Consumerism is more enjoyable!
Hou Han Ru
Zheng Guo Gu, born in 1970, lives and works in Yangjiang.
In the beginning of 90s, especially after 1992, there was a great economy development in China. The foundation of society system also changed accordingly. Due to the freedom of expression and renovation of language, the world of the modern Chinese visual art started to compete with the frontier art, and experienced the same changes. Those new artists, who were not involved in the frontier movement in the 80s, are now becoming the art centricity with new thoughts, new value and new language. Zheng is one of these outstanding artists.
Born in Yangjiang, Guangdong, Zheng completed his education in Guandong. Culture openness is a tradition in this province. After 1980, Guandong has been influenced by Hong Kong and foreign culture. Under such background, Zheng consciously accepted the pop culture, and developed his point of view towards life and art in the transforming society. With rich sense of humor and special ideas, among the complicated social phenomena, he saw their internal relationships. Through his camera, he tells us a new story about real life, imagination, dream, and enjoyment of the youth. With a simple camera, he recorded the life of his peer group with pictures, which reflect those people who are confused by the uncertainty of reality and unreality, as well as the new thoughts appearing around them. In his album “My Bride”, he fabricated a story about honeymooning with someone else’s bride, to point out the often mistakes in life. For him, everything is assumable, even a bride or a honeymoon. In the album “Aberrant Behaviors of Yangjiang Youth”, the coherency of reality and assumption are more interesting, ironic, and comic. As in some Kung Fu movies, a group of youth shoot, chase girls, fights each other, and confronts police, with violence and folic.
The scale of cities had never been so great, which surely has been the most splendid change since 90s in china. A new concept about city starts from the unique social process, a reformation combining capitalism, consumption economy, and the original social system. This new concept appears in the vertical or horizontal expansion process of the city. Numerous new city districts are developing, and numerous high-rise buildings are coming up. People’s life style, living condition, and environment sense are also changed fundamentally. To face and comply with the new reality, daring and adventurous economic, social and cultural projects, and strategies take place. In this social and cultural renovation, modern artists are the most active and sensitive group. From Beijing to Shanghai, from Guangzhou to Chengdu, artists face the new city life and explore all kinds of involvement.
Zheng belongs to a generation, which grew up with Coca-Cola, Kung Fu movies, pop music, and TV games. Different from those older generation in the uncertainty of Cultural Revolution of the 70s, and in the optimistic Utopia of the 80s, there is no ideology and idealization among the new generation. They pursue happiness and amuse themselves; their life style and thoughts are more realistic and open. Artists of this generation do not have any burden of history, and have gotten out of the prison of ideology. They actively embrace the new trend created by the new consumption society, and regard them as the cornerstone of their art language. Carrying the most popular mini-camera, Zheng took the most unique photographs, presenting the life of the new generation: their desire, dreams, illusion, and realistic attitude towards the contradictions between youth culture, money, politics, and authority. In the meantime, in his artistic concepts and methods, he borrowed the game rule of market economy – large scale of production and distribution. He duplicated the photographs to thousands of tiny images. In addition, combining literature and architecture into art works, he presents a free and daring spirit, which is the image of the future generation.
In recent years, the economic development in China complies more and more with the global free market system. It encourages the transformation of Chinese society into consumerism irrevocably. As everyone living in this society, artists have to face the challenge directly from new value system based on market value. Meanwhile, with the speed of China merging into the world market, Chinese artists obtain more chances of international exhibition. Obviously, it means that each artist has to face the reality when dealing with the international artistic market, organization, and media. Therefore, to build up an international identification consciously without being manipulated by the powerful market system, and to resist the pressure of commercialization and opportunism has become the urgent issue of many artists. It has become the tasks of artists to keep their unique voices, and to protect the independence of individuals within the great social tide of commercialization.
Zheng has grown up in the commercial trend and pop culture. By his direct contact with the consumerism society, his criticism on the value of consumerism society is especially thorough and applicable. In the “Ten Thousands of Customers” and other works, he looked through hand-made toys and duplicated them into a great deal of photographs in the most common way, which expresses ironies towards the logic of consumerism. And in the “Year Two Thousand, Rust another Two Thousands Years” with the purpose of “Anti-portable, Anti-hypocrite, Anti-Pop, Anti-Vogue, Anti-Inside, Anti-Ad, Anti-Hippy”, he duplicated the bottles of coke and other popular drinks into heavy metal products, then turned them into “sediment of history”. It is an opposite choice to the consumerism society rule of instant consumption and instant profit.
Another important phenomenon of the Chinese art in the 90s is the wide use of photography. It is certainly related to the abuse of commercial culture. Yet, while mass photographic works crowding the market, we can not ignore such details: some artists with criticism and personal standpoint refuse to use such a convenient and charming tool to pursue the perfect technology and commercialization as most people. When they are using photographic tools, they look for the irony of the photography technologies worship, and try to keep the distance between personal standpoint and fashion. The most obvious example is Zheng. He uses the most popular dummy camera for picture taking, as a denial to turn into the perfection of formalism and commercialization. And his recent “photography” projects which avoiding camera usage will more directly take dismissing photography itself as his purpose.