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The Exorcisms of Shi Qing

Author: Qiu Zhijie Translator: Philip Tinari May,2003

In Post-Sensibility: Alien Bodies and Delusion, January, 1999, Shi Qing showed his first work, "1999." Nine canvases depicting hands, each hand's "lifeline" suddenly cut short, an effect actually achieved digitally, by rubbing the image of the line flat. A bloody red background to this basement celebrated for its deceptive forms, with the brilliance of a revolutionary beauty. Only when I later moved these works to the Loft New Media Art Space to show in an exhibition of digital art, their violence became apparent among that venue's cold steel and glass. This succinct work brought out the fragility of the living, the foreboding and fear of fate, and hid secret stories beneath the smooth glossy shell of digital photography. Afterwards, in a series of interactive multi-media CDs and installations, Shi Qing continued to develop this narrative strategy: he used interactivity and media to create a game, a fake space of boundless delight. Later, viewers came here to encounter fragmentation: some of it coming from unreliable memories, some from worried imagination, and still more from the way in which he portrays the absurdity of everyday life by enlarging and reproducing the ordinary.

Wearing the cloak of new media, Shi Qing rendered the love-hate relationship between people and the objects they create: in the midst of his technology he harbors curses and taboos, the body falling into an abyss of surveillance and interpretation, an object waiting to be polluted or sterilized. Human bodies step forth from religion and witchcraft, and through ritual, become historical records of depravity and purity. At the same time, the body remains the sole reader and interpreter of this historical record.
Thus, Shi Qing puts forth a theory: the body always evolves through aberrance into alien forms. The body we call normal today was formed in this way; only in this way could it have mutated into reality. Thus, Shi Qing creates a peripheral narrative style:

Shi Qing uses a set of seemingly forceful behaviors to regulate his performers, and these behaviors sometimes carry subconscious hints, directed at the anxieties of youth, at the mazes of identity, at the conflicting feelings between genders, or at the strangeness of particular places. Sometimes these are excused as traditional religious ceremonies or modern medical practices, and sometimes they even borrow the forms of entertainment and war. The performers use clothing and props, and these objects are designed in accordance with the hints dictated by the performances mentioned above. The performance thus proceeds smoothly and theatrically forward, with the performers having standardized the ways in which they will use the objects. When the performers are not present, or after they have left the scene, they still carry great narrative power, as the gloomy components of an installation. The performances pop up in genuine spaces: in the town of Moxi, Sichuan province or the Huangjiaoping neighborhood of Chongqing; in Beijing's Zhoukoudian or in an exhibition hall; looking for shadows in a dark back room, or amidst moans that seem both hidden and present in a deep forest. Time becomes a sleepless dawn or a dreamy afternoon, and as the sky gradually grows dark, several people quietly wait for the excitement of a holiday to send down the miracles of language. Before this, they stand facing each other, each going his way, the event having revealed unreliable symptoms. What follows rapidly transcends our expectations. And so the illusions of theatre break away from a web of roots. Our logic is not accustomed to this kind of doubt; we doubt that there is craziness brewing amidst the fragments. All manner of ideas about these actions gradually rot into one, but it is at this time that Shi Qing declares the performance over, the video complete, and prepares to use them to fan the flame of a new work. Photographs bury doubts, turning them into secrets. The narrative circle is not closed, the play begins to fracture: not because it lacks the cloak of a stage and curtain, but because the silent evil creatures in the work have reproduced, forming too many reminders, and Shi Qing has neither the means nor the desire to justify himself.

The viewer will grow tired of continuing to examine, he will realize that this kind of allure is merely the twittering of narcissists. But when that viewer leaves, he will be unable to abandon Shi Qing's actions and impersonations and return to a malarial city as if nothing had happened. This is because the viewer's own narcissism will have already thawed, and the torment he will have suffered under the pretext of narrative will have already transformed into the enticement of happiness. Shi Qing exaggerates the unconveyable traditions of performance art to a psychotic level, such that they become a family. This family is given to excessive pondering and hoarse squeals, such that day after day we are aroused to our possible trespasses in a fit of controlled inebriation. Shi Qing dares to speak for himself because we are always unknowingly performing, because our self-satisfied causes and logics are always already linguistic nightmares, with no ability to resist dispersion among the dark erosions within and without. And because this is not a play, it will not be performed again. We can no longer pretend to be witnesses, and become accomplices. In orchestrating this performance, Shi Qing makes us aware of the empty power and dark weight inside ourselves.

Shi Qing calls his exhibition "Black Taboos" as a way of naming the meaning behind his posturings: they are actually not movements, because movements require motives. They are not performances, because in mimicking drama they create reality. They are implemented through bodies, but only to prove the regulations to which bodies are subject. For these reasons, they are exorcisms.
The fundamental linguistic text of the Chinese language, the "Shuowen," explains nuo (roughly translated exorcism) as "movement and people have rhythms." Nuo implies that action has rules, that there are agreements binding bodies to taboos. By hovering among taboos, the body remembers anew its many variants, and witnesses the paths it travels deep in sleep. An incident is realized, but before the incident begins, after the incident ends, and even as the incident is happening, that which has not been realized, the repressed chances and passions, are present on the scene through these gestures. That is to say, through fiddling with these gestures, the body gains a soul.

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