Sunday, November 02, 2008


It was a rainy day as I ventured out with my roommate to 570 Huaihai road for the "East Asia Body Presentation." After getting lost in the huge Shanghai Sculpture Space we finally stumbled upon a run down, bare gray structure from which sounds of applause could be heard. The room where the presentations took place was nothing more than an empty space with 50-60 chairs spread in a half circle. In front of the chairs were pieces of dusty black asphalt and in the center was one chair. The room itself was spacious, with holes that acted as windows.

The first performer was Cui Wenqin of Beijing who sang Chinese songs to the audience. His piece was entitled "Balladry story collection of Xiao Cui's." The atmosphere reminded me somewhat of a coffeeshop. He sat in the center of the "stage" with all lights on him. I really wish I spoke Mandarin more fluently because apparently whatever he sang the audience found very humorous. The audience was thoroughly enjoying Wenqin's performance and as I looked around I saw many smiling faces. They were very animated as well, as soon as Wenqing sang about something of a funny nature, the audience did not fail to burst out laughing and "wooting." It seemed like a very light hearted and wholesome way to start out this show.

The second piece was "Absence" by Li Ning. This performance was dramatic from beginning to end. Out of the quiet, a shirt fluttered down into the dusty floor. I quickly glanced up to see where the shirt came from, and was presented with a body in a rectangular hole about 20-30 feet high. The man, clad only in his underwear, had a perfect physique as he moved about the hole. As the man was moving above, center stage was Li Ning himself, on crutches, reciting his dictation from a piece of paper. Next to Li Ning was a cigarette on a brick on a chair. Further into the audience stood two women who were moving their bodies spastic ally to the music. Before I knew it all four bodies were on stage, moving sporadically, stumbling, crawling, basically anything but standing still. They tore up the stage, both literally and figuratively. They threw around parts of the black asphalt, the chair, and the crutches. The girls were on the floor, grabbing Li Ning and bringing him down in the ground with them as the nearly naked man took Li Ning's crutches and started moving around in ways that implied self-sexual pleasure. Next the girls made the naked man their target as they attacked him with markers, writing all over his body. He retaliates with markings of his own while Li Ning is reciting the whole time. The piece ends and applause ensues. This piece didn't fail to hold anyone's attention. It was full of movement and raw emotions. I honestly wish I knew what this piece was really about--this is one piece I truly wish would have had English subtitles. I felt a lot of sexual tension from all three parties. The description of the performance states that it was trying to focus on how Lu Xun becomes a symbol and how the real "Lu Xun" gets gradually absent during this process. I am going to take a stab at analyzing this piece by literally naming the naked man as the famous writer Lu Xun. As his popularity grows, he is confronted by tumultuous events in his life that makes him want to give up. He has women who throw themselves at him and try to drown him in his own writings but in the end he is victorious.

My favorite performance was "Always Coca Cola" by Watan Wuma of Taipei. In the first five minutes of his performance we see him sitting at a desk, behind his laptop. On the floor is a red duffel bag which holds Coca Cola bottles and bottles of pills. He throws these objects on the floor before him and places photographs around them. He then starts taking pictures with his digital camera. He then changes clothes and gels his hair. I first thought that this was a peer into the daily life of Watan Wuma as he does his work, and drinks Coca Cola, of which the "coca ingredient...he loves." All this takes place with the absence of music or any noise at all. The audience shifts around a bit, wondering what exciting thing will pop out, if anything. Boy did the audience get what they asked for. From the window where the man came down from in "Absence," stood four boys spilling bottles upon bottles of Coca Cola onto Watan. At first Watan throws soda back at them. Gradually, as "all these things enter [his] body, he feels entranced and the feeling of being raped!" He strips down to his birthday suit and rejoices as the carbonated drink is poured all over him while the "Always Coca Cola" theme song is blasting from the speakers. I saw more than I expected to see during his performance. I think the fact that Watan was able to dance around buck nude is a testament to the evolution of government control over the arts. No doubt an exhibit as big as the "Under Luxun Banner" would have been examined by the government before it was shown. I was honestly completely shocked that Watan was able to bare all...I half expected CCP guards to run in with guns and drag him away for public indecency! I loved this performance in that it showed the gradually increase in freedom the artist's had to manifest their emotions. I also loved it because it moved from a performance that almost bored me to one that had me grooving in my seat.

Another performance I want to note is "Mu Yi Chang" by Chu Sua Man of Hong Kong. She first asks the audience to move forward onto the stage before she begins. From the start I expected a lot of audience interaction in her performance, something that is
continuously gaining popularity in the Chinese contemporary art scene. She starts doing her own rendition of Tai-Chi, or as my roommate called it--"Freaky-Chi." She starts emanating sounds of varying pitches from her mouth and she moves around all over the floor and into the audience. She stops and stares at audience members with her huge eyes and beckons them to keep up their staring competition. She performs her Tai Chi on steroids moving from audience member to audience member. My favorite part was when she is staring at one young man and barking. Instead of simply staring at her, the man starts to bark back. They switch off barking as their voices elevate and she runs away. That type of audience involvement you just cannot plan! I found it very amusing and I am sure Chu Sua Man was a tad surprised as well.

All in all this was a very nice experience for me to actually go to an exhibit where the artists are on display. The artists are performers and we can see them do what they do best in front of our eyes. The amount of thought and planning that went into each performance is manifest with each show. The raw emotion that is displayed is unbelievable. The only thing I would have changed was to have heat...I was freezing!

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