Site 12: From Anshunchang to Luding Bridge

Long March- A Walking Visual Display

Time: Aug. 28 – Sep. 1, 2002


Curatorial Plan: The vanguard unit of the Red Army made history and saved the army from annihilation, or did history create the legend of the vanguard unit – the historical context of historical events and the related narrative and interpretations

Route: from Anshunchang to Luding Bridge

Time: 2002.8.28-9.1

August 29-September 1:Luding Bridge

Long March Event – “Blind Man Crossing a Bridge”

Qiu Zhijie’s Left /Right and Discussion on

Qu Guangci, Model Sodier of the New Long March, performance

Homage to Performance Art (Ten Farewells to Avant-garde), performance, and Wang Jianwei, Interspace, performance/video

Curatorial Plan: 

The story of Luding Bridge is perhaps the greatest legend of the Long March, just as the Long March is the greatest legend of the Chinese Revolution. The story of the “flying battle at Luding” blends physical limitations and intellectual choices, personal feelings and bravery into one unbelievable myth. Learning from the mistakes of Taiping commander Shi Dakai, the Red Army scored here a victory of theatrical proportions. Especially notable was that so many soldiers gave their lives for the good of the entire army, which has made the story of Luding Bridge into a myth of heroism. This Long March used Luding as a site to discuss the notion of the avant-garde in contemporary art. Is the avant-garde a necessary creation of history, or does the avant-garde decide the fate of history? The very important high modernist notion of the avant-garde still deeply influences thinking about contemporary art, no matter the extent to which it has been deconstructed by postmodernism.

August 29

The meaning of the Long March Event “Blind Man Crossing a Bridge” was in its connection to a personal experience that unfolded at a rather large distance from the historical narrative, and in discussing these topics from this perspective. A blind man cannot see the countless propaganda paintings and sculptures of the “flying battle at Luding Bridge,” nor can he view the countless reconstitutions of these events on film and television. His connection with Luding Bridge is more fundamental, more visceral. He crosses the bridge holding onto the iron chains, his ears filled with the rushing sounds of the Dadu River. His connection with the historical narrative of this place is remote, and his blindness exposes a reality: our historical consciousness, like his perceptive ability, is built on a certain degree of illusion, and the role of visual culture in developing that consciousness and guiding that discourse is not insignificant. The relationship between personal experience and historical consciousness is at least food for thought. How, then, does the blind man see the avant-garde?

At 9:30, Lu Jie and company set out from Moxi for Luding, greeted as soon as they stepped off the bus by Qiu Zhijie and Blind Masseur Deng who had been waiting for hours. They immediately crossed Luding Bridge, walking and talking simultaneously.

Blind Masseur Deng had a very definite response to the avant-garde: if twenty-two soldiers had not crossed Luding Bridge, he thought, the overall direction of the Chinese revolution would not have changed, but it would have been influenced greatly. The place of the avant-garde is to speed up the development of history: this was Deng’s theory.

After talking with him, at 10:30 and again at 16:30, Qiu Zhijie donned a blindfold and walked across Luding Bridge, realizing his work Left Right. The difference between everyday behavior and theatricality, between artwork and non-artwork, the vagueness of the border between intention and non-intention made this work become randomly apparent and invisible, appearing and disappearing with no regularity. His walking became a dialectic of forgetting and remembering: walking is inherently continuous, only consciousness is fragmented. Today, amidst the theatricality of Luding Bridge, Qiu Zhijie decided to leave some intentional traces.

He placed segments of wet cloth at five intervals across the bridge, and covered his eyes with a black blindfold. He walked wobblingly across the bridge from the west to the east tower, leaving clear footprints in water on the wooden planks.

The danger of walking Luding Bridge turned this work into a commentary on the fate of the avant-garde. As an artist and at the same time a curator of the Long March, every step Qiu took in thought was as adventurous as a physical step across the bridge, and as the work suggested, involved a constant negotiation between left and right. Every step involved a clear choice between left and right, radical and conservative, right and wrong. If judgments were so clear, was there any need for a Long March?

That evening, Lu Jie and Qiu Zhijie talked late into the night, figuring out how to continue with the Long March plan. They had the progress they had already made clearly in mind. They were completely confident in their ability to finish the Long March on schedule, as twelve of the twenty sites had already been completed. They had some regrets, but more important, they had grown accustomed to life on the road. What were the possibilities of the Long March? A larger kind of doubt filled their minds.

They knew clearly, this sort of doubt would lead to a certain kind of action, and this action might set off a chain reaction. They were between a rock and a hard place, and the work Left Right seemed to have taken on a fateful role. But the Long March could not become a matter of fate.

They called in Lisa, Shen Xiaomin, Jeff, and Yang Jie to participate in the debate. Shi Qing, as an artist on the site, also took part.

Democracy had not confused everyone, and by 4:30 on the morning of the 30th, a bold new idea had taken shape.

August 30

At midday, on the west side of Luding Bridge, next to a marker commemorating the Kangxi emperor, the Marchers undertook the second monthly vote count for Qu Guangci’s work Model Soldier of the New Long March. As always, this procedure was led by “Qu Guangci,” with Lu Jie calling out the ballots and Qiu Zhijie recording them. In the end, a tanned, thin Qiu Zhijie was chosen as the second “Model Soldier of the New Long March.”

After the ballots had been counted, the camera crew interviewed “Qu Guangci.”

“Qu Guangci” bashfully said, “I had a dream, I dreamed that my daughter grew up and became an artist.”

That night, Beijing artist Wang Jianwei reached Luding, uncontrollably excited.

By night, Luding Bridge already had the subtle cold of early autumn. Lu Jie and Qiu Zhijie brought up the things they had been considering to Wang Jianwei. They recalled how eleven months earlier, the three of them had been sitting in the garden behind Lu Jie’s house in New Jersey, eating crabs and drinking, similarly talking about the Long March.

Wang Jianwei said in a flash, “Contemporary art requires us to keep ourselves confused; laying things out too clearly is dangerous.”

The three didn’t speak, rubbing their hands along the mottled chains of the bridge, listening to the river roar beneath their feet. Wang Jianwei at that moment pointed out that the historical Long March was divided into two segments. With Luding Bridge as the dividing line, the first half involved the Red Army’s struggle against the Nationalist Army, while in the second half they had shed the pursuing army, and were concerned only with carving the right path for themselves. As Deng Xiaoping said, here they were “going with the road.” Unexpectedly this conversation became prophetic, and Wang Jianwei’s work titled Middle Segment became this Long March’s first punctuation mark.

August 31

Upon arriving last night, Wang Jianwei openly accepted the curatorial idea to incorporate the Long March Happening Homage to Chinese Performance Art into his own work.

They decided to stage these ten performances on the road that Wang Jianwei would travel, establishing an interactive relationship with Wang Jianwei’s work. As Wang walked forward along the route traveled by the true avant-garde of the Red Army, he would also look back at a history of style among Chinese avant-garde performance art.

The curatorial team settled on the substance of the ten performances and spent a day preparing the necessary objects. Yang Jie gathered ten people to play the roles, taking their pictures at the head of the bridge. They included local residents, and even a butcher. At 16:00, in front of the west tower of Luding Bridge, Qiu Zhijie assigned the roles to the performers, and distributed their props. As he explained the substance of each performance, the surrounding viewers burst into laughter.

Qiu Zhijie required that each performer review his act in order, to insure that everyone understood his job. At this point it was already 17:30. Lu Jie and Wang Jianwei were waiting at the head of the bridge, and the truck for which Yang Jie had negotiated appeared on time.

The workers and the Long Marchers hopped into the back of the truck. Lu Jie and Qiu Zhijie sat up front, measuring the route kilometer by kilometer with their GPS reader. Each kilometer they would call to the driver to stop the truck, and let out a performer in an appropriate location beside the road, instructing them to wait for Wang Jianwei to come close before beginning their performance.

At 18:30, Wang Jianwei was standing at his departure point. The road ahead was full of mountains, and the real distance to the bridge was actually only slightly more than six kilometers. After a short rest, he began racing toward Luding Bridge.

In front of him appeared the first performance, a man wrapped in red cloth standing beside the road, twisting his body back and forth. Wang Jianwei only turned his head and looked for a minute, and then moved forward.

At 18:16, Wang passed the second performer. This one was a naked man standing on a hillside, solemnly staring ahead, no expression on his face. Two foreign looking baby dolls had been tied to his body using leather threads, one blocking his chest, the other his belly. Again, Wang Jianwei didn’t stop.

At 19:02, Wang Jianwei passed a small grove of trees. A man hung on a string from a bent tree, his body parallel to the ground, looking down. He was continuously eating a balloon. Wang Jianwei stopped to watch him inflate several balloons, turned his head, and walked on.

At 19:10, Wang Jianwei turned past a ridge, followed the road down a hill, and a small stone bridge appeared before his eyes. A naked man stood on the bridge, and as soon as he saw Wang Jianwei, he picked up a dish of yellow paint and splashed it on himself. Once all the yellow paint had been splashed, he moved on to blue, and then to black, with the colors flowing down from his chest.

Wang Jianwei laughed to himself and kept walking forward. Ahead there was an open cornfield. Here, there was a man dressed as a young girl, who had been sitting down, but who stood up to face Wang Jianwei and smiled obsequiously. “She” was wearing a tattered flower-print dress, silk stockings, and high heels, with a little flower cap on “her” head. “She” stood in the cornfield, scratching “her” head and playing with her makeup. Wang Jianwei again turned to look and then kept walking forward.

At 19:17, Wang Jianwei walked past a cluster of county government buildings. On the roadside there was a man diligently rubbing two bricks together. Taken with his task, the man never even turned to see Wang Jianwei walk by.

Ahead came a stretch of road that was in the process of being fixed, with a long line of cars waiting to pass. Wang Jianwei passed through the spaces among the cars. The sky was gradually getting dark, and the flashlight in his hand was put to good use.

Alongside the road a man was squatting, writing his name, Yao Zaigang, repeatedly on a mirror. He had been writing for a few minutes, and his characters were covering each other on the mirror. Wang Jianwei stopped and watched him write, observed that his own reflection was invisible, and turned to leave.

By 19:50, the sky was dark. Ahead were visible a group of shadows, and Wang Jianwei used his flashlight to see them. He saw a man whose eyes were covered with red cloth holding a toy panda. As soon as the gathered people saw the light of Wang’s flashlight on the panda man’s body, they began to throw tiny stones at him. The man used the panda to cover his own head, and moved back and forth to avoid their attacks.

Precisely at 20:00, Wang Jianwei came over a mountain ridge, where on top of a precipice lay ten or so people arranging themselves into a human pyramid. By this time the sky was entirely black.

At 20:07, Wang Jianwei reached the head of Luding Bridge. The last performer, who had been waiting there, grew excited, pulling a live fish from a tank and fiercely throwing it against the ground. He threw the fish so hard it bounced back up. He then pulled out another squirming fish and threw it, and then another, killing three fish altogether. The Long Marchers rushed over to watch. They had been either walking or riding in the truck, moving ahead of and behind Wang Jianwei, orchestrating the ten works of “performance art.”

Yang Jie called to the man to stop throwing fish. The man couldn’t control himself, and kept picking up the fish and throwing them at the ground, picking them up and throwing them again. Yang Jie, as person in charge, calculated that in addition to being fodder for a performance about “violent tendencies,” the fish could also become the group’s dinner. They learned that people’s hidden violent tendencies are a scary thing once liberated. The three fish had been smashed to bits, their faces were now invisible, and the ground was stained with their blood.

One other performer turned the fake into the real, and discovered his own “true self”: The young man charged with dressing as a woman wore his dress all evening, excitedly scurrying back and forth. Wang Jianwei projected his video and sat back on a ladder by a small store. As the light reflected back on the ground, he looked around, satisfied.

As they projected the video, the bridgehead filled with villagers. Wang Jianwei had clipped segments from historical movies about Luding Bridge and edited them into a short film. The red star logo of the movie studios of old constantly appeared. Different eras had different readings of Luding, some of which were vehement, others romantic. The interesting question was what these locals, who crossed the bridge every day, felt about it. To most Chinese, Luding Bridge is a legend, but to these people it was a road home. To the villagers who rented out Red Army uniforms to the tourists, the bridge was a way to make a living. The video was projected onto a wall of the bridgehead built in the traditional style, and these people, utterly familiar with Luding Bridge, grew absorbed in the watching.

At the dinner table, everyone eagerly praised the ten brave souls who put on the evening’s performances. A phone call came from Chengdu, where artists Yu Ji and Dai Guangyu were waiting for orders, and from Beijing where Sun Yuan and Peng Yu needed to know whether or not to set off for the next two stops. The Long March curators had decided to change the original plan to conclude at Yanan in October, and they declared an end to the first half of the project. Everyone knew that this meant an even greater challenge, and an even longer road. Lisa Horikawa, director of international communications and a Japanese-American, asked, “Does this mean I have to keep marching forever?”