more conceptual artworks are favored by the international crowd. With the market shift, we are sometimes feeling like re-enacting the battle between the moderns and the academics with the academy winning, but things are changing quite fast around here.
What's interesting at the moment is that the art stops being obviously Chinese. We don't have any more Mao drinking Coke and Pagoda with Mc Donalds logo on top. The "Chinese-ness" is now not obvious, but leaves the surface to get into the core of the work. It's becoming more international and more subtle. However, there are still many, strong specificities. The painting scene is absolutely thrilling, it's hip to be a young painter in China today and that really pleases me. I think the art is less self-referential and more linked with the society than in the West.
Maybe due to the cultural revolution, heritage and culture of the image, artists tend to make appealing images that carry meaning. When you look at Chinese photography for example, there is no fascination for the medium like I sometimes see with the West. Many photographers are very poor technically, but are here to create the reality, staging it. Ed Rusha recently said in an interview that good art should be "Hmm? Whaou!" and not "Whaou! Hmm?" I'd say many Chinese artists work might be "Whaou! Hmm? Whaou!" I think the success and appeal of Chinese art comes from this apparent simplicity. In two words, what's going on in China is huge and will be bigger and bigger as time goes by and radically different from what is mainly shown in the West which tends to focus on a political reading of the country.
MICHAEL: You're a publisher and curator who focuses on contemporary Chinese photography. What do you like about this genre?
JEREMIE: I sometimes say that I like Chinese photography because I don't like photography. For many of the photographers we publish, more than shooting reality it is the matter of constructing it. It is striking to see how many of the photographers we publish are formally trained as painters and it reflects on their compositions and construction. Like Wang Qingsong said, photography is a faster medium than painting. It allows him to be in sync with the pace of the changes of the country.
Needless to say, the Western world and China/Asia are constructed on radically different systems of thought and different conceptions of the individual within society. It is I think the main point of misunderstanding between the two cultural paradigms. Photography, because of its quite short history, creates a common ground of understanding between these two cultures. That's what we are interested in … how Chinese artists can make us better understand ourselves and better understand China through the differences of systems. When we edit our books, we try to erase the "otherness" and extend it from the "exotic" Chinese reality, to a more global stage.
MICHAEL: That’s great. I love that.
JEREMIE: For example, we try to show an artist like Liu Bolin not as someone criticizing the demolition of buildings in the local context of China (which is not really interesting), but as a playful Foucault highlighting the disappearance of the body in our contemporary societies. An artist like Yang Yongliang is using a very Chinese aesthetic to discourse about how cities and modernity are taking over nature which is a global problem. Chen Jiagang is using a Chinese historical period to talk about the vain dreams of greatness inherent to our human nature. I could go on with examples from all the photographers we are publishing. The perspective is Chinese, the language is photographic, the issues are global.
MICHAEL: Yes, I totally understand that.
JEREMIE: Having lived under different systems, different ideologies, Chinese artists have a more precise understanding of the human mechanism that is common or as we would say, "universal.” It can also not be reduced to just that. There is a huge diversity in the Chinese contemporary photography scene, from classical portraits with photographers like Song Chao, contemporary still life like Chen Wei, photos reminiscent of classical paintings with Hong Lei and also a huge part of performance with Li Wei or Liu Bolin for example. Right now, I'm off to some gallery openings! One of the specificities of the Chinese art scene are afternoon openings and sometimes in the morning too!
MICHAEL: Nice! I wish I could be there. Contemporary art tends to be for people like us who are passionate about it, but what about everyday people in China? Don't they have much bigger concerns than art? Doesn't the average person - whether they're Chinese or French or American - really consider art a silly luxury?
JEREMIE: Contemporary art in China started around 30 years ago. It's brand new. It is then still quite new amongst the everyday people. But things are changing, 798, the Bauhaus art district of Beijing, is now the third tourist destination of the city behind the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. There is not yet two hours queue to see a museum show, but it is mainly due to the lack of high quality exhibitions and it is really likely to change in the future as everything in the country...
When talking about China, we need to separate Beijing, Shanghai, cities like Chengdu, Guangzhou and the rest of the country. There are many galleries, museums and artists in these cities, they organize high-level biennales or triennials and they have a contemporary art audience, limited but existing. If you go to smaller cities, you will hardly find anyone interested. We also need to distinguish the upper class, that’s investing in art. The middle class has an increasing interest in the matter and the more popular class. It's like anywhere else. In any case, Chinese painting is still more popular and widely accepted and understood than more contemporary practices.
MICHAEL: How did you get involved with art? Do you come from an artistic family? You could have made other career choices. Why contemporary art?
JEREMIE: Growing up in Paris, you have many museums, many shows to see, it's very natural to see art. I guess that's how it started. My parents did not work art-related jobs. My Dad worked at the Post and my mum at the French telecom company, but used to carry me around museums all the time. I'm involved in contemporary art as I prefer working with living artists! I’m being a kind of active witness of the things happening now. In terms of art that I like, I think I'm more classical, more sensitive to representational works than conceptual works. I'm not a huge fan of the current trend of the practice before the artwork.
MICHAEL: Finally Jeremie, You know, what's the point of art? Why are you even doing this?
JEREMIE: The point of art? There are many points in art! It can be giving a simple emotion, it can be spiritual, political, or all at once. The way human beings are representing themselves both physically or socially in our world is always fascinating. Being able to make art it what makes us human. The publishing house and the books we edit are here to modestly contribute to this. It’s to allow the general audience, not necessarily collectors, not necessarily familiar with China or the arts to get to know and understand all the tremendous things happening here. We want to make things clearer and fun at the same time. It is also the answer to the almost non-existent availability of Chinese artist monographs in the West where only a couple of artists are well known. We want show the amazing diversity of the Chinese scene.
MICHAEL: Jeremie, you are doing fantastic work in China. Thanks for chatting and let’s stay in touch.
JEREMIE: Sure. Thanks for the interview.
Check out Jeremie at www.en.thircuir.com.