Comment: Stupidity, Dwarfs and the Disintegration of Ritual

Guangci’s works always point to a hidden source. In other words, he always works on established pieces for deliberate adaptation and parody. His objects of parody are varied, including artworks, political figures, classic modeling, poster images, and public events. Sometimes he parodies a classic painting (The Invincible Eastern Warrior II), sometimes a master sculpture (Salute to Comrade Marini), sometimes a piece of classic modeling (Labor Dumb Million, Discus Thrower), sometimes a historical allusion (Last Dinner), and sometimes a public event (Tuantuan & Yuanyuan—what a funny title!) Why does he prefer parody? Through parody, Guangci implants his work within an historical, artistic or factual context. In this sense, these sculptures are by no means groundless creations. They always purposely signify something and respond to past history, memory and even reality. They always stretch their tentacles into the living history so that they can escape the rootless state and act as a sort of intervention into history. Moreover, parody is not only a dialogue with the parodied target but also a mockery of it. In this way, parody can express its attitude towards the target as well. Therefore, these sculptures constantly signifying history, in a sense, are also a reflection of it. Parody, as such, is a historicist statement. The question is: What kind of historical approach is it?

These parodied objects demonstrate a strong sense of ritual at all times and Guangci intends to place his characters in a ritualized state. Indeed, there is a naturally close relationship between sculpture and ritual since sculpture is one of the most convenient means of capturing ritual and sculpture itself is a solemn ritualized writing. The state of ritual is always an alert state, a mandatory state, an unrelenting and unusual state. The ritual is shrouded in special time and space and reveals its unique solemnity thanks to the extraordinary temporal-spatial nature. In turn, ritual as such, makes its surrounding time and space sedate as well. Around the ritual, a serious and solemn context is established and it mercilessly rejects our everyday lives. On the one hand, the ritual is opposed to all the daily acts; and on the other hand, we can also understand why the sculpture has been frequently dedicated to a large number of extraordinary heroes, celebrities and saints, because only they can surpass the commonplace daily status and it seems that only they can achieve eternal lives through sculpture. However, although Guangci has also carved such orthodox and solemn rituals, he has dedicated them to the dwarfs rather than the extraordinary figures. These people of different identities are all short, rounded, numb, idiotic, blind and empty, which are the typical characteristics Guangci’s dwarfs. His historical vision is completely covered with dwarfs—the great heroes in history or the ordinary masses, the noisy subjects of history or the blind and obedient followers of history. These dwarfs are so heavy, so ugly, so stagnant, and so devoid of laughter. They can never lightly and freely jump and dance —even some exaggerated gestures and postures cannot cover up their true features. These dwarfs’ eyes and spirits droop with rigidity and emptiness and all individual adventures, pride and excellence are dispelled. They have to organize together in groups to warm up and imitate each other and integrate themselves into a collective being and organize a ritualized collective life: they have neither their own private life nor their own everyday lives, which results in their grim and unsmiling numb faces. Thus the solemn condition of collective ritual still remains but the ritual unstoppably turns to its opposite. The ritual leads to its self-collapse and is reduced to sheer fun; seriousness turns into joke and solemnity becomes tease; and the revolution is transformed into a farce. Strangely enough, these works destroy the ritual by means of ritualized sculpture. Many of Guangci’s works can be traced back to the period of Cultural Revolution in which the convergence of everyday life and private life reflects the collective nature of ritual (Are the group of Knife Gang franticly engulfing and castrating a tiny individual?). In a moment when the ritual banishes the everyday state, the crazy masses and subjects of revolution strangely turn into dwarfs in spirit. Even those great historical heroes are eventually passed down in the same dwarfs’ faces. These dwarfs expose their stupidity in ridiculous postures.

Indeed, these ritualized figures in the artist’s works, these figures with their faces carved in solemnity and seriousness, these subjects of revolution who are repeatedly written of in history, eventually succumb to a ridiculous and stupid state. Force turns into farce, the great men into dwarfs, the revolutionaries into wood people, and the serious drama of revolution into comic plays. Till now we have to say, history is usually self-mockery, self-revenge: a solemn moment in history may be today's laughing stock; a moment of self-righteous truth in history is ridiculous today; and a peak moment of passion in history may also be subject to ridicule today. They are not only funny, but also stupid. These works all at once pull people’s feelings back to the sense of stupidity: How incredible that era is! How stupid! We have to admit that historical tragedy usually results from stupidity. In fact, people always refer to the violence and conspiracy in the Cultural Revolution, to the struggle of values and worldviews in that period, the fanaticism and stray, and to the tragic seeds in that period. Yes, all of these claims are reasonable in some sense. However in Guangci’s vision, this period of history is replete with stupidity. The Cultural Revolution has presented stupid experience to us. The heroes on the stage of the Cultural Revolution are various dwarfs and their stupidity is overwhelming. Those tragedies and farces, those overflowing young passions, those brutal power struggles, those sacred and dangerous conspiracies, those supreme ideals and fanatical faiths—Do all of these not originate from stupidity? Does history not glide in a stupid track? Maybe we can say that the most regrettable aspect of history is not violence, not illusion, not superstition, not conspiracy, but stupidity. All violence, fantasy, ecstasy and conspiracy are based upon stupidity and are stupidly self-righteous. Guangci’s creation is a convergence of stupidity, an encyclopedia of stupidity, in which the best expression of the dwarf as a hero of stupidity is ridiculous. There is no stupidity which does not lead to laughter: ridiculous actions, ridiculous thinking, ridiculous rituals, ridiculous beliefs, ridiculous violence and force, ridiculous leaders, and ridiculous people. We can even see the gaze, posture, gesture, clothing, skin, and irony, all these ridiculous physical states — there is no unfunny object— that is the effect of stupidity that we can see in Guangci’s works. These works are the correct exposure and ridicule of stupidity in which the Cultural Revolution shows us a meaningful scene: it is not a tragedy resulting from violence and conspiracy but from stupidity.

Therefore, Guangci's creations reveal a unique value: stupidity is the world's largest scandal. Once the stupidity climbs into the heart of history, the history will appear in a face of tragedy and people will become dwarfs without exception. Perhaps we should adopt a new division of history: wise history and stupid history rather than the progressive and reactionary ones. The artist’s creations aim to expose a history of stupidity to the world. Stupidity has acted as the core of history but it has a variety of performances. In the last era, we saw how stupidity went in company with the dwarfs. In fact, we have been bedeviled by stupidity all the time and never really got rid of it. Has the stupidity really slipped away out of the core of history today? Will a new kind of dwarf, a dwarf who is no longer dull and prostrate never appear once again? Even standing high, even on horseback, even living in the branches, the dwarfs can never change their ridiculous images—this is the impression the artist’s other works give us as he sometimes puts these dwarfs on the heights—in such works as The Invincible Eastern Warrior, Tuantuan & Yuanyuan, Salute to Comrade Marini, Golden Armour, Nothing Is Impossible, and Tall Man, it seems that the dwarfs no longer droop. However, as indicated by these works’ titles, these contemporary standing dwarfs are still ridiculous and stupid: Are they really tall men? Really invincible Eastern warriors? Do they really wear golden armor? They are embracing the branches, riding on horsebacks, or standing on a small pole and their foundation of such man-made height is bound to be fragile and doomed to collapse. If we say that the Cultural Revolution as an era of ecstatic belief, a highly ritualized and collectivized era, is destined to be reduced into a time whose belief and ritual would be mocked, would today, a faithless era, or an era in which "everything is possible" and everybody tries to "rise" and stand in a dominant position, also be mocked by the next era? Will history once again act in self-revenge? Will today’s abundant self-righteousness not be regarded as folly by the next era? Will today's heroes not once again become dwarfs in the next time?

Wang Minan


Angel with a mission