Art Value and Social Significance of the Great Survey of Paper-cutting in Yanchuan County
Yanchuan County is located to the northeast of the city of Yan’an, Sha’anxi Province. The entire county has 8 towns, 9 districts, and 346 administrative villages. The total population is 180,000 of which 144,000 are farmers. The total area of the county is 1,941 square kilometers. The Long March, with the assistance of the Yanchuan County government, has organized cultural cadres and key artists to perform the most thorough survey to date for the entire county. Paper-cutting samples from each individual (each individual will be asked to cut the work they are most familiar with), a photograph, and the cultural and economic background that manifests itself from their oral or written biographies, along with a documentary film, sound recordings, textual documents, and images produced throughout the course of the survey process, will be used to create a visual and textual archive.
Based upon the onsite field observations of chief curator and initiator of the project Lu Jie, from the paper-cutting samples collected from 15,006 individuals, it is possible not only to see the effects of the ethos from the revolutionary period in Gansu, Ningxia, and Sha’anxi regions, but also the effects of the social mobilization of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, and the effects of those who, in the middle of interaction between artists and politics, received the influence of professional training such as woodblock printing. The samples also clearly illustrate the changes during the period from the 80’s to the present, and the resulting impacts on the discursive styles of themes created by professional artists who came to study paper-cuttings, and of today’s tourism industry and commercialization. At the same time, tradition, especially the ancient symbolic system from the Hua and Xia dynasties, and the following political and religious elements, stubbornly remain and continue to develop despite the rapid changes in the past ten years. The result of the survey is both an overarching visual display, and also working material for scholarly study and cultural strategizing.
From 1999 to 2002, when several Long March proposals revolved around the issue of folk art, especially paper-cuttings, to the time when the Long March returned to Beijing from Luding Bridge due to contradictions between theory and practice, to the time when the Long March established a Long March space in Beijing Dashanzi 798 Art District, to the time when problems were raised and responded to by the half-year exhibition “Power of the Public Realm,” to the establishment of a Long March space in a cave-dwelling in Sha’anbei, to the survey, to the lasting several years and ongoing “Long March – A Walking Visual Display,” the Long March has been focused on creating a greater essential link between the creation, display, and narration of contemporary art, and between history and the present, by not only having contemporary art go to the countryside in a “from top to bottom, outside to inside” approach, but at the same time continues to focus on the construction of a “from bottom up” subjectivity. The manifestation of the social nature of visual discourse cannot but touch upon the traditional aesthetic symbols and the basic symbolic unit found throughout people’s daily lives. The topic of public art must begin from the public realm. One county, one district, one village, one individual; this is the basic unit of Chinese society. Paper-cuttings are the most powerful and effective material to renew an examination of the connections between tradition and modernity, art and life, individual and society, and inheritance and creation. Paper-cuttings are the most basic medium, most direct, the most abundant with regional characteristics, most thoroughly imbued with the power of individuality, as well as the most subjective “image,” and the most rooted aesthetic expression. The paper-cuttings of the people from Sha’anbei act as an example that not only reveals, but continues to express the experiences of individuals received from the organization, training and study of professional artists from different periods. In today’s tide of commercialization, paper-cuttings are currently searching for a survival point. How can an extremely subjective art form be an ethnicity’s most stubborn remains, and what types of explanations and practices can it provide for contemporary art? How does one effectively, and, more importantly, forcefully bring notice to China’s unique qualities and creativity in the international context? Furthermore, how can one use China’s unique social organizational structures, and the creative resources of history, geography, politics and visual culture to provide Chinese art with an understanding and practice of the “contemporary?”
Very seldom do you have a country and an area with a unique social system that is capable of producing an endeavor like “The Great Survey of Yanchuan County Paper-cuttings” project. “The Great Survey of Yanchuan County Paper-cuttings” is an artwork whose authors include, Lu Jie, the Long March Foundation, the 25000 Cultural Transmission Center, the Yanchuan County government, the 15,006 individuals who contributed to the survey, and the 170,000 who were surveyed but who did not know how to make paper-cuttings, as well as a work produced by the “Long March – A Walking Visual Display.” At the same time, “The Mapping of Yanchuan County Paper-cuttings” is a social project that mobilizes contemporary artists, grassroots cadres, and art officials to once again return to the villages, combing art with the methodologies of anthropology to conduct a comprehensive survey of the people from an entire county. Its result is a large-scale visual display, and an analysis of the present state of folk art. It is both an artwork full of creativity, as well as a comprehensive report on the development of folk art. At the same time, it is an example of a never before seen cultural and artistic cooperation between a folk art organization, such as the Long March, and a county government. This type of creative initiative, intellect, vision, organization, mobilization, and the power of implementation is a revolutionary action that builds subjective consciousness from the roots. Regardless if in the field of art or social sciences, the project continues the unification of theory and practice from which the Long March arose; it is the locating of art without borders.
Proposal on the paper-cutting survey by Lu Jie in his curatorial plan of Long
March – A Walking Visual Display (1999 – 2002)
Annex – Field work photos of the Long March team