“Rauschenberg in China” at UCCA inspires performance art by students of the prestigious China Central Academy School of Experimental Art.
Young Chinese students of China’s Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) pay tribute to Rauschenberg’s legacy and draw on ancient Chinese literature in their collaboratively created five-part performance piece that involves a variety of costumes and props.
As part of its special programming during the exhibition entitled “Rauschenberg in China” (12 June – 21 August 2016), the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing invited first year graduate students of CAFA’s School of Experimental Art to come up with a performance.
Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) was not only a painter but also an installation artist, musician, dancer and performer. On several occasions he collaborated with the well-known composer John Cage (1912-1992) and dancer/choreographer Merce Cunningham (1919-2009) to produce a number of stage works. Their collaborative projects are regarded as avant-garde pieces of performance art that, at the time, were an early foray into a new and controversial art form.
The students’ performance was inspired by Rauschenberg’s three-week visit to China in 1982. During that visit, he collaborated with artisans from the Xuan Paper Mill in Jingxian in Anhui province. A further source of inspiration for the students was the breadth of Rauschenberg’s creative output, including a performance in Beijing’s Cultural Palace of Nationalities entitled The Duck Pond. The CAFA students titled their performance Somewhere Only We Know.
Somewhere Only We Know is adapted from the great Chinese poet Tao Yuanming’s (365–427) The Peach Blossom Springs, a work from the Eastern Jin period. It tells the story of a fisherman’s chance encounter with an untouched and isolated utopia whose inhabitants live in harmony with nature and are sheltered from the outside world. Even though on his return the fisherman told everyone of the paradise he had found, no one was ever able to find it again.
As the performers wind their way through parts of Rauschenberg’s ¼ Mile or 2 Furlong Piece (1981–98) in the Great Hall of UCCA, they draw on themes from The Peach Blossom Springs such as “oblivion, forgetting, imagination, and isolation”. The students were accompanied by their tutor, well-known contemporary artist and professor at CAFA Qiu Zhijie (b. 1969). Sound artist and CAFA faculty member Zhang Ziqian (b. 1976) acted as the director of these performances.
During act four the audience gets to see on a large-screen TV clips of one of the well-known performances that Rauschenberg played a major role in, namely John Cage’s Theater Piece No. 1, which was performed at Black Mountain College. According to the UCCA press release,
Theater Piece No. 1 has had a far-reaching influence and was considered a key starting point of the New York “Happenings”, although it has been difficult to precisely quantify its effects as original footage of the event does not exist.
The UCCA press release further states:
Questions posed to the audience by the organizers include: We wonder whether Rauschenberg saw Jingxian and its rice paper industry as the utopic Peach Garden? Was Rauschenberg the fisherman who burst into this isolated place? What happened to the Peach Garden when the fisherman left? What did the fisherman bring to the outside world? Would the fisherman find his way back to the Peach Garden? Was Black Mountain College, hidden within the mountains of North Carolina, the Peach Garden of American avant-garde art?… This performance is an interrogation of Tao Yuanming’s fisherman who strayed into the Peach Garden.
- Embracing diversity in art and life: “Rauschenberg in China” at UCCA – a conversation with the curators – June 2016 – Rauschenberg experts and curators Susan Davidson and David White join forces to create a powerful retrospective on the life and work of Robert Rauschenberg
- Thinking performance at Asia Contemporary Art Week 2015, New York – Leeza Almady interview – October 2015 – Director Leeza Ahmady speaks about the artists and the programming for “FIELD MEETING Take 3: Thinking Performance”
- Painting the conceptual” David Diao’s major retrospective at UCCA Beijing – interview – September 2015 – Art Radar speaks to the acclaimed New York-based artist as his major solo exhibition opens at Beijing’s Ullens Center for Contemporary Art
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- “My generation”: young Chinese artists on American tour – in pictures – July 2014 – Barbara Pollack curates an exhibition of post-Mao Chinese art, currently on show at the Tampa Museum of Art
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