From Long March Object to Long March Archive

Long March Archive

Shen Jun, Zian Chen, Clement Huang, Theresa Liang


Long March Object refers to material objects created during or incorporated into "Long March: A Walking Visual Display." Key to this concept is the non-distinction between "artworks" created by "artists" selected for formal participation and objects which enter the collective consciousness of The Long March by happenstance. ( A Long March Glossary, 2002)

Taking place during November 2018, "Long March Projects: A Working Redisplay" established a setting in which transitory objects, as yet un-archived, existed in a suspended state in parallel to the act of archiving itself. Marking the first comprehensive display of Long March Objects, the objects derived from fourteen different curatorial projects and exhibitions since the establishment of Long March Projects in 1999. The objects range from works of art, such as Wang Wenhai's creation of more than 40 Chairman Mao sculptures ("The Power of Public Realm", 2003-2004), to remnants of performances, such as the suitcase used by Xiao Xiong to carry objects exchanged with individuals met on his journey retracing the route of the Long March ("Long March – A Walking Visual Display", 2002), and also precious documents deriving from collective undertakings, for instance, survey forms filled out by 15,006 residents across more than 400 villages in Yanchuan, each including a paper cutting sample ("The Great Survey of Paper cutting in Yanchuan County", 2004). Long March Objects also comprises of items accumulated from the various artists' working process, including notes, letters, research, and promotional materials.

During the fifteen days of "A Working Redisplay", the Long March Projects team, together with 21 volunteers, registered 287 Long March Objects, amounting to more than 2,000 items. The numbering system used in this catalogue was created specifically to establish an inventory and archive of Long March Objects, the serial-numbering system based on the random order of the objects' unpacking. The Long March Projects team intentionally flattened the potential hierarchical relationships between objects and works of art, images, and discourses, by streamlining the process of cataloguing and archiving: each item received the same treatment at designated stations: each was unpacked, measured, photographed, catalogued, and archived. Before each article was sorted, it was temporarily laid out in a "buffer zone" in a transient state of display. At this stage, the articles were suspended in time, devoid of meaning and free of biographical history. They moved freely from station to station before being labeled and defined. The site was activated by impromptu discussions between our team members, volunteers and viewers, all attempting to rediscover the history and story behind each object by reconnecting it to its origin.

For instance, a random sample of boxes contained: pyrographic paintings, a Japanese doll, a Venetian mask, embroidered pockets, Naxi musical CDs, a copybook of calligraphy, tourist maps, and ghost money from different parts of Asia. These objects derived from Made in Lijiang, when Lu Jie, head curator of "Long March – A Walking Visual Display", collected souvenirs from Lijiang street vendors, both a piece of field research into the consumer goods found in the region in the early 2000s due to its heavy tourism, but also a curatorial study of the motivation to revisit the Long March taken by the Communist Red Army. Similar exercises of the collection and display of commercial products are not uncommon to the practice of Long March Projects, and also often function as loose representations of local visual cultures. Meanwhile, on an one side of the "buffer zone", hundreds of caps bearing the text "NO CHINA TOWN" were had been unpacked, and unveiled, a powerful evocation of the "Chinatown" project of 2007; whilst on the other, a pile of coal-dust covered tattered clothes evoked the collective experience of many townships' coal-mining past or present ("Yang Shaobin Coal Mining Project", 2004-2008). The rediscovery of certain Long March Objects have the faculty to trigger a complete historical scenario, or a fragment of collective memory.

At times, Long March Projects also functions as an agency. For example, for a period it represented in international exhibitions the twenty thousand Yanchuan villagers who participated in the paper cutting survey. It has also proposed collective performances, and organized travel plans. The curatorial methodology of Long March Projects goes against the grain of typically classical or canonical curatorial practices. It doesn't care to be defined. While some of its practices could be labeled educational or participatory in turn, it is ever wary of the underlying universal presupposition of representative democracy. In "The Great Survey of Paper Cutting in Yanchuan County", the curatorial team adopted a top-down method akin to the registered residence censuses commonly carried out across China; the resulting surveys collectively represented an authentic image of local paper cutting practices. Such surveys placed education and participation within its particular historical context, creating conditions in which a multidimensional scenario could unfold, placing discourse and artistic practice together in an atypical setting. In other words, the significance of the objects is only properly comprehensible from within the specific context configured by the constitutive elements of each project. From the mobilization of a municipality, or the survey of thousands of villagers, to the final display through international exhibitions and educational initiatives, the specificity invoking the collective experience of many townships' coal-mining past or present.

The practice of cataloguing and archiving in "A Working Redisplay" revealed a broad spectrum of individuals, events, subjects, and critiques contained within the objects, which collectively present their own non-conformist "art world" . In this respect, "A Working Redisplay" could also be seen as a continuous and unfolding series of snapshots of the Chinese local art world since 1999. This led to the initiation of Long March Archive, an ongoing process of self-reflection via the act of archiving, uncovering obscured currents connecting the past and present, in turn inspiring new interpretations of and ways of looking at the Long March Project’s own history. Our work at Long March Archive includes working with objects, texts, films, research materials generated from previous endeavours, as well as the organizing structure and curatorial methodology of the Long March Project.

Long March Archive sets out to re-discover and re-establish the original context of the project tied to each object in question. The experience of encountering these boxed-up objects is nothing like the discovery of a precious object in a "cabinet of curiosities", nor is it does it have anything in common with the handling of a work of art for display at a museum. What Long March Objects reveal are often a curatorial attitude or outlook that questions the notion of institutionalization; they possess an ad hoc quality resulting from their origin as the products of a broad curatorial discourse. They are not necessarily self-sufficient entities or able to exist outside of the context of the overall framework of each project. In many cases, these projects were and remain intrinsic, dynamic, and evolving and the objects accumulated can never be easily attributed or categorized. They call for a unique logic, system of categorization and process of archiving that cannot be borrowed or adapted from elsewhere but must be developed a priori. We aspire to create a system which allows the archives to be viewed through a perspective of history that adheres to Long March's ethos, to unveil the complexity and continuity inherent in time and history, in the hope to better understand and contemplate the present era. While redisplaying materials from the archive, we are also tasked with fostering the possibility of new contexts as they spring from future projects. In other words, this publication signifies an optimistic intention to reflect on our own history, without falling prey to static modes of classification, and stifling past projects; indeed, the ad hoc quality of those objects function as constituent parts of a whole.