The Conversation - Art in Embassies presents a conversation with the Medal of Art Honorees

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

0:00 VOICEOVER: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. The US Department of State Office of Art in
0:05 Embassies, the Aspen Institute, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars,
0:11 and the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center
0:14 are pleased to present a conversation with the honorees
0:19 featuring moderator Glenn Lowry, Director at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Our
0:26 opening act this evening is poet and performer Marc Bamuthi
0:31 Joseph. JOSEPH: Hi! You can applaud, it’s all good!
0:40 (audience applause) JOSEPH: I know we’re in a hallowed environment
0:47 and everything but we’re also I think celebrating a
0:54 vessel for reciprocity that demands that you do as much work as I do, okay? Yes?
1:00 AUDIENCE: Yes. JOSEPH: Cool, great! So it’ll work if you
1:03 do stuff like applaud and giggle. Cool. Love it! Cool.
1:11 (audience applause, laughter) JOSEPH: Our ancestors hacked bitterly at sugarcane.
1:21 We are the sweet never tasted by their sweatsoaked tongues. They begged for us to be here never
1:30 knowing who or what we’d become. We are their
1:36 echoing elegy perpetually sung we are their echoing elegy … I was in Haiti once, at this vodou ceremony
1:57 and I passed out. Personally I think I seen a little bit of blood and I just (noise) you
2:03 know, like a little Beyoncé. But the people I was with, folks
2:10 who all honor and respect Haitian culture believed that I had
2:16 been possessed. They said I fell, like this (demonstrates).
2:29 A pawn or a priest, either is possible. Who knows where your body goes when the spirit
2:43 flies away. When you lose your mind, what jumps in to
2:50 take its place? The Haitians called me “ne-gi-ne”(?). My
2:57 granmè, my oldest living relative, once told me that “gi-ne” is the tunnel that connects
3:02 Haiti to Africa, so when a Haitian calls you “ne-gi-ne”, that’s
3:08 the real shit. (audience laughter)
3:12 JOSEPH: That’s like super black. It’s true. It’s like a stripe. I wonder what
3:22 they’d say if they knew my kid was half Chinese and my girlfriend was white.
3:27 This story begins in the middle, halfway across the planet.
3:35 I think that I’m awake. Last night at dusk I took a red-eye across the Atlantic, I landed
3:43 on the first morning of summer in Europe. For the last
3:47 forty-something hours it’s been day. I think I might be
3:51 dreaming but I’m not sure. I’m in Paris for a festival for contemporary
3:59 choreographers from Africa. By the grace of god I get to
4:03 watch. It’s one of the perks I’ve managed to convince the performing arts machine that
4:08 I am both high arts and hip-hop. Shh. (laughs) Don’t tell
4:14 em. I’m stuck. I’m in between. Last row of the audience falling
4:21 up, waking dream. In Paris I represent my country in the flesh. I am the surrogate for
4:31 Allen Iverson and 50 Cent. What good is a black man in America
4:37 if stripped of his right to threats? How hip-hop can I be if
4:44 they let me on today’s set? Anyway! As a guest of the institution I’m
4:51 at this festival and on the first night is this soloist from South
4:54 Africa. She does this joint where she puts on this Easter Bunny costume head thing and
5:01 a pink tutu and like Pippy Longstocking tights and a pointe
5:06 shoe and a Converse okay? And she performs this piece
5:12 where she climbs in and out of a plastic bag yeah—
5:20 (audience applause) JOSEPH: Yeah for like 20 minutes, okay? And
5:28 then she walks into the audience with saran wrap and she
5:32 puts it over people’s mouths (kissing noise) and she kisses them over their dental dam-ed
5:39 lips (kissing noise) for like another 20 minutes. And then
5:46 it ends. That’s it. In my head, the vision of South Africa is
5:55 Robben Island. Stephen Biko. In my head it is always the late 80s
6:03 and Nelson Mandela is the first person that I ever truly wanted to be free. The first
6:08 major metaphor for liberating me. The triangle of perspective
6:14 is crazy. I’m looking at this African woman for some sense of
6:18 root. She’s looking at European performance art trading in a mandala for a frayed pink
6:24 tutu and Europeans have always been looking at me ever
6:28 since my name was Langston Satchmo Josephine. Since
6:33 the days when they bred me. I am the descendants of an experiment in psyche and body, a fetish
6:41 taking my place in line, fractured, wondering when
6:44 this woman’s history stopped being mine. I’ve been flying
6:47 for the last forty-something hours, I am no sense of time, I’m just wondering which
6:50 one of us is asleep and which one is just tired.
7:00 And then. Exactly right then. I fall. This story begins in the middle, halfway across
7:17 the planet. I think that I’m awake. Last night at dusk I took a red-eye
7:26 across the Pacific and landed on the first morning of
7:29 summer in Japan. For the last forty-something hours it’s been day. I think I might be
7:38 dreaming but I’m not sure. I’m a living word lost in translation.
7:43 I guess this is a near death experience. I’m at the club in Japan. Everybody in hip-hop
7:52 knows that the culture is huge over here, mostly cause we
7:55 seen it on a Yo MTV Raps interview with the Wu-Tang Clan. Tokyo is like Times Square times
8:01 ten. Midnight feels like 11 a.m. plugged into a
8:04 socket. My hosts are all hip-hop kids, they insist, tired as I am,
8:10 I roll with them to the spot. I lead with my ego. I think, why not. I imagine that when
8:18 I enter the club, the music will stop. The rivers will part. The
8:27 reverence will begin. Behold! Japanese motherloves that sweat
8:34 my 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
8:47 Quest, Niles, Run DMC, the real hip-hop is obviously
8:50 oozing from all of my pores for all to see and all… ignore me. I am the only black
9:03 dude in the room except for the ones we’re all listening
9:07 to. I’m either so racist or so self-absorbed or oblivious that I
9:15 imagine some kind of props are due. Fist up. Head nods. Eye contact. None of that. I’m
9:32 invisible. Race doesn’t matter. I am just another guy that
9:37 might be a little too old to be at the club. (audience laughter)
9:43 JOSEPH: And in the great tradition of the wrong guy at the right party, I retired to
9:50 a corner, the music still bumping, but I ain’t been asleep since
9:57 yester-something and I fall … This story begins in the middle. With the
10:08 first African American woman I ever met. Was a white chick
10:14 from Lubbock, Texas. Molly Melching, bigaman? She moved to Senegal 20 years ago to work
10:22 for UNESCO and she never left. She married a Senegalese
10:26 man, had a daughter, was happy. Until he left. Molly
10:31 speaks Worlof, Tree, she’s a beast negotiator at the marketplace, geared down, highly respected
10:38 in her community. The Senegalese that I met refer
10:40 to Molly as an African American. They refer to me as a black
10:47 American. When I get off the plane in Senegal, I don’t know if we have plans, I don’t
10:51 have much money, I have Molly’s number in my back pocket given
10:54 to me by friends of friends, I have ideas in my head also
10:57 given to me by friends of friends. They said, boy, in Africa, they will love you! Just find
11:03 a dance, just find a hip-hop, somebody will adopt you, take you
11:05 in, don’t worry, don’t trip! Three days into my trip, I been hustled out
11:12 of my drawers. And I’m spending money at a rate that’s
11:14 going to leave me homeless in eight days. And I got one of them non-transferrable, non-fuck-with-able
11:19 tickets, says I got to be here for four months. In tears, I call Molly. She invites me to
11:27 her home in Thies, she says I can stay. Not quite the African
11:31 I thought was gonna take me in. Molly works for an NGO called
11:36 Toastan. She’s a champion of women’s health, she wants to fight against female circumcision
11:41 in rural villages, she calls it mutilation.
11:46 I become her roadie. I sit in the back seat gazing at endless stretches of endless flatland
11:54 and wide open sky as we ride from one end of the country
11:58 to the other. We ride to the middle of nowhere. Nowhere.
12:04 Come to a stop in front of a single-stone building with a thatched roof, three girls
12:07 come out all smiles and grace, I think cool, Molly’s gonna meet
12:10 with them and then we’re going to be out. And then this boy
12:13 comes out and he starts playing a drum, which I think is kind of annoying to have going
12:18 on during a meeting but you know who the hell am I, the
12:21 American. You know, I just smile and listen for my name,
12:24 take it all in. All of the nowhere. Africa. This kid playing the drum, apparently he’s
12:36 this village’s version of a mass email because I don’t know where
12:39 the hell these people come from but like a hundred thousand
12:42 people storm the courtyard, it’s like the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day and they’ve
12:47 all come to see the circus in town which is namely the big white
12:51 African and her short clueless American friend. Molly is still on her propaganda about this
12:56 backwards indigenous ritual but nobody can hear anything
12:58 because of all the commotion, all the people, everybody trying to see the one white woman
13:03 within a thousand miles. Finally Molly comes out she
13:06 says, Bamuthi, I need you to distract them. (audience laughter)
13:12 JOSEPH: Molly, I’m a poet. And they don’t speak English. I ain’t got no microphone,
13:20 no megaphone, no radio, no telephone, whatever, I’m gonna
13:23 keep them distracted with, I’m withering here, yeah what
13:32 (yelling) … Five minutes later. The entire village. I’m surrounded. My heart pounding.
13:48 Africa. Okay. I don’t need to astound them. Only distract.
14:04 No microphone, no radio, no English. That’s cool. That’s cool.
14:15 See, my whole act, to survive, I’ve become hip-hop empath. I channel the low beginnings,
14:31 fires burning all over the Bronx, post-Civil Rights, glass
14:35 ceilings no lights, no moot, just do what you feel to the groove,
14:39 a 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
14:50 manically mimicking cynical smears that works with flares with
14:53 words the world is this magnanimous moment a future
14:56 aesthetic a mythic poetic cerebral kisetic it’s not in your head or your heart or your
14:58 feet it exists in all three! Wooh! Okay, they’re buying it!
15:06 (audience applause) While I’m cracking them up with my shamrocks,
15:13 Molly is speaking in a language that I’ve never heard of.
15:18 She convinces the council of elders to abandon a centuries-old practice, encourages them
15:23 to modernize their attitude towards women. Molly extended
15:31 me. That’s how I became an emcee without saying a
15:39 word. It’s ethereal, lyrical, miracle, biblical, spiritual, it’s a it’s a it’s a (scratch)
15:43 ethereal it’s ethereal it’s ethereal lyrical (record scratch) it’s ethereal
15:46 lyrical miracle almost biblical (DJ record scratching) Is it
15:47 real? Oh! Oh my! Thank you. (audience applause)
15:49 BREAK (music plays)
15:49 TEXT: “Opening America’s doors to students and professional artists provides the kind
15:53 of two-way cultural understanding that can break down
15:57 the barriers that feed hatred and fear.” PRESIDENT OBAMA
15:59 up! 1953
16:08 BETWEEN ARTISTS AND HOST COUNTRIES ARTIST: This work has been in North Carolina,
16:11 New York, it’s on a constant journey. But now it’s got a
16:12 final resting place here in Madagascar. ART IN EMBASSIES
16:50 US DEPARTMENT OF STATE Kennedy image courtesy of John Fitzgerald
18:24 Kennedy Library (music plays)
19:02 VOICEOVER: Please welcome the honorable Jane Harman, director, president and CEO of the
19:17 Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
19:23 HARMAN: Well after that opening act, I feel like one of the dullest, pinkest, most boring
19:33 people on the planet. But I am here to welcome you to what
19:38 will be a wonderful event and to thank the International
19:41 Trade Center, the Art in Embassies Program, and the Aspen Institute—my dear friend Elliot
19:47 Gerson is somewhere down there—for partnering with
19:51 us on this event. Let me say something about Beth Dozoretz,
19:58 the ambassador for the Art in Embassies Program. She
20:03 came by the Wilson Center recently and said, I have this idea. What would you think about
20:08 five or six of the greatest artists in America having, or
20:12 on the planet, having a conversation about art at the Wilson
20:15 Center. And she could barely get that out, I said, yes! Because what is so little-understood
20:22 is how important culture is as a foreign policy tool,
20:28 and how under-utilized it is as a foreign policy tool.
20:31 I, some of you may know I served in our Congress for nine terms. I am a recovering politician
20:38 and left voluntarily, not involuntarily, last year
20:42 to take up this amazing plum job. And I know from the travels I
20:50 made in Congress, all over the world to garden spots like Libya, Syria, North Korea, etc.,
20:56 but also to somewhat nicer venues, how critical this program
21:02 is to showcase what America stands for in our
21:06 embassies. And how important art is as an education tool, as a way to knit civilization
21:14 together everywhere in the world and I’ll just take
21:17 this moment to pitch a big audience for more funding for the
21:23 arts and for the Arts in Embassies program! (audience applause)
21:30 And I thought you should know that just down the road here in the post office building
21:35 is the headquarters of the NEA, the National Endowment
21:37 for the Arts, headed by a wonderful free-form called
21:42 Rocco Landesman. And he told me recently that the funding for the NEA, get this, everyone
21:50 sit down and focus on this, this is our national arts
21:54 program, is $146 million for a country of over $300 million
22:01 people. Do the math. That is under fifty cents a person to bring substance, sustenance to
22:09 the people who live in the United States of America.
22:11 Did you know that the budget for Skyfall, the new Bond movie,
22:16 was more than that? So I put that out there and I put out there how critical this program
22:23 is and how beautiful, if you were watching the slideshow
22:27 which I was watching, is the art that these artists whom
22:31 you will hear from in a minute, bring to us and bring to this program.
22:38 And it is very important at a time when the world seems more dangerous than ever and when
22:44 US embassies look like fortresses, that we can
22:47 showcase in them some beauty like the beauty that you saw
22:53 in the slideshow and like the beauty that will be discussed by these artists so as an
22:58 arts lover myself, who was married for over 30 years a guy named
23:03 Sidney Harman who always used to say, what a
23:05 coincidence that the Sidney Harman Hall in Washington has the same name I do, and who
23:11 quoted poetry at the drop of a hat, I revere this
23:15 stuff. And yes, Beth, yes. Just ask me again. Thank you very
23:21 much and please welcome Virginia Shore! (audience applause)
23:29 SHORE: Good evening, thank you all for coming. Thank you, Jane, thank you to the rest of
23:42 the Wilson Center team, the Aspen team, Elliot, Mary
23:46 Elenna, Damien Puono. Thank you, Beth, Beth Dozoretz, our
23:50 director. And I also of course, I want to thank the artists, the five incredible artists
23:58 that I’ve luckily had the opportunity to work with over the years
24:01 and to all the artists in the room who have worked with our
24:04 program over the years. The video you just watched gave you a glimpse
24:09 of Art in Embassies today. Art in Embassies has changed.
24:14 Over the past decade, our program has grown immensely and we’re incredibly proud of
24:19 the way our program has changed in terms of now we only
24:23 work we don’t only work with American artist we
24:25 actually work with artists from the host country. It’s now a program not just about America,
24:32 it’s about cross-cultural exchange.
24:35 We now do artist exchanges. In the past decade we’ve done over a hundred cultural exchanges
24:41 and we’re going to continue doing the cultural
24:45 exchanges, this has become a new focus for the program.
24:49 Acquisitions has become a new part of our program. We now oversee all the new permanent
24:54 embassies & consulates around the world. So two-way
24:59 cultural exchange has become the core of the mission. And
25:02 that’s basically all we wanted to say tonight! Thank you so much for joining us, and we’ll
25:08 go ahead and jump into the conversation, what we’re all
25:10 here for. So connecting us back to our roots, a man who
25:15 needs no introduction, the director of the Museum of Modern Art, Mister Glenn Lowry.
25:30 (audience applause) (voiceover laughter)
25:39 SIKANDER: Do we have an order? LOWRY: I don’t know that we have an order,
25:48 I think we’ll just take it as it comes. And I’ll try and
25:51 remember where everybody is sitting. (muffled voices, other noises)
25:56 LOWRY: So good evening. I’m Glenn Lowry and I’m delighted to be sharing the stage
26:02 with five extraordinary artists to celebrate not only
26:07 their work and their achievement and their recognition by the
26:11 Art in Embassies program, but the fifty years of this remarkable effort on the part of this
26:17 country to underscore the importance of the arts to us
26:22 as people and to our dialogue and friendship with those
26:26 around the world. It is an important moment especially for me,
26:33 representing the Museum of Modern Art, because the Art
26:35 in Embassies program was born in part through the Museum of Modern Art in its very early
26:40 years. And I just want to say that no one then I’m sure
26:44 could have envisioned, Beth, what this has grown into. You
26:48 and your incredible team have done an astounding job and I think the work that you were able
26:53 to see earlier this evening is a small reflection
26:59 of the many great things that you have made possible.
27:03 So with me tonight are five artists whose work I admire enormously. Cai Guo-Qiang and
27:12 Cai is in the midst and maybe he’ll tell us about it in
27:14 a moment he’s in the midst of preparing for tomorrow that will
27:18 help 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
27:33 who revived, I won’t say single-handedly, but who certainly
27:36 was instrumental in the revival of an old tradition,
27:41 miniature painting, but investing it with new meanings and new possibilities that continue
27:45 to resonate today and that have affected an enormous number
27:49 of artists throughout the Middle East, Pakistan and
27:53 India. Jeff Koons who we count as one of our own
27:57 who, before he became the celebrated artist that he is had a
28:01 brief moment at the Museum of Modern Art where his work is still legendary but who has gone
28:07 on to be one of the most celebrated and important artists
28:10 working anywhere in the world and whose sculpture, paintings and ideas form the backbone of an
28:17 intense conversation about surrealism as well as pop art
28:21 can be in the 21st century. Carrie Mae Weems who’s been a voice for
28:27 the power of women, of identity, and of race, who’s tackled
28:32 some of the most difficult issues around and who’s always done so with an elegance and
28:39 grace. I count as a great friend.
28:43 And Kiki Smith, who has managed in her work to discover mysteries and spirits and ideas
28:51 that we didn’t know existed. Who, like Carrie, is willing
28:55 to tackle questions of identity, and of gender but who also has
29:01 brought forth the pleasures of thinking about the environment and ecology and whose work
29:07 never ceases to surprise me. So you can imagine
29:10 how honored I am to be here. So let me start, Cai, with a question to you.
29:16 You embody, I think, much of what this program stands for—
29:21 cultural exchange and the openness to the ideas from different places and different
29:25 peoples. What is it like to be preparing a major work for the
29:30 Mall here in Washington? GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
29:41 TRANSLATOR: Because the project I’m working on is co-organized by Art in Embassies and
29:52 also the Sackler Gallery…
29:56 GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: And since their birthdays fall
30:05 on the holiday season I decided to choose a Christmas tree.
30:10 And then on this forty-feet-tall Christmas tree I’m putting over 2,000 fireworks on
30:16 the tree. And during the explosion there will be free admission.
30:20 GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: So the first explosion lasts 1.5
30:27 seconds and goes (noises) from bottom to top. (audience laughter)
30:32 GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: And when the smoke clears slightly
30:38 there will be a tree lighting ceremony where the
30:41 smoke (silence) for five seconds. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
30:47 TRANSLATOR: And for the third time, when the smoke completely clears, all the fireworks
30:55 will go ‘boom’ and then you see a clear tree.
31:00 GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: So I’m hoping the tree will
31:07 look like a film negative of a Christmas tree (silence) day.
31:12 GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: And I’m hoping at the end of
31:21 the explosion, you have two trees: one real tree, another
31:25 cloud smoke tree that’s drifting away. So we have one real tree and one virtual tree.
31:30 GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: So I’m praying for the wind
31:34 tomorrow. (audience laughter)
31:35 GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: So if the wind is really high
31:40 and the smoke drifts off really quickly, your eyeballs will have
31:43 to roll more quickly too. (audience laughter)
31:46 LOWRY: What time will it take place, Cai? GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
31:51 TRANSLATOR: Three in the afternoon. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
31:55 TRANSLATOR: Don’t be late! GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
31:57 TRANSLATOR: Because it’s incredibly hard to get permits in Washington, DC! So there’s
32:02 lots of traffic control hurdles to be leapt over.
32:05 (audience laughter) LOWRY: Three o’clock! If you’re working,
32:08 take time off. If you’re not working, be there, it will be
32:13 fantastic. Jeff, you’ve had, you’ve worked all over the world, your sculpture is legendary.
32:19 How did you come about selecting the work that you did
32:22 for the embassy in Beijing? KOONS: Glenn, I thought about, which pieces
32:32 at that moment were finished, available. And the Tulips
32:37 just seemed like it would be a wonderful choice for the reflection pond. And so, myself and
32:44 my wife, we offered the Tulips to go and so it was agreed
32:50 that the embassy would show Tulips. But I have to say—
32:53 when I saw the photographs of the work installed, and I saw the large scholar stones that were
33:01 around the piece, I was so moved. It was the most
33:05 ideal setting I could imagine. Not just with the architecture
33:09 and the reflection pond, but then to have these large scholar stones there. But it was
33:15 just organic, thinking about work that would symbolize optimism,
33:21 you know, the Tulips creates like a rainbow, and
33:24 it’s, you know, an optimistic piece. LOWRY: They’re part of your celebration
33:28 series, aren’t they? KOONS: Ah yes, yeah.
33:30 LOWRY: Do you want to talk a little bit about that, because I think that’s one of the
33:34 great achievements that you’ve been working on now for quite
33:37 a while, and what’s the genesis of that series and what does
33:41 it try to do? KOONS: I would have to say my work in general
33:47 but I would think with the celebration series I started to
33:51 really try to focus on just connecting with archetypal imagery. And to just follow my
33:59 interests and focus on those interests. But everything else has
34:06 an aspect of tied to a cyclical year so tulips are kind of a
34:11 symbol of spring. Other works from that series, a hanging heart could maybe be Valentine’s
34:16 Day, or you could associate a cracked egg or something
34:21 maybe Easter. But an aspect of cyclical time. But everything
34:25 is a little larger, a little mythic in scale. And so Tulips was part of that series.
34:33 LOWRY: Carrie, I was struck by something that you said at some point and I can’t even
34:40 remember where and when but in talking about your work where
34:45 you were discussing that you’ve come to address issues
34:48 of love and other matters, but your work is always about race. And you… and Carrie’s
34:55 work, 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
35:05 as well. How did you come to use these different sort of almost intersecting strategies, the
35:15 word and the image?
35:16 WEEMS: That’s a long story. I probably think more of it is you know I think that my work
35:29 is really focused in the area of unrequited love. I think all
35:37 those other issues, issues of race and gender and so forth are
35:41 really subordinate to this other, deeper idea, really complex idea about the struggle and
35:47 the battle for love and affection and desire and need and
35:52 want. So I’m always sort of grappling with those ideas. But
35:57 early on when I was a student I had a really wonderful teacher, we fought a great deal
36:04 which is, I have a history of fighting with lots of people—
36:07 LOWRY: She may look mild-mannered up here but—
36:09 WEEMS: (laughs) But we had these really sort of great talks about photography and one day
36:16 you know he said to me, so what’s the about. And
36:19 I said, it’s obvious, you can tell, and a picture’s worth a
36:22 thousand words. And he said yes, that’s true, but which thousand are you talking about
36:26 specifically? (laughter) i
36:28 WEEMS: And so it was a question, it was a question, it was a challenge, and I’ve been
36:34 for a long time then making work based in image and text.
36:41 Though for the last many years actually I haven’t, I haven’t
36:44 really been doing that so much, though I continue to write a great deal in relationship to the
36:49 work. LOWRY: You’ve been doing a lot of video
36:51 work. WEEMS: I’ve been doing a lot of video work.
36:53 And I think actually that gives me that opportunity to play
36:56 with ideas about sound and voice. And I have a chance to work with musicians and of course
37:03 in this context, in the American embassy context,
37:06 you know, artists were very very important, musicians were
37:10 very important in the early years of Arts in Embassies programs around the world. The
37:17 sort of great great great music of people like Dizzy Gillespie
37:20 and Armstrong and et cetera, they were really really
37:24 important. That book, Satchmo Blows Away the World, was absolutely critical in understanding
37:30 the role of artists, music, literature, in (silence)
37:35 in cultural diplomacy. And so it’s sort of wonderful that I get a
37:38 chance now to work with musicians as I do my own work and tomorrow night thanks to Virginia,
37:45 Virginia Shore, who I’ve now known for many many
37:49 years, I love working with this program, I get a chance to
37:52 work with the amazing artist and pianist Jason Moran. So we sort of work out some ideas around
37:58 sound and image and word.
38:00 LOWRY: And I do think we should give Virginia a huge round of applause for the work she
38:06 does. (applause)
38:11 LOWRY: But pause for a moment: Madagascar. WEEMS: I know! Amazing, right? You know, I’ve
38:18 always wanted to go there too. LOWRY: And did you get to go?
38:21 WEEMS: No, I haven’t. LOWRY: But your work is there—
38:24 WEEMS: My work is there and so I’m happy with that. However it is also in Mali so that’s
38:29 fabulous and I’ve been to Mali. And in fact the images
38:35 that are used in the embassy there are photographs that were
38:38 made in this great great great great ancient city of (?) in northern Mali and I’m very
38:44 pleased that the work is there and it’s (silence)
38:49 LOWRY: Shahzia, you have the pleasure of being from Pakistan, living in the states, but having
38:55 your work as part of the Art in Embassies program
38:58 in Pakistan. Did you think about what work would be
39:02 appropriate for the embassy? SIKANDER: Actually the work that I did, I
39:08 definitely thought about it. LOWRY: Do you want to share the title with
39:12 us, because I think it’s important. SIKANDER: ‘I Am Also Not My Own Enemy’.
39:17 And you know I think a lot of my work is really about
39:23 translation, the distance between the original or the idea of the original and what may be,
39:35 an interpretation or something even. And what
39:39 is that distance. And I think even in this particular work, ‘I
39:44 Am Also Not My Own Enemy,’ it opens up that dialogue. Like who is the enemy here or not.
39:53 And it also refers actually to Mirza Ghalib, a phrase,
40:00 a poet, text borrowed from his language. And again it’s in Urdu
40:07 but it’s written in English. And the way it’s painted also is it references the U.S.
40:17 colors. LOWRY: The what has always struck me as so
40:21 interesting about your work is how you’ve taken this older
40:27 language, the language of miniature painting, and found new ways to invest it with stories.
40:37 Where did the stories come from? Are they personal,
40:40 are they…do you find them in literature? How do you how do
40:44 you think about your work as it relates to the present?
40:48 SIKANDER: I think as a artist as a individual as a person I think a lot of the information
41:00 surrounds us and it’s how much you’re absorbing, so a lot
41:05 of it is culled from newspapers, from history books, from other
41:12 artists’ work, from literature, everything, I think, culture at large. And it’s also
41:21 about how much of it becomes part of your own language. So I think
41:30 I’m interested in that process. Like, what does it mean to own something,
41:35 the act of ownership, because again the interest in miniature
41:40 painting was removed from a culture specificity. It wasn’t because one was from Pakistan
41:47 or studying there that you had to do miniature painting.
41:50 It was a very objective, non-nostalgic interesting in learning
41:58 something, in understanding its context, its history and then getting interested in sort
42:06 of a floodgate that happened. There was sort of so much to
42:14 process, to juxtapose, as well as see it through the lens of
42:19 the colonial history, too. So I think there’s not one place through
42:26 which I’m accessing ideas but several places and a lot of it is
42:36 create—imagination you know and how can you make something that might communicate
42:43 to a larger audience. How do you make work which is compelling,
42:48 and how do you define what is compelling, also?
42:50 So I think at the end of it it’s also about communication. How do you make work that can
42:57 communicate? And then translation, like, what is translation
43:02 in that respect. LOWRY: Is the issue of translation, Kiki,
43:07 for you, sorry (laughs) the issue, first of all I should say Kiki is one
43:11 of the most generous artists in the world. She’s generous with her time, as is every
43:17 artist here, but there’s I think in her work a profound generosity
43:21 of spirit and something I’m always struck by, so much
43:25 of your work feels like it’s giving itself to someone else. To all of us who get to look
43:30 at it. Do you think of issues of translation, of how you, either
43:35 how you absorb other ideas from cultures or ideas from
43:40 literature or how you transfer your work, as it were, from something very private to
43:48 something that enters the public sphere?
43:51 SMITH: Well … you know, we’re just fluid. Things are just coming in and out and of and
43:58 some moments we have like the net’s tighter that we trap
44:03 something, it stays in our consciousness and then kind of
44:08 flows out of our consciousness again. You know that’s one you know creativity is fluid
44:16 and it’s a vehicle you know like it seems to me that art is a
44:22 space that keeps like demanding that the depth of our human
44:30 gets to have expression and particularly within the bounds of like societies that are often
44:37 restrictive and constrictive. You know, that art keeps like
44:41 chopping out space and has this ability to move and be fluid
44:49 from different cultures. I mean like I would say, I am part or I inherit
44:54 the entire history of creativity in the world and that’s my
44:58 lineage and I have access through that lineage. And you go to attraction and I think like
45:07 love and I think a lot of art is about gift-making, it is about
45:15 gift-making. And it is about trying to like synthesize something
45:19 outside of yourself that you can then like reflect and look at. But it is also something
45:26 that has a capacity for other people to have their own authentic
45:32 experience too, and embrace. So you know it is like water
45:40 and water and we are essentially I would say creative and technological beings and besides
45:47 that you know we’re just things that fluid will go
45:50 through. You know so it’s most natural that we make creative
45:55 you know have some way of making creative expression.
45:58 Certainly within the context of the embassies, you know, we are all extremely fortunate and
46:10 also the people working. This was my thing, like, the
46:13 people working, it’s most important that America has this,
46:16 like, history, problematic history, with visual arts and a suspicion of visual arts and it
46:23 is just cause of our history. You know but you know so it hasn’t
46:29 been you know so supported in the governmental ways like
46:36 in the broad culture like that but it has always been supported by individuals because
46:42 and you know this is one of the great contributions we have
46:45 here and I forgot what I was saying because I always forget
46:49 what I’m saying but anyway that’s nothing (laughs)
46:50 LOWRY: I should say, I should say, speaking of lineages, you come from a remarkable lineage
46:55 of artists. Your sister Seton, who’s a terrific photographer,
46:59 is here with us tonight and you’re both here because
47:02 you’re celebrating your father’s hundredth birthday, is that right?
47:05 SMITH: Yeah. LOWRY: At the National Gallery, so (applauds)
47:08 (audience applause) SMITH: My father is Tony Smith and on Saturday
47:15 there’s a talk at the National Gallery about his work, by
47:18 some people from the museum, but also the artist Charlie Ray is speaking on his work
47:23 which is for us the greatest privilege.
47:25 WEEMS: Well you know that’s one of the greatest things about being on a in an environment
47:31 like this that this kind of program brings together
47:34 that not only do we get a chance to revel in our own sort of
47:41 world, you get a chance I get a chance to be with Kiki, who, you know, I adore! And
47:49 I want to consume your work! There are pieces that you’ve
47:52 made over the years that I literally want to eat. They’re
47:56 absolutely that I feel so lucky that I have the opportunity to be with each of you, learn
48:03 about each of you, knowing each of you, and to that extent
48:07 then that there’s this level of community that exists
48:11 amongst us that I think is really sort of extraordinary. And again I think that it’s
48:15 these kind of programs that allow us really to come together because
48:19 for the most part we’re all very very busy in our own
48:21 studios working. SMITH: But we are as artists international
48:26 by just fundamentally, you know, outside of any structure, we
48:32 exist in a fluid, international— WEEMS: That’s right, that you are home.
48:37 That you are home and that you feel the ability to work almost
48:40 anywhere. Rosa Luxemburg said, I am home where in the world there are clouds and birds and
48:46 human tears. Which I absolutely love. So that I
48:50 never feel like there’s any great distance, even though we talk
48:54 about these ideas about translation, meaning, who owns something. That you know that there’s
48:59 something really wonderful about the ability to sort of to break through those artificial
49:06 boundaries of construct. To exist in the world as human,
49:11 right? Not man, not woman but as human, as artists, as
49:16 people that are deeply interested in the experience of living and making.
49:21 SIKANDER: Yeah, and I think at that level we don’t require translation.
49:25 (audience applause) SIKANDER: And that really is the interface
49:32 of art, that it naturally doesn’t require translation, no
49:38 boundaries. And that, you know, it’s harder to define and put down and probably harder
49:48 to digest. WEEMS: And yet and yet artists are considered
49:52 dangerous. LOWRY: If you’ve been about Shah’s work—
50:00 SMITH: Not everywhere— LOWRY: It can be dangerous!
50:07 GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: So back in the days only diplomats
50:20 get to jet-set all over the world and especially in China,
50:24 if you’re an important diplomat you might have a chance to go to several countries.
50:27 So when I mentioned to a Chinese diplomat that I’ve
50:31 been to over 30 countries, he was absolutely shocked! ‘How
50:34 could you!’ But nowadays, all artists are like diplomats. They go everywhere.
50:40 GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: Well, we should probably talk
50:45 about the role of art in diplomacy— GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
50:51 TRANSLATOR: He made a mistake, but I didn’t (laughs)
50:55 (audience laughter) GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
50:58 TRANSLATOR: So let’s talk about the role of art in diplomacy.
51:04 GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: Back in October, I was fortunate
51:15 enough to win the Praemium Imperiale in Japan and
51:20 Glenn Lowry actually announced my laureate-ship in MoMA a while back—
51:28 GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: And at the time, AC Macky(?) gave
51:32 me two outfits, one for the ceremony in Japan and one
51:40 for the ceremony in New York. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
51:47 TRANSLATOR: But never would I have thought that Sino-Japanese relations would have reached
51:52 the highest tension during that time over the
51:55 bickering of the ownership of the Senkaku Islands.
51:59 GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: So over 4,000 activities and events
52:09 that were planned by the Chinese and Japanese governments were completely cancelled.
52:14 GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: But I still went to Japan.
52:20 GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: Because it was the first time
52:26 that a Chinese-born artist was given this award.
52:30 GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: So after I went, the Japanese
52:36 organizers were very pleased. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
52:41 TRANSLATOR: And the Chinese ambassador was kind enough to come.
52:45 GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: Even though they cancelled all
52:51 these cultural exchange activities, they still came to my
52:56 awards ceremony. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
52:59 TRANSLATOR: So during the day, the foreign offices of both countries would sort of yell
53:13 at each other and say, no, these islands are ours and these
53:16 islands are ours, but in the evening they all sit down
53:19 together and have a nice dinner. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
53:26 TRANSLATOR: So sometimes art can do things that politics cannot.
53:32 GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) (audience applause)
53:38 GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: So the Chinese diplomats were
53:46 kind enough to come and were, ‘oh, this is only art’
53:51 (audience laughter) GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
53:54 TRANSLATOR: Because art is always a very emotional exchange and experience between different
54:01 human beings. LOWRY: No, I think that’s said so beautiful,
54:08 Cai, you know, one of the things that all of us who have the
54:11 privilege of working in the arts know is that there’s a community that we live in. That
54:17 what Kiki and Carrie were talking about, that we live in
54:20 this community and it doesn’t actually matter where we are,
54:24 we are always connected to interesting people who will who even if they have different political
54:31 positions, share a common belief in the value of art. And I think that’s what the Art
54:36 in Embassies program constantly underscores.
54:40 Jeff, I wonder, you’ve worked in some of the most interesting places, you’ve tackled
54:46 Versailles, for instance, brought it to its heels with your
54:50 installation. When you do those kinds of projects—and for
54:55 those of you who don’t know, Jeff, probably five years ago, now, I’m guessing it was
54:59 more or less that— KOONS: Yes, I think it was around 2008?2008,
55:04 Justine? (laughter)
55:05 LOWRY: —was invited to do an installation in Versailles, one of the most hallowed spaces
55:13 in French. And if anyone knows the French, they’re not
55:16 really good about sharing their cultural prowess with the rest of
55:20 the world, you know, especially with Americans, who they see as upstarts. But there you were.
55:26 What was it like? Did you see yourself in a way
55:29 as an ambassador for the United States there? KOONS: I think artists always and people that
55:39 are here people that are participating, that’s the main
55:43 drive, you want to participate. And so when you’re young, you get together with your
55:49 friends, you talk about art, and you to your desire you participate.
55:56 And art’s about connections, and the more connections, the more powerful it is.
56:02 So when I was younger I would think about what Louis Quatorze, what Louis the 14th,
56:08 what fantasies he would have when, to be able to have complete
56:12 economic and political freedom to create something. And we all have these freedoms every day to
56:20 and art’s really about how much freedom that you give to
56:22 yourself. But what maybe his fantasies would be. And so, when I went to Versailles, I was
56:27 just very very open, what would seem like a natural piece
56:31 to place in different rooms. But Glenn, my experience with art, in a nutshell,
56:40 it’s a vehicle that lets you have self-acceptance. You
56:43 participate and learning to know yourself, and once you have a sense of yourself you
56:50 automatically want to go outward. And you want to have a dialogue
56:53 about everything that’s external. And you know it leads
56:58 you to have everything in play, it’s about all of these connections. And it’s about
57:04 other people and acceptance of others. So automatically you’re
57:09 in this dialogue that you want also to have more and more
57:13 open to you and that openness comes from acceptance. Accepting everything around you and letting
57:19 it be in play, to let it be in dialogue. And
57:22 that’s where art finds its interest, its information, its ability to
57:30 connect. LOWRY: One of the, this evening is about cultural
57:36 exchange and cultural diplomacy and it seems to me
57:39 that one of the places where that exchange occurs is often in the form of a biennial.
57:48 Those exhibitions that occur every other year, sometimes they’re
57:52 every third year, and in the case of some, every fifth
57:54 year but they bring together artists from around the world often, for a moment, you
58:02 know, in a place that sometimes might not be exposed to recent
58:07 work by a number of people and I’m interested in how
58:11 those of us who are consumers at biennials find them fascinating because they’re, I
58:16 don’t want to call them one-stop shopping, but they provide a
58:19 unique moment to take a pulse. And I wonder what it’s like from the point
58:23 of view of an artist, to be part of a biennial. I think, Shahzia,
58:28 you’re working for the Sharjah Biennial. This is a one of the newer biennials, it takes
58:33 place in Sharjah in the Gulf, in March if I am correct. What’s
58:39 that like, and what kind of work are you doing for that? And
58:42 how do you feel about being you meet other artists is it does it engage you in a different
58:48 in a way that’s different than when you’re just doing a
58:50 show in New York or in Los Angeles? SIKANDER: Absolutely. I think especially the
58:56 Sharjah Biennial because, you know, being in New York, you
59:01 are pretty much separate from that region. Versus sort of living nearby or close by.
59:15 So that’s one aspect. The other is that I have been to UAE several
59:23 times but not necessarily to engage with the context of
59:29 Sharjah and the foundation itself. So this time I really was much more open to understanding
59:37 its history in the region and its relationship to Pakistan
59:40 and its relationship to other Asian countries because there’s
59:43 lots of migrant workers, lots of people, ex-pats that also bring to life that area.
59:52 So all of those things are swimming in one’s head, which is not necessarily going to happen
59:58 if you’re working in the studio and making your next
60:01 body of work, or putting a show up. So definitely you think
60:06 you have to shift gears and think differently. So I’m doing a variety of projects, since
60:14 my primary practice is drawing there’s a lot of new drawings
60:19 after visiting and exploring Sharjah and looking through lots of
60:23 imagery and its history. Few years back, you know, few decades ago very different, so it’s…
60:32 and then I’m doing like a multi-channel video animation
60:36 work, I’m working with another musician for the sound and
60:41 also working on a film project which will be shot there in two weeks, on site. So there’s
60:47 a lot of relationship to the location, engaging with
60:51 the people there, engaging much more with the fabric of the
60:55 host country or the host society in that respect. It is about acceptance. It’s also about
61:03 you know finding ways to engage through a different tempo,
61:07 rhythm, and then also learning in the process more and how to create that boundary that’s
61:15 going to create something meaningful between that particular
61:21 engagement as well as the larger platform which
61:24 is well-visited as we know by globally, through everybody. So I think not respect—biennials
61:30 as platforms are very critical because they do the space
61:36 at least for contemporary art where we see a variety of
61:39 things which we don’t necessarily are privy to, being in just in the US or New York.
61:48 WEEMS: I think it’s also unique, the thing that’s important and I think that this issue
61:52 underscores what you were just saying the you know the you
61:57 know you have to, to do what we do you have to love it. Like
62:02 you really have to like I am a slave to my work. It tells me what to do, it gets me up
62:10 in the morning, and it tells me when I am going to go to bed at
62:13 night. You know, I mean, it rules my life and there are parts of
62:16 it that I find absolutely maddening and there are parts of it that absolutely save me. You
62:22 know, art has saved my life on more than one occasion.
62:27 And how we participate in the world I think and this thing called diplomacy is a very
62:34 complex thing. It’s not a static thing and that it exists on many
62:38 many many many different levels. You know, from this way
62:42 in which Kiki was talking about, the way in which things are simply flowing, information,
62:48 ideas, emotion, concept, being, that these things are flowing
62:53 back and forth through many different channels. So on the one hand there’s that this emotional
63:02 thing, this thing that we are attempting to live through,
63:04 that we are attempting to communicate through. Volumes of stored information, sensibility,
63:12 concept, being, is one thing—the way in which we
63:16 work as artists. So you know that you can be that I can be in
63:20 Mexico or I can be in South Africa and the artist and the people assume that the work
63:27 was made there. That it is transcended where it was made.
63:32 That it’s now simply about what the material is and what the
63:36 material is trying to get at. That it becomes really much more important.
63:41 So that there’s that aspect of diplomacy, that you are becoming a part of a larger world,
63:47 that you’re breaking down barriers and boundaries. Which
63:51 is really what we’re talking about, right? How do we how
63:55 do we disrupt the boundaries, the bridges that separate us from one another? And how
64:02 do we do that in an elegant and challenging way? In a way that
64:07 is respectful of the difference between the group of us?
64:13 You know, so that on the one hand I have the extraordinary privilege to work with FAPE
64:20 on the one hand, with Art in Embassies here, but there’s
64:24 nothing like being in Rome and making a body of work and
64:29 having a group of Romans come to me and tell me that this is the first time that they’ve
64:34 understood their city in this way, and that they’re
64:37 shocked and surprised. It’s something else that happens now,
64:41 some other kind of information, some other kind of dialogue is now possible between me
64:47 and that group of people because something else has
64:5 1happened, you know, that something else is broken, that
64:53 something else has been built up, actually. And that I think is exciting.
64:57 So the diplomacy exists in many many ways and that each in our own way I think direct
65:04 it. Control it. Manifest it. Speak it. Live it.
65:08 SMITH: That’s something nice too about the Art in Embassies is that the diversity of
65:16 voices or of practices or of some sort of manifestations
65:20 of things. They don’t have to go together and I think that’s
65:23 one of like our great American heritages of living in this country now as artists and
65:31 in particular for us as women artists, our generation, that we have
65:36 had such a fortunate that we’ve taken such a fortunate
65:40 position that we get to do our work. But that it’s really large, the space that art can
65:48 occupy. And that it’s not only to make cultural
65:52 understanding. You know, it’s also to stand in that things are
65:56 incomprehensible, enigmatic, not able to be quantified or understood, they’re idiosyncratic,
66:03 and they’re out—they’re outside and, you know, and
66:07 that it’s really important to have models of incoherence and
66:12 models of difference and you know not make this sort of mushy, happy happy, you know
66:18 everybody in the world’s happy with each other culturally.
66:22 And but but it allows art allows the space for that. You
66:26 know, when many places in international diplomacy or whatever are intolerant of the not-knowing
66:36 space. And that’s a great thing that art affords and is a model for the world, I think.
66:45 KOONS: Kiki, if I could just say something, you know when we speak about culture too,
66:52 you know, culture can be such a large kind of word,
66:56 but in a way it’s just like a personality. And it’s a personality of
67:00 a group of people. And art is an experience that really just happens in a singular viewer
67:09 and that brings us back to that you know nations are made
67:12 up of individuals and we all contribute to this kind of being
67:17 of a whole. And then also interacting with each other. That’s really about individuals
67:24 relating to each other and communicating and having a dialogue,
67:28 one-on-one. LOWRY: Speaking of a dialogue, this is supposed
67:32 to be about exchange and I think we should take a few
67:34 minutes to see if there are any questions from those of you in the audience! For any
67:40 one of these wonderful artists who are sharing the evening
67:44 with us. So don’t be shy! If you have a question—do we
67:52 have 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
68:02 taking it as it flies. So if you have a question, raise your
68:08 hand and I’ll call on you and just speak loudly.
68:11 SMITH: I’ll say something really—oh, no, you’ve got it—no I just want to say something
68:17 really quick, because we’re all artists but like Cai-san
68:22 is my curator, he has curated me in two international exhibitions, of my own museum shows in his
68:29 museums because you know he as all artists and all human
68:34 beings can have many facets to you know we get to be citizens as artists, we get to be
68:40 artists, we get to do whatever else we’re doing. But he’s
68:43 someone in a unique position that has made his own museums,
68:47 has taken his own museums, has occupied his own museums, so he is a very important cultural
68:54 model I think of the complexity of what an artist
69:00 can be today. Anyway, sorry. LOWRY: No, that was great, Kiki!
69:04 SMITH: But he’s great! LOWRY: He is great! In the back there was
69:08 a question… I think, yes? (audience member asks a question, unintelligible)
69:25 LOWRY: Did everyone hear, did everyone hear that question?
69:29 AUDIENCE: No … LOWRY: She asked if any of these artists but
69:32 I think she was directing it perhaps at Jeff in particular,
69:37 when they create a work that might go to an embassy or abroad, are they trying to send
69:44 a specific message?
69:47 (audience member continues question) LOWRY: Carrie?
69:58 WEEMS: Well that’s not my case I mean I think I am I just make work. I make work that
70:10 I’m really deeply interested in that really me and then I think
70:16 it’s been the thing that’s been interesting is and then there’s
70:22 a real consideration about what will be the best work for a certain embassy so that out
70:29 of the many many many many pieces that I’ve produced
70:32 over the years maybe only a few of them really speak in I
70:38 think in a certain way that allows that work to go maybe to Madagascar or Liberia or the
70:48 US mission in New York. So no I haven’t I’ve never made
70:54 anything with the mission in mind, I haven’t had that
70:56 experience but maybe others here have. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
71:08 TRANSLATOR: So my work was probably trying to do something like you had mentioned. When
71:18 Art in Embassies invited me to create a piece for
71:20 the embassy in Beijing, I was very excited. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
71:31 TRANSLATOR: So to be honest with you, no Chinese government agency has ever commissioned me
71:38 to create a work for their government buildings
71:40 so yeah Americans were the first to ask. (laughter)
71:45 GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: So I used gunpowder to depict
71:51 an eagle and a pine tree branch. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
71:56 TRANSLATOR: So these two things from the two different countries are creating a relationship
72:03 with each other.
72:05 GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: But when artists work in the world,
72:18 in different countries, like everyone here has
72:20 mentioned, everyone has their little tricks. It’s like being a diplomat, everyone have
72:24 their own set of skills.
72:34 GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: So last December when I was working
72:39 in Doha, in Qatar, because it’s in the Arab world
72:43 and I felt mystified by it, I was very worried GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
72:49 TRANSLATOR: So I brought my team and stayed there for 50 days.
72:55 GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: And I tried to work with volunteers
72:59 from local communities GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
73:05 TRANSLATOR: And when I tried to write fragile in Arabic, the museum staff held my hand and
73:12 taught me how to write it
73:14 GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: And because I’ve invested so much of my own
73:25 energy there, when I wanted to put gunpowder on the Abaya robes that local women
73:31 wear, the museum was very tolerant. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
73:39 TRANSLATOR: (laughs) Because the museum knows that I’m very serious about what I do.
73:44 GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: And they know that I’m trying
73:49 to create a dialogue with their culture. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
74:02 TRANSLATOR: And then I made a video piece documenting how Arabian horses are raised
74:11 in their specialized breeding and training centers,
74:13 that these horses be artificially inseminated and then they
74:18 would go for a very strict fitness and beauty regimen every day where they swim laps in
74:23 a swimming pool and then run on a treadmill. And then
74:28 you get showered, shampooed, massaged, beautified with all
74:31 different ointments— LOWRY: It’s good to be a horse in some places!
74:41 (audience laughter) GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
74:48 TRANSLATOR: And when I made another installation called Flying Together with a flock of falcons
74:55 lifting a camel, the museum staff were very supportive
74:59 and helped finish the work. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
75:06 TRANSLATOR: So if you start by respecting these cultural differences, earnestly try
75:16 to initiate a dialogue with different people, then people will learn
75:20 to accept you. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
75:25 TRANSLATOR: And people learn to respect you and trust you and give you creative freedom.
75:32 GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin) TRANSLATOR: And I was hoping that my art practice would influence
75:44 the young artists from the region so they can see how to transform their cultural
75:50 icons into contemporary works of art. GUO-QIANG: (speaking Mandarin)
75:56 TRANSLATOR: They also influence me deeply and allow me to contemplate from a new angle
76:06 the relationship between the Arab world and the
76:09 rest of the world. LOWRY: I think actually on that note of tolerance
76:13 and I do think one of the great things that art does is
76:17 build bridges and create conditions that allow for tolerance, generosity, love requited or
76:25 otherwise, to take place. We should recognize, celebrate
76:30 and thank Kiki Smith, Carrie Mae Weems, Jeff Koons, Shazia
76:35 Sikander and Cai Guo-Qiang, five remarkable artists who will be honored tomorrow, for
76:39 sharing this evening with us.
76:47 (applause) VOICEOVER: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome
77:02 Mister Elliot Gerson, Executive Vice President of
77:05 Policy and Public Programs for the Aspen Institute. GERSON: Well this, this I think is a doubly
77:16 perilous assignment, first of all to end that incredible, brilliant
77:20 exchange and also to separate all of you from what will be a wonderful reception. But someone
77:26 had to have this assignment. So I will be brief.
77:29 But on behalf of the Aspen Institute, the Art in Embassies
77:33 program at the State Department, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and
77:38 the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade
77:40 Center, I’d like to say just a few words, largely of thanks
77:45 to all of you for joining us here tonight to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this
77:49 remarkable program. We know that you couldn’t help but enjoy
77:55 Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s amazing, exhilarating performance
78:00 that we saw, and I think all of us will long remember that incredibly insightful dialogue
78:08 that we all listened to. I mean, just just you know, the
78:13 thrill to have that kind of exuberance of talent, together at
78:19 one 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
78:33 anniversary, the fiftieth anniversary of this fabulous
78:37 program and I’ve had a chance to see its magic in other cities around the world. In
78:44 that regard, I’d like to particularly thank Beth Dozoretz, who it’s
78:48 been my pleasure to know and work with for gosh probably
78:51 about 15 years, Beth, and more recently, Virginia Shore. We were just in Tokyo recently for
78:59 an Aspen Institute sponsored forum on cultural diplomacy.
79:05 And they’ve just done an extraordinary job in running
79:08 this program, absolutely brilliantly during a time of obvious challenge for any kind of
79:14 cultural fundraising. But also deserve special thanks
79:19 and Virginia mentioned this for the insight they had to
79:24 include contemporary art from the host countries, in addition to American artists to foster
79:30 the kind of cross-cultural dialogue and exchange that
79:33 we just got a glimpse. And it’s actually that kind of vision that
79:43 enabled Art in Embassies to play such a significant role in the
79:49 recent forum that we had in Japan under the theme of the art of peace building and reconciliation.
79:56 And we did have Virginia there, we also were able
79:59 to entertain our guests from all around the world in our
80:04 ambassador’s residence which was complemented so wonderfully by works from this great
80:10 organization. And so it was really special and I’m sure for any of you who’ve had
80:15 opportunities to see the actual effect of the work in other embassies
80:19 and missions around the world, it’s really remarkable.
80:24 We had that event in Tokyo after having it in several other places in previous years
80:28 including Spain and France, in Oman, and I’m glad to say I think
80:34 next year will actually bring the magic of this kind of cultural
80:38 diplomacy event to Congo and if there’s a place in the world that needs the magic
80:44 and power and peace of art, it’s certainly Congo.
80:50 The Aspen Institute, and many of you may not realize this, but when we were founded in
80:54 1950, art was very much at our core, art and music and literature.
81:02 And in the decades since we’ve evolved increasingly at least in outside perception as an institute
81:07 focused on public policy and foreign policy, domestic
81:12 international policy but and it seems like a small world but about seven years ago largely
81:19 under the inspiration of the late Sydney Harman, one
81:22 of our trustees, we brought art back really to center stage at
81:29 the Institute. And not art in terms of performance or display, Sydney used to say that art is
81:36 not, it’s not decoration, it’s not entertainment, it’s
81:40 fundamental to everything we do and who we are.
81:43 So in our programs in the arts, what we do is not just show art or give artists a stage
81:52 or an opportunity to read or perform. We actually engage artists
81:56 in everything we do. Whether it’s discussing refugee
82:00 issues or whether it’s discussing education in American public schools, because we believe
82:05 the perspective of artists is so fundamental and
82:08 so important. So that is what we do. It’s now my privilege
82:12 to oversee a suite of arts programs, including one run by
82:16 Damian Puono(?) who’s here tonight that deals with cultural diplomacy but also a spectacular
82:22 one run by the dancer Damian Woetzel and we’re about
82:25 to launch one run by the wonderful playwright Anna
82:29 Devere Smith. So art is very much a part of what we are all about now.
82:35 Finally, and I did promise you you would be able to get to this reception, I’d like
82:39 to recognize a few people who made all of this possible, other
82:42 than those of course I’ve already mentioned. Damian
82:45 Puono(?) but also Maria Elena Amatangelo and Agnes Pour(?) for their contribution to the
82:51 planning at this event. Welmoed Laanstra, for Arts in
82:55 Embassies who helped coordinate the event. And of course,
82:59 the Woodrow Wilson International Center itself especially Jane who mentioned that we jealously
83:04 share her with the Wilson Center, she’s also a
83:06 trustee of the Institute. Sharon McCarter, Marie-Stella Gatzoulis,
83:10 for facilitating logistical and outreach efforts. And of course the Ronald Reagan Building and
83:15 International Trade Center for hosting us. So now, it is my pleasure to ask you please
83:20 join us at our reception, thank you very much for being here.
83:22 (applause) (music plays over credits)