Bai Chongmin’s Body Manner
Text / Shu Yang
What I’ve known about Bai Chongmin’s earliest performance is " Lugu Lake", which was cooperated with Wu Weihe in year of 2002. It performed in "Long March" projects on Feminine topics. It could be easily concluded from " Lugu Lake": the cloth dolls and clothes styles were all making an analogy to "Body Bundling and Packaging" approach, which had been appeared more frequently in performance art in 1980s. " Lugu Lake" took the context of regional tradition: the funeral ceremony of Mosuo matriarchal society in Li Jiang, Yunnan province.
Bai Chongmin’s 2005 performance, “The Selling of Tao Te Ching”, was an invited work in Performance Project of Da Shan Zi Art Festival and carried out in 798 Art Compound. Wearing a straw-hat, dressing up a low-necked-no-sleeve jacket with a Chinese character “Fan” on the back, Bai Chongmin was peddling while pushing a tri-cycle carrying pottery bricks carving with the text from Lao Zi’s Tao Te Ching. The Communist Party of China called on all its members to keep the advanced characteristics, and its leader had ever brought forward a principle of “Ruling the country with virtue”. Bai Chongmin carried his ideas into execution in a way of selling kind of daily needed products along the streets. Unfortunately, Bai’s performance was half-way stopped by those security guards lacking of "political consciousness" in 798. However, regardless of the content of this work, only its expression way has not be accepted by managers in charge of 798 Art District. It was so clear that the nerves of the lowest level of social administrative management were deeply touched by Bai Chongmin’s realistic way of diverting to a hawker. Obviously, the spiritual product for the mainstream only works in its proprietary sales channels, and can not be performed by the general public as a career. In China today, with contemporary art gradually generalization, performance art in social environment regardless of its concept, is still the most sensitive way to touch and reflect the reality.
Another performance work of Bai Chongmin, "Dark Clouds", created in year of 2006 took part in the 4th 798 Da Dao Art Festival. The creative motivation of "Dark Clouds" was from Bai Chongmin’s own life experiences. His house, locating in rural area, was badly surrounded by the pollution coming from the neighborhood factories. It has seriously affected the daily life of the local people, but the complaints were ended in vain many times. Thus, using a great many of black balloons to form pieces of floating dark clouds, he regarded them as a symbol objects to match the environmental pollution. Under the dripping ink from the “clouds”, he dodged helplessly, not only expressing the situation in embarrassment, but also crying for the worsening environmental problems in today. In work of "Dark Clouds", Bai Chongmin designed himself as an image of victim. This is a typical expression with artistic appeal in performance art. Meanwhile, this way was also reflected in his work "Big Rats", created by following the title and subject of an ancient poem and participated in Performance Art Camp - "Joint in June", in 2007. "Big Rats" Poem, from "Poem in Wei County" in the "Book of Songs", is a masterpiece in ancient China. By using the symbol of its poetic image of "Big Rats", Bai Chongmin was mudded in whole body, carrying a sack-made Big Rat over 80 kilos on the shoulder, running in circles on the same spot until getting reversed on the ground. Taking himself in an awful jam as an excuse, Bai Chongmin straightforwardly criticized the phenomenon of serious corruption in today’s Chinese society.
"Ji Xiang" was performed in “Open” – Performance Art Festival in 2009. Bai invited 8 artists to participate this performance. With totally naked and poured ink, Bai Chongmin squeezed with other male and female naked artists with different nationalities. In this very crowding process, the ink in Bai Chongmin’ body was pushed and passed onto the other participants’ body. In those mass-nudity performance art of the past three decades in China, comparing with "The Anonymous Mountain Raised by 1 Meter" (1995) and "@ 41" (2005) , we can see those two works basically executed according to the implementation in advance or performed by following the scheme. The participants hold the same concept, the implementation process was easily to be controlled, and the sites of the performance were in the field without audience. While "Ji Xiang" was performed with fixed rules, all the participants were collected on site as voluntaries (including artist, staff, visitor and audience), the venue was a public exhibition space (798 Art Zone) where the audience gathered, and the participants could impromptu performed. In this work, we can see the participates were released joyfully by the intensive movement with their free bodies. For the performance artists, a free body represents the basic attitude of using body as an artistic medium. And employing their body freely has been making the performance art becoming a political manifestation both to the social and art taboos. Therefore, "Ji Xiang" reflects the value of artistic creation of performance art in an appropriate way.
In the past three decades, Chinese contemporary art has a prevalent tradition of implanting social issues into the art works, which should be considered as an academic tradition of Chinese intellectuals. After the influence of the economy crisis to the art market, the relationship between Chinese art and the reality in today’s China might be re-examined. There is no doubt Bai Chongmin’s performance offers a new aspect for this re-examination. Performance art is not only as a mode of experimental art, but also as a realistic carrier inspiring the spirit of freedom, conveys an artistic temperament of "brave to be the first".
November 26th, 2009 in Beijing