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The Pursuit of Publicness: A Study of Four Chinese Contemporary Art Projects
by Bo Zheng
Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Doctor of Philosophy
Supervised by Professor Douglas Crimp
Department of Art and Art History Program in Visual and Cultural Studies Arts, Sciences and Engineering School of Arts and Sciences University of Rochester Rochester, New York 2012
This dissertation is dedicated to my parents.
The author was born in Beijing, China on July 19, 1974. He attended Amherst College from 1997 to 1999, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1999. He received a MFA degree in 2006 from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He came to the University of Rochester in the Fall of 2007 and began graduate studies in Visual and Cultural Studies. He pursued his research in contemporary art under the direction of Professor Douglas Crimp and received the Master of Arts degree from the University of Rochester in 2012.
I am deeply grateful to Professor Douglas Crimp, my adviser, for giving me enormous support over the past six years. He has shown me the true meaning of intellectual curiosity and kindness. I thank Professors Rachel Haidu and John Osburg for being on my committee and for giving me advice on this dissertation and beyond. I also thank Professors Joan Saab, Janet Berlo, and John Michael for their guidance. I spent the first year of my doctoral studies at Northwestern University. Professors Sarah Fraser and Hannah Feldman have remained supportive of my career. VCS has been a second home for me. Marty Collier-Morris and Cathy Humphrey are always patient and helpful. Sohl Lee has been a dear friend and intellectual companion. Many ideas in this dissertation were crystallized during our long conversations. Shota Ogawa, Iskandar Zulkarnain, Daisuke Kawahara, Qian Hua, Sohl and I formed the “rochester asians meet 4 lunch” group in 2009 and managed to meet regularly to talk about work and life. Gloria Kim, Yuichiro Kugo, Genevieve Waller, Lucy Mulroney, Berin Golonu, Alex Alisauskas, and Godfre Leung all helped me in various ways. Xiong Wenyun generously accommodated my research. Discussions with Geng Yan, Zhang Yuling, Zhang Hui, Steven Lee, Wenny Teo, Franziska Koch, Yang Guang, Dai Zhanglun, Astrid Wege, and Shingyuk Chow advanced my thinking.
My partner Jiang Chao has tolerated my bad temper.v Without the love and support of my family. His presence brings me joy. . I would not have been able to devote six years to doctoral studies. My sister Cai Jing and her husband generously let me stay in their apartment in Beijing to work on my dissertation.
(7) they focused on contemporary common action. (3) they defined issues of common concern. (5) they fostered stranger relations.vi Abstract This dissertation examines the meaning of publicness and its relationship to contemporary art through an analysis of four Chinese art projects. Chinese artists have combined public and counterpublic strategies and contributed to larger social movements striving for freedom and justice. (6) they strove for visibility. Village Self-Governance Documentary Project (2005) by Wu Wenguang. (4) they mobilized both rational-critical and affective expressions. The four projects are Moving Rainbow (1998-2001) by Xiong Wenyun. I demonstrate that these projects share a number of things in common: (1) the artists and participants acted as citizens and demanded citizens’ rights. Karibu Islands (2008) by myself. . In the struggle against totalitarianism. but also constituted a form through which these projects came into being. and utilized a wide range of media. These traits together constitute publicness. (2) they organized discursive arenas outside the state. Publicness not only served as a goal for these projects. and Nian (2010) by Ai Weiwei. I argue that the pursuit of publicness has been one of the critical forces motivating the development of Chinese contemporary art.
vii Table of Contents Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Epilogue Bibliography Introduction Four Basic Ideas Stranger-Relationality Visibility Fantasy 1 49 89 132 168 204 207 .
October 1998.2 2. 2005. Sichuan-Tibet Highway.6 1.1 2. 65x80cm. Ma Desheng at the demonstration. Huang Rui. 1979. Bo Zheng. 1999. Tibet. The opening of Difference • Gender.10 1. Moving Rainbow.5 2.13 1. photographed by Luo Yongjin. The Funeral.5 1. October 1979.8 1. A photographs taken by Xiong on the Sichuan-Tibet Highway in July 1998.viii List of Figures Figure 1. Huang Rui.7 1. Xiong Wenyun. Village Self-Governance Documentary Project. 2009. oil on canvas. discussion held at the Beijing LGBT Cultural Center.12 1. Xiong painting the end of timber carried on a truck.1 1. photograph.3 2.7 56 . 1979. May 1998. Sichuan-Tibet Highway.9 1. Page 2 2 4 4 13 13 34 34 34 38 38 42 45 47 2. 48cm high. Beijing. The Rebirth.14 Caption The first Stars exhibition. oil on canvas. wood. Moving Rainbow. wood. July 27. October 1998.11 1. Image altered to protect the identity of the participants. video still. 1979. Beijing. 1979. Xiong Wenyun. A photograph taken by Xiong in Tibet in May 1998. Karibu Islands. The Will. 130x130cm. 1979. June 14. 2008. Xiong’s site-specific experiment. 152x111cm. taken by Xiong in July 1998.6 50 52 52 54 54 56 2.2 1. Wang Keping. The Idol. photographed by Luo Yongjin. The constituents of publicness. 65x80cm. Silence. Wang Keping. oil on canvas.4 1. Xiong hanging a piece of cloth in bright yellow on a door.3 1. Wu Wenguang.4 2. 67cm high. 65x80cm. photograph. Two photographs by Ren Hang were taken down before the opening. 1999. Overview of the public sphere model. 1979. A photograph of the Sichuan-Tibet Highway. Huang Rui.
1 3.9 2. in February 2012. All relationships in China are stabilized according to the persons’ status in the state pyramid. video stills. Xiong convinced a few truck drivers to put the brightcolored tarpaulins on their trucks.3 3. Video stills from the Village Self-Governance Documentary Project. 2010. interior.5 Xiong talking to drivers.3 4.ix 2. April 1999. Xiong speaking at a press conference held in Chengdu. Hu Huishan Memorial. Xiong’s studio. Liu Jiakun. Moving Rainbow.10 2.2 4. dimensions variable. September 1999. 2001. April 1999. Xiong directing drivers.1 4. The departure ceremony held in front of Southwest Jiaotong University. 1999. Pictures of Wukan election circulated on weibo.16 2.6 4. Que’er Mountain. 1999. September 25. 1995. Xiong and participants celebrating their arrival at the base camp of Mount Everest. 56 56 58 58 59 63 67 79 81 81 85 96 106 111 121 121 125 133 134 136 144 153 .4 3. Beijing. Que’er Mountain. Ai Xiaoming. photographed by Luo Yongjin. 152x111cm. photograph.12 2.com. The ten villagers learning to shoot video at Caochangdi Workstation in November 2005. Hu Huishan Memorial.14 2. 2009. August 2010. Chengdu. Xiong Wenyun.13 2. The Moving Rainbow motorcade on the Sichuan-Tibet Highway. Stills from Land Distribution by Wang Wei. 2009. July 22.2 3.17 2. Nian concatenates multiple stranger relations into one work.4 4.15 2. 1999. Zheng Bo. Untitled.5 3. Citizen Investigation. 1999. Xiong showing me the amount of paperwork involved in Moving Rainbow.11 2. Stills from A Welfare Council by Nong Ke. Liu Jiakun. Commitment cards signed by drivers. exterior. 2008. Yin Xiuzhen. Washing the River. a popular Chinese twitter site.8 2. photographed by Luo Yongjin.18 3. digital photographs.
6 Shao Yuzhen being interviewed by a foreign journalist. Stills from Karibu Islands (the Buddha’s life reversed).1 5. The Beijing LGBT Cultural Center.2 5. Age at birth chosen by the participants. “Birth Certificates” filled out by Chunchun (left) and Haishui (right).x 4. 2008. Stills from Karibu Islands (seven videos). May 11.3 5.4 5. The first Karibu Islands discussion held at the Beijing LGBT Cultural Center. 157 170 173 175 176 186 191 .6 5.5 5.
23. The exhibition soon attracted passersby: men and women. Wang Keping’s woodcarvings featured political satires and openly criticized state corruption. (Figure 1. paintings. and woodcarvings – mostly hung on the fence between the park and the Museum.1) It was staged by the Stars group. Huang Rui painted the same view of Ruins of Yuanmingyuan three times. the exhibition was removed by the police. Two days later. There were over a hundred and fifty works – drawings. many held factory jobs. The artists responded with a demonstration on October 1. “Xing xing wang shi” (Stars Stories). an outdoor art exhibition was held in a small park in central Beijing. ed. Chang Tsong-zung (Hong Kong: Hanart 2 Gallery. prints. in The Stars: 10 Years.1 Chapter 1 Introduction On September 27. After failing to obtain an official venue to show their artworks. 1979. the thirtieth anniversary of the People’s Republic. demanding democratic rights and artistic freedom. The Stars were not full-time artists. young and old. 1 .2) After some negotiation mediated by the semiofficial Artists’ Wang Keping. using disparate hues to suggest three different moods. 1989). He Baosen used quick brushstrokes to render a quotidian scene of commuters on bicycles.1 The artworks were executed in a wide range of styles not seen in official exhibitions. a few carrying children in their arms. an informal collective of young men and women whose artworks transgressed the socialist realism authorized by the state. they decided to organize an exhibition in the park next to the National Art Gallery. (Figure 1.
October 1979.1 The first Stars exhibition.2 Figure 1.2 Ma Desheng at the demonstration. 1979. Figure 1. Beijing. .
”3 Sixteen artists presented works. two photographs were missing in a three-work series. (Figure 1. chatting. the leading lesbian group in the capital. The scene was just like any other opening in Beijing’s thriving art market.2 Three decades later. Karibu Islands. 2009. attracting over eighty thousand visitors. invited participants to re-imagine their lives on a fictional archipelago where time travels backwards. breaking the Gallery’s previous records. looking. in August 1980. eating.3) It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Xu Tengfei’s video transformed a kiss between two young men into an ink painting sequence. except that the young crowd were mostly wearing t-shirts and jeans.3 Association. A band was playing in the courtyard.” Hoping to avoid state interference. the government allowed the exhibition to continue in November in Huafang Pavilion in Beihai Park. titled “Difference • Gender. My video and text work. 34) The full title of the exhibition was “The First Chinese Art Exhibition on Gender Diversity: Difference • Gender. the organizers chose not to include in the title words like queer or LGBT. and drinking. not suits or dresses. the second Stars exhibition was held inside the National Art Gallery.” (The Stars. Xi Ya Die used folk papercutting techniques to portray erotic play between men. The exhibition was organized by Beijing LGBT Center and Tongyu. A year later. In one gallery.4) It was the first queer-themed art exhibition in China. People wandered in and out of the galleries. on June 14. It took the curators more than a 2 Wang Keping was told by the Gallery staff that “there were over eighty thousand viewers in sixteen days. 3 . with the frames and labels still hanging on the wall. some two hundred people gathered in a courtyard studio in the suburb of Beijing to celebrate the opening of an art exhibition. (Figure 1.
Beijing.4 Two photographs by Ren Hang were taken down before the opening. . June 14. 2009. Figure 1.4 Figure 1.3 The opening of Difference • Gender.
have developed largely outside the “official” art system sponsored by the state. as planned. The day before the opening. The two photographs were produced by Ren Hang.5 When Mr. both in China and abroad. and poses continuing challenges to 4 5 Yang Guang was also the manager of Beijing LGBT Cultural Center from 2008 to 2010. While the market – which has grown quickly since the mid-1990s – provides a valuable platform for many artists to realize their artworks. after casually signing his name in the guestbook. X then examined the artworks and instructed Yang to take down two photographs that contained explicit sexual imagery. and dealers producing solo exhibitions and biennials. nonprofit infrastructure skews the work severely towards profitable art activities. The 1979 Stars event has been widely regarded as the first milestone of “Chinese contemporary art. X) from the Municipal Security Bureau showed up and questioned cocurator Yang Guang as to whether the exhibition had proper approvals. Chinese contemporary art has grown from a small field with only a handful of artists struggling to survive to an enormous arena with thousands of artists. Mr. X left. a man (call him Mr.5 year to find a venue willing to host the show. . the state’s unceasing control over cultural expression and the lack of nongovernmental. since the late 1970s. Over the past three decades. Yang decided to leave the empty frames on the wall to indicate that the exhibition had been censored. art fairs and auctions.” a customary term referring to experimental art practices that. The opening proceeded smoothly on the following day and the exhibition was on view for a week. 4 Yang claimed that it would be a private event. curators.
To date there is no formal translation for “publicity. . a word that has gained popularity in cultural criticism since the mid-1990s. During this period. The state ignored but tolerated their activities. “publicness” is rendered as gong gong xing.6 It is my view that the pursuit of publicness has been one of the critical forces motivating the development of Chinese contemporary art. in public. but also constituted a form through which these projects came into being. artists have developed public and counterpublic strategies and contributed to larger social movements striving for freedom and justice. In the struggle against totalitarianism. the artists and their allies strove for free expressions. the struggle initiated by the Stars group thirty years ago is far from over. when the government violently suppressed the June Fourth Movement. In short. Publicness not only served as a goal for many artworks and exhibitions. to define and address issues of common concern. Through the 6 I use “publicness” instead of “publicity” because nowadays “publicity” is commonly used to refer to corporate advertising and media spectacle.” because the industrial production of publicity is still relatively new. most experimental artists and critics worked outside the state system and the market.6 critical practices. As the aforementioned queer art exhibition suggests. In Chinese. The market was almost nonexistent. what defines this ongoing struggle is the pursuit of publicness. affect and reason. as individual citizens and collectives. the only buyers of experimental art were foreign diplomats. Public discourses were generated through communicative strategies integrating image and text. What characterizes this struggle? What is the link between the Stars event in 1979 and the queer art exhibition thirty years later? In both instances. The first wave of public pursuit started in the late 1970s and ended abruptly in 1989.
schools. 2010) . Some went abroad. Though they did not develop an avowed theory on publicness. Chinese society in general became increasingly disillusioned with idealism and worshipped material wealth as the only measure of personal and national progress. After two decades.” (http://www. they mounted shows and events in whatever venues they could access – parks. a large number of artists in Nanjing staged the multi-year project. and others. with little. the market has firmly established itself as the primary stage for Chinese contemporary art. if any evidence of support for activities outside this sphere. But the spirit that underlies these ventures remains solidly aimed at capital gain. streets. in public parks in the city. proven by the influx of art fairs. gaining the attention of the global art market. and regional and national conferences. consisting of Zhang Peili. It became extremely difficult for independent artists to exhibit in public space.eflux. Some artists and critics sought support from the private sector and found this a viable route of survival and even prosperity. with profitability as the ultimate criterion of value. exhibitions in state-run institutions. “On the surface it would appear that support for contemporary art in China has reached new heights. courtyards – and made repeated attempts to engage friends as well as strangers. posted a set of Taichi drawings on a wall along Luyang Street in 1986.8 For example. accessed Dec. experimental artists and critics built a dynamic public. and even new forms of government funding.7 formation of art collectives. “Sunbathing” (shai tai yang). First. Chinese contemporary art made a dramatic turn to the market. group exhibitions. and the business end of art production. the government tightened control over media and cultural activities. 15.7 In the 1990s. 8 7 Independent curator Pauline Yao recently wrote. market interests. Geng Jiangyi.com/journal/view/74. the Pond Society in Hangzhou. Song Yongping and others organized many “rural art activities” (xiang cun yi shu huo dong) in Shanxi province. after the suppression of the June Fourth Movement.
However. 2011). Village Self-Governance Documentary Project (2005). 9 only a handful of monographs have been produced. they have received little attention from Chinese critics. 2010). 10 9 Published monographs include Hung Wu. This reemerging pursuit of publicness in Chinese contemporary art is the topic of this dissertation. and Hung Wu and Peggy Wang. 2005). MA: The MIT Press. Thomas Berghuis. have situated our practice in the fledging civil society and integrated art and activism. Karibu Islands (2008). NY: SUNY Press. “Experimental Beijing: Contemporary Art Worlds in . an undercurrent of public pursuit has been developing since the late 1990s. 2011). Performance Art in China (Hong Kong: Timezone 8. This dissertation helps to document the second wave of public pursuit. which may nudge Chinese contemporary art towards a future that is not shaped exclusively by the market and the state but also takes root in a dynamic civil society. Existing literature is dominated by survey texts and exhibition catalogs. Dissertations include Sasha Su-Ling Welland.. Remaking Beijing: Tiananmen Square and the Creation of a Political Space (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.. Rather than trying to produce a comprehensive survey – an unrealistic goal given China’s size and the fact that the movement is still unfolding – I will concentrate on four case studies: Moving Rainbow (1998-2001). Lu Peng. 2007). Total Modernity and the Avant-Garde in TwentiethCentury Chinese Art (Cambridge. who often lament the rampant force of the market yet make no effort to look beyond it. Xu Bing and Contemporary Chinese Art: Cultural and Philosophical Reflections (Albany. eds. myself included. and Hsingyuan Tsao and Roger Ames.8 Below this tide. A number of artists. A History of Art in 20thCentury China (Milan: Charta. These projects address some of the most important social issues in China today. 2010). Contemporary Chinese Art: Primary Documents (Durham. 10 Though a few The key survey texts include Gao Minglu. and Nian (2010). NC: Duke University Press. eds. Research on Chinese contemporary art is still in its early stage of development.
Fok Siu Har. 2006). Gong gong yi shu de guan nian yu qu xiang: Dang dai gong gong yi shu wen hua ji jia zhi yan jiu (Public Art’s Concepts and Tendencies: Research on Contemporary Public Art’s Culture and Value) (Beijing: Peking University Press. Next I will discuss the relationship between art and the public sphere. and Wang Zhong: Gong gong yi shu gai lun (Introduction to Public Art) (Beijing: Peking University Press. I hope to cover the 1980s and 1990s in future research. First I will explain what I mean by publicness. I will then describe China’s state-society relationship to situate my research in the Chinese historical context. In other words.12 This dissertation serves a second goal.” (HKU. Lu Hong and Sun Zhenhua (Changsha: Hunan mei shu chu ban she. in Yi shu yu she hui. “Performance Art and the Body in Contemporary China. China’s Capital.11 This dissertation is the first in-depth study on the issue of publicness in Chinese contemporary art. Pi Daojian and Lu Hong (Changsha: Hunan mei shu chu ban she. I hope to reinvigorate the attention to public sphere theory in current discussions on socially engaged art. 224–35. in Yi shu xin shi jie. and that publicness can serve as a central notion linking together various key concerns of socially engaged art. eds. their writings are largely hortatory. dominated by theoretical arguments and foreign examples. “Lun dang dai yi shu zai gong gong ling yu zhong de she hui xue zhuan xiang” (On Contemporary Art’s Sociological Turn in the Public Sphere). eds. in Wen yi yan jiu 5 (2004). see Weng Jianqing. 12 11 . 2009).” (UC Santa Cruz. Li Gongming. 2002). This dissertation only studies the pursuit of publicness in the 2000s. “Dang dai yi shu de gong gong xing yu ge ren xing” (Contemporary Art’s Publicness and Individuality). “Not Yet Farewell: Postsocialist Performance and Visual Art in Urban China” (UCLA. This is followed by a brief analysis of the Stars event. Gong gong yi shu gai lun (Introduction to Public Art) (Hangzhou: Zhong guo mei shu xue yuan chu ban she. not attending to how Chinese artists have pursued publicness in practice. see for example. Zha Changping. I will demonstrate that recent developments in public sphere theory – particularly Michael Warner’s theorization of publics and counterpublics – contains valuable insights into socially engaged art. For articles. “Yi shu gong gong xing yu gong gong xing de wu qu” (On Art’s Publicness and Publicness’s Pitfalls). 119–31. 2003). 2007). Gu Chengfeng. 2008). This chapter is divided into five sections. 2005). Wang Hongyi. For books. and Zhuang Jiayun.9 Chinese critics have written on the issue of publicness. 2007).
10 Lastly I will provide summaries of the four case studies that constitute the main chapters. deterritorialized contexts. “Forward. 1. “the collective body constituted by and in this process. it suggests a human grouping. Habermas set the scale of analysis mostly at the national level. What is Publicness? By publicness I mean the properties of the public sphere.” 55. distributed. Public Sphere and Experience: Toward an Analysis of the Bourgeois and Proletarian Public Sphere. and negotiated”.” in Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge. Since then. the public sphere is a realm of social life in which citizens assemble to discuss matters of common concern. Miriam Hansen. ‘the public’”. many scholars have treated the public sphere Jürgen Habermas.” New German Critique 3 (1974).”14 As Miriam Hansen points out. . the social sites or arenas where meanings are articulated. “The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article. 14 15 13 Habermas. “the German term Öffentlichkeit encompasses a variety of meanings that elude its English rendering as ‘public sphere’”: it indicates “a spatial concept. ix. According to Jürgen Habermas. trans. n. 49. “The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article (1964). (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1993). and it denotes “an ideational substance or criterion – ‘glasnost’ or openness – that is produced both within these sites and in larger.”15 In The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. Peter Labanyi et al.13 In the kernel of the public sphere lies the fundamental idea for democracy – the “rationalization of power through the medium of public discussion among private individuals.
It was edited by literary scholars Wang Hui and Chen Yan’gu.16 Recently. the anthology in which the Chinese translation of Habermas’s 1964 encyclopedia article on the public sphere first appeared. similar to Warner’s publics. he was able to conduct analysis on a range of scales: from a group of drag queens gathered in a New Jersey house posing for each other’s cameras to the imagined public addressed by the diary of Winston Smith. and published in 1998. Craig Calhoun (Cambridge. publicness is preferable to public sphere for two reasons. 1992). “Colonial Governmentality and the Public Sphere in India” [by U Kalpagam. . ed.18 In my view. is yet to be realized in China. 309–329]. 35-58]. 17 18 16 Michael Warner. was titled Wen hua yu gong gong xing (Culture and Publicness). publicness deemphasizes the spatial aspect of the public sphere and shifts the center of attention to discursive practices. treating publics as the main category of his investigation. what Hansen calls the “ideational substance or criterion. for example.” In their writings gonggongxing (publicness) appears more often than gonggonglingyu (public sphere). Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books. By doing so. Journal of Historical Sociology 15. For example. Second. the main character in George Orwell’s 1984. in Publics and Counterpublics. He shifted the perspective from geographical site to human grouping. Modern China 16. 181–211]. “The Public Sphere in Modern China” [by William Rowe. “Defining the Public Sphere in EighteenthCentury France” [by Keith Baker. 2005).1 (2002). in Habermas and the Public Sphere. Michael Warner made a methodological intervention. Many titles reflect this phenomenon.17 Many Chinese cultural critics have chosen to focus on the third aspect of Öffentlichkeit. geographically bounded by national borders. MA: MIT Press. it offers the flexibility for us to discuss public qualities of specific activities even when the public sphere. at the institutional and national level. First.11 as a spatial concept.3 (1990). etc.
The pursuit of publicness consists in the struggle to establish the social imaginaries. a feudal form of publicity. The monarch displayed himself 19 20 21 Charles Taylor. A Secular Age.12 The functioning of the public sphere depends on not one but many ideas and conditions. the expectations that are normally met. MA: Harvard University Press. and discursive conditions. and the deeper normative notions and images that underlie these expectations. . “The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article. however. They are summarized in Figure 1. and to create discussions that adhere to the discursive conditions. According to Taylor. social imaginaries are different from social reality or explicit social theories. Habermas.19 I have grouped these ideas and conditions into three categories: social imaginaries.21 There existed. 171. Based on research by Habermas. The public sphere as “a unique realm distinct from the private sphere” did not exist. Prior to the bourgeois revolution. institutional conditions. Warner. how they fit together with others. 2007). sovereignty did not belong to the people but to kings and queens who legitimated their rule in the name of a transcendental power.”20 The public sphere relies on two social imaginaries: that the people are sovereign and that the public sphere is self-organized. A Secular Age (Cambridge. and Charles Taylor. to obtain the institutional conditions.” 50.6 on the next page. how things go on between them and their fellows. Social imaginaries are “the ways people imagine their social existence. Taylor. The case studies in the following chapters will be analyzed along these specific dimensions.
5 Overview of the public sphere model.6 The constituents of publicness.13 Figure 1. Figure 1. .
. 135.14 and represented his power “not for but ‘before’ the people. Publics and Counterpublics. The public opinion developed in these conversations acquired a rhetorically constituted power that provided the basis of legitimation for the bourgeois revolution and subsequently the democratic state. trans. 68. people’s views and ideas would seem private. Because it is conceived as a realm free of coercive power associated with the state. The proliferation of coffee houses and political clubs. 1989). public opinion emerging from the public sphere can be imagined as “disengaged” and “rational. losing the world-making power of public opinions. 8. Rather they confront one another as opponents. as one might suppose from casual language use. Thomas Burger (Cambridge. “The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article. formal frameworks of citizenship. propertied men – assembled into public bodies and debated issues of general concern. meaning that it does not rely on “state institutions.” 49. 23 24 25 22 Warner. Members of the bourgeoisie – literate. Peter Hohendahl’s note to Habermas. The public sphere gave an institutional form to this idea. Taylor. laws. newspapers and critical journals propelled the emergence of a new mode of social organization. thus Jürgen Habermas. Otherwise.”23 As Peter Hohendahl emphasizes. at least in theory. “The state and the public sphere do not overlap.”25 The state then is compelled to act according to public opinion. A Secular Age.”22 One of the ideas that motivated the bourgeois revolution was popular sovereignty. or preexisting institutions such as the church. The public sphere is self-organized. Today the public sphere continues to depend on the social imaginary that the people are sovereign.”24 The public sphere’s extra-state status is crucial. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. MA: The MIT Press.
Totalitarianism (Cambridge. Claude Lefort argues that the freedom to form and express one’s opinion does not reduce man to “an isolated monad. it enables a person “to step out of himself and to make contact with others. citizens have to enjoy freedom of expression and access to public space and media. Democracy. The public sphere is important to non-profit organizations and activist groups. and the internet – may be operated by for-profit companies. the independence of the public sphere and the freedom of expression pose the most serious challenge to totalitarianism. The Political Forms of Modern Society: Bureaucracy. 250. 1986). because totalitarianism is Claude Lefort. they are fundamentally incompatible with totalitarianism. because it is where they can voice opinions to oppose corporate interest and state violence.” 26 Of the two social imaginaries and two institutional conditions.15 fulfilling the fundamental premise of democracy. These two institutional conditions often constitute the most visible battlefront in the pursuit of publicness. through speech. MA: MIT Press. protest can be specific and definable. They are more concrete than the social imaginaries and less complex than the discursive conditions. writing and thought. on the contrary. 26 . For public conversations to happen. public conversations circulating on these media cannot be motivated primarily by the profit logic. television networks. As Lefort points out.” as a famous Marxist critique often used by totalitarian regimes to justify their disregard for human rights would have it. Although the media – newspapers. Prohibition can be direct and effective. The public sphere is also imagined to be independent of the market.
or market 27 28 Ibid.” For example. of which the struggle for free speech and an autonomous public sphere is an essential component. whose bodily actions are sometimes the only way to attract media attention.. constitutes a direct opposition to totalitarian power. Public discussions adhere to a particular set of discursive conditions. 244. . The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of the Media (Stanford.28 Access to media entails both gaining entry to the distribution network (e. CA: Stanford University Press. Although many of today’s conversations happen on various media. a video camera and editing software)..” and often does not take a dialogical form. a youtube website) and getting hold of the tool of production as well as technology (e. mediated communication “has created new forms of publicness which do not share the features of the traditional model. 1995). making empathetic listening more likely to happen. we have to acknowledge that media play a critical role in contemporary public life. This may explain why many socially engaged artists continue to focus on creating situations where strangers can encounter and talk to each other in person. Furthermore..16 built on the premise that the state “hold[s] the principle of all forms of socialization and all modes of activity. On the other hand. particularly for disadvantaged groups. mediated communication is not “localized in space and time.g. the pursuit of publicness. John B. state announcements.g. different from those governing private conversations. Thompson. As John Thompson points out. face-to-face conversations enable nonverbal communication. Public discussions may be face-to-face or mediated.” 27 Therefore. access to space is still important. 246.
For example. Publics and Counterpublics. and as a result. the normative ideals he put forward fail to take counterpublic forms into account. Based on his analysis of the bourgeois public sphere.”29 The working class. in Fraser’s words. .”31 Furthermore. Ibid. interests. Nonviolent collective actions. counterpublics often engage in embodied. 67. Nancy Fraser. “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy. have argued that in his historical narrative Habermas overlooked the development of counterpublic spheres. Warner shows that glamour was often used as a public-making strategy by queer groups. rather than treating identity as a private matter to be abstracted in the public arena. Counterpublic spheres are. and needs. but “open to affective and expressive dimensions of language. Oascar Nekt and Alexander Kluge. such as strikes and Nancy Fraser. disregard status and coercive power.30 The communicative practices of counterpublics are not limited to the format of rational-critical debate prescribed by Habermas.. performative struggles. and Michael Warner.17 publicities. women. and take the form of rational-critical debate with the ultimate goal of reaching consensus.” Social Text 25 (1990). 13. which in turn permit them to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities. Habermas identified three discursive conditions: public discussions should address matters of common concern. “parallel discursive arenas where members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate counterdiscourses. 58. 30 31 29 Warner. queer and other minorities have long constructed counterpublic spheres that employ different organizational forms and communicative practices than those of the bourgeois public sphere. among others.
3 (2010). which “fostered modes of argumentation characterized by linear rationality. Chantal Mouffe argues that the democratic ideal cannot be fulfilled with Habermas’ “rationalistic and universalistic perspective.” in Democracy Unrealized. 2000). leading not to consensus among different social groups.18 parades. objectivity. 2002). For example. Mouffe advocates instead an “agonistic public sphere. ed. The Democratic Paradox (London: Verso. “The Public Sphere in the Field of Power.35 In other words. In fact. 34 35 Mouffe.” strengthening rhetorically constituted power. Lewis Edwin Hahn (Chicago: Open Court Publishing. 90-91. the basis of a democratic public sphere is not consensus but oppositionality.” where “potential antagonism can be transformed into ‘agonism. Okwui Enwezor (Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz. Douglas Kellner. struggle appears everywhere in the public sphere.”34 In actuality reason is often used as an excuse for exclusion.32 Douglas Kellner notes that Habermas idealized face-to-face interaction and the print media. ed. 17. a situation defined by a confrontation between adversaries” regulated by a set of commonly accepted democratic procedures. and Democracy: A Critical Intervention.”33 On a more theoretical level. “bring to bear material force so as to demand attention from elites or the government. and consensus. . like “us” the reasonable folks versus “them” the unreasonable ones.” Social Science History 34. 275-76. Warner identifies several additional formal features of public address (listed as items 4 to 6 under “Discursive Conditions” in 32 33 Craig Calhoun.” in Perspectives on Habermas. what constitutes common concern is not predefined but needs to be contested in the public sphere itself. 2000). “Habermas. “For an Agonistic Public Sphere. In Publics and Counterpublics. Chantal Mouffe. 313.’ that is. but instead to antagonistic categorization. the Public Sphere.
’ It then goes in search of confirmation that such a public exists. Taylor notes that the public sphere is also radically secular in the sense that the validity of any argument does not depend on “something which transcends contemporary common action. “Public discourse says not only ‘Let a public exist’ but also ‘Let it have this character. A Secular Age. . No single factor will suffice to bring about publicness. 36 37 Taylor. Warner. Because public discourse is by definition open. 192. A listener has to perceive the speech as addressed to him as well as to others who are strangers linked to him only by the speech.”37 It actively transforms social reality.6). an indefinite mode of address has to be employed. Utterances form a discourse when they have inter-referential linkages. This is why media visibility is critical in contemporary public struggles. Lastly. see the world in this way. to realize it. We understand its meaning in relation to its temporality. This complexity and interconnectedness perhaps explain why it is difficult for us to conceptualize publicness. public discourse is performative. A public utterance is always situated in a stream of discourse.” 36 The secularity and temporality of public address realizes the public sphere’s selforganized nature on the pragmatic level. Publics and Counterpublics. It is a complex endeavor. speak this way. Public discourse will cease to exist if it is no longer in circulation or commands no attention.19 Figure 1. In summary. and more importantly. the pursuit of publicness is the struggle to construct a particular form of discursive interaction based on certain social imaginaries and institutional conditions. 114.
53 and 39. Rosalyn Deutsche. In the mid-1990s. Suzanne Lacy (Seattle: Bay Press. for that mater. socalled public spaces in downtown San Francisco are nothing more than outdoor 38 Suzanne Lacy. and art’s publicness lies more in its generative discourse than its physical placement. when certain social mechanisms are not in place. On the other hand. “Cultural Pilgrimages and Metaphoric Journeys. Hans Haacke’s systems. 1995). Deutsche contended that “spatial forms are social structures” and that “any site can be transformed into a public or. 21.20 Socially Engaged Art and Publicness “For all intents and purposes.” in Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art. “the contemporary activity in public art dates from the establishment of the Arts in Public Places program at the National Endowment for the Arts in 1967 and the subsequent formation of state and city percent-for-art programs.” Social Text 33 (1992). Suzanne Lacy and Rosalyn Deutsche foremost among them. “Art and Public Space: Questions of Democracy.”38 The term public art quickly became synonymous with large sculptures placed in outdoor spaces. and Adrian Piper’s performances. published in 1995. a private sphere. a number of artists and critics.” writes Suzanne Lacy in the influential anthology Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art.”39 A private home in New Jersey would acquire a sense of publicness when a group of drag queens gathered to photograph each other. ed. Although many artists were creating works very much public in nature – Allan Kaprow’s Happenings. They pointed out that so-called public space is not necessarily public. 39 . for example – they were excluded from the domain of publicly funded art. argued forcefully that the restrictive notion of public art should be expanded.
often marginalized. “Lunch Hour: Art. Kate Fowle and Lars Bang Larsen.htm. . integrating art with activism in various social movements.. accessed Sept. public demonstrations.43 These artists take on political issues directly. and writings” not as peripheral activities. 2004). Community. Deutsche argued that feminist works. Administrated Space. but a realm of “discursive interaction” and “political debate.21 cafeterias for corporate employees. NY: State University of New York Press. They treat “media appearances. 21-22.”41 Similarly. They design collaborative methods to involve community members as active participants instead of passive viewers.” 39. “The Haunted Museum: Institutional Critique and Publicity.republicart. Miwon Kwon.44 While Lacy and others focused on community-based projects. but also publicly produced. consultations. Ibid. 40. Miwon Kwon argued that “modes of communication” should be emphasized over “the resulting site of communication. 71-89. and Unproductive Activity. Artists do not work for the default audience – largely white. with financial and cultural capital – but cooperate with multiple. ed. such as those by Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger. 43 44 Lacy. 2010. exhibitions. “Art and Public Space.” 19. http://www.” October 73 (1995). communities.40 Deutsche suggested that space should not be seen as a fixed object.”42 This shift of theoretical perspective has led to a more accurate understanding of the practice of many artists who for decades have developed “public strategies of engagement” outside the so-called public art domain.” 2002. Also see.” in What We Want Is Free. discussion groups. Frazer Ward. “Public Art as Publicity. 41 42 40 Deutsche. 11. classes. but essential components of their practice. Ted Purves (Albany. Projects are not only publicly exhibited.net/disc/publicum/ kwon01_en. “Cultural Pilgrimages and Metaphoric Journeys.
durational. .” 45 Deutsche demonstrated that artworks illuminating the contingency and precariousness of vision and subjectivity are consonant with a radical form of democracy based in difference rather than harmony.22 also contributed to a deepened understanding of publicness through a critique of vision. MA: MIT Press. The central feature uniting this diverse field of practice is collaborative discourse development on issues of common concern.conversationsaboutiraq. July 2-24. and multimedia practices. Public discussion. Through an analysis of the 1982 exhibition “Public Vision. Jeremy Deller staged It Is What It Is: Conversations About Iraq in three American museums and more than ten public sites around the country. Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics (Cambridge. For more details.”46 Over the past decade. In each project a portion of the public sphere – or more often a counterpublic sphere – is created.newmuseum. the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. 45 46 47 The exhibition was held at White Columns in New York. rather than remaining outside of the frame only to be activated in exhibition and criticism.org/ and http://www. “vision and sexuality are public matters. or social practice (Harrell Fletcher). American soldiers. see http://www. dialogic art (Grant Kester). and scholars to engage visitors in conversations about the situation in Iraq. Rosalyn Deutsche. 315. confront. is brought into the frame as part of the artwork.org/exhibitions/408. Artists work with participants to create situations that foreground. 1982. variously defined as socially engaged art. The project was staged in the New Museum in New York. in spring 2009. For example. journalists. have flourished. participatory. and sometimes resolve issues in the field of social relations. and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.47 He recruited Iraqi refugees. 1996). As she put it.
In this dissertation. and discursive. not the original Habermasian model but one greatly expanded by the writings of Fraser. See Chapter 2 “Quality Time: Social Practice Debates in Contemporary Art. Grant Kester’s Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art. Shannon Jackson provides a good summary of recent debates on social practice in Social Works: Performing Art. Much of the debate on socially engaged art since then has centered on autonomy versus embeddedness and aesthetic quality versus social efficacy. Taylor. I will turn to public sphere theory again. Grant Kester. Kester argues against the anti-communication tradition in modern and postmodern art theory. 2004). and proposes a “dialogical aesthetic” that is durational. and demonstrate that publicness provides a viable framework to integrate various key concerns of socially engaged art. Foregrounding publicness as the central intent of socially engaged art is particularly important in the Chinese context. Supporting Publics (New York: Routledge. intersubjective.48 In this heavily theoretical book. CA: University of California Press.49 Earlier attention to the relationship between critical art practices and the public sphere.” 49 48 . has been neglected. published in 2004. 2011). Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art (Berkeley. remains the most ambitious attempt to date. and Warner. as the next section will help make clear.23 Theoretical understanding of this field of practice is still in its early stage. as exemplified by Lacy and Deutsche’s work.
2011). gong neng yu zi wo li jie” (The Contour. It was succeeded by the Republic of China in 1912. Mao’s rule ended with his death in 1976. 317.24 China’s State-Society Relationship Since the public sphere is a concept rooted in European history.50 Michael Warner argues that “the idea of a public has a metacultural dimension” and has been “one of the defining elements of multiple modernities. various social movements since the late Qing have sought to expand the space for expression and participation outside the state realm. and argued that public well-being lies in “the sum-total of the harmonized self-interests of all members of the community. I will briefly review the relationship between the state and society from the late Qing to the Mao era (1949-1976). there has been much debate about whether it can be applied to studies of China. Deng Xiaoping and the liberal faction of the Party initiated a program of economic reforms (gai ge kai fang).” Modern China 16. although an institutionalized realm of public opinion-making has never been established in China. Thinkers like Li Zhi (1527-1602). The Chinese Communist Party led by Mao Zedong established the People’s Republic of China in 1949. 53 William Rowe. See Chapter 3 “Xian dai Zhongguo gong gong ling yu de xing tai. Publics and Counterpublics. . 51 52 The Qing Dynasty ruled China from 1644 to 1911. Warner. responding to grassroots demand. Soon after.3 (1990). “The Public Sphere in Modern China. 11. Function and SelfUnderstanding of the Public Sphere in Modern China).”53 The concept of 50 Xu Jilin provides a good summary of the debate in Qi meng ru he qi si hui sheng: Xian dai Zhongguo zhi shi fen zi de si xiang kun jing (How to Revitalize Enlightenment: The Dilemma for Modern Chinese Intellectuals) (Beijing: Peking University Press. Gu Yanwu (1613-1682).52 Several developments in late imperial China were conducive to the rise of a potential public sphere.” 51 Historical research also demonstrates that. In this section. and Dai Zhen (1724-1777) attempted to negate the long-held condemning attitude towards self-interest (si). and then discuss the social conditions of the reform period (1976-present) that provide the context for my dissertation.
Mao Zedong’s AntiRightist Movement in 1957-59. CA: Stanford University Press. individual rights and democracy were always considered less important than. . 168. See William Rowe.”54 Growth of commerce and trade led to rapid urbanization in areas like the Yangzi River Delta. 1989). in places “ranging from temple grounds and brothels to public parks and theaters. 1989).25 “society” gradually emerged as “a distinct political actor counterposed to the state. 1984) and Hankow: Conflict and Community in a Chinese City. Hankow: Commerce and Society in a Chinese City.” 58 Throughout the twentieth century. independent newspapers were founded by radical thinkers and stimulated debates in teahouses.”57 However. See Xu Jilin. CA: Stanford University Press. “Xian dai Zhongguo gong gong ling yu de xing tai. lively political discussions occurred among urban residents. the burgeoning desire for social autonomy was repeatedly suppressed by authoritarian regimes. political clubs. 58 Ibid.” 56 57 David Strand. and the military crackdown on mass protests in 1989 were just some of the most bloody examples of state violence against critical public expressions. Rickshaw Beijing: City People and Politics in the 1920s (University of California Press. as David Strand observes.. 1796-1895 (Stanford. Yuan Shikai’s brief revival of the monarchy in 1915-16. the White Terror masterminded by Chiang Kai-shek in 1927-28. and schools. In light of colonial invasions since the mid-nineteenth century. 1796-1889 (Stanford. 55 At the end of the nineteenth century. 319. Merchant groups and local elites assumed a more active role in managing local affairs. gong neng yu zi wo li jie.56 After the Xinhai Revolution ended the Qing Dynasty in 1911. the “urban elites never gathered the strength and will” to institutionalize “a fully autonomous public sphere. or even 54 55 Ibid.
After the Communist Party gained control of the Mainland in 1949. open debates. the preservation of a strong state to mobilize resources to fight for the nation’s survival. politicizing even the most intimate relationships. between the state and the market and civil society.. the contradiction between socialized production and private ownership. Mao assumed the position of a feudal lord. 59 The totalitarian state penetrated all aspects of life. the “people’s democratic dictatorship” quickly degenerated into the dictatorship of the political elite. But in reality. as Yang Guobin and Craig Calhoun note. and displayed himself before the people. something strange happened.60 Routine political studies and periodic campaigns ensured that the people followed the ideology of the Party. See Ezra Vogel. and self-published newspapers.” The China Quarterly 21 (1965). the socialization of the means of production would solve the fundamental problem of capitalism. “From Friendship to Comradeship: The Change in Personal Relations in Communist China. they were A portrait of Mao was put on the south façade of Tian’anmen (the Gate of Heavenly Peace) in 1949 and has remained there since. There would no longer be any need for the separation between public and private. 46-60. When dissenting views did appear. However. radical youths (the Red Guards) employed communicative practices with seemingly democratic forms: wall posters. 60 59 . i. According to Marxist theory. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).e.26 detrimental to. most of the Red Guards’ discourse “simply followed the directions of the political wind on high.
bulletin boards on Beijing University campus have been removed. and Protest in China: From the Cultural Revolution to the Internet. All newspapers and television stations are still owned and managed by the government. This is largely due to the fact that the state has been successful in projecting an image of control and willingness to use coercive power. Political and social stability is portrayed as a precondition for economic growth. The state continues to restrict citizens’ freedom of expression and association through censorship. today the mere idea of a demonstration is almost unimaginable. is more difficult to rein in. Its primary concern has shifted from ensuring ideological purity to structuring a business-friendly environment. and bureaucratic barriers. and political reforms are put off indefinitely.2 (2008). Over the past three decades the relationship between the state and society has been a delicate duet. Take Beijing for example: Tian’anmen Square is now fenced. when messages encouraging citizens to gather in Wangfujing. 12. 62 61 . Regulations and filtering technologies are Guobin Yang and Craig Calhoun. the Communist Party embarked on a new path: Reform and Opening Up. “Media. the state immediately sent hundreds of police to the location and put the entire police system on high alert. The internet.” Harvard Asia Pacific Review 9. started to circulate on the internet in spring 2011.27 typically disguised in orthodox Marxist and Maoist rhetoric. owing to its decentralized nature. and even so. a commercial district in central Beijing. access constraints. hundreds of CCTV cameras are installed in the city center.62 The state continues to maintain a firm grip on print and broadcast media. Power. few authors of dissent escaped the fate of repression. Control over public space has tightened over time. For example. The state has implemented a stream of policies to foster a market economy.”61 The Cultural Revolution brought China to the brink of collapse. Soon after Mao died in 1976.
In 2008 Liu Xiaobo initiated the Charter 08 campaign.64 On the other hand. He was arrested after posting his essay “Democracy or New Dictatorship?” in which he argued that Deng Xiaoping was embarking on another dictatorship after Mao. Wei Jingsheng was an active participant in the Democracy Wall movement in Beijing in 1978-79.cn/art 704095. See Hu Yong.63 When soft measures fail to deter challengers. accessed Jan. Zou Xiaozheng is a professor of sociology at Renmin University in Beijing. He made this remark in a talk titled “About China’s Social Problems” on January 23. More people have studied and lived abroad and tend to compare China to Western democracies and thus demand more freedom. See transcript at / http://sunfowl. Er shi yi shi ji 114 (2009). Zhong sheng xuan hua: wang luo shi dai de ge ren biao da yu gong gong tao lun (The Rising Cacophony: Personal Expression and Public Discussion in the Internet Age) (Nanning: Guangxi shi fan da xue chu ban she. Yang Guobin. democracy. The conversion to a market economy has validated private ownership and enabled the emergence of a private realm. Sociologist Zhou Xiaozheng recently made the satirical remark that the government had made a “huge improvement” in 2009 by sentencing dissident writer Liu Xiaobo to “only” eleven years’ imprisonment. four years shorter than the term Wei Jingsheng received in 1979. 1425. particularly Chapter 6. the state is always willing to resort to the repressive state apparatus. The once homogeneous population has stratified. 10. Chinese society has gained more autonomy and manifested increasing expectation for freedom and participation in economic as well as political and social affairs. Serious disparity and injustice has triggered increasing social dissatisfaction among people occupying the lower strata. 2011. 64 63 . Liu was arrested in December 2008.htm. There are several contributing factors. “Hu lian wang yu Zhongguo gong min she hui” (The Internet and China’s Civil Society). and constitutional reform was circulated among prominent intellectuals and signed by many. This in turn leads to a stronger desire for economic rights. The internet has made it easier for citizens to speak and congregate. 2008).fyfz. 2010.28 combined with increasing online presence of official propaganda organs. A manifesto demanding human rights.
they work in an “embedded” manner.” and actively seek media visibility in order to promote their causes and to make it harder for the government to shut them down. and full-time staff – make up the core of NGOs.29 Social movements before and after 1989 differ significantly. provide disaster relief. non-governmental organizations (NGOs) appeared and quickly became the leading force in pushing for social change. They demanded fundamental change. newspapers. They held face-to-face discussions on campus and protested in the street. Before the Tian’anmen movement in 1989. In the mid1990s. staging small-scale. Peter Ho and Richard Edmonds (London: Routledge. journalists. Often facing registration obstacles and harassment from police or tax bureaus. 2008). eds. and students and young urban residents serve as volunteers. and advocate queer rights. Rather than directly challenging state power. NGOs promote environmental protection. Now professionals – lawyers. 65 . social movements experienced a metamorphosis. support migrant labors. “Introduction: Embedded Activism and Political Change in a Semi-Authoritarian Context. nonconfrontational activities to push for gradual improvement.” in China's Embedded Activism: Opportunities and Constraints of a Social Movement. After the state suppressed the mass demonstration in 1989 with military force. intellectuals and university students were the main actors pushing for social change. 65 They deliberately portray their work as “apolitical. most importantly freedom and democracy. Calhoun cautions that “there is a strong temptation to leap from the presence of business institutions. free housing markets. and telephones [and now the internet] to the presumption that civil society prospers and democracy will See Peter Ho.
it gives some evidence to my hypothesis that the pursuit of publicness has been a motivating force in Chinese contemporary art all along.” Public Culture 5 (1993). which is widely considered the beginning of Chinese contemporary art. frequently aligned with the interest of the ruling elite. The next section contains a brief analysis of the Stars event.”66 The reality in China is a complex scene of stagnation and progress. First. Of course. it will help to bring out the newness of the four art projects realized in the 2000s. At the same time. Stars Event Revisited Almost any book on the history of Chinese contemporary art would include some account of the Stars event. The analysis serves two purposes.”67 The party-state continues its authoritarian rule. There is no “nation-wide demand for political change. Peter Ho. These factors form the backdrop for the art projects that I will discuss in this dissertation. There is little disagreement among historians on what the Stars artists were fighting against – they challenged “both aesthetic convention and political authority” and delivered “an implicit criticism of the status 66 67 Craig Calhoun. The market grows increasingly powerful. much further work is needed to substantiate this overarching argument. Second. “Civil Society and the Public Sphere. . activists are delicately pushing for incremental social change.30 inevitably follow.” 1. which will be analyzed in the main chapters. “Embedded Activism and Political Change. 276.
Their “unofficial position” can be defined more positively – it was a public position. but they did more than that. Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. The artists issued several statements. However. “One also needs to know for what one is fighting. it is not enough to simply define an adversary. 2001). 197.31 quo”. Wu Hung. Many critics have rightly pointed out that the park where the Stars mounted their first exhibition on September 27. and cooperated with other political and literary activists. created a discussion forum using guestbooks. All these activities fused into the event’s discourse. however transient. what kind of society one wants to establish. from the temporality of critique to the circulation of comments – converged towards what I have described as the pursuit of publicness. Transience: Chinese Experimental Art at the End of the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press. was a public space. xix. 2nd ed. As Laclau and Mouffe insisted in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. 14–16. organized a demonstration. Inside Out: New Chinese Art (Berkeley. (London: Verso. The discourse of the Stars event was not constructed by the artworks alone. … defining an unofficial position”69 – but few writers have articulated what the Stars were fighting for. Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. 1998). publicness is constituted in a discourse rather than tied to “the nature” of a space.”70 Clearly the Stars broke through some old walls. 1999). They built a new platform.68 they “sharply attacked official ideology. 70 69 68 . as stressed earlier. In this section I will demonstrate that many of the Stars’ efforts – from the subject matter of artworks to the rhetorical style of statements. 1979. Gao Minglu. CA: University of California Press.
The event was open to strangers. 2006). the participants behaved as private citizens. and even subjective expressions.32 The Stars event was self-organized. They were either passersby or came to see the exhibition after hearing about it by word of mouth. As Wang Hui notes. It was neither an official function choreographed by the state nor a private gathering open only to members. The Stars event. The artists did not know to which danwei the viewers belonged. nor Wang Hui. was managed collectively. Wang Hui and Chen Yangu (Beijing: San lian shu dian. The Communist Party revived the Confucian ideology of da gong wu si. was organized outside the state. Unlike “professional” artists. religious beliefs. The usual practice at the time was official exhibitions for organized viewing. were not organized. the annihilation of the private for the well being of the collective. 72 71 .72 No one was supposed to paint as a private artist. too. People gathered for nothing other than the event itself. art’s publicness is also lost. “Introduction. eds. everyone in China had a fixed identity in the danwei (work unit) structure. 45. Art production and appreciation. the state attempted to eradiate all private notions: private properties. Liu Qing (Nanjing: Jiangsu ren min chu ban she. in Gong gong xing yu gong min guan (Publicness and Citizenship). producing discursive interactions among them. ed.”71 Between 1949 and 1976. and the viewers did not know one another either. Publicness and privateness exist in a dialectical relationship. Under the state socialist system. 3–39.” Wen hua yu gong gong xing (Culture and Publicness). It was a public assembly. See Chen Ruoshui: “Zhongguo li shi shang de ‘gong’ de gai nian ji qi xian dai bian xing” (The Concept of Publicness in Chinese History and its Modern Variations). In this assembly. The viewers. in contrast. “When artists or viewers lose their private subjective experiences. 1998). the Stars were not members of state-sponsored artist associations. like other aspects of life.
eds. 73 .”73 The exhibition had no unifying themes.33 view an artwork as a private viewer. they declared: “We have used our own eyes to know the world. 73. Space was an abstract painting dominated by geometric shapes in various shades of blue and brown. Our paintings contain all sorts of expressions. “Di yi jie xing xing mei zhan qian yan” (The Manifesto for the First Stars Exhibition).7-1. styles. Huang combined the familiar imagery of Yuanmingyuan Park with his own imagination. (Figures 1. Huang Rui alone presented three different kinds of works. and subject matters.9) A set of stone columns in The Will was transformed into five fingers sprouting up from the ground in The Funeral and then into human figures holding each other in The Rebirth. 7. Hung Wu and Peggy Wang (Durham. Next. NC: Duke University Press. in The Stars: 10 Years. The Will. and The Rebirth. They seemed to be sitting there simply to be painted. In the statement written for the first exhibition. there were four single portraits of unidentified individuals. The large number of artworks encompassed a wide range of mediums. in Contemporary Chinese Art: Primary Documents. First. The Stars artists openly challenged this ideology. and our own brushes and awls to participate in it. Lastly. Featuring expressive brushstrokes. and these expressions speak to our own individual ideals. The sitters were not depicted as engaging in a productive or political activity. in a series of paintings titled The Funeral. these works departed from the socialist-realist doctrine that had dominated Chinese art since the 1950s. The heterogeneity of Huang Rui’s portfolio affirmed his identity as an imaginative and expressive individual. vibrant colors. Thin white curves were drawn on the surface to create a sense of dynamism. English translation by Philip Tinari. 2010). and decorative patterns.
65x80cm. The Funeral. oil on canvas. oil on canvas. The Will. Figure 1. 65x 80cm.34 Figure 1. 65x80cm.7 Huang Rui.8 Huang Rui. The Rebirth. . Figure 1. 1979. 1979. 1979. oil on canvas.9 Huang Rui.
would not circulate to form a visible discourse. Secondly. Opinions.74 In these comments several features can be identified as public.”) Taylor calls such discursive realms beyond one’s personal and local “Liang jie xing xing mei zhan guan zhong liu yan” (Visitors’ Comments to Two Stars Exhibitions). Huang Rui painted as a private artist. they could decide whether they liked the paintings and form their own opinions. if kept only in the mind of each viewer. The viewers no longer needed to speculate what the Party wanted them to say. 70–72. As it happened. in The Stars: 10 Years. 74 . in the Huafang Pavilion in November 1979 and in the National Art Gallery in August 1980. the viewers not only addressed the artists. in the later exhibitions. while some viewers limited their comments only to the artworks (“The woodcarvings were better than the paintings”). you are indeed the morning star!!”) or even their impact on the nation (“On you lies the hope of China and humanity. but also interacted with one another discursively. and rhythms – and to read the human figures as individuals rather than revolutionary stereotypes. One person’s rhetorical question (“Will [they] be able to sell these paintings in China? What do the Stars count on to shine?”) was answered by another’s assertion (“Count on the meaning and value of her life to shine!”). In other words. the majority elevated the discussion to a higher level.35 insisting on his right to paint freely. Firstly. They evaluated the event in terms of its position in the entire art field (“I have encountered real art [here]. shapes. The lack of any apparent ideological code also allowed the viewers to focus on the works’ formal aspects – colors. viewers could write down their comments in guestbooks.
. sad colors to portray her. The Backbone of Society depicted a despicable official. guided by the documents issued by the Party. Though most viewers showed appreciation and support. Chantal Mouffe. but it was a breakthrough given the historical context. dejection.” 91. nose had no nostrils. partly because the exhibitions were seen as self-organized. It is the basis of the transformative and world-making potential of the public sphere. Of all the artworks. At the Stars exhibitions. without the state lurking behind with its repressive apparatus.36 interests “metatopical. Please don’t use dark.”75 The desire and liberty for citizens to engage in metatopical debate is a distinct marker of publicness. Disagreement can be described as “a confrontation between adversaries. “open discussion” had been dominated by unanimous concurrence or condemnation. The presence of disagreement may seem trivial. One would be cast as an enemy of the state if she dared to differ from the party line.” who attempt to win the debate using reason and affect rather than force and threat.76 It distinguishes a public discourse from a publicity stunt.” “… What impressions have these works left in me? Other than fear. despondence … [I don’t] even have the strength to walk down the stairs …”). “For an Agonistic Public Sphere. Wang Keping’s woodcarvings stood out as the most direct and incisive critique of contemporary politics. For years. 194. the viewers could disagree with each other. a few disapproved of the art (“Our society after all is bright. the comments revealed disagreement. 75 76 Taylor. whose eyes had no eyeballs. A Secular Age. Lastly. and most importantly. Perhaps to some degree the viewers were emboldened by the artists’ own courage to differ.
Mao died in 1976 and the Communist Party did not officially acknowledge his mistakes until 1981. .11) As Wu Hung describes. Transience. The most daring work was The Idol. many citizens may have been berating Mao in private gatherings.37 mouth had no lips. Wang made explicit the transcendental deification that Mao had masterminded of his own image. … The glossy surface of the sculpture adds an unpleasant feeling of sleaziness. yet his right eye remained open.10) A stopper was thrust into his mouth as if to prevent him from uttering any truth. or artwork – means to comment on an issue of temporal relevance and demands risk-taking. criticizing Mao in the 1990s or later would have less temporal relevance to 77 Wu. (Figure 1. Wang’s critique of Mao was timely. Then. (Figure 1. and crown had no brain. Second. The work’s temporal quality was decidedly public. but few dared to criticize him openly. (In contrast. Wang brought Mao back to the secular realm. by linking Mao to the Buddha. 50. He treated Mao not as a saint but as a historical figure subject to criticism. by making Mao behave like a human being with a crooked look on his face and a mundane hat on his head. First. To make a public expression – through text. Wang’s critical and humorous works resonated strongly with the viewers precisely because he dealt with important topics of the time. In contrast.”77 It revealed Wang’s disregard for Mao’s status. the Great Leader seems both a benevolent deity and a trickster. His left eye was banded with crosshatch. “With one eye open and one eye half closed. speech. In 1979 and 1980. Silence portrayed a powerless citizen. an amusing amalgam of the familiar imagery of Mao Zedong and the Buddha.
1979. 67cm high.10 Wang Keping. . Figure 1.11 Wang Keping. wood. 48cm high. The Idol. Silence. 1979. wood.38 Figure 1.
39 China’s socio-political situation and incur far less risk.” 24–25. They then came back at night and confiscated the artworks when no viewers were around. a textile worker wrote. Using his graver. he exposed the reality’s vileness. Wang Keping. Its active invocation suggests that the social imaginary – the people are sovereign – was critical to the legitimacy of the Stars’ audacious act. right here. . “Here. a group of policemen came to the park and tried to shut it down.” in The Stars: 10 Years. complained about the artworks. 70–72. Art is never a synonym for aggrandizing [leaders] or singing praises!”78 “The people. On the second day of the outdoor exhibition.) One documentary photograph taken at the exhibition in 1979 shows a group of young people gathered in front of Wang’s woodcarvings with hearty smiles on their faces – a rare scene in that era – as if saying “Yes! Exactly!” In the guestbooks. and we feel this exhibition is good!”79 The police could not win the argument and left. By hanging their works in the park – many works portrayed everyday subjects – the Stars solicited the attention of the people. I understood art’s people-ness [renminxing]. Why do you ask us to leave? We don’t want to leave.” renmin in Chinese. The crowd responded: “We are also the masses.” The policemen then declared that qunzhong. “Wang Keping is an artist with a lot of courage. embodied by the passerby. Awesome!” Another viewer wrote. “Xing xing wang shi. Their writings made it more explicit that 78 79 “Liang jie xing xing mei zhan guan zhong liu yan. The Stars artists also called out to the people. the masses. appeared frequently in the discourse of the Stars event. A few viewers objected: “This is a people’s park.
Also note that in contrast..”80 In the statement for the Huangfang Pavilion exhibition one month later. In 1949. 2008) and The Stars: 10 Years.) The Communist Party had established its legitimacy on two social imaginaries: the people are sovereign and the Party represented the fundamental interest of the people. and Man exhibition. 8. the Party continued to invoke the social imaginaries in its propaganda. they wrote. A few events between 1976 and 1979 – the arrest of the Gang of Four. 82 . 8. trans. The Stars event occurred at this opportune moment. also held in 1979. beginning on page 100. and the initial tolerance of the Democracy Wall movement – reinvigorated the two social imaginaries. contained no explicit address to the people (Primary Documents. and to the people. When they organized a demonstration on October 1 to protest against the removal of the outdoor exhibition.”81 (I will discuss Lefort’s ideas of “the people in Chapter 2. 19. “Seizing this moment of the thirtieth anniversary of the nation’s founding. Jin tian san shi nian (Thirty Years of Today) (Beijing: Jin tian wen xue za zhi she. Ibid. replacing the Republic of China with the People’s Republic. ed. 7).. Towards the end of the Cultural Revolution. in Primary Documents.40 they treated the people as their addressee. they issued “A Letter to the People. the recognition of the grassroots 1976 Tiananmen Incident as a revolutionary event. the artist statement for the first Nature. we give our harvest back to the land. See Xiao Xu. Society. the Party’s credibility had almost evaporated. Although the institutional mechanisms that the Party implemented were not aligned with the social imaginaries that it preached. and was closely linked to concurrent literary and political activism. the Party succeeded in adding “the people” to the name of the nation.82 The 80 81 The Stars: 10 Years. by Philip Tinari.
and lastly. Xiong made six trips to Tibet. Although these four conditions have become normal aspects of social life in Western democracies. access to public space and media – were quickly taken away. the social imaginary that the people are sovereign. Xiong Wenyun’s Moving Rainbow project serves as the main case study in this chapter. It would take another nine years for publicly-minded artists to gain access to the National Art Gallery again. Through iconic photographs and performative I am referring to the China/Avant-Garde exhibition held in February 1989.12) Between 1998 and 2001. they are still suppressed by China’s current regime to a large extent. institutional conditions required to realize publicness – guarantees of freedom of expression.41 artists were even able to hold the second Stars exhibition in the National Art Gallery in 1980. needs to be researched in the future. The success of the Stars’ effort also reinforced. meaning outside the state. I will address four basic ingredients of publicness: issues have to be defined as matters of common concern. their opinions need to enter media circulation. their discursive activities need to be self-organized. involving more than a hundred truck drivers traveling along the SichuanTibet and Qinghai-Tibet Highways. Her initial personal pilgrimages gradually evolved into a large-scale environmental project. people have to be able to speak critically about these matters as citizens.83 Chapter Overview In Chapter 2. But before long. (Figure 1. Without any significant political reform. 83 . the Party tightened its control again. The publicness of experimental art events throughout the 1980s. in however small a way. including the China/Avant-Garde exhibition.
events. managed to realize the four basic conditions of publicness through her art practice. 130x130cm. can help to construct . This chapter analyzes how Xiong. a defining strategy in socially engaged art. as an artist. In Chapter 3. My particular interest is to show how participation. Moving Rainbow. she drew media attention to the highways’ environmental impact on the Tibetan plateau.12 Xiong Wenyun. I will focus on a central idea of publicness: stranger-relationality through personal and impersonal address. It suggests that direct engagement with sociopolitical issues in our media age may demand a fundamental change in the temporality of art practice.42 Figure 1. photograph. 1999.
His team then edited the recordings into a sound work lasting 3 hours and 41 minutes. I will also compare Nian to other artworks on the Sichuan earthquake. To recognize others as strangers we have to accept that they occupy a position between commonality and unknowability. a serious earthquake erupted in Sichuan province. The state was unwilling to investigate the issue. and government corruption was at the root of it. In China this is particularly difficult because two powerful forces work against it: the political system that constantly attempts to organize all members of the society into a massive. Ai Weiwei and his team. In May 2008. or . the sound work has been circulating on the internet. In this chapter. A disproportionate number of victims were students in primary and secondary schools. In spring 2010. something rare in Chinese history. stable structure of national belonging and the economic system that increasingly reduces relationality to mere market transactions. like Hu Huishan Memorial (2009) by architect Liu Jiakun. assisted by local volunteers. among family members and friends. Against state censorship. via twitter messages. The main case study in this chapter is Nian organized by Ai Weiwei. It soon came to public attention that many school buildings in the affected area had been poorly constructed. I argue that Nian constitutes public mourning. he invited people to read the 5. which did not rely on a participatory approach. managed to compile the names of the students killed in the earthquake. Mourning has been either private.43 stranger-relationality.205 names and send the recordings to him online. Ai then distributed this list on the internet.
one is reading both personally and impersonally. As Warner puts it. 71. Publics and Counterpublics. though sometimes people have “usurped state rituals by improvising upon an official script to make it serve subversive ends.44 state-sponsored. Chapter 4 focuses on the issue of visibility. “Making Secret Histories: Memory and Mourning in Post-Mao China. 77. Warner demonstrates that stranger-relationality is achieved through a particular form of address that is both personal and impersonal.” 84 Nian. I understand that the work is addressing me and an indefinite number of people who also encounter it. ed. Mourning constitutes the very act that establishes stranger-relationality. for political leaders or canonized heroes. History and Opposition Under State Socialism. The Village Self-Governance Documentary Project will serve as the Rubie Watson. In Publics and Counterpublics.”85 For example.” in Memory. 85 84 Warner. “public speech must be taken in two ways: as addressed to us and as addressed to strangers. but not the addresser. When one reads the names aloud. was initiated by strangers. 1999). because to mourn someone is to assume the existence of an attachment to the loss of that person. which is critical to the realization of publicness. like other commemorative projects after the Sichuan earthquake. for strangers. participatory production – in the form of a large number of online strangers participating in recording the names – transforms the addresser into a public subject as well. Warner limits his analysis to the receiving end of the relationship: the addressee is imagined to be an indefinite public. . Rubie Watson (Oxford: James Currey. I argue that in Nian. This expansion of impersonality to the addresser marks a critical difference between Nian and other artworks that are created by artists alone. when I hear the victims’ names in Nian.
case study. points us to the political nature of rhetorical norms and video technologies. They condition what we can see and hear. The villagers went home and captured elections. Village Self-Governance Documentary Project. (Figure 1.45 Figure 1. and everyday life. Wu’s team helped them to edit the footage into ten short videos. First. He invited ten villagers from different parts of China to his studio in Beijing and taught them how to use a video camera. he decided to help villagers document their own politics themselves. disputes. visibility will be approached from several angles. discussions. . which have been screened in film festivals as well as independent film salons. video still. Rancière’s notion.13 Wu Wenguang. 2005. In 2005. when filmmaker Wu Wenguang was asked to produce a documentary on village elections. the partition of the sensible.13) In this chapter.
In the case of the Village Documentary project. Affective. Neither the social imaginary that people can organize themselves independently of the state nor the institutional condition that freedom of expression is a guaranteed right exists. I suggest that. Second. This fundamental distinction between the Chinese political system and Western democracies leads to a central argument of my dissertation. and adds a kind of stranger visibility to rural politics. proletarian. limited distribution seriously curtails its efficacy. leveraging Rancière’s insight on radical pedagogy. but in alignment with. as the video camera enables reflexivity. Third. or queer – is established in China. rational-critical argumentation. The videos from the Village Documentary project help to highlight this issue. Lastly. it facilitates self-learning and cultivates a sense of equality. that visibility depends on circulation. Chapter 5 will further substantiate this argument. that in China all public pursuits are both public and counterpublic. I re-emphasize a point made in Chapter 2. that public and counterpublic strategies are almost always integrated in Chinese public art. performative forms are not in opposition to. exclusionary mechanism of the bourgeoisie to maintain its ruling position.46 but are often assumed to be natural. The first three case studies will have demonstrated to some degree this integration of public and counterpublic forms. I argue that the introduction of the video camera allows the villagers to assume an insider-outsider identity. How to overcome or subvert state control of media remains a core challenge to the pursuit of publicness. The latter functions more as a radical challenge to arbitrary state power than as a hegemonic. No public sphere – bourgeois. .
including the “Karibu Islands Birth Certificates” filled out by the participants and their discussions.86 Here are a few reasons for writing about my own project. Participants. Karibu Islands. Its highly participatory nature accommodates partial renouncement of the artist’s authorial position. Karibu Islands. Karibu Islands. using the videos as a catalyst for discussion. discussion held at the Beijing LGBT Cultural Center. My role as a theoretically86 . July 27. Image altered to protect the identity of the participants. a project from my own art practice.14 Bo Zheng. I worked with the Beijing LGBT Cultural Center to organize a series of conversations. In 2008.14) My analysis will center on the documents generated by this project. I started this project in 2004 as a set of experimental videos about an imaginary place where time travels backwards. imagined their lives in this hypothetical place and debated issues of sexuality and progress. will serve as the case study. is not the creation of the artist alone.47 Figure 1. 2008. like other projects discussed in this dissertation. queer and straight. (Figure 1.
Taylor. Nekt and Kluge suggest that. rather one must theoretically grasp the relation of dependency between fantasy and the experience of an alienated reality. it is not sufficient simply to use the fantasy product. 87 88 89 Negt and Kluge. though centered on the labor conditions in postwar Germany. 33. Public Sphere and Experience.”87 The transformation of fantasy is critical to the organization of workers’ authentic experience into a proletarian public sphere.”89 minded analyst in 2011 is different from my role as the artist in 2008. . Ibid. The analysis in this chapter will primarily be about the documents and discussions created by the participants. I will also suggest that queerness and publicness share similar relations to time: both negate privileging higher times over common action and demand what Taylor calls “radical secularity. In this chapter. 192.” 88 Negt & Kluge’s analysis. I will analyze Karibu Islands discussions to show why the queer and straight participants responded differently to the hypothesis of time reversal. A Secular Age. offers many insights to other counterpublics. Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge argue that the proletariat have always engaged in an “unvalorized” creation of fantasy.48 In Public Sphere and Experience. and how the queer participants’ voiced their protest against heteronormativity through both direct criticism and fantasy. “to transform the experience bound up in fantasy into collective practical emancipation. “as a necessary compensation for the experience of the alienated labor process.
and Xiong received both emotional and financial support from many other artists and critics. set up information displays. The project contributed to an emerging discourse on environmentalism at the turn of the millennium. Moving Rainbow is more than a set of photographs. Xiong recalls that the majority of her friends in the art . Their toylike scale and intense colors emit a sense of joy. defying the seriousness of the sharp ridges and dense clouds in the background. Besides producing photographs of motorcades forming “moving rainbows. government officials.49 Chapter 2 Four Basic Ideas The photograph is dramatic. Eight trucks. However. between 1998 and 2001. This photograph. its affinity to activism threatened its reception as art.1) Ranges of barren mountains dominate the composition. and collected signatures. Over a period of three years. produced at Que’er Mountain in 1999. and journalists. Xiong realized a series of art experiments along the highways leading from Qinghai and Sichuan into Tibet. It was widely reported in public media at the time.” Xiong and her supporters also organized other activities to promote environmental protection in the Tibetan region. Moving Rainbow is a well-known project. (Figure 2. since the beginning. dot the winding road carved on the slope of the mountain in the foreground. came out of the Moving Rainbow project created by artist Xiong Wenyun. They distributed leaflets. culminating in two largescale events that involved not only truck drivers but also environmental activists. covered with bright-colored tarpaulins.
Er shi shi ji Zhongguo yi shu shi (Twentieth Century History of Chinese Art) (Beijing: Peking University Press.2 Zhang Li. Lu Peng. In his curatorial statement for the 2008 retrospective exhibition of 1 2 See Zhang Yuling. is the only critic who has commented on the project’s social dimensions. Moving Rainbow. . For example. unpublished text. “Xiong Wenyun zai gong zuo” (Xiong Wenyun at Work). photograph. 2011. 1999.”1 Those few critics who have included this project in their writings and exhibitions have considered it exclusively from the perspective of photography or performance art. 68-69. world supported the project but considered it “not art. who assisted Xiong in 2000 and 2001. Yi hua de rou shen: Zhongguo xing wei yi shu (Alienated Body: Performance Art in China) (Shijiazhuang: Hebei mei shu chu ban she.50 Figure 2. see Lu Hong and Sun Zhenhua. 244. 2009).1 Xiong Wenyun. 152x111cm. 2006).
its complex relationship with the state accommodates a nuanced understanding of publicness in post-socialist China.4 In 1979 she entered the Sichuan Art Academy to study traditional Zhang Li. Moving Rainbow is one of the most important public art projects of the last decade. she worked on a farm. I have chosen it as the first case study. social. . 2008. In addition to its historical importance as one of the first art projects to connect with emerging environmental activism.51 Moving Rainbow. which will serve as a foundation for further analysis.” China Daily. held at Three Shadows Photography Art Center from June 15 to July 27. environmental protection.”3 In my view. she was sent to work in the Aba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. It is an experimental activity of trans-disciplinary art.” (Chen Jie. studied in a local normal school and taught painting in the school after graduation. and interaction between the artist and the public. “A Rainbow for the Roof of the World. It will help to reveal several key constituents of publicness: issue formation. painted for local people. and selforganization. assertion of citizens’ rights and responsibilities. 2001). Six Trips to Tibet Xiong was born in Sichuan province in 1953. 4 3 “For seven years. Its scale and media impact remain unsurpassed. May 19. at the age of sixteen. In the next section. media attention. Therefore. curatorial statement for the exhibition “Liu dong cai hong shi zhou nian” (The Tenth Anniversary of Moving Rainbow). historical and cultural analysis. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). I will provide a chronological account of Moving Rainbow’s evolution. Zhang writes. “This work integrates contemporary art.
2 Xiong’s site-specific experiment. Chinese painting. May 1998.52 Figure 2.3 A photograph taken by Xiong in Tibet in May 1998. site-specific . Figure 2. After exhibiting her paintings at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing in April 1998. Xiong went to Tibet in May. In 1987 she went to Japan to pursue further training and developed a passion for color field paintings. She visited the Samye Monastery and the Kings’ Tombs in the Shannan area and realized a series of small-scale. Tibet.
experiments. She painted pebbles in bright colors, using the same palette she had been using in her paintings. (Figure 2.2) Xiong’s work attracted attention from local residents but did not surprise them. They have long used natural materials – stone, mud, and even water and wind – to make small replicas of Buddhist statues and pagodas.5 And bright colors are everywhere to be seen in Tibet, the land closest to the sun. Among the photographs Xiong took during this trip was one of a garbage dump, with stacks of Styrofoam lunch boxes, single-use chopsticks, and plastic bags. (Figure 2.3) Two months later, Xiong went to Tibet again. This time she took a road trip along the Sichuan-Tibetan Highway for over 1,200 kilometers, traveling from Chengdu in Sichuan province to Qamdo in the eastern part of Tibet. At Erlang Mountain, her luggage was stolen. “However,” she wrote, “when we finally reached Qamdo after a treacherous journey, I felt at peace again.”6 Besides continuing her painting experiments, she turned her attention to the highway. (Figure 2.4) She noticed that many trucks coming out of Tibet were carrying timber. During this trip she also encountered a rainbow, rising above the mountains into the clouded sky. (Figure 2.5) When she embarked on her third trip in October 1998, the highway was no longer just the road leading into Tibet, but had become the site of her focus. In the two previous trips, Xiong acted more like a keen observer. When she attempted
For example, they would swing a mold in the wind or in a river to produce copies of the Buddha that last only for a moment. Xiong Wenyun, text written for her exhibition at Three Shadows Photography Art Center in 2008.
Figure 2.4 A photograph of the Sichuan-Tibet Highway, taken by Xiong in July 1998.
Figure 2.5 A photographs taken by Xiong on the Sichuan-Tibet Highway in July 1998.
artistic experiments, they were small and did not require interaction with other people. This time, however, she seemed to be more conscious of her identity as an artist at work. She invited photographer Luo Yongjin to travel with her, so her actions could be documented. She engaged in two series of works. In one series, she painted
the visible ends of timber carried on the trucks. (Figure 2.6) Again she used the rainbow palette: red, orange, yellow, green, indigo, blue, and purple. In another series, she hung a piece of bright-colored cloth on a door or a window of the shacks standing next to the highway. (Figure 2.7) To realize these works, she had to talk to the truck drivers and the people living in the shacks to obtain their approval. On one occasion, upon seeing the red paint Xiong was applying to the wood carried on his truck, a driver commented, “yes, they are bleeding.” According to Xiong, this was the first time that someone connected her actions to environmental issues. In March 1999, Xiong participated in a group exhibition and showed some photographs from her trips in Tibet. Ta Kung Pao, a Hong Kong newspaper, published an article on her work and mentioned its connection to environmental protection.7 After this exhibition, Xiong decided to continue her project and to make it visually more dramatic. She made seven waterproof tarpaulins, each in a rainbow color and large enough to cover the back of a truck. She took them with her to Que’er Mountain, 4,200 meters above sea level, and convinced a few truck drivers to put the tarpaulins on their trucks. (Figure 2.9) The first “moving rainbow” thus came into being. To her surprise, the drivers liked the tarpaulins and wanted to buy them from her. They told her that her products seemed more durable than those available on the market and would provide better protection for valuable goods like furs and cigarettes.
Anonymous, “Xian dai yi shu zuo pin lian zhan: tan tao dang dai chuan mei ru he ying xiang she hui” (Modern Art Group Show: Exploring How Contemporary Media Influence Society), Ta Kung Pao, March 13, 1999.
Figure 2.6 (left) Xiong painting the end of timber carried on a truck, photographed by Luo Yongjin, Sichuan-Tibet Highway, October 1998. Figure 2.7 (right) Xiong hanging a piece of cloth in bright yellow on a door, photographed by Luo Yongjin, Sichuan-Tibet Highway, October 1998.
Figure 2.8 (left) Xiong talking to drivers, photographed by Luo Yongjin, Que’er Mountain, April 1999. Figure 2.9 (right) Xiong convinced a few truck drivers to put the bright-colored tarpaulins on their trucks, photographed by Luo Yongjin, Que’er Mountain, April 1999.
She also found a team of drivers in Chengdu who agreed to participate on a planned trip.10) Fourteen trucks were draped in the colored tarpaulins and left on an eight-day journey to Qamdo. set up the camera at strategic positions. while Luo.11) Xiong became more ambitious. a departure ceremony was held in the South Gate Plaza of the University. (Figure 2.57 Emboldened by the media attention she received and the truck drivers’ warm response. the photographer. For the next year and half. On September 25. she devoted herself to seeking support in China and Japan. often far away and on elevated ground. so he could capture panoramic views of the motorcade moving through the mountainous landscape. Xiong directed the drivers. 8 Xiong Wenyun. like the one described at the beginning of this chapter. This trip generated a set of photographs that are the most visually compelling. Xiong committed herself to increasing the scale of the rainbow idea. 1999. attended by university officials and the CEO of a civil engineering firm that contributed some funds. She drafted a plan to recruit one thousand truck drivers “to carry the Moving Rainbow along the Sichuan-Tibet and QinghaiTibet highways simultaneously into the ‘roof of the world. (Figure 2. She succeeded in building a partnership with two important Chinese environmental NGOs (China Environmental Culture Promotion Association and Green Earth Volunteers). She sought and obtained support from Southwest Jiaotong University.’”8 She also gave the project a new name: Beijing-Everest Environmental Protection Activity. . text written for her exhibition at Three Shadows Photography Art Center in 2008. where she was teaching as a visiting professor.
10 The departure ceremony held in front of Southwest Jiaotong University.11 The Moving Rainbow motorcade on the Sichuan-Tibet Highway. sixty trucks covered in colored .58 Figure 2. she decided to reduce the original scope and finance the project with her own savings and donations from other individuals. Figure 2. 1999. On July 11. but failed to secure any major financial sponsorship. September 1999. After several delays. September 25. 2001.
The project was widely reported. July 22.59 Figure 2. In summary. 2001. tarpaulins left Golmud in Qinghai province for Tibet. Two weeks later. She tuned her work according to what she experienced on the road and how others responded to her gestures. (Figure 2. At the same time. in both local and national media.400 meters above sea level.12 Xiong and participants celebrating their arrival at the base camp of Mount Everest. Moving Rainbow evolved gradually as Xiong’s initial personal pilgrimages to Tibet grew into ever larger participatory events.12) A series of events were also held at several stops along the road and later in Beijing to spread the message of environmental protection. Xiong did not have a master plan when she embarked on her first trip to Tibet. 5. a number of trucks reached the base camp of Mount Everest. it is clear that the project could evolve because Xiong did .
but through Moving Rainbow. The human race has to liberate itself from this selfish mindset and learn to live with [other organisms] in harmony. “Loggers. February 1988. the biggest victim will be the human race itself. Translation mine.9 9 Xu Gang. an influential magazine at the time. I will discuss how Xiong defined the highways as a site for public concern. Wake Up!” After describing the serious extent of illegal logging in China. xing lai!” (Loggers. how she called for and modulated public attention through photography and media events.60 not content herself with existing forms of art and existing platforms of publicness. New Observer. In 1988. she contributed new and valuable perspectives to the agenda. Xu concludes. published Xu Gang’s essay. Wake Up!). When the human race treats each tree and each blade of grass with love. In the next four sections. each tree and each blade of grass will also treat the human race with love. and how her identity as a citizen and Moving Rainbow as a self-organized venture challenged China’s totalitarian system. “Fa mu zhe. Environmental ideas first appeared in China in the late 1980s. Xin guan cha (New Observer). . The human race still doesn’t understand this principle: when they drive forests and other organisms on this planet into trouble. What constitutes common concern is not predefined but needs to be contested in the public sphere itself. Xiong was not the first person to define the environmental movement in China. Highway as Issue Publics are formed around issues of common concern.
an endangered species on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.10 In 1994. Moving Rainbow redefined the highways between Tibet and the Han region as a site of environmental concern. and Wang Lixiong. casting a significant influence on public opinion and state policy. For example. March 2009. Yang Guobin. Mao instructed the PLA to “march and pave. “Environmental NGOs and Institutional Dynamics in China. According to sociologist Yang Guobin. It also submitted proposals to local governments in Yunnan province on how to save the golden haired monkey.” The China Quarterly 181 (2005). 50. Liang Xiaoyan. “yi mian jin jun. “the development of environmental NGOs took off in the mid-1990s and accelerated within a few years. Liang Congjie. were renowned intellectuals. Friends of Nature was established in Beijing as the first environmental NGO formally registered with the Ministry of Civil Affairs. The Sichuan-Tibet and Qinghai-Tibet highways were both constructed in the 1950s by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). In Chinese. Its four founders. “Li cheng yu te dian: kuai su zhuan xing qi xia de Zhongguo huan bao yun dong” (History and Characteristics: Chinese Environmental Movement in the Era of Rapid Transformation). Li lun yue kan (Theory Monthly).61 Xu’s essay was widely cited and reprinted. to save the Tibetan antelope. yi mian xiu lu. Since then the state discourse has always portrayed the highways as 10 See Tong Zhifeng. Many NGOs focused their resources on protecting the natural environment in the less developed western part of China.”12 Three thousand soldiers lost their lives in the process. Yang Dongsheng.”11 The number of organizations increased from twenty-eight in 1996 to sixty-nine in 1999.” 11 12 . Friends of Nature worked on mobilizing public support for anti-poaching efforts between 1998 and 2002.
http://www. and redefined the highways as matters of public concern rather than symbols of national unity and state glory. Trucks on both sides rush by: those going into the mountains are packed with consumer goods. and strengthened the Motherland’s border defense and ethnic unity. White trash [disposable containers and plastic bags] along the Sichuan-Tibet Highway is appalling.htm. 24. “Dian feng shang de yi shu” (Art on the Mountain Top).62 extraordinary achievements in human history. the Anonymous. organized a large exhibition in Chengdu. City and nature are two ends of the human axis. How has economic development affected the region’s environment? What can be done to implement a more sustainable model of growth? What role can Tibet’s traditional culture play in defending the environment against the modernizing vision? Moving Rainbow effectively opened up the space for these questions to be raised. Lhasa wan bao. 14 13 Xiong Wenyun.com. . contributed to Tibet’s unprecedented economic and social development. Dec. those coming out overloaded with timber.”13 Although Xiong never explicitly criticized this official narrative. In 1995. 2012. in practice she challenged its validity. together with Chinese artist Dai Guangyu. Xiong was not the first artist to connect her art practice to environmental concerns. American artist Betsy Damon. 2000. claiming that they have “catalyzed the historical transformation of the Tibetan social structure. Titled Guardians of Water. This highway and those trucks racing on it are worrying me. accessed Feb.cn/zhuanti2005/txt/200412/24/content_5738091.china. She wrote in 2000. “Qing man tian lu: ji nian chuan qing zang gong lu tong che wu shi zhou nian” (Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Opening of Sichuan-Tibet and Qinghai-Tibet Highways).14 The highways provide a strategic entry point for inquiry as several issues converge here. 8. unpublished text. 2004.
Yue jie: Zhongguo xian feng yi shu 1979-2004 (Avant-Garde Art in China) (Shijiazhuang: Hebei mei shu chu ban she. 1995. and invited local residents to “clean the river.63 Figure 2.13) Dai soaked a set of photographs of local residents in the river for twenty-four hours to demonstrate the seriousness of pollution. Chengdu.” (Figure 2. Washing the River. event was intended to raise public consciousness about the degradation of Chengdu’s Funan River. in Lhasa and Dujiangyan. Yin Xiuzhen built a small citadel on the riverbank with ice blocks made of water from the river.15 In the next few years. 15 . They invited more then twenty artists to create site-specific installations.13 Yin Xiuzhen. What distinguished Moving See Lu Hong. Damon and Dai organized three more events. 211. 2006).
88. objectively determined positions in the social structure. must continually predicate renewed attention. listeners of a speech – lack any formal membership structure. Ibid. wear no uniform. which is the subject of the next section. Furthermore.64 Rainbow from other environmental art projects of this period was Xiong’s ability to expand the scope of existing discussion by bringing a previously unnoticed area into focus. Publics – viewers of a photograph. . publics “commence with the moment of attention. or material existence. by identifying the highways as an environmental concern. Publics and Counterpublics. and swear no oath. and not on its members’ categorical classification. Xiong suggested that matters of the environment have to be looked at beyond local and even regional levels. however notional or compromised. people become members of a public by 16 17 18 Warner. “The existence of a public is contingent on its members’ activity. “a public is constituted through mere attention. 87..”16 Lacking any institutional guarantee.”18 Attention functions like an entry ticket. Media Attention According to Michael Warner. They possess no passport. readers of a text. attention is both a necessary and a sufficient condition for someone to become a member of a public.”17 At the same time. Much of the project’s success has to do with its effectiveness in attracting media attention. Ibid. and cease to exist when attention is no longer predicated. and be connected to issues of economic development and ethnic relations.
To develop a complete understanding of attention. which depicts Mao Zedong standing on the Gate of Heavenly Peace on October 1. 89. there is also. when displayed.”20 Warner’s arguments all concern the addressee. It allows us to understand publics as scenes of self-activity. Image corps” and “le lieu des images. “the cognitive quality of that attention is less important than the mere fact of active uptake.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 625 (2009). and of active participation rather than ascriptive belonging. Under the right conditions. even though that public has no institutional being or concrete manifestation. But different artworks beckon different kinds of attention and create different kinds of publics. And this fact has enormous consequences. He writes. Perhaps the 19 20 21 Ibid. . “Sharing and Showing: Television as Monstration. “Medium. Hans Belting.. For example. 1949 to announce the establishment of the People’s Republic.” in Pour une anthropologie des images (Paris: Gallimard. we also have to consider the addresser.. Art historian Hans Belting reminds us that “whenever we see an image. 25. quoted in Daniel Dayan. Ibid. the kind of attention called for by a Moving Rainbow photograph is surely not the same as that by a state-authorized historical painting. of historical rather than timeless belonging. a body that proposes it to our attention. receive attention from indefinite viewers and create transient publics. Wherever a liberal conception of personality obtains.65 simply paying attention to its shared text.”21 All artworks. visibly or invisibly. the moment of uptake that constitutes a public can be seen as an expression of volition on the part of its members.19 For Warner. 2004). it even allows us to attribute agency to a public. 87. Warner argues that understanding attention as active uptake rather than passive reaction is important. like The Founding of the Nation (1953).
66 attention that the viewer gives to The Founding of the Nation. . hung centrally in the giant National Museum situated on the east side of Tian’anmen Square. 22 Dayan. what the image depicts. as a project promoting environmental protection in Tibet. In these photographs. how the image is displayed.” 25. wouldn’t it be better to show something like the trash dump Xiong photographed during her first trip to Tibet in May 1998 than the pictures of the trucks covered in rainbow-colored tarpaulins? Unlike documentary photographs. We know from Xiong’s earlier experiments that timber was one of the main goods being shipped out of Tibet. the concept of monstration applies to other media as well. both by Xiong herself and by journalists and critics. “Sharing and Showing: Television as Monstration. Moving Rainbow generated a complex array of objects and events. Moving Rainbow has been interpreted.”22 Though his research primarily deals with television. Media scholar Daniel Dayan has coined the term “monstration” to refer to “the performance that calls for and modulates attention. these “moving rainbow” pictures do not reveal any environmental problem directly. How did Moving Rainbow call for collective attention through showing. particularly concerning the impact of the Sichuan-Tibet and Qinghai-Tibet Highways. reveals more “ascriptive belonging” than “active participation. Given this proposition. and what discourse the image participates in – condition the viewers’ uptake. and performing? As I have written earlier. pointing. one might wonder. I will focus on two categories here: the photographs of the “moving rainbow” motorcades and the series of events Xiong organized in summer 2001.” A range of factors – who authors the image.
and it seems that Xiong is satisfied with just that. but she refrains . Instead of pointing to any concrete issue. she draws our attention to the highways. Moving Rainbow.14 Xiong Wenyun. 1999. it is believed that rainbows are ladders to gods. Xiong employs a symbolic form that originates in nature and has been imbued with many cultural meanings. we cannot even see what they were carrying. photograph. intense colors certainly attract our eyes. With these pictures.67 Figure 2. 152x111cm. Bright. with the trucks covered. almost always evoking positive emotions. In Tibet.
it was impossible for Xiong and photographer Luo to construct the kind of regularity commonly seen in air shows. as the common world. see the table vanish from their midst. 23 Hannah Arendt. Despite human coordination. representing a specific phase of human presence. Xiong acts as the table provider rather than a speechmaker sitting around the table to confront us. so that two persons sitting opposite each other were no longer separated but also would be entirely unrelated to each other by anything tangible. Hannah Arendt writes. like drops of paint splashed onto the immense landscape. have been transformed into something otherworldly. through some magic trick. we have to look for more information and decide what actions to take. relates and separates men at the same time. The photographs are more symbolic than argumentative. 1958). Though each picture was taken at a particular moment in time and space.23 The “moving rainbow” photographs fulfill the purpose of the table in Arendt’s metaphor. The photographs function like a flag. … The weirdness of [mass society] resembles a spiritualistic séance where a number of people gathered around a table might suddenly. The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. The vehicles. With the road winding through the mountains. but not a sermon. as a table is located between those who sit around it. chance is at play. so to speak. To live together in the world means essentially that a world of things is between those who have it in common. gathers us together and yet prevents our falling over each other. With our attention turned to Tibet. The public realm. under distinct weather and lighting conditions. together they seem timeless. the world. They provide the common focus for our attention.68 from giving us a speech. like every in-between. 52-53. . In The Human Condition.
June 8. A ten-car Moving Rainbow motorcade [circled] Beijing’s Third Ring Road. We are drawn into caring not because of convincing arguments based on rationality. 2001 Sixty trucks displaying the colored canvases set off from the Golmud Nanshankou checkpoint along the Qinghai-Tibet Highway. Along the way. 5.69 Imperfection makes human effort salient. While the “moving rainbow” photographs achieved a certain quality of timelessness. July 22.400 meters above sea level. 2001 More than ten volunteers. 2001 The Moving Rainbow motorcade traveled through Xigaze. the events Xiong organized in late 1999 and summer 2001 were clearly time-stamped. here is the rundown of the events in 2001. and immortality. we organized environmental awareness events in places like Amdo. and Tibetan Environmental Protection activists were part of a team that met in Golmud [in Qinghai province]. August 2001 Pictures from the “Moving Rainbow Beijing-Everest Environmental Protection Activity” are exhibited at the Technology Plaza of Xidan [a major commercial district in joy. 2001 Before the Sichuan-Tibet and Qinghai-Tibet Highways Memorial in Lhasa. media. as described by Xiong: June 29. July 18. we organized a large-scale environmental awareness event. and Tingri to finally reach the Everest Base Camp. traveling over the Karakorum and Nyenchen Tonglha Mountains toward Lhasa. 2001 We held the departure ceremony of the “Beijing-Everest Environmental Protection Activity” at the Beijing-Tibet Building. transience. Lhazi. and the team continued on toward the Everest Base Camp. . In the center of Golmud. For example. the Moving Rainbow motorcade held a departure ceremony. but because of emotions like defiance. July 11.
Xiong devoted much of her energy to creating media events. Between 1998 and 2004. media events “are stages that offer the highest degree of publicness. Unlike many of her peers. the highest available amount of collective attention. “Sharing and Showing: Television as Monstration. text written for her exhibition at Three Shadows Photography Art Center in 2008. Supporting Publics. and participating journalists to determine the form and content of these events.70 Beijing]. Dayan. The relation between autonomy and heteronomy has been an issue of intense debate in modern and contemporary art. Xiong was comfortable with this loss of autonomy.24 Media coverage of these events generated far greater public attention than exhibitions of the “moving rainbow” photographs in art venues. photographs of Moving Rainbow only appeared in one art exhibition. Xiong’s activities were reported in newspapers and on television in a timely fashion. The complete project was not shown in an art space until 2008. She had to work with two sponsoring NGOs. in contemporary society. volunteers. Shannon Jackson. after summer 1999. watching as the division between these two terms morphs 24 25 Xiong Wenyun. . noticing the dependency of each on the definition of the other. in her recent book Social Works: Performing Arts. local governments. three years after the project’s completion.”25 Xiong did not have full control of the media events. As Daniel Dayan and Elihu Katz note.” 23. Perhaps this helps to explain why. In contrast. argues that we have to be mindful of “the contingency of any dividing line between autonomy and heteronomy. The exhibition displayed pictures taken by project volunteers.
Social Works: Performing Arts.” It was written in a more personal tone and told a more textured story. the event form made Moving Rainbow newsworthy. Titled “Beijing – Mount Everest Will Fly a TenThousand-Kilometer Rainbow: Producer Ms. an article appeared on the lower right hand corner of the front page of China Women’s News. 29. 2011). filled with phrases commonly associated with official events.”26 By plunging into negotiations with various parties. let’s take a closer look at the media discourse generated around these media events.71 between projects and perspectives. On April 14.”27 The impending events provided the occasion for the publication of both articles. Two days later. The fact that Xiong’s devotion was 26 Shannon Jackson. Supporting Publics (London: Routledge. 2001. “Xiong Wenyun pu jiu cai hong zhi lu” (Xiong Wenyun Paves a Rainbow Road). The author traced the development of Xiong’s artistic experiments up to that point. Zhongguo fu nv bao (China Women’s News). when they announced the series of events to be performed later that summer. First. especially the state. 27 . In other words. Zhang Qi. and articulated how Xiong “understands environmental protection and participates in it with an artist’s way of thinking. Xiong Wenyun Introduces Environmental Art Project in Beijing. page 3. 2001.” it described the press conference that Xiong and her NGO partners held in Beijing the day before. the same newspaper ran a much longer article in its “Women and Society” section. titled “Xiong Wenyun Paves a Rainbow Road. Xiong actually was able to enhance her profile as a citizen with agency. The article had a formal style. More will be said in the next section. April 16.
72 considered admirable is only part of the reason. operates on a more extended timescale than politics. it is punctual. … The more punctual and abbreviated the circulation. Ibid. it also had to do with the unique temporality of public discourse. a fact very little understood when academics claim by intention or proclamation to be doing politics.”28 The rhythms of publications – daily newspapers. politics takes much of its character from the temporality of the headline. like meditation. like speculative philosophy. It is not timeless. nor is it without issue. Artists are not bound to pressing issues and artworks do not enter into circulation until they are fully formed and ready to be exhibited. not the archive. weekly magazines. This was precisely the case for Xiong before 1999. She experimented at her own pace and only 28 29 Warner. the closer a public stands to politics. action becomes harder to imagine. . like research. The three trips she made to Tibet were planned by herself and their temporality had no public relevance.29 What Warner observes above about academic publics also apply to art publics. This is the fate of academic publics. Warner writes. Art. Warner points out that “a public is the social space created by the reflexive circulation of discourse” and that “the temporality of circulation is not continuous or indefinite. and the more discourse indexes the punctuality of its own circulation. 90 and 95. In modernity. Publics and Counterpublics. an issue not deemed a collective urgency. At longer rhythms or more continuous flows. She was concerned with finding spiritual peace in nature. seasonal fashions – enable a sense of time and distance in modern society.. 96-97. The punctual time of circulation is crucial to the sense that discussion is currently unfolding in a sphere of activity.
[I] could also see the power of the human beings who struggle to survive. The first person to write about her work was Wang Nanming. in the cruel environment.73 exhibited the photographs of her performative activities in March 1999. however. the temporality of the project shifted to a different gear. Newspapers started to report on her work. As Xiong became more interested in environmental issues and decided to adopt a more activist approach. . one of the curators for the exhibition. Car and road are such expressions: they both destroy and nourish. Zhang’s attitude contrasted with that of many of 30 Xiong quoted in Zhang Qi. Zhang Qi. The situation changed after summer 1999. on the road. with body and flesh. How should [we] establish some form of reasonable communication between the human race and nature?30 Xiong assumed the role of an activist and social commentator. even before its realization.” Translation mine. did not seem to be troubled by Xiong’s hybrid identity. I oppose urban civilization’s destruction of nature. Coming from the perspective of nature. For example. Articles mentioned not only her ideas on colors and aesthetics but also her views on the environment. in addition to that of visual artist. “Xiong Wenyun Paves a Rainbow Road. but busied herself with organizing events according to a specified schedule. the April 16th article on China Women’s News quoted Xiong saying. the author of this newspaper article. Her work became newsworthy because of its punctuality and its engagement with issues closer to the conventional understanding of politics. Human existence is also a kind of nature. She was no longer lost in timeless and meditative experiments.
one article appeared on China Daily on August 2. “Xiong Wenyun Paves a Rainbow Road.” . While most commentators supported the project’s environmental message and concentrated on it. which has been built at least partially on the idea that art is timeless. when she faced the difficult situation of not securing any corporate sponsorship. The majority of them held the view that the impending event would constitute an activist activity but not qualify as art. thinking that “to embark on this journey would mean a farewell to the art world. A second concern was whether Xiong possessed the necessary skills to navigate the field of activism and politics. whose captions read: “The ‘Moving Rainbow’ propaganda motorcade heads for the Qomolangma.” Zhang Qi. she changed the temporality of her practice. Xiong sought advice from her friends on whether she should continue the project. “Xiong Wenyun at Work. Eventually she made up her mind. For one thing. This fundamental adjustment would pose a serious threat to art’s value. “if having to choose between being an artist and being an activist.74 Xiong’s artist peers. A short text was accompanied by five large photographs.” “Local people from Anduo Town watch with interest a small exhibition on environmental 31 32 Xiong quoted in Zhang Yuling. For example. by venturing into the sphere of activism. As Zhang wrote in the article.”32 The anxiety that Xiong’s friends had about her project was not unfounded. Their opinion made Xiong depressed. a few authors also took the opportunity to promote the official discourse of ethnic harmony between Han Chinese and Tibetans. In June 2001. Xiong chose the latter. 2001.”31 For two days Xiong remained sleepless.
1999. I am pointing out this limitation not to delegitimize Moving Rainbow but to suggest that. “Driving High for Environment: Mission of ‘Moving Rainbow’ Focuses on Awareness.”33 For her part.” China Daily. June 25.” and “Collective efforts: volunteers and local people pass rocks to try to get the stranded truck out of the water. “Lv ri nv yi shu jia yong se cai bao zhuang chuan zang xian” (Japan-based Female Artist Decorates Sichuan-Tibet Highway with Color). and Tibet’s history and culture in any media. Tian fu zhou mo (Tianfu Weekend). August 2. An article published in 1999 recounts.”34 This statement not only relays Xiong’s environmental message. through artistic exploration. Mao Shouyu. she sensed acutely that modern ‘civilization’ is invading the plateau at an unfathomable speed. page 5. Bian Ji. Artist as Citizen In all of the newspaper and magazine articles. Xiong was not able to – or perhaps not allowed to – articulate the complex relationship between environmental protection. She came across as someone who could think independently and express her opinions publicly. developed a personal conviction about the importance and urgency of environmental protection.” “A time to cheer: volunteers celebrate the Harvest Festival with local Tibetan farmers. in their pursuit of publicness. 2001. 34 33 . page 10.” “Holy prays: a Tibetan Buddhist monk prays for the volunteers.75 protection. “When she entered Tibet via the Sichuan-Tibet Highway. China’s nationalism. Xiong was featured prominently as an artist who. She was convinced that here manmade disasters far outnumber natural disasters. artists like Xiong have to acquire new skills as their relationship with time and politics changes.
”36 That view was later inherited by the Communist Party. Furthermore.35 Sun Yat-sen. citizenship in China is seen as a benefit granted by the State to persons born in the People’s Republic. social. Ibid. She took the initiative to organize events that had a wide public impact. the idea of the citizen remains an inanimate ideal. the founding father of the Republic.76 but also indicates to the reader that it is legitimate to come to one’s own conclusion based on one’s own observation. even when her action could alienate her in her professional field.1 (2001). The story of Xiong as a publicly-minded and action-oriented citizen had an exemplary effect that would not be welcomed by the Chinese state. the public sphere would be unimaginable. was viewed as antithetical to the socialist goal of mass mobilization. participation in politics. rather than empowering the individual. 35 36 Michael Keane. 2. “The citizen. Rights emanating from citizenship are thus framed as economic. As Michael Keane puts it. citizenship rights are programmatic. with its historical legacy of individual rights. And. and cultural benefits. believed that “only with a strong state and a disciplined population could China modernize. Without the notion of rights-bearing citizenship. “Redefining Chinese citizenship. In China. A public is an assembly of citizens.” Economy and Society 30. . they obligate citizens to participate in social programs linked to nation building. In contrast with the Western democratic tradition that emphasizes sovereignty. That is. and civil rights. the reader would learn that Xiong was not content with just sharing her opinion with people around her.
For example. beaches and other natural resources are owned by the state. Yet by voicing a perspective that strayed from the official discourse and by taking an initiative independent of the state. Article 9 of the Chinese Constitution states. forests. Ibid.”38 In the 1990s. Xiong never articulated her practice within the theoretical framework of citizenship. “In the government’s version of citizenship formation. the now pervasive individualism in the pursuit of material wealth is not so much an expression of bottom-up desire as a consequence of top-down programming. By perceiving the environment as a matter of common concern.. Unlike Ai Weiwei. she also tacitly challenged the conception of state responsibility. since the people are the sovereign of the state. and collectivism.” 37 Under Deng Xiaoping’s reform program. by the whole people. the state and the people are considered two interchangeable concepts. “Citizenship is thus primarily conceived of in economic and ethical terms.”39 Seen in this light. whose work will be discussed in the next chapter. .77 class struggle. unreclaimed land. with 37 38 39 Ibid. as were the masses decades earlier. mountains. In theory... “Mineral resources. 3. Xiong acted as a citizen with a natural right to speak on matters of common concern. economic rights were separated from political rights. the state started to encourage people to claim their rights as consumers and property owners. Ibid. the new individual citizen is to be molded. waters. but continued to suppress any struggle that demanded political rights. 5. 10. that is. grassland.
2012. The commitment card had no legal or administrative power but served only a symbolic function. 10. Xiong not only assumed the role of a responsible citizen herself.” On the other side. The following statement was printed on one side of the card: “I promise not to engage in littering. unreclaimed land and beaches that are owned by collectives in accordance with the law.com. people are deprived of a sense of both rights and responsibilities. Claiming public responsibility always implies claiming public right. It was a kind gesture between Xiong and the drivers.peopledaily. but also encouraged others to do so.”40 Yet without a functioning representative democracy. Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (adopted on December 4.cn/constitution/constitution.78 the exception of the forests. in illegal timber trade. She designed a “Commitment Card” to be signed by drivers who participated in the project. in illegal logging. English version at http://english. mountains. and return it to Xiong. 1982). the name of the project. Individuals in general do not perceive themselves as having any power to influence state policy.html. Consequently they regard the management of collective wellbeing as an exclusive responsibility of the government. In other words. 40 . grassland. indicating their agreement that all of them need to take on the responsibility to protect the environment. Drivers were asked to write down their name and other basic information like the plate number of their truck on the stub of the card. and in poaching wild animals. the correspondence between the people and the state is devoid of institutional reality. accessed Feb. “Moving Rainbow Beijing-Everest Environmental Protection Activity” was printed in both Chinese and Tibetan against a rainbow background.
financially. The Chinese political system does not prohibit activism outright. socially.15 Commitment cards signed by drivers. being a woman.79 Figure 2. but deters it by making it enormously costly for most people. and emotionally. and possessing overseas experience – contributed social capital to Xiong’s activist position. one would need to carve out a democratic enclave within the authoritarian structure. Political scientist Bruce Gilley has coined the term “democratic enclave” to refer to institutions or well- . In order to survive. Why did the media always stress Xiong’s identity as a female artist who had studied and lived in Japan for over a decade? All three factors – working as a professional artist.
Over time. though never provide complete immunity.80 defined spaces in society “where the authoritarian regime’s writ is substantively limited and is replaced by an adherence to recognizably democratic norms and procedures. Framing a sensitive project as an artwork would lower one’s political risk. Thus. . their states be rightly governed. and publication. experimental art acquired an increasing level of acceptance in Chinese society as an arena for unconventional ideas and practices. the traditional obligation placed on the literati – which include artists – exerts a unique motivating force in Chinese activism. “Democratic enclaves in authoritarian regimes.”42 It is beyond the scope of this dissertation to determine the extent to which the entire field of Chinese contemporary art could be considered a democratic enclave. In addition.”41 The core feature of a democratic enclave is “an enduring rejection of authoritarian norms and practices in favor of democratic ones.. According to the Confucian ideal. exhibition. The state largely tolerated their activities. and the 41 42 Bruce Gilley. Ibid. art constitutes a strategic channel for social entrepreneurs to test and push the boundary of the civil society. Subsequently a large number of artists worked together in the 1980s to create a network of production.” Democratization 17:3 (2010). However. They supported one another and exchanged ideas through personal correspondences and regional and national gatherings. men of great learning must ensure that their families be regulated. the Stars group in 1979 made a public call for artistic freedom and citizens’ rights. 390. there have been clear moments in the past three decades when artists managed to build zones of substantial freedom. 391. As I mentioned in the Introduction.
16 Xiong speaking at a press conference held in Chengdu.17 Xiong directing drivers. . 1999. Figure 2.81 Figure 2. 1999.
belongs to the peculiar category of governmentorganized NGOs. Therefore. accessed Feb. The recognition Xiong received from the Women’s Federation further enhanced the legitimacy of Moving Rainbow. 2012. Xu Wei. Xiong Wenyun introduces this art environmental project in Beijing). April 14.82 world be made tranquil and happy. China Women’s News.edu/Confucius/learning. 2001.html.44 The All-China Women’s Federation. English version available at http://classics.17 are two examples showing her taking center stage among university officials and truck drivers. 11. The newspaper also reported that Xiong would work with “local environmental agencies and women’s federations” along the way. 45 44 43 See Guobin Yang. A long article on Xiong was placed under the column “Eminent Women” on April 16.45 It energizes women’s activism while subjecting it to party-state control. was the first national newspaper to report on Xiong’s ambitious event in 2001. Xiong’s identity as a well-educated artist helped to make her commitment to environmentalism seem reasonable and legitimate. both dominated by men. China Women’s News. She clearly stood out in the political arena and on the highways.” .mit.43 Many intellectuals today continue to perceive social responsibility as part of their moral imperative. Figures 2.16 and 2. “Environmental NGOs and Institutional Dynamics in China. published by the All-China Women’s Federation. See The Great Learning by Confucius. established in 1949 as a mass organization supported by the Communist Party. “Beijing zhu feng jiang piao wan li cai hong: ce hua ren Xiong Wenyun nv shi zai jing jie shao ci xiang yi shu huan bao huo dong” (Beijing – Mount Everest will fly a ten-thousand-kilometer rainbow: producer Ms.
. was instrumental to Moving Rainbow’s media impact. when the project culminated with a procession to the base camp of Mount Everest. in Xiong’s personal archive. Xiong also obtained a formal document issued by the Environment and Resource Protection Committee of the National People’s Congress in May 2001. dated May 15. “zhu ban dan wei. from November 1998 until July 2001.47 Yin Fatang. The event held in the fall of 1999 was organizationally sponsored by Southwest Jiaotong University. Two NGOs supported the series of events in 2001. an NGO not formally registered with the government. Photographer Luo Yongjin worked with her for almost three years. Green Earth Volunteers. a government-organized NGO. Xiong received support from many people and organizations. Xiong had to find a registered NGO to act as the nominal organizer. many of her artist friends sent her donations at short notice. When Xiong failed to find any corporate sponsorship in 2001.83 Self-Organization In the process of realizing Moving Rainbow. helped Xiong with much of the paperwork.” Document issued by the National People’s Congress. 2001. a retired general who was stationed in Tibet for many years. wrote a letter to 46 47 In Chinese. a young art critic at the time. which asked local people’s congresses and environmental protection agencies to “support and cooperate with” the project. Zhang Li. China Environmental Culture Promotion Association (CECPA).”46 As individuals were not – and still are not – allowed to organize public events. served as the project’s “managing organization. Its “media salon” program gave Xiong access to a network of environmentally conscious reporters.
84 Tibet Autonomous Region’s Vice Party Secretary Danzin.”48 The letter proved valuable when Xiong wanted to hold a ceremony for the motorcade in Lhasa.”50 A public “must be organized by something other than the state.” and cannot depend on “state institutions. building alliances. or in a non-profit organization. Ibid. locating resources. Yin praised Xiong’s courage and asked Danzin to assist her according to “reasonability and feasibility.. Warner points out that “a public is a space of discourse organized by nothing other than discourse itself. formal frameworks of citizenship. 67. “Xiong is not only the project’s initiator.”51 Furthermore. laws. but also the secretary. . producer. the capital city of Tibet. “Xiong Wenyun at Work. and trespassing the conventional boundary of art. procurement officer. “Xiong Wenyun paves a rainbow road. 68. and main financial sponsor. in July 2001. Publics and Counterpublics.”49 Xiong quickly immersed herself in the unfamiliar territory of environmental activism. or preexisting institutions such as the church.” Warner. and so on. as a space of discourse. ultimately Moving Rainbow was a project self-organized by Xiong. She did all these as an individual artist. public relations officer. Though external assistance mentioned above was indispensable. without any position in the state. designer. in the market. a public has a reflexive reality in that “an addressable object is conjured 48 49 50 51 Zhang.” Zhang. As one reporter described it aptly. overcoming visible and invisible hurdles.
No one can be born into a public. accessible. The Chinese party-state considers it a fundamental threat to its rule. Beijing. inherit it from one’s ancestors. . To be self-organized is not easy. Xiong had to ask the government-sponsored CECPA 52 Ibid. a public is always self-organized.85 Figure 2. 67. they can be imagined as open. into being in order to enable the very discourse that gives it existence. and world-making. Self-organization is inherently antagonistic to China’s totalitarian system.18 Xiong showing me the amount of paperwork involved in Moving Rainbow.. August 2010. Xiong’s studio. or purchase it on the market.”52 In short. precisely because publics do not depend on pre-existing conditions. On the other hand. As mentioned earlier.
Ibid.” 57 Most newspaper articles on Moving Rainbow made it clear to the reader that Xiong was the real organizer while CECPA only served as a shepherd organization “as mandated. .54 In Avant-Garde Art in China. “environmental issues may be the area that [artists] and the state can most easily reach a consensus. therefore also an area that is relatively safe and secure.53 It took her one year to secure the arrangement that would satisfy the government. “the use of non-confrontational method is a strategic choice for [environmental] organizations at a fledging state of growth. critic Lu Hong writes. when radical challenges against the state are out of the question. Yang Guobin. 54 55 56 57 53 See Xu.55 Yet as Yang Guobin points out. … This kind of politics thrives on political ambiguities.” Many authors also praised Xiong’s proactive-ness and perseverance.” 55. “Beijing – Mount Everest will fly a ten-thousand-kilometer rainbow. No one made an overt protest against the totalitarian I am using “public spaces” and “public media” loosely here because no space or media is really public in China. 216. Spaces and media are all subject to tight control of the state. “Environmental NGOs and Institutional Dynamics in China. In one press conference.” implying that environmentally focused artworks are not radical enough. The head of CECPA also had to frame Xiong’s project as something compatible with state policy. he declared that Moving Rainbow would contribute to Beijing’s Green Olympic Campaign and the Central Government’s Western Region Development Strategy.”56 He further argues that “Environmental action without explicit political aim may still be political.” Lu Hong.86 to act as the organizer for Moving Rainbow when she wanted to organize events in public spaces and push her discourse into public media. Avant-Garde Art in China.
and the media events – was not absorbed into any institution’s organizational structure or discursive paradigm. Second. This leads to the third point. meaning outside any institutional framework. In Moving Rainbow. Xiong performed an exemplary function by speaking out in public. the motorcade processions. an issue has to be defined as a matter of public concern. it often means wrestling the issue away from the monopoly of state propaganda. the project – consisting of the photographs. Her identity as an artist helped to reduce the risk associated with citizen action. as Craig Calhoun argues in “Civil Society and the Public Sphere” (Public Culture 1993.5. which nowadays largely depends on media uptake. that the discursive field has to be self-organized. In Moving Rainbow. 267-280). although Xiong received support from NGOs and individuals linked to the state. The last point suggests that a fundamental shift may have to occur in terms of the temporality of artistic practice when artists want to engage with sociopolitical issues directly in mass media. This is not yet a given condition in China. In China. but there is no doubt that the kind of self-organization embodied by Moving Rainbow challenged its very foundation. an issue has to generate attention.87 system. Conclusion The analysis of Moving Rainbow has revealed several key ideas in the pursuit of publicness. An artwork’s entrance into public circulation is tied to This is related to the distinction between the public sphere and the civil society. people have to act as citizens capable of expressing critical opinions. 58 . First.58 Lastly.
In the next chapter. The shift in temporality may have far-reaching impact on art.) In Moving Rainbow. and so on. This approach heightens the publicness of an art project. . Much of the analysis in this chapter has centered on Xiong’s role as an artist. we will move beyond the artist and look into how publicness is conjured through participation. an activist.88 its acquisition of a punctual quality. exhibitions do. Traditionally this has been realized by means of exhibition. This is an area for future research. the basis of art’s value. affecting its mode of production and reception. (While paintings do not expire. Xiong demonstrates that artists can bypass exhibition and create punctual events directly geared towards mass media. and a citizen. the role of the critic.
for about two seconds. “Du Xin. This project. one by one. reading the name to us. the difference in tone.” By this point.” a female voice emerges.” a female voice continues. “Cao Zi Yan. slow and meditative. the fact that we are listening to a sound file assembled from a large number of discrete recordings becomes apparent. It seems that the reader had pressed the recorder’s stop button too hastily. After a short break of silence. 5. but we notice the difference in sound quality. and accent is easily detectable. The recording is so clear that we feel as if she were standing in front of us.” an accented female voice follows. “He Chuan. pronouncing each character fully.” typical of southern Chinese who cannot distinguish the sound of “-n” from that of “-ng. and we have trouble making out the last character. for we know that the names belong to the students who were killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. “Yu Jing ….89 Chapter 3 Stranger-Relationality The sound file is played. a male voice reads. volume. The way she pronounces “Chuan” is between “Chuan” and “Chuang. The entire piece runs for 3 hours 41 minutes and 20 seconds. Or perhaps it is because we are listening attentively.205 of them. pitch. reading a name. “Du Xi Peng. We can hear a tail sound lingering on after each syllable. speed.” His tone is just as formal as that of the first reader. in an effort to turn the simple reading into a weighty ritual. Perhaps she was recording in an empty room. Every student’s name is read. We are only fifteen seconds into the work. Silence. so the last syllable was truncated. rhythm. .” a soft voice murmurs. Even though each reading event lasts for only two to three seconds.
by comparing Nian to Hu Huishan Memorial. which provides a more theoretical articulation of . In the second section. I will make three comparisons. Nian was situated within this activism. This chapter is organized into two sections. In the first section. I will explain how the activist struggle against totalitarianism centered on the notion of citizens’ rights. which organizes people’s relationships into a stabilized hierarchy. a precondition for the formation of publics. I will demonstrate how stranger-relationality exists outside the state. a more conventional public art project which also commemorates the students killed in the earthquake. I will analyze Nian in depth. By comparing Nian to a state-sponsored newspaper article. focusing on the notion of stranger-relationality. In this section. it means both to read and to commemorate). I will briefly document the activist activities that emerged after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and addressed the issue of student deaths. Existing literature has already framed Ai’s activist-artistic practice within the rhetoric of citizens’ rights. was produced by artist Ai Weiwei in 2010. Lastly.90 titled Nian (in Chinese. It will serve as the main case study for this chapter. with the participation of thousands of anonymous readers. a key constituent of publicness. I will add to this line of argument by incorporating Claude Lefort’s analysis of totalitarianism. also organized by Ai Weiwei. I will explain how stranger relations are concatenated in Nian to create something amounting to an expression of a public. rather than that of an individual artist. By comparing Nian to the activist campaign Citizen Investigation (2009-10). I will point out some of Nian’s formal features that can be understood as counterpublic.
Throughout the rescue effort the central government assumed a leading role. Premiere Wen Jiabao flew to Sichuan on the same day and set up a command center in Dujiangyan. Hans Ulrich Obrist (London: Penguin. It represents a step beyond Ai’s usual practice of voicing opinions as a single.227 people were killed in the earthquake. 2011). resources and funds to Sichuan.2 Millions lost their homes.643 injured. They took on some of the most difficult tasks. Other provincial governments also sent medical teams. the closest city to Wenchuan. and facilitated the expression of a transient public. accessed June 3. restoring roads into the affected area and rescuing survivors trapped in collapsed buildings. Almost seventy thousand people were killed. made these relations evident through the sound work. Several towns around the epicenter in Wenchuan County were completely destroyed. Rights-based Activism The earthquake on May 12.cn/c/2008-09-25/183514499939s. Soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army were quickly mobilized.1 In Nian.shtml. My more significant contribution in this chapter lies in the identification of the relational aspect particular to project Nian. ed.91 the incompatibility between rights and totalitarianism. 374. 2 1 The final statistics issued by the government stated that 69.com. The Chinese government’s quick response and effective coordination won See Ai Weiwei’s blog (http://www. 2008 was a terrible disaster. . and 17.aiweiweiblog. Ai helped to conjure stranger relations into being. It was the largest earthquake in China since the 1976 Tangshan earthquake.com/) and Ai Weiwei Speaks.sina.923 missing (http://news. courageous individual critical of the state. 2011).
One issue haunted the government’s otherwise impeccable image.3 In the town of Xiang-e. accessed June 7. June 18. “Xue xiao dao ta yuan yu jian zhu zhi liang guo cha” (School Collapse Due to Overly Poor Construction Quality).com.php?mod=space&uid=126&do=blog&id=25276. pointed out that a large number of collapsed structures were school buildings. 6 See for example: Zhang Yingguang. dated May 15. 5 4 3 Almost all schools in China are run by the government. The state quickly seized the opportunity and used the media – largely controlled by the state – to spin the horrible earthquake into a story of glorification. 2011.92 much praise both in China and abroad. some careful readers. A10. feeling heavy with deep grief – because the catastrophe was so serious. 2011. . A few days after the earthquake. strengthened by expert opinions.html. “more than triple the number killed throughout the rest of the town. accessed June 3. and the number of students killed so numerous! Thus [I] have compiled the situation of school disasters according to news reports. Caijing. Zhou wrote.5 A critical concern quickly emerged on the internet and in printed media. Several signs. 2008. a recent phenomenon.6 In multiple locations. residents told one reporter that over three hundred students were killed at Xiang-e Middle School. see Zhou Kezhen’s blog entry. Private schools.”4 Some parents started to question whether certain school buildings were poorly constructed and government corruption was the root cause. http://www.” Wall Street Journal. “Xue sheng si de tai duo le – Wenchuan di zhen zai qing ce ji” (Too Many Students Have Died – Some Notes on the Disastrous Condition of Wenchuan Earthquake). into a bright future. 2008. suggested that parents’ suspicion might be legitimate. “For the past several days I have been paying attention to the disastrous situation of Wenchuan Earthquake. June 1. http://blog.caijing. while one school fell completely.cn/2008-06-03/100067212.cn/home. only exist in large cities where affluent parents can afford to pay higher tuitions. Chen Zhongxiaolu. by piecing together various news reports.sciencenet. and Yang Binbin. Areddy. “China Stifles Parents’ Complaints about Collapsed Schools.” James T. 2008. another school For example. that of the Chinese Communist Party masterfully leading the people out of calamity.
a student killed at Juyuan Middle School. she edited the footage into a documentary titled Our Children. 2011. a professor at Sun Yat-Sen University. until now no case of building collapse in the earthquake has been found to be caused by problems of construction quality. the provincial government announced that “After investigation and verification. 2009. schools suffered much more damage than government office buildings in the earthquake area. and the contentious issue has disappeared from public media. no more reports have been issued by the government. She collected videos shot by local residents and conducted interviews with parents and experts who were willing to talk to her despite pressure from the government. accessed June 3..sina. “To be blacklisted” could mean a range of things in China: one could be barred from leaving the country. http://news. Ai Xiaoming.cn/c/2009-05-07/111317764690. RFI Chinese. “Bao guang Sichuan dou fu zha xiao she: xue zhe Ai Xiaoming zai shang ‘hei ming dan’” (Academic Ai Xiaoming Blacklisted Again for Exposing Shoddy School Construction in Sichuan). A few activists – Ai Weiwei among them – decided not to let the issue vanish from public view. Industry experts stated that from photographs alone. Nov. one could be monitored by plain8 7 . accessed June 8.93 next to it remained standing.8 After Our Children. the government promised to conduct a thorough investigation. etc. Architect Liu Jiakun built a small memorial for Hu Huishan.shtml. however. they could tell that shoddy construction was involved. When the issue first came to light. Overall.asp. went to Sichuan twice in the summer of 2008.fr/actucn/articles/118/article_16897. 19. com. She was stopped by border police from going to Hong Kong to attend a film festival on October 16. Xinhua Net. Risking personal freedom.rfi. 2011. speaking publicly.”7 Since then. May 7. making films. Ai Xiaoming produced three “Sichuan gong ji 5335 ming xue sheng zai di zhen zhong yu nan huo shi zong” (5335 Students Were Killed or Missing in the Earthquake in Sichuan). 2009. http://www. and managed to screen it at several universities in 2009. One year later. See Cao Guoxing. 2009.
yzzk. http://www. “Tan Zuoren an yong liu si yan gai chuan zhen fu bai” (Tan Zuoren Case: Using June-4th to Cover Up Sichuan Earthquake Corruption). http://www. 2011. titled “5. The report. and Forgetting Sichuan (Wang chuan). Chen Guangcheng. each county.12 Sichuan da di zhen sin an xue sheng diao cha bao gao zheng qiu yi jian gao” (Investigative Report on Students Killed in the May-12 Great Sichuan Earthquake.11 Tan was arrested a few days later on charges of “incitement to subvert state power. Tan Zuoren. calling for the establishment of an independent archive about the students killed in the earthquake. 9 The three documentaries are Citizen Investigation (Gong min diao cha).aspx. 21. Consultative Version) was published online on May 25.94 more videos documenting parents’ ongoing petitions and concerned citizens’ investigations on the one hand. Chengdu-based activist Tan Zuoren posted an open letter on the internet.” He also asked volunteers to gather information on responsible officials to help parents enter their case into the legal system. Feb. See Zhang Jieping. and the rise of state-orchestrated catastrophe tourism on the other. Why Are the Flowers So Red (Hua er wei shen me zhe yang hong). “Guan yu jian li ‘5·12 xue sheng dang an’ de chang yi shu” (A Proposal on the Establishment of May-12 Student Archive).” In spring 2010 Tan was sentenced to five years in prison.cfm?Channel=ag&Path=3118067761/08ag3.cfm.10 In March. accessed June 8. 12 11 10 . to “confirm the actual data of each class.12 clothed police around the clock (Ai was subject to this treatment before he was eventually detained). each school. 2009. was under house arrest in his village in Shandong province from 2010 to 2012). 2011. He asked volunteers to visit the students’ parents. accessed June 8. a blind lawyer and activist. Tan was assisted by Xie Yihui. Tan published a report based on his own investigative work from December 2008 to March 2009.com/blogs/eva5237/archives/288299. each village. one could be under house arrest (for example.com/cfm/Content_Archive.bullogger. 2010.9 In February 2009. Yazhou Zhoukan.
asking for information related to student deaths.aiweiweiblog.appspot. Citizen Investigation. As findings came in from volunteers working in Sichuan. diaries written by volunteers. At the same time. In Chengdu Ai was beaten by local police and prevented from going to court. The internet provided a critical medium for the investigation to become public. 2009. Ai captured the clash on tape and included it in his documentary Lao Ma Ti Hua. Ai published them promptly in his well-followed blogs. and mobile text messages sent to his team from parents. 2011. See Ai Weiwei’s blog entry. school.13 Perhaps Ai’s global prestige as a preeminent artist protected him from being arrested and allowed him to recruit volunteers to join his campaign. Ai and five volunteers went to Chengdu. frustration. age at the time of death.com/blogs/aiweiwei/?p=35911. and class. and gathered information directly from local residents.com/. petitions filed by affected parents. 2011. When Tan was arrested. and gratitude. http://desaigongyuan. but they did not know each other in person.205 students killed in the earthquake. http://www. gender. He also posted requests sent to various governmental agencies and their formal but unhelpful replies. hoping to testify on behalf of Tan.95 In spring 2009 Ai Weiwei was also working on compiling information about the students killed in the earthquake. date of birth.14 Ai Weiwei and Tan Zuoren were doing similar work. posted on Sept. After half a year’s difficult work – they were frequently detained by local police – they produced a comprehensive list of 5. “Reng ran zai lu shang zou” (Still Walking on the Road). . expressing pain. Ai and his team sent hundreds of requests to various levels of the government. 5. 14 13 See Ai Weiwei’s blog. more than thirty volunteers went to Sichuan in person. visited towns where schools had collapsed. Their requests were repeatedly turned down. accessed June 9. documenting each student’s name. accessed June 9.
Ai’s team contacted some participants to rerecord the names to achieve a better sound quality. In the next three months. 2010. around two thousand emails were received and all the names were read. Within a week. Ai sent out a twitter message. video stills. on the occasion of the second anniversary of the earthquake.96 Figure 3. asking people to read one or a few names from the list of killed students and email the sound file to his studio.1 Ai Xiaoming. On April 24. Citizen Investigation. Nian was produced in spring 2010. They then edited individual .
However. Translation mine. Though framed mainly as an art project. in spring 2012. I could no longer access the file without using a VPN service to get around the firewall maintained by the state.google. But before drawing their distinctions. They claimed that what they did was This process is described in an email sent out to every participant when the project was completed. expressing [our] mourning for the passing of innocent lives and anger for [the government’s] covering up of the facts of tofu-dreg [projects]. Ai Xiaoming. accessed June 14.com/xuesheng512/posts/8pUEjETmyLH/%E8%89%BE%E6%9C%AA%E6%9 C%AA%E5%B7%A5%E4%BD%9C%E5%AE%A4%E7%8C%AE%E7%BB%99%E5%9B%9B%E5 %B7%9D%E5%9C%B0%E9%9C%87%E6%AD%BB#xuesheng512/posts/8pUEjETmyLH.17 I have recounted the activist activities surrounding the issue of student deaths because I want to make it clear that Nian was not all Ai Weiwei did. or obtained via peer-to-peer application emule. I was able to access the file in China in summer 2011. I will discuss its difference from Citizen Investigation. accessed June 10.16 The sound file was circulated online using different technologies.posterous. and Ai was not the only person working on this issue. It could be played online. Ai Weiwei and other activists did not consider their actions to be anything extraordinary.com/39295392. I will first discuss what these activist activities had in common in their struggle against the state. Ai’s team stated. In the next section. 2011. 17 .97 recordings into a single mp3 file and posted it online. downloaded from file storage websites. Nian is a work from twitter friends to the students killed in the Sichuan earthquake. Respect lives. a project organized by Ai that was not framed as art. 2011. Tofu-dreg project (dou fu zha gong cheng) is a common phrase used to describe construction projects of poor quality.15 When announcing the work. See http://walk-for-a-while. Nian was closely linked to other activist activities. 16 15 https://profiles. Tan Zuoren. refuse to forget.
“Chuan zhen gong min diao cha ju jue yi wang” (Sichuan Earthquake: Citizen Investigation Refuses to Forget).cfm?Channel=kk&Path=3625765052/ 15kk1. citizens’ rights. “I always believe. 2011. .yzzk.”18 Ai Weiwei stated in an interview.com/cfm/Content_Archive. more specifically. Tan wrote in his open letter. 18 19 Tan Zuoren. Apr. and to subject government operations to the scrutiny of public opinion. The root cause of this contradiction lies in the incompatibility of rights with China’s totalitarian system. http://www. to the extent of putting some of them in jail? The legality of their actions is grounded in the legitimacy of citizens’ rights. “Everyone of us Chinese still possessing some conscience should feel guilty about these children and shoulder some responsibility. Yazhou Zhoukan. they provoke the question: if they simply have behaved as citizens. … If citizens do not ask for accountability. including the right to access public information and the right of freedom of speech.” Zhang Jieping.cfm. why did the government react so strongly to their words and activities. 2009. the responsiveness and transparency of the government in handling public matters depends on supervision. accessed June 18. When it deems it necessary. the right of citizens to obtain public information. it suppresses these rights outright.”19 By stressing the ordinariness of their actions. On the other hand. are clearly stated in Chinese law. “A Proposal on the Establishment of May-12 Student Archive. to express views on public matters. On the one hand. the state routinely installs roadblocks to prevent the realization of these rights. 19.98 simply what responsible citizens should do. it will leave space for corruption and the abuse of power.
as Claude Lefort points out.”20 However. economy.99 Although the Chinese government has implemented an array of economic reforms since the late 1970s.cn/constitution/constitution. science. Nothing – law. acquires limitless power. The twin structure of the party-state. “the image of popular sovereignty” has to be “the image of an empty place. as it were. beliefs and opinions.peopledaily. om. ways of life. . and maintains ultimate control over all forms of activities. if the image of the people is actualized. impossible to occupy.html for English version. sport – can exist outside the state. penetrates every domain of life. see http://english. 2011. it is the very principle of a distinction between what belongs to the order of power.”21 Lefort warns. The Chinese constitution states that “All power in the People's Republic of China belongs to the people. Ibid. The economic. interwoven into the political. 21 22 20 Lefort. 279. through its identification with the image of the people.. The Political Forms of Modern Society. the principle of the difference between the norms that govern the various types of relations between individuals. legal and cultural dimensions are. at a deeper level. Article 2 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China. Theoretically. then it is the very principle of the distinction between the state and society. It wields power in the name of the people. which is denied. art. such that those who exercise public authority can never claim to appropriate it. like democracy.22 This is precisely what has happened in the People’s Republic. totalitarianism is also based on the idea of popular sovereignty. politically it has held onto the totalitarian system. to the order of law and to the order of knowledge which is negated. 279-80. and. if a party claims to identify with it and to appropriate power under the cover of this identification. accessed June 18. for popular sovereignty to be sustained.
an indispensable precondition for survival” was considered inadequate. accessed June 20.aspx. 2011. can set limits to rights.com/2010/01/default.htm. See article 14 of “Guo wu yuan ban gong ting guan yu shi shi ‘Zhong hua ren min gong he guo xin xi gong kai tiao li’ ruo gan wen ti de yi jian” (Opinions of the General Office of the State Council on Various Issues of Implementing the Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on Open Government Information).25 Ai then attempted to file a lawsuit against the government for violating the “Zhong hua ren min gong he guo zheng fu xin xi gong kai tiao li” (Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on Open Government Information). also file requests … to obtain relevant government information.” After specifying the types of information that various levels of the government should disclose on their own initiative. . Yale Law School. http://www. http://www. livelihood and scientific research. 2010. 2011. The state. “Dui Beichuan xian jian she ju ‘bu chong cai liao tong zhi’ de hui fu” (Response to the Construction Bureau of Beichuan County). His argument that “obtaining accurate information.cn/zwgk/2008-04/30/content_958477. Jan. and research. adopted by the State Council on April 5. 6. translation by the China Law Center. itself limitless. http://www. 2007. executing one’s right to know.100 In a totalitarian society. and no explanation was given.24 Ai was asked to provide material evidence to demonstrate his “special needs” to obtain the requested information. 2008. 2011. accessed June 20. effective May 1. the Regulations state in Article 13 that citizens “may. When Ai Weiwei and his team asked for information related to student deaths. but rights granted by the state. based on the special needs of such matters as their own production.”23 The State Council advises lower governments to reject requests if deemed unrelated to the applicant’s “special needs” of production. livelihood. 25 24 23 Ai Weiwei.gov. the rights of citizens are not natural rights.cn/zwgk/2007-04/24/content_592937. is a prerequisite for citizens to make correct judgments and to choose [the right] actions.aiweiweiblog. the government often rejected their requests by invoking Article 13 of the “Regulations on Open Government Information. accessed June 9.htm.gov.
”26 While the activists and the parents pursued the same goal – both groups demanded thorough investigation of the issue – the parents posed less threat to the system. Any activity propagating the idea that something lies outside the state poses a fundamental challenge to totalitarianism. treating the state as an equal. They petitioned higher levels of the government to investigate the issue and punish lower-level officials. More importantly. Citizens cannot request information based on public concerns. As Lefort observes. The activists had no personal connections to the victims. that there is an otherness in the social sphere. 251-52. They sought help within the existing state apparatus to address their private grievances. They framed their struggle as privately motivated: they had lost their children. . The Political Forms of Modern Society. and the court refused to consider his case. the power of the state not absolute. their activities send a dangerous message: citizens have the right to engage in activities independent of the state and critical of the state. The state effectively replaces the concept of public right with that of private interest. The activists were treated seriously by all levels of the government not simply because they may discover indisputable evidence that would pinpoint certain corrupt officials. “the logic of the system prevents it from accepting any opinion which may be seen as a sign that social life is external to power. They suggest that the state’s identification with the people is not automatic. challenging its absolute authority. 26 Lefort. but only based on private motives.101 Regulations. and they acted outside the state.
was transformed into an opportunity to validate the Chinese state 27 28 Most newspapers and all television networks are still state-run. 2011. refuse to forget. 2011. 2010.102 Nian also forms a sharp contrast to the propaganda of the state.” the authors declared that. decisive actions. This earthly miracle was created by the strategic maneuvers.xinhuanet.com/politics/2010-05/11/c_1290358. especially the Party officials.” which was carried in most major newspapers and television networks.com/video/VIDE1273578986808888.tv. The intention of the project was made clear in the last sentence of the accompanying text: “Respect lives. The state-run Xinhua News Agency issued a long article titled “Great Strength to Create Earthly Miracle – Revelations from Wenchuan Earthquake Reconstruction. and relied on the independent.htm. relied on the enormous advantages of socialism with Chinese characteristics. possibly worsened by human mistakes. CCTV is the major television network controlled by the central government. the second anniversary of the Sichuan earthquake.27 Calling the speedy reconstruction in the earthquake area an “earthly miracle. For its broadcast of the Xinhua article. translation mine. . A horrible earthquake. relied on the selfless devotion of all constructers. indomitable national spirit. accessed June 21. what occupied the official media was not remembrance of those who died in the earthquake but exaltation of the state itself. which galvanized the strength of the entire nation. http://news. Ai Weiwei’s team – consisting of his assistants and volunteers – posted the sound work on the internet on May 12. accessed June 21.cctv. see http://space.28 The core of this complex statement is that the miracle was created by the Party’s Central committee and the State Council. and scientific actions of the Party’s Central Committee and the State Council.” On the same day.
29 .” a statement contained in a letter to him from a mother whose daughter was killed in a collapsed school building. Any statement different from the official version. criticism of the state cannot be explicit.103 and strengthen the legitimacy of its rule. he has shown instead sculptural pieces using school backpacks that refer to the students killed in the earthquake. Ai has not included this work in any of his exhibitions. only an editorial appearing on July 2011’s Art Monthly in Australia briefly mentions it. writing in Chinese or English. In fact. have shunned Ai’s work owing to political sensitivity. in the introduction to Ai Weiwei’s Blog. Ai has a wide following on the internet. has analyzed Nian. Inserting itself next to the state’s glorification campaign. Lee Ambrozy. In Munich in 2010. states that In his 2009 exhibition at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. by both the state and anyone familiar with the operation of totalitarianism.29 Inside China. is understood as an expression of criticism of the state. Stranger-Relationality Until now no critic. In a totalitarian society. Perhaps this lack of attention is caused by the fact that Nian has only been circulating online among Chinese internet users. Ai’s overall activist-artistic practice has been framed mainly within the rhetoric of rights. any focus of attention beyond the official domain. Nian occupied a critical position. he covered the façade of Haus der Kunst with thousands of backpacks to spell out in Chinese “She lived happily in this world for seven years. he assembled black and white backpacks into a giant snake crawling on a gallery ceiling. It does not name the state as the target of its address. but the printed media. and does not need to be explicit. but implied. Its criticism of the state is not direct. of the literature I have surveyed. including art journals.
http://www. but they have only located Lee Ambrozy. accessed June 9. with Ai Xiaoming in China and with Herta Müller in Germany. “Zuo ke tian ya” (As a Guest on Tianya). in Ai Weiwei’s Blog. most basic unit that helps us attest to an individual’s existence. “Introduction.aiweiweiblog. in his writings he has not used public sphere theory to theorize his work. 32 31 30 See Ai Weiwei’s blog. 2011. a popular website that hosts user-generated forums.aiweiweiblog.104 “ideas and themes significant to [Ai’s] personal philosophy” are “simplicity. 2009.com/2010/08/default.31 In other interviews. … As citizens. 2011.aspx?page=3. Ai Weiwei. The most fundamental worth and civil right of any person is their right to their name. A few critics. English translation by Lee Ambrozy. 30. xxvii. and Digital Rants.. reconciling ‘truth’ with facts. Ai explained his intention regarding Citizen Investigation: Our reasoning behind this investigation is to achieve the very minimal level of respect for the deceased. 2011). we should shoulder responsibility. accessed Sept. posted on his blog on March 24. In an online interview with users of Tianya. MA: MIT Press.”30 This characterization is consonant with Ai’s own articulation. http://www. like Lee Ambrozy and Karen Smith.com/2009/03/default. This was our motivation for launching the Citizen Investigation.32 Although publicness is essential to Ai’s strategies. . touched on the issue of publicness. Ai also described his work as a struggle for individual rights against a totalitarian state. 211. this name is the smallest. and a commitment to promoting basic civil rights like freedom of speech. ask the questions that should be asked – these are necessary steps in social progress. Interviews. 2006-2009 (Cambridge. Ai Weiwei’s Blog: Writings. official responsibility.aspx. for example.” in Ai Weiwei.
Jia Zhengfeng. The path between any two persons in China can be traced in this pyramid. General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This makes it possible for the reader to quickly locate each individual in the social totality. 33 .newyorker.33 In this section. online at http://www.com/reporting/2010/05/24/100524fa_fact_osnos. organized in the form of a giant pyramid. is linked to Hu Jintao. individuals are always referred to not only by their names but also by their official positions: Hu Jintao.” New Yorker. 2010. accessed July 18.” Even an ordinary villager like Wang Quan has a title-like descriptor: member of Unit 4 of Chaping Village of Daguan Township.” Quoted in Evan Osnos. with the Party Central Committee and the State Council occupying the peak and villagers like Wang Quan occupying the bottom. It is as if the official position were forever printed on the forehead of each and every one. Wang Quan. (Figure 3. “It’s Not Beautiful. Commander of the Shandong Unit of the Reconstruction “Army. I will identify an important constituent of publicness in Nian.2) For instance. It concerns the relations among various parties involved in this participatory project.105 publicness in Ai’s avid use of blog and twitter. 2011. May 24. Xu Zhenxi. Baoshan Village Party Secretary. the villager. the General Secretary via layers of Party Secretaries at Smith has remarked that Ai has turned his blog into a public space as lively as “any church or grand piazza was in High Renaissance Italy. In the “Revelations” article. It goes beyond the notion of individuals’ rights. The kind of relationality in Nian is fundamentally different from that contained in the “Revelations” article issued by state propaganda.
but framed by their positions respectively as the Shandong Unit Commander of the Reconstruction “Army” and the Party Secretary of Baoshan Village. Since in totalitarianism nothing can exist outside the state. as in this sentence: “In the process of .2 All relationships in China are stabilized according to the persons’ status in the state pyramid. on a few rare occasions petitions are submitted upward. Orders are transmitted downward. town. The interaction between Xu Zhenxi and Jia Zhengfang is not structured by their identities as citizens with some shared intention.106 Figure 3. county. Relationality in this pyramid is static. It should be no surprise that this hierarchical system frequently resorts to a military vocabulary. and provincial levels. village. there is no need for any kind of relationality other than that permanently imprinted in this pyramid.
they are the bravest supporting force in the reconstruction of the homeland. whose name was read first. For example. a student of Grade 5 Class 2 in Xinjian Primary School. 2011. How should we describe this kind of relationality? It is not 34 http://news. was eleven years old at the time of death. we know nothing except the qualities of their voices. We can only describe them as readers. In Nian three groups of people are present: the students killed in the earthquake whose names are read. pyramidal form.” “reader” is not a permanent title. We could look up the names in the list published by Citizen Investigation and obtain some further information. accessed June 25. party branch committees become battle forts. and the listeners of the sound work.xinhuanet. commandos of party members charge in the front. those online participants who perform the reading. the readers. . Of the second group. many features of the totalitarian society – consciousness of titles. like those individuals meticulously positioned in the “Reflections” article. Unlike “Party Secretary. The only information contained in the sound file is the students’ names.107 rebuilding the homeland. They remain anonymous. derived from the form of their activity in this particular artwork.com/politics/2010-05/11/c_1290358_5. The readers and the students are linked only by the readers’ act of reading. Doubtless these readers also live in the Chinese hierarchical system. but the readers’ status in the state bears no significance to their relation to the students. devoid of identities. we would learn that Cao Zi Yan. Most likely the readers did not know the students personally. a single type of relationality – are also characteristics of the military.”34 In fact. it is associated only with transient participation.htm.
35 Warner. even if I do not know you personally. On the other hand. Strangers make us nervous because we lack any existing framework to structure our relation to them. the peak of totalitarianism. we still share a wide range of common understandings. is determined by their relative positions in the system. “In modern society. spoke the same language extracted from the same Little Red Book. A person’s position in the state pyramid casts him into a predefined character with stringent requirements of performance. How two persons should interact. medieval. Individuality is dissolved. the totalitarian system does not recognize strangers. a stranger is not as marvelously exotic as the wandering outsider would have been to an ancient. To be willing to encounter a stranger is to be willing to discover potential agreements as well as differences. Michael Warner has given it a peculiar name: stranger-relationality.108 kinship. comradeship. friendship. to recognize someone as a stranger is to admit that there is still something unknown in that person. As discussed earlier. strangerhood has become a normal feature of social life. In contemporary China.”35 With the help of newspapers. . During Mao’s era (1949-1976). from recent events to social imaginaries. or partnership. from pop songs to fashion trends. or early-modern town. Publics and Counterpublics. people wore the same uniform in the same blue. Stranger-relationality is never given and always carries risk. and now the internet. 75. television. several forces work against the idea of strangerrelationality. With modernity. regardless of whether they have known each other for decades or have just met.
mostly in economic affairs. 657-75. kinship. the See Vogel. Let me demonstrate with a personal experience.109 believed in the same communist dream. someone who could have different preferences and alternative thinking. worked for the same national plan. the state started to allow some freedom and flexibility.” and Thomas Gold. stranger-relationality is predominantly motivated by interest: would I gain something financially from my interaction with the stranger? This fixation on money was even evident in the reaction to the earthquake in 2008. was eliminated. 36 . the so-called organizational relation (in Chinese. The day after the earthquake. “After Comradeship: Personal Relations in China since the Cultural Revolution. Freedom of expression and freedom of association are still largely prohibited. while the state has allowed the market to develop and gain a certain degree of autonomy. religious membership. zu zhi guan xi). Gradually people gained mobility in their employment and residence. Grassroots efforts to build civil-society organizations are met with constant state suppression.36 After the market reform was initiated in the late 1970s. A person’s relation to the state. A large portion of the population – urban residents and rural migrant laborers – untangled themselves from the fixity of the state pyramid. trumped all other types of relations: friendship. Economic development enabled different lifestyles in the material sense. while strangerhood is now firmly established in urban consciousness. A serious consequence of this one-sided reform is that. “From Friendship to Comradeship: The Change in Personal Relations in Communist China. The notion of a stranger. it has rejected calls for political reform.” China Quarterly 104 (1985). Those few who dared to be “strange” were declared the enemies of the people. and sometimes even marriage. However.
http://theother. I digitally turned the color images into black and white. an editor of a newspaper. . the most important means of modern sociability become unavailable to them.sina. 299. one on the newsstand in my neighborhood and the other on the flag pole in Tian’anmen Square. 2008. I took two photographs. the symbolic center of the country. mostly for one reason. as demonstrated by this comment. “Is formalism [meaning obsessive concern with form instead of substance] really necessary? One yuan can move people’s hearts far more than a banner!” 37 Warner notes that “one of the defining elements of modernity … is normative stranger sociability.110 death toll reached 12. 38 37 Warner. I noticed that there was hardly any sign of grief in Beijing.blog. Publics and Counterpublics. One of them.com. added a banner in the newsstand image. (Figure 3.cn/comment.000. What we are left with is social apathy. Yuan is the Chinese currency unit.php?aid=68&page=1. To express my criticism of the lack of mourning both individually and nationally. withdrawn into Comment posted on May 16. 2008 by anonymous reader. Many readers responded to the images furiously. each individual becoming “an isolated monad. and lowered the flag to half-mast in the Tian’anmen image.3) I emailed these photographs to my friends.”38 If people do not have freedom of expression and cannot participate in discourse freely. accessed May 21. posted the images on her popular blog. of a kind that seems to arise only when the social imaginary is defined not by kinship (as in non-state societies) or by place (as in state societies until modernity) but by discourse.
The central myth propagated by the state is that only as a unified people will we be able to regain China’s lost glory in the world of nations. The Political Forms of Modern Society.39 Marx’s prediction of the capitalist nightmare becomes reality in China’s state capitalism.” concerned with only his personal gains.3 Zheng Bo. . digital photographs.111 Figure 3. dimensions variable. “On the Jewish Question. In other words. While loosening its administrative control over citizens. it tries to reduce strangers to members of a national community.” quoted in Lefort. the state increasingly relies on patriotism to repress difference and maintain social cohesion. 2008. himself. Untitled. 245. The trauma and vulnerability caused by the 39 Karl Marx.
Xinhua Net. 10. 42 41 40 . “the thought of community or the desire for it might well be nothing other than a belated invention that tried to respond to the harsh reality of modern experience. I said. please be more serious. accessed April 27. many people took my images as an attack on the nation and the people as a whole. the “Reflections” article issued by Xinhua News attributed the success of the reconstruction program to the “the independent. May 25. accessed June 15. they were taken to a police station and questioned: The fist question was. tuo qi sheng ming de xi wang – xian gei ying yong kang ji Wenchuan di zhen zai hai de Zhongguo ren min” (Ten Thousand People with One Mind. you. 2009. “Wan zhong yi xin. a volunteer who participated in Citizen Investigation.com/newscenter/200805/25/content_8252092.xinhuanet. http://news.aspx.41 The state still cannot comprehend the notion of stranger-relationality. While she and two other volunteers were collecting information in Sichuan.40 As discussed earlier. Keke’s diary on June 20. 2012. http://www. The following example was taken from the diary of Keke. Holding up the Hope of Life – To the Courageous Chinese People Fighting against the Wenchuan Earthquake Disaster).” When I expressed criticism of the lack of mourning in the capital. Plain-clothes A said. 2008. 1991). just a human-to-human relationship.112 earthquake in 2008 created a precious opportunity for the state to strengthen its nationalistic agenda. what is the relationship between you and Ai Weiwei. MN: University of Minnesota Press.htm. Jean-Luc Nancy. I said OK. 2011.com/2009/06/default.” of which stranger-relationality is surely a part.aiweiweiblog. State media frequently portrayed the disaster as a test of the strength of the Chinese people.42 See for example. indomitable national spirit. The Inoperative Community (Minneapolis. As Jean-Luc Nancy argues.
since Ai Weiwei and the volunteers were engaged in a project critical of the state. somewhat permanent. Nian constitutes public mourning also in the sense that the readers engaged in making .113 The plain-clothes policeman considered “a human-to-human relationship” something akin to a joke. and not for a collective body. the specificity of each act of mourning is sustained through the identification of the student’s name and the texture of the reader’s voice. stranger-relationality was established through the act of mourning. Perhaps in his logic. like soldiers killed in combat. not organized by the state. the government for the first time set a date for national mourning for civilians killed in the disaster. After the earthquake in 2008. It seems that to him interpersonal relationships have to be named. Connections were established between individual readers and individual students. they must have established an organization against the state. Socalled public mourning is always orchestrated by the state. While the state cannot tolerate transient relationships within it and have a constant desire to stabilize them into memberships. mourning marked the beginning of a relationship rather than the end of it. and probably framed by social institutions. Nian initiated a different kind of mourning: it was not based on private attachment. Traditionally mourning occurs only among family members and friends. Though the resulting work can be understood as a commemoration of the entire group of killed students. In Nian. It depends on a preexisting kinship or friendship and marks the end of such a relationship. mostly for political leaders and state-recognized heroes. it also projects its own image into the civil society and expects activities in the civil society to be centrally organized as well. By recognizing the loss.
the relationship between the readers and Ai Weiwei’s team. the act of mourning itself is already a threat to the state because stranger-relationality is fundamentally incompatible with the state’s inherent need to stabilize social relations. they went outside the state to voice their criticism. They no longer sought legitimacy by aligning themselves with benign political figures. Publics and Counterpublics. In other words. historically. The mourning of Hu Yaobang in 1989 marked the beginning of the student movement later named the June Fourth Movement. people veiled their protest in mourning well-liked state leaders like Zhou Enlai and Hu Yaobang. In Nian.114 their expressions public. It was different from a parent reading his child’s name at home. it was the political demand coupled with the act of mourning that challenged the status quo. The readers understood that their recordings would be posted on the internet. stranger-relationality characterizes two other groups of relations in addition to those between the readers and the students. in itself.44 Nian is unprecedented in that a group of ordinary people mourned for another group of ordinary people. to be listened to by indefinite strangers. However. Previously mourning. See Warner. 43 44 Going public always involves taking risk. 120. First. did not pose a threat to the state. coordinator. which served as the project’s initiator. The state would probably have welcomed the mourning of Hu Yaobang in 1989 if students had not organized subsequent demonstrations and demanded freedom and democracy. In Nian. . The act of addressing an unknown public of listeners carried a higher level of risk than private mourning.43 Commemoration-as-protest is a long established strategy of popular struggle in China. The large-scale mourning of Zhou Enlai in spring 1976 provided an opportunity for many people to express their disillusionment with the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
She comes into contact with them without knowing them. or other differential criteria. It was extended when the reader made her recording and sent it to Ai’s team. in the modern world strangers are not completely strange to one another because they share a wide range of common understandings. She did not join any membership or receive any reward. The listener can choose to end the relationship at any time by clicking the stop button. a relative. Compared to strangerrelationality. No matter how many times she listens to the mp3 file. Citizen-relationality can only be formed outside the totalitarian . without any external structural support. the readers. was also based on the readers’ participation alone. class. or a colleague. This relationship began when a reader paid attention to the twitter message sent out by Ai (and forwarded by others). informing her of the completion of the sound work and thanking her for her participation. In the Chinese context. not determined by their status. This relationship too lacks permanence or institutional basis. She remains a stranger to those in the work as they do to her. stranger-relationality might be called citizenrelationality. she does not become a friend.115 and editor. citizen-relationality makes it even clearer that this is something between persons with equal rights. It ended when she received an email from Ai’s team. though a connection has been established by her mere act of listening. The relationship was transient and situated within the project only. she also enters into a relationship with strangers: the students. the notion of a citizen endowed with rights should be one of the fundamental principles underlying this shared horizon. gender. As discussed earlier. For activists. Second. when someone listens to the sound work. and Ai’s team.
advancing a counter-discourse antagonistic to the propaganda of the state.”45 We might rephrase this statement as “a public is a relation among citizens. 74. and class) was circulated online. Names of the killed students were sent out in twitter messages. The process of investigation was filled with emotions – sadness in interviews with parents. Warner states that “a public is a relation among strangers. anger in confrontations with police – but the final output was presented in a form that excluded these emotions and stressed objectivity. Affective dimensions of the human voice were captured and preserved. Publics and Counterpublics. on the other hand. thus constituting a challenge to totalitarianism. . age at death. The goal of Citizen Investigation was to collect accurate information. The difference between these two projects is not simply that one was activism while the other was framed as art. but that. an excel file containing additional information (gender. which aimed to erase the tragic issue from public memory and to direct public attention to the accomplishment of the state in the rescue and reconstruction efforts. Nian took on a more counterpublic form. compared to Citizen Investigation. The concatenation of over five thousand individual recordings into a linear sound work defied any statistical analysis that was afforded by the tabular form of the 45 Warner.116 state. The link between the notion of publicness and the concept of citizen is already present in Chinese on the etymological level. Both Citizen Investigation and Nian focused on the issue of student deaths in the Sichuan earthquake. was produced in the medium of sound rather than text. school. Nian. birthdate.” which literally means public person.” Interestingly “citizen” is translated as “gong min.
” in Craig Calhoun. It 46 47 Ibid.. in the case of Nian. “the poetic or textual qualities of any utterance are disregarded in favor of sense. Nancy Fraser. In Nian. rational-critical debate is considered the most appropriate form of discourse because it enables the conception that expressions are “propositionally summarizable. At the same time. a ritual practice with a history prior to modernity. mourning. 118. from the initial announcement made by Ai Weiwei.47 but also mobilize different speech genres. Ibid.”48 It allows opinions to be transposed “from local acts of reading or scenes of speech to a general horizon of public opinion. accentless narration of the students’ names. Warner argues that the oppositional character of a counterpublic is not “a function of its content alone. to the transmission of recordings from participants to Ai’s team.. Imagine. and mediums of communication. 115.” acquiring a “volitional agency” to “deliberate and then decide.. the internet served as the primary platform for communication. 115. . “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy. constituted the main strategy. Habermas and the Public Sphere (Cambridge. the sound work would be reduced to nothing but a cold.” as observed by Nancy Fraser. if we were to strip away all of the poetic-expressive qualities of personal recordings.. Ibid. 115-16.117 excel file produced in Citizen Investigation. 48 49 50 Warner. modes of address.”49 In this process.” 46 Counterpublics not only “invent and circulate counterdiscourses. MA: MIT Press. 1992). to the circulation of the resulting sound work. Publics and Counterpublics.”50 Counterpublics often cannot afford this kind of abstraction. In the bourgeois public sphere. 123. ed.
resonance. Water: Standard Version from the Ci Hai Dictionary (Shui: ci hai biao zhun ban). . timbre. Jiaohun. 22. The voice is not a ladder that we can discard because it is both the ladder and the goal. as in Zhang Peili’s 1992 video work. 420b 6. A Voice and Nothing More. As Mladen Dolar notes. when we have made our ascent to the peak of meaning. voice is a sound “of what has soul in it.”52 Yet it is clear that the significance of Nian lies in the materiality of the voice.54 “The voice is like a fingerprint. pace. quoted in ibid. pitch. for example. re-stated. A Voice and Nothing More (Cambridge. See the beginning of this chapter for a description of the sound file. Aristotle.118 would lose its oppositional flavor.51 The sound work cannot be summarized. as well as the intimate kernel of subjectivity. De anima. or transferred to another medium such as printed text. “voices are the very texture of the social.”56 The linkage between voice and soul also points to a traditional ritual in China. its accent.. instantly recognizable and identifiable. 52 53 54 55 56 51 Mladen Dolar. becoming identical to a standard broadcast of the state. calling out the name of a deceased person or a CCTV stands for China Central Television. MA: The MIT Press. 15. just as the aforementioned “Reflections” article was delivered by CCTV’s robot-like anchors. In Aristotle’s words. and so on. cadence. 24. We tend to treat the voice as if it were only “the material support of bringing about meaning” and that “the voice itself is like the Wittgensteinian ladder to be discarded when we have successfully climbed to the top – that is.”53 As each name is read. we can perceive the distinct quality of the reader’s voice. 2006). Adopting the standard format of CCTV News could be perceived as satirical if the form is made salient.. the network directly controlled by the central government. Dolar.” 55 Thus we understand each reading as something personal. Ibid. 14.
58 57 For a description of the internet situation in China. The two projects See Jiang Shaoyun. sound. The internet as a platform was strategic for the creation of Nian because. greatly extending its reach. from a user to his social network. video – to be carried on the same platform. and to mobilize a critical discourse. rather than vertically. The replication of the file ensured its accessibility against impending state censorship.58 Ai’s team could receive over two thousand recordings within a week because people re-posted Ai’s original message in different websites. thus benefitting counterpublic forms of expression. In most situations information is spread laterally. . In particular. The Rising Cacophony. Furthermore. it has greatly reduced the cost of transmitting and circulating non-textual materials. it offers the highest possibility to evade state censorship. see Hu Yong. image. I want to emphasize that I do not mean to suggest that counterpublic forms of expression are necessarily better than public forms of discourse-making. unlike traditional media. 1989). In fact Nian was made possible by the very output of Citizen Investigation. from a higher level official to his subordinates.119 sick child so that her lost soul could return to the body.57 While the form of the work alludes to Chinese traditional culture. has long been practiced in many parts of China. the internet allows different formats – text. Zhongguo li su mi xin (China’s Ritual Practices and Superstitions) (Tianjin: Bo hai wan chu ban gong si. 166. Once the final work was posted online. to engage strangers. its production relied on recent technologies. among existing media. The network’s distributed architecture is essentially antithetical to the hierarchical organization of the state. it was quickly duplicated via peer-to-peer download.
a student killed at Juyuan Middle School.60 surrounded by trees.sina. Hu Huishan Memorial was built by the studio of architect Liu Jiakun. 2011. quoted by architectural critic Zhu Tao. The totalitarian state remains the hegemonic power. In China. to explain how Nian differed from the more conventional model of public art.cn/s/ blog_49e53b730100ebvm. against which activists often integrate public and counterpublic forms in formulating a counter-discourse.120 complemented each other and strengthened the cause.html.com. the situation is different. who “had dreamed to be a writer. It was dedicated to Hu Huishan. accessed June 30. see http://blog.sina. Nian was not the only art project that addressed the issue of student deaths. since we do not yet have an established bourgeois public order.59 Situated in the compound of Jianchuan Museum Cluster. Hu Huishan Memorial. In recent years critical thinkers in the West have devoted much attention to the antagonism between publics and counterpublics. Next I will compare it to anther art project. in spring 2009. a wellknown designer in Sichuan. Liu Jiakun’s blog. 61 60 59 . Sichuan.com. at http://blog. the Memorial is a small brick house in the shape of a single tent. Jianchuan Museum Cluster is a large private museum established by real estate developer Fan Jianchuan in Anren.html. 2011.”61 Liu Jiakun met Hu’s parents when he went to Juyuan two weeks after the earthquake and was deeply moved by their sorrow and love for their For complete project data. accessed July 5.cn/s/blog_49e53b730100ebvm. I will discuss this integration further in the chapters that follow. similar to those used for temporary shelter after the earthquake.
Figure 3. .121 Figure 3. interior. 2009. exterior. Hu Huishan Memorial. Hu Huishan Memorial.4 Liu Jiakun.5 Liu Jiakun. 2009.
However. the work has been endowed with a public intention. which in turn stands in for the entire issue of student deaths in the earthquake. The project has been widely reported in the Chinese media. it was Liu Li’s [the mother] detailed thoughtfulness in keeping her daughter’s umbilical cord and deciduous teeth as well as Hu Ming’s [the father] toughness and pride that moved me. translation by Lin Fanyu. Liu wrote in his blog. The room is well lit. placed in an open space. the local government has forbidden the memorial to be open to the public. with a skylight bringing in natural light.” Ibid. A few items that she had used – a book bag. The finished structure contains a simple room with the interior painted pink. Hu’s favorite color. Its perceived publicness is mostly an effect of its intention and exhibition.. some notebooks – along with her photographs and various certificates were displayed on the wall. 62 . Though images of the project can be reproduced. The work is meant to be exhibited publicly. two badminton rackets.122 daughter. “As I recall now.62 Liu’s proposal to build a small memorial for Hu was received by the parents with gratitude. it communicates with the public in a visual language that can be easily understood. Liu received a nomination for a special award in the 2010 China Architecture Media Awards. Materialized in a sculptural form. The subject matter is associated with an issue of public concern rather than private contemplation. The memorial serves as a sign pointing to Hu’s life. to indefinite strangers rather than private collectors. the physical work remains a unique object with a known author. Hu Huishan Memorial conforms to the conventional model of public art. From the moment of its conception.
Publics and Counterpublics. Nian. Other people’s involvement was due to employment or contractual relationships. In contrast. “between discourse that comes before and the discourse that comes after one must postulate some kind of link. In the Memorial project. primarily as citizens who mourned for strangers as a way to express their critical concerns.”63 He adds. on the other hand. but the concatenation of texts through time. is a collection of multiple expressions by multiple citizens. It is difficult to determine Nian’s authorship. sent in their recordings. However. only Liu’s participation was motivated by stranger sociability. Nian encapsulates thousands of stranger relationships between the readers and the students. Three architects working in Liu’s studio. a structural engineer. in Nian. within the context of Nian. Hu Huishan Memorial is a single expression by a single citizen. we would still perceive them. who remain anonymous. 90. there is one critical distinction. it is 63 Warner. and a number of construction workers were involved in the process. . his team took charge of coordination and editing. Warner points out that “not texts themselves create publics. Ai Weiwei initiated the project. and about two thousand people. Even if we manage to find out those participants’ names and professions. stranger-relationality underlay Ai’s creative effort as well as the anonymous readers’ participation.123 While Hu Huishan Memorial foregrounds the individual relationship between Liu Jiakun and Hu Huishan. Their primary identities were as professionals with certified skills rather than citizens with rights. And the link has a social character. One might argue that Hu Huishan Memorial too was not created by Liu Jiakun alone.
devoid of any further meaning. the second reader concurring with the first one. However. “Du Xin. He would not be able to comprehend the critical position taken by the author. though seemingly insignificant.”64 The meaning of Hu Huishan Memorial lies in its relation to the entire discourse concerning the issue of student deaths in the earthquake. Imagine someone visiting the memorial but learning nothing else on the issue both before and after the visit. When we hear the second name. The sense of endorsement builds up as more names are read by more individuals. . with regularized rhythm. This is achieved through linear editing. the petitions made by the parents. Our interpretation of Nian also depends on our awareness of other arguments. “Cao Zi Yan. allowing us 64 Ibid. We can grasp the critical intention of Hu Huishan Memorial only if we recognize its association with a stream of arguments – the positions taken by the government.” we understand this event as an expression of mourning and as an expression of agreement. The short intervals of silence between the recordings.124 not mere consecutiveness in time but an interaction. signal the beginning and end of each utterance. When we hear the first student’s name read aloud. concatenation is already present within Nian and adds an important dimension to our experience of the work. the investigations conducted by the activists – and its relative position to these arguments. Both space and time are compressed to assemble distributed recordings into a chain of linked events. most likely he would perceive the work as an open display of personal attachment.” we understand the reader’s act as an expression of mourning.
125 Figure 3. .6 Nian concatenates multiple stranger relations into one work.
the magnitude of participation made it unlikely that the participants were united by any particular self-interest. He did not devote himself to documenting his personal encounter with strangers but to building a platform for other citizens to forge . In Nian. and to ensure safety for the participants on the other. Some participants may already have formed their judgment on the issue of student deaths before their involvement. Their anonymity ensured that they remain strangers to one another and to any potential audience who join the public temporarily by listening to the sound work. Both scale and strangerhood are important attributes of a public. A public is a group of individuals linked only by their transient participation in a discursive arena. coupled with the fact that the readers are anonymous and apparently belong to no particular interest group. what the project enabled them to accomplish was the transformation of private opinions into public expressions. The artist had to calibrate the level of risk to achieve criticality on one hand. citizens – to make their expressions public.126 to perceive concatenation. but a discursive space for other people – strangers. In Memorial. the role of the artist was fundamentally different from that of the artist in a more conventional work like Hu Huishan Memorial. they are indicators of its openness. In Nian. The aggregation of a large number of like-minded acts. Risk is always involved in making things public. the artist concerned himself with creating not an object to represent his individual opinion. the primary task of the artist was to craft a powerful object to express his own critical response to the issue. In Nian. transposes Nian into something close to an expression of a public.
“Introduction: The Mourning After. Remembering the AIDS Quilt (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.65 The project is ongoing. Initiated by Cleve Jones in San Francisco in 1985. ed.000 names. but a concatenation of discrete oral performances that foregrounded stranger-relationality.127 relationships with strangers. . were displayed on the National Mall in Washington D. a reversal and transformation” of the meaning of AIDS in the US. There are now more than 46. In many ways.C.66 65 66 Charles Morris. to make such stranger-relationality visible.920 handcrafted panels. For more details of the NAMES project. during the National March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights. and furthermore. Both used public mourning as a strategy to protest against silence and suppression. 2000) and Charles Morris. Nian is similar to the American project the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. 560. In Charles Morris’ words.4 (2007). Both centered on making public the names of the victims whose deaths were caused at least partially by government inaction. the NAMES Project achieved a landmark breakthrough in 1987 when 1.. Its publicness is central to its contestation of state power.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 10. it mounted this disagreement by creating a public of strangers to mourn for the students. please see Cleve Jones. each three-by-six-feet. the event “constituted an extraordinary rhetorical turn. Nian constituted a challenge to the state not only because it refused to forget about the students killed in the Sichuan earthquake.000 panels bearing more than 91. It was not a single artist’s defiant gesture. 2011). Stitching a Revolution: The Making of an Activist (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.
the NAMES project approaches publicness via a different route. pausing between each name.4 (2007). this is what happened on Oct. Papp and Bennett. 1987. Robert Blake. and S. Instead. Cleve Jones. thousands of people lined the perimeter and I stepped slowly to the podium in the shadow of the Jefferson Memorial. In this sense. Their participation in the reading event was arranged by the organizer.. and politicians. Other readers were Art Agnos. Lily Tomlin.” San Francisco Chronicle. like the friendships between Jones and Feldman (Jones called him “my closest friend in the world”68). It was extremely difficult to speak slowly and deliberately.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 10. 11. ended his list of names with a tribute to “my dear friend and colleague Michael Bennett. According to Cleve Jones. I began with Marvin Feldman.”67 In this description we notice an important difference between the NAMES project and Nian. June 1. emphasis was placed on personal relations. and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. “The First Displays: D. artists. Harvey Fierstein. producer of the New York Shakespeare Festival.128 In addition to visual display. As Peter Hawkins observed. Whoopi Goldberg. “Power of the AIDS Quilt: Comforting. and my voice began breaking down at the end of the list. Those who went up to the podium to read the names in 1987 were prominent figures: activists. “by over 67 68 Cleve Jones. each so precious and containing in a few syllables entire lives. Their connection to those being mourned cannot be characterized as stranger-relationality. I have almost no memory of walking to the podium. 2001. no words to describe the emotion flooding my heart as I read those twenty-four names. Joseph Papp. the NAMES project also has an oral component. . 588. 1987 when the Quilt was unfolded on the National Mall: As dawn became day. Consoling and Convincing.C.F. the names of those individuals whose lives the panels pay tribute to are also read aloud in a ritualized ceremony. Whenever the AIDS Quilt is shown.
such as “I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. It was those moments that most brought home to me the full extent of my own loss – not my good friends Craig. child.129 dramatizing intimacy. As Carole Blair and Michel Neil note.”71 When describing his own response to the AIDS Quilt. MA: MIT Press. or known about.”70 Douglas Crimp has pointed out that the political efficacy of the NAMES project lies in its integration of “the private mourning ritual of a person or group involved in making a panel” and “the collective mourning ritual of visiting the quilt to share that experience with others. “Naming Names: The Art of Memory and the NAMES Project AIDS Quilt. brother.”69 This is most evident in the making of the panels. father. 608-09. relationships. “The AIDS Memorial Quilt and the Contemporary Culture of Public Commemoration. whose loss I had directly experienced. by taking small gestures of domestic grief and multiplying them into the thousands. “The Spectacle of Mourning. a name I recognized as that of someone I’d only dimly known.” Critical Inquiry 19 (1993). . husband. and who had agreed to be a reader of my dissertation less than a year before he died – seeing that panel had less emotional impact on me than seeing. Carole Blair and Michel Neil. Crimp emphasized relations other than close friendships: Seeing a panel bearing the name of Michel Foucault. because I didn’t know 69 Peter Hawkins. whose writings I had depended on for much of my own work. Hector.4 (2007). sister. son. 197. rather than public. A remarkably high percentage of the AIDS Quilt panels … assert the identity of their subjects in terms of personal. Robert …. Many mark the individual by familial or social role – lover. who was an intellectual idol. Some bear messages to the deceased. 71 70 Douglas Crimp. 777. Dan.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 10. wife. but others who. René. every now and then. Quilt panel makers often sign the panels. 2002). the Quilt makes a spectacular demonstration of the feminist dictum: the personal is political.” in Melancholia and Moralism: Essays on AIDS and Queer Politics (Cambridge. friend.
At the Oklahoma City National Memorial. Nian emphasized public mourning throughout. too. This distinction again points to the unusual relationality constructed in Nian. not the relations between the panel makers and those being mourned. but public relations of strangers as citizens. like the Oklahoma City National Memorial. .130 them well enough. I paid as much attention to the names of the students killed in the earthquake as to those anonymous participants who read the names. friends. The relations between the readers and the students were not private relations of lovers. I remember at the time saying to friends that it was the symbols of the ordinariness of human lives that made the quilt such a profoundly moving experience. Blair and Neil. I hadn’t event known had died. that have made public mourning more private. In other words. when I described my response to Nian at the beginning of this chapter.” 618. In contrast.72 Crimp’s account of his experience focuses on the relations between himself and those deceased. In this sense..”73 This design privileges familial relations over all other kinds of relations. “only family members are allowed access to the area called the ‘field of chairs. and 72 73 Ibid. Reflecting on these feelings. While the NAMES Project made private mourning public. 195. reinforcing an archaic notion of the private. Nian stands in opposition to some recent American projects. or families. “The AIDS Memorial Quilt and the Contemporary Culture of Public Commemoration.’ where each of the 168 stone and glass chairs names one of the individuals killed in the bomb blast. I had lost not just the center of my world but its periphery.
Ai has always operated within the current legal framework. 2011 Ai Weiwei. This campaign seemed to be triggered by the democratic protests in the Middle East and the increasing domestic discontent caused by steep inflation. from cultural censorship to AIDS patients’ rights.131 prioritizimg the private over the public. but also urged others to do the same. Since early spring dozens of civil rights lawyers. this is a “rather troubling” development. using laws instituted by the state to counter the state’s own corruption. Ai was finally released on June 22. Ai’s arrest attracted global attention. He has not only demanded his own rights as a citizen. among those who act as citizens. it was clear to most observers that he was yet another victim of the crackdown on activists. His detention is a clear indication that the state considers his critical. . however transient. In Blair and Neil’s words. was detained by the Chinese government. It is difficult to pin down any specific project that precipitated Ai’s detention. and performance artists have been arrested throughout China. dissident writers. Although the state claimed that Ai was being investigated for economic crimes. He has worked on many sensitive issues. foreign politicians as well as artists petitioned vigorously for his freedom. public endeavors a serious threat. On April 3. It is projects like Citizen Investigation and Nian that worry the state because they help to build relations. along with four of his staff.
a small village in Guangdong province. and leveraged foreign media and Chinese social media to broadcast their cause.com/2012/02/02/world/asia/residents-vote-in-chinese-village-at-center-ofprotest. who was deemed corrupt by many but managed to hold on to his power for decades. it’s unlikely that anyone will dare rig an election in Wukan. From now on.html. Over a period of six months. told the New York Times. Wukan. 2 Those videos introduced me to scenes of a village election for the first time. 2012. “Residents Vote in Chinese Village at Center of Protest. one of the protest leaders. accessed Feb. and initiated a self-organized election.”1 Pictures of the Wukan election circulated widely on the internet.” New York Times.” . 2 1 The project’s name in Chinese is “Cun min zi zhi ying xiang ji hua. “I’m proud to see the passion for democracy among my fellow villagers.132 Chapter 4 Visibility On February 1. captured many people’s attention on Chinese social media. The state finally gave in to their request after an eleven-day confrontation between the villagers and armed police in December. This election was the result of an extended battle that the villagers fought with the state. fended off police interventions. They instantly reminded me of the videos from the Village Self-Governance Documentary Project. 2012. 1. 2. Feb. Over five thousand villagers went to the local primary school to cast their ballots. Wu’s project Andrew Jacobs. They had kicked out the village’s former party secretary. Yang Semao. 2012. http://www. they staged protests.nytimes. organized by Wu Wenguang (born 1956) in late 2005.
How does the rural figure in the pursuit of publicness? How should we understand the Village Documentary project. in relation to political activities often considered more “real. and provide a brief account of the . where over half of the Chinese population still reside today. fascinated me because. a popular Chinese twitter site.com.133 Figure 4.1 Pictures of Wukan election circulated on weibo. I will describe how the Village Documentary project was developed. framed as art. First.” like the protest and election in Wukan? This chapter is organized into four sections. in February 2012. it focused on rural China. unlike most public art projects of the past decade.
history of village elections in China. I will describe the videos and argue that their bounded clarity constitutes a form of counterpublic expression.134 Figure 4. Lastly. I will . Next. I will then analyze how the digital video (DV) camera introduced visibility to village life.2 Video stills from the Village Self-Governance Documentary Project. and how those who gained access to the DV camera were affected by it.
were living in nine different provinces.org. over 280 workshops were conducted on village elections and transparency in village affairs. including the popular Southern Weekly. “After all. Wu placed a call for proposals in several newspapers. they traveled by train from their villages to Beijing and attended a three-day workshop at Caochangdi Workstation. accessed Mar.sina. and geographical distribution. Wu told a reporter. age.cn/english/government/164775. See “Democracy Program ‘a Success’ in Rural Areas. The ten villagers. taking into consideration proposal quality as well as gender. Zhou Wenhan. and their ages ranged from 24 to 59.com. in order to highlight the importance of circulation in the pursuit of publicness. 2012. 4 3 . it’s better to have ten more people making documentaries than doing it alone. At the end of The EU-China Training Programme on Village Governance ran from 2001 to 2006. the EU-China Training Program on Village Governance. Apr. two of them women. 17. 6.3 Wu proposed an alternative plan: he would help ten villagers to document their own village politics.cn/o/2005-09-07/09576882668s. http://news. Wu selected ten.htm.”4 In September. 7. Out of the forty applications received.” China Daily. 2006. approached documentary filmmaker Wu Wenguang and asked him to produce a feature-length documentary on the topic of village self-governance. Xin jing bao (The Beijing News). 2005. accessed Feb. In early November. Translation mine. They learned how to operate a basic DV camera and discussed their ideas with Wu. Village Self-Governance In 2005. 2009. “DV jing tou dui zhun cun min zi zhi jin cheng” (DV Lens Focusing on the Progress of Villager Self-Governance). http://www. a joint project established in 2001 by the European Union and the Chinese Government. Wu’s studio and home.shtml. Sept.135 explore how these videos were screened and distributed. 18. Under this program.china.
The compilation of the videos was accepted to several international film festivals. two programs of China Central Television (CCTV). . a tripod.5 5 The videos were shown in “Fa zhi shi jie” (Legal Vision) on Channel 12 and “Guo shi DV” (National DV) on the Education Channel (Zhongguo jiao yu dian shi tai).136 Figure 4.3 The ten villagers learning to shoot video at Caochangdi Workstation in November 2005. The project generated immediate interest both in China and abroad. each about ten minutes in length. and ten blank video tapes. and Wu’s assistants sat down with them to edit the materials into ten short videos. the workshop. the monolithic network run by the state. each villager received a DV camera. Much to Wu’s surprise. They then went back to Caochangdi Workstation. also decided to broadcast the videos in spring 2006. They returned home and shot footage for two weeks.
Wang Wei. as part of the Sustainable Future Scenarios For Chinese Settlements project. My analysis in this chapter will primarily concern the ten short videos produced in 2005. supported by the Ford Foundation. In 2001. and Wanyuan (Yunnan province) learned DV skills and produced three documentaries dealing with a wide range of topics. Beisuzha (Hebei province). and have learned to edit their own videos at Caochangdi Workstation. The Village Documentary project was not the first participatory image-making project in China. Several other projects. They have circulated far more widely than the subsequent featurelength documentaries. Four of the ten villagers – Shao Yuzhen. mostly in the area of environmental . including women’s rights and sustainable growth. Zhang Huancai.137 The project did not end there. Each has produced one feature-length documentary every year since 2007. which are credited to individual authors. the villagers’ initial taking up of video-making is more critical than their ongoing engagement. and Jia Zhitan – have continued to use their DV cameras to capture village life. the organizers of PhotoVoice gave cameras to 53 women in Yunnan province to document their own lives so that their stories could influence the local government’s procreation and health policy. In 1991. Unlike the latter. the ten short videos have always been shown together as the output of a collective project. villagers in Jiangjiazhai (Shaanxi province). for our purpose of understanding the project’s publicness. Furthermore.
village elections have remained “largely See Han Hong. For example. framed as an artwork.3 (2010). . 391.php?id=5464. 6. the central government decided to roll out direct elections at the village level. 85 families in Hezhai village in Guangxi province got together and decided to elect their own local village council by ballot. “Democratic Enclaves in Authoritarian Regimes. sociologist Bruce Gilley believes that village governments in China constitute a democratic enclave. accessed Aug. “Can yu shi ying xiang yu can yu shi chuan bo” (Participatory Image-Making and Participatory Communication). and at odds with the norms of the regime itself concerning direct competitive elections.4. The Village Documentary project was scheduled to coincide with nationwide village elections in 2005. Researchers’ views on the effectiveness of village elections range from celebratory to highly critical. By 2005 almost all village councils in China were elected directly by villagers. irreversible.”7 Political scientist Tan Qingshan disagrees. Furthermore.net/article. the lowest administrative tier of the Chinese state. 7 6 Bruce Gilley. 2009.” Democratization 17. He writes. Xin wen da xue (Journalism Quarterly) 2007. also involved media-based participation. In 1987 the National People’s Congress passed the Provisional Organic Law on Village Committees and made village elections mandatory every three years. http://academic. The law was refined in 1998. Two years later. In 1980. which were usually framed as research or NGO activities. a topic considered more sensitive than environmental protection in China. In his opinion. democratic. “village elections are institutionalized.mediachina.138 protection. it has generated a far wider media reach than previous projects. This was an unprecedented move. 6 What sets the Village Documentary project apart is its direct engagement with village democracy.
writes. Rural Democracy in China: The Role of Village Elections (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. the stories shown in the videos reveal the kind of complexity described by He. and so on. literacy. through rapid economic development. social disorder. He Baogang.” Journal of Chinese Political Science 15 (2010). daily resistance. a leading scholar in this field.000 villages in China and they vary greatly in size.”8 Part of the difficulty in forming a comprehensive view of village governance is the sheer scale of the problem. kinship fighting. 9 . economic development level. from a portrait of a village head self-branded as a rebel to the resolution of a dispute on the ownership of a quarry. The videos’ topics range from a village meeting on the distribution of a poverty relief fund to an election nullified because of unbalanced representation. They contain no organized protests. There are more than 620. In Rural Democracy in China: The Role of Village Elections. deepening democratization processes.” due to “the dysfunctional village governance structure.9 Although the ten villages covered by the Village Documentary project amount to only a tiny fraction of China’s countryside. The videos are not in-depth case studies conducted by sociologists or political scientists.139 irrelevant to effective village self-government. 2007). township re-assertiveness over villages. He Baogang. and extreme poverty. 153. political tradition. Rural China is often the subject of incongruous and paradoxical descriptions that range from peasant rebellions. 1. increasing wealth and prosperity. Each depiction contains a partial truth individually or even collectively. And they do not encompass the whole range of village politics. like what 8 Tan Qingshan. and surprisingly. kinship structure. “Why Village Election Has Not Much Improved Village Governance. “dark force” in village politics. and the village dual leadership factor. rampant corruption.
http://participedia. “Wenling City Deliberative Poll. assessed from http://www.140 occurred in Wukan recently. Wu Dongyan. A foreigner excitedly asked the villagers. 11 10 . what has changed in the way they think. “Ou meng bang Zhongguo ‘cun min zi zhi’” (EU Helps China’s ‘Village SelfGovernance’). 15. 2012. The significance of the project lies as much in its demonstrative value – that the introduction of visibility is crucial to empowering villagers – as in the actual stories that the ten authors managed to capture and tell. accessed Feb. 2006.” Another peasant brother’s answer was even better: “My status in the village has clearly gone up. like the participatory budget meetings conducted in Zeguo in Zhejiang province. besides articulating the change that the project has brought to the lives of the villagers in the ten participating villages. Feb. 2012. nor experiments of deliberative democracy. the DV camera is like my eyes.asp?boardid=6&id=94242. I will also analyze how the project affected village politics and urban viewers like me. folks think I have become a reporter.net/cases/wenling-citydeliberative-poll.org.com.” 2009.chinareform. through this project. 20.”11 How should we understand Shao’s claim that the DV camera is like her eyes? And what does it mean that the other villager has acquired the status of a reporter? In this section. May 30. 10 They provide only a glimpse of Chinese rural politics.cn/cirdbbs/dispbbs. Partition of Visibility In early May 2006. According to one Chinese reporter. The reply from the granny who got the first prize [Shao Yuzhen] was excellent: “Not much difference. Central to my discussion is the notion of See Sean Gray. the villagers’ videos were screened at Caochangdi Workstation and an award ceremony was held. ftchinese.
by different functions. Politics ought to be defined on its own terms. 2012. is motivated by the fundamental principle of equality. 13 14 . and politically as representation and recognition. “Ten Theses on Politics.html. locations. we can already locate a connection to the notion of publicness. In his 1996 article. It is the political relationship that allows one to think the possibility of a political subject(ivity).” 13 Politics.” Theory & Event 5. politics is the struggle for recognition as a political subject. and not on its members’ categorical classification.3ranciere.”14 In his differentiation of politics from the police.edu/login?uri=/journals/theory_and_event/v005/5. however notional or compromised. accessed Feb. Politics is not the exercise of power.” Rancière begins with the following definition of politics: Thesis 1. “the existence of a public is contingent on its members’ activity.12 In other words. The exercise of power – the counting of “actual groups defined by differences in birth.jhu. understood visually as presentation and reception. “Ten Theses on Politics.141 visibility. according to this formulation. objectively determined position in social 12 Jacques Rancière. 21.3 (2001). I will rely on Jacques Rancière’s theorization of subjectivity formation – what he terms “subjectification” – and identify the link between this concept and the notion of reflexivity in Warner’s theorization of publics. Ibid. as a mode of acting put into practice by a specific kind of subject and deriving from a particular form of reason. As Warner notes. “specifically opposed to the police. Ibid. not the other way around. http://muse. and interests” – does not constitute politics but belongs to what Rancière calls “the police.
”18 Subjectification is precisely the process in which those yet to be counted as political subjects struggle to become visible and audible – in other words. “Move along! There is nothing to see here!” But more often.17 Politics. the bourgeois public sphere has been able 15 16 17 18 Warner. or material existence. “Ten Theses on Politics. to become recognized. is “first and foremost an intervention upon the visible and the sayable. 90-91.142 structure. it is ingrained in cultural practices that determine the boundaries of meaning. in its opposition to the police. but rather. Furthermore. since publics lie outside the field of the police. This is linked to two aspects of publicness: access to the public sphere. and a normative mode of public speech. “Ten Theses on Politics. they do not connect to the exercise of power directly. By insisting that public speech adhere to the rational-critical form. Publics and Counterpublics. As Oliver Davis notes. that they are not heard as meaning-bearing language. In Thesis 7. rationality. Jacques Rancière (Cambridge: Polity. Rancière states that the police is primarily “a partition of the sensible. as illustrated by the police command. 2010). 88. in a more fundamental sense.” .” Oliver Davis.” a partition between “what is visible and what is not. and ethics.”16 The partition can be realized by brute force. Jacques Rancière. of what can be heard from the inaudible. Rancière. to say that the sans-part [those ‘without a share’ in the political community] are excluded from the socio-political order is that when they try to voice their grievances there is a tendency for their speech not to be heard as rational argument. … This does not just mean that these complaints are understood then disregarded.”15 Publics are political precisely because of their lack of institutional permanence and disregard for status.
The opportunity to see villagers participating in elections. they engaged in a lively discussion. I was both excited and frustrated. After the village head briefed the crowd. . and to reason. Nong Ke. Although more than half of the Chinese population still live in the countryside. A piece of cloth bearing the name of the meeting was tied to a clump of bamboo. unable to speak. When I watched the videos from the Village Documentary project for the first time. at the Hong Kong International Film Festival in 2006. Furthermore. young and old – gathered in an open place. They exist but are invisible. captured how the residents of a neighboring village determined the distribution of 10. Therefore. Ironically the fact that direct elections are only implemented at the village level and that urban residents have no access to such democratic processes is hardly known. between text and doodle. More than a hundred villagers – men and women. The Village Documentary project enabled villagers to appear as political subjects on screen. a 59-year-old farmer from Dujie village in Guangxi province. arguing in meetings. to write. In the first video. Villagers are portrayed as uneducated and simple-minded folks.000 yuan that they had received from the county government. rural life is often considered apolitical. having no existence as a real part of society.143 to legitimize its exclusion of those who do not speak in this way. and gossiping in bedrooms was precious. between meaning and nonsense. rural life is underrepresented in the Chinese mediascape. Some had brought small stools while others sat on rocks or stood. it is essential for counterpublics to reconfigure the partition between speech and noise.
fair. (In 2010. Voting proceeded quickly and twenty families were chosen according to the result. Empty bowls were placed under the names. Each would receive 500 yuan. Names of potential recipients were chalked up on a blackboard. The process appeared to be open. They then decided to put the matter to a vote. and efficient. when I needed to engage gallery visitors in a simple vote. I incorporated this beans-andbowls method into my own art project.) .144 Figure 4. Each villager was given five beans to place into five bowls of his or her choice.4 Stills from A Welfare Council by Nong Ke.
a meeting was held in a classroom at the local primary school. “Monster! This is the monster in the magic world!” A female voice was heard offscreen. Onscreen a few women were washing clothes in a creek. Their conversations were made inaudible by the loud broadcast. in complete sentences with proper grammar. The only woman in the . please pay attention. seemed more curious about the camera he was holding. The village party secretary. making it effortless for me to follow. sat behind a long table in the front of the room. The party secretary’s speech also showed up onscreen as subtitles. And even in these three. She spoke slowly and clearly. I will broadcast and propagate again the arrangement set by the county government on the sixth village committee elections. Zhang Huancai’s video. Later that evening.” It was the village party secretary broadcasting via the loud speaker system installed along the road. made me acutely aware of my own tendency to correlate political subjectivity with speech capability. The other villagers. characters in Shao’s video seemed more articulate and politically savvy. the literary and official form of Chinese based on the Beijing dialect. Shao Yuzhen’s video was the easiest for me to follow because she was from a suburb of Beijing. A Nullified Election. however.145 While watching the videos in 2006 I also felt anxious. facing a crowd of villagers. I could only understand the dialects in three of them. A few boys approached the lens and shouted. The video began with Zhang trying to engage a few fellow villagers in a conversation about the impending village election. Out of the ten videos. along with a few officials from the county. “All village comrades. Since I had learned to associate political address with Mandarin. I had to rely on subtitles from time to time.
I could see that some of them were chatting. I was able to understand them with the aid of subtitles. 19 .” “If the village head is re-swapped. Her hair was clipped short. Ballots were counted. voting proceeded. then no solution. but it was impossible for me to figure out what they were saying. 2) Shijiazhai Village – the subject of this video – is an administrative region composed of two natural villages. and the party secretary announced the results.” (Rural Democracy in China. She spoke first. “East Village has an official. When the video cut to the villagers sitting in the back of the room. By this time. A county official wearing a According to He Baogang. the village must be divided. but it was clear that several villagers were talking simultaneously and passionately. After the officials finished giving speeches. “The word ‘village’ (cun) has two meanings in Chinese: either a natural village or hamlet composed of residents who live together (ziran cun) or an administrative rural area (xingzheng cun).” “Even in constructing this building. then West Village must also have an official. and not everything they uttered was transcribed into subtitles. most of the villagers were standing in the room. East Village and West Village. Suddenly someone offscreen shouted. and still raise opinions here. if things come up and West Village does not comply. West Village people did not have a share.”19 These four statements appeared onscreen as subtitles in succession.” “One did not even vote for oneself. “If West Village does not have an official. and then the county officials addressed the crowd in turn.” Other villagers chimed in. Even though the officials all spoke in the local dialect. Their words were not transcribed on the screen.146 room was the village party secretary.
while others are thought to be merely personal. In this hierarchy. thus ineligible. suggests that we continue to divide people into two camps: those capable of speech. or particular.”20 Rancière’s notion.” 21 When I watched Zhang’s video for the first time. I was able to understand everything that the officials said. as 20 21 Arendt. In The Human Condition. and those incapable. instead of speaking aloud as the party secretary did. Publics and Counterpublics. “Considering the interest of people in West Village. Hannah Arendt notes that Aristotle defined men – citizens of the polis – as “living beings capable of speech. 117. subtitles. Similarly. private. the partition of the sensible. It only occurred to me later that my inability to understand them is not so much biological as social. and that my frustration implicated me as one willing participant in the policing of the hierarchy of faculties. It seemed reasonable to hold the villagers accountable for not being able to conduct public speech in a reasonable form. Warner points out that the unity of the dominant public “depends on a hierarchy of faculties that allows some activities to count as public or general. thus eligible to participate in public discussions. My reflex was to blame my lack of comprehension on the villagers: they chatted in small groups in the back of the room. and when they finally spoke up. they talked at the same time. Warner. The Human Condition. but only a small proportion of the villagers’ words. . 27.147 nice black coat intervened. giving me – and the person doing subtitles – a difficult time. how about [we] also identify one or two officials from West Village?” The matter was left unsettled.
two village committee members engaged a few senior villagers in a discussion about the local school building. clear pronunciation. we would not demand multiple subtitles. are given far more attention than sound. Video. In one scene in the video produced by Fu Jiachong (from Jiguan village in Henan province). whereas cursing. indicating the severity of the problem with the gap between his hands. since if only one person is speaking at any time. we would blame those “fools” for not conforming to a “proper” way of speaking. subtitles are designed to work well with turn taking. instead. and personal address are deemed inappropriate. nor would we rewind and re-watch the segment. Overlapping speech is not unique to Zhang Huancai’s segment. We rarely question what has changed when spoken dialogue is transformed into text. muttering. in a linear fashion from start to finish. is produced and consumed according to this partition of the sensible. We expect to understand everything in a video by watching it once. often considered just a technology. We seem to value what is said more than how it is said. Formal vocabulary. The one closer to the camera has extended both arms forward. For example. We have become so reliant on subtitling that it is not uncommon for us to read the subtitles even when we can understand the language spoken in the video. speaking all at once. we will have no trouble figuring out who is responsible for that line of text placed on the bottom of the screen. and impersonal address are considered properly public. Onscreen we see two elders talking passionately at the same time. a practice well accommodated by the technology. If many people were speaking at the same time.148 texts. turn taking. The other villager in the back .
I focused on how the partition of the sensible is realized through an alignment between rhetorical norms and video technologies. Insider/Outsider In the last section. I will turn to the material impact of the DV camera. The introduction of the DV camera has a material impact on the village’s media infrastructure. In this section. and anger? Should we educate them so that they can speak properly. or should we abandon the notion that public speech has to be rational and disengaged? Should we invent technologies to accommodate social practices. However. Should we criticize villagers for not talking in turn. or should we mold social practices to meet the constraints of technologies? Village Documentary project made these questions salient. Zhang Huancai’s video reveals that. or should we understand their duets and choruses as expressions of excitement. the villagers had to settle for the back. Although its effect is not immediately visible in the video produced by Zhang. the villagers could not. whereas the village party secretary could broadcast her message on the loud-speaker system.149 has raised his right arm. only the words shouted by the villager in the front appeared onscreen as subtitles. the villagers had to wait until the end of the meeting to express their dissatisfaction. whereas the officials could determine the agenda of the meeting and allocate more time to their spiels. concern. his fellow villagers seemed to . pointing a finger to the problem in midair. No one in the room seemed to be bothered by these two men’s simultaneous speech. whereas the officials could determine the spatial layout and sit comfortably in the front of the room.
it could refer to the outside of a privileged space that is not accessible to all. in Beijing. or even abroad. “the outside” is external to the partition maintained by the police. bringing change to the village in an unforeseeable fashion. stranger-relationality is a defining feature of publicness in the modern era. “the outside” could refer to the world outside the village. in the provincial capital. ni ke bug an wang wai luan fang chu lai. “Don’t you dare show it recklessly!” The literal translation of the woman’s warning is “Don’t you dare release [it] recklessly to the outside!”22 She seemed to suggest that to screen the video captured by the little machine would be like letting the genie out of the bottle. but more 22 In Chinese. “The outside” in her statement could be interpreted in two ways. When Zhang told one middle-aged woman on the street that he was “shooting television. showing what happened in the classroom to villagers who were not invited to the meeting may give rise to many questions: Why wasn’t I told about the meeting? Why didn’t they let more villagers from West Village attend the meeting so there could have been a balanced vote? Why did that person blame people of West Village for not contributing to the school project? The video would in effect undermine the control maintained by the village and county officials. It would subject the way of life in this village to the gaze of strangers. Second.” she warned him. First. As discussed in the last chapter. the video’s potential is to engender stranger-visibility. In Rancière’s vocabulary.150 grasp the machine’s potential instinctively. . The video could be screened in other villages. It may be established through face-to-face encounters. In other words. For instance.
often it is realized through media. The video produced by Zhang links his village to the outside world. Once the video is out there, no one could control the exact contours of its audience. Neither the village party secretary nor the villagers could prevent someone like me – who had not even heard of Shijiazhai before – from watching the video, analyzing it, and connecting it to some theoretical ideas on democracy proposed by a French philosopher. I may not be able to go to the village and try to influence its politics directly, but no one could predict the effect of my writing, and that of other texts triggered by the video. Village politics in China have long been shaped by two forces: one from within, largely structured by kinship and tradition, and one from above, exerted by the higher levels of government. Post-Mao economic reform has brought a third force, the profit motive, into the dynamic. Cultivating a discourse on village life in the emerging public sphere may introduce a public force to village politics. The Village Documentary project suggests that video, with its potential for stranger-visibility, could bring a new mode of address to the countryside. When people speak about matters of common concern, they have to address potential strangers in addition to those present. This is precisely what has happened in the Wukan incident described at the beginning of this chapter. The ten villagers who participated in the Village Documentary project acted as both insiders and outsiders in regard to their villages. As insiders, even with the DV camera in hand, their identity as video-makers was secondary to their identity as locals. Yet by partaking in the project and traveling between their villages and Beijing, they were also made aware that the viewership of their output would be more than
their families and neighbors. The DV camera encouraged them to observe their villages attentively. For example, in Wang Wei’s video, titled Land Distribution, two kinds of scenes are mixed together. In about half of the shots, Wang guides the viewer around his village, Guanyinsi Wangjiacun in Shandong province. The viewer is taken to see the stone slab bearing the village’s name, the village’s most fertile piece of land, and the compound where the village committee, the clinic, and the women’s activity room are housed. “The office doors are closed,” Wang says in voice-over. “This is the village’s clinic. But the doctor is not here; he conducts business at home now.” The video cuts to the locked door, with two panes of glass missing. “The glass has been broken for a long time. It was broken by someone during SARS, never repaired since.” The camera then turns to a gap in the wall enclosing the compound. Wang informs the viewer that the breach has been there for two years, and someone was able to enter the compound earlier that spring to steal the flour sent to the village by the Civil Affairs Bureau for poverty relief. His dissatisfaction with the decrepit condition of the village’s collective infrastructure is obvious. Wang delivers his commentary – informative and critical – not in the local dialect, but in perfect Mandarin. The village tour is intercut with a second set of scenes, in which Wang interacts with his fellow villagers. He talks to two women, one of them identified as “Sheng Bo’s wife,” as they sit on a large heated bed, legs covered in quilts, doing needlework. They tell him that they voted for the current village head because the
Figure 4.5 Stills from Land Distribution by Wang Wei.
village head had promised to divide the village’s land. Wang then goes to talk with the village head and his deputy about land division. The conversations take place in their homes, and on each occasion, the official is seen sitting on a bed and leaning against a pile of quilts. Their relaxed posture and casual language befit the close relationship between them and Wang, as the village only has about 440 residents. Wang participates in these discussions earnestly, speaking in the local dialect, providing no more commentary to the potential viewer.
Wang’s accent-switching makes his insider-outsider duality salient. Furthermore, those scenes in which he appears as an engaged discussant are always shot indoors and framed tightly, suggesting intimacy, whereas those in which he assumes the role of a guide talking to the viewer are shot outdoors and framed widely. The rapid alternation of these two kinds of shots seems to suggest that Wang is actively merging an insider’s interested participation with an outsider’s critical observation. Making things public requires not only technology and infrastructure but also agents like Wang who can connect the inside with the outside. There are still too few such agents who can push rural politics onto discursive platforms, which exist mostly in urban media. Over 200 million farmers work as migrant labors in cities and suburban factories. Often their children are left behind in the village and cared for by the grandparents. Although migrant laborers usually keep close ties with their families, sending money back to relatives and traveling home during the Chinese New Year, they are unable to maintain political ties to their villages, not to mention developing discursive connections between the countryside and their city dwellings. One video in the Village Documentary project highlights this problem. Yin Chujian, a 26-year-old villager working in Jiahua city in Zhejiang province, interviewed a few friends also working in the city, asking them if they had gone back to the village to participate in recent elections. Some of these young men and women had become successful shop owners in the city, selling computer software or providing photography services. Their unanimous answer was “no.” When pressed to give a
obtaining and then learning to use a DV camera is empowering. Chris Berry.” Politically they have become complete outsiders to their village. Wang Yiman. “For them. they replied. Witnessing. “‘I Am One of Them’ and ‘They Are My Actors’: Performing. Perhaps they have long possessed inquisitive minds. eds. to capture mundane details now viewed afresh. 2010). Wang Wei and other video authors only became more curious and concerned. but also learned to be more perceptive.” or “Elections have nothing to do with me anyway. They not only gained the ability to record detailed everyday happenings in their villages.” in The New Chinese Documentary Film Movement. to defamiliarize routine. This connection allowed them to see themselves as no longer completely immersed in a closed structure. They acquired the freedom to look at their villages as if they were standing outside temporarily. Lu Xinyu.”23 To become a stranger is not to turn into an alien. The insider-outsider identity acquired by the ten participants in the Village Documentary project can also be related to the notion of the stranger. 23 .155 reason. Unlike the young migrant workers in Yin Chujian’s video who have become detached from their village. and Lisa Rofel (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. 224.” “I’m too busy. As media scholar Wang Yiman notes. and DV Image-Making in Plebian China. but only with the DV camera in hand could they transform themselves into avowed strangers. “No one informed me that I should vote. The DV camera symbolized their connection to the world outside their villages.
” her right hand pointing and touching the camera perched on her left hand. In a video posted online. outside of my village. I’ve walked outside. through learning I’ve gained more confidence. “After getting this machine.” Asked if the machine has empowered her. Shao Yuzhen.156 Reflexivity and Rupture In addition to examining their own surroundings.” She repeats the Chinese word for “confidence” twice to make sure it is pronounced clearly. the 55year-old villager from the suburb of Beijing. she says. “since [I] started shooting.” http://www. accessed Feb. she is seen with her own DV camera turned on and filming the journalist. The camera held steadily in her hands substantiates her statement. the villagers also directed their cameras to the outside world when opportunities arose. and an equality of intelligence. 24 . has developed a habit of carrying the DV camera with her all the time. Rancière proposes a theory of radical equality based on the pedagogical experiment of Joseph Jacotot (1770-1840). The mutual filming confirms an equality of visibility. as much as the journalist is entitled to film her. 10. 2012.24 While the journalist captures her on video.com/watch?v=Cp5lYcq0jbo. she replies. The returned gaze of her camera seems to claim that she is entitled to treat the interview as an opportunity for her to capture the foreign journalist on her tape. “Yes. an exiled French schoolteacher who managed to guide his Flemish students to acquire French on their “Interview de Shao Yuzhen. we see her being interviewed by a foreign journalist at a European film festival. to be viewed later by her friends back in the village. In The Ignorant Schoolmaster.youtube.
157 Figure 4. a 24-volume novel by Fénelon. 2. 25 . Kristin Ross (Stanford. Because Jacotot and his students had no common language – Jacotot did not know Flemish – he could not resort to the conventional method of transmitting knowledge by explanation. CA: Stanford University Press.”25 To his astonishment. he discovered later that the students. 1991). own. and asked them to “learn the French text with the help of the translation.6 Shao Yuzhen being interviewed by a foreign journalist. The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. he gave the students copies of a bilingual edition of Télémaque. “left to themselves. Instead.” managed to write critical essays in French “as well Jacques Rancière. trans.
Ibid. but the belief in the inferiority of their intelligence. For Wu.. so Wu had very little time to train them as professionals and had to leave them on their own to figure out how to produce videos according to their villages’ specific situations. like Jacotot’s inability to speak Flemish. what an emancipated person can do is be an emancipator: to give. but the consciousness of what an intelligence can do when it considers itself equal to any other and considers any other equal to itself.. Wu was willing to learn from the ten participants as they were from him. … Essentially. .27 He believes that “the equality of intelligence is the common bond of humanity. not the key to knowledge. played a productive role. Perhaps time constraints. The villagers had to learn how to use a DV camera. a machine that most of them had never seen before. He always addressed them as villager-authors. In Chinese. to see their videomaking as legitimate.158 as many French could have done!”26 From Jacotot’s story Rancière extracts a critical lesson for emancipation: What stultifies the common people is not the lack of instruction.”28 Pedagogy is also central to the Village Documentary project. He made it clear 26 27 28 29 Ibid. helping the villagers to acquire technical skills was considered less important than helping them to feel confident. cun min zuo zhe.29 Though widely respected as the foundational figure in China’s independent documentary field. the necessary and sufficient condition for a society of men to exist. Ibid. The villagers only spent three days at Wu Wenguang’s Caochangdi Workstation. 68. 73.
http://www. “Wu Wenguang’s greatness lies in the fact that he treats peasants as equals. 2005. The mirror allows us to perform – like putting on make-up. so he can come up with a pioneering approach – to let peasants take charge of the mirror. 5.ccdworkstation. [the village-authors] talked eagerly and passionately. Jacotot’s success lies in the fact that his students were forced into pretending that they were already intellectual equals to their master. 2007. is an apt metaphor.blshe.”31 “The mirror” in the comment above. 31 30 . 2010. and they were able to verify the equality in the pedagogical encounter. When the young professional directors saw this video. “political subjectivation resembles acting because both involve the ruse of pretending Wu Wenguang. now jointly in charge of the lens. translation mine.com/ videosvillageprojectworknote.com/post/2932/49225. Anonymous comment left on Wang Zheng’s blog on Aug. moving the body. … Sitting among these villagers who previously could have been the subjects of my camera. 6. a documentary lasting two and half hours. It creates a feedback loop. 2009. on the other hand. or rehearsing a speech – and to confirm that we are capable of performing. without music.html. The first thing Nong Ke said was.159 to them that while he knows more about documentary filmmaking. “Gong zuo ri ji” (Working Diary). Nov.30 As one commentator wrote online. http://wangcheng. they know more about village life. 2005. [I] learned a lot. The villager-authors. accessed Aug. presumably referring to the DV camera or the practice of video-making. without voiceover. He wrote in his diary on November 6. 5. they focused more on its aesthetics and documentary techniques. 7. associated [the film] with their own feelings and experiences. it allows reflexivity. accessed Aug. The film screened on the last night of the Villager-Authors Workshop was Before the Flood. As Davis articulates. … In the ensuing discussion. those being flooded are us poor folks. According to Rancière.
allowing the holder to watch the video and show it to others right after the video is captured. Moreover. “Its reality lies in just this reflexivity by which an addressable object is conjured into being in order to enable the very discourse that gives it existence. “Run it up the flagpole. Publics and Counterpublics. you are excluded. Ibid. From a technical point of view.. . Put on a show. and see who shows up. by virtue of the ‘wrong’ of the miscount. 114. The rapid uptake of the DV camera cannot simply be attributed to its low cost. much like the mirror or the bilingual edition of Télémaque. and see who salutes. like radical equality. It enables autodidactic learning by providing immediate feedback. 86. when deployed collectively. It houses both the lens and the screen. 67.”32 This idea that something can only become true if it is first pretended is also central to the notion of publics. A public can only exist reflexively. It installs confidence into its user.”33 One has to pretend to be speaking to a public in order to conjure that very public into being. can only be realized performatively and poetically.160 you are something you are not in order to become it: for the sans-part this means pretending you are already equal participants in the political process from which in fact.”34 Publics. Warner. As Warner writes vividly. the DV camera encapsulates the idea of reflexivity. Jacques Rancière. it facilitates a kind of political verification: Are you going to realize the promise you have made before the election – to us and on tape – that you would redistribute the land? Were the delegates present at the 32 33 34 Davis. A fundamental difference between the film camera and the DV camera is that the latter permits instant verification.
They became filmmakers by pretending to be filmmakers. a costal city in Liaoning province. Rupture is bound to cause anxiety. wanted to protest against a toxic chemical plant. or even just a piece of gossip. Wu and the ten villagers have consistently downplayed the criticality of their joint venture. a dispute. The critical moment occurred when they turned on the camera to capture an election. a meeting. For the ten villagers. and that the project had no political aim.” There is no doubt that both the residents and the government understood the event as a protest – more than ten thousand people “strolled” along the same street on a Sunday afternoon . to speak and to be heard. she replied. “just for fun.161 meeting last night representative of the village population? Was the election process fair and transparent? To pretend and to perform. when residents in Dalian.” Wu and the villagers chose to engage in tacit transformations rather than open protests. one has to create a rupture from what has become the norm and the routine. in August 2011. the opportunity to go to Beijing and to return with a DV camera constituted only the prelude to a rupture. unease. Wu claimed that he was only helping villagers to capture their quotidian experience. The strategy is not to articulate the political thinking behind their actions. or even suppression. this rhetorical method itself is political. Adapted to the authoritarian situation in China. They became political subjects by pretending to have the rights to look and to be seen. For example. and even to deny their political intention when asked. they organized a “group stroll. When Shao Yuzhen was asked by her fellow villagers why she was holding a video camera.
quoted in Zha Jianying. reminds us.35 but his 81-day detention in the spring of 2011 has seriously limited his ability to work in China. Apr. “Enemy of the State. Cui Weiping. articulated. .162 – but the word game made it more difficult for the government to prevent the message from spreading on social media and to crack down on the organizers. as Cui Weiping. accessed Mar. a literary scholar who has translated many East-European writings on the civil society into Chinese. Pragmatic stutter is preferred to idealistic eloquence. Ai Qing. They are the reason we are not in prison.”36 35 36 His father. who was sentenced to prison in 2009 for drafting the pro-democracy manifesto. and radical approach favored by Ai and Liu Xiaobo. adopted confrontational strategies. Charter 08. This may appear to be a strong argument that the quiet. http://www. Ai has often worked on sensitive issues. 2007. and voiced sharp criticism of the Chinese state. but have taken two very different approaches in practice. 23. 2. Wu Wenguang and Ai Weiwei are neighbors.com/reporting/2007/04/23/070423fa_fact_zha. For this alone we are grateful. “The officials think of us as moderates because of them [the radicals]. 2012.newyorker. was a poet canonized by the Communist Party. Both are politically-minded. For a while his family background and his fame in the West seemed to have protected him from the kind of harsh treatment that many civil rights activists have suffered. pragmatic.” New Yorker. both live in Caochangdi village in the northern suburb of Beijing. and gradual approach taken by Wu and many other activists working in China today is more effective than the direct. However.
In Chapter 2.pdf.163 Circulation In Disagreement. 30. at a trial in 1832. In the West. 2010. . See Charles Taylor. the socialist revolutionary Auguste Blanqui gave “proletarian” as his profession and announced that “it is the profession of thirty million Frenchmen who live off their labor and who are deprived of political rights. “Modernity and the Rise of the Public Sphere. 38 39 37 Warner. maintain its argumentative force. 1992.40 In our highly mediated world. Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy. 1999).utah. and makes no mention of the chain of events both before and after. … the difference between an inegalitarian distribution of social bodies and the equality of speaking beings. and form concatenations with other speeches through inter-referencing. http://www. “no single text can create a public. Publics and Counterpublics.” The Tanner Lectures on Human Values.39 The notion of the proletarian did endure for more than a century. “proletarian” was still the best word to express their idea of a counterpublic. Julie Rose (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. when Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge wrote Public Sphere and Experience in 1972. trans. I discussed how Xiong Wenyun utilized the Jacques Rancière. As Warner notes.”37 Rancière’s analysis focuses exclusively on this particular incident. 40 Negt and Kluge. accessed Oct.tannerlectures. The Public Sphere and Experience. It traveled to China in the beginning of the twentieth century and only started to fade out of circulation in the late 1970s. 37-39. 90.” it was a watershed moment because it exposed “the founding wrong of politics. Rancière argues that when.”38 Blanqui’s speech had to enter circulation.edu/lectures/documents/Taylor93. a speech can hardly be considered public without wide circulation.
For the Village Documentary project. it was also organized by a film club. well-educated.ccdworkstation. he intended the villagers’ videos to “introduce China’s rural situation to an international as well as an urban domestic public. and then at Cherry Lane Movies. and Wang Yiman. and scheduled a screening tour at four American universities. accessed Feb. About twenty people showed up. an independent film club. Singapore. “‘I Am One of Them’ and ‘They Are My Actors’: Performing. Participants are usually young. See Caochangdi Workstation website. first at an international conference organized by the project’s sponsor.42 In spring 2006. thus seriously limiting the project’s publicness. when Wu Wenguang conceived the project in 2005.” 223. 42 41 . the EU-China Training Program on Village Governance.com/english/Public%20Screenings%20and%20Exhibitions%20and%20the %20Viewers%20intro. Witnessing.”41 Right after the videos were edited in December 2005. 2012. http://www. According to Wang Yiman. the circulation issue might seem straightforward – video is a medium designed for multiplication. When I watched the videos in Beijing in spring 2008. Such film salons have become the main channel – and often the only channel – for independent films to be seen and discussed in Beijing. most of them students from universities nearby. Wu attended the event and answered questions after the screening. Yet it has been difficult for the villagers’ videos to enter distribution. 18. the videos were also shown in Beijing twice. Wu sent the compilation of videos to film festivals in Hong Kong. The event took place at a nice restaurant on a weekday afternoon.html. and Europe. and DV Image-Making in Plebian China.164 format of media events to enable the Moving Rainbow project to enter mass media.
confessing in his video that he had come back to his village in Shandong province after serving in the army for three years because he wanted to “do something.43 The videos have never circulated on the internet. and the videos were never shown in the villages where the ten authors live. cun min zi pai” (Villager Self-Governance. 2006. “folks believe that you are a reporter. The Village Documentary project has only been included in one art exhibition in Beijing. have both indicated that. the project’s discursive reach has been limited to a small portion of the capital’s academic and art community.”45 This suggests that others in the village have become aware of Shao’s video-making and understood the potential public pressure that her videos might bring to their matters of concern. May 11. Among the ten participants. It was included in Grassroots Humanism (Di ceng ren wen). curated by Wang Lin. This is caused by both the state’s tenacious control on media and Wu’s low-key approach. their fellow villagers started to see them as reporters. a remote artist village in the eastern suburb of Beijing. Consequently. He had become discouraged. The exhibition took place in Songzhuang. In 2010.165 interested in the arts. I witnessed him crying at a workshop at Caochangdi Workstation. . Media scholar Han Hong faults the project on two fronts: it failed to generate participation on a larger scale. and come to you for many things. 44 45 43 Han Hong. Nan fang zhou mo (Southern Weekly). Shao told a journalist in 2006. to help alleviate poverty. On the other hand.” Shao Yuzhen quoted in Li Hongyu. in December 2007. “Cun min zi zhi. “Participatory Image-Making and Participatory Communication. the videos’ limited circulation means that they can never achieve the kind of media impact assumed by the villagers. Shao Yuzhen and Wang Wei. Wang Wei was the most idealistic in the beginning.” for instance. nor in the pirated DVD market.44 Yet two villagers. after their participation in this project. Villager Self-Filmmaking).
professional and amateur. Warner suggests that publics acquire agency only through their “imaginary coupling with the state. . It may be the case. critique each other’s works. young and old. to gain enough scale to exert pressure on policies and other social institutions. but connect with other utterances to form live discourses. that more radical struggles – social movements. threats of armed insurrection – are needed to connect counterpublics with the larger field of power. strikes. turning Caochangdi Workstation into a center where individuals. and perhaps more fundamental issue. and show their videos in annual 46 47 Warner.” Social Science History 34. “The Public Sphere in the Field of Power. 301-335.47 Wu Wenguang seems more patient than Wang Wei. because it means that they will have to leave behind the kind of performatives that make them counterpublic in the first place. Publics and Counterpublics. But there is a second. Perhaps three decades of working as an independent documentary filmmaker have given him enough time to understand the relation between art and social change.”46 But this is problematic for counterpublics. so that his videos do not appear as single texts with a very short life span.166 the videos he had been making could not change his village to the extent that he had hoped. but bounded. both inside and outside his village. Perhaps he has to push his work into wider circulation. He understands that the social impact of art is real. 124. Wu has focused primarily on participatory video-making.” when they “enter the temporality of politics and adapt themselves to the performatives of rational-critical discourse. Since the Village Documentary project. as Craig Calhoun suggests. come to attend workshops.3 (2010). See Craig Calhoun.
the Great Leap Forward (1958-60). In our pursuit of publicness. 48 . the participants go back to their cities. videos still cannot circulate online.cn/ccdworkstation. as it can provide a fertile ground for public practice to flourish. building up an oral history archive on Mao-era political movements. These periods remain taboo subjects in printed and visual media. and villages to capture stories excluded from official view. towns. The URL for the blog is http://blog.48 However. The struggle for visibility continues. and to challenge and inspire the urban. or strive for a pluralistic conception where alternative forms of expression are seen not as threats but as assets? The Village Documentary project serves as a powerful reminder that the rural should not be left behind. Wu has also started to utilize the internet. and for the Chinese twitter page: http://weibo. uploading interview transcripts onto a blog and distributing short texts and images via twitter. including the Land Reform (1950-52). we have to ask ourselves: what kind of publicness we want? Should we strive for one “universal” kind of publicness admitting only rational-critical dialogue. the Great Famine (1959-61).com. and the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).167 festivals.sina. More importantly. he has been working on the Memory project. Since 2010.com/u/2181292250. The public sphere is not yet an institutionalized reality in China.
Some of these social conditions. merge. publics are created when certain social conditions are present. constantly in flux. many aspects of publicness discussed in the previous chapters belong to this latter category. develop. In fact. Like clouds. No one can deny the existence of clouds – we have all seen them – but no one can pin down the exact contour of a cloud either. He calls them social imaginaries. They form. For example. such as freedom of speech and association. and occasionally transform into storms. If clouds are created when certain meteorological conditions are conducive. can be clearly stated and indeed are often written into the legal code. has argued that much of our social world is built on widely-held tacit understandings. If social imaginaries are tacitly held. while others largely depend on tacit understandings collectively held by a large portion of the population. publics are dynamic systems. among others. how can we attempt to change them? These questions are especially important for counterpublics as the latter are often prohibited from equal .168 Chapter 5 Fantasy I often think of publics as clouds. how can we locate them? And furthermore. those who encounter Nian may not be able to articulate that the work’s publicness lies in its aggregation of stranger relations. but they can probably sense that the project is different from both state mourning and private mourning because its numerous participants do not seem to belong to any particular organization or to be connected personally to the students killed in the earthquake. Charles Taylor. dissipate.
I will then analyze how a number of participants in the Karibu Islands discussions used fantasy to reveal and criticize current social imaginaries. a project from my own art practice. which underlies both queerness and publicness. will serve as the case study. This is followed by some theoretical ideas on social imaginaries and fantasy. Next. and explore the relation between participation and exhibition. I will first describe the development of Karibu Islands and its relation to Beijing’s queer movement. I will describe the form that this project took when it was exhibited in the 3rd Guangzhou Triennial. I will propose fantasy – more specifically. We decided to create a joint work to be shown at the foyer of the University’s main lecture theater. This chapter is organized into five sections. I was an MFA student at the Chinese University in Hong Kong and Perry was an undergraduate student. In the last section. Karibu Islands and the Beijing LGBT Cultural Center Karibu Islands began as a series of experimental videos that Perry Ling and I created in the fall of 2004. but this project’s highly participatory nature means that it is as much about what the participants did on the stage as about how I set up the stage. I will discuss the notion of radical secularity. Karibu Islands.169 participation in social life because of prejudices motivated by deep-seated but unarticulated ideas and images. It may be unusual for an artist to write about his or her own work. The analysis in this chapter will center on the discussions and documents produced by the participants. Unlike most exhibition . counterpublic fantasy – as an avenue to approach social imaginaries. In this chapter.
venues.170 Figure 5. the foyer was not a white box. We had no idea who created the piece and why it was there. we had to incorporate it into our work. and we soon settled on the idea of creating a work about this . On the wall facing the entrance hung a large sculpture made of ten pieces of black marble. The sculpture looked like a group of islands to us.1 Stills from Karibu Islands (seven videos). but since it was impossible for us to remove it. with a golden line cutting across.
Necessary And. Void Shape. Raising my cup. The first video functions as an introduction and features the slogan “Karibu Islands – The Vanguard of Human Civilization.1 The second video is composed of fifteen reversed movie clips. Yamaguchi Momoe running backwards in clogs (1977). We created seven short videos. David Hinton (New York: New Directions. Lifting Moon. including a Filipino maid rushing past the main post office in Hong Kong (2004). and shadow only trails along behind me. Double Shadow. I have underlined the chosen characters in the Chinese text above. assembled in an antichronological order. Singing Return. No one else here. 花间一壶酒 独酌无相亲 举杯邀明月 对影成三人 月既不解饮 影徒随我身 暂伴月将影 行乐须及春 我歌月徘徊 我舞影零乱 醒时同交欢 醉后各分散 永结无情游 相期邈云汉 Two characters are taken from each of the first ten lines of the poem to form a name. Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon. Kindred a moment with moon and shadow. Among the blossoms. Sober. I toast the bright moon. “What if time there flowed in the opposite direction to ours?” we asked. using both new and appropriated footage. Drunk. and shadow tumbles into pieces.171 hypothetical archipelago. captain 1 The poem reads. a single jar of wine. I dance. by Tang-dynasty poet Li Bai (701-762). . and Shadow Zero – are extracted from the famous poem. Single Body. trans. This time-reversal hypothesis became the bedrock of the project. 43. English translation from The Selected Poems of Li Po. we’ll wander carefree and meet again in Star River distances. we are together and happy. I ladle it out myself. No Solution. 1996). and moon rocks back and forth. Temporary To. though moon has never understood wine. we scatter away into our own directions: intimates forever.” The names of the ten islands – Flower Flask. I’ve found a joy that must infuse spring: I sing. and facing my shadow makes friends three.
Andy Warhol. Some would recover from serious illness. and the Buddha. Buddha would awake from his meditation. go to work. “When you see me in the future. an announcement prohibiting any timepieces onboard. and a trailer for a new mystery film. attend . … But people here also say that I lack motivation.172 Bowman jogging backwards in the space station (1968). some would appear in a battlefield. As time is reversed on Karibu Islands.” She then tells them about “the strange things” in Karibu Islands: computers are becoming ever slower. you don’t need to be sad. reading a letter to her parents: “I’ve been here in Karibu Islands for half a year. and a train leaving La Ciotat (1895). You don’t need to worry. People would come to life in many different ways. A tomboyish woman wearing a sports jacket sits behind a long desk. I think I want to stay here. I’m living well. maybe you’ll feel that I’ve become a bit lazy.” The following year. The last video contains a monologue. two European men trekking along the Alps (1938). the life process would be opposite to that in our world. This is followed by an advertisement for Karibu Islands Railway. The next video concocts a disease called Time Split Syndrome (TSS). Staying here is good. Kennedy. It’s just that I’m a bit missing you. because I think. I appended to this set of video sketches a reworked documentary of three historical figures transposed to Karibu Islands: John F. kids are fascinated with a new way of communication – talking to their friends face-to-face. a sickness afflicting those traveling between two time systems. People would grow younger. Anyway. Kennedy would be born when a bullet flies out of his head.
173 Figure 5. All would die in the same manner. the videos we created were not intended to construct a time-reversed world based on a coherent set of assumptions. The materials were . school. Unlike science fiction. by crawling into a mother’s womb. and turn into babies.2 Stills from Karibu Islands (the Buddha’s life reversed).
The tone of the videos was suggestive and reflective. Just when I was losing hope for the project. In spring 2008. I learned through an activist friend working in an AIDS NGO that a new organization – the Beijing LGBT Cultural Center – had been founded. like how a human body could exist there in the first place. both Chinese and foreign. but left much space for the viewer to question and to amend. but up to that point there had been no place for people to hold meetings.174 culled from various sources. but we did not rule out the possibility that what happens on Karibu Islands could be entirely unrelated to what happens in our world. discuss politics. . like boyair. queers in Beijing had been able to chat online. we did not supply a cohesive picture to be consumed. I was no longer interested in making videos alone in my studio. One could easily spot gaps and even contradictions in the hypothesis. The Center was a critical step for the queer community to expand from private computers to public discussions. cruise in parks. and dance in nightclubs. so our history is reenacted there in the reverse order. I was living in Beijing and decided to develop the project further by situating it within the local queer community. rather than objective and logical. from night to day. both old and contemporary. I wanted to organize discussions where people could come together to brainstorm about Karibu Islands.com. We implied that Karibu Islands may be the exact mirror image of our world. For the first two months I tried to recruit participants through gay websites. In short. from intimates to strangers. and watch films. For more than a decade. but made little progress.
175 Figure 5. Established in 1995. The Beijing LGBT Cultural Center was set up by three organizations: HIVAIDS advocacy group Aizhixing.aibai. its website is http://www. It was the first non-commercial space for queer gatherings. to the LGBT community. Much like 2 Aizhixing is the leading HIV-AIDS NGO in China. including news and legal information. Tongyu’s formal name is Beijing Tongyu Lesbian Community Working Group. 2 Located in an apartment duplex in a high-rise residential building near Beijing’s West Railway Station. the Center started to operate in April 2008. such as the Open Society Institute.com/.3 The Beijing LGBT Cultural Center. . and information clearinghouse Aibai. Founded in 1999. Aibai distributes Chinese language materials. It was founded in January 2005. lesbian coalition Tongyu. the group relies on funding from overseas foundations.
and August.4 The first Karibu Islands discussion held at the Beijing LGBT Cultural Center. a performance stage. Caochangdi Workstation – Wu Wenguang’s private home turned into a training center. May 11. 2008. .176 Figure 5. With support from Yang and a number of volunteers. and passionate about both queer and cultural activism. I was able to organize three discussions at the Center in May. The location was discreet. But once inside. He was enthusiastic. There was so sign in the lobby or in the hallway. one would be greeted with rainbow flags. One had to know its exact address before visiting. We immediately bonded and valued each other’s work. hardworking. and a library – the Center belonged to the category of public spaces with private looks. July. Yang had just graduated with a philosophy degree from Nanjing University. The Center’s inaugural manager was a young man named Yang Guang. and a homey atmosphere. queer magazines.
The Mao-ear idea that the ideological superstructure is causally determined by the economic base has only been 3 John Thompson. building on French theorists Cornelius Castoriadis and Claude Lefort’s work.”3 This is particularly pertinent to China since a crude version of Marxism has dominated the political discourse for over half a century. examining the certificates and discussing the choices that people had made. respectively. The session started with them watching the videos about Karibu Islands. The project in its documentary form was exhibited later that year in the Third Guangzhou Triennial. It was the first time that an art project with an explicitly queer theme was included in a national exhibition in China.” Theory and Society 11.5 (1982). They followed the same format as the first session. Social Imaginaries and Fantasy Media scholar John Thompson.) The group then reassembled.177 The first discussion was attended by eleven gay men in their 20s and 30s. states that “the imaginary element of the social-historical world” has to be freed “from the confines of a crude materialism. (These certificates will be analyzed in the third section. 659. . each participant was given a “Karibu Islands Birth Certificate” to fill out. “Ideology and the Social Imaginary: An Appraisal of Castoriadis and Lefort. Next. The next two sessions were attended by nine lesbians and thirteen straight people. except that a documentary video of the previous discussion(s) was also screened so that the group was able to see what the previous group(s) had discussed. made by Perry and me in 2004 and 2005.
Charles Taylor has argued that much of our social life is guided by our “implicit grasp of social space. which over-determines the choice and connections of symbolic networks. quoted in Thompson. Castoriadis argues that social institutions are shaped by “the imaginary of the society or period concerned.”6 He calls them the social imaginaries. how they fit together with others. He writes.” and are carried in “images. What I’m trying to get at with this term is something much broader and deeper than the intellectual schemes people may entertain when they think about social reality in a disengaged mode.4 More recently. affective and intellectual investment – this element is nothing other than the imaginary of the society or period concerned. support of the articulations and distinctions of what matters and of what does not. which creates for each historical period its singular way of living. this central signifier-signified.” 664. 1975).” He writes.. etc. seeing and making its own existence. which endows the functionality of each institutional system with its specific orientation. “Ideology and the Social Imaginary. source of what is each time given as indisputable and indisputed sense. Ibid. I am thinking rather of the ways in which they imagine their social existence. 203. stories.178 reinforced by the reform era’s fervid focus on GDP growth. 171-73. this originary structuring. The argument that political and social changes have to follow economic buildup is not only championed by the government but also genuinely embraced by many citizens. Taylor. In L'Institution imaginaire de la société. A Secular Age. origin of the augmented being of the individual or collective objects of practical. This element. legends.”5 Such understandings are largely “unstructured and inarticulate. 5 6 . its world and its relations to it. how 4 Cornelius Castoriadis. published in 1975. 173. L'Institution imaginaire de la societe (Paris: Seuil.
will guide how I will organize a discussion in the future. consolidated. 174.. in most social situations.7 Taylor compares social imaginaries to our implicit understanding of a familiar environment: we do not need to resort to a map to orient ourselves if we know the place well. 171. together with what I think discussions should look like. Taylor points out that our ability to grasp “the background which makes sense of any given act” is much more complex than it might seem. Similarly.8 For example. we do not need to consult rules and theories in order to know what to do or why certain actions make sense. to current mainstream values in China. In contrast to 7 8 Ibid. and the deeper normative notions and images which underlie these expectations. and to queer movements abroad. and to what we think should happen. they would need to have some idea of the time and space that they occupied. the expectations which are normally met. and this knowledge. They seem to occupy the intermediate layer between avowed theories and practices. They are tied to what actually happens around us. and modified. and the relation between them and the wider world – how they stood in relation to queer situations in the past.. Social imaginaries are both descriptive and normative.179 things go on between them and their fellows. the kind of language and interaction appropriate to the assembly. . my understanding of what constitutes a discussion is derived from past experiences and observations. for those who participated in the Karibu Islands discussions to make sense of their act. For example. Thus. social imaginaries are constantly revisited. Ibid.
and in some ways normative. valuable. than an objectively describable Gesellschaft. Yet often we are not aware of the decisive role played by our normative framework. intimately linked to affects. discussed in the last chapter. involving more individuals who are strangers to one another. or for any specific public or counterpublic to be conjured. we need a wide range of social imaginaries. We have to rely on the imaginary to prevent our modern world from collapsing. Warner argues that a great deal must be postulated in order for [publics] to work in the world: not only the material conditions of a circulating medium. 76 and 105. Urbanization and mediatization have placed a great demand on our abilities to imagine our social world. social imaginaries often do not crystallize into rational-critical discourse but remain as rough pictures. can also be understood in relation to social imaginaries. Processes are extended over ever further distances. we tend to imagine that our social world is a purely physical and material place rather than an interplay between practices and imaginaries.180 theories. … This constitutive and normative environment of strangerhood is more. it requires our constant imagining. In other words. It is impossible for anyone to witness in person how the market transacts. For the institutionalized public sphere to exist. how the state governs. or how public opinion emerges. but also corresponding reading or consuming practices as well as the sort of social imaginary in which stranger-sociability could become ordinary. . Rancière’s notion of the partition of the sensible.9 9 Warner. too. Publics and Counterpublics. What we can see and hear is determined not only by our physical capacities but also by what we consider seeable and hearable.
perhaps because we have much difficulty in imagining the indefinite. so the dimensions of language singled out in the ideology of rational-critical discussion acquire prestige and power. but he is also wary of the impairment of this “misrecognition. Ibid. The modern hierarchy of faculties and its imagination of the social are mutually implying..”11 He writes.. The party-state is believed to be omnipotent. However.12 Warner’s critique applies to Western democracies where the correspondence between “the critical discourse of the public” and “the superintending power of the state” is well established. This is not yet the case in China. 116. including artistic publics and many counterpublics. because it allows us to attribute agency to publics. The idea that the public sphere lies outside of the state and public discourse possesses sovereign power is far from a firmly established and commonly shared imaginary. … The critical discourse of the public corresponds as sovereign to the superintending power of the state. “the circulation of public discourse is consistently imagined … as dialogue or discussion among already present interlocutors” rather than “multigeneric circulation. 115. When challenging state power.181 Anyone who is making a public utterance has to postulate an impersonal addressee and project a space of circulation. ordinary people often have to resort to performative and even violent acts.”10 Warner acknowledges that this way of imagining publics is constitutive. Publics more overtly oriented in their self-understandings to the poetic-expressive dimensions of language. lack the power to transpose themselves to the generality of the state. . ranging from veiled ironies and incessant 10 11 12 Ibid. Ibid.
was rapidly changed within a short period. 175. not to say violence. hint at a different route. where public sovereignty is coupled with the normative status of rational-critical debate. This kind of transformation assumes the primacy of theory. from equality to etiquette. Their approach is a sharp departure from traditional Marxist theory. Nian. and the Village Documentary project – suggest that at least in the limited space of an art project. A Secular Age. As Taylor notes. to accommodate various ways of dialogue. The case studies I have discussed so far – Moving Rainbow. it is possible to express critical concerns with non-textual media. Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge.182 complaints to self-immolation. or we want to strive for a different model. A large set of social imaginaries. Yet Warner’s critique is relevant to us in the sense that we have to ask ourselves whether we want to replicate the existing model in the West. in part traditional ones. which favors revolution and material struggles. . “what is originally just an idealization grows into a complex imaginary through being taken up and associated with social practices. Rational-critical discourse in China does not enjoy the hegemonic status as it does in the West. and 13 Taylor. and infiltrates society in a top-down manner. How are social imaginaries transformed? One route is through revolution. during revolutionary times. in Public Sphere and Experience. and to integrate reason with affect. They suggest that counterpublic fantasy possesses the potential to unsettle the dominance of the bourgeois public sphere.”13 The 1949 revolution led by the Chinese Communist Party is a good example. published in 1972. but often transformed by the contact.
where the nightmare quality of reality is absented. detached from the general social production process. along with the surplus value extracted from it. 32-33. Ibid. into a 14 15 16 Negt and Kluge. the workers’ interests can only be organized “if they enter into a life-context.. n.” it largely remains at the level of the individual.. . the proletariat has to perform some kind of integrative work. it faces the risk of being adulterated as “the consciousness industry tries to develop techniques to reincorporate fantasy in domesticated form. while the bourgeois class can organize their interests into separate private and public spheres.183 dovetails with Castoriadis’s emphasis on the importance of the imaginary. produced something else – fantasy. 37. and social relationships as means of expression. This kind of analysis cannot be conducted via language alone. In all previous history. dialectical experience would not be able to tolerate this reality. the latter's oppressive dimension is taken up into fantasy. Ibid. At the same time. The intolerability of his real situation creates in the worker a defense mechanism that protects the ego from the distresses an alienated reality imposes. Negt and Kluge suggest that “an analysis in the social and historical sense” is needed to re-appropriate the repressed portion of the proletarian experience. 36.14 Though fantasy constitutes “an unconscious practical criticism of alienation.”16 Furthermore. They write. Since living. The latter has many layers and develops as a necessary compensation for the experiences of the alienated labor process. Public Sphere and Experience.”15 To turn individual fantasy into collective emancipation. it needs to “embrace all mimetic. living labor has. 58. in other words. cultural.
proletarian public sphere.”17 In short, individual fantasies have to be synthesized publicly into “counter-productions.”18 Negt & Kluge’s analysis deals exclusively with the proletarian situation in advanced capitalism, yet the transformative potential it locates in the proletarian fantasy is applicable to other counterpublics. In the next section, I will analyze how the queer participants in the Karibu Islands discussions expressed criticism of the existing social imaginaries through dialogues prompted by fantasy. Their ideas constitute the first step towards queer counter-productions.
Karibu Islands Discussions In the last section, I discussed two theoretical concepts, social imaginary and fantasy. Although both are related to our creative faculty, they do not refer to the same phenomenon. As Warner notes, “All public addressees have some social basis. Their imaginary character is never merely a matter of private fantasy.”19 Social imaginaries are normative in the sense that we expect things to happen in a certain way. Of course, things may not always happen in the way we want, but our expectations have to be met in many, if not most, situations. In contrast, we do not expect fantasies to be easily realized. Another important distinction is that social imaginaries are common understandings, collectively held, and reinforced by social
Miriam Hansen, “Unstable Mixtures, Dilated Spheres: Negt and Kluge’s The Public Sphere and Experience, Twenty Years Later,” Public Culture 5.2 (1993), 204. Warner, Publics and Counterpublics, 74.
institutions, whereas fantasies remain largely private, and are often suppressed by social institutions. In this section, I will analyze the “Karibu Islands Birth Certificates” filled out by the participants and their subsequent discussions. The participants were asked to imagine their lives in a fictional place with an impossible premise: because time in Karibu Islands flows in the opposite direction to that in our world, life processes, along with social processes, are reversed. The “Birth Certificate” includes seven sections and twenty-three items. It asks the participant to describe his or her biological condition at birth (age, height, weight, health condition), identity (gender, sexuality, mannerism, openness about sexual orientation), family (partner, children – as time is reversed, children might be born before parents), asset condition, wisdom condition, values and beliefs (definition for success, signs of social progress, desired career), and life plans. The discussions were precipitated by the videos and the questions raised in the “Birth Certificate.” As mentioned earlier, the videos screened at the beginning of each session do not supply a watertight, comprehensive system of knowledge about Karibu Islands, but rather a collage of evocative ideas. Many assumptions made in the videos cannot be explained by logical deduction. The participants could interpret the lifeworld in Karibu Islands either as a mirror image of our lifeword, or as something totally unrelated. Consequently they could project either social imaginaries or fantasies, or a mixture of both onto their fictional lives in Karibu Islands. Furthermore, the videos and the “Birth Certificate” touched on a wide range of issues, ranging from personal life choices to social values. They prompted
the participants to consider sexuality not as an isolated issue but one embedded in the larger social context where human desires, economic transactions, and political ideologies are intertwined. My primary goal in this analysis is to suggest that fantasies can be a productive tool for revealing, critiquing, and potentially transforming social imaginaries. But before I proceed to the main task, it has to be noted that the relation
Figure 5.5 “Birth Certificates” filled out by Chunchun (left) and Haishui (right).
between social imaginaries and fantasies is not unidirectional. To a large extent, fantasies are bounded by existing social imaginaries. Our collective understandings can be so strong that it is difficult for us to stray from the prescribed path even when we find ourselves in a purely hypothetical exercise. For example, when asked about their desired career on Karibu Islands, many participants expressed a romantic outlook: “painter, reporter, dancer, NGO worker, or globetrotting photographer,” “grave keeper,” “organism,” “independent writer,” “public being,” etc. Yet when asked to describe the assets in their possession at birth, their answers were not far from the kind of expectations pervasive in Chinese society today: “middle-class,” “ten million,” “house, cash, gold,” “ten million (savings) and a small house,” “a normal home, must have two bedrooms; a decent amount of savings, in fixed-term account; abilities to make money,” etc. This suggests that the middle-class lifestyle has deeply penetrated the Chinese social imaginary, queer and straight alike. The words of Maizi, a young lesbian, captured the dominant attitude: “If one wants to find happiness, an economic base is a must. If two people just sit across from each other munching manto [plane steamed bun], they will not be happy. So [we] have to make enough money, and then we can enjoy life.” Of course, not everyone was susceptible to the tenacious grip of the middle-class ideal. For example, two people wrote “nothing.” Yang Guang, the Cultural Center manager, interpreted asset not as something material but experiential. He wrote, “rich in experience, but mostly forgotten.”
except Bai Yongbing. They were curious about how others shaped their fictional characters in Karibu Islands. seven out of the nine lesbians imagined the same. not Karibu Islands. It seemed easy for the queer participants to imagine themselves living in a hypothetical place. attended by gay men and lesbians. after filling out the Birth Certificates. The queer discussants in the first two sessions smiled a lot. attended by self-identified straight people. so the debate on homosexuality continued. although no one. and then a young man started complaining about his gay colleague again.) Among the eleven gay participants. and engaged in animated conversations to understand the reason behind different choices. and the last one. the straight group showed little interest in one another’s answers and plunged directly into an extended debate on whether homosexuality should be accepted in China. The great majority assumed that Karibu Islands would be a better place than contemporary China. one participant tried to interject. After about half an hour.188 The atmosphere was notably different between the first two sessions. (More about Bai’s reasoning below. was able to provide a sound explanation for this optimistic outlook. mocking laughter and raised voices. “Are we here to discuss issues about homosexuality. and seemed to enjoy the opportunity to share their fantasies with one another even though they had just met. joked around. five envisaged that they would have children when they were born on Karibu Islands. Although no law prohibits queer adoption. In contrast. the Central Government has stated clearly that even . This is far from the reality in China today. a lesbian activist. or about temporality?” The group paused for a few seconds. There was a significant amount of anxiety and frustration.
he replied.htm. “[the Certificate] represents an ideal state for society and for myself. stated that they would have multiple partners at birth.” He added. 2012. Based on the Adoption Law’s requirement that adoption should not violate public ethics. Lian. stated that he would like to be a dancer in Karibu Islands. When someone asked him why he would travel around the world twice. breathe in a mouthful of air. he stated that he would travel around the world for a second time between age 52 and 36. travel around the world on foot. accessed Feb. I believe there are many things that I cannot achieve … but this is my ideal. a gay man who was working as a human resources manager in real life. where a one-toone romantic relationship is considered the only path to happy life. .” 20 Local queers could try to overcome this obstacle through personal connections or fake heterosexual marriages. To the question “the first thing you want to do after birth. but they would have to face enormous risk as well as social pressure.gov. It seems that Karibu Islands allowed the queer participants to articulate their expectations. “not everything has to be logical. “drink a sip of water. Their answers went against both the law and the dominant attitude within the queer community.” he wrote. and fantasies. 11. after having spent the first three decades planting a garden and learning to play piano and to dance. translation mine.cn/banshi/2005-10/12/content_76246.” In his life plan.” Yang Guang was the only one who believed that 20 http://www. Three participants. two gay men and one lesbian. homosexual behaviors are against public ethics and are not accepted by the society.189 queer foreigners cannot adopt children in China: “According to China’s traditional ethics and customs. desires. foreign homosexuals cannot adopt children in China.
” Negt & Kluge note that fantasies tend to “turn around and face up to real situations” once “they have reached a certain distance from reality. The queer participants spoke primarily in the first person singular and plural. so it’s like you are dead already – Karibu Islands is a place where death awaits. and paid little attention to who else might be there.” 21 Fantasies will remain segregated from reality only if “they are 21 Negt & Kluge. 36. After ten years. Yang was fully engaged in contemplating this dystopia. explained why he set 2018 as the birth year for his fictional self. Although most of them were strangers to one another. he did not talk about Karibu Islands but China instead: “Now is 2008. Many countries have embraced homosexuality. Public Sphere and Experience.190 Karibu Islands would be “a place of horror” because “you will be born knowing everything that will happen to you. their differences were subservient to a collective sense of hope and joy as if they were newly acquainted companions about to board a cruise to a queer paradise. [China] should have no problem. a gay man in his 30s. I think the Chinese government should have developed a correct attitude towards the queer issue. They were immersed in imagining their own lives in Karibu Islands.” Yet unlike the straight participants in the third session who largely avoided talking about Karibu Islands. He pointed out that the only good thing about knowing one’s life in advance is that one would be more likely to find inner peace. Their optimism about Karibu Islands also spilled over occasionally to a future China. . When Wenfeng. After ten years of efforts. The social atmosphere then will be one of tolerance.
Therefore. their fantasies nonetheless have to be understood in relation to China’s current social imaginaries. or they simply lacked an appetite for fantasy in general. . they talked less in the first person. tolerance. In their discussion. freedom. Perhaps most of them did not find the premise of time reversal intriguing. which always were present in the background. that harmony and stability trump all other values. or when Justin wrote “democracy.6 Age at birth chosen by the participants. than 22 Ibid.”22 Even when the queer participants made no explicit mention of China.” their remarks constituted critiques of the state’s position. and plurality.191 deliberately organized and confined there by a valorization interest. when River indicated “harmony decorated with opposition” as signs of social progress at Karibu Islands. The straight participants showed little interest in traveling to Karibu Islands to examine China’s reality at a distance. about their own choices and ideas.” even in areas unrelated to sexuality.6 for an example). their answers were less diverse than those of the queer participants (see Figure 5. Figure 5. In their “Birth Certificates.
” Zhang Zhong. The majority of the straight participants held the view that the general attitude towards homosexuality in China would not change significantly in the foreseeable future. but those who disagree will not. which can only be achieved through heterosexual . he was the most vocal opponent of homosexuality. His central argument was that the survival of the human species requires reproduction. “Wisdom is hypocrisy. Most people would still hold the same opinion as now.” He went on to claim that too much tolerance would lead to overindulgence. “just like what has happened in the West.” Eddy added. tolerance is frustration. tried to intervene: “Time matters in the way that.” Hu Yushan. and we don’t think that we would see much change in our lifetime.192 in the third person.” Among the discussants. as if trying to look for some clues to why one might think otherwise. you will become more tolerant towards things in life. about “the homosexuals. her eyes scanning left and right. Eddy. A girl concurred. “Those who agree will see some change. admitted apologetically that he still found homosexuals “a bit” difficult to accept. time will make you wiser. a stylish young man in his 20s. a marshal arts trainer. adamantly defending his position against alternative views. he said no. When asked if time reversal – and being born old – would make any difference. as you grow older.” The center of their concern was not Karibu Islands. interrupted Hu and said. a recent graduate with a degree in philosophy. “Perhaps we would still live that many years. but China and the future of humanity. Another girl jumped in. The mere existence of queer people seemed to disturb some discussants. whose reactions ranged from discomfort to a strong urge to police.
2011. . 24 23 Ibid. it constituted a challenge to many straight participants’ worldview.’ If you all go on to become homosexuals. but if a boy expresses his liking to another boy. his view was representative of the mainstream values in China today.php?surveyId=12894. In an online survey participated in by nearly 180. You use various excuses to avoid the human responsibility and obligation. If a straight boy fancies a girl. the responsibility of human reproduction will fall upon people like us. one person wrote. accessed March 27. he is considered a coward if he takes no action. Negt and Kluge’s observation that the proletarian has always channeled part of their unfulfilled desires into fantasy finds its parallel in the queer situation. 75% selected “homosexuals are disgusting. Largely deprived of role models and Online survey conducted by ifeng.193 relationships. not acceptable.”23 Many comments left on the survey page expressed the kind of reasoning articulated by Zhang. 2012. “You call such ills ‘lifestyles.com. August 5. http://survey. he will be cursed and condemned. He framed his position as “scientific. natural. While Karibu Islands presented an opportunity for the queer participants to fantasize. For example.” Supported by a number of other discussants. and inevitable.news.000 people in the summer of 2011.ifeng.com/ result. The expansion of the homosexual crowd will ultimately lead to the extinction of mankind!”24 The idea that reproduction is an obligation to be fulfilled by every individual still reigns supreme in the Chinese social imaginary. Queer people learn at an early age – from personal experiences and mass media – that it is taboo to talk about one’s desire for the same sex.
blueprints for life, a queer person has to invent a large portion of her life through fantasy. As Judith Butler notes, “Fantasy is what allows us to imagine ourselves and others otherwise; it establishes the possible in excess of the real; it points elsewhere, and when it is embodied, it brings the elsewhere home.”25 Karibu Islands provided an opportunity for the queer participants to share their fantasies, but not all of the queer participants showed the same level of optimism. For example, Chunchun and Haishui, both gay men in their 30s, were remarkably different in their conception of personal lives and collective destinies. In his “Birth Certificate,” Chunchun describes his fictional self as a gay man born in 2050, at the age of 73, with high cholesterol and heart disease, living with an adopted child but no partner. He would keep his sexual orientation “a secret” and only disclose it to his close friends. Haishui, in contrast, imagines his fictional self as a gay man born in 2080, at the age of 100, healthy and strong, with two children and multiple male partners. He would be “completely free and completely open” about his sexual orientation. In group discussion, against the majority, Chunchun insisted that Chinese people’s attitude towards homosexuality would not change “in a hundred years.” Interestingly, among the participants, Chunchun was the only one working full-time as an activist. He was in charge of coordinating volunteers for Aizhixing, the largest HIV-AIDS NGO in Beijing. At the same time, he was managing several dozens of gay groups via QQ, the most popular online instant-messaging platform, and organizing weekend trips for their members. I joined a hiking trip organized by him
Judith Butler, Undoing Gender (New York: Routledge, 2004), 29.
in April 2008. Ten people showed up. We climbed a small hill next to the famous Fragrant Hill in the western suburb. Littered with trash, the small hill was not scenic but free.26 We all brought our own food. After we reached the peak, there was nothing to do, so we sat down on a large piece of rock and started chatting. When someone found out that I was 33 years old, he asked me if I were married, meaning married to a woman. Surprised by the question, I asked other people’s opinion on marriage. Everyone said he was planning to get married. One person declared that he would marry a girl, let her give birth to two children, and then divorce her. I thought since Chunchun was an activist, he might be against the idea of a heterosexual marriage. But he said he too would marry in the near future. Because he was reaching 30 and still unmarried, his parents, living in a small village in Shandong province, were facing enormous pressure from relatives and fellow villagers. Going to the market was becoming a dread for them. Of the ten people present, I was the only one from Beijing. The others all came from the countryside and were working in Beijing in manual or service jobs. They had little hope of leading a gay life in the long run. Seen against his likely future in reality, Chunchun’s decision to let his fictional character on Karibu Islands to live alone – not married to a woman – was already a bold fantasy.
Queer Temporality and Radical Secularity As one lesbian participant noted, the biggest pressure for queer people in China comes from the institution of the family. Everyone is expected to get married
A ticket to the Fragrant Hill park would cost 10 yuan, about $1.5.
and have children by a certain age. Parents are usually the most adamant enforcers, considering their children’s compliance to the “natural” order their own responsibility and ultimate evaluation of their parenthood. They make inquiries, arrange dates, and even devise threats. Other people – relatives, colleagues, friends, and sometimes strangers – chip in, helping parents to inquire, coax, persuade, or coerce. The pressure to conform is usually much greater in the countryside than in cities, and may vary depending on a range of factors like class, education, and family structure. Several forces weave together to make this institution almost untouchable. The famous saying of Mencius – “There are three things which are unfilial, and to have no posterity is the greatest of them”27 – is one of the most robust Confucian ideas that have remained in the popular consciousness, never purged by the political campaigns during the Mao era or the economic transformations since the late 1970s. In fact, economic growth only seems to have strengthened it. Progress is taken as a proven fact, and the future is always brighter than the past. So why wouldn’t you want to procreate so that the bright future can be enjoyed by your heirs? At the same time, family is still the most important institution for resource sharing and crisis relief. It is not unusual for parents to give money to their adult children so they can buy an apartment or afford a comfortable living. On the other hand, children are expected to take care of their elderly parents and pay for their medical bills towards the end of their life. The lack of adequate social welfare reinforces the mindset that family is the
Mencius, The Works of Mencius, trans. James Legge (New York: Clarendon, 1895), online at http://nothingistic.org/library/mencius/, accessed March 31, 2012.
most reliable line of support, if not the only one. Lee Edelman’s notion, “reproductive futurism,”28 is applicable to the Chinese situation. In the second Karibu Islands discussion, attended by nine lesbians, Bai Yongbing raised one idea: as people on Karibu Islands are not created through heterosexual intercourse and their critical link to their parents is not birth but death – one climbs into the womb of one’s mother to die – it may be the case that sexual orientation would no longer matter there. Her inference about Karibu Islands can be understood as a criticism of the hegemonic status attributed to procreation, futurity, and heterosexuality in our society. As Edelman points out, “what makes queerness intolerable” in our society is “a nonteleological negativity that refuses the leavening of piety and with it the dollop of sweetness afforded by messianic hope.”29 Queerness opens up the possibility to refute the life process prescribed as normal. As mentioned earlier, the straight participants showed a surprising concentration in their imagined age at birth on Karibu Islands, which can be read as their desired longevity in this life: ten out of twelve people chose between 80 and 100 years old. Their consensus points to the fact that our society “creates longevity as the most desirable future” and “applauds the pursuit of long life (under any circumstances).”30 A number of the queer participants gave their fictional selves considerably shorter lives; half of the
See Lee Edelman, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004).
Lee Edelman et al., “Theorizing Queer Temporalities: A Roundtable Discussion,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 13.2-3 (2007), 195. Judith Halberstam, In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (New York: New York University Press, 2005), 4.
here and now. through the exchange of ideas. Queer temporality challenges reproductive futurism by focusing on this life. or in a Great Chain.’ where the ordinary 31 Taylor. queerness shares one important feature with publicness: both negate previous conceptions that societies are founded on a transcendent time. 192. they can only act in the present tense.198 lesbians chose under 60.31 Taylor calls this unprecedented aspect of the public sphere “radical secularity. the normative attitudes towards children were more difficult to transfer to Karibu Islands. As Taylor notes. Would parents replace children as the hope of future. the ultimate redemption of toil and sacrifice? No one. whereas the straight participants expressed anxiety and annoyance. While the desire for longevity could be easily translated under the time reversal hypothesis. queer or straight. He further suggests that this secular understanding “allows us to imagine society ‘horizontally. . where possible. The public sphere is an association which is constituted by nothing outside of the common action we carry out in it: coming to a common mind. or by a law which comes down to us since time out of mind.’ unrelated to any ‘high points. was able to imagine such a scenario. Its existence as an association is just our acting together in this way. In this sense. perhaps because time reversal had caused procreation to vanish from view. This may be one of the reasons why the queer participants enthusiastically imagined their lives on Karibu Islands.” Because publics are not sustained by any external framework. This common action is not made possible by a framework which needs to be established in some action-transcendent dimension: either by an act of God. A Secular Age.
it was installed in an empty apartment in a high-rise residential building in the suburb of Guangzhou. functions in a similar way. In their demand for radical secularity. only at a smaller scale.199 sequence of events touches higher time. 209. I liked the fact that the exhibition space was similar to the Beijing LGBT Cultural Center. Participation in Exhibition When Karibu Islands was shown in the 3rd Guangzhou Triennial in September 2008. the quest for queer freedom and the pursuit of publicness converge. also located in a high-rise residential 32 Ibid.. For example. traces of transcendent principles can still be detected in our conception of time and society. “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” has become a prominent discourse in official propaganda. The Chinese nation is imagined not as a people organized by our common action in secular time.”32 In China. mentioned earlier. in recent years. While “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” often is used to contain publicness by trumping disagreement with the seemingly natural mandate. . chuan zong jie dai – to carry on the clan by continuing the generations – serves to suppress queerness by pressuring everyone to conform to a lifestyle founded on reproductive futurism. clans – are pictured not as temporary associations with a limited lifespan but as immortal beings carrying historical lineage into eternity. Families – more precisely. The obsession with marriage and children. but as a transcendent entity traveling through time to realize a preexisting destiny.
and the viewers who encounter the finished work when it is exhibited. My hope was that. In this dissertation I have focused on the participants – the truck drivers in Moving Rainbow. The two-step experience encouraged visitors to imagine their own lives in a reversed time-world before encountering the imaginations of the queer and straight participants in the Beijing discussions. they could sit down to watch the documentaries of the discussions previously held in Beijing. the artwork interacts with two groups of people: the participants who take part in the creation of the artwork. On the tabletop there were stacks of empty “Karibu Islands Birth Certificates” for people to fill out. or walk around the room to look at the birth certificates hanging on two walls. a map of Karibu Islands. In participatory projects like the ones discussed in this dissertation. spotlit from above. People could sit around the table comfortably on thick straw pads. they would be greeted with a simple graphite drawing. one would treat the choices of others with more care and curiosity.200 building. by spending a little effort to reflect on one one’s own life first. In the first room. they could add their own certificates to the display. Entering the second room. the readers in Nian. The apartment had two rooms in sequence. allowing me to create a temporal order in the viewing experience. When visitors approached the apartment from the dark hallway. the villager filmmakers in Village Documentary Project. the set of video sketches on Karibu Islands were being played on a flat-screen television placed on the far end of a low table. Furthermore. and the discussants in Karibu Islands – and demonstrated how publicness is realized through their participation. Certainly the exhibition of artworks .
art predominantly served as a form of propaganda. people could engage in debates about art openly. In China. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. However. One contemplates the artwork alone. Habermas points out that the establishment of public museums was critical to the cultivation of a bourgeois subjectivity. 76. 33 34 Habermas. Fraser Ward. the art museum has been “haunted” by representative publicity since the very beginning. .201 also gives rise to publicness.34 Artworks are displayed to impress visitors. For the first time in decades. “a consciousness functionally adapted to the institutions of the public sphere in the world of letters. As mentioned in the Introduction. Today. much like the emperor used the royal collections to impress visitors to the court. 51. an important element of the Stars exhibitions’ publicness is the provision of guestbooks for visitors to write down their opinions. the core of publicness lies in criticism: strangers engage each other in critical discussions about art. Exhibitions do not automatically lead to critical discussions.” October 73 (Sumer 1995). “The Haunted Museum: Institutional Critique and Publicity. However. it would be wrong to assume that since then art criticism has become an established practice.”33 While public display establishes objects of common attention. although visiting an art exhibition is no longer a collective experience orchestrated by the state. as Fraser Ward argues. generating publicity for the party line. Expressing views alternative to official interpretations was a risky business and could easily result in political prosecution. it has transformed into a private experience. during the Mao era. I have not dealt with publicness through exhibition because it is widely assumed. much like consumption of commodities.
The final installation consisted of not only the videos and birth certificates. whether face-to-face or via media. The . and the straw pads were important because they invited people to slow down. museums and exhibitions remain indispensible to the sustainment of public life. Without my presence or a facilitator onsite. I was present and facilitated the flow of activities. video. The casual atmosphere was deliberate. interaction was the artwork’s ultimate form. the low table. but also a spatial and temporal experience that encouraged visitors to interact with the work. Stranger relations were established not by dialogue but by the juxtaposition of birth certificates. and text – functioned as props for the interactive process. helping to dilute the awe associated with art exhibitions. In fact. The apartment space. The existence of strangers in the same space causes not interaction but a sense of annoyance. contributing to queer visibility. feel comfortable. Objects in different mediums – drawing. How can we extend participation into the exhibition space? Can we create stranger relations and visibility among museum visitors? These were the questions I wanted to address in designing the form of Karibu Islands for the Guangzhou Triennial. and participate in the work. However.202 conversing only with one’s companions. During the discussions held in Beijing. The exhibition of Karibu Islands also marked the first occasion that queer issues were openly addressed in a national art event. the interactive process had to seem intuitive and relied on the experiential design. Few people participate in any form of public debate. Many socially engaged artists have moved away from the museum and situated their practice in sites more directly linked to issues of concern.
the Chinese state has started to invest enormous financial capital in building up national and provincial museums. Thus it is urgent for us to turn to museums and exhibitions and treat them as a critical ground for the pursuit of publicness. . How publicness can be strengthened in the exhibition space is not fully explored. In recent years.203 focus of this dissertation has been on how publicness is created through participatory art-making.
(7) they focused on contemporary common action.aspx). The 1980s was a period of tremendous experimentation and risk-taking. Art activities blossomed all over China. (6) they strove for media visibility. For example. but in fact. Hung Wu and Peggy Wang. (2) they organized discursive arenas outside the state. There is much left to be done.1 A keyword that artists and critics used during this period was feiguanfang. including image. I have studied four recent art projects in China to understand what publicness entails and how it has been realized by the artists and their collaborators in the past decade. I have focused on select aspects of these projects in individual chapters. 1 . not limited to a few megacities.204 Epilogue In this dissertation. These traits together constitute publicness. preparing the ground for more in-depth studies. Recently much work has been done to compile the primary documents from this decade. (5) they fostered stranger relations. Contemporary Chinese Art: Primary Documents (Durham. (4) they mobilized both rational-critical and affective expressions.org/tc/Default. I have only touched on the Stars event (1979-80). and Materials of the Future: Documenting Contemporary Chinese Art from 1980-1990.” Linking up the publicness framework with the wide range of feiguanfang activities of the 1980s will be productive for both. Fei Dawei. We need to look both into the past and into the future. and video. they share a number of things in common: (1) the artists and participants acted as citizens and demanded citizens’ rights. 2010). In terms of the past. eds.china1980s. Asia Art Archive (http://www. ’85 xin chao dang an (’85 New Wave Archive) (Shanghai: Shi ji wen jing. meaning “unofficial. and utilized a wide range of media. NC: Duke University Press. sound.. 2007). (3) they defined issues of common concern. text. ed.
the market is a space for strangers to meet and interact. it seems that the almighty party-state is not going away any time soon. we need to think more about the changing media landscape.205 Chinese experimental art in the 1990s was characterized by a market turn. 2 We can also contrast the notion of publicness in contemporary art to the idea of art-serving-the-people in the Mao era. CA: University of California Press. Looking into the future. 2007). we can juxtapose recent efforts with the avant-garde movements of the 1920s and 1930s. Origins of the Chinese Avant-Garde: The Modern Woodcut Movement (Berkeley. More importantly. The rise of the market since the mid-1990s has profoundly changed both China as a whole and the so-called Chinese contemporary art field. How far can we push publicness within China’s totalitarian system? Will we soon reach the limit. thus having to decide whether to escalate to some political form beyond publicness? Second. I sense three major challenges. In this dissertation. and help us avoid the pitfalls of collectivism. both national and international. I have not dealt with the relationship between publicness and China’s particular form of market economy. have been leveraged by artists in their pursuit of publicness. when art’s relation to society was fervently debated and fundamentally reconfigured. Going back even further. Such a comparison will likely sharpen our understanding of publicness. Perhaps global market success has been one of the factors that allow Ai Weiwei to challenge the Chinese state in a way unparalleled by other Chinese artists. but does not adequately deal with the issue of publicness in this period. A study of the 1990s may provide insights on how markets. . First. Currently the 2 Tang Xiaobing’s book. studies the relationship between art and society in the 1930s. and the global art market.
his online presence in China rapidly diminished. Xiong skillfully worked with activists. and supportive officials. Ai Weiwei was quick to tap into the potential of the internet. when artists move away from the production-exhibition model and engage with sociopolitical issues directly in the mass media. Of the four case studies in this dissertation.206 state’s control of mass media seriously limits the effectiveness of our efforts. Third. but when he became the target of state control. gradually expanding the scope of the project and its media reach. her use of media was conventional. a fundamental shift may have to occur in the temporality of artistic practice. and created events geared towards media. as mentioned at the end of Chapter 2. Xiong Wenyun’s Moving Rainbow generated the greatest media impact for several reasons: its environmental message was deemed less threatening by the state. This can only happen if we develop better theoretical models as well as support infrastructures. Tactical media remains an underexplored area in Chinese contemporary art. Yet to a large extent. journalists. she persisted over time. .
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