Hot Blood, Warm Blood, Cold Blood: Cheng Ran solo show
Galerie Urs Meile, No. 104, Caochangdi Cun, Cui Gezhuang Xiang, Chaoyang District, 100015 Beijing, China
5 November, 2011 – 12 February, 2012
The press release for Hot Blood, Warm Blood, Cold Blood proposes that this new work is “not primarily a conceptual work.” This text goes on to lay the groundwork for this new three-channel installation – and for what I see as Cheng Ran’s work as a whole: “The artist hopes to reduce the technical influence to a minimum level through the deliberate use of inappropriate editing to demonstrate the formality embraced in symbolism and imagery, thus representing an unknown image-space.”
Although I could quibble over the subjectivity of a phrase such as “inappropriate editing,” and the vagueness of “an unknown image-space,” this distancing of his work from a conceptual reading is a consistent concern for Cheng Ran. In a conversation I had with him in 2010, he was very clear about this: “I never thought that the artwork should have a core meaning. Inspiration and instinct is very important to me in the creation of the work, not a concept. I really don’t consider myself as a conceptual artist at all.”
As problematic as I felt his attitude towards core meaning was at the time—I felt that it amounted to an abrogation of responsibility to the work—I’ve come to regard it as allowing for the possibilities for interpretation to be released from taking a stable form. This has the positive aspect of leaving space for the audience to become involved in the works’ production of meaning.
Existence simulates, it dissimulates, and it dissimulates the fact that even when it is dissimulating and playing a role, it continues to be authentic existence, and thus with an almost inextricable malice, binds the simulacrum to true authenticity.
Blanchot, M. (1965), The Laughter of the Gods. In Blanchot, M. (1997), Friendship. Trans. Rottenberg, E. Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press. p.179.
What we are watching here is a video work from 2002 entitled The Swirl by Chinese artist Ma Yongfeng. This 15 minute video is one of Ma’s very first works at a point where he was displaying an interest in using what might be seen as futile behaviours, as a means of pricking the fabric of reality, and questioning it’s assumptions. Ma has more recently become known for his minimal interventions in daily life and socially aware services, but at the point at which this video was produced, these interests were still nascent.
Well, I can’t ignore the video anymore, and that of course is its problematic – this traumatic activity which is presented to us – these fish which are due for quite a ride, as we will see.
As the commentator for this work, and ostensibly representative of it and of the artist, the unfolding of the piece makes it tempting to expound my own strong opinions about the treatment of animals, which could come into conflict with my respect for the artist. But neither Ma, nor—I guess—you, as the audience, will thank me for making such apologies. What’s done is done, and we (the audience as well as the artist) must deal with the consequences.
Print•Concept: The Second Academic Exhibition of Chinese Contemporary Prints
Today Art Museum, Building 4, Pingod Community, No.32 Baiziwan Road, Chaoyang District, 100022 Beijing
7–19 August, 2011
The sound of cracking coming from people’s mouths and underfoot was perhaps the first indication that there was something different about this opening. Today Art Museum’s galleries were filled with the great and good of the Chinese art world for the opening of The Second Academic Exhibition of Chinese Contemporary Prints, subtitled: Print•Concept. But throughout, while chatting and viewing the artworks on the walls, many were distractedly clutching small handfuls of sunflower seeds, cracking them open with their front teeth with more or less proficiency, and spitting out or letting the husks fall to the floor in their wake.
While big names in the visual arts such as Xu Bing and Fang Lijun took up the wall space, artist Yan Jun arranged a parallel experience as his own contribution to the show with his piece How To Eat Sunflower Seeds. Yan Jun is famous in the sound art community as a veteran performer and for being pivotal in the development of the Chinese experimental sound and music scene. For the last decade or so he has run the SubJam label, releasing material from a role call of experimental musicians and sound artists from China and beyond.