Pendulum of Change

Chen Tong

The artistic events that appeared in Yangjiang, Guangdong, are both exciting yet hard to understand. Zheng Guogu transformed Yangjiang, an ordinary seaside city, into the territory of contemporary art with his performances. Since, under his influence, many artists veered from many of the regionally binding constraints and started a small revolution in photography, literature, architecture design and other fields, effectively moving the central focus. It seems that such events have a significant effect on traditional local cultural authorities, but since artists are not interested in their local cultural authorities, in fact, perhaps, due to their existence, the city is drifting. At least culture is no longer the customarily “Superstructure”. It is no longer based on economy, but independently takes up the task of creation in a modern sense. No matter what kind of criticism these events receive, positive or not, their non-traditional features are very impressive. From another point of view, it is such events that have adjusted the artistic position of Guangdong, and changed its image.

The occurrences of these events are actually quite frequent, and there is a relationship between the Yimei Company and the artists. It is hard to identify if the individual leads the group, or if the group encourages the individuals. What’s more, in contrast to the periodic and restless revolutions in cultural cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Nanjing etc., the Yangjiang youth were creators of innovation and originality. Modern attitudes allow limited acceptance for such artistic creation and so we can only experience it cautiously rather than embrace it.

In the Handwriting Exhibition held at the “World Organization” as well as at the “Ningbi Space”, held at the same time in March 2002, the impulse of “Continued Revolution” once again changed paths. The authors included Zheng Guogu, Sha Yeya, Chen Zaiyan and Sun Qingling. Except for Chen, who is a penman of deep foundation and experience, the other three do not belong to any folk group that relates to handwriting, and perhaps have never even touched brush pens before. Knowing this fact leads one to doubt their qualification and authorization to adopt handwriting in their revolution target. According to our personal handwriting inability, we will further doubt the realness and effectiveness of the revolution. “Are you coming to appreciate handwriting or to test your blood pressure?” – The title of the exhibition transforms the simple “handwriting art” into “concept art”, in it’s teasing. Thus one could consider more how this could happen, rather than the reaction after its occurrence. For example, someone may ask, “Mr. Zheng, you always love to do strange things, why have you become interested in handwriting?” Or, “Mr. Chen, your handwriting is quite good, why have you messed it up with these three people who do not have any handwriting ability?”. But of course, this is the very outcome that the authors strive for. They did not want to state, “I can write” or “Everybody can write” by regular mode interfered by exception, nor did they want to try the extension of reformation by paper and ink, the latter being the basic proposition of “modern handwriting” as an attitude. But during the battle with tradition, the extended feelers withdrew. People found that the realization of “freedom” is not the responsibility of handwriting. What they are concerned with may be how to make handwriting strange again. It is the same as the houses they built. Familiar functions are made interesting based on their “strangeness”. Therefore the meaning of handwriting’s existence will be presented in new and challenging forms. At least the houses and the handwriting have the same strong cutting edge effect due to their lack of mass acceptance.

It seems that Zheng Guogu specifically emphasizes the difference in content from traditional handwriting. The use of traditional poems has long since disappeared and newspaper scripts and artificial maxims are scattered over paper (e.g. “Good, Same, Regular, Entry of WTO in Guangzhou, Personality is Destiny”), each of which is full of queerness and provocation. But, since the fonts are difficult to recognize, except for those who read the explanations beside the works, one is unable to understand the meaning of the characters. What primarily interests me is the artists’ deliberate involvement in an art mode that is ridiculous and lacks the possibility for revolution. They have expressed their detached attitude ensuring they will not perish at any moment. It is like a group of street boys downtown, who pick up an orange from one seller’s basket, and put it into another seller’s basket. They do not need to take responsibility, yet at the same time, they achieved their purpose of provocation. The beauty in structure and shape inside these works is not lowered in the least.

It is necessary to discuss the works that hung on the wall. A few “health machines” were under a pile of wasted rice paper, which sent out wave-like power, similar to a man and woman under a quilt. Though this accessory is the extension of handwriting, it is more noticeable than the writing itself. It used contradictory methods to again clear away those stubborn concepts that want to establish certain aesthetic logic between the strokes. Therefore, one side is the ink game, which cannot completely dispose writing rules, and the other side is the site magic that resolves such games in a strange suspense. If the blood pressure tester is included, a test of viewing and its psychological reaction will occur in the name of art.

Yangjiang handwriting is obviously not precious art in the same way as those strange buildings: these handwritings are not universal. Therefore simple opposition has prevented our appreciation of Yangjiang artists from the very beginning. Is the artwork of Yangjiang strong enough to consolidate its position of a center of modern art?

On my way back to Yangjiang from Zhapo Island, I got to know a sea arthropod named “horseshoe crab”. Its blood is blue and Zheng told me that this giant animal, like a helmet and a sword, takes ten years to grow to usable size, but its price is lower than a quick-raised fish. After tasting the horseshoe crab soup, I immediately started to respect and love it. If I had realized some strange theories for life through a tree in my hometown, in the same way, the horseshoe crab had also inspired me to take special care in the sensation and experience of all the artistic events occurring in Yangjiang. I have to say that I have already equated these artists to the horseshoe crab.