2015.05.21 Thu, by Translated by: 虔凡
Calligraphy and Dim Sum in Venice

“The Writings of Today are a Promise for Tomorrow”: Zheng Guogu and Yangjiang Group (presented by Asia Now; curated by Martina Köppel-Yang; in association with the DSL Collection)

Palazzo Morosini (Campo Santo Stefano, Venice), May 7–Jun 28, 2015

Amid the crossfire of national pavilions and private foundations, many sideshows were presented around the Venice Biennale—this bacchanalia of self-serious art, socialites and Spritz along the Grand Canal. “The Writings of Today are a Promise of Tomorrow” launched with a party that was a curious mélange of art, food and design. Duddell’s brought in Chef Siu Hin-Chi (two Michelin stars) and his team from Hong Kong for an “unforgettable culinary experience”. Hong Kongers may arch an eyebrow, but it was certainly the best dim sum in Cisalpine Europe. Glass sculptures designed by Hubert le Gall were presented with Ruinart. But the focus of the show was the art and the artists Zheng Guogu and the Yangjiang Group, composed of Zheng Guogu himself, Sun Qingling and Chen Zaiyan.

Memorably labeled “dada with Chinese characteristics”, the Yangjiang Group has been waging something of minor rebellion against the strictures of contemporary art in China and beyond since 2002. Known for their drunken, anarchic calligraphy and performances, they have eagerly insisted on eliminating the boundaries between art and life—purportedly learning from everyday life through their varied practice of calligraphy, performance and social participation. On this, the jury is still out.

Here, they presented their installations of merchandise (shoes) frozen in wax—somewhat of a dirge on consumerism—along with a calligraphic performance in front of the public. And an entire room was playfully filled with inflated exercise balls written over with quotes from Das Kapital; like Martin Creed’s installation at Tate St. Ives, this was a real hit with the pre-school crowd (indeed, one tifosi—a child at heart—later kicked so excitedly as to shoot down the chandelier; the manager was not amused). Elsewhere, Zheng Guogu, himself a versatile artist, presented his energy diagrams, furthering his interest in Buddhism, cosmology and chakras. Something was mentioned about energy and vibration; no one really followed—but by then, the generous flow of champagne had kicked in and saved the day.

Ironies abounded, of course: Marxist quotes in a dogal residence acquired decades ago by Generali, or even the presence of the Yangjiang Group, with their declared peripheral status, here in Venice, this major mecca of contemporary art. What can we say, really? Engels himself was a rich industrialist, after all.

With exhibitions internationally (recently in Sydney’s 4A Centre for Contemporary Art), the Yangjiang Group is certainly making the rounds of the art world. Their self-proclaimed eremitic earnestness will surely be put to the test. Buchloh’s statement comes to mind, “All radical gestures within the framework of an institutionalized and industrialized high art production would inevitably and ultimately generate marketable artistic objects.” In this, as with their healthy turn from drunkenness to tea, the Yangjiang Group will just have to age with grace.

[Disclosure: the DSL collection is an investor in and sponsor of randian]