The China Experience
Artists / Influence / Experience
Cang Xin is a bona fide shaman; he holds the profound belief that all things have spirit – both animate and inanimate objects – and is a member of an order of enlightened holy men who have the ability to enter various forms at will. As one of China’s most celebrated performance artists, Cang approaches his work as a means to promote harmonious communication with nature. His works have included bathing with lizards, adorning the clothing of strangers, and prostrating himself on icy glaciers: each act representing a ritual of becoming the other.
Cang’s Communication is an ongoing piece, begun in 1996. Engaging with the world at large with his tongue – one of the most intimate and sensitive parts of the body – Cang’s performance represents an internalising of knowledge and a religious communion with place/person/thing. Sites for this performance have included Tiananmen Square and The Coliseum. In the work presented here, Cang recreates this performance in the gallery with a realer-than-real sculpture of himself. Cang minimises the concept of representation, creating an engaging ‘environment’ in life scale.
In He Yunchang’s extreme performances, personal willpower is persistently expressed throughout his work in a simple but difficult manner. By testing his body, he attempts to reveal the existence of an individual “state of being” beyond his own physical limitation. His view is “art work can be distinguished from daily life only when given a certain intensity.”
He Yunchang was born in an ordinary family. After graduating from the Yunnan Institute of the Arts, he began to work in a secondary school at the Jinning Phosphorite Mine in Kunming. In 1993, he quit he teaching job and became a freelance artist. Performance art was popular amongst Chinese artists at this time. He was among the avant-garde artists who did not want to limit themselves in traditional forms of paintings and embraced this new performing art. Most of his works in the 1990 contained an absurd romanticism. In his performance “Golden Sunshine” (1999), he had his painted completely yellow and lifted in the air. With great difficulty, he held a mirror and diverted some sunshine onto the shadow of the overbearing prison wall. “A Dialogue with Water” (1999) was done earlier. He was hoisted upside down above a river and he kept stabbing a knife into the water for 30 minutes. The river was “cut” while his arms had a 1 cm open cut each. Several 24-hours works created between 2003 and 2006 conveyed a more pure extreme physical experience in a more simplified form. In the performance “Keeping Promise” (2003), for instance, He had his hand cemented inside a concrete pillar for 24 hours. The performance was a contemporary transposition and personal interpretation of a story by Chinese Taoist philosopher Zhuangzi (ca. 369 to 286 B.C.) Compared with more direct and personalized early performances, his later works relied more on texts and concepts. In a recent solo exhibition “The Wings of Live Art: He Yunchang” (2009), he drew from elements of the Christian tradition and discussed the eternal union of man and woman in a contemporary context.
He Yunchang was born in Yunnan Province, 1967. He graduated from the Sculpture Department of Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in 1991, and currently works and lives in Beijing.
-Pace gallery, Beijing
Chief Curator: HUANG Rui
The First Beijing Dashanzi International Art Festival (hereinafter referred to as DIAF 2004) is a multidisciplinary comprehensive art festival held in Dashanzi Art District in Beijing.
During one month, DIAF 2004 – whose first edition is named Radiance and Resonance / Signals of Time – invited all artistic public spaces of Dashanzi Art District to show their community spirit and creative energy by organizing visual and sound art exhibitions and events. DIAF 2004abundant and innovative program will bring people together, broadening their communication and interaction with wider ranges of perceptions, which include visual, sound and new media works.
An annual event, DIAF 2004 will be a “Premiere” in Beijing and constitutes an important step in the future of building up a new contemporary culture in Beijing.
This festival will serve as an art living platform, where multiple forms of contemporary art will be expressed, featuring visual and sound-based artworks; live music, dance, theater and performance events; as well as cinema, architecture and design presentations. To serve this objective, DIAF 2004 will invite artists from different disciplines and countries to exchange their talents and energy. DIAF 2004 aims to provide an innovative forum for contemporary culture, presenting work by some less well known young artists, together with more established international artists, whose work has rarely or never been exhibited in China.
DIAF’s mission is to help enhance and display the important momentum of art practices at the Dashanzi Art District, promote cultural and art innovation, enhance cultural exchange between China and other countries, and contribute to the prosperity of new trends in Beijing.
DIAF 2004 is organized by the Beijing Cultural Development Foundation and all structures of Dashanzi Art District. Chaoyang District, one of the most fastest and growing districts in Beijing, will facilitate all authorizations required to hold properly DIAF 2004 multiple events (mainly regarding site, traffic and safety).
RESEARCH INTERNSHIP WITH
THOMAS BERGHUIS, PHD.
“On the afternoon of the 5 February 1989, the day of the official opening of the ‘China Modern Art Exhibition’ in Beijing, the artist Xiao Lu walked into the ground floor of the gallery and drew a borrowed pistol from her pocket. She fired two shots into the glass mirror that formed the centerpiece of her own installation, Dialogue (1989), before being promptly arrested by gallery security guards. Her action would lead not only to a prison sentence and the closure of the entire exhibition but also to the complete (if temporary) withdrawal of official support for performance art in China, a move that virtually constituted a ban on the genre.
A decade later Zhu Yu constructed an installation from a severed human arm (bought for 500 renminbi) suspended on a meat hook and holding a rope. A year after that, he raised the stakes again by sitting down to a meal of deep-fried still-born fetus accompanied by Caesar salad and orange juice. In a statement released with the documentation of the work he wrote, ‘Morals and ethics are nothing but something which human kind changes at will.’ Unlike Xiao Lu, Zhu Yu has never been officially censored (although since then the criminal code has been amended to include the prohibition of cannibalism).
That one act received such harsh condemnation while the other raised no more than mild consternation can be seen as a mark of the extraordinary velocity of change in Chinese culture, but also of the helplessness of Western schemas in interpreting Chinese art. Thomas Berghuis’ publication Performance Art in China (2006) attempts to bring some insight to this bewildering field.
The result of seven years of research, the book draws on hundreds of published sources in Chinese, French, English and German culled from an unprecedented range of archives, both public and private, and over 70 hours of interviews with artists. The generous detailing of these sources, and the inclusion of a chronology and a bilingual index of artists cited, render the book an essential resource for those engaged with contemporary Asian art.
More esoterically, Berghuis’ book shows how Western Modernist divisions between avant-garde and academicism, official art and subversion, state and market, break down entirely in the landscape of Chinese performance. Protagonists constantly change sides, shift genres and move seamlessly between publicly acceptable and prohibited practice.
In Appendix IV Berghuis enumerates a taxonomy that brings to mind Jorge Luis Borges’ encyclopedia. His categories of performance include ‘the body in endurance and transcendence’, ‘the body in self-mutilation, masochism or necrophagy’ and a separate category for ‘disconcerting events’. Space constraints don’t allow me to expand here, but suffice to say that some of the performances detailed within make Chris Burden look like a big girl’s blouse.”
-(Selections from) Adam Jasper, Frieze Magazine Sept 2007