Reimagining the Body

Reimagining the Body

Some of the most impressive examples of contemporary Chinese photography and video art are those that document performances by artists using their bodies as vehicles for expressing themselves, or for formulating a critique of society. Other works in this section use the body as a vehicle, as a surface, for transporting symbols, or explore new channels of communication and ways of sensually grasping the outside world. Performance art found its most powerful expression in Beijing’s East Village in the 1990s, where performance artists and photographers joined forces to create a number of pioneering artistic projects of a type hitherto unseen in China. Featuring masochism and sex change operations, their experiments were to have a profound influence on Chinese body art during the following decade. In a work that arose in 1999-2000, for example, Feng Feng created a huge, larger-than-life leg stabilised by a metal device that bored straight into the bones. Zhu Wen moved in the opposite direction and printed Internet pictures taken from erotic websites on countless tiny adhesive labels.

Quotes from the catalogue, accompanying the exhibition: Wu Hung, Christopher Phillips, Between Past and Future. New Photography and Video from China, Steidl et al. 2004

Feng Feng on 'Shin Brace'

"The relationship between steel and flesh is very direct. There is nothing ambiguous about it. It is like the relationship between medicine and biology, science and humanity, the culture of the West and the East, the male and the female sexes. These kinds of relationships are equally absolute. The power we sense here imposes a shock on our senses, but the same kind of shock can be comforting. It allows us to exist safely, joyfully even, within a soul-stirring state. We trust in, take perverse pleasure in, and even admire this kind of injury, almost as a cure or salvation. This is what really shocks us. It is like that long piece of hard steel piercing the flesh. We see the reaction of the flesh, how swiftly it closes around the steel pin, producing a thick scab, how it is raised from the skin as if posed on the brink of an anticipated climax."

Xu Zhen: 'Rainbow + Actually I am also very blurred'

"Temptation is my favourite thing. It comes from teh mind, travels through the body, an rests within the heart. It is the inspiration for my work."

XU Zhen, interviewed by Stephanie Smith on Actually I am also very blurred

SS: Let’s talk about another work, Actually I Am Also Very Blurred (2000, CAT.127). It’s an installation of images of body parts printed onto Post-it notes and mounted on gallery walls. How do you want the audience to interact with the works? Do you want people to handle the notes?

XZ: Sometimes they fall down and people put them back up.

SS: But is that part of your intention for the piece? Do you want people to rearrange the images?

XZ: I don’t really care. If they fall down, people can stick them back up. It’s ok; people can touch the notes. It’s a natural impulse since the notes are so familiar from everyday life.

SS: Since the notes lose their stickiness over time, are there several sets so that one set could be used in one place, and another for the next presentation?

XZ: I have thousands of these images on my computer, so I can choose some of them for one space and some for another, depending on the needs of the exhibition space. For instance, once I put them in the bathroom of an office.

The artists of this section:

Feng Feng, Huang Yan, Li Wei, Liu Wei, Qiu Zhijie, Rong Rong, Wang Gongxin, Wang Wei, Xu Zhen, Zhao Xiaohu.