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Author: Joerg Heiser 2007-10-01

I met Zhao Bandi, whose studio is in 798, an artist who has done a couple of interesting media stunts. In 2003, during the SARS crisis, he published a photograph of himself and his panda 'logo' wearing masks and guerrilla gear. The (uncredited) photo was subsequently used by a national newspaper to illustrate coverage of the crisis, and Bandi took the newspaper to court for copyright infringement, resulting in a hilarious video document of the ensuing case. The artist remains seated and silent throughout, hugging his panda, until finally reading out a letter from his girlfriend, stating that he is a disturbed fetishist without any connection to reality. This move obviously shouldn't have been helpful in supporting his case, but Bandi ironically won (even though the compensation he received was smaller than his lawyer fees). Another amusing piece involved the artist officially opening the Beijing Olympics 2008, three years before the fact, in Bern, Switzerland. The video comes close to slapstick, Bandi running across China carrying a plastic torch, the panda sitting on his shoulders, only to arrive in Bern's football stadium, with the city's mayor opening the games. (The piece may sound harmless, but given the local intolerance to criticism of the Beijing Olympics it is anything but). A big part – and maybe the most politically interesting aspect – involves Bandi making visits to old people's homes in the provinces with a delegation of Panda party members (wacko weirdos that have joined him through his busy website), aping the kind of propaganda visits the prime minister regularly makes, but actually pointing to the abject conditions many in the provinces live in. Maybe what Bandi does is not always visually or conceptually stunning, but, operating under the veil of naivety, he is one of Beijing's most politically interesting figures.

Joerg Heiser

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