Tearing away the Clutter: Demolishing the “China Museum”

Though avoiding association with any Movement or Manifesto, Cai Guoqiang seems clearly dedicated to erasing the sentimental as well as spatial wallings-off of an exoticized “Chinese” art and literary tradition, which he pretty clearly regards as a kind of coward’s closet preserved, almost paradoxically, by non-Chinese connoisseurs of things Chinese to block out or protect a sanctuary protected against the non-encyclopedizable impulses of transglobal creativity. Including perhaps at its forefront those emanating from Japanese modernists such as Issey Miyake.

If this (his) were but a one-man stand, an “advertisement for myself”, we might maneuver past it with little discomfiture. But an on-the-fly retrospect on what has been afoot in “public-display” (un- or underenclosed exhibition/performances) in the PRC since perhaps as early as 1998’s “Turandot-in-the-Forbidden-City” would suggest that we are being exposed to a kind of de-reverencing privatization of hitherto off-limits venues: those, that is, centering on ancien regime palaces, then on institutions devoted to the accumulation of ancien regime “fine arts” paraphernalia, first and foremost museums-within-palaces, but perhaps reaching out to include Western style “classicist” architecture designed to signal the perpetuity of (likewise cluttersome) Greco-Roman facades. There is a well-known link between Cai’s “manifestic” performances and the now infamous “29 giant oversteps” of August 2008 – on which more momentarily. But one senses a broader scope of participation, including most obviously Xu Bing 徐冰 (b. 1955), whose dis- and re-encryption of pre-Han zhuanshu glymphemes (that is, crosses of abstract image and phonetic, homonymic marker) have pushed the issue of post-fossilic obscurantism and the gruesomely self-expanding lineage of tediously compiled histories of glyphic metamorphosis (ending in the Kangxi zidian 康熙字典 of 1716, the ur-source of the “character” compendia we all had to plod through in “Classical Chinese” 201 for “advanced” students) to the extreme, endurance-exhausted state Cai reports.

Xu Bing, Books from the Sky (self-reflexive encryption = meaninglessness)

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