Thursday, May 31, 2007

Gossip showdown at the water cooler: Don't shoot the messenger!

Ok, big rant here...

I've been thinking about an artist's role in claiming recognition for their works...and as much as I hate to say it (I'm fairly confident I'm going to spark some friction with other students in the class if they ever read this), I'm not so sure many of the contemporary Chinese artists we've examined always deserve credit for their work. *ducks and hides*

Why on earth would I say something like that? Because of people like Huang Yan, the gentleman who has other people paint on his body - and somehow manages to garner artistic credit for it. I mean sure, he may or may not have conceived of the "brilliant" idea, but when you get down to it he's not actually doing anything. Giving this man credit for creating art is meaningless when his role is entirely passive - a dead body could just as easily serve as a canvas yet would not receive artistic credit as the main *artist* of a project as this man does. And no matter how I try to reframe it, this is always my fundamental personal problem with contemporary art.

Plenty of other artists play relatively passive roles in their project yet do not deserve such a harsh criticism because they actually have artistic input in their projects to some extent. Allowing Huang Yan to receive credit for essentially being a canvas for someone else's painting is laughable and completely absurd. Besides, I couldn't even find a picture of one of the man's 'works' online and I'm more than willing to take this as an omen.

Ok, that part of my rant is done. Now onto better things (and actual artists).

(Note: the image to the right is Zhang O's 'Daddy and I No. 29' and was found here.)

Oh, Zhang O. What the hell have you done? As much as I am both simulataneously mesmerized and offended, I can't help but remain indecisive as to her motives. I see 1 of 2 scenarios arising in interpreting this piece (and the 'Daddy and I' series in general).

Scenario #1: This piece is ironically literally true to it's title. By naming the series 'Daddy and I', Zhang O hopes to help eliminate antiquated familial misconceptions by showing that families nowadays are no longer tied down by bloodlines or even nationalities. This assumes that the girl in the picture is either adopted by or is guarded by the man in the picture despite their obvious racial differences. Parenthood has transcended its traditional cultural, racial and gender boundaries. Wow! And if this is the case, then kudos to her for making such a bold statement. And even more so job well done for featuring men in nurturing roles for once instead of only women. It's refreshing to see both genders portrayed as nurturing for a change.

Needless to say, as optimistic as I am and as much as I'd like Scenario #1 to be the artist's intent - I honestly don't think the piece is designed to work that way.


Scenario #2: The piece is an incredibly harsh commentary on the intentions of foreigners in China and perhaps East Asia as a whole. Specifically male foreigners and even more specifically caucasian male foreigners. The men in the pictures are in some sort of perverse relationship with the girls and are accordingly completely out of place both in East Asia and in the picture. The underlying message is that any relationship between a white male and an East Asian woman is inherently negative, perverse, and completely unacceptable. Perhaps the white male is the West and the young girl is China.

Get some self-confidence Zhang O.

I wonder if she was burned in the past by a bad relationship and this is her way of seeking revenge. Or perhaps if she is simply racist and overly nationalistic. As a white male and specifically a white male in a relationship with an East Asian girl (my age, not 5 years old you perverts) I can't help but be offended.

Why are all of the creepy men in the pictures white males? Surely other foreigners are just as bad as we supposedly are?

Surely *gasp* East Asian men do bad things as well?
Surely *gasp* East Asian women do bad things as well?
And surely *gasp* humans as a whole do bad things?

Picking on one specific race and gender doesn't fix anything. It only serves to obfuscate whatever problem exists and bring everyone farther away from a solution. As for Scenario #2, well what can I say? The world is negative enough already without more misguided hate.

So for my own personal satisfaction I'm going to be choosing to interpret the piece via Scenario #1. And in doing so I applaud Zhang O for making such a positive message in such a bold way. Transcending race, gender and cultural stereotypes! I feel like the world's improving already!

Hey, what do you know? I just reclaimed the piece and turned something overly negative into something beautiful!

I hope it pisses you off Zhang O.

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