Facing Wei Guangqing's suicide plan of the "One" and similar activities is like facing a modern Sphinx riddle. Two years ago, I discussed with "Tribe·Tribe," an art group Wei Guangqing belonged to, about the puzzling existentialism. Today, the puzzle Wei Guangqing made in response makes my puzzle seem easy, as if an action as simple as blinking can tease it.
Thus, I recalled an interesting story.
In the Song dynasty, an emissary of Liao boasted that he was proficient in poems and always questioned the other literati via poems. The emperor assigned Su Dongpo to welcome the emissary. Su Dongpo said making poems are easy, but interpreting them is hard. Su then wrote the poem, named "Overlooking," and asked the emissary to explicate. Su had written the characters of the poem the way the original poem had described them, rendering the poem incomprehensible.
The emissary was puzzled, embarrassed, and never discussed poems again.
The emissary was lucky he didn't live on talking about poems. However, I make my living by talking about art. The number of articles I write is proportional to my quality of life.
So I have to talk about art.
The suicide performance, "One", directed by Wei Guangqing is no different than a daydream of a besotted wise man or a smart idiot. The plan of the suicide and the records of the process are like a nightwalker's baffling reports of his dream. The performance and the reports formed the double insanities—the connotation of the answer and the language of the riddle. As archeologists face a pile of fragmented ancient potteries with strange symbols, examining the life scenarios of the ancients, my interpretation must also begin with the fragmented symbols and records.
What's "One"? According to the notes by the director, "One" is a symbol of different objects: a singular, a symbol, a man, or a woman, etc. When the plan of suicide is performed, the "One" is an alive, but wrapped person. Is he an abstract person? Is he a symbol of human dilemma? Is he an enclosed man? Is he a representation of society, nationality, country, group, or self? Is he handicapped? Is he a mark of self-mutilation?
In the process of suicide, suicide is linked to the Red Cross. What is the meaning of the Red Cross? Is it a symbol of Christ's pain? Is it a sign of western culture? Is it an icon of the coition? Is it a metaphor for crossroads? Is the Red Cross protecting the suicide act? Even killing the lifesaving Red Cross as well?
Every suicide has a reason for the act of suicide. Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre's partner, wrote a novel named Everyone Has To Die. The protagonist of the book lives from the Renaissance to the present and attempted to kill himself several times without success. The simple reason of his suicide is to kill the reality of his eternal life.
Why does "One" commit suicide? Quoting Camus, "The only serious philosophical problem is suicide."
Then, is the director attempting to rehearse a tragedy?
Tragedy destroys valuable things to awaken people. Lu Xun offered another definition, "Comedy tears worthless things to awaken people."
According to Wei Guangqing's interpretation, the over thirty replacements of the "One" are the worthless objects beneath their abstract status, like corpses without expressions or personalities. The death of such suicides is just like tearing up worthless things.
The suicide process of "One" is more like a comedy, although the director overtly forbade the participants to smile. But seeing the on-site photos, the serious comedy clamps down on the emotions did not last long. The compelling seriousness gradually weakened. Not only the occasional onlookers, but the director also laughed out of control.
In ancient Greece, comedy was the god of Death for art. Aris Fentuo is the last poet of ancient Greece. The comedies he created became wonderful and rare funerary dirges.
Wei Guangqing is a member of "the new wave movement of art". Somebody said "the new wave movement of art" is the Chinese version of the various styles of modernism; the only thing lacking is a suicide performance. Wei Guangqing took the position as the curtain call person for "the new wave movement of art".
Chinese people are always afraid of death. The legend said that the ancestor Peng lived from the period of the Five Emperors to the Shang dynasty. After eight hundreds years, he still thought that was too short. Later, Chong Hong in Zhou Dynasty, Xu Fu in Qing Dynasty, Zhang Daoling in Han Dynasty, and Lv Dongbin in Tang Dynasty, they were all famous for pursuing eternal life. If we say that the highest ideal for Chinese people is to be an emperor, then the ultimate desire of an emperor is to pursue eternal life. The skills to a lasting life, but not enhancing the value of life, such as the alleged sex-tips, alchemy, breathing method, and fetal breath method, were becoming the national quintessence from generation to generation.
There's also a tradition in the West to fear death. In Homer's epic, he said: "I prefer to be a slave in the world, rather than being an emperor in hell." But after Plato attacked this view with great criticism, the tradition of envisaging death emerged with the philosophy of death.
The philosophy of death proposes that a real person should eliminate the fear of death and face the necessity of death. If one stops living a mediocre life to delay death, and rids the negative attitude toward death, and confirms the unrepeatable and the unique value of self-existence, then one will find the personal superior status again.
Wei Guangqing's "Suicide" is actually fear's consciousness, sinking attitude, herd mentality, and desire of real existence.
As the Chinese version of the western modern art, the imitation of the "new wave movement of art" limited the real existence of the avant-garde artists in the international art world. Wei Guangqing's desire for suicide is to kill the "new wave movement of art" itself.
As a common person, Wei Guangqing's attitude of compassion exceeds himself and cares for others is endearing. However, he is not politician or thinker; he is just an insignificant painter in a huge social structure. On the stage of human society, politics is the biggest art. Obviously, Wei Guangqing has no chance to engage into the enterprise and only could process a "mind play" calling unnecessary imitate and copy.
As a painter, Wei Guangqing delicately designed the scene of suicide. All of the colors, the symbols, the form, and the decorations foiled the serious visual intention. However, it is ultimately not an artwork. Wei Guangqing used the contemporary fruits of art, but there is no breakthrough in the ontology of art. Only pursuing the breakthrough of the ontology of art is the supreme duty of an artist.
The publicized suicide of Wei Guangqing has the complete opposite effect from real suicides (since suicides would not want others to intervene). Instead, it is has a strong passion to live. Same as the hermits of Han dynasty and Wei dynasty who were taking the reclusions as a means to be famous, the suicide plan of Wei Guangqing has the same purpose. Obviously, he hopes for a new and normal art world with a real sense of self.
From Visual Revolution, Peng De, Art Critic.
Edited by Lin Sophia Ma, September 2007