Thursday, April 12, 2007

Don't be a sellout: Be a chicken!

What I write will be partly risky because I'm actually going to praise someone else's art rather than argue for its inferiority as others might. Just as it's far easier to destroy than to create, it is much easier to disavow than to support. And in this case I found most of Yang Zhenzhong's works aesthetically pleasing even if I didn't always quite get the big moral lesson hiding in the background. Which leads me to question if you really need an overarching moral lesson at all - obviously you don't, but only a dedicated hedonist would build an art piece purely for aesthetic purposes.

(original image can be found here).
The picture to the right is a piece by Yang Zhenzhong called "rice corns." The piece is a sort of competition between a cock and a hen both trying to outeat the other. My initial and most strong impression is that this a piece commenting on gender rights disparity. This leads me back to Yang Zhenzhong insofar as a surprising number of his pieces seemed to me to have been touched by the morality fairy. This doesn't necessarily compromise their ability to be beautiful, but it does change the nature of their existence. They can no longer be beautiful for beauty's sake. Take "rice corns" for example. This is undoubtedly an ingenius idea, but the hidden moral/social message embedded in the piece cannot be extracted from it, or should I say that the piece cannot be extracted from the layers of morality and social commentary implied particularly by this kind of piece.

Interestingly enough, the website that I retrieved the image from has another viewer's abstract that has a completely different interpretation from my own. Karen Mundt views this piece in a different way altogether. She felt that: "Yang Zhenzhong enacts what is essentially a trivial situation in the form of a game by subjecting it to a quantified logic of the hen vs. cock competition. The framework of the situation presented by the camera view creates a difference between the "field" and its exterior, thus defining the game as such. However, the two rivals undermine this set-up by leaving the field prematurely – "against the rules" – without having eaten up all the rice grains. The video, however, insists on continuing the given dramaturgy: undeterred, the two off-screen voices carry on counting the remaining grains and adding them to the total score on behalf of the "spoilsports"." (Karen Mundt, available here).

It is surprising that another viewer's interpretation should be so very different from mine, but this does support my idea about particular pieces being permanenetly tied to its embedded moral lessons despite interpretation distinctions. Though Karen's interpretation is certainly interesting in framing the presence of the chickens as being rulebreakers, I interpreted them almost entirely differently. The male/female tension in the piece cannot be ignored and I feel this is far more than a simple competition. Rather, it is an all out of struggle between the sexes for both dominance and acceptance. The gender split in the voice actors cannot be ignored, neither can the fact that the cock consumes almost twice as much grain as the hen. Take away whichever conclusion you like and if anybody reading this had an entirely different interpretation then please leave a comment because I'd love to hear a third opinion.

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