East Contemporary

“Bad Land” at Taopu Creative Space

Bad Land 不毛之地
Participating artists: Xu Xiangyu 徐翔宇 Guo Bo 郭波Xia Yunfei 夏云飞 Yu Shuhang俞书航 Zhou Junru周俊汝Li Wenqian 李文倩 Zhang Chen张琛Hu Yikuan 胡亦宽 Wang Qiang王强Wang Man 王满 Houyu Group后语小组Ceng Duo 曾铎Fan Shisan 范石三 Han Siyuan韩思园 Han Yi韩一 Wang Ziyue王子月 Yuan Hui袁辉Hu Weiyi 胡为一 Chen Jie陈杰 Romain Baujard  Laure Ledoux; Curator: Hu Weiyi 胡为一

2012/9/04, 18 Wuwei Rd, Art-ba-ba Mobile Space at Taopu Creative Space, Shanghai

Bad Land was a one day outdoor exhibition taking place in the Taopu Creative Park at 18 Wuwei Rd in Shanghai. A few trucks with white container-size storage boxes were standing in the parking place. The inside of the containers, as well as the surrounding area was used for installation, which were in fact the props used in the videos that were being screened on the outside of the trucks. The number of videos was larger than the number of screens and videos were alternating. It was raining. While there was daylight, the projections were not very clear, but as dusk set in, the screening event got a nice atmosphere despite the rain. The common feature of all the videos was that they were documentations of performances that took place on the streets, inShanghai(I think). Most of them were funny in one way or the other, but at the second look/though this feeling transformed into a more tragicomic note, showing the futility of human effort and a loss of illusions about the current state of society. I recorded three of the videos on show.

Wang Man’s (王满) video-performance “ My body is on the ground” (我的身体在地下) shows a mobile booth for changing clothes (as used for outdoor photo shoots) standing in the middle of a crossroad. A man in a female western-style wedding dress comes out and walks around the crossroad. A woman in a red dress appears, and the man carries her on her back around the crossroad. Then he lets her down and runs around the cross road on his own, ‘molesting’ passers by (trying to hug/kiss them). In the end he runs past the girl in the red dress again, and takes her on his shoulders. The situation repeats a number of times.

I read this piece as a representation of the male-female relationships inChina, or maybe even more specifically inShanghai, with a reference to the specific situation of gays. The western wedding dress of the man symbolizes the western standards/requirements imposed on the man: He should be as successful as the ‘western man’ presented in fashion magazines’ whiskey advertisements. At the same time, he has to carry the burden of Chinese tradition, represented by the girl in the red dress, which is the color of the traditional Chinese wedding dress. The man carries the burden, and then runs away to another man/woman. The ‘molested’ cyclist passing by is a male and the men’s dress is female, so the meaning here is directed into the gay/cross-gender situation inChina: Men that marry out of tradition and family pressure, even if they are gay. The video shows the tormented fate of Chinese man, and Chinese gay man even more so.

Hu Weiyi’s (胡为一) video-performance “Keep Crawling” (保持匍匐) can be similarly seen as addressing a specific condition of contemporary life in China. Toy ‘crawling’ mechanic soldiers are dispatched on a crossroad, crawling their way between the wheels of moving cars passing by. Some ‘survive’ while others are mercilessly crushed by car tires.  A few are actually salvaged by people passing or driving by. One again, it can be read as the pressure felt by Chinese today – you must keep crawling on, no matter what the circumstances, even though you know, you may be crushed at random, without any predictable logic or justification.

Hu Yikuan’s (胡亦宽) video-performance “Chicken” (鸡) picks up a similar note. A chicken is placed in the middle of a crossroad by a man, who carries a box full of eggs (presumably the eggs ‘produced’ by the chicken). The takes the eggs out of the box one by one, and throws them at the chicken, which is constrained by a leash and cannot run away. Once all the eggs have been crushed on the chicken’s body, the performance is over.

It seems to be a very accurate depiction of the current state of affairs in China, where people are ‘free’ to produce (make money) and consume (spend money), but nothing much else, all under the supervision of the ‘invisible hand’ of the party that manipulates the markets as deemed necessary for it’s own survival. In a place where there is no independent rule of law, it may well happen that all the eggs you made will be just crushed on your head one day.

Overall this show was very fresh and immediate. The form of a one-day outdoor event was very much appropriate to re-create the atmosphere of the actual performances. While the actions were simple, it was obvious that much thought has been given to each performance before its staging. This was well thought-through and critical show, one of a kind which I have rarely encountered in China so far. This was actually contemporary art, reflecting the current state of society in a subtle but readable way, and not just merchandise as is the usual case in China’s galleries and museums.

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