Research Log | The Left Wing Show in Beijing

The Left Wing and The Right Wing

A large art group show entitled Left Wing was unveiled on Saturday, December 20, 2003 at the Left Bank Gallery in the Zhongguancun area in northwest Beijing. The show was housed on two floors, of unsold and un-refurbished buildings within a commercial complex branded as the Left Bank. The project initiator and sponsor Lin Jian, developer of this compound, once said that "when the world turns to the Right, we turn to the Left." This announcement has made him and his real estate project well known in Beijing’s booming but highly competitive real estate business circle.

About 30 artists are included in the exhibition. Many of them are now very active and visible in the national and international art world, such as Cao Fei, Fang Lijun, Gu Dexin, Shi Yong, Song Dong& Yin Xiuzhen, Sui Jianguo, Zhang Hui& Shi Qing, Zhuang Hui, Du Zhenjun, Sun Yuan&Peng Yu, Yang Fudong, Liu Wei, Xu Tan, Wang Hui, Qiu Zhijie, Wang Mai, Huang Yongping and Shen Shaomin.

Left Wing presents a wide variety of art forms such as painting, installation, video art, photography, sculpture, collage, video installation, and performance. One thing that links these artists are their obvious concerns for the Chinese people as they come to terms with the unprecedented, dramatic economic and cultural impacts of globalisation.

Cao Fei is a young and talented female artist whose video work is attracting growing attention. Her latest video work, Hi Hop, features different people dancing on the street, posing to repetitive music. Dancing figures include students, construction workers and peddlers. They dance aimlessly, controlled merely by an unspeakable power; a pressure to survive. The work is a visual metaphor of people’s ambiguous psychological reaction to the burgeoning city life. They come to the city for a better life and higher income but are subject to unfair treatment.

Guangzhou based artist Xu Tan’s Chinese Sauna is a combination of installation and performance. He reconstructs a standard sauna room and invites audience to take a sauna. Those taking a sauna in the are visible to those standing outside the room, as the walls are made of glass. Visitors become voyeurs when they are exposed to the half-naked bodies. This work creates tensions, from a particular social and physical context, between seeing and being seen, private and public, art and life.

As a native Shanghai resident artist Shi Yong has been witnessing the dramatic changes of China’s biggest city over the past two decades. For him, insatiable desire is the engine of the city, and desire sparks the pursuit of new fashions, automobiles, and luxury homes. In short, a pleasant life. Desire changes people’s daily life, changes cities, and even changes economics and politics. His new installation work, Standpoint, is a wooden narrow room with an array of knifes inside. Knifes are made of translucent thin plastic and an electronic air pump works intermittently, making the plastic knife erect horizontally and shrink regularly. When shrunk they looks like used condoms and when upright, resemble an erect penis. This erotic and provocative devise is a humorous parable of the omnipresent desire-charged urban life.

During the opening, many performance pieces were particularly eye-catching. Song Dong hired ten acrobatic actors and actresses to perform on stilts, walking around the exhibition hall wearing skyscraper-like clothes. Sun Yuan and Peng Yu hired several professional boxers to fight each other, turning the exhibition space into a gymnasium.

In addition to the gala-like attractions, the most significant and attractive event was the canceling of an installation work by Huang Yongping. His contribution to the show is called Right Wing, which is the third section of his Bat Project, thus also called Bat Project III. Both of Huang Yongping’s previous Bat Projects are large replicas of segments from the US spy plane EP-3, involved in the collision which took place on 1st April 2001 over the South China Sea. Huang Yongping was invited to create Bat roject I, a replica of the middle and rear portions of the airplane, for a Sino-French sculpture exhibition in Shenzhen in December 2001. In fear of undermining France and China’s relations with the US, the piece had to be removed right before the show was opened. Project II was a replica of the middle and front portions, as well as the left wing of the spy plane EP-3, prepared for the 1st Guangzhou Triennial, 2002. Due to the pressure from US consulate and the Chinese Culture Ministry the work could once again not be shown, despite almost being completed on the square in front of the Guangzhou Art Museum.

Another chance for the rebirth of Huang’s Bat Project came with this exhibition. Huang Yongping’s Bat Project III, Right Wing, the final portion of the spy plane, was supposed to be unveiled on December 30 in the yard of the Left Bank compound, and a ceremony was scheduled in advance. Surprisingly, or perhaps, not surprisingly, in the afternoon of 29th December 2003, Huang Yongping and Gu Zhengqing was informed that the work must be canceled due to “safety problems” A frustrated Huang Yongping made an announcement on the website proclaiming that the slogan, ‘when the world turns to the left, we turn to the right,” is mere commercial advertising rhetoric. The reality is that when the world turns to right we follow right behind.

The Right Wing event added to the dramatic events of the Left Wing show, revealing the subtle relationship between art with business and politics. Huang’s Bat Project in China has been repeatedly banned due to the social climate. To some degree, this event also demonstrates the actual position of contemporary art within society. Contemporary art, despite being widely viewed as part of the new Chinese culture and reluctantly recognised by the mainstream establishment, has a long way to go to find her root in the social framework.



ZHANG Zhaohui, 張朝暉

Thu, 1 Jan 2004

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