Chun Lee Wang Gurt (b 1957) belongs to a generation of Chinese artists who have pursued a career abroad. Starting in the late 1970s, she studied in Beijing, Stockholm and New York. While most north-east Asian artists who go abroad choose to settle in France or the USA for historical reasons, Chun Lee Wang Gurt’s personal relationships took her to Stockholm via New York. She has maintained her interest in communities, social constellations, constructions or constitutions. Encounters between people are coloured by lasting visual impressions and audible traits – including dialect, physical appearance and dress – and a myriad of invisible experiences and features. All these serve as a mould that more or less permanently impresses the rules of the community and its reverse side: exclusion. Chun Lee Wang Gurt demonstrates how various communities perpetuate a model of themselves, both in the shape of historical monuments of the usual kind, and in the form of daily habits that grow into social monuments. In the exhibition I Wish You Were Here (2002) she used different languages, spatial constructions and group portraits to reveal the alternately physical and immaterial frames of community.
© Chun Lee Wang Gurt
This field of interest also underlies the artist’s work as head of the graphic art school Grafikskolan in Stockholm (1998-2004). Heading a non-commercial cultural institution was a full-scale relational artwork. In prevailing cultures of artistic leadership and political decision-making processes she could apply resistance as a tool for building bridges between how she perceived herself and how she was received by others with regard to language, authority, change and artistic tradition. There was no back-door escape route via the relational art concept (as when artists construct a defined situation relating to the question “what happens if I do this?” and present the results to the already initiated art audience). Her intention was to devote a couple of years to realising the school’s artistic ambitions. But Chun Lee Wang Gurt stayed in the situation and took the consequences of her post as head of the school for six years.
The video and photo work To Travel (2004) can be regarded as a double group portrait that stretches out the portrayal over time. The genre of group portraiture emphasises the similarities, belonging, naturalisation and family ties of the depicted – also in a broader sense. The family album’s snapshots of weddings, funerals and children have now been joined by the video which even more convincingly conveys the feeling of closeness to people remote in time and space. But outside the environment that the group portrait was intended for – the family album, the club or the boardroom – it loses its relevance. We always need to know something about what links the depicted people. Chun Lee Wang Gurt’s suggestions of what brings them together make both the family likenesses and unlikenesses stand out.