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Label: climate

Tuesday 01st April 2014Chinese Protest Art

China is in a very strange position these days - despite being home to one of the oldest recorded civilizations in the world, and having a rich cultural heritage steeped in artistic traditions, they are also host to one of the most repressive political regimes on the planet. Internet services are carefully censored and monitored by a system known as 'the Great Firewall of China', and political and artistic statements are discouraged by the ruling Communist party. But even as this repression continues - and perhaps, to some extent, even because of it - there are a number of active Chinese artists who have captured international attention and highlighted the interplay between protest and art in a stifled intellectual climate.

By now, most art enthusiasts have heard the name of Ai Weiwei, a Chinese artist who has been the subject of documentary films (such as Never Sorry, as we discussed in a previous post) and invited to galleries around the world, all while being persecuted by the Chinese government, but there are a quite a number of lesser-known artists who are equally interesting.

Intellectual climates aren't the only thing being stifled in China, as the staggeringly rapid growth of the economy and industry has left the natural environment struggling to support healthy living conditions. Choking smog is a daily fact of life in most major urban centers in China, and this fact was recently driven home by Beijing-based artist Liang Kegang. Having visited the south of France on business, he brought back several souvenirs - one of which was a jar of clean, clear air from Provence. Amusingly enough, he put the jar up for auction at a popular art auction house, and the jar sold for over 5000 yuan - nearly £500 - to a collector.

Giving an interview about the piece, Liang said, “Air should be the most valueless commodity, free to breathe for any vagrant or beggar. This is my way to question China’s foul air and express my dissatisfaction.” Perhaps not quite the grand gesture he was hoping for, but it's just one of a number of similar art-meets-protest projects that have been popping up all over China in recent years with a focus on climate problems. A performance art project in Beijing in February had 20 artists playing dead outside the Temple of Heaven, all wearing dust masks. Another performance piece in Changsha had artists hosting a mock funeral for the last living citizen of Changsha, who they claimed would die of the smog.

Perhaps most surreal of all? Anyone who ever watched the late 80's movie Spaceballs, starring Mel Brooks and Rick Moranis, will recall a scene where the president cracks open a can of 'Perri-air', fresh air in can form - now, 'Good Person' brand cans of clean air can be purchased online in China from TaoBao for under £2. Sometimes, life really does imitate art.

Posted on April 01st 2014 on 01:06am
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