Weitian Liu

PhD Scholar,
Goldsmiths, University of London

It hasn’t been easy for me to explain to people what kind of PhD I am doing. This is in part due to the name of the programme, which I tend not to include in brief introductions for fear of causing confusions. Sometimes I mention the name of the department instead—Visual Cultures—with the caveat that as a ground-breaking department its scope and ambition go far beyond what is literally suggested by its name. Sometimes I fall back on Art History or Curatorial Studies, simply because it’s convenient to be associated with an established discipline or field of study. But rarely do I tell people that I’m doing a PhD in Advanced Practices.

An elaborate account is always attempted—full of detours and without guaranteed success—every time I take up the challenge of explaining my understanding what AP is and does. For one thing, ‘Advanced Practices’ as a programme name does not signify any field of knowledge, and therefore some explication is needed in order to differentiate it from notions of disciplinary knowledge. For another, the notion of ‘practice’ as advanced by AP is so elusive that the more straightforward use of practice in the case of ‘art practices’ no longer applies.

An AP seminar at Delfina Foundation in January 2023, where we watched Francis Alÿs’s When Faith Moves Mountains (2002, in collaboration with Cuauhtémoc Medina and Rafael Ortega) and discussed Jean Fisher’s essay Francis Alÿs: In the Spirit of Conviviality

What, then, do we mean by practice? I am afraid as a student of AP I do not have any conclusive answer to give here. In fact, working without a given definition of practice seems to be precisely what unites the various practices of the programme’s participants.

It was not until the beginning of my second year that it occurred to me the word ‘advanced’ in AP is actually a past particle indicating the state of being advanced, that is, being put forward. In other words, rather than following and excelling in an existing professional path, what constitutes a practice for AP is the gesture of advancing something as a practice, a gesture that is itself an undertaking and a commitment.

Prof. Irit Rogoff speaking at Thinking in the Deep, a special event honouring the work and scholarly lives of curator and academic Bridget Crone, who was co-convenor of AP before her untimely passing in January 2023

Participating in the AP programme therefore is neither about accumulating knowledge nor about fulfilling duties prescribed by academia or what is known as the art world. Without losing sight of the actual working of these increasingly professionalised realms, I find myself in a productive process of unlearning through which I have come to forge a new relationship to contemporary art.

Cover of The Curatorial: A Philosophy of Curating, an edited volume that epitomises the first five years’ work of practice-led PhD programme Curatorial/Knowledge which prefigured Advanced Practices. Image courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing

This relationship is informed by the transnational experience of working between China and London, an experience that entails moving constantly between, on the one hand, a place in which contemporary art remains indeterminate as a notion and infrastructurally precarious as a field, and, on the other hand, an overly professionalised and institutionalised contemporary art paradigm.[i] For me, this embodied experience marks a site of struggle brimming with anticipations, misapprehensions, anxiety, thwarted belongingness, and half-formed trajectories.[ii] It is from a reckoning with this site of struggle that my PhD research with AP proceeds. As for the practice, my long-term project is committed to finding a form that allows the proposed relationship to contemporary art to be conceptualised and actualised.

[i]I am currently based in London, but my editorial work at Qilu Criticism keeps me connected to China’s contemporary art scene and the debates therein.
[ii]Here’s a recent article that speaks to these struggles: ‘Know Thyself – if the Discourse Doesn’t Fit’ by Nie Xiaoyi, published in the 2022 fall/winter issue of LEAP.