I took Ryan to the UBC campus about a month ago to check out the Museum of Anthropology’s Maori tattoo exhibit and then to the Belkin for the Chinese performance art photography exhibit called Action-Camera: Bejing Performance Photography, curated by Keith Wallace.
Performance art is something I’ve been interested in since I participated in a group performance at the Union Gallery at Queen’s called ARTHappens. I had the opportunity to learn about and meet some First Nations performance artists while at Queen’s, and I couldn’t help but draw some parallels between these performance artists and the ones featured in Action-Camera. To me, performance art is used by many as strategy of negotiating identity and social relations. Wallace speaks to this in his essay for the exhibition, stating that “the behavioural aspect implicitly reflects a social negotiation, one often reflecting a desire for individual expression balanced against collective consciousness.” The “behavioural aspect” he refers to comes from the Chinese term for performance art: “xingwei yishu,” which translates to conduct or behaviour in art.
I did a bit of surfing on the internet to find some more information on Chinese performance art, and a few of the names that came up were participants in the Belkin show. I had seen Zhang Huan’s work at the VAG; photographs documenting a performance where he walked the streets in a meat suit. I found a video of his work on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szyZXfq8Z7A
Wikipedia told me that Chinese performance art developed in the 1970s out of state-run art schools, and Wallace notes that “performance art in the early 1990s was discouraged by the State especially if it entailed nudity, and was the cause of several arrsts and exhibitions closing down.” Action-Camera documents this time period in Bejing. Participating artist and curator Ai WeiWei has also documented this, specifically the experimental artists’ East Village. An interesting tidbit about WeiWei is his involvment in the design of the “Birds Nest” stadium in Bejing for the 2008 summer Olympics. Weiwei’s anti-olympic comments were largely ignored by the Chinese media (not suprising), but he refuses to be photographed with the building, stating that it is a “pretend smile” of bad taste.
To me, WeiWei’s inclusion in this exhibtion is important in raising such points in Vancouver as it prepares for the 2010 Winter Olympics. As the economy is in recession, the city is spending more than it can afford to dazzle the world’s media in 2010. The new mayor, Gregor Roberston, is busy trying to clean up the streets of Vancouver’s homeless infested lower east side. While this undoubtedly has its benefits, I wonder about its intentions. Vancouver homeless population has the highest per capita AIDS infection rate in the world. The overall prevalence of HIV in Vancouver is about 1.21 per cent, six times higher than the national rate. I doubt that the spectacle of the Olympic games will be able to hide that.
To return to another participating artist in Action-Camera, I wanted to finish off this post with artist Li Wei. I included a link to a photo from the series included in the Belkin, hope you enjoy it.