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Home >> Life
UPDATED: 17:00, July 20, 2005
Should naked human body be used as art symbol?
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Photo:A total of 41 male and female students from the Chengdu Academy of Fine Arts arranged their naked bodies into a @ shape April 13, 2005. The moved asserted to be the art of behavior stirs hot debate among the public. (baidu)
A total of 41 male and female students from the Chengdu Academy of Fine Arts arranged their naked bodies into a @ shape April 13, 2005. The moved asserted to be the art of behavior stirs hot debate among the public. (baidu)
At four o' clock on April 13, 41 male and female students from the Chengdu Academy of Fine Arts stripped naked and arranged their bodies into the @ shape.

Known as performance art, the @41 project in south Chengdu, Sichuan Province has raised more than a few eyebrows.

Once the students had moved into the required shape, they collapsed in a domino effect, whilst all the time retaining the @ shape.

Performance art incorporates a wide variety of activities and actions. While the artist's own body is often the focus in performance art, this art form often also uses sound, light, costumes, props and other people in their work. Performance art pieces can be spontaneous or rehearsed, and of short or long duration.

China's performance art was imported from the West in 1985. At that time, young artists experimented with expression of their resistance to mental oppression and their desire for mental emancipation by way of going against society and rebelling against conventional art forms. In some quarters this behavior was seen as bordering on masochism.

In a multi-cultural society, performance art began to be noticed with increasing frequency.

However, when life is displayed in the form of art, many feel unease about it, especially when performances push the envelope and challenge the perceptions of how art integrates with daily life.

Performance art in China has always been a bone of contention from the day it was first practiced. When the Chongqing Morning Post released the news of the @41project, it sparked lively debate across the country.

Don't Criticize What You Don't Know

Xu Xiao (freelance writer): What is performance art? In essence, I think, performance art can be defined as a relatively free expression of the performer through body activities or actions.

In terms of its concept, the boundary of performance art is not very clear. It is mainly created according to the performer's idea, and doesn't always feature nudity.

Performance art came into being in the West and has become a relatively mature form of art after many years of development. But in China, the development of performance art is just at the embryonic stage. By saying that I mean, whoever it is, the performer him/herself or the audience, they do not seem to know what they are doing or what they are watching.

All kinds of strange performance art that emerged in China in recent years are hard to be accepted by its citizens, as they incline to going to extreme and seem completely unreasonable. Particularly when some of the performance art creators tend to express themselves mainly in extreme ways like causing bodily harm, drawing blood. This challenges the extremes of humanity and morality.

Becoming More Aware of Our Bodies

Li Gongming (Professor with Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts): Discussions about performance art has been ongoing since the 1990s. But this time, the debate is unparalleled and more heated than ever before. Now, it is probably because these were a group of art students and the photos of their performance spread rapidly over the Internet. Adding to the debate are issues of morality and ethical behavior of the naked human body.

The whole thing in essence is an issue of nudity. In this case, I'd rather believe that disputes over the exhibition of the human body is just the struggle between enslavement and emancipation. As a result, the re-discovery of the significance of the body has become one of the most valuable achievements by the new wave of thinkers and artists.

Obviously, the major unavoidable concern in performance art where the body is naked is sex and sexual behavior. Some people even believe that every form of art is pornographic. But modern art views the body as the fundamental problem of existence. As humans, our inner desire, instinct and will, continually clash with the ethics of the body in the name of art, exploring the visual domain of sociology of body. Young students, especially those from academies of fine arts, are desirous, emotional, impulsive, outgoing and nomadic. In a word, their bodies are just like the post-modern image text. The 41 students display a game spirit vividly and naturally in the @41 project.

Photo:A nude man crawls off the belly of a dead ox at the grass ground of a Nanjing Park where performers stage a show of the art of behavior. (baidu)
A nude man crawls off the belly of a dead ox at the grass ground of a Nanjing Park where performers stage a show of the art of behavior. (baidu)
In this performance, we see a bunch of playful youth and their simulated activity. In the process, there is no rigid traditional value and the performance is a game full of aesthetic pleasure. The spirit is pure, free and illusionary, leaving nothing but the sheer joy of youth.

The presence of the body in social activity is independent of the mind. It is because of this, we are in pressing need for research in the fields of sociology of the body, ethics of the body and philosophy of the body.

In present China, few people know what art is, let alone performance art. But now more people are commenting on things that we do not really have any knowledge of. My point is if we do not really know what performance art is, the best thing is to tolerate it.

All in the Name of Performance Art

Shao Daosheng (Researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences): In my view, it is unthinkable that Li Gongming called nude performance a philosophy of the body, believing it is a kind of art and science.

In addition, if this kind of nude art performance gains popularity in China, without the boundaries of social restriction and criticism, the so-called art featuring nudity will find a huge market with undoubted huge money to be made from it.

I admit that Li knows a lot about sociological theories, but he still fails to justify why China should have this kind of performance art. It seems to me the only reason that Li has put forth is that the art form comes from the Western world. Second, must the new radical way of thinking be right? Third, even the degree of a model's nudity in academies of fine arts is conditioned and strictly restricted. If a group of young people moved to a golf course completely naked to perform, I believe even Western society would find it unacceptable.

Li summarized the characteristics of the modern art students, as "desirous, emotional, impulsive, outgoing and nomadic." I totally disagree. I think university students must first be rational while not controlled by their instinctive desire. They must not be led by their adventurous impulse or a sense of wild abandonment. Can a simple performance like project @41 really save the 41 naked young men and young women from self-indulgence?

In addition, I strongly oppose Li's cry for a sense of Western game spirit. It is not enough to only encourage this spirit as he suggests. I've always believed that whatever society it is, all games should abide by rules. Each society has its own culture at the end of the day. I am always concerned about China's university students. If the body featuring nudity becomes an aesthetic ideal for contemporary university students, then becomes a way of life, I can only say that they are really degraded and hopeless.

I believe the ideas and thoughts advocated by Li Gongming leads people in a false direction. At the same time, I find statements delivered in the name of science are most deceptive.

By the way, I keep wondering: Why should the project @41 performance take place on a golf course in the southern suburbs of Chengdu? Was it motivated by large sums of money? Had someone made a quick profit from this project?

Source: Beijing Review

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