» Archive for 21 February 2011
The above artwork, taken from Zhou Yi’s blog (that is “Yi” pronounced like hard “e”) seems to encapsulate many central and interlocking themes in my life right now.
In Zhou Yi’s “Brush Diary November” above (first page only, complete version here), “Lao Ai” maintains his likely pose, tweeting from his computer terminal, holding watch at the very spot where he sits for hours every day. Zhou Yi worked as his assistant until he left last year to work on his solo show.
These days, also working on analysis of a recent show that Zhou Yi also participated in, called “Will You Miss Me When I Burn“. This originally brought me to his blog. I have previously mentioned his work on artforum.com, as one of my favorite shows in 2010. A brief discussion of his solo show, “We are all wooden people” can be found in their archive here.
An interview with Zhou Yi on his recent book on Josef Albers’ color theory was also just posted on artforum.com.cn, (Chinese). The book is the first of its kind in Chinese, and he is actually the result of his teaching a unique color-theory class at CAFA.
In June last year, Long March mounted a solo exhibition for MadeIn Co., integral to which was a bit of media trickery. Its been a long time, but I thought it worth to write about here. The show was an interesting ruse best appreciated from within the local art machine.
The press release went out to press folk and mailing lists around the world, its photograph included what looked like a mud statue of Neanderthals mimicking the soviet realist frieze statues that sit outside the Mao mausoleum. It was photographed in a generic art space, with white, lofty ceilings. The image leads you to believe that there will be similarly shocking works, making similarly straightforward statements, on display. (Press release below)
When you walk into the hall, however, instead of epic sculptures, large photographic print images line the wall. The sculpture that expected, is missing, save of its “reproduced” image on the wall.
There are roughly three groups of images, the first look like digital paintings, in a frenetic aesthetic style similar to MadeIn’s fabric collages. A second type creates a double illusion in which classical Western sculptures appear to be sinking into an unstable ground, their “marble” appearance appear almost fleshy by the way their genitals contour to the floor. The third type shows improbable freestanding sculptures, “photographed” in generic, white spaces, and whose believability and existence seems to exist in a grey zone somewhere between the other two. The classical sculptures hint at the cultural mutability of fine arts traditions, the digital paintings invoke the “cheapness” and easily reproducibility of digitized images in a globalized anonymity. The trick with the images is, they are photographs of what purports to be an acrylic painting. (Effects not visible via digital photos.)
《团结化是一个减损的过程多于增益的过程，“忠诚信徒”永远不会觉得完整，永远不会觉得安全。》系列作品4, Solidarity is more a process of loss than a process of gain, “faithful believers” will never feel complete, never feel safe. Series #4, 绘画，布面丙烯，painting, acrylic on canvas, 150*212cm
《一只花花绿绿的巨兽——平民。它不知道自己的力量，只知道绝对服从。》作品 2, A colorful beast––civilian. He doesn’t know his own power, he only knows absolute obedience. #2, 装置，大理石, installation, marble, 140*70*50cm。
These sculptures, according to the oral explanation delivered to me by the gallery, and who we assume complicit to the “work,” were all physically realized, photographed, but then destroyed. Not only do we become suspicious of the photographic “evidence”, somewhere between visual and cultural perceptions, one might further question reality, a theme of Xu Zhen’s work prominent since he cut off the top of Mt. Everest (sorry, Mt. Qomolangma) in 2005.
These images raise interesting questions on the simulacra, authenticity, national stereotypes, and more. I’m sorry that the images here cannot fully capture the meaning of the works, or their environment. Hopefully this short synopsis offers something.
Please note, all image captions, images, press release, are taken from press materials from the exhibition. A few of the image English translations are my own.
《诗是生活的表现，或则说得更好一点，诗就是生活本身。还不仅此，在诗里生活比在现实本身里还显得更是生活。》Poetry is the expression of life, or better put, life is poetry itself. Not only this, living in poetry seems better than reality. 装置，黑色大理石、旋转灯、早餐, installation, black marble, barber shop poles, sunny-side up eggs, 300*500*300cm。
《民主是我们的目标，但国家必须保持稳定》Democracy is our goal, but the country must remain stable， 装置，钢制弹簧、花岗岩，installation, spring steel & granite, 1000*500*500cm
《理论与实际越是矛盾的群众运动，就越是热衷把自己的信仰加诸别人。》In mass exercise, the greater the conflict between theory and reality, the stronger its eagerness to impose beliefs on others, 装置， 蜡、军帽，installation, wax & military caps, 300＊800＊300cm
Recently, CCTV aired “footage” of the new Chinese-built J-10 fighter plane. The clip in question, which featured air-to-air missiles destroying a enemy fighter plane, was recognized by some shrewd-eyed movie buffs in China as footage from Top Gun, the 1986 Hollywood blockbuster featuring Tom Cruise. In these final scenes, pictured here in CCTV=Top Gun equivalencies (via the Chosunilbo) Cruise’s F-14 fighter jet destroys a Russian F-5. The footage was quickly pulled from circulation and requests for commentary denied.
This fascinating example of Chinese copyright infringement and corrupted journalistic integrity has been compared in numerous news clips and blogs to the 2007 incident of an illustration of cartoon character Homer Simpson’s x-rayed brain used as an illustration for a scientific article on multiple sclerosis. Both incidents prove that CCTV “borrows” images on a regular basis, both further suspicions about government-backed media’s lack of credibility, and both are quite humorous. The fact that both Homer Simpson and Top Gun are images originating from US popular entertainment brings an end to their similarities.
Without a thorough examination of why the phenomenon of poaching images (and text) occurs, these two extreme examples should be enough to assure us that similar forms of copyright infringement is happening with regularity, but is just not as entertaining for western readers. (The Onion news debacle of 2002 was another hilarious instance.) There must be literally millions of images that been inserted, completely out of context, in countless news reports over hours, months, years of CCTV news. Low operating budgets (unlike those for abalone banquet for officials) preclude the updating of archival footage; on CCTV News last week, the “file” footage aired for a spot on computers was so outdated, I’m impressed they avoided showing floppy discs. This reality of television news is probably another reason why Chinese netizens were so quick to suspect the visually stunning images of this military maneuvering last month––only Hollywood would have a budgets capable of producing such footage. And anyone familiar with Chinese media and toting basic critical thinking skills could deduce that.
Unlike the Top Gun incident, the photo of Homer Simpson could only be earnest humor. There was an image slot in somewhere that needed to be filled, and instead of the trite stock image of a double helix, someone inserted Homer Simpson’s head. You don’t have to be a fan of the Simpson’s to recognize that the x-rayed cartoon of Homer’s brain is not authentic, nor is it scientific. No one “mistook” the image for real, it seems like a good-natured joke from the over-worked, underpaid offices of the Xinhua newsroom. But Top Gun footage is another story.
Compared to web-based media, where one or two individuals can be held responsible (the Homer image also appeared on the English version of Xinhua, much less traffic, different departments than its Chinese-language counterpart), more editors are accountable in the Top Gun footage incident, this was television news, and broadcast to a mainstream Chinese audience.
Whether or not you take stock in the images the news media, Chinese or otherwise, they reflect more than one lazy editor’s decision making, they reflect to some degree the expectations of the audience. And despite the many suspicious viewers who tune into CCTV daily, the simple choice in what news sources chose to pirate belies a shift in viewers’ attitude. Homer Simpson might be that lovable underdog, but Top Gun is awesome military might! They are stealing the master’s guard dog. The message here is rising confidence.
Western commentators on this incident are likely sub-consciously aware of the threat, but do the millions of viewers who saw it really care where the footage came from? For a population accustomed to hidden agendas in the news, all that counts is that Central Television aired it. It could be considered irrelevant whether viewers believe it or not.
The Top Gun incident is brilliant in the sense that it illustrates perfectly how modern China has crafted its image of military might in emulation of the United States. Not the US as its citizens might know it, but the “imagined West,” the one most Chinese know, and that we call Hollywood. Instead of boo-hooing over copyright infringement, or laughing at the silliness of “Chinese ‘journalists’” we should step back, and begin to appreciate ourselves reflected through this crazy lens we helped create.
Belated New Year to all, and apologies for the protracted absence. Lots of travel in the late months of last year, and busy updating artforum.com.cn leaves little time to blog. But hopefully, this spring will afford more time to post, more love from the archives. For now, despite the danger of blocking Sinopop behind the firewall, I’d like to wish sinopop readers a happy new year, 拜年拜年 with this, a most inspiring piece of contemporary folk art, door gods designed by Ai Weiwei’s FAKE office in Caochangdi.
Read about the door gods here, on the Epoch Times site. Truly auspicious protectors for 2011, (protection from censorship and littered with Grass Mudhorses and River Crabs) I’m glad that I hung mine on the inside of my door!