exhibitions

Phoebe Wong: Floating Images – Eloisa Haudenschild & Contemporary Chinese Art

Published in The Arts & Collection Series II for The Asia Art Archive, July 2004

Born in Buenos Aires and currently residing in San Diego, California, Eloisa Haudenschild, has one of the largest collections for contemporary Chinese photography and video art. “Zooming into Focus: Contemporary Photography and video from the Haudenschild Collection” exhibitions in US, China and Mexico included a schedule of Symposia, artist residency programs, commissioned works and a series of lectures, performance, video dialogues and screenings in US, China and Mexico. A passionate collector and art patron, Eloisa Haudenschild was interviewed after her appearance in Hong Kong in July 2004 for her talk on collecting at Bloomberg’s Hong Kong corporate headquarters. The following interview was conducted via emails.

[EH= Eloisa Haudenschild / PW= Phoebe Wong]

PW:    When and why did you start collecting contemporary Chinese video and photography?

EH:    My husband Chris and I started travelling to China on business five years ago. My experience as a collector of Latin American Art fueled my interest and appreciation for upcoming artists in different parts of the world. I tried to find connections with the art world and young artists. After a couple of years of searching we found in Shanghai the first group of artists that are today part of our collection. It was not my initial goal to have a collection of solely photography and video, but soon I realized that they were the media in which the artists were doing the most interesting work in my opinion.

PW:    What was your first piece in the collection? In what way, if any, does it help or determine your future direction?

EH:    There was not a first piece in the collection; there were a few artists I had collected initially. They included Yang Fudong, Shi Yong, Yang Zhenzhong, Xu Zhen, Xiang Liqing, and Zheng Guogu and I met them personally in Shanghai and Guangzhou.

After my first encounter, I came back home and started doing some more research. That is how I met Hou Hanru, Huang Yongping, Wang Du, Yang Jiechang (he is part of the collection) and Martina Koeppel-Yang in Paris. Later, generous curators and artists, who are dear friends today, supported our first symposium in San Diego, California. They were Christopher Phillips, Barbara London,  Britta Erickson, Xu Bing, and Prof. Wu Hung, who wrote one of the essays for the exhibition catalogue of Zooming into Focus: Contemporary Chinese Photography and Video from the Haudenschild Collection. More fascinating people participated in our symposium in Hangzhou.

Subsequent trips brought artists Cao Fei, Chen Shaoxiong, Feng Mengbo, Hong Hao, Weng Fen, Yang Yong, Zhao Bandi, and Song Tao into the collection, all artists from Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Haikuo.

PW:    Did you gradually develop a theme in your collection, such as, urbanism?

EH:    Youth and urbanism seem to be very strong issues for these artists in the above-mentioned exhibition. It is expressed in different ways, often with images filled with fantasy and longing.

PW:    Indeed, the collection can be seen through the thread of “constructed visual fictions” as Wu Hung has commented. Also, you mainly collect works from artists who live and work in Shanghai and Guangzhou – two highly commercialised cities and in rapid transition.

EH:    Yes, I enjoy the unique and thoughtful way the artists from the south, they are individuals who operate independently.

PW:    To offer a better understanding of the context of the works (collection), what are the readings you suggest concerning what has given rise to these works?

EH:    Chinese Art at the Crossroads by Prof. Wu Hung and On the Mid-Ground by Hou Hanru are two very important books. Also there are a variety of articles by scholars and curators like Britta Erickson, Martina Koeppel-Yang, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Li Xu, Zheng Shengtian, and others that shed light into this new and exciting moment in contemporary Chinese art.

PW:    Are you among those collectors who also commission new work and offer residencies?

EH:    My interest in collecting extends beyond the acquisition of art works. Collecting allows me to share in the artist’s journey, to participate in the process at a point when I can make a difference in the career of these young artists. My interest extends to the creation of educational programs, residencies (Yang Zhenzhong and Shi Yong at present) and the commissioning of new pieces.

PW:    Using the work of Shi Yong as an example, how did the residency unfold?

EH:    I believe the launching of “Super Angel I” and “Super Angel II” on the internet, Shi Yong’s project in collaboration with the students at San Diego State University, was very interesting and complex. Once the data was gathered for a few months, Shi Yong came to San Diego, interacted with artists on both sides of the US/Mexico border and students. The final phase of the project was an interactive performance.

PW:    Being described as “one of the most important collections of contemporary Chinese art in the world”, indeed, how large is the Haudenschild Collection, to date? And, what is your future direction in collecting?

EH:    The exhibition Zooming into Focus is only one part of the collection. Artists like Yang Jiechang, Gu Dexin, Wang Jin, Wang Youshen, Zhou Tiehai, Hai Bo, Yu Youhan, Zhao Nengzhi are included in the collection as well. The collection, now numbering over 60 pieces, will continue growing; we are constantly in the process of buying new works from new artists and are continuing to buy more works from artists already part of the collection – there is always a long wish list.

My commitment to the artists is to continue exposing their work, having the collection travel, supporting the development of the artists, and opening opportunities to them. Most importantly is my relationship with the artists – I think of them as friends. I only collect works from artists I know personally, I live surrounded by their work, I have never sold a piece of any of our collections, and do not purchase works that I feel exploit the exotic or the oriental. I have supported the participation of many Chinese artists in exhibitions such as the Venice Bienale, “Past and Reverse” at the San Deigo Museum of Art, and as well at Berkeley University in San Francisco.

The collaboration with international institutions was key to our project as was the organisation of lectures, symposia, video screenings, and video premieres – activities that took place in the US, China and Mexico.

PW:    Your being an avid collector, I am able to the feel emotional investment in your collection and in your endeavour to bring educational programmes to it. In hindsight, do you think your collection reflects your sensibility, or, offers you a new understanding of yourself? As for the works shown in the exhibition as well as in your talk, they are edgy works – some rather provocative.

EH:    I imagine the collection reflects my interest in the discovery of new and untapped works and artists. I enjoy participating in the artist’s process and development as much as I can.

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Having studied in design and cultural anthropology, Phoebe Wong is a Hong Kong-based culture worker specialising in art, design and visual media. She is currently a researcher of the Asia Art Archive.