I've known Mathieu for 25 years, back when we both set down roots in Beijing in the early 1990's. I came back. Mathieu stayed, met Yan, and together they opened one of China's most cutting edge and influential art galleries, Bank. They've seen Chinese art emerge from the underground to the global. And at Bank's recent Armory show, I had a chance to ask my old friend -- and truly interesting human -- some questions.
How much of the art that you feature at Bank is video/film related? Do you think artists are influencing mainstream film and television, or the other way around?
We show a good deal of video and film, perhaps 20% of our program is dedicated to time-based works. While the influence of the art world is historically greater than it has ever been, it influences mainstream media only very subtly. I still think that mainstream influences the art world more. Art has always been a representation of ‘reality’ and our current reality is permeated by mainstream media. Having said that, we are showing Petra Cortright, an artist whose early web-cam, video/performance works were ‘discovered” and championed by the designer, Stella McCartney who in turn commissioned Cortright to produce some work that functioned as ‘content' for McCartney’s company. It's a permeable membrane.
Living in China, do you feel like you experience a totally different media landscape — an alternate universe — than when you are in your home country of America? Or is the world fully globalized by now?
Funny you should ask because I feel that the difference in media temperments between both countries is one of the most poignant and noticeable distinctions when traveling between the two. While globalization, on a superficial level, is quite rampant -- we have Starbucks and H&M on both continents -- my culture shock is more and more associated with the differences in media-zation. Upon landing in any major US airport you get this in-your-face assault of mainstream network media and then, as you pass customs, the subsequent echelons of -- traditional, public, alternative, digital, media seems to permeate every encounter and or conversation. While in China it is paradoxical mix of globalized media-scape (usually in the forms of Hollywood film, pop music) and idiosyncratic Chinese platforms which are under the scrutiny of government -- meaning lots of good, healthy news. However, most importantly, the biggest difference is WeChat, a social media platform of a zillion+, mostly Chinese, users, that truly has changed interactions of every level in China and that remains highly monitored by the authorities. Most everybody spends most of their day attached to this sailing ship willingly providing lots of personal info to the aforementioned government. It has replaced the telephone, cash, traditional journalism, other social media platforms, video conferencing, friendships, etc.
What’s it like to run a business as a couple?
One of the first things my wife and I did after meeting was to collaborate on a television pilot. I was certainly in love with her from first sight but the collaboration really fortified the idea that we could make something beautiful and fulfilling together. The collaboration was in a way a metaphor for the loving going on in our relationship. Fast forward 10+ years and things have certainly changed. We have made beautiful children and now are fully engaged together in the business. While we bicker like any couple, there’s a certain energy that we feel around each other and a certain feeling of making something together that is quite fulfilling.
What’s the best thing about being an expatriate for so much of your adult life?
Hehe, Perhaps it’s my Libra character but I enjoy being in between. Living in another country you have a certain lack of responsibility to that country’s overall situation and also to your home country because it's so far away and it’s problems are as well. In fact - not having to deal with being smothered by obnoxious media on a daily basis, especially now in the era of Trump, is quite nice.
What’s one word in Chinese that feels almost untranslatable — and how would you attempt to translate it?
辛苦 (xinku) is a word you hear all the time that loosely translates into ‘misery, hardship, troublesome, etc’ but is used as a polite way to get people to do things that are miserable or troublesome. For instance, you would say, after giving someone a load of tedious tasks while you go out on the town, xinku le.. or 'you’re so miserable'. But it’s 100% proper etiquette and considered nice… go figure. It's kind of meant empathetically.