Brendan McCumstie talks about making art in China's "foggy" capitalBy Dan Lenk on 23/3/15
Brendan McCumstie is an Australian artist based in Beijing. Last year AWEH did a visual spotlight on Brendan in the run up to Fake Fuzz Fest, a two day festival of visuals and sounds in Beijing curated by Live Beijing Music, AWEH.tv, and Nasty Wizard Recordings. Audiences were suitably impressed with his surrealist collages, his combination of found images creating bizarre dreamscapes that Salvador Dali might well have taken delight in. However Brendan’s art is multi-faceted, also incorporating painting,concept, and sculpture based work, being collected by a host of galleries, such as the National Gallery of Australia. Earlier this month AWEH had the opportunity to sit down with Brendan for a proper chat ahead of his solo exhibition at Beijing’s Escape Space Gallery, in Guomao SOHO on April 7, 2015 and kick around some ideas on his approach to the craft and what it takes to be successful as a foreign artist in Beijing.
AWEH: Throughout the duration of your time in Beijing, how has your art been tangibly influenced by the environment around you?
Brendan: In my opinion, anyone who fails to be influenced by his or her surroundings may well be ignorant, immune or insulated. All three are common occurrences and are a necessary challenge to overcome.
As both an artist and viewer/observer it is impossible for me to prevent what exists around me from deeply influencing me on different levels. Never the less, it is paramount that we remain true to our own individual selves. This is increasingly important when considering the current wave of globalization, which coupled with an ever more penetrating media machine, has brought in a higher level of cultural homogenization. This is rarely a good thing and the tangible benefits often outweigh the cultural costs.
Whether these influences prove themselves to add an appreciable, tangible benefit to my work will be identified when my newest solo exhibition opens in Beijing.
AWEH: Have you observed any differences in the appreciation and understanding of your works by Chinese and China-residing expat audiences in comparison with previous environments you have worked in?
Brendan: China still (rightfully, I believe) places emphasis on creative skill, rather than simply concept as a means of construction.
In my experience, expat communities and those within the deeper artistic circles tolerate conceptual works to a far greater degree. That being said, the majority of people (from any place on the globe) still often struggle with understanding art within the scope of a personalized context. My constant battle is to open enough of a window in the artwork, to allow anyone to universally understand the possibilities inherent within the work as it relates to them on an individual basis.
Chinese audiences are developing quickly, but there obviously still exists an element of cultural upbringing that impacts one’s ability to appreciate works without any literal viewpoints. Many Chinese still seek a direct meaning, without the facility to place artworks within an individual and personal context – however I think this is evolving as the country continues to interact further with partners outside its borders.
Sometimes it is easier to see something clearly from the vantage of an alien perspective. In this sense, as seen from a distance are we not all just artists and an audience?
AWEH: Are there particular Chinese characteristics to the approach in curating a project, and if so how does this differ from the west?
Brendan: Curatorial approach and emphasis is changing worldwide. But the sun still rises in the east and sets in the west so from a high enough perspective it can be understood that artists and curators are linked in a love triangle with the viewer – this fact never changes. The western (for want of a better term) “post-post-post-ad nausea-modern” vanity-fair attitude within art has developed into an IQ test; a to and fro between artist and audience to keep outwitting each other, at the expense of truly appreciable emotional and intellectual work. In this sense, if an artwork requires a didactic explanation any larger than a few simple lines to give an audience any glimmer of light from under the doorway to understanding what a given artwork is about, the artist should consider becoming a writer, rather than a visual artist. An artwork should possess the ability to speak for itself.
AWEH: As an independent artist in Beijing, what are some key aspects with regards to branding your work, eg. developing a reputation which you wish to represent yourself.
Brendan: No one is entirely independent. Ultimately, we are all reliant on one another. The old ideals of simple networking still abide – “It’s not what you know, or who you know, but who knows you”. I don't think the significance of being professional, understanding your product and seeking a suitable platform to present that product is reliant on the ideology of any particular region.
After all, the greater part of contemporary art is naught but consumer fetishism.
AWEH: What are your artistic desires and plans for 2015?
Brendan: Obviously my first Beijing solo exhibition is high on the agenda. I am also curating a second group show in Australia later in the year. I am traveling back to Paris in April to expand a few connections there and look to having a further showing of my work there. Beyond that I will be trying to create more challenging work for myself and the audience, developing a few ideas I have been mulling over for several years and also revisiting some older projects that have lain dormant for too long. A second solo show later in the year within China is also a definite possibility.
AWEH: Who, in your opinion, are artists to watch out for this year?
Brendan: Within China there are a myriad of wonderful artists doing fantastic work at present. I look forward to seeing wonderful things from both locally based Chinese artist Dan X and also Russian born artist Anya Chalina – both amazing women. From my home country, Australia, I will be watching the further development of indigenous artist Karla Dickens, while, in Paris, I hope for big things from photographer Nick Paton who is originally from Scotland. Beyond that, the scope of talent is literally endless.
Brendan's solo show will be Beijing’s Escape Space Gallery, in Guomao SOHO, Beijing on April 7, 2015.
You can check out more of Brendan’s artwork here: www.mccumstie.com/