The Value of Ruins

Lao Yu

An Article to be published in The Financial Times 

The commentator Mr. Li Chengpeng said that he wrote an article for Yuan Gong’s book only for my sake. I could understand him. To be pretentious, it might reduce the troubles of being manipulated by others. However, I think Mr. Li, who becomes awakened due to Wenchuan Earthquake, should have something meaningful to say, and he shall also write for artists’ works themselves and even write out the heartfelt praises, which is the appropriate state.

This is a set of works related to disaster, and the strong shocks will be aroused by reading them. Only the true artists can turn the ruins into art: crushed cars, collapsed houses’ broken concrete, abandoned official slogans, self-criticism discarded in the earthquake site, farm tools on sale, etc. These disaster evidences are commonly seen, but they only glow the inherent vitalities in Yuan Gong’s hands, constituting a panorama of history and public feeling, which makes it memorable.

Only the artists on the site can create the dazzling works. After the Wenchuan Earthquake on May 12, 2008, acute Yuan Gong took several assistants to quickly reach the site, investigated various aspects of the disaster-stricken areas in the meantime of providing disaster relief, accumulated sufficient materials —— and they even kept in contact with the family of Expected Birth Date for over a year. Such contacts and devotions enabled Yuan Gong to be under the activated creation state, and he thus created a series of meaningful works.

The values of this series of works lie in that he has left impressive memories of the disaster to the society. As long as we see them after many years, we will seem to see the past events. In addition, the works are far better than the numerous detailed news reports, because they transcend the borders of time and space, touch people with the ineffable sincere emotions and enable us to recollect the eternal spiritual strength.

The artist is a medium. Yuan Gong has made it, leaving many media far behind.

In the works of Sounding off with 512 – Dong Feng, the car is abandoned with a horn playing out the sounds, and the mourning words and music retells the national day of mourning. The car without life also symbolizes the lowly victims. It is obvious to notice the artist’s respect for life in this work.

Red Curtains 512 presents the authority faces not on the scene, including a compelled and acting atmosphere, a fake site and a mark forcefully sealed. Yuan Gong weaves the abandoned slogans into a huge curtain to make it become a religious item, which is funny and absurd. However, the audience would become speechless upon seeing it. Red indicates the diffused existence of power, depression, heaviness, but it’s seemly unquestionable. The slogan represents the voice of power, but not the power itself. As a result, the slogan becomes an independent existence, which seems to express power, but loses power in the expression, so the slogan is a mere formality, or even a zombie. Yuan Gong weaves these abandoned items into a religious curtain for worship. This is the most thrilling deconstruction; nonsense and lies are satirized in the most powerful manner. Upon seeing the works, the wriggled mouths are emerged; they speak plausibly everyday without producing any effect. The zombie existence is just great remains in this age. As you can imagine, a paper with the constant altered words for decades only leaves an exhausted paper face. The Taoist rites, enshrinement and worship are more vicious than being tramped and burnt.

In the installation works Money Tree, the farm tools toward the sky are reflected in a big mirror. The artist uses the farm tools purchased from the land-lost farmers to weave a huge pattern jus as the slave bones. It seems that the disarmed farmers have got rid of the land fetter and acquired the infinite freedom, but they actually become refugees, or are dominated by the capital, or become mobs that are finally exterminated. After losing lands, the farmers delightedly hand over farm tools, meaning inner disillusions: bidding farewell to the lifeblood of land, and it is a desperation and protest against life and destiny. From then on, they become a more poorly organized crowd and step into a destiny of being controlled.

I wonder why these foreign collectors are willing to collect these works, but their Chinese counterparts are demurely to keep distance. Some Chinese people despise these works of art, look at issues through colored spectacles because of the complicated identity of Yuan Gong, and denounce the works to be small tricks. Everyone can deduce the implied meanings, but only Yuan Gong dares to do and makes it. This is either a sour grape or ignorance to contemporary art. These ruins items become breathtaking works after being cleverly converted by the artist Yuan Gong, which also witness this age. Therefore, is it necessary to suspect their cultural values and artistic values?

Yuan Gong is an anomaly of Chinese contemporary artists. He impacts the pedantic art circles with a series of imaginative and courageous works. For example, in the parallel exhibition “Voice of the Unseen” in the 55th Venice Biennale, his artistic project Air Strikes around the World adopted the transfinite creation methods to present the works in a cross-regional and cross-temporal way. You can pretend not to see him, but he is there, and his existence itself is a victory.