The Group 1965's Tokyo Guide

special edition: From the Guangzhou Triennale
Ozawa Tsuyoshi
Date: January 10, 2006
Troubled artists: Ozawa Tsuyoshi (front) and Chen Shaoxiong
The last part being done in a glass case a day before the opening

I'm shedding tears of mortification as I'm writing "Tokyo" with blue watercolor. I haven't experienced such a feeling before. I'm in China’s third-largest city, Guangzhou, and around me the silence of an art museum at night.

I'm the only Japanese artist participating in The Second Guangzhou Triennial. Following the first Guangzhou Triennale that was themed "Reinterpretation: A Decade of Experimental Chinese Art (1990-2000)", this is the first major international exhibition to be held in Guangdong. Compared to Shanghai or Beijing, the Guangzhou art scene seems to be lagging behind in terms of progress and liberation, but this will surely change with this Triennale.


I've been collaborating with Guangzhou resident Chen Shaoxiong. He’s an artist from my generation, and one of the leaders of the Guangdong art scene. This is probably the first ever collaboration between a Japanese and a Chinese contemporary artist. We produced two unusually long drawings by sending a paper roll back and forth between Japan and China, completing the work in a ping-pong kind of manner. For example, the dishes I painted in my studio, Shaoxiong filled with food in his, and sent the whole thing back to me. So every little detail you see in the two 12-metre-long scrolls was made by the two of us together. You could call it a conversation through painting, or a discussion, or even a fight. It was an exciting time when I got to open about one package from China every week and see how things looked like inside.


For the Triennale, we place the drawings on the wall, which sounds very simple but is in fact pretty troublesome. A roll of paper without backing or frame is difficult to handle, so we have to be extremely careful. Once the pieces are on the wall, I see Shaoxiong standing and talking with a group of men in front of the pictures, making rather serious faces. The men are officials from the museum’s administration and the ministry of cultural affairs, and the problem seems to be that we might not get permission to exhibit the works if we don't erase a certain part.


The title is "Guangdong Tokyo"

The detail the officials don't like shows Shaoxiong’s drawing of a girl with a lantern, and next to it "On the 15th day of the 8th lunar month there was full moon" written in Chinese, along with my own addition, "On 8/15 we commemorate the end of WWII, or Japan’s defeat" and a scene from the celebration commemorating the event. The officials are reportedly worrying to annoy those who don't agree on this date as the day when the war ended. Shaoxiong argues that I added "Japan’s defeat", but we're told that we shouldn't touch upon such delicate topics in times like these. Before starting with our work we actually decided not to include any political issues, and we'd never have thought that something as trivial as this would be handled as such. We rather believed that the mutual awareness of the different things people in China and Japan imagine when talking about a certain date in history would be important for communication.
I wouldn't have thought that "censorship from the authorities", which used to happen all the time just a few years ago, applies also to foreign artists like me. I'd probably get emotional when trying to say something, so I decide to shut up. I painted that without any bad intention, and now they suddenly tell me to erase part of it?! Shaoxiong agonizes too. For now, let’s wait for Hanru. Hou Hanru is this Triennale’s artistic director, and a person both of us are having great confidence in. Maybe he'll come up with a smart solution…


The lower scroll shows the part in question

Hanru shows up a few minutes later, and tells us that erasing those letters or removing the work altogether were the only options. I say to him,
"You should know very well why I have collaborated with a Chinese artist. Neither politicians nor the man on the street can clear the trouble that’s going on between our two countries, so we are trying to solve the problem with the means of art."

"I know! Listen Ozawa, the authorities don't work that way. For them it’s either yes or no, and there’s no room for discussion."

His words are clear, and his face tells me it’s even harder for him than for myself.

"I can't decide that here and now, give me some time to think."

To remove the piece would certainly be courageous, but the spirit of a professional artist tells me to fight in order to get my work shown, and find a solution everybody is happy with.

Shaoxiong discusses with a variety of people, but finally tells me, "it looks like we have to overpaint that part." I suppose for him it’s not the first experience of this kind. Even though in China the economy and urban development are progressing at an impossible speed, and changes are happening all over the place, publications and movie scripts for example are still subject to inspection and censorship.

It’s probably not the smartest solution, but the answer I come up with is to add the face of Japanese prime minister Koizumi to the part in question. I decide to put this idea into action as long as it is fresh, but for some reason I fail miserably, and all I'm able to draw is an ugly stain. I guess I'd better call it quits…


The complete work

On the next day there’s a press conference, and I was asked to show up at the museum at nine in the morning. But I don't feel like that at all, and eventually arrive there around noon. I spot a woman who inspects our work with excitement. It’s Koo Jeong A, a Paris-based Korean artist, and one of the artists participating in this Triennale. "I looked so hard that my contact lenses almost fell out. Your works are very delicate, and it’s interesting how one can sense the time the two of you have spent on these drawings. I think they're really brilliant!" Although still upset, I realise that the piece seems to appeal to people, so after all the time I spent on it was still worthwhile. We receive praise also from Surasi Kusolwong from Thailand, and Taiwanese Michael Lin. Thank you! Such comments from respected artists are extremely encouraging!


The title of our work is "Guangdong Tokyo". Shaoxiong wrote "Guangdong" in yellow letters, and I added "Tokyo" in blue.

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