Qì Qiú, 2014
New World Art Prize, Kensington Contemporary Galleries
curated by Del Kathryn Barton & Ross Harley
In the winter I arrived in Beijing a Chinese entrepreneur began selling fresh air in soft drink cans for 5 yuan a pop. My favourite atmospheric flavour was 'Pristine Tibet' and every morning on my way to work I'd buy one from Mr Chen, the street-seller on Huixin Dongjie. In truth I had a total lost in Kyoto breakdown when I first arrived. No clean water, no clean air, skeletal trees bleached from the negative temperatures and a sandstorm rolling in from the rapidly expanding Mongolian desert. This new world frontier was based on an unsustainable rate of production and the view from the window of my tenth-floor communist apartment building was of a barren and dusty cityscape choked with toxic smog.
The city is built on a chessboard structure with the most important landmarks situated along the spine of a clipped dragon. The Temple of Heaven Park was down near the coccyx, directly south of the Forbidden City. Here the trees were built in rows of 9 and marked with a number. The city if based on a system of control where anything visibly outside the realm of the CPC's code of reason is 'harmonised' away - sometimes with a scalpel, sometimes with a hammer.
Yet there are humans who live within this artificial world. They appear ordered and reasonable but outside the 9-5 they become chaotic and unpredictable - the strangest and most beautiful expression of human resilience.
They flock to the parks - the closest anything inside Beijing's ring road is to a rural-fringe area...a place where the "order, law and discipline of the rational world meets the nature, disorder and aimlessness of the natural world..."* A space where, for at least a time, a blind eye is turned and the tensions of modernity unwind in moments of collective insanity.
Every activity is undertaken with an incredible sincerity and a sense of creative presence. The introduction of a qì qiú (balloon) to a game of poker, a sword practice session or a temporary ballroom is not questioned or seen as suspicious but treated as perfectly natural. The balloon (inflated air wrapped in colour and perhaps the most magnificently useless object you could find) is a new toy to engage with - a symbol of arbitrary fun.
As Nieztche said '...and those who were seen dancing were thought insane by those who could not hear the music.'
*This idea of the urban-rural fringe is an idea explored by the Chinese artists Gong Jian and Li Jinghu. They founded the Urban-Rural Fringe group in 2012.
Images of the exhibition install.