November 10th, 2017

Party Poopers

Can art bring down the government? 

By: Louisa Lim       Source: Los Angeles Review of Books China Channel    Date: 7/11/17

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“Contemporary arts must also take patriotism as a theme, leading the people to establish and maintain correct views of history, nationality, statehood, and culture while firmly building up the integrity and confidence of the Chinese people.” – Xi Jinping, October 2015

In late July, after the death of Chinese Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, a ghostlike picturematerialised on walls around the world in Melbourne, Sydney, Ottawa, New York City, Taiwan, Dublin, and even Beijing. It showed images of Liu Xiaobo floating skywards, hand in hand with his wife Liu Xia, with blank white expanses where their facial features should have been. This was the work of Badiucao, a radical Chinese artist who, like Banksy, hides behind a pseudonym. He keeps his identity secret out of caution: “If you’re spreading negative energy like me, drawing criminals of the state, you become a problem.”

Such work was designed with one aim in mind: to survive inside the Great Firewall. To create a participatory art phenomenon, Badiucao uploaded the work so it could be printed out, and purposely made it easy to copy. This led to the second wave of reposts, of the picture appearing on walls around the wall, followed by a third wave of selfies from the different sites. Liu Xiaobo might have disappeared from the corporeal world and the pages of state-run newspapers, but Badiucao was determined he should live on in cyberspace.

In this way, a new breed of Chinese political artists has turned the borderless expanse of cyberspace into a virtual studio, a collaboration space and a digital museum, creating and sharing work about China that might not be shown there. Hong Kong artist Sampson Wong Yu-hin – part of the Add Oil Team with Jason Lam Chi-fai – also created a virtual, participatory homage to the Nobel laureate, asking people to record themselves reading Liu’s famous “I have no enemies” speech, which he was forbidden from finishing in court. The result – mostly in Cantonese – is especially poignant, with the young voices serving as a Greek chorus of doomladen augury. Continue reading