“RESTART”, realized between 2008 and 2010 and exhibited for the first time in Germany in the Ludwig Museum, Koblenz, puts forward a series of decisively new approaches. Aspects of the clash of civilizations, the entanglement of our technologies in the forms of our desire, the role of cultural – and intercultural – memory in commerce with our contemporary situation intersect in a medial attentiveness that lays before us the ambivalence, the seduction, and the disquiet in the experience of the virtual 3-D space and the – transbiomorphic – animation in a completely new manner. Let’s be clear from the start: “RESTART” is frightfully beautiful, unsettling, and enticing all at once, and it thereby hits a nerve with our contemporary desires and fears without having to become involved in the subconscious innocence-deal of a crisis that has apparently affected us as unexpectedly as only a sudden extraterrestrial comet impact could.
Video Courtesy of Miao Xiaochun and Essay Courtesy of Ursula Panhans-Bühler
Thematically, “RESTART” begins with Pieter Bruegel’s “The Triumph of Death”, that macabre painting from the Prado that teems with figures and swarms conveying death as individual skeletons, groups of skeletons, or entire hordes being delivered from life unto death. The scenario used in the animation of the 3-D reconstruction is rounded out by further pictures from Bruegel: the “Fall of Rebel Angels” and “Mad Meg”, heading off to hell, as well as the “Seven Deadly Sins”, which have survived only as engravings. The use of Raphael’s frescoes “Parnassus” and “The School of Athens” are clearly recognizable, while those less so are the allusions to paintings from Botticelli, Signorelli, El Greco, as well as key images from the 19th century such as Goya’s “The Third of May 1808” and finally – with reproductive, plastic clarity – Courbet’s “A Burial at Ornans” and Géricault’s “The Raft of the Medusa”. Several landscapes from Caspar David Friedrich are also made reference to. The canon of European classical art history is supplemented by the icons of progress of China’s cutting-edge technological and urban modernization. In toto, it is a mighty undertaking and it is amazing how effortlessly the most varied objects of artistic, architectural, and design reference are combined in the almost 14-minute 3-D animation.
Above all, Miao Xiaochun has ceased replacing the repertoire of human figures in his 3-D transformations with just one personal example. Now he is present three times over: once as the emotionally neutral replica familiar from the other 3-D animations, but then also as an artistic subject recognizable in his own skin and in ‘work clothes’, that is as a cameraman and simultaneously as a sound assistant with microphone, and finally as an animalistic, autonomously mobile shadow freed from its body – 2-D in the 3-D space! (something normally reserved for accompanying shadows that are necessarily projected on the floor as a result of the incidence of light). One might also include the mini-imagoes of two small children climbing a Jacob’s ladder. Moreover, women are now also present. The “Mad Meg” is the figure of a mythological being with a female body and the horned head of a ram, accompanied by other, sexually lascivious ladies with various animal or insect heads. Then, in Raphael’s “Parnassus”, the repertoire of female figures is retained, transformed into a single, anonymous female 3-D figure, while in a series of other sequences the images of a further, less classically-influenced female 3-D figure are more frequent. Finally, not to be forgotten are the many skeletons that seem to have been let loose not only from Bruegel’s “Triumph of Death” then to appear elsewhere in contemporary modernity. With exaggeratedly long legs, reminiscent of Dali’s “The Temptation of St. Anthony”, the spindly legs of a skeleton appear to carry the steps of the ‘human’ avatar of Miao Xiaochun like a ghost and magically guide him along.
Like many contemporary artists, Miao Xiaochun is also a historian, not in a scientific sense, but in an artistic one. Therefore, when he incorporates the artistic interfaces of the tradition, he expands the frame of his interrogation of our technological and socio-cultural situation with his contribution of the artistic tradition to our cultural memory. That he includes, with extreme care, the ambivalent possibilities of 3-D animation into his construction of “RESTART” could be taken as a new configuration of the unsolved question regarding the balance between Eros and Thanatos, a question that we cannot cede to the progress of ever newer forms of vicarious satisfaction by taking up ever more refined products and simultaneously a question that we as witnesses are involved in. “Where do we go?” was the question posed in a myriad of ways by his 3-D imago in “The Last Judgment in Cyberspace”. If we wish to solve the conflict between Eros and Thanatos with the aid of a division, then perhaps the answer reads: “There is no There there”. Plunging into the “There” of artistic cyberspace might provide us with the courage to find new, productive relations between the symbolic world and that of our earthly situation.
—Excerps from Double Interface–Miao Xiaochun’s RESTART
by Ursula Panhans-Bühler