Thu, Oct 05, 2017 - Page 4 News List

Beijing freezes out performance art

Reuters, BEIJING

Chinese performance artist Huang Wenya smashes objects as he performs his piece Aftersound at the OPEN international performance art festival in the Songzhuang art colony outside Beijing, China, on Sept. 22.

Photo: Reuter

One woman, a performance artist from Taiwan, tied herself up with bras, but left her nipples exposed. Another artist, a Romanian woman in a bathing suit, had someone write the Chinese characters for “control” and “art” across her buttocks.

However, for the most part, the annual OPEN international performance art festival, held in a secret venue in Beijing out of sight of China’s active censors, was a relatively tame and quiet affair this year.

Only 15 acts performed last month at the long-running festival, which drew an audience of just 40 people, most of them the artists themselves or event staff.

The reason was a lack of publicity for the two-day event.

The organizer, Chen Jin (陳進), said he had been concerned about police raids, knowing that the timing of the festival, ahead of a major Chinese Communist Party congress, was just too sensitive.

“Performance art is the freest art form. It doesn’t have any rules and this might have scared them the most,” Chen said, referring to the authorities.

At its peak in 2009, Chen said, the festival had an eight-week run with more than 300 Chinese and foreign artists, but it has waned, mostly due to fears of a backlash from censors.

Last year, the event was forced to cancel halfway through due to repeated police raids, Chen said.

Performance artists were in the vanguard of China’s art scene as it opened up to Western ideas and values in the 1980s, testing the limits of the law and social norms, but increased pressure on many forms of art, which comes as Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has been shoring up Chinese Communist Party control over all aspects of society, has had a chilling effect on the performance art scene in particular.

In 2014, Xi urged all artists to “carry forward the banner of socialist core values.”

Xi, who is expected to consolidate his power during the congress later this month, said artists should “use real-life images to tell people what should be confirmed and applauded, and what must be opposed and denied.”

Madeleine O’Dea, author of a new book on dissident artists in modern China, said the nation’s contemporary art scene is now experiencing a period of retrenchment.

“I definitely feel like things are getting worse and worse,” O’Dea said at a book-signing in Beijing last month.

In 2015, an art exhibition on feminism in Beijing was banned. The year before, the 11th Beijing Independent Film Festival was shut down on its opening day.

The Chinese Ministry of Culture declined to comment.

Chen’s quiet festival stands in contrast to the “Art and China after 1989” exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, due to begin tomorrow.

The exhibition is to feature the works of about 70 artists, most of them born in China, including the dissident artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未), and delve into what would be considered sensitive topics in China — from civil rights to disillusioned coal miners.

Ai, whose work spans everything from sculpture to architecture, is also known for his performance art — notably the dropping and smashing of an ancient Chinese urn.

Other significant Chinese performance artists in the past two decades include Zhu Yu (朱昱), whose act featured him biting into a stillborn human baby, and Ma Liuming (馬六明), whose explicit explorations into sexual identity ran counter to a ban on public nudity.

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