For many years now, an estrangement has existed between art and the audience. Art has all along been closed off in the academic atmosphere between the “laboratory” and the “museum”. This status quo in the development of art has caused Chinese audiences to maintain a distance towards modern art, and has continually added to the perplexity. Art seems to have distanced itself from the soil of its own survival, away from a real, practical space and environment.
The creators of the Cloth Sculpture series—Zhang Guoliang, Ding Yi, Qin Yifeng—sculpted a series of static, three-dimensional works in October 1986 by wrapping up their bodies entirely, using their own bodies as the primary material, along with the most basic yellow cloth, under a natural or else urban cultural backdrop. As an artistic medium for a cultural dialogue between the individual and the group, these cloth sculptures upset the customary attitudes towards life as well as the ways of viewing art for city-dwellers; this provides a beneficial reference for the audience and allows for temporary respite in the hustle and bustle, chaos, and turbulence of the rhythm of life, letting people think more about the links between art and life. On the actual site where the cloth sculptures are produced and during the exhibition of the photos in the exhibition hall, the audience could discuss this actual fact itself in succession, and provide us with quite a lot of information—that is, through the appreciation of the art works, the excitement produced by the senses which have been stimulated back to life by new forms.
As a means of engaging in dialogue between the individual, the group, as well as the universe, our cities and the empty spaces of nature are the sites—in the barren fields in the outskirts, in the ruins of architectural structures in abandoned ports, under huge advertising signs on booming, bustling streets of the city, inside train stations and fast food restaurants—we can more or less sense that the universe at this point is not cheerfully illuminated by life, but rather is already an entity of existence itself. Only by letting artists occupy an equal position with the audience and nature can the audience be free of psychological barriers in their enjoyment, which causes the audience to be drawn into the work, becoming a part of the work. Such creative activities, with artists themselves as the sculptural material and with ordinary people participating as well, seemed very important and timely in 1986 in terms of the significance of the enlightenment and inspiration of modern art in China. Because creative activities are built on the conditions of dialogue and exchange in close proximity with the audience, the cloth sculptures attained a greater actual social significance, transmitting more artistic information to the audience and pursuing greater possibilities of culturally significant dialogues.
A Silent Dialogue
We are of the generation born in the early 60s. As a political and cultural movement, the Cultural Revolution in 1960s China has stayed in our memory all these years, and often rouse hazy memories of that era. Unconsciously, [we] vainly dream of a dialogue with the distinct cultural phenomena of our childhood through our lucid intellect today. In April 1988, Ding Yi, Su Xiaosong, and others created a series of art works mixing the environment and wrapping, “A Silent Dialogue”. We do not merely base ourselves on the concern for simple relationships between traditional painting and modern art, the past and the present reality, but are more keen to expand on the mutual resonances and dialogues between artists and the audience, individuals and the social environment, to undertake an overall “wrapping up” of humans and the environment in a closed environment with red paper as the material. Such a static atmosphere, along with the use of the artists’ bodies as sculpture, consciously creates a kind of barrier and fracture from the outside world, just as the whiteness of the paper and the slogan texts all transmit “inert information” towards the audience. The whole environment covered over by red and black, with the people wrapped up, becomes some kind of “empty” substance. All thought and words are halted, and they are presented through the environment and the texts and slogans on the walls; in other words, with external ideas invading and replacing individual thought. And this was exactly the reality during the Cultural Revolution.
In this environment dealt with by art and yet suddenly becoming unfamiliar, we wanted to point out a certain reflection at a deeper level. As a symbol, this meditative state not only hints at a deep-flowing rational spirit, but at the same time it reflects the pursuit of transcendence.
A certain superficial level as produced by “A Silent Dialogue” is the confirmed implication of maintaining silence, but in essence they are the spatial concepts of change, movement, respiration, meditation, and dialogue. Ordinarily, the myriad expressive conditions of language and writing are also the realization of thought and rationality; the slogan texts are annotations of the dialogue between the quiet, solemn environment and human cultural meaning. As a complete work, where all the elements are placed within a silent space and at the same time proceeding to respire and spout to life in common, this intimate relation of mutual resonance engenders an opposing, organic relation from the silent blockages on the surface of the work and from inner meditation. The double meaning encompassed by the work in terms of visual language, as well as the contradictory encounters, are exactly the mode of dialogue we are in search of—as a human culture and as cultured humans.
May 1992, in Shanghai