Uli Sigg served as the Swiss ambassador to China from 1995 to 1998. He first encountered Chinese avant-garde art in the 1980s, and since that time, he has collected more than 2,000 works by over 180 artists. Uli Sigg’s collection has been recognized as the most comprehensive collection of Chinese contemporary art, and he has beennamed in the ArtReview Power 100 list, which recognizes the world’s one hundredmost influential people in art every year.
The Server Art Foundation is honored that Uli Sigg, one of the most influential collectors of Chinese contemporary art, has joined its Expert Committee. Here, Sigg is interviewed by Xie Rong, chair of the Server Art Foundation, and Joy Cheng, member of the board of directors of the Server Art Foundation，Gu Zhenqing, art director of the Server Art Foundation. In the interview, Sigg discussed his current thinking about collecting, his unique understanding of Chinese contemporary art, and the development of art in the post-pandemic world. He also offered numerous suggestions for the future development of the Server Art Foundation.
The interview will be presented in two parts. This is the first part.
大家好！我是此次与著名收藏家乌利·希克（Uli Sigg）对谈的主持人顾振清，是服务器艺术基金会的艺术总监，也是一名独立策展人。接下来，我来介绍一下谢蓉女士，她是服务器艺术理事长、创始人，也是未来论坛的艺术顾问。未来论坛是当前中国颇具声望的民间科学公益组织。还有我的同事成卓女士，她是服务器艺术基金会理事、当代艺术家。最后，我们有幸请来乌利·希克，著名收藏家，“中国当代艺术奖CCAA”的创始人。CCAA如今发展为“希克奖”（Sigg Prize），于香港M+博物馆设立。希克先生曾任瑞士驻华大使。先请谢蓉向各位介绍服务器艺术基金会与其使命，这也是乌利之前想了解的。有请谢蓉。
Gu Zhenqing: Hello! I’m Gu Zhenqing, the moderator for this discussion with famous collector Uli Sigg. First, let me introduce myself. I’m the Art Director of the Server Art Foundation and an independent curator. This is Xie Rong, the chair and founder of the Server Art Foundation. She is also an art advisor to the Future Forum, a well-known forum for Chinese scientists. Also here is my colleague, Joy Cheng. She is a member of the board of directors of the Server Art Foundation and a contemporary artist. Now, a bit about Uli Sigg: he is a renowned collector and the founder of Chinese Contemporary Art Award CCAA which is now the Sigg Prize at the M+ Museum in Hong Kong. He previously served as the Swiss ambassador to China.
First, Xie Rong will begin by sharing a bit about the Server Art Foundation. She will introduce the foundation and its mission. Uli, you were wondering about that. Now for Xie Rong…
Xie Rong: OK, Hello, everyone. Hello, Uli Sigg! How are you?
Uli Sigg: I’m fine, I’m fine. I’m in Italy. I’m watching you in Beijing or where? Where’re you, Beijing?
Xie Rong: I’m in America.
Xie Rong: Okay, shall we start?
好的，首先让我介绍一下服务器艺术基金会（筹）。服务器艺术基金会（筹）是致力于中国当代艺术的非营利性艺术组织，旨在推动与艺术、科学和哲学相关的跨学科交流。近日，我们在线上与线下举办了一系列跨界当代艺术、科学和哲学的研讨会及讲座。明年，我们计划与未来论坛、锡纯基金会及Zeng Harburg initiative基金会共同举办科学艺术双年展。此外，我们计划建构服务器艺术基金会（筹）的艺术收藏。作为服务器艺术的创始人，我由衷感谢希克先生的支持，感谢您加入服务器艺术基金会的专家委员会，同时感谢您参与本次对谈。接下来，我将把采访交给我的两位同事顾振清先生和成卓女士。
Xie Rong: Okay, To begin with, let me introduce the Server Art Foundation. The Server Art Foundation is a non-profit art organization dedicated to Chinese contemporary art. We promote interdisciplinary exchange related to art, science, and philosophy. We have held a series of symposium, seminars, and lectures on contemporary art, science, and philosophy both online and offline. We will host a biennale of art and science with Future Forum，Xichunjijin and Zeng Harburg initiative Foundation next year. We also plan to build an art collection for the Server Art Foundation. Before we get started, as the founder and chair of the Server Art Foundation, I want to thank you, Mr. Sigg, for your support and for being a member of the Server Art Foundation’s Expert Committee, and thank you for agreeing to this interview. Now, we’ll hand the interview over to my colleagues, Gu Zhenqing and Joy Cheng.
Uli Sigg: Thank you for the introduction.
GZQ: Yes, Xie Rong, thank you for that introduction. Now we’ll turn to Joy Cheng, who has prepared four questions for you. Whenever you’re ready, Joy…
Joy Cheng: Hello Uli, please let me first express my admiration for what you have done for Chinese contemporary art over the last thirty years. A few days ago, we read an interview you did with Artnet. They asked many questions, but in that interview, you mentioned that you now collect work by a much smaller group of artists, your favorite artists. Can you elaborate on that?
US: When I said that, I was talking about what I have done since I made my donation in 2012. Before that, I collected like one imagines a national institution would collect. When I made the donation, I closed that chapter, and there was no need to continue to collect in that way. Now, there are so many institutions and private collectors who collect and will be able to continue to write the history of Chinese contemporary art together, so there was no need for me to keep collecting the same way.
What has changed? I changed my focus in the sense that I started to collect only artists who are making things that I personally find very interesting. Before, I was trying to mirror the whole artistic production of China; this was not about my taste. It was about reflecting art production across all media and along the timeline. Whatever was of importance at the moment, I tried to put in that collection. But now, it’s about my own interests and my own taste, which I had to push into the background before. That’s really the difference. I have focused on things that I am personally most interested in.
JC: Can you give us an example of your interests?
US: Well, I’m always cautious about mentioning names. If I mention someone then I don’t mention someone else... But I think of works that are edgier and more at the very forefront of art production, so I can’t say that I focus on one thing and I avoid another. It is art that fulfils certain criteria; it should have novelty, surprise, complexity, ambiguity,ideally all of the above.. I focus more on work that is at the very forefront ofcontemporary art.
JC: Things that are very avant-garde? Things like that?
US: Yes, they may be innovations, novelties, or something else very intense. I think that’s your other question… I may also go to an artist with a topic I researched, but that may be a discussion for another time.
JC: Thank you, thank you. That’s actually my second question. Why did you choose the Chinese Dream as one of your subjects? You also mentioned it in that interview, and I think it’s very interesting.
US: My current collecting is more about commissioning works. Why do I commission? Personally, I see myself as a researcher of China. My ultimate subject is China, so when I learn about a policy issue like the Chinese Dream, I want to research that topic.
Of course, I must read and I must talk to people, but one method that I find very rewarding is going to an artist who I think could have something to say or, at least, who I could work with to say something about that topic. I want to see that same topic through the eyes of an artist. This way, I get to see an issue through my methods of studying things, as a person in business, as a person who was involved in politics, and in a third way, through contemporary art.
I will go to an artist and develop something with her or him about a particular topic like the Chinese Dream. There could be many others. For instance, I prepared an exhibition about how contemporary artists see calligraphy, the tradition of calligraphy, so I went to an artist, to Feng Mengbo in that case, and I wanted to know: Who decides which characters are in your smart device? How many are in your smart device? These are questions that most Chinese people would neither know the answer to nor have an interest in. I researched that subject together with the artist in order to find out who decides what’s in your smart phone. I now know it’s almost 7,500 characters, and who made the choices. I often research a topic with an artist, and we collaborate in that way.
JC: We would like to know more.
US: Other examples of topics could be the creative process itself. The social credit system was another issue that I studied through my own channels, as well as through an artist’s eyes. I commissioned an artist to do a work with me about social credit scores, reflecting my way of researching and collecting. These research-based commissions will end up in my collection.
JC: Very interesting. It’s rather unusual, right?
US: Yeah, it’s probably not the normal procedure for most people.
JC: So, you’ve already studied and hand-picked an artist, then you go to them and you talk about your project, right?
US: Yes. The artist must also have an interest in that particular subject, and I have to have the impression that this artist can add something to this topic, so that’s how I search for an appropriate artist.
JC: And you know that from their previous works, is that right?
US: Yes, from their previous works and from the methods they apply, I determine if he or she is an artist who would have something to say about this subject.
JC: Right, I see. As a collector, do you expect Chinese artists to show strong Chinese characteristics in their work or should they reflect common human or universal values based on their personal experiences? What do you think?
US: For me, it’s not an either/or. In an oeuvre there can be all of it. It can be all at the same time or it can be all in a sequence, but for me, that’s not material. I look more closely at two layers, one is the layer of content, and the other is the layer of form.
In either layer, the artist may use “Chinese characteristics,” they may use Chinese symbols, or they may refer to tradition—that’s all OK. Or the artist may just want to be a part of—I think this is the second thing you referred to—what I call “global mainstream art,” which is what we commonly understand as that mode of worldwide contemporary art that looks more and more alike. The artist has to excel at whatever method she chooses. I don’t prefer a method, so what the artwork is about is more important. As I mentioned, does this artwork have novelty,a concern of today? This could be in content. Or novelty in form.. Does it surprise me? Can this artist take me somewhere I cannot go myself? That is maybe the ultimate criteria for me and how I collect. The work could use or refer to Chinese traditionor something totally different. I don’t have a subject I prefer, and artists have so many different ways to choose subjects and express themselves, be it in content or form. When we talk about content, of course for centuries we very often end up with death, love, sex, or, I don’t know, religion, now we added identity, urbanism, politics and others.
We can’t expect an artist to invent something new every day in terms of content. A famous artist said that you can’t cut off your ear every day-referring to Van Goghs-and you can’t compose Beethoven’s Fifth every day. You can’t expect an artist to do that.Therefore how the artist expresses whatever he/she expresses is making most of a difference.
JC: Right, right.
US: There must be an intensity in the work. The artist can use any subject, but the way the artist treats the subject decides, in my view, good or not-so-good artists, or meaningful or not-so-meaningful art. Can you as an artist present it in a way we have not seen yet? It may be a very old topic, but the artist may present it in a new way. Then, of course, there’s art that just deals with form only, with formal questions, like abstract art. You can make very interesting art about issues that may have nothing to do with real lifebut with formal things only. Can we still paint a new painting or has that last painting already been painted 1910 as its Russian painter Malevitch claimed? There are works that deal purely with form, and they can be intellectuallyvery interesting.
Just as works that deal with Chinese tradition, which is a very interesting topic for me. How do contemporary artists see the Chinese tradition: Do they want to continue the Chinese tradition as it is? Do they want to take that tradition somewhere else? Are they making fun of their tradition? All these different things can be treated either very interestingly or very boringly, so how they are done is the most crucial issue in meaningful and less-meaningful art. I’m cautious about the words “good” or “bad”. I prefer to talk about “meaningful” and “less meaningful”. That may cover your question a little bit, you’ll stop me if I’m talking too much…
JC: No, no. It’s really interesting, and we’ve never had the opportunity to ask these questions before, so we’re really glad that you can share your thoughts with us. Do you expect the artists to broaden the boundaries of art or the boundaries of thinking, of ideas?
US: Yes, in fact, I expect them to do everything, but I cannot expect everything from one artist. As I said earlier, if the artist cannot take me somewhere that I haven’t been, then that might be OK art, but it’s not my interest. And of course, I’m older and I have seen hundreds of thousands of artworks by now, so it takes something more to pique my interest. This also means that, most likely, the art I like pushes some boundary, in content or in form.
One work can’t do everything, but it may open up or use a new medium in an interesting way. We could talk about new media, but also there if the art doesn’t push some boundary, then it’s most likely repetitious, and we will have seen it before. They might do it much better than before, which is also fine!But here we’re talking about art that is really significant, right?
JC: So, if I understand, you’re looking for an avant-garde approach in the artist’s techniques and ideas, but also new media. You’re looking for everything, right?
US: Yes, but maybe not by the same artist, and not in the same work. A work has to reach some boundary or has to test some limitation, or at least to push an interesting idea to its very limit to fascinate me.
JC: Right, and also have political and sociological content?
US: Not necessarily, but if the artwork focuses on that, then that artwork should also take me to that place, to a boundary. We don’t want to see repetition and we don’t want to be bored, so that’s the art that I, personally, am interested in. It’s just a value judgment for myself; you don’t have to follow it, and neither does anyone else. This is personal, and other people may look at it differently. That for me is the primary lesson of contemporary art anyhow: We learn to accept that there are many more ways to perceive something than our own view.
JC: OK, my fourth question is: You have collected and studied Chinese contemporary art for over thirty years. How do you think the global status of Chinese contemporary artists has changed in the last decade?
US: Well, you’ve given me a very big task here… There are so many factors in play.
I think that Chinese contemporary art has had better moments, in the eyes of the rest of the world, than today. In fact, ten or fifteen years ago, it was hotter than it is today for any number of reasons. This also has to do with the market—the market always wants “fresh meat.” It always demands something new, and there was a moment when Chinese art appeared new to the market or to the international curators who hadn’t encountered Chinese contemporary art before, so that helped, but Chinese art at that time was also quite intense. It was working on, describing, and dealing with a situation that the world was not familiar with, so Chinese contemporary art was also a way to see the world anew, particularly for people who knew almost nothing about Chinese tradition or Chinese art. They were very surprised, I know that, because I talked to so many people about contemporary art on behalf of the Chinese Contemporary Art Award (CCAA).
So many famous curators said, “Wow, we had no idea that Chinese art production has such breadth and such depth, and that it also deals with every media there is. It’s not simply ink painting.” Of course, these were things we all knew, but they didn’t. However, that moment has passed, and a few Chinese artists actually seized the moment and rode this wave, but many fell out of the international spotlight and were not followed anymore, rightly or wrongly. It may have been because they didn’t contribute much anymore, or maybe they did more of the same—there could have been many reasons.
I think the interest has plateaued a little bit; people are no longer interested just because it’s Chinese art, and now it just has to be very meaningful art. It doesn’t have to come across very “Chinese” to conquer a place in global mainstream art. When I say “global mainstream art,” I mean these about hundred artists we see almost everywhere. We see them now in all the collections worldwide—and I’m talking about international artists, some Chinese included—and ,although a somewhat different set,in all the biennales. We also see many of them in the auction catalogs. There aren’t many Chinese artists in these groups, not because they are worse, but because they are not well-known or they don’t have the same marketing power networks behind them, or the curators might lack the time for necessary research. These are the realities that decide how the world looks at Chinese contemporary art. There may also be a kind of backlash now because there is — how should I put this — this war we are now witnessing between the U.S. and China, so you’re not going to be very popular and you may not be able to secure sponsoring if you’re a big Western museum staging a big Chinese contemporary art exhibition right now. Before, there was a real demand for these shows; people felt that China was going to be very important, so they should try to understand it and its art. I told so many people that you can read a hundred books about China, but a big Chinese contemporary art exhibition may tell so much more about this vast and complex society. There was this intense interest in China, because the West had to reckon with China, but now there is a danger, there is a backlash, because the mood has changed. Now, all of the sudden, China is an enemy to many countries in the West, or that’s how they feel. That doesn’t help Chinese art. But if a Chinese artist really excels by international standards, it’s not a handicap either. It may be a handicap for the big exhibitions, or for the marketfor Chinese art. I see an issue there, but I’m not sure we need to talk more about that here. There’s also the fact that Chinese artists in their creations are kind of driving a car with the handbrake pulled, because of regulation, censorship, and all that, while their competitors outside China don’t have that brake and they can do more research and they can just follow their instincts and produce. If you are constrained in your creativity — overly constrained — it is just so much more difficult to be a good artist and to have the global competition notice that you are a good artist. I don’t want to become too political, but I think there is still a different understanding in much of China outside contemporary art circles and in Official China:they look at art through a different lens. It’s still influenced by the tradition in which art is here for us to enjoy ourselves, to take us to the sublime, and take us to another world so as to escape from mundane tasks; it should show us the ideal, show us beauty and bring us a state of harmony. In that traditional mode of thinking, art is your good friend, but contemporary art is not. Contemporary art may put a finger in the wound or may be critical of reality. In the traditionan ideal world is presented, the world was shown as it ought to be. Of course, I’m generalizing, but that’s the basic idea. Then there was the period of socialist realism, where art became, shall we say, your “fatherly friend,” showing you how the world should be, how you should act, or what the ideal working hero looks like. But contemporary art is not your good friend.It requires you to be open to realities and to have an interest in its critique. You have to have an interest and a curiosity in art showing you new spaces and new thoughts. You have to be much more open than in the old tradition. If you don’t work onthis openness, you will not appreciate contemporary art.
It is also a question of time. How long have you been exposed to this kind of art? You can only appreciate it if you have been exposed to it; it was the same with the West fifty or seventy years ago. People said, “What are they doing? I don’t understand!” This is a process, and this process requires exposure; you need to have discussions of good and bad examples. When you cut off this discussion, people may not really get into it. That’s another issue that may be weighing on Chinese contemporary art right now.
JC: Aside from the political issues and censorship you talked about, if we speak in terms of technique, form, or concept, what do you think of the status of Chinese contemporary art in the world?
US: I was not necessarily talking just about censorship; I was talking more about the attitude toward what art should do. Should it just be a beautiful space over there, where I can go, be entertained, and then come back? Or should it really be part of our lives? That’s not even so political; it is just about two very different paradigms. It’s another idea of what art is about. But then of course, you may have to add censorship at times. But I did interrupt you, I’m very sorry. You asked me about… can you repeat it?
JC: Let me put it another way. Maybe twenty years ago, Li Xianting, a famous Chinese critic, said that Chinese contemporary art was like a plate of spring rolls on a Western dinner table. I don’t know if you’d heard that quote before, but is that changing now? If we put politics aside and talk only about artistic concepts, techniques, or forms, do you think that is still true?
US: I think it has changed, because art creation in China is much broader than it was. When he was curating and presenting exhibitions, the art was very political, almost only political. It was produced against the system, and artists rubbing against the system create a certain type of art.
Now, that situation has very much changed, and Chinese society is in a very different place from where it was then, so the artists are dealing with where Chinese society is now. Now, they’re dealing with issues like urbanization or identity… There are so many possibilities. There is even much abstract art, with its formal questions, which was very rare, when Li Xianting was curating. so I think that has changed. Now, Western people — the curators, the museums, the ones who are in the know — don’t look for the “spring roll” type. But the people who are not in the know but feel they now “must do something Chinese” are still there. They haven’t disappeared, but became less numerous. Of course, you always have many Western curators — I see it coming again with China being the new enemywho will pick the works that have to do with human rights, Tibet and possibly pandas. I can again see Western curators who are not so familiar choosing these things because they think that it’s what their audience wants to see. So we may arrive back at a similar place, yetfrom another corner now. That’s a risk.
JC: As you said, Chinese contemporary art may not be hot right now, but you’re still interested. Why is that?
US: Yes, still very interested, because as I mentioned earlier, my ultimate subject is still China, so I continue my research also through contemporary art.
As I said, through the lenses of business and politics only one life is not enough to come near a clear idea of China, so I must continue. Also, I sit in the middle of it — not now, because I cannot travel — but normally I come to China six to eight times a year, and most of my friends there are also in the art world. They’re artists and the like. For me, it just makes sense to continue. It was neverthe flavor of the moment for me; it’s a lifelong activity. It’s a huge space and a huge art scene. It has many, many facets, so I don’t think it’s boring in any way. For me, it’s far more boring to only have to focus on European art.
感谢成卓，现在轮到我提问。乌利，我有五、六个问题。第一：这些年，中国策展人试图借助“大地艺术”（Land Art）或“田野艺术”（Field Art）的策展形式，纷纷将当代艺术带入农村。比如2018年在邓小平的故乡广安，我们策展人团队与谢蓉合作举办了2018广安田野双年展。我们邀请一些艺术家依据当地环境创作在地性的装置、雕塑，并讨论了“社会干预”的概念。乌利，您如何看待中国当代艺术的这一趋势？您如何看待当代艺术的社会干预力量？
GZQ: Thank you Joy, now I think it’s my turn. I have five or six questions for you, Uli, the first of which is: In recent years, Chinese curators have tried to bring contemporary art to the countryside through Land Art or “Field Art.” For example, in Guang’an, the hometown of Deng Xiaoping, we wanted to install some sculptural installations to try to bring art to the countryside. We proposed this “social intervention” in cooperation with Xie Rong last year. What do you think of this development in Chinese contemporary art, and what do you think of contemporary art’s power of social intervention?
US: Well, first a question: in the West, Land Art is a specific art medium of shaping the environment,the the soil; it’s not doing art projects in the countryside. Land Art implies landscaping, but you’re not talking about that, right?
GZQ: Well, the word we use is closer to “Field Art,” it’s a new word, a new concept. It’s not only bringing art into nature; it also brings art to agricultural areas, to the countryside, to villages, and to small towns.
US: I understand, all I’m saying is that Land Art is a very specific thing. It’s landscaping art. But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking more about social intervention in the countryside, right?
GZQ: Yes, yes.
US: Of course, the Chinese countryside is pretty big; there are a few hundred million people living there, so bringing art to them is a very good thing. Why should they be excluded? Why shouldn’t they also see contemporary art? For all these reasons, I made a plea on behalf of contemporary art earlier, because I think contemporary art has such an important role to play. It’s more than taking you to this beautiful or harmonious realm.
This also applies to the countryside, but they may just have different concerns and priorities. So, the question becomes: How can we reach them with the right topics, so that they can be engaged or want to engage, and the intervention will thus have an effect? You also have to consider how much the local people or the local authorities want or are adverse to this intervention — that’s yet another issue to consider. I think local intervention can have a strong effect. Of course, we shouldn’t have too many illusions about what art can do. Maybe art can move the people who are immediately affected or immediately there, or those who share in or witness an intervention, but there may be a million other people in that fourth-tier city who may not even take note.
We shouldn’t have illusions about the impact of these interventions, but if we only change a few people`s thinking, better their lives, or make them aware of an issue, maybe that’s the most important thing. If we start their inner engine, then it’s already worth it. It’s also very good for artists to see what art does in another space than where they normally operate. They may gain experience for their own practices, and that art will take off in another direction. Yes, I think it’s a very good thing, provided you find people willing to do it and you find the means to do it. These interventions still can at times reach more people than they would in a very large, saturated city where the people already have everything, or have seen everything, or think they have seen everything.
▲Transsolar、Tetsuo Kondo(近藤哲雄), “Cloudscape”《云景》,2015 ©ZKM
GZQ: Thank you for your answer. My next question is also about art interventions; we just addressed art interventions in society, but next I want to ask about art interventions in the art community itself. The Server Art Foundation is dedicated to elevating human wisdom and inspiring creativity. Our vision and aim are to foster the communicative integration of art, science, philosophy, and the humanities across disciplines. We have established the Science & Art Lab, which somewhat resembles the ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe. However, the Science & Art Lab is focused onapplication scenarios that bring together science and art. In this way, we hope to contribute ideas to the growth of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, electronic art, and other related media art fields. What do you think of this direction? Do you have any suggestions for us?
US: Of course, I’m not aware of everything you have discussed internally, so this is very new for me. I just saw a few lines about what your plans are. Of course, if I knew more of the details, I might be able to say something more meaningful. However, even in the visual arts, the trend is moving toward crossover into other disciplines, because sometimes the visual arts exhaust themselves.
The idea is a very good one, because artists always have to find more resources. For a long time, Chinese artists were fascinated with Western conceptual art, and for many years this served as a resource for artists to make works. After that, many artists returned to their own roots, to Chinese tradition, and drew a lot of resources from Chinese tradition for their art. Crossing over into realms outside the visual arts, including technology, is a very interesting resource to exploit, so I think it’s a very good direction. l go to Karlsruhe from time to time to see their exhibitions. They call themselves the “Digital Bauhaus” - I think they play a useful role, but in the end, what’s visible is yet another art exhibition, so I don’t see them to be as revolutionary as they promise. What does that tell us? It tells us that it’s not so easy to really make a difference, and to have a concept that’s more than just beautiful words, but leads to somewhere in practice, in reality. From the materials you gave me, I saw that you had some ideas you were going to try out, like this Art Clinic or Artist Clinic?
US: Yes, which I think is quite an interesting idea. I don’t know if that’s a good name, because what artist wants to go to a clinic? It means that the artist has a problem, that he’s sick and needs help. Only a few would probably agree to that. Maybe I would name it differently. Something more inviting, so that an artist feels that he might want to go there, without being a “patient.” But that’s a detail, right?
你在材料中多次提到“创造力”这个词，而我认为从科学和艺术这两个领域汲取经验并聚焦在创造力上，便会大有收获，而且这方面的实践几乎是前无古人的。很多年前在瑞士发生过一件真实的事：一位精神科医生专注于一种创造性是如何形成的研究。他做的课题非常有趣，也许这在中国也是可以做的。大概三十年前，他邀请一个小组会见诺贝尔奖得主、著名数学家和作曲家。在小组讨论中，他们要解释他们是如何做出各自的重大发明的，或者究竟是如何地创作作品的。这对参与其中的我来说，是非常有趣的，我就能提炼出创作过程如何影响他们工作以及这位精神学家的理论进展。他定义了创造力过程：从制定一个任务或一个问题开始，然后是问题被思考打磨的孵化期，这个孵化期可短可长，直到突然一个冷不防，答案出现了，它是如何触发的就看各种情况了。以发明扫描隧道显微镜的诺贝尔奖得主为例，这个人在瑞士的IBM实验室花了18年时间寻找一个公式 —— 一个他认为可以解决问题的数学公式。有一段时间他身心交瘁，被送到美国的IBM疗养胜地。毕竟都精疲力竭了，他也只能躺在床上，他抬头看天花板的时候，一个猛然看到了这个公式。他们的故事太有趣了……就是关于人是如何经历创意瞬间以及用各种方式相信这个瞬间的。
US: But the idea, to be there for artists who are stuck, is an interesting one. We all know artists who have gotten stuck, and it’s sometimes very difficult to take a step out of that. At that point, maybe outside help is worth a try. It’s a helpful idea; I just don’t know how many people you’re really reaching with a Clinic.
Chinese artists are proud people — I don’t have to tell you all — so I’m not sure whether they’ll want to admit that they need this help. There may be more inviting terms, but I think it’s a good idea, and that’s just one facet, as I understand , of what you want to do. I think it’s very interesting to connect to science. Other projects elsewhere with an interdisciplinary focus may link up with design, architecture, or film, but I don’t know anyone who really focuses on art and science. I find this so interesting because they overlap in the field of creativity — not only , but there in a major way. Both need creativity to excel.
You mentioned that word several times in your materials, and I think a focus on creativity, drawing lessons from both fields, can be very rewarding, and not a lot has happened in this area. Actually, in Switzerland, many years ago, we had a psychiatrist who focused on the creative process, and what he did was very interesting — and maybe this is something that could be done in China as well. It was almost thirty years ago. He would invite a small group to meet with Nobel Prize winners, famous mathematicians, or composers. It was just a group talk, where they would explain how exactly they made their big invention or how exactly they composed that piece. This was very, very interesting for me as a participant; todistill how the creative process affected their work and the theories he developed. He defined the creative process,starting with formulating a task or a problem , then an incubation period of pondering about the issue, which could be very short or very long, , till all of a sudden a solution would pop up and how exactly this was triggered in each case. Take, for example, the Nobel Prize winner who developed the scanning tunneling microscope. He spent eighteen years in the IBM lab in Switzerland searching for a formula, a certain mathematical formula that he thought would be the solution. At some point he got so exhausted that they sent him to a kind of IBM resort in the U.S. to relax; he was lying there on his bed, exhausted, and all of the sudden, looking up at the ceiling, he saw this formula. . Their stories were so interesting… how people have this creative moment, and how they thought this could be helped in all kinds of ways. That was something I found very useful — discovering how you can induce creativity. Scientists and visual artists may be the ones who depend most on these two elements, more so than in craft or design, or in the very functional disciplines or applied arts.
Science generally has to have a purpose, but basic science and art do not, so creativity becomes even more central. I think the two sides have a lot to talk about, but initiating those encounters will have some complications, I think. Why? Because if you bring artists together, they naturally want to keep some things to themselves. They don’t want to tell other artists what their next work is going to be, because the other artists might steal their idea. The scientists are similar, if they are all in the same field. How will you organize it so that you can circumvent such issues and really launch a dialogue? That’s not easy, but that example I just mentioned may be a good way to do it. I think you’re trying to do a very good thing, but the difficulty lies in having something happen beyond discussions. You need some kind of practical result. There probably needs to be more thought about how that happens.
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