Wilson Center Medal of Arts Conversation

On November 29, 2012, as part of its 50th anniversary celebration, Art in Embassies (AIE), U.S. Department of State, joined with the Aspen Institute, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center to present a conversation with the five recipients of the Medal of Arts, awarded by the U.S. Department of State. Artists Jeff Koons, Cai Guo-Qiang, Shahzia Sikander, Kiki Smith and Carrie Mae Weems participated in the conversation, moderated by Glenn D. Lowry, Director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which focused on the importance of cultural diplomacy through visual arts. Poet and performer Marc Bamuthi Joseph opened the event.

Full Transcript

0:00VOICEOVER: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. The US Department of State Office of Art in
0:05Embassies, the Aspen Institute, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars,
0:11and the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center
0:14are pleased to present a conversation with the honorees
0:19featuring moderator Glenn Lowry, Director at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Our
0:26opening act this evening is poet and performer Marc Bamuthi
0:31Joseph. JOSEPH: Hi! You can applaud, it’s all good!
0:40(audience applause) JOSEPH: I know we’re in a hallowed environment
0:47and everything but we’re also I think celebrating a
0:54vessel for reciprocity that demands that you do as much work as I do, okay? Yes?
1:00AUDIENCE: Yes. JOSEPH: Cool, great! So it’ll work if you
1:03do stuff like applaud and giggle. Cool. Love it! Cool.
1:11(audience applause, laughter) JOSEPH: Our ancestors hacked bitterly at sugarcane.
1:21We are the sweet never tasted by their sweatsoaked tongues. They begged for us to be here never
1:30knowing who or what we’d become. We are their
1:36echoing elegy perpetually sung we are their echoing elegy … I was in Haiti once, at this vodou ceremony
1:57and I passed out. Personally I think I seen a little bit of blood and I just (noise) you
2:03know, like a little Beyoncé. But the people I was with, folks
2:10who all honor and respect Haitian culture believed that I had
2:16been possessed. They said I fell, like this (demonstrates).
2:29A pawn or a priest, either is possible. Who knows where your body goes when the spirit
2:43flies away. When you lose your mind, what jumps in to
2:50take its place? The Haitians called me “ne-gi-ne”(?). My
2:57granmè, my oldest living relative, once told me that “gi-ne” is the tunnel that connects
3:02Haiti to Africa, so when a Haitian calls you “ne-gi-ne”, that’s
3:08the real shit. (audience laughter)
3:12JOSEPH: That’s like super black. It’s true. It’s like a stripe. I wonder what
3:22they’d say if they knew my kid was half Chinese and my girlfriend was white.
3:27This story begins in the middle, halfway across the planet.
3:35I think that I’m awake. Last night at dusk I took a red-eye across the Atlantic, I landed
3:43on the first morning of summer in Europe. For the last
3:47forty-something hours it’s been day. I think I might be
3:51dreaming but I’m not sure. I’m in Paris for a festival for contemporary
3:59choreographers from Africa. By the grace of god I get to
4:03watch. It’s one of the perks I’ve managed to convince the performing arts machine that
4:08I am both high arts and hip-hop. Shh. (laughs) Don’t tell
4:14em. I’m stuck. I’m in between. Last row of the audience falling
4:21up, waking dream. In Paris I represent my country in the flesh. I am the surrogate for
4:31Allen Iverson and 50 Cent. What good is a black man in America
4:37if stripped of his right to threats? How hip-hop can I be if
4:44they let me on today’s set? Anyway! As a guest of the institution I’m
4:51at this festival and on the first night is this soloist from South
4:54Africa. She does this joint where she puts on this Easter Bunny costume head thing and
5:01a pink tutu and like Pippy Longstocking tights and a pointe
5:06shoe and a Converse okay? And she performs this piece
5:12where she climbs in and out of a plastic bag yeah—
5:20(audience applause) JOSEPH: Yeah for like 20 minutes, okay? And
5:28then she walks into the audience with saran wrap and she
5:32puts it over people’s mouths (kissing noise) and she kisses them over their dental dam-ed
5:39lips (kissing noise) for like another 20 minutes. And then
5:46it ends. That’s it. In my head, the vision of South Africa is
5:55Robben Island. Stephen Biko. In my head it is always the late 80s
6:03and Nelson Mandela is the first person that I ever truly wanted to be free. The first
6:08major metaphor for liberating me. The triangle of perspective
6:14is crazy. I’m looking at this African woman for some sense of
6:18root. She’s looking at European performance art trading in a mandala for a frayed pink
6:24tutu and Europeans have always been looking at me ever
6:28since my name was Langston Satchmo Josephine. Since
6:33the days when they bred me. I am the descendants of an experiment in psyche and body, a fetish
6:41taking my place in line, fractured, wondering when
6:44this woman’s history stopped being mine. I’ve been flying
6:47for the last forty-something hours, I am no sense of time, I’m just wondering which
6:50one of us is asleep and which one is just tired.
7:00And then. Exactly right then. I fall. This story begins in the middle, halfway across
7:17the planet. I think that I’m awake. Last night at dusk I took a red-eye
7:26across the Pacific and landed on the first morning of
7:29summer in Japan. For the last forty-something hours it’s been day. I think I might be
7:38dreaming but I’m not sure. I’m a living word lost in translation.
7:43I guess this is a near death experience. I’m at the club in Japan. Everybody in hip-hop
7:52knows that the culture is huge over here, mostly cause we
7:55seen it on a Yo MTV Raps interview with the Wu-Tang Clan. Tokyo is like Times Square times
8:01ten. Midnight feels like 11 a.m. plugged into a
8:04socket. My hosts are all hip-hop kids, they insist, tired as I am,
8:10I roll with them to the spot. I lead with my ego. I think, why not. I imagine that when
8:18I enter the club, the music will stop. The rivers will part. The
8:27reverence will begin. Behold! Japanese motherloves that sweat
8:34my culture, authenticity is in the building! It’s me, thank you!
8:42(audience laughter, light applause) JOSEPH: Born in 1975 in Queens, Tribe Called
8:47Quest, Niles, Run DMC, the real hip-hop is obviously
8:50oozing from all of my pores for all to see and all… ignore me. I am the only black
9:03dude in the room except for the ones we’re all listening
9:07to. I’m either so racist or so self-absorbed or oblivious that I
9:15imagine some kind of props are due. Fist up. Head nods. Eye contact. None of that. I’m
9:32invisible. Race doesn’t matter. I am just another guy that
9:37might be a little too old to be at the club. (audience laughter)
9:43JOSEPH: And in the great tradition of the wrong guy at the right party, I retired to
9:50a corner, the music still bumping, but I ain’t been asleep since
9:57yester-something and I fall … This story begins in the middle. With the
10:08first African American woman I ever met. Was a white chick
10:14from Lubbock, Texas. Molly Melching, bigaman? She moved to Senegal 20 years ago to work
10:22for UNESCO and she never left. She married a Senegalese
10:26man, had a daughter, was happy. Until he left. Molly
10:31speaks Worlof, Tree, she’s a beast negotiator at the marketplace, geared down, highly respected
10:38in her community. The Senegalese that I met refer
10:40to Molly as an African American. They refer to me as a black
10:47American. When I get off the plane in Senegal, I don’t know if we have plans, I don’t
10:51have much money, I have Molly’s number in my back pocket given
10:54to me by friends of friends, I have ideas in my head also
10:57given to me by friends of friends. They said, boy, in Africa, they will love you! Just find
11:03a dance, just find a hip-hop, somebody will adopt you, take you
11:05in, don’t worry, don’t trip! Three days into my trip, I been hustled out
11:12of my drawers. And I’m spending money at a rate that’s
11:14going to leave me homeless in eight days. And I got one of them non-transferrable, non-fuck-with-able
11:19tickets, says I got to be here for four months. In tears, I call Molly. She invites me to
11:27her home in Thies, she says I can stay. Not quite the African
11:31I thought was gonna take me in. Molly works for an NGO called
11:36Toastan. She’s a champion of women’s health, she wants to fight against female circumcision
11:41in rural villages, she calls it mutilation.
11:46I become her roadie. I sit in the back seat gazing at endless stretches of endless flatland
11:54and wide open sky as we ride from one end of the country
11:58to the other. We ride to the middle of nowhere. Nowhere.
12:04Come to a stop in front of a single-stone building with a thatched roof, three girls
12:07come out all smiles and grace, I think cool, Molly’s gonna meet
12:10with them and then we’re going to be out. And then this boy
12:13comes out and he starts playing a drum, which I think is kind of annoying to have going
12:18on during a meeting but you know who the hell am I, the
12:21American. You know, I just smile and listen for my name,
12:24take it all in. All of the nowhere. Africa. This kid playing the drum, apparently he’s
12:36this village’s version of a mass email because I don’t know where
12:39the hell these people come from but like a hundred thousand
12:42people storm the courtyard, it’s like the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day and they’ve
12:47all come to see the circus in town which is namely the big white
12:51African and her short clueless American friend. Molly is still on her propaganda about this
12:56backwards indigenous ritual but nobody can hear anything
12:58because of all the commotion, all the people, everybody trying to see the one white woman
13:03within a thousand miles. Finally Molly comes out she
13:06says, Bamuthi, I need you to distract them. (audience laughter)
13:12JOSEPH: Molly, I’m a poet. And they don’t speak English. I ain’t got no microphone,
13:20no megaphone, no radio, no telephone, whatever, I’m gonna
13:23keep them distracted with, I’m withering here, yeah what
13:32(yelling) … Five minutes later. The entire village. I’m surrounded. My heart pounding.
13:48Africa. Okay. I don’t need to astound them. Only distract.
14:04No microphone, no radio, no English. That’s cool. That’s cool.
14:15See, my whole act, to survive, I’ve become hip-hop empath. I channel the low beginnings,
14:31fires burning all over the Bronx, post-Civil Rights, glass
14:35ceilings no lights, no moot, just do what you feel to the groove,
14:39a dance floor uprising of youth! I just pray that they buy it.
14:44(quickly) It’s the future aesthetic, the future’s not static, it’s moving kinetically
14:50manically mimicking cynical smears that works with flares with
14:53words the world is this magnanimous moment a future
14:56aesthetic a mythic poetic cerebral kisetic it’s not in your head or your heart or your
14:58feet it exists in all three! Wooh! Okay, they’re buying it!
15:06(audience applause) While I’m cracking them up with my shamrocks,
15:13Molly is speaking in a language that I’ve never heard of.
15:18She convinces the council of elders to abandon a centuries-old practice, encourages them
15:23to modernize their attitude towards women. Molly extended
15:31me. That’s how I became an emcee without saying a
15:39word. It’s ethereal, lyrical, miracle, biblical, spiritual, it’s a it’s a it’s a (scratch)
15:43ethereal it’s ethereal it’s ethereal lyrical (record scratch) it’s ethereal
15:46lyrical miracle almost biblical (DJ record scratching) Is it
15:47real? Oh! Oh my! Thank you. (audience applause)
15:49BREAK (music plays)
15:49TEXT: “Opening America’s doors to students and professional artists provides the kind
15:53of two-way cultural understanding that can break down
15:57the barriers that feed hatred and fear.” PRESIDENT OBAMA
15:59up! 1953
16:08BETWEEN ARTISTS AND HOST COUNTRIES ARTIST: This work has been in North Carolina,
16:11New York, it’s on a constant journey. But now it’s got a
16:12final resting place here in Madagascar. ART IN EMBASSIES
16:50US DEPARTMENT OF STATE Kennedy image courtesy of John Fitzgerald
18:24Kennedy Library (music plays)
19:02VOICEOVER: Please welcome the honorable Jane Harman, director, president and CEO of the
19:17Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
19:23HARMAN: Well after that opening act, I feel like one of the dullest, pinkest, most boring
19:33people on the planet. But I am here to welcome you to what
19:38will be a wonderful event and to thank the International
19:41Trade Center, the Art in Embassies Program, and the Aspen Institute—my dear friend Elliot
19:47Gerson is somewhere down there—for partnering with
19:51us on this event. Let me say something about Beth Dozoretz,
19:58the ambassador for the Art in Embassies Program. She
20:03came by the Wilson Center recently and said, I have this idea. What would you think about
20:08five or six of the greatest artists in America having, or
20:12on the planet, having a conversation about art at the Wilson
20:15Center. And she could barely get that out, I said, yes! Because what is so little-understood
20:22is how important culture is as a foreign policy tool,
20:28and how under-utilized it is as a foreign policy tool.
20:31I, some of you may know I served in our Congress for nine terms. I am a recovering politician
20:38and left voluntarily, not involuntarily, last year
20:42to take up this amazing plum job. And I know from the travels I
20:50made in Congress, all over the world to garden spots like Libya, Syria, North Korea, etc.,
20:56but also to somewhat nicer venues, how critical this program
21:02is to showcase what America stands for in our
21:06embassies. And how important art is as an education tool, as a way to knit civilization
21:14together everywhere in the world and I’ll just take
21:17this moment to pitch a big audience for more funding for the
21:23arts and for the Arts in Embassies program! (audience applause)
21:30And I thought you should know that just down the road here in the post office building
21:35is the headquarters of the NEA, the National Endowment
21:37for the Arts, headed by a wonderful free-form called
21:42Rocco Landesman. And he told me recently that the funding for the NEA, get this, everyone
21:50sit down and focus on this, this is our national arts
21:54program, is $146 million for a country of over $300 million
22:01people. Do the math. That is under fifty cents a person to bring substance, sustenance to
22:09the people who live in the United States of America.
22:11Did you know that the budget for Skyfall, the new Bond movie,
22:16was more than that? So I put that out there and I put out there how critical this program
22:23is and how beautiful, if you were watching the slideshow
22:27which I was watching, is the art that these artists whom
22:31you will hear from in a minute, bring to us and bring to this program.
22:38And it is very important at a time when the world seems more dangerous than ever and when
22:44US embassies look like fortresses, that we can
22:47showcase in them some beauty like the beauty that you saw
22:53in the slideshow and like the beauty that will be discussed by these artists so as an
22:58arts lover myself, who was married for over 30 years a guy named
23:03Sidney Harman who always used to say, what a
23:05coincidence that the Sidney Harman Hall in Washington has the same name I do, and who
23:11quoted poetry at the drop of a hat, I revere this
23:15stuff. And yes, Beth, yes. Just ask me again. Thank you very
23:21much and please welcome Virginia Shore! (audience applause)
23:29SHORE: Good evening, thank you all for coming. Thank you, Jane, thank you to the rest of
23:42the Wilson Center team, the Aspen team, Elliot, Mary
23:46Elenna, Damien Puono. Thank you, Beth, Beth Dozoretz, our
23:50director. And I also of course, I want to thank the artists, the five incredible artists
23:58that I’ve luckily had the opportunity to work with over the years
24:01and to all the artists in the room who have worked with our
24:04program over the years. The video you just watched gave you a glimpse
24:09of Art in Embassies today. Art in Embassies has changed.
24:14Over the past decade, our program has grown immensely and we’re incredibly proud of
24:19the way our program has changed in terms of now we only
24:23work we don’t only work with American artist we
24:25actually work with artists from the host country. It’s now a program not just about America,
24:32it’s about cross-cultural exchange.
24:35We now do artist exchanges. In the past decade we’ve done over a hundred cultural exchanges
24:41and we’re going to continue doing the cultural
24:45exchanges, this has become a new focus for the program.
24:49Acquisitions has become a new part of our program. We now oversee all the new permanent
24:54embassies & consulates around the world. So two-way
24:59cultural exchange has become the core of the mission. And
25:02that’s basically all we wanted to say tonight! Thank you so much for joining us, and we’ll
25:08go ahead and jump into the conversation, what we’re all
25:10here for. So connecting us back to our roots, a man who
25:15needs no introduction, the director of the Museum of Modern Art, Mister Glenn Lowry.
25:30(audience applause) (voiceover laughter)
25:39SIKANDER: Do we have an order? LOWRY: I don’t know that we have an order,
25:48I think we’ll just take it as it comes. And I’ll try and
25:51remember where everybody is sitting. (muffled voices, other noises)
25:56LOWRY: So good evening. I’m Glenn Lowry and I’m delighted to be sharing the stage
26:02with five extraordinary artists to celebrate not only
26:07their work and their achievement and their recognition by the
26:11Art in Embassies program, but the fifty years of this remarkable effort on the part of this
26:17country to underscore the importance of the arts to us
26:22as people and to our dialogue and friendship with those
26:26around the world. It is an important moment especially for me,
26:33representing the Museum of Modern Art, because the Art
26:35in Embassies program was born in part through the Museum of Modern Art in its very early
26:40years. And I just want to say that no one then I’m sure
26:44could have envisioned, Beth, what this has grown into. You
26:48and your incredible team have done an astounding job and I think the work that you were able
26:53to see earlier this evening is a small reflection
26:59of the many great things that you have made possible.
27:03So with me tonight are five artists whose work I admire enormously. Cai Guo-Qiang and
27:12Cai is in the midst and maybe he’ll tell us about it in
27:14a moment he’s in the midst of preparing for tomorrow that will
27:18help celebrate another institution, the Sackler Gallery, as it marks its (silence)—
27:25[Shahzia Sikander is] extraordinary artist from Pakistan now living in the United States
27:33who revived, I won’t say single-handedly, but who certainly
27:36was instrumental in the revival of an old tradition,
27:41miniature painting, but investing it with new meanings and new possibilities that continue
27:45to resonate today and that have affected an enormous number
27:49of artists throughout the Middle East, Pakistan and
27:53India. Jeff Koons who we count as one of our own
27:57who, before he became the celebrated artist that he is had a
28:01brief moment at the Museum of Modern Art where his work is still legendary but who has gone
28:07on to be one of the most celebrated and important artists
28:10working anywhere in the world and whose sculpture, paintings and ideas form the backbone of an
28:17intense conversation about surrealism as well as pop art
28:21can be in the 21st century. Carrie Mae Weems who’s been a voice for
28:27the power of women, of identity, and of race, who’s tackled
28:32some of the most difficult issues around and who’s always done so with an elegance and
28:39grace. I count as a great friend.
28:43And Kiki Smith, who has managed in her work to discover mysteries and spirits and ideas
28:51that we didn’t know existed. Who, like Carrie, is willing
28:55to tackle questions of identity, and of gender but who also has
29:01brought forth the pleasures of thinking about the environment and ecology and whose work
29:07never ceases to surprise me. So you can imagine
29:10how honored I am to be here. So let me start, Cai, with a question to you.
29:16You embody, I think, much of what this program stands for—
29:21cultural exchange and the openness to the ideas from different places and different
29:25peoples. What is it like to be preparing a major work for the
29:30Mall here in Washington? GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
29:41TRANSLATOR: Because the project I’m working on is co-organized by Art in Embassies and
29:52also the Sackler Gallery…
29:56GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: And since their birthdays fall
30:05on the holiday season I decided to choose a Christmas tree.
30:10And then on this forty-feet-tall Christmas tree I’m putting over 2,000 fireworks on
30:16the tree. And during the explosion there will be free admission.
30:20GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: So the first explosion lasts 1.5
30:27seconds and goes (noises) from bottom to top. (audience laughter)
30:32GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: And when the smoke clears slightly
30:38there will be a tree lighting ceremony where the
30:41smoke (silence) for five seconds. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
30:47TRANSLATOR: And for the third time, when the smoke completely clears, all the fireworks
30:55will go ‘boom’ and then you see a clear tree.
31:00GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: So I’m hoping the tree will
31:07look like a film negative of a Christmas tree (silence) day.
31:12GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: And I’m hoping at the end of
31:21the explosion, you have two trees: one real tree, another
31:25cloud smoke tree that’s drifting away. So we have one real tree and one virtual tree.
31:30GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: So I’m praying for the wind
31:34tomorrow. (audience laughter)
31:35GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: So if the wind is really high
31:40and the smoke drifts off really quickly, your eyeballs will have
31:43to roll more quickly too. (audience laughter)
31:46LOWRY: What time will it take place, Cai? GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
31:51TRANSLATOR: Three in the afternoon. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
31:55TRANSLATOR: Don’t be late! GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
31:57TRANSLATOR: Because it’s incredibly hard to get permits in Washington, DC! So there’s
32:02lots of traffic control hurdles to be leapt over.
32:05(audience laughter) LOWRY: Three o’clock! If you’re working,
32:08take time off. If you’re not working, be there, it will be
32:13fantastic. Jeff, you’ve had, you’ve worked all over the world, your sculpture is legendary.
32:19How did you come about selecting the work that you did
32:22for the embassy in Beijing? KOONS: Glenn, I thought about, which pieces
32:32at that moment were finished, available. And the Tulips
32:37just seemed like it would be a wonderful choice for the reflection pond. And so, myself and
32:44my wife, we offered the Tulips to go and so it was agreed
32:50that the embassy would show Tulips. But I have to say—
32:53when I saw the photographs of the work installed, and I saw the large scholar stones that were
33:01around the piece, I was so moved. It was the most
33:05ideal setting I could imagine. Not just with the architecture
33:09and the reflection pond, but then to have these large scholar stones there. But it was
33:15just organic, thinking about work that would symbolize optimism,
33:21you know, the Tulips creates like a rainbow, and
33:24it’s, you know, an optimistic piece. LOWRY: They’re part of your celebration
33:28series, aren’t they? KOONS: Ah yes, yeah.
33:30LOWRY: Do you want to talk a little bit about that, because I think that’s one of the
33:34great achievements that you’ve been working on now for quite
33:37a while, and what’s the genesis of that series and what does
33:41it try to do? KOONS: I would have to say my work in general
33:47but I would think with the celebration series I started to
33:51really try to focus on just connecting with archetypal imagery. And to just follow my
33:59interests and focus on those interests. But everything else has
34:06an aspect of tied to a cyclical year so tulips are kind of a
34:11symbol of spring. Other works from that series, a hanging heart could maybe be Valentine’s
34:16Day, or you could associate a cracked egg or something
34:21maybe Easter. But an aspect of cyclical time. But everything
34:25is a little larger, a little mythic in scale. And so Tulips was part of that series.
34:33LOWRY: Carrie, I was struck by something that you said at some point and I can’t even
34:40remember where and when but in talking about your work where
34:45you were discussing that you’ve come to address issues
34:48of love and other matters, but your work is always about race. And you… and Carrie’s
34:55work, if you don’t know it, often uses text and images, images
34:59that you take yourself but find, texts that you write and find
35:05as well. How did you come to use these different sort of almost intersecting strategies, the
35:15word and the image?
35:16WEEMS: That’s a long story. I probably think more of it is you know I think that my work
35:29is really focused in the area of unrequited love. I think all
35:37those other issues, issues of race and gender and so forth are
35:41really subordinate to this other, deeper idea, really complex idea about the struggle and
35:47the battle for love and affection and desire and need and
35:52want. So I’m always sort of grappling with those ideas. But
35:57early on when I was a student I had a really wonderful teacher, we fought a great deal
36:04which is, I have a history of fighting with lots of people—
36:07LOWRY: She may look mild-mannered up here but—
36:09WEEMS: (laughs) But we had these really sort of great talks about photography and one day
36:16you know he said to me, so what’s the about. And
36:19I said, it’s obvious, you can tell, and a picture’s worth a
36:22thousand words. And he said yes, that’s true, but which thousand are you talking about
36:26specifically? (laughter) i
36:28WEEMS: And so it was a question, it was a question, it was a challenge, and I’ve been
36:34for a long time then making work based in image and text.
36:41Though for the last many years actually I haven’t, I haven’t
36:44really been doing that so much, though I continue to write a great deal in relationship to the
36:49work. LOWRY: You’ve been doing a lot of video
36:51work. WEEMS: I’ve been doing a lot of video work.
36:53And I think actually that gives me that opportunity to play
36:56with ideas about sound and voice. And I have a chance to work with musicians and of course
37:03in this context, in the American embassy context,
37:06you know, artists were very very important, musicians were
37:10very important in the early years of Arts in Embassies programs around the world. The
37:17sort of great great great music of people like Dizzy Gillespie
37:20and Armstrong and et cetera, they were really really
37:24important. That book, Satchmo Blows Away the World, was absolutely critical in understanding
37:30the role of artists, music, literature, in (silence)
37:35in cultural diplomacy. And so it’s sort of wonderful that I get a
37:38chance now to work with musicians as I do my own work and tomorrow night thanks to Virginia,
37:45Virginia Shore, who I’ve now known for many many
37:49years, I love working with this program, I get a chance to
37:52work with the amazing artist and pianist Jason Moran. So we sort of work out some ideas around
37:58sound and image and word.
38:00LOWRY: And I do think we should give Virginia a huge round of applause for the work she
38:06does. (applause)
38:11LOWRY: But pause for a moment: Madagascar. WEEMS: I know! Amazing, right? You know, I’ve
38:18always wanted to go there too. LOWRY: And did you get to go?
38:21WEEMS: No, I haven’t. LOWRY: But your work is there—
38:24WEEMS: My work is there and so I’m happy with that. However it is also in Mali so that’s
38:29fabulous and I’ve been to Mali. And in fact the images
38:35that are used in the embassy there are photographs that were
38:38made in this great great great great ancient city of (?) in northern Mali and I’m very
38:44pleased that the work is there and it’s (silence)
38:49LOWRY: Shahzia, you have the pleasure of being from Pakistan, living in the states, but having
38:55your work as part of the Art in Embassies program
38:58in Pakistan. Did you think about what work would be
39:02appropriate for the embassy? SIKANDER: Actually the work that I did, I
39:08definitely thought about it. LOWRY: Do you want to share the title with
39:12us, because I think it’s important. SIKANDER: ‘I Am Also Not My Own Enemy’.
39:17And you know I think a lot of my work is really about
39:23translation, the distance between the original or the idea of the original and what may be,
39:35an interpretation or something even. And what
39:39is that distance. And I think even in this particular work, ‘I
39:44Am Also Not My Own Enemy,’ it opens up that dialogue. Like who is the enemy here or not.
39:53And it also refers actually to Mirza Ghalib, a phrase,
40:00a poet, text borrowed from his language. And again it’s in Urdu
40:07but it’s written in English. And the way it’s painted also is it references the U.S.
40:17colors. LOWRY: The what has always struck me as so
40:21interesting about your work is how you’ve taken this older
40:27language, the language of miniature painting, and found new ways to invest it with stories.
40:37Where did the stories come from? Are they personal,
40:40are they…do you find them in literature? How do you how do
40:44you think about your work as it relates to the present?
40:48SIKANDER: I think as a artist as a individual as a person I think a lot of the information
41:00surrounds us and it’s how much you’re absorbing, so a lot
41:05of it is culled from newspapers, from history books, from other
41:12artists’ work, from literature, everything, I think, culture at large. And it’s also
41:21about how much of it becomes part of your own language. So I think
41:30I’m interested in that process. Like, what does it mean to own something,
41:35the act of ownership, because again the interest in miniature
41:40painting was removed from a culture specificity. It wasn’t because one was from Pakistan
41:47or studying there that you had to do miniature painting.
41:50It was a very objective, non-nostalgic interesting in learning
41:58something, in understanding its context, its history and then getting interested in sort
42:06of a floodgate that happened. There was sort of so much to
42:14process, to juxtapose, as well as see it through the lens of
42:19the colonial history, too. So I think there’s not one place through
42:26which I’m accessing ideas but several places and a lot of it is
42:36create—imagination you know and how can you make something that might communicate
42:43to a larger audience. How do you make work which is compelling,
42:48and how do you define what is compelling, also?
42:50So I think at the end of it it’s also about communication. How do you make work that can
42:57communicate? And then translation, like, what is translation
43:02in that respect. LOWRY: Is the issue of translation, Kiki,
43:07for you, sorry (laughs) the issue, first of all I should say Kiki is one
43:11of the most generous artists in the world. She’s generous with her time, as is every
43:17artist here, but there’s I think in her work a profound generosity
43:21of spirit and something I’m always struck by, so much
43:25of your work feels like it’s giving itself to someone else. To all of us who get to look
43:30at it. Do you think of issues of translation, of how you, either
43:35how you absorb other ideas from cultures or ideas from
43:40literature or how you transfer your work, as it were, from something very private to
43:48something that enters the public sphere?
43:51SMITH: Well … you know, we’re just fluid. Things are just coming in and out and of and
43:58some moments we have like the net’s tighter that we trap
44:03something, it stays in our consciousness and then kind of
44:08flows out of our consciousness again. You know that’s one you know creativity is fluid
44:16and it’s a vehicle you know like it seems to me that art is a
44:22space that keeps like demanding that the depth of our human
44:30gets to have expression and particularly within the bounds of like societies that are often
44:37restrictive and constrictive. You know, that art keeps like
44:41chopping out space and has this ability to move and be fluid
44:49from different cultures. I mean like I would say, I am part or I inherit
44:54the entire history of creativity in the world and that’s my
44:58lineage and I have access through that lineage. And you go to attraction and I think like
45:07love and I think a lot of art is about gift-making, it is about
45:15gift-making. And it is about trying to like synthesize something
45:19outside of yourself that you can then like reflect and look at. But it is also something
45:26that has a capacity for other people to have their own authentic
45:32experience too, and embrace. So you know it is like water
45:40and water and we are essentially I would say creative and technological beings and besides
45:47that you know we’re just things that fluid will go
45:50through. You know so it’s most natural that we make creative
45:55you know have some way of making creative expression.
45:58Certainly within the context of the embassies, you know, we are all extremely fortunate and
46:10also the people working. This was my thing, like, the
46:13people working, it’s most important that America has this,
46:16like, history, problematic history, with visual arts and a suspicion of visual arts and it
46:23is just cause of our history. You know but you know so it hasn’t
46:29been you know so supported in the governmental ways like
46:36in the broad culture like that but it has always been supported by individuals because
46:42and you know this is one of the great contributions we have
46:45here and I forgot what I was saying because I always forget
46:49what I’m saying but anyway that’s nothing (laughs)
46:50LOWRY: I should say, I should say, speaking of lineages, you come from a remarkable lineage
46:55of artists. Your sister Seton, who’s a terrific photographer,
46:59is here with us tonight and you’re both here because
47:02you’re celebrating your father’s hundredth birthday, is that right?
47:05SMITH: Yeah. LOWRY: At the National Gallery, so (applauds)
47:08(audience applause) SMITH: My father is Tony Smith and on Saturday
47:15there’s a talk at the National Gallery about his work, by
47:18some people from the museum, but also the artist Charlie Ray is speaking on his work
47:23which is for us the greatest privilege.
47:25WEEMS: Well you know that’s one of the greatest things about being on a in an environment
47:31like this that this kind of program brings together
47:34that not only do we get a chance to revel in our own sort of
47:41world, you get a chance I get a chance to be with Kiki, who, you know, I adore! And
47:49I want to consume your work! There are pieces that you’ve
47:52made over the years that I literally want to eat. They’re
47:56absolutely that I feel so lucky that I have the opportunity to be with each of you, learn
48:03about each of you, knowing each of you, and to that extent
48:07then that there’s this level of community that exists
48:11amongst us that I think is really sort of extraordinary. And again I think that it’s
48:15these kind of programs that allow us really to come together because
48:19for the most part we’re all very very busy in our own
48:21studios working. SMITH: But we are as artists international
48:26by just fundamentally, you know, outside of any structure, we
48:32exist in a fluid, international— WEEMS: That’s right, that you are home.
48:37That you are home and that you feel the ability to work almost
48:40anywhere. Rosa Luxemburg said, I am home where in the world there are clouds and birds and
48:46human tears. Which I absolutely love. So that I
48:50never feel like there’s any great distance, even though we talk
48:54about these ideas about translation, meaning, who owns something. That you know that there’s
48:59something really wonderful about the ability to sort of to break through those artificial
49:06boundaries of construct. To exist in the world as human,
49:11right? Not man, not woman but as human, as artists, as
49:16people that are deeply interested in the experience of living and making.
49:21SIKANDER: Yeah, and I think at that level we don’t require translation.
49:25(audience applause) SIKANDER: And that really is the interface
49:32of art, that it naturally doesn’t require translation, no
49:38boundaries. And that, you know, it’s harder to define and put down and probably harder
49:48to digest. WEEMS: And yet and yet artists are considered
49:52dangerous. LOWRY: If you’ve been about Shah’s work—
50:00SMITH: Not everywhere— LOWRY: It can be dangerous!
50:07GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: So back in the days only diplomats
50:20get to jet-set all over the world and especially in China,
50:24if you’re an important diplomat you might have a chance to go to several countries.
50:27So when I mentioned to a Chinese diplomat that I’ve
50:31been to over 30 countries, he was absolutely shocked! ‘How
50:34could you!’ But nowadays, all artists are like diplomats. They go everywhere.
50:40GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: Well, we should probably talk
50:45about the role of art in diplomacy— GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
50:51TRANSLATOR: He made a mistake, but I didn’t (laughs)
50:55(audience laughter) GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
50:58TRANSLATOR: So let’s talk about the role of art in diplomacy.
51:04GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: Back in October, I was fortunate
51:15enough to win the Praemium Imperiale in Japan and
51:20Glenn Lowry actually announced my laureate-ship in MoMA a while back—
51:28GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: And at the time, AC Macky(?) gave
51:32me two outfits, one for the ceremony in Japan and one
51:40for the ceremony in New York. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
51:47TRANSLATOR: But never would I have thought that Sino-Japanese relations would have reached
51:52the highest tension during that time over the
51:55bickering of the ownership of the Senkaku Islands.
51:59GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: So over 4,000 activities and events
52:09that were planned by the Chinese and Japanese governments were completely cancelled.
52:14GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: But I still went to Japan.
52:20GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: Because it was the first time
52:26that a Chinese-born artist was given this award.
52:30GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: So after I went, the Japanese
52:36organizers were very pleased. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
52:41TRANSLATOR: And the Chinese ambassador was kind enough to come.
52:45GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: Even though they cancelled all
52:51these cultural exchange activities, they still came to my
52:56awards ceremony. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
52:59TRANSLATOR: So during the day, the foreign offices of both countries would sort of yell
53:13at each other and say, no, these islands are ours and these
53:16islands are ours, but in the evening they all sit down
53:19together and have a nice dinner. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
53:26TRANSLATOR: So sometimes art can do things that politics cannot.
53:32GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) (audience applause)
53:38GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: So the Chinese diplomats were
53:46kind enough to come and were, ‘oh, this is only art’
53:51(audience laughter) GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
53:54TRANSLATOR: Because art is always a very emotional exchange and experience between different
54:01human beings. LOWRY: No, I think that’s said so beautiful,
54:08Cai, you know, one of the things that all of us who have the
54:11privilege of working in the arts know is that there’s a community that we live in. That
54:17what Kiki and Carrie were talking about, that we live in
54:20this community and it doesn’t actually matter where we are,
54:24we are always connected to interesting people who will who even if they have different political
54:31positions, share a common belief in the value of art. And I think that’s what the Art
54:36in Embassies program constantly underscores.
54:40Jeff, I wonder, you’ve worked in some of the most interesting places, you’ve tackled
54:46Versailles, for instance, brought it to its heels with your
54:50installation. When you do those kinds of projects—and for
54:55those of you who don’t know, Jeff, probably five years ago, now, I’m guessing it was
54:59more or less that— KOONS: Yes, I think it was around 2008?2008,
55:04Justine? (laughter)
55:05LOWRY: —was invited to do an installation in Versailles, one of the most hallowed spaces
55:13in French. And if anyone knows the French, they’re not
55:16really good about sharing their cultural prowess with the rest of
55:20the world, you know, especially with Americans, who they see as upstarts. But there you were.
55:26What was it like? Did you see yourself in a way
55:29as an ambassador for the United States there? KOONS: I think artists always and people that
55:39are here people that are participating, that’s the main
55:43drive, you want to participate. And so when you’re young, you get together with your
55:49friends, you talk about art, and you to your desire you participate.
55:56And art’s about connections, and the more connections, the more powerful it is.
56:02So when I was younger I would think about what Louis Quatorze, what Louis the 14th,
56:08what fantasies he would have when, to be able to have complete
56:12economic and political freedom to create something. And we all have these freedoms every day to
56:20and art’s really about how much freedom that you give to
56:22yourself. But what maybe his fantasies would be. And so, when I went to Versailles, I was
56:27just very very open, what would seem like a natural piece
56:31to place in different rooms. But Glenn, my experience with art, in a nutshell,
56:40it’s a vehicle that lets you have self-acceptance. You
56:43participate and learning to know yourself, and once you have a sense of yourself you
56:50automatically want to go outward. And you want to have a dialogue
56:53about everything that’s external. And you know it leads
56:58you to have everything in play, it’s about all of these connections. And it’s about
57:04other people and acceptance of others. So automatically you’re
57:09in this dialogue that you want also to have more and more
57:13open to you and that openness comes from acceptance. Accepting everything around you and letting
57:19it be in play, to let it be in dialogue. And
57:22that’s where art finds its interest, its information, its ability to
57:30connect. LOWRY: One of the, this evening is about cultural
57:36exchange and cultural diplomacy and it seems to me
57:39that one of the places where that exchange occurs is often in the form of a biennial.
57:48Those exhibitions that occur every other year, sometimes they’re
57:52every third year, and in the case of some, every fifth
57:54year but they bring together artists from around the world often, for a moment, you
58:02know, in a place that sometimes might not be exposed to recent
58:07work by a number of people and I’m interested in how
58:11those of us who are consumers at biennials find them fascinating because they’re, I
58:16don’t want to call them one-stop shopping, but they provide a
58:19unique moment to take a pulse. And I wonder what it’s like from the point
58:23of view of an artist, to be part of a biennial. I think, Shahzia,
58:28you’re working for the Sharjah Biennial. This is a one of the newer biennials, it takes
58:33place in Sharjah in the Gulf, in March if I am correct. What’s
58:39that like, and what kind of work are you doing for that? And
58:42how do you feel about being you meet other artists is it does it engage you in a different
58:48in a way that’s different than when you’re just doing a
58:50show in New York or in Los Angeles? SIKANDER: Absolutely. I think especially the
58:56Sharjah Biennial because, you know, being in New York, you
59:01are pretty much separate from that region. Versus sort of living nearby or close by.
59:15So that’s one aspect. The other is that I have been to UAE several
59:23times but not necessarily to engage with the context of
59:29Sharjah and the foundation itself. So this time I really was much more open to understanding
59:37its history in the region and its relationship to Pakistan
59:40and its relationship to other Asian countries because there’s
59:43lots of migrant workers, lots of people, ex-pats that also bring to life that area.
59:52So all of those things are swimming in one’s head, which is not necessarily going to happen
59:58if you’re working in the studio and making your next
60:01body of work, or putting a show up. So definitely you think
60:06you have to shift gears and think differently. So I’m doing a variety of projects, since
60:14my primary practice is drawing there’s a lot of new drawings
60:19after visiting and exploring Sharjah and looking through lots of
60:23imagery and its history. Few years back, you know, few decades ago very different, so it’s…
60:32and then I’m doing like a multi-channel video animation
60:36work, I’m working with another musician for the sound and
60:41also working on a film project which will be shot there in two weeks, on site. So there’s
60:47a lot of relationship to the location, engaging with
60:51the people there, engaging much more with the fabric of the
60:55host country or the host society in that respect. It is about acceptance. It’s also about
61:03you know finding ways to engage through a different tempo,
61:07rhythm, and then also learning in the process more and how to create that boundary that’s
61:15going to create something meaningful between that particular
61:21engagement as well as the larger platform which
61:24is well-visited as we know by globally, through everybody. So I think not respect—biennials
61:30as platforms are very critical because they do the space
61:36at least for contemporary art where we see a variety of
61:39things which we don’t necessarily are privy to, being in just in the US or New York.
61:48WEEMS: I think it’s also unique, the thing that’s important and I think that this issue
61:52underscores what you were just saying the you know the you
61:57know you have to, to do what we do you have to love it. Like
62:02you really have to like I am a slave to my work. It tells me what to do, it gets me up
62:10in the morning, and it tells me when I am going to go to bed at
62:13night. You know, I mean, it rules my life and there are parts of
62:16it that I find absolutely maddening and there are parts of it that absolutely save me. You
62:22know, art has saved my life on more than one occasion.
62:27And how we participate in the world I think and this thing called diplomacy is a very
62:34complex thing. It’s not a static thing and that it exists on many
62:38many many many different levels. You know, from this way
62:42in which Kiki was talking about, the way in which things are simply flowing, information,
62:48ideas, emotion, concept, being, that these things are flowing
62:53back and forth through many different channels. So on the one hand there’s that this emotional
63:02thing, this thing that we are attempting to live through,
63:04that we are attempting to communicate through. Volumes of stored information, sensibility,
63:12concept, being, is one thing—the way in which we
63:16work as artists. So you know that you can be that I can be in
63:20Mexico or I can be in South Africa and the artist and the people assume that the work
63:27was made there. That it is transcended where it was made.
63:32That it’s now simply about what the material is and what the
63:36material is trying to get at. That it becomes really much more important.
63:41So that there’s that aspect of diplomacy, that you are becoming a part of a larger world,
63:47that you’re breaking down barriers and boundaries. Which
63:51is really what we’re talking about, right? How do we how
63:55do we disrupt the boundaries, the bridges that separate us from one another? And how
64:02do we do that in an elegant and challenging way? In a way that
64:07is respectful of the difference between the group of us?
64:13You know, so that on the one hand I have the extraordinary privilege to work with FAPE
64:20on the one hand, with Art in Embassies here, but there’s
64:24nothing like being in Rome and making a body of work and
64:29having a group of Romans come to me and tell me that this is the first time that they’ve
64:34understood their city in this way, and that they’re
64:37shocked and surprised. It’s something else that happens now,
64:41some other kind of information, some other kind of dialogue is now possible between me
64:47and that group of people because something else has
64:51happened, you know, that something else is broken, that
64:53something else has been built up, actually. And that I think is exciting.
64:57So the diplomacy exists in many many ways and that each in our own way I think direct
65:04it. Control it. Manifest it. Speak it. Live it.
65:08SMITH: That’s something nice too about the Art in Embassies is that the diversity of
65:16voices or of practices or of some sort of manifestations
65:20of things. They don’t have to go together and I think that’s
65:23one of like our great American heritages of living in this country now as artists and
65:31in particular for us as women artists, our generation, that we have
65:36had such a fortunate that we’ve taken such a fortunate
65:40position that we get to do our work. But that it’s really large, the space that art can
65:48occupy. And that it’s not only to make cultural
65:52understanding. You know, it’s also to stand in that things are
65:56incomprehensible, enigmatic, not able to be quantified or understood, they’re idiosyncratic,
66:03and they’re out—they’re outside and, you know, and
66:07that it’s really important to have models of incoherence and
66:12models of difference and you know not make this sort of mushy, happy happy, you know
66:18everybody in the world’s happy with each other culturally.
66:22And but but it allows art allows the space for that. You
66:26know, when many places in international diplomacy or whatever are intolerant of the not-knowing
66:36space. And that’s a great thing that art affords and is a model for the world, I think.
66:45KOONS: Kiki, if I could just say something, you know when we speak about culture too,
66:52you know, culture can be such a large kind of word,
66:56but in a way it’s just like a personality. And it’s a personality of
67:00a group of people. And art is an experience that really just happens in a singular viewer
67:09and that brings us back to that you know nations are made
67:12up of individuals and we all contribute to this kind of being
67:17of a whole. And then also interacting with each other. That’s really about individuals
67:24relating to each other and communicating and having a dialogue,
67:28one-on-one. LOWRY: Speaking of a dialogue, this is supposed
67:32to be about exchange and I think we should take a few
67:34minutes to see if there are any questions from those of you in the audience! For any
67:40one of these wonderful artists who are sharing the evening
67:44with us. So don’t be shy! If you have a question—do we
67:52have a process for questions or do I just…people have been writing them down?
67:57(voices offstage) LOWRY: You know what, you know what? I like
68:02taking it as it flies. So if you have a question, raise your
68:08hand and I’ll call on you and just speak loudly.
68:11SMITH: I’ll say something really—oh, no, you’ve got it—no I just want to say something
68:17really quick, because we’re all artists but like Cai-san
68:22is my curator, he has curated me in two international exhibitions, of my own museum shows in his
68:29museums because you know he as all artists and all human
68:34beings can have many facets to you know we get to be citizens as artists, we get to be
68:40artists, we get to do whatever else we’re doing. But he’s
68:43someone in a unique position that has made his own museums,
68:47has taken his own museums, has occupied his own museums, so he is a very important cultural
68:54model I think of the complexity of what an artist
69:00can be today. Anyway, sorry. LOWRY: No, that was great, Kiki!
69:04SMITH: But he’s great! LOWRY: He is great! In the back there was
69:08a question… I think, yes? (audience member asks a question, unintelligible)
69:25LOWRY: Did everyone hear, did everyone hear that question?
69:29AUDIENCE: No … LOWRY: She asked if any of these artists but
69:32I think she was directing it perhaps at Jeff in particular,
69:37when they create a work that might go to an embassy or abroad, are they trying to send
69:44a specific message?
69:47(audience member continues question) LOWRY: Carrie?
69:58WEEMS: Well that’s not my case I mean I think I am I just make work. I make work that
70:10I’m really deeply interested in that really me and then I think
70:16it’s been the thing that’s been interesting is and then there’s
70:22a real consideration about what will be the best work for a certain embassy so that out
70:29of the many many many many pieces that I’ve produced
70:32over the years maybe only a few of them really speak in I
70:38think in a certain way that allows that work to go maybe to Madagascar or Liberia or the
70:48US mission in New York. So no I haven’t I’ve never made
70:54anything with the mission in mind, I haven’t had that
70:56experience but maybe others here have. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
71:08TRANSLATOR: So my work was probably trying to do something like you had mentioned. When
71:18Art in Embassies invited me to create a piece for
71:20the embassy in Beijing, I was very excited. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
71:31TRANSLATOR: So to be honest with you, no Chinese government agency has ever commissioned me
71:38to create a work for their government buildings
71:40so yeah Americans were the first to ask. (laughter)
71:45GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: So I used gunpowder to depict
71:51an eagle and a pine tree branch. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
71:56TRANSLATOR: So these two things from the two different countries are creating a relationship
72:03with each other.
72:05GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: But when artists work in the world,
72:18in different countries, like everyone here has
72:20mentioned, everyone has their little tricks. It’s like being a diplomat, everyone have
72:24their own set of skills.
72:34GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: So last December when I was working
72:39in Doha, in Qatar, because it’s in the Arab world
72:43and I felt mystified by it, I was very worried GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
72:49TRANSLATOR: So I brought my team and stayed there for 50 days.
72:55GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: And I tried to work with volunteers
72:59from local communities GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
73:05TRANSLATOR: And when I tried to write fragile in Arabic, the museum staff held my hand and
73:12taught me how to write it
73:14GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: And because I’ve invested so much of my own
73:25energy there, when I wanted to put gunpowder on the Abaya robes that local women
73:31wear, the museum was very tolerant. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
73:39TRANSLATOR: (laughs) Because the museum knows that I’m very serious about what I do.
73:44GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: And they know that I’m trying
73:49to create a dialogue with their culture. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
74:02TRANSLATOR: And then I made a video piece documenting how Arabian horses are raised
74:11in their specialized breeding and training centers,
74:13that these horses be artificially inseminated and then they
74:18would go for a very strict fitness and beauty regimen every day where they swim laps in
74:23a swimming pool and then run on a treadmill. And then
74:28you get showered, shampooed, massaged, beautified with all
74:31different ointments— LOWRY: It’s good to be a horse in some places!
74:41(audience laughter) GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
74:48TRANSLATOR: And when I made another installation called Flying Together with a flock of falcons
74:55lifting a camel, the museum staff were very supportive
74:59and helped finish the work. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
75:06TRANSLATOR: So if you start by respecting these cultural differences, earnestly try
75:16to initiate a dialogue with different people, then people will learn
75:20to accept you. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
75:25TRANSLATOR: And people learn to respect you and trust you and give you creative freedom.
75:32GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: And I was hoping that my art practice would influence
75:44the young artists from the region so they can see how to transform their cultural
75:50icons into contemporary works of art. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
75:56TRANSLATOR: They also influence me deeply and allow me to contemplate from a new angle
76:06the relationship between the Arab world and the
76:09rest of the world. LOWRY: I think actually on that note of tolerance
76:13and I do think one of the great things that art does is
76:17build bridges and create conditions that allow for tolerance, generosity, love requited or
76:25otherwise, to take place. We should recognize, celebrate
76:30and thank Kiki Smith, Carrie Mae Weems, Jeff Koons, Shazia
76:35Sikander and Cai Guo-Qiang, five remarkable artists who will be honored tomorrow, for
76:39sharing this evening with us.
76:47(applause) VOICEOVER: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome
77:02Mister Elliot Gerson, Executive Vice President of
77:05Policy and Public Programs for the Aspen Institute. GERSON: Well this, this I think is a doubly
77:16perilous assignment, first of all to end that incredible, brilliant
77:20exchange and also to separate all of you from what will be a wonderful reception. But someone
77:26had to have this assignment. So I will be brief.
77:29But on behalf of the Aspen Institute, the Art in Embassies
77:33program at the State Department, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and
77:38the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade
77:40Center, I’d like to say just a few words, largely of thanks
77:45to all of you for joining us here tonight to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this
77:49remarkable program. We know that you couldn’t help but enjoy
77:55Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s amazing, exhilarating performance
78:00that we saw, and I think all of us will long remember that incredibly insightful dialogue
78:08that we all listened to. I mean, just just you know, the
78:13thrill to have that kind of exuberance of talent, together at
78:19one time in one place and be able to eavesdrop on it, I think was very very special.
78:24(audience applause) GERSON: But we are here to celebrate a wonderful
78:33anniversary, the fiftieth anniversary of this fabulous
78:37program and I’ve had a chance to see its magic in other cities around the world. In
78:44that regard, I’d like to particularly thank Beth Dozoretz, who it’s
78:48been my pleasure to know and work with for gosh probably
78:51about 15 years, Beth, and more recently, Virginia Shore. We were just in Tokyo recently for
78:59an Aspen Institute sponsored forum on cultural diplomacy.
79:05And they’ve just done an extraordinary job in running
79:08this program, absolutely brilliantly during a time of obvious challenge for any kind of
79:14cultural fundraising. But also deserve special thanks
79:19and Virginia mentioned this for the insight they had to
79:24include contemporary art from the host countries, in addition to American artists to foster
79:30the kind of cross-cultural dialogue and exchange that
79:33we just got a glimpse. And it’s actually that kind of vision that
79:43enabled Art in Embassies to play such a significant role in the
79:49recent forum that we had in Japan under the theme of the art of peace building and reconciliation.
79:56And we did have Virginia there, we also were able
79:59to entertain our guests from all around the world in our
80:04ambassador’s residence which was complemented so wonderfully by works from this great
80:10organization. And so it was really special and I’m sure for any of you who’ve had
80:15opportunities to see the actual effect of the work in other embassies
80:19and missions around the world, it’s really remarkable.
80:24We had that event in Tokyo after having it in several other places in previous years
80:28including Spain and France, in Oman, and I’m glad to say I think
80:34next year will actually bring the magic of this kind of cultural
80:38diplomacy event to Congo and if there’s a place in the world that needs the magic
80:44and power and peace of art, it’s certainly Congo.
80:50The Aspen Institute, and many of you may not realize this, but when we were founded in
80:541950, art was very much at our core, art and music and literature.
81:02And in the decades since we’ve evolved increasingly at least in outside perception as an institute
81:07focused on public policy and foreign policy, domestic
81:12international policy but and it seems like a small world but about seven years ago largely
81:19under the inspiration of the late Sydney Harman, one
81:22of our trustees, we brought art back really to center stage at
81:29the Institute. And not art in terms of performance or display, Sydney used to say that art is
81:36not, it’s not decoration, it’s not entertainment, it’s
81:40fundamental to everything we do and who we are.
81:43So in our programs in the arts, what we do is not just show art or give artists a stage
81:52or an opportunity to read or perform. We actually engage artists
81:56in everything we do. Whether it’s discussing refugee
82:00issues or whether it’s discussing education in American public schools, because we believe
82:05the perspective of artists is so fundamental and
82:08so important. So that is what we do. It’s now my privilege
82:12to oversee a suite of arts programs, including one run by
82:16Damian Puono(?) who’s here tonight that deals with cultural diplomacy but also a spectacular
82:22one run by the dancer Damian Woetzel and we’re about
82:25to launch one run by the wonderful playwright Anna
82:29Devere Smith. So art is very much a part of what we are all about now.
82:35Finally, and I did promise you you would be able to get to this reception, I’d like
82:39to recognize a few people who made all of this possible, other
82:42than those of course I’ve already mentioned. Damian
82:45Puono(?) but also Maria Elena Amatangelo and Agnes Pour(?) for their contribution to the
82:51planning at this event. Welmoed Laanstra, for Arts in
82:55Embassies who helped coordinate the event. And of course,
82:59the Woodrow Wilson International Center itself especially Jane who mentioned that we jealously
83:04share her with the Wilson Center, she’s also a
83:06trustee of the Institute. Sharon McCarter, Marie-Stella Gatzoulis,
83:10for facilitating logistical and outreach efforts. And of course the Ronald Reagan Building and
83:15International Trade Center for hosting us. So now, it is my pleasure to ask you please
83:20join us at our reception, thank you very much for being here.
83:22(applause) (music plays over credits)