Artissima Live – Interview with Marco Scotini

Following the experience at #ArtissimaLive, Droste Effect is publishing the interviews collected during Artissima 2018 in Turin; find all articles at #ArtissimaLive.

Second conversation: curator Marco Scotini on artist Zheng Bo

Marco Scotini is Artistic Director of the FM Center for Contemporary Art in Milan. Since 2004, he is Head of the Visual Arts and Curatorial Studies Department at NABA, Milan. Since 2014 he is Head of Exhibitions Program at PAV – Parco d’Arte Vivente, Turin. On November 3rd, 2018 Scotini opened the first Italian solo exhibition of the Chinese artist Zheng Bo, Il Partito delle Erbacce / Weed Party III.

On November 2nd we met Marco Scotini at the #ArtissimaLive booth and this is our conversation.

 

Zheng Bo, Socialism Good, Photographic print (2018) of Socialism Good, 2016. Alternanthera, soil, weeds, 400 x 1600 cm. Commissioned by CASS Sculpture Foundation, UK. Courtesy the artist.


Zheng Bo, Socialism Good, Photographic print (2018) of Socialism Good, 2016. Alternanthera, soil, weeds, 400 x 1600 cm. Commissioned by CASS Sculpture Foundation, UK. Courtesy the artist.

 

VINCENZO ESTREMO – Zheng Bo is an attentive investigator of the relationship between plants, society, and politics. He is one of the most interesting Chinese artists of the younger generation. Lately, he was among the participating artists at Manifesta 12 in Palermo; he has recently exhibited at the second Yinchuan Biennale, and he is also involved in the 11th Taipei Biennial curate by Mali Wu & Francesco Manacorda. Could you tell us how and why you decided to bring Zheng Bo at PAV? And, in which way his work may be associated with your curatorial activity at the Parco d’Arte Vivente?

MARCO SCOTINI – I had the chance to get to know Zheng Bo’s work better this summer, because he was one of the participants in the Yinchuan Biennial that I curated. It was then that I discovered the activity of Zheng Bo, and his research in the field of ecology in Southeast Asia. For that biennial, Zheng Bo planted about 400 poplar plants in which a slogan of socialism could be read on the ground. Thanks to “Propaganda Botanica”, Zheng Bo makes use of historic Marxist slogans recreating them by using plants in order to expand notions such as “equality”, “workers” or “socialism” beyond the human sphere. In that specific case, the slogan, “Earth Workers Unite”, left open the possibility of a two-fold interpretation: not so much that it is the workers of Planet Earth who are uniting (according to the orthodox version), but more that an association against common exploitation should become possible between the Earth and its workers. Considering this precedent and considering the activity that since 2014 I am carrying on at the PAV, started with the exhibition Vegetation as a political agent, I thought it might be interesting to inaugurate the new exhibition season with Zheng Bo. This won’t be the only exhibition concerning the field of ecology in Asia. The PAV is continuously committed to carrying out a program dedicated to that art scene. In April we will inaugurate an exhibition by the Indian artist Ravi Agarwal and after that, we are willing to develop the theme of ecofeminism with investigations focused on South East Asia.

 

 Zheng Bo, Grass Roots, Pencil on paper, a set of 12 drawings, 27 x 34 cm each, 2015. Courtesy the artist.


Zheng Bo, Grass Roots, Pencil on paper, a set of 12 drawings, 27 x 34 cm each, 2015. Courtesy the artist.

 

VE – What about the exhibition Il Partito delle Erbacce / Weed Party III? Could you tell us something about this project?

MARCO SCOTINI – Regarding this exhibition, the idea was to present Zheng Bo’s research and then return in the spring with a permanent action located within the context of the PAV’s park. This exhibition is articulated through 4 types of work. In the first room, there is a huge photographic reproduction of an installation composed of plants and flowers quoting the slogan “Socialism is Good,”  and located in Tiananmen Square from 1991. With this action, Zheng Bo focuses on an intervention that is presented as political propaganda, but at the same time is destined to deteriorate over time to let forms of spontaneous vegetation emerge within the decorative aspects of text patterns. These slogans are destined to be altered by forces from below due to Grassroots actions. Thus, Zheng Bo confronts the rhetorical capability of these slogans. In the greenhouse, there is a sort of garden. The work “After Science Garden” (2018) is the second version of the garden built in Minneapolis one year ago. For the realization of this work, the artist consulted a botanist from Turin, who advised him on a number of spontaneous plants that grow in the city. It is not a permanent project, it is an indoor cultivation, and it may be better defined as a path among plants. LED lights hanging over the plants help them to grow.

 

Zheng Bo, After Science Garden, Site-specific installation (plant, led lights), variable dimensions, 2018. Courtesy the artist.


Zheng Bo, After Science Garden, Site-specific installation (plant, led lights), variable dimensions, 2018. Courtesy the artist.

Zheng Bo, After Science Garden, Site-specific installation (plant, led lights), variable dimensions, 2018. Courtesy the artist.


Zheng Bo, After Science Garden, Site-specific installation (plant, led lights), variable dimensions, 2018. Courtesy the artist.

 

The insistence of Zheng Bo on weeds is to be framed within the close relationship between the plants and the anthropic ecosystems. The artist often intervened by activating forms of spontaneous activity in the plants in order to facilitate the ability of plants to occupy spaces. Zheng Bo reflects on the fact that when there is free space – when an architectural artifact is destroyed – plants can and do fill that context with their presence, occupying the empty space. Within this garden are installed the pages of two volumes that Zheng Bo found. One related to 1945 and another to 1961. The artist has manually rewritten these two survival manuals that have to do with the food function of the weeds. The 1945 manual is Taiwanese, and it connected to the Japanese occupation of the country, a period when people were advised to feed on weeds in order to survive. The one from 1961 refers to a great famine in China and to the years when people who suffered from hunger were suggested to eat weeds. The collection of drawings “Grass Roots” (2015) treats the Grassroots political phenomenon. These analytical drawings of weeds’ roots are linked to the phenomenon of emancipation movements from the bottom. The series deals with the centrifugal forces of unrecognized classes, and aims to promote forms of alternative politics. Obviously, these political movements are absolutely banned in China. Zheng Bo tried, while working in Italy, to be in touch with the NO TAV movement here in Piedmont, due to the interest of this movement in preserving the ecosystem from huge infrastructural work. Last but not least, the exhibition includes 2 of the videos from the Pteridophilia cycle.

 

Pteridophilia 1, video (4K, color, sound), 17',  2016. Courtesy the artist.

Pteridophilia 2, video (4K, color, sound), 20′, 2018. Courtesy the artist.

Pteridophilia 2, video (4K, color, sound), 20', 2018. Courtesy the artist.


Pteridophilia 1, video (4K, color, sound), 17′, 2016. Courtesy the artist.

 

These videos, that are set in fern forests in Taiwan, show young people having sex with the plants. In the first video, a number of young naked Chinese have sex with ferns, in the second there is only one young man having sex with ferns of a different nature. The intercourse ends up with the guy devouring the plant.
As you may know, the fern is an asexual plant that does not produce seeds or flowers. The sexual apparatus of this plant – the reproductive system – is hidden, thus it does not live by canonical sexual procedures. What interests Zheng Bo is not to produce plant pornography, but to make people perceive that the plant is an active organism. The union between man and nature reflects on the forms of socialism and on the reasons of its failure. In fact, Zheng Bo disputes the separatist version of the relationship between man and nature, man and the environment. An element which is not typical of the Asian tradition, in which there is a strict coincidence between man and nature. A relationship destroyed only by the modernist plans of Mao Tse Tung. The reflection on the socialist apparatus and on the absence of the environmental element is a response to the collapse of nature. Ultimately, the work of Zheng Bo is not limited to framing the Anthropocene, but is committed to bringing attention to contextual micro-political actions.

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by Vincenzo Estremo
in Focus on Europe

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