I Was Supposed to Go to Mexico
A Proposal for "Sheng Project"
Institute of Contemporary Art and Social Thought of China Academy of Fine Art & Long March Project
Marching Between the Local and the International: The Long March Project and Long March Space
Long March Project team: Clement Huang, Shen Jun, Theresa Liang, and Lu Jie
From Long March Object to Long March Archive
Long March Archive
Shen Jun, Zian Chen, Clement Huang, Theresa Liang
Can Contemporary Art be Reborn?
On the Ho Chi Minh Trail
Ho Chi Minh Trail
Building a Yellow Light Commonwealth (Discussion)
Ho Chi Minh Trail
Gao Shiming, Lu Jie, Dinh Q Le, Nguyen Nhu Huy, Liu Wei, Richard Streitmatter-Tran, Wang Jianwei, Wang Jiahao
Ho Chi Minh Trail
Walking on the Trail (Discussion)
Ho Chi Minh Trail
Johnson Chang Tsong-zung, Gao Shiming, Lu Xinghua, Lu Jie, Liu Wei, Song Yi, Weng Zhengqi, Wu Shanzhuan, Xu Zhen, Zhang Hui
Marching out of step
Paradox of Curatist – Long March as Author
Long March Project- The Great Survey of Paper-cutting in Yanchuan County, A Case Study
The Great Survey of Paper-cutting in Yanchuan County
Long March- Chinatown
Long March Project
Building Code Violations
Long March Project: Yan’an Forum on Art Education Summary and Closing Ceremony: Lu Jie’s Remarks
Curatorial Notes– China, Yang Shaobin, Our Generation, and Other Issues
Yang Shaobin: Coal Mining Project
Localizing the Chinese Context – Contemporary Chinese Art in China and Abroad
Long March Capital- Visual Economy
On-site Criticism: Long March- A Walking Visual Display
Long March- A Walking Visual Display
Gao Jianping, Huang Ping, Han Yuhai, Hang Jian, Kuang Xinnian, Lu Jie, Li Xuejun, Meng Hui, Philp Tinari, Wang Mingxian, Wang Jianwei, Wang Hui, Zhu Jinshi, Zhang Guangtian
A Long March Glossary
Long March Collective
Why Do We Long March?
Long March- A Walking Visual Display
Long March- A Walking Visual Display
Long March- A Walking Visual Display
Lu Jie and Qiu Zhijie
November 28, 2006
What follows here not an essay; as it is doubtful whether or not an essay would be able to aid in the understanding of the works by Yang Shaobin. To clearly articulate “800 Meters Under,” this collaboration between artist Yang Shaobin and the Long March Project, it is necessary to speak regarding China, Yang Shaobin, our generation, and other issues dealing both with art and beyond (of which there is much to be said and much still left to do). The project can be described as “confessional,” with “confessional works,” “confessional curating,” and a “confessional collaboration” between curator and artist, a method which brings us one step closer to the boundaries of art which I most hope for. Beginning with research in the late 90’s, and carried out in 2002, and ongoing today, the Long March has constructed a multilayered and dynamic platform, using constructive projects of contemporary art, curating, cultural transmission and education to engage with concepts of tradition, the public realm, the avant-garde, experimentalism, and the unresolved issues surrounding art’s independence and society. For two years after returning from the road, the Long March has successfully exhibited and organized exhibition engaging with tradition and folk art, as well as the paradoxical practices of the “avant-garde” experimentalism through body, identity, space, author, video, installation and live art. However, it was not until 2004 that the Long March was able to fully engage with the collective socialist memory of industrialization, urbanization, migration, and other “general social mobilization” models which were expressed throughout earlier Chinese realist paintings. Why is it that contemporary Chinese painting seem “two dimensional” and lacking in those elements which bring it to life? Is this a problem with realism, or is it our misunderstanding of realism? At a time when political pop and Socialist realism has already become a historical symbol, how do we re-evaluate our experience, knowledge, and memory, as well as the displaced episteme? How did political pop, a conceptual and avant-garde artistic ideology in direct opposition to socialist realism and collectivism, become an un-individualized collective symbol, at the same time come to be seen as the height of conservatism, eating away at artists’ own motivation? All of these questions are part of the Long March discourse, for it connects together the Long March’s objectives of re-reading art history through text and problematizing art history and complicating notions of authorship. If we cast among the “classic political pop artists” for an artist who fulfills this role, none other is more appropriate than Yang Shaobin. The collaboration “800 Meters Under” found its beginning in the winter of 2004 in a dinner conversation with Yang Shaobin, and was carried out over a period of two years and nine months since. The preface to the exhibition reads:
From the winter of 2004 until September 2006, a period of two years and nine months, artist Yang Shaobin and the Long March Team have continuously traveled to the coal mines in Tangshan, Hebei Province to work and live together with the local coal mine workers. The result of this collaboration is the project “800 Meters Under”.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, contemporary Chinese artists were focused primarily on collectivism, with artistic production organized around specific social bodies such as workers or the military. Artistic resources were distributed among the different collective organizations, leading to a particularly vibrant social life. Post 89 Chinese oil painting artists, among which artist Yang Shaobin is a leading representative, emphasized the return of the individual as a critique against socialist realism. Entering into the 21st Century, Chinese society has entered into a new stage of development, and artists have sensitively begun to utilize the new relationships between the realities of society and the expressive power of art, attempting to hold onto Chinese historical and social praxis. What is obvious is that this is not merely an issue regarding form and style, nor is it merely an artistic question, rather its thrust is aimed at the dialectic thinking of the linkages between Chinese history, culture and social development.
Yang Shaobin was born and raised in the Kailuan coalmining district. This exhibition will show paintings, installation, and video works documenting this enormous project. As a leading contemporary artist, the work of Yang Shaobin has continuously been directed at the living conditions of human kind, the continual changes in social space, and the conflicts involved with change – both through critique and synopsis. Life in the coal mines and the art of coalminers was once a symbol of collectivism.
Yang Shaobin uses his own body and experiences as a starting point to examine the relationships between China and the West, revolutionary memory and historical memory, and industrial and rural society. Coalmines are an intermediary salient point between rural and urban. What is brought out is not simply the living conditions of the miners, but more importantly, the project seeks to identify and examine the actual remnants and persistence of a collective socialist memory from the new period, and the site of historical development and borders of humanity.
The preface provided the only introduction to the exhibition, which was narrated from a purely visual perspective. Untold were the difficulties and complex thoughts faced by the artist and curator during this process. Presented within the publication is a summary of the project, not as a monologue, but an expansion beyond the visual and the textual to become a confession of visuality and thought, a characteristic which is deeply ingrained in the Long March curatorial method. Similar to the historical Long March, it is easy to read the Long March Project as a manifesto and a mythologizing of the past. In actuality, the Long March is a confessional journey, composed of the individual and collective, the body and memory, existence and idealism. But what exactly are we confessing? What does the “distributed subjectivity” (to borrow the term of Frederic Jameson) of China, Yang Shaobin and our generation mean? Put simply, if “things are not as simple as they appear, then how are they?”
Return to Age of Cultural Capital
I first met Yang Shaobin in 1992. It was Fang Lijun who brought me to see him. At that time, my primary work was to travel between Hong Kong and Yuanmingyuan Artist Village, it was perhaps the most I would ever visit artist studios in my lifetime. That was a time when music and poetry were still highly regarded, and poverty was always the topic of conversation. Yuanmingyuan was at times raucous, at times coldly silent. After the rains it would turn into a giant swamp. During the winter, outside would be bitterly cold, while inside was only partially warmer. At that time, some artists would even lock themselves inside so that they would not be “inspected.” While seemingly independent, in actuality, Yuanmingyuan was another expression of collectivism. This was apparent when one would go with an artist to visit another artist’s studio. They would always introduce each other as “There is this guy, who is like this…and he paints like this…” Compare this to the artworld today and its more incestuous collectivism, where the introduction is, “This is the guy who paints such and such...” At that time, there was a mutually supportive relationship between the artists and works. Entering into Yang Shaobin’s studio, the entire studio was packed full with paintings, mostly of policemen. I knew that he had just come to Beijing and that he was originally a policeman at Kailuan mine. We spoke quite a bit about the happenings of the mine, and I felt that this was the second person I knew who was really from the mines, a tangible person with tangible thoughts. At that time, my cousin who had worked in the mines of Fujian for 20 years had just returned to the cities. Although he was young, the years shown on his face, which created an aesthetic contradiction and perplexity when compared to the healthy appearances and brilliant clothing presented in the numerous artworks of coalminers produced during the Cultural Revolution. Perhaps it was only after seeing the humor behind the anxious bodies in Yang Shaobin’s paintings that I was able to come to terms with this paradox. Afterwards, I helped Yang Shaobin and Yue Minjun put on their first exhibition, and edited a catalog with contributions by myself and Li Xianting. The exhibition was called “Faces Behind the Bamboo Curtain.” Looking back at it now, it was truly a product of that period; using the “bamboo curtain” to correspond to and revise the idea of “Iron Curtain,” and the post Cold War thinking. During that period of time, our energies were devoted to finding a new cultural capital, which quite unexpectedly also brought about a type of cultural imagination which perniciously persists to this day. It was a type of new cultural logic, to say it was passive would be an overstatement; to say it was active is likewise problematic. Once, at a small restaurant near the National Art Museum of China, I had a long drunken discussion with Yang Shaobin about the problems with art. Soon afterwards, in 1994, I left the Chinese artworld. The final thing I did was to assist with an exhibition of Chinese art in Belgium, which primarily involved editing a catalog regarding the so called “avant-garde” and placing these paintings, which were being seen as “against painting,” into a larger social and historical perspective. After assisting with the “China” exhibition at the Modern Museum of art in Bohn (Germany), I went to New York and did not see Yang Shaobin for many years. In the late 1990’s, I returned to China. Yang Shaobin (and the other artists) had already become quite established. Yang Shaobin’s work had moved from bodily violence to the violence of the media, but my understanding and interest in his work stems more from personal character, as well as the social nature of his work, and his courage to continue developing. On the Long March road in 2002, Yang Shaobin, along with Zhang Xiaogang, Yue Minjun and other close artist friends participated at the Kunming site. Yang Shaobin’s work was a series of photographs of bodily violence. One can perhaps say it was source material for his paintings, but from a confessional and textual perspective, this can perhaps be noted as the first exhibition by Yang Shaobin of only photography works.
How are we to describe that period in Yuanmingyuan? Perhaps it is the anxiety of identity. Interpreted from a sociological perspective, the avant-garde’s superficial betrayal and assault against subjectivity was a consequence of a self initiated language, which, without a theoretical foundation, relied on symbols to resolve the rupture of language. This led to the development of a shallow foreign aesthetics, which on a sociological platform, relied heavily on bodily experience, humor and boredom, as well as cynicism, for its metaphysical direction. It was a mutually supporting aesthetics (supported by its own practioners); therefore, it should be little surprise that Chinese art is unable to escape display as a group phenomenon. Here, the celebration of individuality was dependent upon a particular image, which in actuality was a space for grabbing identity. If we think about it carefully, the situations and problems of Yuanmingyuan are not in the distant past, but confronting us directly today. It is apparent that Yang Shaobin remains one of the more particular artists from this group. Those that failed from that period were those whose paintings were thickly realistic or expressionist. The ones who succeeded were those whose paintings encompassed a strong element of design. Within this group of artists known as political pop and cynical realism, Yang Shaobin is actually a rebel; for his own contradictions give cause for us to think about how realism in China became entwined with pop aesthetics. As Jameson points out, the technologies for the mythologizing of social relations, and the concretizing of popular culture and utopia were completely non-existent during that period. This type of pop is a conflation of a politicized body, with short term high socialist realism enacting a temporary effect, and only twenty years later, already ossifying into a structured and hierarchical pyramid of classicism and elitism. Only today can we begin to raise questions about that period of history. The reason for this discursive suspense is related to the development of an independent language for Chinese painting, as well as new social realism, and the notions of a language for painting.
In the renaissance of the period of cultural capital, anti-culture has become the symbol of culture – as can be seen with the forays of the avant-garde into general art curriculum, only to be dropped later on, and the idea of experimental practice being seen as the final addition to an art curriculum; all of which contribute to covering up the anti-cultural characteristics of post 89 culture, which caused the post 89 socialist realism, through the aesthetics of trauma, to be seen as reconnecting with realism which had been broken by the Cultural Revolution. As such, art of the “liberated areas,” Art of Cultural Revolution, the Star Group, 85 New Wave, and experimentalism, although appearing to be ideologically in conflict, form a continuous line which is continuously broken down and isolated, but reconnected with art of the Cultural Revolution. With his beginnings in Yuanmingyuan, Yang Shaobin is one of the few of this group who left post 89 aesthetics with its Chinese symbols and identity politics, and has daringly gone on to examine the conflicts between local and international. From the violence body, as well as political and cultural symbols, he is one an independent artist who faces the social issues of violence in the media on an international platform.
Art and the Myth of Social Relation; Cultural Condition of Chinese Painting
The 1977 vol. 3 “Art” magazine acted as a creative resource for people of my generation. Printed within it were the major works involving coal miners, such as Hou Yimin’s “Mao Zedong with Workers of Anyuan.” Yang Shaobin is also of this generation, and one can almost imagine him caressing the pages of the magazine like a treasure trove, gaze fixed steadily on the images. This edition also featured Wang Shikuo’s “Blood Shirt,” and was filled with articles primarily about learning to “speak,” art serving the people, the wood carvings of the revolutionary regions, and art exhibitions moving to the countryside. Additionally, on the inside cover, the editors daringly printed Wang Ximeng’s (Northern Song Dynasty) imperial court painting “Thousand Mile River and Mountains,” which created a huge contrast with the cover image of Luo Gongliu’s “Chairman Mao in Yan’an Conducting Zhengfeng Report.” For us not yet accustomed to working outside of Cultural Revolution aesthetics, looking at that ink painting was like seeing the return of a feudalist society – feminine and impotent, it lacked the power and masculinity of works from the Cultural Revolution period. Most interesting was that this edition of “Art” had the work of Kollwitz “Resistance” on the third page. It was the only “Western” painting in the entire issue. When I was a student, the work I loved to copy most was an ink painting called “Female Coalminer” as well as Liaoning Propaganda art museum collective collaboration called “Copper Mine Vanguard.” Contrary to popular belief, the Cultural Revolution did not end at the end of the 1970’s. This type of propaganda collectivist artwork continued on. There is no way to calculate how many works involving coal miners or in the likes of “Fire Mountain” were made by artists like Shi Dawei (a carpenter/painter from Shanghai Municipal Construction Company) or Ye Xin (a factory line worker from Yangquan Bureau, Agriculture Machinery Factory), and were used as source material and reproduce a million times over by a military art department, or amateur coalminer artists collectives. In the 60’s and 70’s, contemporary Chinese art was primarily about collectivism, workers painting, sanitation department painting, military painting, with the national art exhibition as its primary model. Artistic resources were divided between each different collective. Social life was rich and collective, for example, the coal mines had their own coal mining exhibitions, each mine had its own art creation group, with intellectuals and trained artist from urban centers traveling to the countryside and working with the workers closely. I remember what struck me most was that a sketchbook by Ye Xin could be considered art – which was something truly quite conceptual. In reflection of this historical period, contemporary Chinese artists born in the 50’s and 60’s (many of them well renowned today), regardless if their practice involves installation, video, or new media, the source material and the artistic nourishment could not but have come from the socialist realist tradition. Today, how they confront their history of development is something I feel that does not just stop at nostalgia or rejection.
Over the course of collaborating with Yang Shaobin, we often talked about the problem with realism. I often think about Trotsky speaking about realism:
"This explains the dualism of every literary tendency; on the one hand, it adds something to the technique of art, heightening (or lowering) the general level of craftsmanship; on the other hand, in its concrete historical form, it expresses definite demands which, in the final analysis, have a class character. We say class, but this also means individual, because of a class speaks through an individual. It also means national, because of the spirit of a nation is determined by the class which rules it and which subjects literature to itself. […]"
"What are we to understand under the term realism? At various periods, and by various methods, realism gave expression to the feelings and needs of different social groups. Each one of these realistic schools is subject to a separate and social literary definition, and a separate formal and literary estimation. What have they in common? A definite and important feeling for the world. It consists in a feeling for life as it is, in an artistic acceptance of reality, and not in a life. It is striving either to picture life as it is or to idealize it, either to justify or condemn it, either to photograph it or generalize it and symbolize it. But it is always a preoccupation with our life of three dimensions as a sufficient and invaluable theme for art. In this large philosophical sense and not in the narrow sense of a literary school, one may say with certainty that the new art will be realistic. […]"
"This means a realistic monism, in the sense of a philosophy of life, and not a ‘realism’ in the sense of the traditional arsenal of literary schools. On the contrary, the new artist will need all the methods and processes evolved in the past, as well as a few supplementary ones, in order to grasp the new life. And this is not going to be artistic eclecticism, because the unity of art is created by an active world-attitude and active life-attitude."
In thinking about the meaning of realism today, we continually put realism, hyper-realism, and abstractism in respective correlation to communism, fascism and a liberalism supported by the cultural logic of capitalism; which ignores these classifications are actually fragmented and complicated. In a time when identity politics, mainstream and cultural capital, has become blurred and mixed, to simply equate realism with communism is clearly disrespectful of history and also ignorant of the contemporary situation. In thinking about the utopian socialism and Nazi realism, and their links with a type of teleological futurism, art of the Cultural Revolution in comparison can be said to be truly about the present site. And what of globalization? If the mono-socialism of Stalinism is a rejection of globalization, then would this also be the case for art of the Cultural Revolution, or is it a classical example of the failure of globalization to completely globalize? A further reading into Trotsky’s appeal for a monist realism proves to be interesting. It was exactly this point which Benjamin reached his classic contradiction, he supported Stalinist socialist realism, at the same time, he greatly wished for an independent art aesthetic. The avant-garde nature of art from the Cultural Revolution was achieved by removing the Revolution from a physical plane and political arena, and placing it within a liberated and imaginative revolutionary space. What is interesting is that within this space, there is also a mainstream, group culture, as well as elitism. What is most paradoxical is that in the 80’s, most elite artists utilized the most conservative socialist realist styles, while the masses and the utopianism of public art was at the front of the avant-garde. This would be the origins of political pop. Its historical genealogy involves a revolt against the tradition of painting, but when the ideological contents of the subject it was expressing increasingly showed the negative side of social subjectivity, its rigidity and hypocrisy helped shore up its lack of independence, and was rather awkwardly thrust into the position of the avant-garde. This is the inevitable result of the production of symbols, and of elitism and commercialism. Revolution became something of a slogan; it was the fictional nature of the Chinese avant-garde. Revolution was still the standard for determining art’s value, “new” conditions arose from this. Summarizing this period of history, Charles Harrison notes that modernism and realism are not opposed to one another, but rather their mutually interaction was necessary for the existence of either, which contained the other, or even was the other. Thinking about Yang Shaobin’s work in this way, one becomes liberated, for only now has Chinese painting been able to truly come forth from historical circumstance to become an independent artistic form, and not a theme, or style, or change of form – in other words, “creating new” a teleological reading which is dependent upon Western art history and its ideological basis and style. If we are unable to break down this narrative then there will always be misreading.
A re-reading of realism within a different art historical context is necessary if contemporary Chinese painting is to move away from gliding on the surface of a superficial symbolism. Contemporary Chinese painting has already lost its “contemporary-ness” in the international arena because its structural contradictions are unable for it to leave behind Eurocentric art history and enter into a conceptual terrain. In other words, it is seen as a type of antique “contemporary” object, resulting from the lack of an independent Chinese art historical narrative. Currently, this surrogate narrative is concerned with the decline of collectivist idealism occurring in reality, focusing on the opposition between individual and collective and an independent art and society functioning as supplementary material for sociological studies.
It is important to emphasize the “comprehensive” and multi-media nature of “800 Meters Under,” as well as the fact that styles of oil painting are also varied. For Yang Shaobin, it is a simple matter to use his familiar figurative technique to engage with the issue of coalminers and open up another path, and successfully “change styles.” Instead, he has embarked upon a road of realism. The twenty different works present different perspectives, and the contradictions and thoughts at different periods and times. It is not only that contrast between the nearly 20 meter long coal mine installation connected to the simple peasant home installation; or between the moving video image and the static painting; nor is it about the contrast between the daily lives of the community and the darkness with engulfs the repeated labor and hides the dangers of the mines; the large state owned mines which collectively work with machines for production, or the small mines which manual labor is done by hand, as if “asking grain from the land” and the depressing state of their existence. Most important is that artist’s intervention, concern, documentation, and expression of the different times and layers and its visual power, is like him imagining that he is representing different generations and different social levels looking upon these soot darkened people both above and under ground.
The conventional view is that post 89 Chinese oil painting artists, among which artist Yang Shaobin is a leading representative, emphasized the return of the individual as a critique against socialist realism. Confronted with Yang Shaobin’s “800 Meters Under,” it is easy to read it as another established artist “changing styles” or theme, and even take his traveling to the mines as a pretentious show, simply equating the complex structure and variations of the project as an immature style and technique. This set of works are stylistically uneven as if they were painted during different periods. This is the liberation which Yang Shaobin was purposely seeking. What it indicates is that, aside from our recognition of style – an indicative symbol which can be used for recognition (or commercial branding) within artistic production, and the irresolvable dependence of art on the market and wish for the market, he has already lost his fear. More importantly, it indicates our mis-reading of the possibility of “painting” and even those things artistic, as well as realism.
800 Meters Under Aboveground/Underground
July 26, 2005 The Long March team and Yang Shaobin travel to Qianjiaying mine and Zhaogezhuang Mine, Kailuan District. As we are descending meter by meter into the darkness of the earth, key figures and dates about Kailuan spring to mind in a chaotic mass…1878…Li Hongzhang…Tang Tingshu…Government supervision and merchant management…Xifa shaft…English trickery…Yuan Shikai…Li Dazhao…Great Strike 1922…They Really Can Fight…Japanese occupation…Jie Zhenguo…Hou Zhanyou (model worker)…Kailuan Miners Association Art Creation Committee…first Chinese mine to use mechanized techniques…first publicly traded company…first to use railroads…Tangxu railroad…first Chinese built steam engine…China’s first special trade region…Qin Emperor Port…first privately managed shipping vessels…the start of Chinese industrialism…cradle of northern Chinese industrialization…nationalization…great production…social mobilization…model of industrialization…modernity…colonization…revolution…historical consciousness…Tangshan earthquake…take down of the Gang of Four…opening reforms…market economy…real estate…karaoke…urbanization…twenty-first century… aboveground… underground… underground…underground…600 meters…700 meters…800 meters…
Coming up from 800 meters to the surface, a list of the coal mining accidents in China from 2005 continually surfaced:
Shuangyang – Changchun, Qitaihe – Heilongjiang Province, Liguandun – Tangshan City, Xinan – Henan Province, Weixian – Hebei Province, Liupanshui – Guizhou Province, Fanchang – Anhui Province, Xiangfen – Shanxi Province, Wuhai – Inner Mongolia, Beitashan – Xinjiang, Fuxin – Liaoning Province, Fuyuan – Yunnan Province, Xingning – Guangdong Province…
When I traveled with Yang Shaobin to Zhaogezhuang Mine and Qianjiaying Mine in Kailuan District, I would often think, in the past, when we would emphasize his political pop works and their violence, people would often refer heavily to his background as a policeman. But when we were staying in the coal mines, I sincerely felt his relationship to the mines was primarily based upon him growing up there, but even more so was the fact that coal mines are nexus between history and today – they are the intersection between traditional society and modernity, it is the point of contention between socialist utopianism and the logic of capitalism, and the dream of futurism. It is a site that involves rapid change of politics, system and organization – existence, power, and rights…it is both a historical problem as well as a prescient problem. What we are searching for in the ruins of industrialism is not a memory, but a linkage with history.
China’s attempt at building a market economy with socialist characteristics and its historical experiences of collectivism have undoubtedly contributed to the ideo-scape of the post Cold War era. However, what do those previously experienced memories of collectivism, society, production, and the livelihood of the people mean today when market society has become so prevalent? Today, the question of the value of the individual in relation to older forms of production emerges as a common underlying and at times overt motif in contemporary Chinese artist’s thinking as they encounter and confront the relationships present in their social realities. While most of today’s international artistic production and exhibitions are focused on the issues revolving around urbanization and immigration, within the Chinese context, it is impossible to speak of the urban without considering the countryside; immigration and without speaking of industrial decline. How do we confront the combination between urban and agricultural society that is the ruins of socialist industrialism, and using commercialization, search for a new life in media, fashion, and cultural industry? We continually talk about these so called in between zones and different spaces, but “800 Meters Under” is confronting the most real space, that of the in between zones (areas and partition in transition), the agrarian peasant as they move towards urbanization; the stop in between the journey from agricultural society to the desire of urban living remaining in permanent suspension, industrialism and agrarian, traditional and modern, here their contradictions and conflicts intermingle and co-exist, from the beginning to end, it is a continuously contradictory existence. Collectivism is its eternal symbol, regardless if it is a state-run “modern” mine, or a household mine; regardless if it is the politicized mining team during the period of social construction, or the small collectivism nurtured by mutual interest, how simple and sincere is the need to unite and depending upon one another for existence, in comparison to the squeezing of the social machine. We are unable to imagine the life in the coal mines, this type of Chinese reality. This reality was especially painful in the late 80’s in the UK, which today remains a major symptom in English collective social consciousness. One thinks of the small mining village from the movie “Billy Elliot” and Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller’s brutal work “Battle of Orgreave”, as well as Steve McQueen’s “Western Deep,” which uses the violence of video to bring viewers step by step, meter by meter into the abyssal depths of a South African mine. This type of conflict has either occurred, or will occur throughout the world. The devolvement of industrialism and the challenges it brings is linked with urbanization, agrarian, human rights, living conditions and redistribution of capital. Taking his own body and experience as an entry point, Yang Shaobin re-examines the relationships between China and the West, revolutionary memory and historical memory, and industrial civilization and agrarian society. What is brought out is not only the problem of individual in today’s society, but more importantly, the work clears a new direction and site for human development and the concept of collectivism in contemporary social life.
“800 Meters Under” was focused on Kailuan Coalmine, but at the same time, it also examined the surrounding smaller private mines. With regards to coal, a natural resource, it can be the pillaging of the land through heavy industry. The organization of industrialism can be the sticking point for smaller mines. Surviving only through coercion and suppression. The former is an independent aspect of industrial society, without any relation to the urban. The latter, is the combination of town and country, it draws breath in the gaps of living. The history of Kailuan coal mine is actually a complete representation of modern Chinese history, of which imperialism and anti-imperialism comprise a good portion, beginning with the earliest Westernization movements, to mercantilism, to the entry of the English, followed soon after by Japanese invasion and oppression, which led to the labor movements and the efforts of Li Dazhao (founding member of CCP) and his promotion of communism, is closely linked with Chinese modernity. The story is about how China, in the process of globalization, searches for its own understanding of itself, whether actively or in response to. One evening when we were at Kailuan mine, was reading Aron Shai, “The Fate of British and French Firms in China,” which mentioned that the loss of English interests in China symbolically announced the decline of imperialism. The process of the return of Kailuan mine to China was not simply read in the history as it being socialized, for it was nationalized. Shai raises the concept of “imperialism imprisoned,” subverting the traditional Eurocentric historical reading. China’s strategy against the imperial powers was not just simply commandeer private property to realize its nationalization, rather, it was to indirectly and patiently use the capital of “post-Empire” to develop the “People’s Republic of China” through the justice of land reclamation. Capitalism became a hostage, and international capital was a left over which was not immediately reclaimed, but remained as an important part of the economy as China was moving from a feudalist structure to that of a new socialist structure. Perhaps, the crux of human rights is the nationalization of production and land, globalization and Chinese modernity, under the subversion of Yang Shaobin’s “800 Meters” “above/underground”, heavy and contradictory, but also organically reveals itself as a complex structure and existence.
On September 1, after completing 12 of the 20 planned sites, the Long March curatorial team returned to Beijing—a dramatic turning point. By choosing to stop the march, we believe the project will ultimately instigate more dialogue, discourse, and sincere engagement than if we had continued straight through. The project has continued marching from Site 13, the Long March Space in Beijing, as well as returning back to the road. However, this is no longer confined to just the historical Long March route, but a larger metaphorical Long March Space.
1 Trotsky, Leon, “Realism as Critique” from Literature and Revolution in Art in Theory 1900 – 1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas; Edited by Charles Harrison & Paul Wood; Blackwell Oxford UK & Cambridge USA 1992
2 In 1984, not long after having taken the post of Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher utilized a newly founded statute limiting the power of laborer unions to enact policy that would effectively close all coalmines which were not able to independently maintain financial solvency. This led to a legendary political battle and coalminers’ strike in March of 1984. Led by a leftwing coalminer, Arthur Scargill, the miners engaged in a political battle with the government. Thatcher sent in the police to break the strike and the resultant bloody battle symbolically marked the end of leftwing resistance against the Tories. After the strike, the former industrial regions of England experienced high levels of unemployment and fell into ruin. Southern England and London’s economic development gradually began improve, leading to an unequal development between the regions which resulted in factual division throughout the entire country, as well as political parties. Afterwards, Thatcherism and Reaganism and their brand of conservatism began taking a stronger hold, bringing about an increasingly conservative cultural policy.
3 UK artist Jeremy Deller’s work is a spectacular re-enactment of a violent confrontation between strikers and police which occurred at the Orgreave corking plant in 1984. The project involved a massive scale organization of both strikers and police who took part in the event, as well as numerous other participants. While the political and social nature of the work is powerfully evident, it is also a challenge to the conventional ideas of authorship, medium and dimensions of attached to artworks – it is artwork that is not art.
4 Aron Shai, The Fate of British and French Firms in China, 1949-54, Imperialism Imprisoned, 1996, MACMILAN PRESS LTD