Outputting State if Failing to Output Value — Yuan Gong’s “Air Strikes around the World”

Du Xiyun


The 55th Venice Biennale Preview and Opening Ceremony were held from late May to early June in 2013. This biennale with a history of more than a century has unexceptionally attracted the attention of global art lovers. Moreover, owing to the wide popularity in China’s art circles, there are unprecedented multitudes of Chinese artists participating in this Venice Biennale.

Yuan Gong, an ostentatious “speculator” fond of using exaggerated words and expressions in public, desired to stir up troubles in such good hilarious days, so he became aggravated to release his craze and caused the “Air Strikes around the World”. From May 30, he stayed at home comfortably in Shanghai, asked his assistants to remotely control the helicopters and frequently launch “Air Strikes” in Shanghai Bund, Venice Piazza de San Marco, Venice Biennale’s theme pavilion and other places. These helicopters have diameters of more than 1m, which are RC helicopters used for aerial photography. Yuan Gong’s assistants lifted the helicopters to disseminate yellow mist (the main component is water, which is harmless to human beings), and harassed those unconscious people.

The “Air Strikes” in Shanghai Bund occurred in the vicinity of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower. A blast of yellow mist was disseminated, quickly engulfed the sky, and then the RC helicopter flew away with a swagger. The whole process of “Air Strikes” was not interfered nor restrained by any person or department, and the event silently ended as if it had never happened before. Nevertheless, the “Air Strikes” in Venice wasn’t as free and unrestrained as the previous one. Yuan Gong’s assistants launched “Air Strikes” for eight times, and all were rapidly discovered, inhibited or interrogated by the policemen. In May 30, yellow mist of the “Air Strikes” in Piazza and Piazzetta San Marco succeeded in harassing the public. However, the dedicated and well-trained policemen found Yuan Gong’s assistants in a nearby building only after several minutes, controlled them and sent them to the police station for interrogation. Since the policemen are familiar with the contemporary artists’ various bizarre expressions, they held understanding and tolerant attitudes toward such behavior, so they released them after interrogation. On June 1, Venice Biennale theme pavilion held a grand opening ceremony, and the mist of “Air Strikes” harassed the public on scene again. The policemen rapidly controlled the Air Strikes this time, and threatened to destroy those helicopters and throw them into the sea.

The mist releasing of “Air Strikes around the World” also brought about various attention and discussion. Some people scolded that it was totally a troublemaking and sensationalism, so catching them would afford general satisfaction; whereas other people were in favor of it, saying that it was very creative and could be regarded as a challenge to the power system. As Lu Rongzhi said, “any association with the terrorist attack is dangerous in itself after 911, I advise Yuan Gong to understand the Western countries’ nerve sensitivity toward the ‘terrorist attack’, and it shall not be provoked in the name of ‘art’. Just conduct yourself well!” As Tong Yujie said, “the political imagination of contemporary art is not merely simple and coarse political gimmick. The works of ‘Air Strikes around the World’ is suspected of a political gimmick, making Chinese people query the Chinese art in Venice.” Li Zhenhua believed that “Air Strikes around the World” is the most direct challenge and response to Eurocentrism in the global art map. Compared to the exhibition and artistic works officially approved by Venice Biennale, Yuan Gong’s air strikes plan is completely changed from the passive choice to the active aggression, which is an independent artistic work beyond the Western value evaluation system.” However, as Zhu Qi thought, being caught by the policemen is a good thing, “those who involved in the maze of oriental symbolic devices are not funny at all. If all artists create disturbances just like Yuan Gong, it might become the Chinese Year in Venice.”

Yuan Gong claimed to launch “Air Strikes around the World”, yet he only caused the transient disturbance to the public with harmless yellow mist. Therefore, such “Air Strikes” are merely symbolic slogans and behaviors. For people who think that art has its existence value, they might carefully experience and think about it, judging whether it has significance or enlightenment worth pondering. For the remaining mass, they might feel ridiculous and boring towards such “Air Strikes”. No matter whether “Air Strikes” is a piece of art or good art, it is an actual disturbing behavior in the public space, which has proved different cities’ security concepts and cultural awareness. The policemen gave distinct responses and consequences towards the “Air Strikes” in Shanghai and Venice, which were solid evidences.

Yuan Gong adopts mist as a main expression for The Scented Air at China pavilion in the 54th Venice Biennale, the behavior of making himself give off mist in the 13th Kassel Documenta and Air Strikes around the World this time. Mist can be associated with China’s ancient metaphysics thought “qi”. While “qi” is a mysterious and far-fetched cultural concept that people can interpret, but it is everything and nothing. It completely vanishes in the empirical, pragmatic and practical modern scientific thinking, which can only be used for keeping mental masturbation for a minority of cultural nationalists sticking in the mud. In the intuitive feelings, the mist at specific time and space appears to be menacing, changing, vague and hazy, thus falls into a reverie. However, it is trumpery, false and hollow maze, and the solid things and specific populations will be unscathed when the mist disperses. It is also true to “yellow mist”, seemingly aggressive and terrifying without lethality, coming and going with much haste. Therefore, from the perspectives of art or cultural discourse, there are many problems of these “mists”, or they cannot withstand deliberation. It may not have anything profound, yet somewhat symbolically and even accurately coincides with China’s current state: rapid rising but superficial, overwhelming but ferocious in appearance but feeble in essence, seemingly powerful but weak, deliberately mystifying and even deficit… At this time, people can cite the original words of Yuan Gong, “the implementing artistic project of ‘Air Strikes around the World’ across time and space in Venice and Shanghai may initiate many questions, but I still have to seriously say that this is my true feelings to the world and China.”

“Mist Disseminator” Yuan Gong is an open-minded artist who attaches importance to the international vision and contemporary culture. He regards himself to be “a disordered academic-combination person who is ruined in the Post-Marxism. He is not arrogant and crazy for China’s cultural and artistic position and status in the world, and even is calmer and more pessimistic than many other people. “Each place has its own way of supporting its own inhabitants, the one hundred years of history is a humiliating history. Our ecology cannot produce the advanced concepts and noble sciences, and all pretended scholars shall be aware of the importance of their living state.” Therefore, Yuan Gong believes that the contemporary Chinese art cannot output values up to now, but can output state. “There are so many Chinese exhibitions in Venice today, which is merely Chinese people’s anxious state. They expect to have dialogues with the world, but we do not have the capacity to output values and make contributions to the world art. Honestly, most Chinese exhibitions in Venice do not have the modern state, which is really pathetic.”

For “mist dissemination” or “Air Strikes”, he frankly said, “I dare not and do not want to think what the academic value of my creation is. I’d rather face the art and experiments as usual with a relaxed state. I don’t care about what other people regard it, a story, an absurdity, a lie or a game. Aggression and out of control are indeed part of my states. These are also states of the minorities in the Post Marxism.”

There are indeed many problems if comparing China with the developed countries. When people all have insufficient understandings of common knowledge of modern civilization, it is dumbfounding to scream for revival and outputs. Putting issues in other fields aside, the contemporary Chinese art itself has lots of public flaws. Since China has never gone through the full formalism stage, the Chinese people pretend the visual decorations to be the contemporary art; they are unclear about the basic problems in the Chinese society, but they often buy the casket without the jewels in pursuit of artistic language, pretentiously talk about the “academic” to avoid the social scene, politically flatter in the name of experimental art, replace the unrealistic stance and attitudes with the touch of facts, advocate justice, but dictatorship and tyranny in minds…

At this time, it is more appropriate to give up delusive fantasies and disgraceful slogans, and honestly face the basic facts and true states of our own. This does not mean doing nothing, but do things in our true states. Pretension cannot deceive other people and conceal the weakness and confusion. Such being the case, it is better to show the true self. This also does not mean that we look down on ourselves, but we are truly confident and practical. If we take positive action in real states, we can contact the real problems, and improve ourselves in the process of facing problems and trying to solve them. Therefore, Yuan Gong tries to show his true states. Although he realizes that he has many problems, he does not evade and conceal; instead, he actively and openly participates in the communication and expression. Besides, he calmly confronts the critical and opposed voices, rapidly absorbs the reasonable places, constantly fixes and improves himself… Everything is gradually changing under such a positive attitude and practical action.

Only outputting state is definitely not satisfactory. However, we still have a long way to go. Boasting and mental masturbation appear to be very awkward and helpless in front of the solid facts; in fact, self-abasement and giving up will change the current state. To frankly confront and acknowledge this fact and positively seek to change via specific actions are the minimum confidence.