Death and Sexuality: A Lonely Studio Story
Source:Artintern Author:Feng Yuan Date: 2008-08-08 Size:
The special nature of the death is graveyard. The emperors in the ancient China were more fascinated with the palace after the death that is tomb. It is no strange because Chinese believe the existence of underworld.

 Tian Taiquan's work 

The special nature of the death is graveyard. The emperors in the ancient China were more fascinated with the palace after the death that is tomb. It is no strange because Chinese believe the existence of underworld. Additionally, there is no material differences between the tomb of noblemen and ordinary people who could only resigned to their fate. In the ancient China, the ordinary people did not fear of the difficulties in their lives but the grave after the death. The graves indicated different social position and statue, for example, the earth deposit might be built for a lower rank. Comparatively speaking, the stone carving tomb represented the position of the owner and also the home of soul. Nothing could be more suitable to express the thought of birth and death than Fengshui of Chinese. The death even has been endowed with the significance of economics by the reason that the ideal location of grave depends on geography, which would bring the political and economic benefits to their off-springs somehow. Gradually a group of men earned their livings on Fengshui observation, and the valuable lands with a good geomantic omen were fanned by the bereaved. The theory of graves developed as one of the influential regulations in the real society step by step. Therefore the traditional ceremony of the death was more like a process changing the body into family heritage. Every Tomb-sweeping Day, Chinese sweep the graves for the relatives. It has been taken as an invisible and solid spiritual connection between the live and the death. Additionally, most Chinese people wish the ancestors in the tomb could relax the potential superstrength to benefit later generations!

Contrasting with the revenant economy which is deeply rooted in the Chinese people's consciousness, Chinese grave completely occupies the reverse side of life world, it always locates in the wild place which far away from the cities and villages, and the typical scene of grave in the daytime is bleak, but at night it makes people dreads. Possibly because of the practical manners of agriculture national which extremely value the real life, the grave turns to be the public space of death without management in fact. In the endless dark night of Mediaeval Age, the hump entirely covering by graves are the stage for the ghosts fluttering and swinging; also is the origin of ghost stories frightening the children. Even if in modern times, the tomb is still the most frightened landscape on the earth. In the western world, the grave image in Mediaeval Age belongs to that natural sensitive Denmark Prince Hamlet. In Shakespeare's writing, beautiful death itself is beautiful --- Ophelia who deranged because she failed in love died in the brook sprinkling of flowers, but such chaste death in the view of church actually was abnormal, therefore Ophelia, as the nobility, did not have the qualification to be buried in the church tomb. This demonstrates another kind of death spatial landscape to us --- the wild tomb out of town. Borrowing the excellent dialogue between Hamlet and the gravedigger, Shakespeare outlines another sense of life and death which completely different from Chinese---this discussion regarding the death is the empiricism and also has the background of anatomy. Hamlet tirelessly inquired the gravedigger, how many years after burying human's corpse turn to corrupt. This causes the decayed mortal body to turn to the real diagnosis knowledge. When the gravedigger dug out a skull with falling chin from earth, and told him this is the favorite courtier for the King Yunick, who was buried 23 years, the skull has become the excellent symbol for jointing Yin and Yang, but this mark actually did not refer to the world of ghosts and gods, it was the anatomy evidence that the live person looks straight ahead the death.

Since death is unable to avoid, then the fear toward death only can be dispelled through explanation. How to explain the death is one of essential conditions for each kind of society when found the social approval. Since 20th century, the traditional death explanation gradually is substituted by one brand-new revolution ideology theory. The great leader once taught us: The person inherent as soon as dies, or again to Taishan; Or lightly to insignificant thing. In Mao’s words system, the individual death has obtained the abstract spiritual significance, in the revolutionary linguistic environment, death is no longer the vulgar death, and it is renamed as "the sacrifice". The common life always simply duplicates the process from lives to dies, but the sacrifice is dissimilar, regardless of death the conventional result, the sacrifice is the noble version of death --- can contributes to some kind of abstract will or the idea. In the sacrifice semantics, the death already does not belong to the common economy; also does not have pedant's anatomy connotation; it even also has nothing to do with the religion. The dying way resembles that of sacrifice is the ceremony of offering sacrifices in the ancient times, however because it is a ceremony, offering sacrifices has intense characteristic of exhibition, in the ceremony, the human body is the sacrificial offering to the gods and also is the symbolic mark to impel the live persons. Comparing with sacrifices offering, the sacrifice is an event but not a ceremony, no scene which beforehand prepares for the sacrifice. But this does not mean the sacrifice is more abstract compared to offer sacrifices, it needs the afterwards ceremony. Comparing with the ceremony before the death in offering sacrifices, the ceremony after the sacrifice has more formidable spiritual strength. The so-called "one person dropped down, the great amount people stand up", the function of sacrifice lies in using the individual death to duplicate the spirit of devotion, this pattern can be called "the sacrifice effect".


To pursue "the sacrifice effect", it must transform the sacrifice -like death into the spiritual ceremony which is worthy of memorizing. Because it is a ceremony after death, it is also renamed as the commemoration form. Never look down on the charm that the commemoration ceremony contains. The fleeting life merely relies on some kind of commemorative form, the physiological fear toward death can successfully sublimate into "the fervor career". In order to be commemorated, the people do not hesitate to become the sacrificial victim for some spirits --- these spirits frequently hang out national or the principle flag, it enables the capricious individual life no longer to fear the death, the going to die even regard the death as the career for pursuing loftiness and eternity. As the easy rotten mortal body needs the grave to take the spatial symbol, the victim’s eternal spirit also needs place to indicate its existence --- this is --- the monument. Benedict Anderson has said: Nothing can distinctively display the modern nationalism culture, but the unknown soldiers' monument or the memorial park. These mementos having been entrusted with public and ritual respect, is because they originally are sedulously molded...... Although in these memorial parks do not have the mortal remains or the immortal soul which can be indicated or confirmed, they are stuffing the spirit nationality's imagination. He also said that, If we try to imagine, for instance, “Tomb of unknown Marxian” or “Cenotaph of liberalism”...... Does it possible to let people feel absurd to make such imagination? After all, the Marxism and the liberalism all not care about the death and immortal. Perhaps Anderson only said half right, if he have saw the revolutionary upsurge occurred in China 40 years before, saw the other hundred and thousand of martyrs’ cemetery like Chongqing the Red Guard Memorial Park, then he should rewrite the definition of monument. Obviously, the monument and the memorial park not only belong to the unknown nationalism heroes, they are also the mark tools for revolutionaries to explain the sacrifice value.

Recollection is an affirmative way of death in the macro-view. Because of the memorial ceremony, people are encouraged to overcome death with great passion. The more necessary overcome, the more essential recollection. On the contrary, the so called recollection would be broken down absolutely if its form were only a desolate scene. On the background of the contradiction between recollection and lapse of memory, Tian Taiquan’s works came into birth, which created series amazing photographic works of graveyard of red army in Chongqing. Tian Taiquan, the artist with foresight and forethought, is trying to explore the recollection and lapse of memory.

I have to say my unwillingness to recall the 39-year mysterious history, if I have not seen the works of Tian Taiquan who collected his photographic materials from the only established graveyard of red army. It is quiet unusually that the graveyard, the unique specimen has been there till nowadays. It would only be a graveyard in the eyes of modern people. Nevertheless, thanks to the existence of such a graveyard evoke the imagination of the horrified experience, the recollection of the political events. All monuments and graveyards recorded a particular period of history whose function consisted in reminding the modern people look back. In the meantime, Tian Taiquan’s photography built up the multiple appearance of the past in the front of us in a mysterious way. Indeed, the way to re-expression was much more significant than the so called history itself. The monument and grave means a suitable place to bury in Archeology, which are the material evidences left behind. The gloomy grave represented another kind of logic that the purpose of recollection was preventing lapse of memory. When the memorial material evidence pasted away, both the brief and spirit would be gone. In my opinion, the focus is not the ruined graveyard itself, but the questions asked by Tian Taiquan were closed to the graveyards. Most importantly, the way to ask went beyond personal arts creation, composing an set of explanation of history and its evidences.

Lots of doubts were proposed in Tian Taiquan’s works by the means of reconstruction, superposition and collage, such as recollection and lapse of memory, death and sexuality, faith and body, sacrifice and unjust case etc.,. The graveyard played the fundamental key of Tian’s works. The graveyard was still the witness of history, but the solemn of monument had been past away. It was more likely an entrance of underworld filled with gloomy. In the fact, Tian Taiquan rebuilt a moment of unofficial history and a sense of loneness from the authorized history and dignity of the graveyard. On the other hand, the logic of his representation could also be verified that the death became sexuality and the dead body became the fresh figure. Nevertheless the hero of Tian Taiquan is not graveyard but ghost, especially female ghost. These indistinctly delicate figures were planted the ruined graveyard, as if packed both soul and sexuality into a somber world. The underworld established by the fanatical revolutionists told the story of revolution in a lonely studio version.


Nothing but graveyard reflects the national spiritual secrets. In this way, the scenes in graveyard recorded the national understanding of the death. Tian’s photography was filled with dreadful fear definitely. Additionally, the national subconscious was announced much clearer by the description of the female ghost rather than the graveyard. The commixture crawled from the cracked graveyard who might have done harm to others or been harmed by others. On the one hand, they played the role of evil with the illusion of sexuality; On the other hand, they played the role of ferocious ghost with rancor in the real world where they had ever been.

The death is horrified for its unpredicted, being saint for its recollection. The changeable dual natures make human being to hold ceremony to the death, which might clear up the confusion of the alive. Chinese are used to balance the relationship between the underworld and real world. When they hold the funeral ceremony and sweep grave, they burn the underworld currency, paper-made house and necessities to the death meanwhile worship the real fruits and foods in the front of grave too. Chinese’s views of life with realism and also uncertainty are easily to see from such a genuine and sham game. It is no denying that comparing with the invaluable paper-made house etc. artificial properties; it is much more appealing of linguistic expression. In my opinion, Chinese understand totally that the food play the function of both sacrifice and use. That is why the food would be served on the table after the ceremony, but underworld currency, the fake money could be burned generously at last. The significance of recollection has been set in the dilemma between truths and false that it is a way to memorize the death on the surface, but be for the alive in the essence.

Between the recollection and lapse of memory, may floating soul rest in peace! May soul dwelling in the ruined graveyard rest in peace!

[Editor] Zhang Shuo