Finally I can publish this post! Now that the Net Nanny of the Middle Kingdom has decided Youtube is no longer (at least for the time being) a threat to the Great Dragon (and pardon my not being direct, but I wouldn't want this post getting the "honolable censols'" attention!), we're allowed safe passage through the Great (Fire)Wall to enjoy the West's decadent obsession with recording everything (whether it will make someone lose face or not). And, so, I hereby present...
798 Art Space - 5th DaDao Live Art Festival
On October 7th this friend of mine, Fearghus Ó Conchuir (for those like me who fail to grasp the mechanics of Irish spelling, it's pronounced similar to "Okra Who're"), was performing at the "5th DaDao Live Art Festival" at 798 Art Space in Dashanzi (I mentioned Dashanzi, an area of factories that's being transformed into a cultural space, in my post "A day out in Dashanzi" in May). The idea of seeing an international live art festival at such an interesting space was too enticing. Plus, Fearghus had said he'd dance NAKED, and as much as I wanted to be there to understand what is an essential part of his life (DANCE), I do have to admit I was curious to see how people would react, too.
I have to admit I got a lot more that I had bargained for. I didn't really expect much, and I'd be lying if I said all the performances I saw caused an impression on me, BUT 1: I did see some that really surprised me, and 2: I'm no artist, and I don't feel at all qualified for judging any of the performances I saw, being able just to share very subjective ideas (subjective enough that I think they're best kept to myself, the subject).
What I appreciated (besides the chance to connect more closely with a friend through his art) was this feeling of seeing things happening in China, Chinese performers who were trying to do something daring, something new, maybe shocking (whether they achieved that or not is beyond the point, the point is that there are spaces where they can TRY). Maybe I couldn't understand half of the concepts the artists were trying to transmit, but I could feel the energy of the audience, trying to figure the performances out, surprised at what their eyes and ears were perceiving, happy to see things being created (and destroyed) in a space that used to be an abandoned factory, in a country that sometimes "Mings" and "Tangs" you sick (especially if, like me, you've discovered a much higher pleasure from the art produced during other dynasties, the Southern Song one, for example).
What I didn't appreciate: that the festival could not publicize itself so openly. Why? Probably self-censorship was at play; after all, this was not the kind of art the government would tout as "quintessentially Chinese" or "morally uplifting". If you want to know what happens when crowds for too uncomfortably alternative events get too uncomfortably big for the authorities, I can tell you Fearghus and other artists were twice prevented by plain clothes police from performing on a busy pedestrian street, a couple of days later (and yes, the performers were fully clothed). Also, I had missed a fantastic Tattoo Convention in July: on its last day, early in the morning, the police put a sign saying "explaining" that "all tickets for the day were sold out", and you could see a number of tattoo artists taking their equipment back home. So I could understand why the organizers didn't want to call attention to themselves. Also, there was little, if no, live art involving texts or language, dangerous tools that can too easily and clearly convey ideas (and you see this in all the international art that makes it to Beijing's art venues: there's painting, dance, sculpture, singing, but practically no contemporary dramatic art involving words).
But now, back to the performances! Sorry I can only offer you a glimpse, but my camera didn't have much memory left, and I wanted to make sure I'd get all of Fearghus's performance. So, here they are (with as little comment from me as possible):
Gao Xizi, Beijing: I - Long Life
Artist, origin and piece name: unknown.
Gao Xizi, dressed in pink, eats a pink cake with the help of two assistants until she can no more, and then is plastered with the remains of the cake. At the end, she makes a hand-sign that means "cute".
Artist, origin and piece name: unknown.
The artist kept writing the entries to a diary, day by day, using water to write on a circular strip of paper, over and over, coming back to the same point and writing over the already vanished entries, for hours...
Antipoeta Gerard Altaió, Catalonia, Untitled
The artist set a couple of rows of old-looking Chinese works (including some by Confucius). Then proceeded to place a fire-cracker within each, and finally blew them up , one by one. The recording couldn't capture how terribly deafening the sound was (one reason I didn't film more, as I needed at least one hand for the camera and couldn't cover both ears).
Tamar Raban, Israel: L.E.P.P. (Lesson on Performance in English / English Lesson on Performance / Performance in English on Lesson / Performance on English Lesson)
The Performance was based on words that started with the letters in the word "performance". Each performance uses different words, structures, and objects. The artist finished by "arriving" to the last "E", stepping on it, saying "exit", and "exiting" the performance space.
Fearghus Ó Conchuir, Ireland: Cosán Dearg
Without any warning, while people were finishing watching another performance at an opposite corner, Fearghus took off his clothes and, hands and feet painted red, started his dance, part of an exploration of moving bodies and urban spaces.
The only comment I dare express about the performances is my admiration for these artists that created something where there was previously nothing, and exposed it (and themselves) for us. I may not like a specific piece, or understand it, or agree with it, but I certainly craved their creating.