12 Square Meters

ZhangHuan

Performance

Beijing

1994

One summer day in 1994, Zhang Huan was covered in honey and fish secretions while sitting in a 12-square-meter stinky public toilet located in DongCun village of Beijing for one hour. During this period, hundreds of flies bit him, and his sweat pure down from the body. From the beginning to the end, Zhang sat deathly still with no expression.

 

Zhang Huan is a Chinese artist based in Shanghai and New York City. After graduating from university, he went to Beijing and started his artist career in the 1990s. From 1993 to 1995, he lived in a village (later was called DongCun Village) on the outskirts of Beijing with a brunch of young Chinese artists. 12 square meters was created at that time.

 

Zhang said because of relatively low rent, DongCun village, a run-down small village, attracted lots of outsiders including migrant laborers and a group of needy young Chinese artists at that time. There were only two public toilets in the village, both of the two had very terrible sanitary conditions. Once he opened the door of the toilets, he could see overwhelming flies. This experience inspired Zhang to create 12 square meters.

 

Partly 12 square meters describes a disgusting scene: a stinking public toilet, a human body covered by flies and sweat. Zhang completed his unique performance in these extreme conditions. When the artwork came out, he immediately became the public opinion focus. Facing all kinds of comments, Zhang said :“At that time, an outsider came to Beijing, if he did not speak it out loudly, nobody would know him.” 

 

In my opinion, on one hand, the artist reveals the bad living environment of the people who lived at the bottom of society. On the other hand, the artwork shows the extraordinary endurance when they facing enormous pressure and getting hurt. Despite they suffering physical abuse, their mental is still trying to search liberation.

 

12 square meters influenced me a lot. As Zhang evaluating this work. He said “this is my life, no one can be replaced, what you only can focus on is your life.” Those words moved me because most of my art practices are based on my own life. I think, for an artist, having a better understanding of own life is vital to create better artworks.

Doris Salcedo

Artist

Doris Salcedo was born in Colombia in 1958. Now she lives in Bogota, the capital of Colombia. Most of her artworks are related to serious political topics, which give most of her works the serious and heavy color.

In the past 30 years, Doris Salcedo has experienced the modernization process of Colombia, experiencing the pain of the country getting rid of colonialism and racism. Her works often involve daily materials in life such as stools, chairs, cloth, expressing her ideas of resistance to politics. Doris Salcedo once said that each of her artworks is a response to a certain historical event

In 2007, Doris Salcedo created a series of long and scary cracks in the turbine hall at the Tate Art Gallery, which represents the serious discrimination and barriers existing in our so-called democratic world. While the name of the work, Shibboleth, implies that the immigrants from other small and weak countries need to identify the victims and exploiters in society through a certain form of “Shibboleth".

Shibboleth,2007

Silent Prayer, 2010

Silent Prayer, 2010

From 2008 to 2010, Doris Salcedo finished her artwork Silent Prayer. In which, the tables are stacked up one above the other, orderly bespread the entire exhibition space. What’s more, a life-strong grass grows in the gaps of the tables. It mourns the innocent people killed indiscriminately by the Colombian army in 2008. While the table refers to the remains of a large number of victims, and the green grass refers to the hope growing on the scorched soil.

 

These artworks exude a strong sense of appeal, which almost overwhelms the audience. This is exactly what Doris Salcedo always wants to express, and also the place that impresses me the most. Because it breaks through the different cultural barriers around the world, enabling the audience to directly feel the seriousness and sadness from it. It was Doris Salcedo's artworks and the epidemic realized me about the serious issue of racial discrimination. For which I started to prepare the work of Viracist, and I am planing that I can continue to produce a series of artworks that reflect social problems in the future. In addition, the expressiveness of Doris Salcedo's artworks: the sense of shock that crosses culture, race, time and space brought to the audience from different countries and backgrounds is also what I pursue.

​My New York

ZhangHuan

Performance

New York City

2002

My New York is one of my favourite Zhang Huan’s artwork which is impressive. This performance took place in 2002 at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. During the performance, Zhang wore a muscle suit made by lots of raw meats. He stood on a board and four men carried him into the museum. Then, he walked from the art museum to the street, gave some doves to the citizens and vendors on the street, and let them released doves. During the whole process, he was solemn and walked with a manly stride. 

 

In 1998, Zhang moved from China to America and continued his art career in New York. During this period, because of his immigrant status, Zhang tried to understand himself as a person and as an artist in the context of his new living situation. My New York was created under this background.  According to the Buddhist tradition (Zhang is a Buddhist), killing and eating meat is taboo but setting live animals free can accumulate grace. In this performance, Zhang wore the raw meat suit and guided the citizens to release doves, a symbol of reconciliation and liberation. All this looks hypocritical and ironic. Describing this work, Zhang has remarked, "A bodybuilder will build up strength over the course of decades, becoming formidable in this way, I, however, become Mr. Olympic Bodybuilder overnight.”

 

Besides, this artwork was performed 7 months after 9/11. We could assume that in Zhang's eyes the strong man wearing the raw meat muscle suit was on behalf of the United State, the most powerful country in the world. His performance, such as walking on the street, freeing doves, seems ironically expressed that the United States had always played the role of peacemaker and national hero all around the world. But in the 9/11 incident, the United State was suspected as a real hero or just an invader dressed in a heroic coat?

 

In the early days, before the independence of the United States, it was also a country colonized by Britain. They can't be more clear about oppression and cruel exploitation. But human desires are endless, and so is America. Over time, the United States has gradually become a world power and has forgotten the most basic human rights. While serving as a world policeman, she also became a terrorist, but she still claimed herself as a hero. This ironic meaning is worth deep thinking.

Bruce Nauman

Artist

The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truth, 1967

Nauman's first neon light installation The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truth is a round monogram formed by neon lights, the letter above is the title. Neon works just like mall billboards and bar signs, which are full of capital smells and nightlife intoxication, this so-called incompatible material with elegant art is moved into the museum by Nauman, which shows his counterattack to the capitalist society and reflection on the nature of art. 

 

In the artwork, One hundred live and die, a hundred sentences arranged horizontally are turned on and off repeatedly like signs in the airport terminal, sentences of death and live are shown again and again, hope and despair balance in the neon lights, which illuminated the space of the exhibition hall. 

Nauman seems notice some connection between neon lights and lust acutely, among the large neon works Seven Figures, 7 male bodies made of neon lights are connected in a horizontal band with the posture of making love, lick and suck, and shine gaudy red, green, blue, yellow light. Just as many erotic scenes, the artwork full of sexual provocation and ambiguous sexual orientation broaden audiences’ outlook, while such brilliant works full of eroticism can easily dim other works.

Nauman once described his early neon artworks “I had an idea that I could make art that would kind of disappear.” In this series of works, he made neon tubes into different words and shapes, while increasing the visual effects, he also attacked and reflected the current society in an intuitive criticized and satirized way. Such direct and conspicuous method of artistic expression has a great influence on me. As I think that there is still a very large distance between contemporary art and the general audience, there are too many esoteric and even incomprehensible works, I hope to bring artists closer to the audience with a direct and eye-catching way of artistic expression.

Anyone who has seen my work Viracist should be able to see the shadow of Bruce Nauman's neon installation more or less. Therefore, today I want to talk about Bruce Nauman's neon art and its influence on me. 

 

Bruce Nauman is one of the most influential and creative artists of the century, who still maintains distinctive critical voice on the stage of contemporary art. Nauman constantly explores and tests the relationship between art and life with his installation, photography, performance finished works and video art. His relatively well-known works are series made of neon lights, he combines the light tubes with art, and integrates it with the artistic creation of thinking and acting on the current society. He explores a language game with a neon tube as a medium and discovers the fun of it. Under his artistic creativity, such kind of material can be seen everywhere like daily groceries has been given numerous possibilities and changed its original nature.

One hundred live and die, 1984

Seven figures, 1985

Sleep Walkers/Zoo Mantras

Simone Forti

Performance

Roma

1968

Simone Forti, born in 1935, is an American Italian Postmodern artist, dancer, choreographer, and writer. From the early minimalist abstract dance style to the improvisation of combining words and dance movements, her work has had a profound impact on contemporary dance and performance practices.

 

Sleep walkers / Zoo Mantras was first performed by Simon Forti at Galleria L’Attico in Rome in1968. When creating this artwork, Forti was inspired by the artistic style of Italy in the 1960s and the thoughts of the animals living in closed environment. For Sleep walkers, Forti spent significant amounts of time observing animals. Forti selected four species for her choreography: the flamingo, the ice bear, sea algae and water striders. Described by Forti as an “immersion in the kinesthetic sense,” the choreography was based on the zoo animals’ habitual movements and wrestles with the complexity of humans’ intuitive identification with animal life.

When I first saw Zoo Mantras, I was deeply attracted to it. I am always interested in the connection of nature, society and humans. Zoo Mantras showed me a way to express the connections between the three that I have observed for a long time. Besides, the rhythm during the performance is also a point that touched me and prompt me to think about how to grasp rhythm to avoid boring and overly complicated performances when I am performing. My work Zoo and Desire were influenced a lot by her. I spent lots of time researching animal behaviour in Forti’s way and found the anxiety of the animal in the zoo was similar to the anxiety faced by people in contemporary society. Therefore, I used the human own ways to perform the animal who have stereotypic behaviour. It is intended to express the defects of the functional structure of human society and the restrictions of rules and orders on human behaviour.

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