Those Answers to Riddles
by Qu Guangci
Artists always pretend to be difficult to understand like LU CHEN (a famous magician from Taiwan), because actually their “Career” will lost its mystery if art can be explained, which may lead to their joblessness. Artists are more like magicians essentially; they cannot explain their own behaviors sometimes, so they are afraid of being inquired into the root and have to pretend to be crazy in order to advertise their specialty sometimes. People always ask me why I keep making fatties, why they are often wearing caps and why I am interested in political themes. I am more like a businessman and always tell my stories patiently, because nowadays many people do not like reading but listening; I have explained many whys in many interviews but still explained again and again as if not being able to express my ideas completely. I understand it quite well because those who come to me are all customers, and customer is king after all. I am not as lucky as LU CHEN, who had opportunities to play in the Spring Festival Gala broadcasted by CCTV, so what I can do is to through out what I have in my pocket, and then tell others how these things are made. What I am talking about today can be a confession, or a product brochure, which decodes the ideas behind many products and tells others how they are combined. I always split my sides with laughter when writing this brochure. Sometimes I really wanted to hold my fatties in my arms and have revelry in my living room, but sometimes I got lost into sadness at a remote corner for my effort in vain, disappointment and loneliness. Now these little fatties are almost ten years old, which is a good reason for me to summarize my ideas of art creation, so as to start a new journey in the coming ten years.
Like Mr. Bean, being enriched by this funny middle-aged man with different stories and experiences, this character thus has a metaphor hidden behind his every single gestures or facial expression. My fatties are actually the same “person”; no matter he is carrying a gun on his back, raising a small book, riding a horse or holding a kitchen knife in hands, he represents the character of a certain era; he comes from the time of our elder generation and you will find him turning to be our colleague, former classmate, our neighbor Fellow Liu, Fellow Li who is in charge of our residential community, the ones giving speeches along with the ones eating snacks and sucking air at the same time, a judge who practices graft instead, and so on. He is crossing the streets in this era, and will go further away in this common world. I sincerely hope that he will not be more and more like our children, but this hope will probably not to be realized because the surrounding soil to nurture him is so fertile, and there is a word that one never heard of soil being over-farmed but did hear farm cattle being exhausted to die. But I still believe, let me call him Fellow Wang for the moment, Fellow Wang will lead a long life but must die one day, a swollen era will pass away finally; maybe in the future, some people will understand our time better through Fellow Wang and the vivid us who are brave to be alive in this era.
My earliest work of fatty is Labor Dumb Million, which takes a group stature in front of Tian An Men as its prototype. I thought Chinese society was a society of having meetings, and an excited-looking stature in a big street or an alley was just like a practice of public relations by the government, so I was wondering if the public would change their views on this meeting psychologically when the image was reformed. After I finished the work, I couldn’t help laughing when I saw those mighty human beings again in the street. You see, sculpture is also a psychologist! So after I took part in a promotion meeting about to unite all members in the leading group of Art College of Shanghai Normal University, I made the second group of fatties Solidarity who were more swollen, which gave rise to fiercer open strives and veiled struggles among this group afterwards. It could be due to my playfulness, I suppose.
Many people wrote articles for me before and actually what most of them wrote was better than what my works really were. Generally speaking, I bamboozled them so they always sang higher praise on me, because they are either my friends or relatives, in short, connections. Of course sometimes I paid those who wrote for me, but usually most people could not understand those articles and said the articles I wrote were even better; the cost performance is too bad. Here I am not afraid of offending them because they won’t listen to artists’ own voice sincerely. So after the financial crisis, I only contacted my connections because what they wrote was better than what my works really were. But what I made were still first-hand material, and what they wrote were second-hand roses.
Just now, one of my old fans tried to persuade me to write a column or whatever, but being disappointed by such kind of behavior before and afraid of displeasing some people, I would rather talk about my works.
After that I began to make those works without considering right or wrong. Most of my works were designed during meeting time, because I had an official position in college so that there was plenty of time for meetings. When I was looking at my higher-ups behind the microphone on rostrum, thoughts always kept flashing across my mind, which I didn’t know if it was a kind of fascination. But in general, if there were no them, there wouldn’t have be my achievement today. Therefore you can see my personal feelings in my works, and if you view them more carefully, you can also see your Party Secretary of your organization. But don’t get surprised, that’s a kind of universal esthetic, besides it is quite normal to transfer secretaries among organizations.
I made lots of works on collectivism when I used to be day-dreaming during meetings. The work Last Dinner is about betrayal. The last dinner in the bible is about one man’s betrayal, but the story I discuss is about collective betrayal and self betrayal. Then I made Last DinnerⅡ，in which the falling-looking chair turned to be a trigger of conflicts. In the two works, the characters’ actions of beating their breast and stamping their feet to promise turn to be a basic structure between the individuals, and we all know this expression of no force of constrain is just the main melody of actual contemporary officialdom. May works is almost as vivid as my real meetings, and the spatial relationships in these two works quite satisfy me. I hope the characters in my works are like playing a classical modern drama and suddenly called to stop in the space defined by stage lighting. At the moment when all characters are solidified, you can recollect their previous actions and then imagine their next gestures, taking in the relationship between all characters at a glance.
If the two works of Last Dinner can be comparable to classical modern drama The Teahouse, then Collectivism is more like posters from Hollywood. I often get surprised on how Hollywood actors could make it believed that their exaggerated POSEES really exist in reality. As the saying goes, a lie turns to be a truth if it is told ten times, but you have to make sure to keep the same way of telling the lie every time of the ten. Thus, the persistence and lie are united and turn to be an expression of art, which I firmly believe to be true. Based on this, when I saw the poster of the super hot American TV series Prison Break on Lifeweek, an idea came into my mind, that was to reproduce my experience of collectivism in officialdom through representative poses in a Hollywood poster. Alas! I really should express my regards to my fellow journalists of “The Joint Publishing Company Ltd.”, because your magazines helped me out of numerous long meetings. During those days, my fascination almost turned me to be a god of trance art who was easy to fall asleep all the time. But just at a glance Prison Break poster, I felt that art can actually transcend time and space; and at that moment I seemed to hear that the splendid symphony from Hollywood rose up into the air within the small meeting room of no artistic sense or even looked vulgar; then I seemed to see all of us stand up and make a collective big pose with everybody’s most satisfactory gesture of the most standard Hollywood style. I was so fascinated into the scene that I simply held a solo exhibition named Collectivism in 2006 and left the organization named university just one year before this exhibition, taking several bundles of books and magazines by The Joint Publishing Company Ltd. with me and turned to be a freelance, ahahahaha!
The reason why I emphasized those several works just now was possibly because I think they are important, and the reason why they can be important is because they reflect some of my artistic concepts, some excitation during art creation and those hidden logics that seem to be unreasonable. These logics construct the style and language of an artist and actually I believe that inspiration does exist. I heard someone said something unintentionally once, “I just cannot help getting angry with the honest people”, which made me squat on the wayside, laughing for a long time; then I rushed back to make Knife Gang. Looking at a group of strong men with kitchen knives in hands and facing a little mouse, one may say that it is just a show of strength. But I don’t think so, that is just a group of man who cannot help getting angry with the honest; and I will certainly insist on this opinion. I think that folk wisdom was constrained and hidden due to powerful official esthetics and the tradition of cheating one’s superiors and defrauding one’s subordinates in the past years. However, folk wisdom has being existing all along, and booming of new internationalism and endless chase for new art forms in these years also help to constrain the most vigorous folk vitality in Chinese society. Actually, we can only feel real china completely when we actually experience it directly and love Chinese contemporary society. Culture and creativity just cannot be copied, so globalization and internationalization cannot be an excuse to copy art works. The internationalization of contemporary art is an inevitable choice made by dominant western culture in order to keep its position, and the copies in the third world are just proofs of its correctness. These proofs become their pets what can ascend to their hall and reach their inner room, and even gain whatever they want; however, they can never surpass their masters.
Well, well, I have to stop here, otherwise I will be marked with populist and offend many friends. Actually we should admit the advanced, try to advance courageously and just leave those theories for academic discussion, but if there does exist anything called academy, should these problems have been solved for sometime already? Sometimes I complain, maybe because some of my inspirations are too unrefined to show to the public. The inspiration of making Even Pets Ascend to Heaven with Taoist Immortal was that I watched in Harry Potter the little guy carried out a magic on his evil uncle to make him fat and floating in the air like a balloon. And the unfortunate evil uncle encouraged me to accomplish a very popular work, from which I earned lots of money. Thus I made the second one, which also sold well. I think it’s not proper to make the third one since all pets have ascended to heaven, let’s just stop here.
I think that I belong to that kind of person who likes looking around when walking in the street. My visual memory is full of grotesque shapes and gaudy colors, and only this street is the key clue; the one walking with me in the street is just the little fatty, who is acting the hatred, melancholy, happiness and sadness in my mind, so that I will no longer feel hatred, ecstasy or sad, and can breath fresh air in the morning and at night to feel my existence. I hope that when my friends are viewing my works, they can consider my works as fossils from another era and imagine how people in that era wish a better future.
Beyond the imagination of our mainland Chinese people, many of our fellow nationals from Taiwan don’t know what “Tuantuan Yuanyuan” was, which always surpriseed me because I thought it must be known to the world. Mainland China would send two pandas to Taiwan and collected names for these two little creatures among all Chinese citizens. So I guessed their name to be “Taitai” and “Wanwan” according to the inspiration from the names of Beijing Olympic Mascots; but who would have known that the result turned to be “Tuantuan Yuanyuan”. Disappointed in the beginning, I thought it carefully later and realized that the names actually reflected the desire for the reunion of all Chinese people quite properly. But who would have known why our fellow nationals didn’t understand our desire, which disappointed me more or less because I felt myself being bamboozled by my desire and even ready to bamboozle others. But fortunately they cognized it when I was explaining something about the two pandas right away, “Ah, so that’s DAPAN!” oh, so PANDA (xiongmao in Chinese) was called DAPAN (maoxiong in Chinese) in Taiwan! And so traditional Chinese words were not only reformed into simplified Chinese but also reversed? This was rather subversive. Fortunately their sudden understanding of the two little fat creatures embracing the tree greatly satisfied my vanity. Yes, the two little fatties had a political jacket, which made us not be able to see through each other; but no mater it was PANDA or DAPAN, we all knew what the subtle meaning we tried to express was. This is a story about another work. The story behind an art work always goes beyond the artist’s imagination, so after an artist plants a seed into the earth, stories will begin with flowers booming from inside the fence to the outside, and outside the wall blossoming inside the wall sweet, and everything turns to be different…eh-heh! Generally speaking, an art work has a life; it can be considered as the artist’s child, but its parent just cannot control how it will grow up.
I also made The Invincible Eastern Warrior to show my respect to Mr. Tsui Hark. I have watched the movie which was full of a poetic flavor of kungfu for many times, and every time when Brigitte Lin struggled to push Jet Li away from cliff and fell into the valley lonely and slowly, I always felt empty in my mind. And I showed my respect to Mr. Tsui Hark again in The Invincible Eastern WarriorⅡ to commemorate the wooden boat ignited by fragrant wine, two old men wearing traditional clothes and their ignited songs in The Smiling Proud Wanderer. And this song always became the last one for those who boosted their courage after drunk when we sang karaoke. So after I viewed another famous movie Seven Swords by Mr. Tsui Hark, I think this movie is his peak of poetic perfection toward our singing.
It should be true that being growing older, I became more and more interested in literati conception of Chinese classical esthetics and even attempted to combine the poetic conception in Chinese paintings, of course ancient calligraphy and paintings, with contemporary western golf sport, and named it Impossible is nothing. In fact, it is a modern version of Zhang Fei fights Qin Qiong. I suppose most people only understood the superficial impossibility thus call it humorous but neglect a poetic flavor aroused by the impossible imagery, which discourages me more or less. I think it is a failure.
I think that artists need to prepare product brochures, or the brochure of some artists is “QUESTIONING NOT PERMITTED”. When I am in low spirit, I will show you a mood index to avoid any embarrassment between us, but considering “Harmony brings wealth” and the financial crisis, you are the boss. We are the first group of market-oriented artists. Businessmen often sigh with emotion that artists are too market-oriented, and you must know this word, businessmen are talking about art, while artists are talking about business. I know it is true, because almost every successful artist promotes himself or herself quite well. But compared with those successful artists who are indulged in officialdom, I think this is a progress because contemporary art market rescued some talented people and set them free from those who are talented in authority. And only this is enough for us to cheer for art marketization. Moreover I want to remind those businessmen who always criticize artists as businessmen not to be that modest, because artists only learn some business to protect themselves. I know you like obedient artists who always follow your rules, but we are not of that type. At least, market provides another possibility; the earliest democracy was spread with the development of business and people voted by money, not by dishonest means.
Up till now, I need to clarify that it is certainly a bad strategy for artists to write whatever product brochure for their works. If Chinese contemporary art wants to be protected and to perform better, let’s start from being honest.
Dongfeng Art Center, Beijing