Comment: Poetry and Gaze of Pan-Politicization -Brief discussion on Guangci’s work concept

This is a really big bed
I can cuddle in the corner and watch them dance in group
——Guangci: “Three Scenes”

When rejection presents itself in the form of absence, it will not be noticed.
——P. Bourdieu

Part One

Among Guangci’s new work pieces of 2007, Knife Gang firstly catches my attention. Six humpty dumpties stand side by side closely in the same uniforms, with the same knives in hand, wearing the same serious faces. The only difference is their way of holding knives and the amount of hair. Four of them is bold, two midsplit. The six of them stand portly, staring at nothing but a little rat trembling in a pool of sewage.
We still remember a few days ago, South China broke out an unprecedented rat calamity. Millions of rats left their native place, and were chased and deratized along the way. That should be a really tragic scene. Chinese people always say “as coward as a rat”. Rats are not only coward, but also weak, maybe with an exception of Jerry in the cartoon Tom and Jerry. Let’s come back to Guangci’s works. In front of six gallant and high-spirited men with knives in hand, even a person will be scared to death. One of Mao’s poem writes: man can as well be a fish or a turtle. Then man can also be a rat infronting a strong group. A gang is a disciplined group. From this piece of work, we see an exaggerated group activity, with an identical movement and a theatrical scene of collectivity confronting individual. Without doubt, this piece of work will lead us to a meditation on collectivism.

Part Two

Collectivism is originally brought up by French Utopian Socialist Comte de Saint-Simon, referring to an organized capital production compared to a dispersed capital production. It is only an economical term, neutral in terms of value. Its concrete organization method still stays within the category of capital production system. However, collecitvism, as a way of thinking, may be as old as human being. The earliest collectivism is primitive collectivism. When class rivalry came forth, this primitive collectivism could not but to evolve into hierarchy. To exploitation class, collectivism is a broadened, even publicly proposed group individualism. To proletarian, collecitivism is right from the class struggle with bourgeois.
The collecitivism we mention today inevitably includes two meanings, one is general, namely looking on the relationship between collectivity and individual, collectivity and society from a collective point of view, focusing on individual being subject to community, community benefit having precedence over individual; the other one is specifically proletarian collectivism, an ideal of communism. Stalin is the first to bring forward the idea of applying collective principle on communist society as the ethic principle. Mao Zedong also affirmed time after time that collective principle is the ethic principle of communist society, that individual benefit should submit to collective benefit, temporary to long-term and partial to overall. What worth mentioning is that these two “collectivities” are interlaced in Chinese people’s daily life nowadays. Both of them have their own cultural and political trait, which is worth further analysing.
It is noteworthy that Guangci names his series “collectivism”. On the one hand, compared to his previous work Revolutional Romanticism, collectivism covers a larger range, is more complecated and solid, may reveal many aspects in economy, politics, culture, ethic and morality. On the other hand, more importantly, collectivism has a stronger implication of political reflection. As is said by the artist himself, “My current works always have a socialized insight of ‘us’, which is from my obsession with revealing the pan-politicization behind normal life. People are always scared by the invisible hand behind the back.” This as well provide us with a explaination frame to grasp the artist’s creation comprehensively.

Part Three

Guangci’s works have a vivid time characteristics. From his works we can reach a memory of growing and a history burden. As he always believes, “the most important thing for modern art is a sense of on-the-spot”. The so-called sense of on-the-spot is like a hot dish. It is neither dessert, nor appetizer. It should bear a sense of on-the-spot and sociality. Man is in social relationship network. He always inevitably steps in an extended space somewhere. The one shouting Tang Dynasty, is a person at the end of 20th century; the one singing “back to Lhasa”, is Han people. In order to understand the collective concept in Guangci’s works, we have to analyze the collectivism in a content of Chinese history.
Collectivism is traditional Chinese faith. Although ancient Chinese societies have experienced supersession of dynasties, the recognition of collective morality in traditional culture remains unchanged. Traditional Chinese culture emphasize the connection between individual and family, religion, nationality, country, society and cultural tradition, especially the connection of all kind between individual and collectivity. Chinese people are used to live together and depend on each other. The individual meaning and value of life is also presented by the contribution it makes for the family and the country. However, this ideal of “deal with the familiy issues, manage state affairs and then pacificate the world” has to be established on a well-planned system, which has received demonstration and support from moral convention, even philosophy. Therefore, everybody should be in his proper place in the overall political environment, and never cross the border line. This idea prevailed in as early as the Spring and Autumn period. In the Chapter “the 7th Year of Duke Zhao”in Zuo Zhuan, we find a sentence saying “there are ten suns in the sky; there are ten classes of mankind”, which is where the saying “mankind is divided into high, medium and low classes”is from. This is also the root of the powerful Chinese concept of etiquette and propriety. In The Rules of Property in The Book of Rites,a sentence said, “a polite person is humble and respectful”. It appears to be very touching, but actually it is what a person has to do under the powerful influence of collective values. Chinese people are extremely sensitive to the position they are in. In other words, if a Chinese mistakes his position in the collectivity, he will have big trouble. Obviously, the subtlety of Guangci’s Last Supper: Who has moved my sofa? is understood in this background.
In traditional Chinese society, the collectivism ruled by patriarchal clan system is unseperated with the dominating natural economy. The obturation and singularity of natural economy will only catalyze social psychology and custom, instead of forming modern individualism and real independent individuals. Marx has pointed out that petty farmers in natural economy “cannot represent themselves; they must be represented. Their representative must at the same time appear as their master, as an authority over them, as an unlimited governmental power that protects them against the other classes and sends them the rain and the sunshine from above.  The political influence of the small peasants, therefore, finds its final expression in the executive power subordinating society to itself”. For Chinese readers, these words hit the nail on the head. Marx’ “executive power subordinating society” means that the most direct political rights must infiltrate into all aspects of life, which right explains Guangci’s attention on Pan-politicized reality.
Nonetheless, China will also experience the transfer from traditional society to modern society as every other traditional societies. Collectivism also needs to experience a historical process from prosperity to decline, or reconstruction. With the more and more detailed social division of labour and the development of market economy, the interest differentiation in the whole society is also deepening. Individual status raise rapidly and gradually walks out from the belonged collectivity, becoming independent. Therefore, collectivism in traditional society has to break. Collectivity (society or country) becomes the tool of individuals to obtain profit. The “individual” should be the ultimate object. In this case, “collectivity” is no longer the basis for individuals of pursuing the meaning of life. The approval of collectivism decreases necessarily.
However, to be precise, no matter the collectivism is based on traditional natural economy or serves as socialistic moral principle, their weakened political attitude does not influence the fact that they still play an important role in their own way and cooperate with each other in many circumstances. Observing phenomena in this stage of history is one of Guangci’s art pursuits.

Part Four

See from the more than two thousand years history of the development of feudalistic culture in China, the dominating Confucianist culture only advocate clanship and collectivism. Individualist tradition is sparsely existed. Liang Shuming said in his Outline of Chinese Culture, “The biggest loss in Chinese culture is that individuals are never noticed. A person almost has no opportunity to speak for himself. Many emotional requests are turned down”. Though the long-term insignificance of Chinese individualism should not totally blame Confucianism, many elements in Confucian theories, especially Cheng and Zhu and their followers’ theories, have undeniable responsibility. Some enlightened individual thoughts in early confucians were misinterpreted, even forgotten by some Neo-Confucianists. For example, Mencius’ independent “gentleman” spirit of “never to be corrupted by richness, never sway because of poverty, and never surrender to force” can be interpreted as high affirmation and emphasis on individual volition. But when it comes to the later development, generations of Confucians but became advocator and theorist for the rich and the powerful, or hid and lived in the town or in the mountain. Few strong individualistic thinkers were born. No matter facing collectivity or powerful ruling groups, an individual is always insignificant. Using Mao Zedong’s lines, “human beings might be a fish or a turtle”. The “thinking” that can be used for pursuing freedom and liberty for individuals has no opportunity at all to develop into an “-ism” to confront collectivism. The one that issues orders is always the one that stands high above the masses.
As a reader, I can’t help but associate Knife Gang with Confucianism I have mentioned above. In China, the confrontation of individual and collectivity is always with great disparity. It needs bravery and determination to stick on individualism. Take the little rat as example, it has only two choices, either to join the “knife gang”, lift a larger knife than himself, or to be killed and disappear from the earth forever. But for the viewer, the problem is more serious. If he doesn't have a value standard of individualism, he may only feel sorry for the rat and then go back to his normal life; or he may join the “knife gang”, become one of the bold or midsplit and get it over. Or else, what awaits him is the same fate as the little rat. For example, in the heat of Chinese Studies, the Analects is again hyped up. A lot of people intentionally or unintentionally blurred a historical fact, that this book is written for the ruler. Its ideal readers are the intellectuals belonging to a powerful ruling collectivity, instead of independent individuals in modern content.
Here, we may as well extend a bit and take a look at famous Wang Yangming.
Wang Yangming is a great scholar. Huang Zongxi praised him as the only one in three generations that inherited knowledge in turbulent period and received the authentic heritage from Confucius and Mencius. Yan Yuan and Li Gong who were practical and critical of Wang’s thoughts, still see him as a person of exceptional ability. However, later Pan Pingge didn’t think the same. He criticized, “Shouren’s theory, in my opinion, cannot take on the world. Most of his apprentices like mountain and forest, without the zealousness of serving the emperor”. Zhang Taiyan also said, “scholars admire Wang Shouren’s theory that man cannot stand out in both scholarship and achievement…Shouren is not proficient in his studies, therefore can share his energy into participating government affairs”. This is mild. He again pointed out in the Deification of the Institution, “the theory that people should have conscience started from Wang Shouren in Yuyao. Chenhao is famous for his kindness and filial piety, while Wu Zong pruriency and incontinence. Who is virtuous and who is doted is clear. But Shouren supported the latter and kill the wise, and still said that he was loyal to the royal family. What the so-called “conscience” really is make clear to all”. This touches the core of the problem, Wang Yangming’s so-called “achievement” turned out to be helping a tyrant to do evil. This “achievement” is not lofty at all. The unification concept and achievement concept are nothing but a different face of collectivism under patriarchal clan system and political worship.
If we are not afraid of the so-called “over-explanation”, Guangci’s Knife Gang can be a pretty good detoxicator for many scholars and thinkers in current content. In modern Chinese history, Chiang Kai-shek is a big fan of Wang Yangming, but he failed. Another influential figure in China modernization process is Mao Zedong, presented by Guangci in many ways, emphasize the combination of theory and practice. Some people trace this theory back to Wang Yangming, but only a presumption. We never find any mention of Wang Yangming in any published work of Mao’s, nor do we find any evidence that he has been influenced by him. However, he succeeded, big time, and became the most respected individual in a hundred years, greatly surpassed theoretical Wang.

Part Five

Thus, another recent work by Guangci named Dongfang Bubai affords us more for thought: on a dead stick of a bare tree against a traditional Chinese classical landscape painting, sits a little fat man, holding his cheek on his palms, as if he is thinking deeply with eyes closed. First, in terms of his shape, the little fat man here looks not at all similar as the head of the vicious cult in Jin Yong’s novel, whose name is Dongfang Bubai. This leads us to think the other mysterious side of Dongfang Bubai, which is loneliness. This loneliness is above the collective mass, and belongs to a leader who dominates a collectivity. Jin Yong, the author of the novel, alludes strong political meaning in this character, through such examples as the slogans that the vicious cult use when Dongfang Bubai ascends the throne. In the sculpture of the artist, this leading figure who intends to conquer the world and dominate the people looks so banal and trivial.

Guangci loves the figure of Dongfang Bubai in the film, and regards it as the great gift to him from Hong Kong culture. He was indulged in its vagueness and mistiness, and is determined not to politicizing this image. Nevertheless, if we put this work in the framework of Collectivism, the ancient tree and the modernized version of Dongfang Bubai in this work combined to make a kind of ambiguity, or, it can be understood as a certain integration of the Collectivism in Chinese traditional culture, and the Collectivism in the sense of class struggles. The image of Dongfang Bubai reminds people of a word that is quite related to Collectivism: totalitarianism.
The opposite concept to Collectivism is of course Individualism, or Individualism in a more ontic sense. Rousseau’s thinking cannot be overlooked in this field, although there exist huge disputes in valuing his ideas, for example some researchers think Rousseau a modern pioneer of totalitarian thoughts, while some others regard him a master in the camp of Individualism in the history of Western thoughts. Don’t they sharply contradict to each other? Some further discussion is needed here.
If we read through his work The Social Contract, Or Principles of Political Right, we will find that his recognition of Individualism is full of political conscious. He said, “I found that all problems in their roots depend on politics. Whatever means that people take, no nation can escape what the nature of its government makes it to become. Thus, I think the question of what makes a possibly best government is an important question, which can be transformed into the following question: What constitute the nature of a government which is most likely to make a moralist, most open-minded and smartest, thus the best nation?” Thus Rousseau’s concern for the government is more than sovereignty or public opinion in general sense.
Rousseau loves liberty. He wrote at the beginning of The Social Contract that ‘Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains’. However, what is the real liberty to him? In the eighth chapter of his book Letters Written from the Mountain, he wrote, “Liberty consists less of fulfilling one’s own will than of not being subjugated to that of the others; it also consists of not subjugating other’s will to ours. Being a master, no one can be free.” After more than a hundred years, these words still possess astonishing power. Dongfang Bubai is a strong master, however, according to Rousseau, he has no chance of freedom, since his authority need to be recognized by a group of followers. He is in a position too high to escape the sense of coldness. His death is also rather obscure in that he was dead of love, or loneliness. Superior as his gest and talent are, he is not able to take up the heaviness of independence and liberty as an individual. This can be regarded as the only result for a totalitarianist, but not in the sense of what Hegel called The Master-Slave dialectic. Dongfang Bubai implies the deepest puzzle in the world. Big figures lose themselves in politics, friendships and sexuality. In terms of novel itself, Dongfang Bubai is not as strong as Howard in The Fountainhead, who won the love of Dominique.
The biggest political presentation of Collectivism is revolution. Rousseau is also a pioneer of the French Revolution. Revolution is a must to realize independence and liberty. During the French Revolution, Rousseau became a saint of the Republic. Nevertheless, individuals in this Revolution became helpless and trivial, and were buried by the historical onrush. The bodies on the guillotines were even less respected than animals. Rousseau deeply understood that government has a vicious intention to abuse the authority when faced with bare-handed individuals. The national government, as a huge “collectivity”, always becomes people’s “master”, or even their “tyrant”, thus the so-called “nation” falls into “a nation only constitute of government officials”. So sad to hear these words! However, Rousseau’s thoughts were still garbled, blurred and even mistaken. This is not the irony of history, but the ruthlessness and grief of it. The question is, those representatives of the nation, who started in the name of collectivity, like Robespierre, had different understanding towards liberty. If he also saw the pursuit of liberty the ultimate goal of life, he had become the master. He decided to get rid of Danton, who was asking for rights and liberty.
Oakeshott divided the neoteric European politics into two camps, Collectivism and Individualism, and recognized that politics is the rethinking of government. This argument affords us much to think about. Those who hold an individualistic political view are suspicious to big government, and regard that government shall be restricted by law. But the puzzle here is that individualists are not faced with the illusion of “government”, but a specific and lively “collectivity of government member” that is composed of real individual individuals or real politicians. These people also have their own respective “Individualism”. Thus, if there is no “real” liberty that can serve as criteria, this puzzle will become a dead-ended problem. Or, in this sense, Ayn Rand thinks Individualism confronts Collectivism not in the terms of politics, but in the deep of people’s soul. The psychological incentives and fundamental premises predetermined many things. Her neo-Individualism actually possesses a sense of Individualism in deep soul. Otherwise, Individualism can only struggle in the maelstrom of political fights, and cannot extricate itself till the end of the game.

Part Six

In her novel The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand talked about the boundary between the two life worlds through the mouth of the hero Howard Roark, “The real choice should not be a choice of self-sacrifice or manipulating others, but a choice of independence or dependence, a choice of criteria of a creator or a secondhand. This is the fundamental question.”  We cannot skip the American thinker, Ayn Rand, to talk about the concept of Individualism as opposed to Collectivism. In modern times, she is the one who exerts the strongest and biggest influence on Individualism, and the one who proposed the famous “neo-individualistic ethics”. In The Fountainhead, Ayn expressed her sharp critique towards Collectivism through words of the aspirant Toohey:
If you learn how to rule one single man’s soul, you can get the rest of mankind. It’s the soul, Peter, the soul. Not whips or swords or fire or guns. That’s why the Caesars, the attilas, the Napoleons were fools and did not last. We will. The soul, Peter, is that which can’t be ruled. It must be broken…There are many ways. Here’s one. Make man feel small. Make him feel guilty. Kill his aspiration and his integrity. That’s difficult. The worst among you gropes for an idol in his own twisted way. Kill integrity by internal corruption. Use it against himself. Direct it towards a goal destructive of all integrity. Preach selflessness. Tell man that altruism is the ideal. Not a single one has ever reached it and not a single one ever will. His every living instinct screams against it. But don’t you see what you accomplish? Man realizes that he’s incapable of what he’s accepted as the noblest virtue - and it gives him a sense of guilt, of sin, of his own basic unworthiness. Since the supreme ideal is beyond his grasp, he gives up eventually all ideals, all aspiration, all sense of his personal value. He feels himself obliged to preach what he can’t practice. But one can’t be good halfway or honest approximately. To preserve one’s integrity is a hard battle. Why preserve that which one knows to be corrupt already? His soul gives up its self respect. You’ve got him. He’ll obey. He’ll be glad to obey because he can’t trust himself, he feels uncertain, he feels unclean…Slavery to slavery. A great circle and a total equality…Everything I said is contained in a single word: Collectivism.
From Rand’s point of view, Collectivism is the biggest toxin of human beings, the result of which is to deprive human beings of both god and thoughts, becoming the universally equal slaves. Human history also ends at this point. She criticized the fatal weakness of the moral principles of altruism. Those individuals who believe in altruism lack self-respect, as well as the real respect for other individuals, because they are coward and powerless, and they can only give up the most precious thing, which is the independent thinking, and the creative and responsible individual life, and to rely on various excuses for a second-hand life. In Atlas Shrugged, Rand said through the hero John Galt, “I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” These words extremely condensed the whole individualistic philosophy of Rand.
The rise of modern Individualism is closely related to the capitalistic means of production. Altruistic morality cannot coexist with capitalistic free market economy. The unbearable “selfishness” that ordinary people cannot afford to be labeled with, is exactly the basic moral quality of the ideal “Economic man” in a capitalistic commercial society. It emphasizes that people only exists for themselves and the highest and realist purpose of life is to pursuit his own happiness. He will neither sacrifice others for himself, nor himself for others. To such neo-individualistic thinkers like Rand, the word of ‘selfishness’ only means the concern for one’s own interest. This is exactly the essence of morality, which is everybody has the right of existence for oneself, instead of for others; the relationship between people is absolutely independent and equal, without the division of masters and slaves in any forms. Just as what Rousseau said clearly in his book Emile, “The most, even the sole, natural passion is self-love, or selfishness in broader sense.” This selfishness is exactly the base of human existence.
In reviewing the history of Industrial Revolution, Ayn Rand concluded that “Professional businessmen and professional intellectuals were twins born to this world thanks to the Industrial Revolution. They both are the sons of capitalism and if one of them was harmed, so will the other one. However, ironically, they are destined to hurt each other. If we talk about the false side, it’s probably the intellectuals. ” From her point of view, only the capitalistic commercial economy can avoid getting into both the protestant model in terms of religion and the danger of hereditary model in terms of power. Fundamentally speaking, anti free commercial economy is anti human nature. The blindly opposition of the intellectuals against the capitalistic economy is a symbol of degeneration, which will only lead to the deviation of their objective stance and the meaning of their self-existence, and ultimately destroy the existing environment of their independence and freedom.
Guangci has never talked about Collectivism, but he mentioned the sensitive topic of market, and frankly recognized that his success is achieved with the assistance of ‘the power of market’. He thought that “he art market today not only excites me, but it is more like a mirror to reflect a true self of mine, just as it reflected the real face of countless artists, critics, curators, and all sorts of people involved in art. If an artist cannot think of today from tomorrow, he will become the slave of market… This is a part that I myself can control. Many people say that I have a talent for business, which has both positive and negative meaning. I know very clearly that I would have already died in this complicated Chinese art market without these abilities.” During an interview, when asked about his attitude towards consumerist culture, he replied, “I cannot say clearly whether I am against it or for it. In the past, my life was poor, plain and colorless. But now, I’ve got more color in my life, which is really nice. People always want more.”
His answers are very normal, but we can smell the social meaning in relation to his works. In a deeper sense, individualistic ethics is constructed upon commodity, or market economy. The primary premise of commodity exchange is that the exchange persons shall be independent individuals, who can release the product or buy the commodity, as well as release or gain the rights in his own name. Further more, commercial economy also popularized the concepts of freedom and equality. The concepts of individual rights, equality and democracy would not have prevailingly established, if it were not for a fully developed commercial economy. What’s more, commercial economy is tightly related to rights. The most reasonable social value judgment should be the public choice formed by democratic mechanism. Democratic mechanism can only emerge in the condition of commercial economy or market economy. Artists of course have no responsibility to concern these theoretical issues, but, without question, Guangci presented a gesture of intervention with his art. His choice is calm and clear-minded, thus open.

Part Seven

Whether Collectivism or Individualism, they both contain complicated meanings of various levels, in stead of just several issues that thinkers concern. We may take a look at economists’ view. In 1965, the famous institutional economist Mancur Olson published his well-known book The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, explaining why people would unite as collectivities. The book challenged accepted wisdom in Olson’s day that if everyone in a group has interests in common, then they will act collectively to achieve them. The book argues that individuals in any group attempting collective action will have incentives to “free ride” on the efforts of others if the group is working to provide public goods. Individuals will not “free ride” in groups which provide benefits only to active participants. The loneliness of Dongfang Bubai may be better understood through this point of view. He, as a leader, has no choice but to make the vicious cult provide special interests for its members, and accordingly, he has no way to become an individualist in Ayn Rand’s sense. The realpolitik deprived him of real liberty and happiness.
Let’s look at Guangci’s work The Last Supper: Sorrow from a new angle. Six little fat figures dressed in uniforms, sit around a leader with holy smile of worship. Nevertheless, the emotion clouding this collectivity can be called nothing but “sorrow”. Another work that is related to it is he Last Supper: Who Moved My Sofa? The red books scattering on the ground indicated that the past collective members have exit from the stage. Five figures are standing, while one is sitting, with an empty sofa in the front, referring to the ultimate symbol of power, which is also the ultimate source of their sorrow. The huge drum on which the figures stand painted this clown-like group with a color of absurdity. The point is, there will always come someone to move my sofa, and the significance lies on my sofa, while the one who was moved the sofa can only be degraded into some meaningless individual.
Let’s come back to Dongfang Bubai. He squats on the top of deadwoods, as if staying far away from the land, and accordingly closer to the heaven, where God and angels live, and where ordinary people lay their hope on. As mentioned previously, from Ayn Rand’s point of view, Collectivism will perish both God and thoughts. The God she mentioned here should refer to the power of final judgment, independent of the power principles in the world. The thoughts she mentioned surely refers to the neo-individualistic thinking. As a great ordinary human being, Dongfang Bubai also tries to get closer to the heaven, or imagines becoming an angel, or even directly transforming into God. Many think that Ayn Rand’s novels are Utopian, because the heroes in her novels are so independent that they act like God. But the problems is that human beings are no gods, and the problematic point in Individualism is exactly that few people know how to discover and construct the social reality as individuals, the social reality that has repeatedly been reflected in Edward Yang’s films: Nobody know what themselves want, and only if you tell them what they want, they will follow you and believe in you. This is a huge satire, as well as a problem in Collectivism. Many of us are so powerless, that they can only find the Archimedes point of the meaning of life by becoming a member of a group. In this point, Collectivism has strong inner relationship with theology and religion. As was generally believed by Western thinkers, Marxism is a seduced version of Jewish Christianity.
Thus, apart from Mourn over the Death of Christ, it is not surprising to see images of angels and shepherds appear in his works. However, the shepherd becomes a pig-herder, just as what written in the Bible, pig-herders will end up in the same fate as pigs. This saying can also be used to hit Collectivism. As to angels, it surely refers to the messenger between man and God. But not all that with wings are angels, they can be bird-men. Compared with the serious works of Angel and Female Angel, figures in Gold-banded Cudgel look like birdmen in some way. One little fat man with wings on his back stood on the head of another, each holding a Gold-banded Cudgel in hand. It is natural for us to associate it with the ideal of the monkey king to become “Great Sage Equalling Heaven”, which is also an ideal of man becoming God. The two little fat men may want to act as angels, but they probably forgot that angels are just media, who do not need Gold-banded Cudgels. It is trivial individuals who need to turn to Collectivity that need Gold-banded Cudgels.
There are two angels in Guangci’s works: an angel and a female angel. What’s interesting is both angels open their wings, but do not fly away. Instead, they sit firmly on the barstool, reminding the audience of the bars, symbols of consumerism. The trapped angels here can be seen as deep puzzles that Individualists face in the transforming era. The messengers who are supposed to connect men and God, seduced to birdmen. The artist solemnly grasped various “Metamorphosis” in this historical period.


Part Eight

All in all, Guangci called his series of work “Collectivism” in order to accurately depict historical reality in his creation, as well as the perspective of what he calls “Pan-politicization”.  Of course, the so-called “Pan-politicization” itself is a kind of historical reality which belongs to a certain period in China’s contemporary development as well as people’s ideological world.  In other words, it is “our” perspective, an image of collectivism.  In order to better understand his creative concept, it is important to clarify some questions regarding the notion of collectivism; nevertheless, an artist’s work is not an illustration of or messenger for certain ideologies.  Guangci does not aim to combat collectivism, nor does he want to establish a simple counter-balance with individualism.  The uniqueness of his “Pan-politicization” is precisely his attempt to “reveal the politicization of mundane life”, to point out the acknowledged “invisible hand behind”.  In this sense, his work is an observation of everyday life, and embodies a kind of “dark poetics” because of the juxtaposition of the commonplace and macro- and micro- politics.  There exists a kind of somewhat ridiculous “romanticism” under intense observation.  In fact, many of Guangci’s early works were titled Revolutionary Romanticism
For instance, the above-mentioned Even Pets Ascend to Heaven with Taoist Immortal in the series related to the sky, one of the two floats in air upside down, but grabs onto the other figure, whose right foot is still on the colorful ground, and holds on to the right ear of a little white pig, trying to take it on the flight as well.  The figure at the bottom seems to be smiling.  The work creates a sense of comicality without irony.  The question is, how is it related to “romanticism”?
If we look back to ancient legend and ask] why did those executed ascend to heaven?  The simple answer is “romanticism”.  Misfortune becomes legend, the executed went to heaven, the real became fake, the fake became tradition, which became part of classical culture. 
How can pets ascend to heaven?  It is because of one person’s accomplishment.  Of course ‘one person’ means the very few in the big collective.  If this “one person” did not accomplish as much, the pets would not have ascend to heaven.  Even though the pets have gone to heaven, they do not know what has happened.  Maybe this is the reason that the pet is represented by a pig in this piece – a fortunate pig but not an individualistic one.  Pig Herder of the same year expresses a similar depiction of the era when “revolutionary romanticism” was born and grew.  Thus Guangci uses this work to manifest the cruelty of politics and the romanticism of the notion of ascending to heaven, as well as the Taoist element in Chinese cultural traditions.  But most powerful is his close observation of the existential circumstances of people today.  His method of subtle expression makes one ponder. 

Part Nine

Guangci once commented on his relationship with this era as an artist: “I believe this is a grand era, but one that produces grand capitalists, grand commercial negotiators, scientists and politicians.  It is difficult for individual artists to come out.  But I am fortunate enough to be an observer of the major plays, or even an narrator, and I enjoy it.”  It is not weariness or dejection due to the background of Pan-politicization, but rather the definition of a more commonplace relationship between artist and the era.  According to Guangci, “no matter which society one is in, a unified world is a faulty myth, but exchange and interaction are as frequent as breathing.  Contemporary sculpture’s fate should not be affected by ancient monument or sudden breaks, it shouldn’t be an ‘either or’, but rather a detector of both.  It should elicit profound discussions on the spiritual life of people living in different eras, and solve the problem of art itself accordingly.

Artists also live in actual historical periods, are actual people living in the here and now.  They are human but in the previous era were regarded as “angels” because they allowed common people to discover beauty in their mundane lives, a kind of holiness that does not belong to the secular world.  But angels face a lot of practical problems, such as being able to exist only as agents, cannot interfere directly with human historical reality.  In other words, living in collectivism, artists as angels can only observe, are quite powerless.  In Tower of Songs by Leonard Cohen, the writer depicts this “shocking” scene: An artist is kidnapped by 27 angels into the Tower of Songs, could not get out and was forced to sing and observe the outside world from an window.  This image reflects the situation of contemporary artists: sometimes they are just observers, but they observe with their works.  In other words, their observation brings forth songs from the window. 
Like the singer in Tower of Songs, Guangci’s work manifests poetic sentiments different from Political Pop.  Such sentiments are not just subjective feelings and emotions, but also actualities in life and historical realities.  From this perspective, Guangci’s works show a clear resolution that is also reflected by his lifestyle (getting out of the system despite his success).  In this sense, his work does not only express what some call “post-modern attitude” or “elevated ease”.  Because of the changeability of history, his use of political symbols inevitably functions as antidote, but from another point of view, his dark poetics are also constructive for both the artist himself and the audience.  As the great Lou Reed sings, artists are our mirror.  As an observation of Pan-politics, Guangci’s “Collectivism” series is also a mirror.  The significance of mirrors is not in its reflecting ability, but that fact that it stimulates, evokes our desire to gaze, looking at the atomic self and the world as a background. 

 Hu BuShi
Frist written on 30 July 2007 in Xining
Modified on 10 August in Shanghai


GUANGO 2005-2007