The Presence and Absence of Games:preface to 19 Games
Source:Artintern Author:Zoe Zhang Date: 2009-05-13 Size:
Last year, as I was preparing an exhibition with the United Nations Development Programme and Marie Stopes International, they suggested that we cooperate this year on a new, large-scale exhibition that would expand the connection between contemporary art and the greater social good. I thought


preface to 19 Games

  Last year, as I was preparing an exhibition with the United Nations Development Programme and Marie Stopes International, they suggested that we cooperate this year on a new, large-scale exhibition that would expand the connection between contemporary art and the greater social good. I thought, wonderful, the economy is in recession and the market has cooled down—the perfect time to focus on the mysteries of academically-directed exhibitions and find new ways to relate art to society, to make real contributions of time and spirit to the Chinese public good.

  Tempus fugit, Time flies. In the blink of an eye, Spring Festival passed, Valentine’s Day passed. Then, out of the blue one day I received my marching orders: the exhibition was to open on May 17. However, a venue still hadn’t been found. And although the budget was set, it was very limited since the recession also affected donations both in amount and losses in currency exchange.

  One week later, I found myself in the great capital of Chinese art—Beijing. I was very lucky: due to the recession, the weak art market and the fact that I never tried to swindle people in the art scene, I found a venue and contacted all the artists in ten days. With so much accomplished so quickly, we all sat down to eat, and, more importantly, drink.

  That is how it all started. As we brothers and sisters in art dined, one of the artists said to me, “I was given your proposal, and it seems to me to be all about the politics of the body.” I suddenly realized: politics of the body, sociology of the body—all things that were played out in the West in 1970s and in a recent spate of exhibitions here in China—too old-fashioned. After dinner we went to a pub in Wangjing to drink. We talked it over, from heaven to earth and back again, until I brought up the idea of war, which made everyone depressed. All of one’s fame and fortune, houses, cars, women and artworks, everything that one has suffered through and celebrated through, vanished in a puff of smoke. It makes you feel small and useless—what is the meaning of life then? In the end there’s just loneliness and instability.

  After I returned to the hotel, I flipped on the TV. Will Smith’s I Am Legend was on. In this film, New York is devastated by a deadly epidemic, forcing all of uninfected inhabitants to flee, except of course for the protagonist, who stays to look for a vaccine. On his birthday, an infected dog bites his dog, his sole boon companion, and he has no choice but to put him down mercifully. Our hero goes into a music store tries to talk to a plastic mannequin. Hello, he says, can you talk to me? I just want you to say Hello to me.

  Whether we are talking about disease, disaster, war, cultural divisions or interpersonal relationships, life is a similar call to communication, which in my view is also the core of this exhibition. Imagine for a moment that everyone in the world was HIV-positive or an AIDS patient except for only you, if everyone in the world was insane except for only you—you would feel the same. 19 Games naturally discusses the body, because some people deal exactly with the body, with human life and the various attitudes towards existence which confront us. When faced with natural disasters such as epidemics, frost, floods and earthquakes, as well as the ever-encroaching possibility of war, how should we behave, how should we feel, how should we cope?

  Of course, everyone’s reactions and coping mechanisms are different, a reflection of our individually different experiences of social realities such as politics, economics, military and culture. What might be the reasons for the existence and propagation, in past, present and future, of these social realities? Some people create rules and regulations while others live to break them. These are games, games of power, of money, of desire, of the body, of reality, of fiction, of metamorphosis (verwandlung), of differance and of aesthetics—which of these is not a game? A game has rules, rules define victory and defeat, which define gain and loss, which describe war, which breaks the rules. Breaking the rules means the creation and installation of new rules, forming a dizzying cycle.

  19 Games was conceptualized through just such a process. Derrida wrote that the game is one of presence and absence. Of our 19 games, there are 18 artists and 18 art works. The leftover “one” is the absent; it could be anyone, any work, anything you can imagine. Through their artworks, the selected artists show their attention to public health issues and threats to human life such as AIDS, as well as their concern for the conditions of human existence in the face of natural disasters, economic crisis, war and other catastrophic events. In Chen Chieh-jen’s Factory, it is unclear whether these factory workers are producing cheap manufactured goods or if they have themselves become inexpensively manufactured “lifestyle products” of the process of economic development. Cui Xiuwen’s adolescent girls have once again become a hot topic of news reports. In Xishui Prefecture, Guizhou, four teachers manipulated and forced 23 female students into prostitution. On the cover of this book I have thus noted a few statistics: total revenue: RMB 32, 350. Number of female students: 23. How many underage: 22. Number under 14: 6. Chi Peng’s work attacks the simultaneous unsettlement and voyeurism of most Chinese to homosexuality—suggesting that “normal” heterosexuality is a learned product. How long can Cai Yuan and Xi Jianjun continue to piss on Duchamp’s urinal? Gu Changwei’s And the Spring Comes is extreme and reflects cognitive dissonance, but his short film Helping Hometown Fellows moves us in its description of an AIDS patient’s courage. Hung Tung-lu removes the clothing covering us, leaving us face-to-face with just our bare hearts (and isn’t that enough?). Lu Qihong brings a fighter plane to the exhibition floor while Shen Shaomin replaces oil drills with Northern Chinese children’s toys, which I invite you all to play with. Sun Furong takes scissors to men’s clothing and shreds them. 3p plays the theory of relativity, but with the participation of AIDS patients. Xiang Jing has her work so “naked” that you just about ignore the skin. Wu Xiaojun uses a riot of neon lights to snarl, “I’ve had enough!” When will Yang Shaobin’s coal miners be able to change their destiny? Xu Bing translates and retranslates a line of Chinese until its meaning is completely hidden. Zhou Tiehai’s Necessity must be seen. Zhang Xiaogang has made a salve for the victims of the Wenchuan earthquake in Trace, an oil painting in pure colors to move pure hearts. Finally, Zuo Xiao Zu Zhou makes us truly “listen” to music again.

  Before there was civilization, there were games. Right through the present day, we discover these social realities staring us in the face. The rules of the game, and of this exhibition: participate as willing, learn the rules, use your courage, accept the results. But these rules aren’t just rules, they are also an attitude and a method to facing and solving the real problems in front of us. Every one of these 19 Games engages AIDS, health and the body as well as human life itself; at the same time, this exhibition encourages a light method to deal with heavy problems, and for both the present and the absent to take a free attitude and intuitive approach along with the body to bravely face the future together.

  I need to speak no further; haven’t you heard that “understanding is a game”?

  Let’s go play.

  Zoe Zhang

  Shanghai. April 12, 2009

[Editor] 晏旭