by Pan Gaojie

Pig is a symbol of wealth in Chinese culture, and there is a broader social meaning among Chinese people .They are often used as a mascot by a variety of programs ,topics about pigs are quite abundant. Moreover, the pig is a symbol of productivity which has a high ability to sense the speed of development, and it happens to coincide with the pursuits of contemporary society in general. In addition, the breeding of pigs also points to a kind of metaphor for sex. It is thus clear that the connotations of a pig are multiple and complex. Indeed, a pig seems to have a very special status in contemporary art which has been expressed repeatedly in a variety of works: painting, sculpture, performance art … I dare not treat each “pig” in contemporary art lightly.

"Fetish" ,Chen Wenling; 2008

“Fetish” ,Chen Wenling; 2008

"A Happy Life No. 21" by Chen Wenling, 2008

“A Happy Life No. 21” by Chen Wenling, 2008

"A Happy Life" by Chen Wenling, 2006

“A Happy Life” by Chen Wenling, 2006

In one piece of Chen Wenling’s works , eyes of the little pigs around the side of the big pig are full of enmity. He said this is an expression of the Chinese idolized system. He wants to give multiple meanings, pig is just his choice. This work implies introspection of the real consumer culture , a kind of questioning, or even a tactful criticism. In other contemporary sculptures, Jiang Jie’s “They know their identity,” displays a group of domestic pigs and babies stained with blood , Cao Hui once displayed a skinned pig. The former makes viewers feel chilly and the latter makes viewers’ bodies ache. Considering the various symbolic characters of the pig and its rate of growth , in my view, a pig reflects the very reality we live in today..

In contemporary art, the pig plays the role of a spiritual group portrait of modern people , revealing various pathological phenomena in society. Pigs in contemporary art play the role of people. However, it can always recover into a pig itself.

"Cultural Animal" by Xu Bing, 1993

“Cultural Animal” by Xu Bing, 1993

"Pig" by Liu Xiaodong, 2000

“Pig” by Liu Xiaodong, 2000

Back in 1993, Xu Bing’s work “cultural animal” displayed in the Langhammer Art Gallery. The main characters are two breeding pigs in estrus which were printed in “Book from the sky” . In the beginning , the boar ran around in a pile of books and brazenly trampled the “culture” of human society without any scruples. When the sow entered, the boar suddenly had a clear target, mating began, totally ignoring people’s astonishment. Scholar Yin Jinan said that in the opinion of intellectuals on the scene “extreme physical stimulation and various cultural illusions have all gone out of control and then with their survival questions ,they immediately began their answer in terms of the culture of pigs’ mating behavior.” Xu Bing, said afterwards: “… … to transform this primitive, animal natural (most normal) behavior to a so-called cultural environment in which many well-dressed people and photographic equipment are watching them. Seeing two pigs mating, which starts modern art activities on an academic level , and exploring cultural and artistic issues, is itself inherently absurd and worth discussing. With the flash and under the watchful eyes, two pigs enjoyed themselves to the full, without worrying about contraception or HIV, much less the problem of mistake, really like no one else is there , while the people watching them feel restrained and untrue. The value of the result is that the people arranged to change the pig’s environment, but in turn placed people in an awkward condition. What the perversion of the environment reveals is not the pig’s inadaptability but people’s, so some people said that all the people(including myself) who looked at this work were teased, in fact, this teasing is the result of their own culture and it does not act on people without culture. … In fact, this work just provides people with a point for reflection, what we are looking at is two pigs’ sexual act, but what we are thinking about is human.”

After all, a pig’s role in contemporary art is ambiguous, it provides viewers with all sorts of illusionary space, not only on the perspective of people but also on the angle of “pig” . Recognized good contemporary art is art which reveals the truth of the moment , touching the sensitive nerve of people ,whether via a pig or other things.

About the author

Pan Gaojie (Kokit Pun)

Pan Gaojie (Kokit Pun)


Born in Guangxi Province,China in 1990

Grown in Guangdong Province since 1995

Currently studying in Beijing


2009——, Study in Art History Department of Humanities Institute, Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing.

Constellation: Sagittarius




The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of CAFA ART INFO.

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