Tag Archives: China


16 Apr


A wee update on this story about a woman who attacked a fellow visitor to Art Basel Miami Beach last December, while onlookers interpreted the whole thing as some kind of performance art. The attacker, Siyuan Zhao, has unsurprisingly been found to be suffering from a serious mental illness. Eventually coming back to a somewhat even keel through therapy and medication after randomly stabbing a stranger, trying to kill a therapy bird (whatever that is) and hearing voices that said “she needed to protect the event from the Middle Eastern terror group ISIS”, Zhao has agreed to “deport herself” back to China where her family will take care of her.

“She was very psychotic,” Dr. Ilan Melnick testified. He also said: “She felt ISIS was going to be at Art Basel to destroy the art.”

Dr. Melnick possibly slightly stating the obvious there, especially in conjunction with his second statement. Is it very wrong of me to wish that ISIS would attend Art Banal Miami Vice and destroy the art? I mean, why can’t they make themselves useful instead of murdering people and wallowing in all their adolescent, medieval emo shit about caliphates, jihad and whatnot?

ISIS are probably unnecessary, though, if anybody wants art destroyed. With all due respect to Ms. Zhao’s considerable though misguided enthusiasm for defending the exhibitions, the artists and galleries at Art Basel are doing quite a good job of destroying art already…

Art Basel knife wielder pleads guilty, must return to China


10 Feb


Occasionally it seems there might be some kind of counter-performance art organisation, one that actively does everything it can to bring performance art into disrepute. A bit like SPECTRE from the James Bond books and films. As suggested by their acronym Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion, SPECTRE mainly just wants to instigate conflict and benefit from the chaos that ensues. I propose that there is a secret organisation called SPESPA (Special Executive for Shit Performance Art) and it exists solely to make the general public think all performance artists are twats.

This week’s covert SPESPA operative bent upon ruining live art’s reputation is Chinese performance artist (and “former television presenter”, which gives you some idea of his likely intellect) Ou Zihang, who has been doing push-ups in the nude at the sites of recent terrorist attacks in Paris. No surprise that he’s a fellow traveller of overrated hack fraud attention whore Ai Weiwei, who recently incurred the displeasure and disgust even of the normally unbothered and amoral art mainstream art press by playing at being a drowned toddler on a beach on Lesbos. Ou’s one and only artistic gambit involves getting undressed and doing push-ups in front of things. That’s all he’s got.

Ou obliquely but amusingly let slip the real reason he does naked push-ups, and it ain’t art or “drawing attention to scandals.” When he started doing naked push-ups near the offices of Charlie Hebdo and outside the Bataclan, he was dreadfully disappointed not to be arrested:

“Normally, there are police officers, security guards, cameras in front of a sensitive place. Especially in a country that is currently in a state of emergency. But, in the end, there was no control or restraint. This puzzled me.” (French source.)

In other words, without causing a scene and being the centre of attention he is nothing. His only validation is in being told he’s annoying, following the Dorian Gray school of thought that “there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” I imagine Ou only gets arrested in China because they think he’s being a tool, not because his adolescent level of critique and infantile means of resistance are any threat to the state. Plus, if he’d done any basic research he’d know that far from being shocked by nudity the French bloody love it.

Just sod off, you fucking imbecile.


11 Jun

Follow up to WHAT THE DUCK? When the Chinese Communist Party talks more sense than many art wonks about the real (i.e. non monetary) value of contemporary art, things are really screwed. It’s a bit like Hitler telling you to cool it with the anti–Semitism. The People’s Daily newspaper, effectively a sock puppet for the Party, recently issued an editorial in which it praised artist Florentijn Hofman’s wildly popular 16m tall duck installation in the bay at Hong Kong, while also firmly castigating the flood of copycat inflatables as “kitsch and unoriginal”. Kitsch and unoriginal are also pretty good descriptors of the Chinese commercial art world in general, which has been blindly hyped in the West in recent years.

Unoriginal art “will ruin our creativity and our future and lead to the loss of imagination eventually,” according to the People’s Daily. “The more yellow ducks are there, the further we are from Hofman’s anti-commercialization spirit, and the more obvious is our weak creativity,” it said. “It’s good that the rubber duck is popular, but it’s sad to see the innovation of our country to go down. We often talk about awareness and confidence in our own culture, but where do they come from?”

Giant Rubber Duck Given As A Gift In China

Fake Duck in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province. Bonus fake mini Arc de Triomphe!

The clones in question have appeared like a rash in third or fourth tier cities like Hangzhou, Wuhan and Tianjin as a shortcut for property developers selling the myth of a Hong Kong-esque lifestyle to the nouveau riche of mainland China. A 2m copy of Hofman’s duck can be had for 2,800 yuan (£290/€340), one the size of the original costs 118,000 yuan (£12,380/€14,490), and if you want to supersize it in truly vulgar, in-your-face, loadsamoney Chinese style a 20m tall giant copy costs 149,800 yuan (£15,700/€18,400).

Fake Duck by a magazine stall in Shanghai because… reasons.

A particularly shoddy replica capsizes in Shenyang, Liaoning Province.

PS: To further plumb the depths of China’s kitsch and unoriginality, read my post about visiting Shenzhen’s Dafen Painting Village, where any painting ever made can be copied and re-painted perfectly to order.

PPS: I shall be spending an unreasonable amount of time this afternoon exploring the site of KK Inflatable Factory (formerly Seven Star inflatable manufacturing factory and the Inflatable King Co. Ltd.) which is based somewhere in Guangzhou’s vast industrial megacity hinterland. It’s one of the Chinese manufacturers of the unoriginal and kitsch inflatable duck replicas. Can’t write any more now, must browse bouncy castles.



21 May


‘Rubber Duck’, like its maker Florentjin Hofman’s other work, is daft, kitsch, intellectually undemanding and entirely uncool. Yet its value, I think, lies in precisely these attributes. When was the last time the work of any artist celebrated on the front cover of Art Review or Frieze aroused general excitement, civic pride, despair at the prospect of it going away, or “limitless amounts of joy”? This last comment is from a discussion at the governmental level about the widespread positive fallout from Hofman’s avowed attempt to spread this joy. I certainly don’t think art can be or should be uniformly subjected to tests of popularity or popularism, but I also think that somebody except the artist and their friends should care about and connect with an art work.

Until recently the 16m tall duck was floating between Hong Kong island and Kowloon. Although described by the artist as a contemporary art work, which it is, the duck was brought to Hong Kong by a shopping mall as a promotional stunt. It’s very healthy that absolutely nobody seems at all interested in the sponsors and that the artist and his duck have gained far more publicity and kudos than the mall.

I say “until recently” because the joy came to an abrupt end when this happened:

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And it happened amid accusations of cigarette attacks by mainland China’s notoriously uncouth, vulgar tourists, the enmity of “duck haters” (yes, really) and various other conspiracy theories of the kind that run wild on Sina Weibo and its ilk whenever they get going on any subject even tangentially involving relations between Hong Kong and China. The most likely genuine explanation is environmental stress from the wind and waves, although the eventual face-saving Chinese style explanation was planned maintenance, i.e. “no, no, it’s not a PR disaster, we meant to do it.”

People had been coming from hundreds of miles away to see it, with a collateral commercial impact on everyone from street hawkers with yellow bath ducks (almost certainly made in neighbouring Shenzhen, the world’s factory) to hotels offering “duck view” hotel rooms. Rubber Duck’s untimely demise left many locals as jocularly or genuinely distraught as the Weibo user who wrote “Don’t die! I still haven’t had the chance to make a pilgrimage and come worship you, big yellow duck.”

Now let’s try to imagine anybody apart from their friends who work as curators or at art magazines giving a single, tiny fuck about the joyous arrival or the sad premature departure of absolutely any of the formulaic work done recently by critical young darlings like Haroon Mirza, Karla Black or Elizabeth Price who can apparently do no wrong…

OK, put down your pens, time is up. Anything? No, me neither.



18 Dec

Shenzhen by Guy Delisle

It was slightly surreal to read one of Guy Delisle‘s other books about being a temporary resident among famished, fearful citizens in an oppressive Communist country (Pyongyang) while I was a temporary resident sitting among beautiful, healthy Scandinavians in an extravagantly equipped, wonderfully comfortable and relaxed public library in über liberal and progressive Norway. It was in some ways even more surreal to read more recently his similar graphic memoir about working as an animation director in the Chinese city of Shenzhen and to realise that he’d had almost identical experiences and reactions to the place as myself. I don’t mean I identified with it. I mean he had exactly the same experiences as I did. Delisle was there in the late 1990s and I lived there ten years later (2007-2008), but surprisingly little seems to have changed. Probably a lot more buildings went up, and the metro system wasn’t there, and the population was smaller, but I could still even recognise some of the places from his drawings. I was there as an artist in residence at a gallery in Shenzhen. You can read about the (mostly ludicrous) experiences I had at that gallery in my book.

Delisle mentions the occasional blessed escapes to nearby Hong Kong where it feels like a massive weight has lifted from yourself and from everybody else; the fine Communist art of doing the absolute minimum amount of work (or less if you can get away with it), what’s called in Russian tufta; the pathological Chinese aversion to the sun, “as if it’s radioactive” to use Delisle’s perceptive phrase; the worrying amount of time you spend, with hindsight, lying on your bed in your underwear doing nothing, just for some respite from the dirt and the difficulty and from people randomly shouting HELLOO at you on the street when it’s clearly a kind of racist dig rather than a genuine greeting. I experienced all this too. When I finished this book I just wanted to give him a big hug and tell him with relief that it was OK, somebody understands, I felt exactly the same. Continue reading

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