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This book consists of six papers by the scholars and the artists in China and in the UK, discussing contemporary Chinese art with the influence from the Chinese .
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As an artistic genre, landscape painting in China has both longevity and immense influence. On first glance these landscapes appear to be devoid of depictions of the body and, from the point of view of Western art history, quite rightly represent an 'absence' of human figures. However, if we are to view these works within the Chinese tradition we find that they are in fact infused with human figures.
In early theories of painting, a governing concept was that of shi , which 'refers to the gesture or posture implied by the object's disposition. Through anthropomorphising inanimate objects they can then be read as one would read the body—as expressive and communicative.
Burden or Legacy - From the Chinese Cultural Revolution to Contemporary Art
Rather the body is 'dispersed through metaphors locating it in the natural world. This movement from the suggestion of the body through metaphor to the stark immediacy of exposed flesh must be examined as it signals a vast break in both the development and tradition of Chinese contemporary art. While I hesitate to simply tie artistic production to larger socio-political developments, I do believe that the proliferation of the body as an artistic medium, from its initial appearance in the s to its popularity from the mids onwards, is directly related to a series of events that occurred after the death of Mao Zedong in Larissa Heinrich and Fran Martin have solidly aligned the Chinese corporeal body in, as they term it, the context of 'late modernity.
In today's globalised age—which sees us exploring new manners of communication, unimagined advances in technologies and an unprecedented level of exchange between nations, cultures and languages—the body has become a place to locate and personalise the overarching, and essentially impersonal, concept of globalisation. But why the body? Its rise to become a favoured artistic medium in globalised China has been both swift and controversial.
The nude—as it is understood in Western art historical terms—entered the orbit of Chinese contemporary art in full force in the s. A by-product of Deng Xiao Ping's manoeuvring of China back onto the international stage was the development of new avenues of communications and an influx of information. This resulted in the Chinese art scene receiving art magazines and books from Europe and America as well as establishing new artistic networks.
Artists were suddenly inundated with a plethora of imagery and information on numerous artistic phases and movements that had been largely censored and restricted. This was then followed in by the publication of Chinese artist and scholar Chen Zui's book, On Nude Art which sold , copies. This combination of a sudden influx of information and the slow relaxation of censorship led to a growing exploration of the taboo of the nude.
In the artistic realm the body became an artistic medium and the concept of the flesh as canvas became closely tied to the Chinese experimental art movement. However, just as the Chinese contemporary art scene was brimming with experimentation and possibilities, the devastating events of 4 June occurred. In the early hours of 4 June the Chinese government entered Tian'anmen Square where thousands of students and civilians had been protesting for freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Their demonstration had been sparked by the death of Hu Yaobang whom the students viewed as the Chinese Communist Party CCP member who agitated for freedom of speech.
As the tanks entered and fired at the protestors there was mass hysteria and bloodshed. By dawn lives had been lost and, effectively, the collective voice of protest had been silenced. For, despite the vast advancement artists had forged during the s in terms of freedom of speech, it was because of the events of 4 June that artists, in shock, 'came to the sudden realisation of their impotence in the face of real politics.
Thus, 4 June is widely viewed as a rupture point in the trajectory of contemporary Chinese art as artists moved from the relatively public exhibition-oriented avant-gardism of the s to the private realm of the s underground experimental art movement. However, the effects of this moment are much more complex than simply the implementation of government censorship policies.
Collections Search Results | Page 10 | National Museum of American History
In fact, I see this moment as the collapse of the concept of the 'collective movement' in China. For most Chinese artists of the s their lives had, until , been dominated by the collective spirit or—as it is termed in China— yundong. Yundong was an essential mandate of the CCP, which stated that change, advancement and progress could only be achieved in a collective movement. The events of 4 June marked the demolition of the collective and the rise of the individual. This moment is best captured by the photographic evidence of the tragedy. Despite the vast numbers of people that filled the square and the surrounding area, the defining image is that of the singular figure standing to attention in front of the tanks see Figure 1.
Both visually and socio-politically this moment signalled the collapse of the collective in China and, I argue, was influential in the artistic shift to the primacy of the body. Figure 1. The photographs remain both poignant and persuasive through the viewers' undeniable physical affinity with Zhang in his work.
The use of his own corporeality in his work 12 Square Metres invites empathy as the viewer feels an instant physical repulsion through simply viewing the work see Figure 2.
Covered in honey, feasted on by flies and unswervingly still while sitting in a putrid toilet in east Beijing, Zhang's body in 12 Square Metres is used as a site of communication—protesting against the state of public toilets across China. Now in their 60s, looking back on fulfilled careers and family lives, these women have travelled a path as yet little explored in China, indeed almost taboo, leading to repentance for atrocities committed by the red guards during the Cultural Revolution In January they went public, at a meeting at their old school, presenting their apologies to their teachers who are still alive.
In the first weeks of the Cultural Revolution, in June , she was appointed as the official leader of the pupils at her school. Initially, the red guard movement launched by Chairman Mao Zedong seemed harmless. It was supervised by adult Communist party work teams. In fact, Mao, who had been sidelined and no longer had a role in everyday government, wanted to use his high standing with young people to oust the whole party leadership in a struggle that ultimately claimed millions of lives.
To understand what happened, we need to go back to one day in the summer of On 5 August a horrific event occurred in a Beijing high school reserved for the children of the party elite. Mao had just disbanded the work teams, on the grounds that they were extinguishing the revolutionary fire. At the school, Liu and her deputy Song were the only remaining representatives of a somewhat ambiguous authority. In mid-June, red guards had started stigmatising some teachers and cadres as class enemies and subjecting them to criticism sessions.
On the advice of Deng Xiaoping, then deputy prime minister, to whom they had reported progress on the Cultural Revolution in the school, Liu and Song dismissed teachers with a doubtful record. The first vice-principal acting head and party secretary at the school , Bian Zhongyun, 50, was held prisoner, so serious was her case.
She was guilty of several "crimes". She had failed to answer a question by a pupil regarding the proper way of dealing with the portrait of Mao hanging on the wall in the event of an earthquake. She had refused to give the daughter of the Chinese president, Liu Shaoqi, a second chance, after she narrowly failed the entrance exam. Lastly, during a criticism session two months earlier, a woman had complained that her husband, a teacher at the school, was having an affair with Bian unfounded. In fact the woman wanted the school head to pay her husband's wages directly to her, as they were divorced.
Burden or Legacy: From the Chinese Cultural Revolution to Contemporary Art
Bian refused. All in all this convinced the red guards that their teacher was a bad element. On 5 August a group of pupils forced her to bang a dustbin lid and shout: "I am an advocate of the capitalist way. I am a counter-revolutionary revisionist.
I deserve to be beaten. The teacher was struck from all sides with sticks and chair legs. Others kicked her. Liu and Song intervened three times. But as soon as they went upstairs to their office the attacks started again. It's true that's why I didn't try any harder," Song admitted in her speech in January.
Mao was a god, his words were sacred. Everyone was ready to sacrifice themselves," says Gao Ning, a student at the time. Their apology was prompted by a similar move by a handful of former red guards at another Beijing school. One day the current head of the alumni association at Middle School Number Eight, Chen Xiaolu, 67, received some photographs of events in showing school officers being forced to carry out degrading tasks and facing criticism sessions.
The harassment by red guards was so bad that the party secretary at the school, Hua Jin, took his own life. It was quite a shock," says Chen who was a leader of the "rebel" students, who, in Mao's name, were primed to overthrow party members who had usurped power.
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The gathering had to be held at a private venue, because the school thought it was too sensitive to be organised there. Liu and her classmates paid their respects to a bronze bust of Bian. This gesture marked the end of a detailed investigation, which they reported in three special issues of Ji Yi Remembrance , an email-only journal. This meant their action was not widely reported. But I don't think it will trigger a major reappraisal in society or the country as a whole, with genuine self-criticism regarding the Cultural Revolution.
Nor will it make much difference to the regime's attitude to that particular revolution.