After a four-year hiatus, the second edition of Sigg Prize returns with six shortlisted artists. In this article, Xu Bing, one of the jury members of Sigg Prize 2023, writes about the importance of art prizes to inspire artists to continue their creative practices in today’s complex global context.
The Sigg Prize established by M+ is already in its second edition this year. The award aims to provide a diverse platform for contemporary art that observes, discovers, and advocates contemporary art practices from the Greater China region. This is especially crucial in our complex and ever-changing global environment, allowing artists with multiple cultural identities to highlight the significance and value of artistic work.
From religion to social systems and beliefs, our civilisation is facing unprecedented challenges. How will art, as a humanistic feat, respond to this new world marked by shifting geopolitics and cultural conflicts? What can art do? How does it make a difference or position itself? These are questions every artist must face.
In a time when the most media trades credibility for control over discourse for political purposes or capitalist gain, art’s uniqueness is brought to the fore. Art is honest; through art, an artist presents their authentic self, which in turn reflects nuanced and unbiased facets of an era. Even if an artist is being dishonest, art’s genuine nature as a discipline will reveal their deceit. This is why we dedicate ourselves to create and believe in art.
Technology, like artificial intelligence, has sparked a seismic change as to how human beings live and think. But even as technology becomes more powerful, it only proves the importance of artistic endeavours. At its core, art is an expression of our interiority untouched by knowledge. It cannot be replaced by even the most logical and powerful technology. In a world guided by purpose and rationality, art is the missing part that supports and balances the whole, just like how humans can only excel with the perfect alliance of the left and right brain.
As art enters the contemporary realm, it becomes ever more entwined with other fields. With art’s fading boundaries, its tendency to subvert its own conventions, and the short history of our present era, we seem to be in a period when the concept of art is no longer clear. How should art be critiqued? What is it anyway? These are conundrums we inevitably need to think about.
With these contexts in mind, the Sigg Prize 2023 jury, composed of international museum directors, curators, and artists, reviewed the work of forty artists from the past two years, proposed by the nominating committee. Six outstanding artists were selected, and their work is displayed at M+. These six finalists are Jes Fan (b. 1990, works in New York and Hong Kong), Miao Ying (b. 1985, works in New York), Wang Tuo (b. 1984, works in Beijing), Xie Nanxing (b. 1970, works in Beijing and Chengdu), Trevor Yeung (b. 1988, works in Hong Kong), and Yu Ji (b. 1985, works in Shanghai and New York). From their work, we can examine how Chinese artists respond to global issues today.
These six artists live in different parts of the world and traverse cultures. Through their art, they bring their own reflections on present reality into the broader realm of contemporary culture. This has enriched their practices with richer dimensions of thought, and their work also shows the artists’ sensitivity towards complex personal issues, expressed in new artistic languages. They are voices at the intersections and ruptures of civilisation, reconciling and healing the blind spots of our times.
Considering the COVID-19 pandemic that started in 2019 and its long-lasting effects on society, how does contemporary art respond to recent global changes? How do artists explore the present with art? The Sigg Prize jury contemplated these questions, and we know that art-related awards are never meant to be used as a ‘ruler’ to measure art, a free form. Art is here to loosen up existing standards and rules to create more room and possibilities for new thinking and creations. An award serves to encourage, praise, and support exceptional practitioners who create art for these purposes.
When artists encounter difficulties, external encouragement is especially important. Often, the work of a pioneer is not validated by its predecessors; the more groundbreaking a project is, the easier it is for an artist to experience self-doubt. This is when they benefit from a more holistic perspective to evaluate the work they have done and a certain amount of help from others. I have practised art for many years and won awards, such as the MacArthur Fellowship. These awards not only provided financial support for me to produce my work, but also bolstered my confidence in my own practice.
Congratulations to all the finalists! I hope you believe in your intuition and cherish your talent. May your connection with the Sigg Prize be with you and enrich you in your artistic journey.