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Blocking the reality

5 August 2013

An exhibition of 11 Chinese artists, ingenuously entitled as ChinaChina, is currently on show at Ukraine’s primary center of contemporary arts. Valentin Dyakonov (ВАЛЕНТИН Ъ-ДЬЯКОНОВ) marveled at an elephant’s gait of the Chinese authors. 

As you are sitting in a dazzling white cafe on the fifth floor of Pinchuk Art Centre, you feel yourself an elite of the future from a sci-fi movie.  A modest, yet buoyant life is bustling outside. This is also the place where a battle is watched from the perspective of independence bought for a powerful lot of money. For two years in a row the center was paying for Ukraine’s participation in the Venice biennale, and Sir Elton John, who is a friend of the founder, businessman Victor Pinchuk, played at the opening of the pavilion back in 2007. At the latest show, the funds provided by the Ministry of Culture, were not enough to pay for the artists’ hotel rooms. Natalya Zabolotnaya, director of "Mystetskiy Arsenal" museum complex, has recently ordered that the wall painting by Vladimir Kuznetsov at the “Great and Glorious” exhibition should be covered with white paint, as that work of art was politically incorrect for a state institution. At the same time, an artistic work similar to that one in the manner and plot was on show at Victor Pinchuk’s art center with no trouble at all. The center sets itself above the battle ­– “It’s Hard to Be God”, the Ukrainian version. And the respective works of art are exhibited here – such that are well-seasoned in the global market and evoke public response. Thus, Europe’s first largest Damien Hirst retrospective show took place at the center. 

"ChinaChina" is a group exhibition that is rare for the Center. Starting with a powerful chord, it keeps momentum going, which can be explained in light of the Center’s more than modest space. It is a bit tight for the art of the Chinese, which, in its scale, is similar to the country’s economy and construction development. It seems that the historic mansion in Khreschatyk street is about to burst at its seams. The sculpture by Zhao Zhao, “Officer” (2011), a monumental image of a Chinese law-enforcement man, lies right at the entrance. The artist, who used to work as Ai Weiwei’s assistant, became famous through his participation in the Tiananmen Square protests. In 1989, a group of workers and students gathered there for a strike against corruption and totalitarianism. However, unlike with similar events in Eastern Europe, there was a sad demise for the protesters: according to varying data, 300-2800 persons died as the popular uprising was put down.  The information on those arrested and executed by the Chinese authorities has not been published until now, and the access to the articles about the events that happened on June 4 is not available in the country. Such were the systematic efforts to make people forget about that instance of civil disobedience, that many students nowadays do not even suspect that those events took place. In 2008 Zhao Zhao took the risk of going out to the square on the anniversary of the protests with a police uniform on. That uniform was sewn illegally, as it is a crime under the law of China to copy the clothes of public officials. He was certainly arrested and beaten up, but later he was released. “The Officer” sculpture that is connected with the dangerous performance appeared after Ai Weiwei found himself in jail. As people at the Center note contentedly, the image of a destroyed policeman in Ukraine became especially meaningful in the context of the events at Vradievka village in Nikolayev region where the locals stormed the district police department on July 2 this year, after the kidnapping and atrocious rape of a local girl. However, the nature of hatred to the police in Ukraine is of a different kind, and even a policeman split into pieces will not become a symbol of protest here – the sculpture, which is as high as two men, looks somewhat too heavy.   

Bjorn Geldhof (Belgium), the Center’s curator, has given the “individuality – collective” sub-caption to the exhibition, as he insists it is a global problem of how to sacrifice one’s personal interests for the good of the mankind, which is also being thought over in the West. However, one keeps noticing the differences at "ChinaChina". In most cases, it is hard to find any similarity with the European or post-Soviet reality of a small country. Even the detailed, meticulous wall painting by Sun Siun on the topic of Holodomor shows the chasm of difference. Due to our ingrained perception of the art as a light-minded occupation, hand drawing seems the wrong language to tell about the tragedy. Perhaps, it’s only the “pork” theme, which could put together the two nations – a stereotypical Ukrainian from popular tales and, say, the Chinese artist Zhan Juan who brought to his home the pig, which he found in the ruins after the horrific earthquake in Sichuan province. And, by the way, the persecution of Ai Weiwei started, as in the opinion of the authorities, when the artist delved too deeply into the theme of corruption and negligence in the government construction causing newly built residential houses and institutions in Sichuan collapse as houses of cards. However, Zhan favors kindness and hope: he draws a solemn portrait of a pig on a canvass with ashes and builds a pound for two charming piglets (however, they do not smell so nice). 

Ai Weiwei is certainly also present here, embodying in his artistic works, which are banal to the core, the basic principles of the Chinese art. They are simple: first, the scale. Ai Weiwei brought 1000 of his compatriots to “Documenta” of 2007, and one of installations at “ChinaChina” consists of their portraits. Second, accessibility and directness: even if you do not get the concept, you can still get to point one and get amazed at the scale. Unlike the European art, which is constantly trying to figure out the physical borders of an artistic work, completeness and sketchiness, the Chinese art is going straight ahead. It looks as if the participants of "ChinaChina" specially lost their ability to be those Chinese that made us admire so much before the days of economic boom – the masters of China ink and parchment, the geniuses of muted expression. Subtle landscapes have long been an industry now, and each self-respecting artist is not competing with Qi Baishi, but rather with the pace of economic development, which is scaring the whole of the world. The installations at “ChinaChina” may seem nothing but music boxes next to the cities with millions of inhabitants, which are built from scratch in the middle of nowhere. And the artistic works that are the easiest ones to understand are those clearly showing that the Chinese society is not just a collective, weld together into a single formation, heading to conquer the global markets, but a residence place of the personalities with individual whims. Cao Fei, who is very popular in the West (her “Utopia Plant” installation was shown in the Moscow “Garage”, at then “A Certain State of the World” exhibition), set up a room with second-hand clothes especially for the exhibition (Eyeliner, 2013). Each tag contains a tale about an imaginary owner, which is enough for an average-thickness book in total. The texts are written in an even language of a natural scientist, and the portrait of a modern-day Chinese woman is not that different from Emma Bovary and other neurotic characters of the French literature dating back to one and a half centuries ago – if only for the fact that the former have to console themselves mostly with porn movies.

Author: Валентин Дьяконов
Source: Коммерсантъ Россия