MMB: You are absolutely right. There are excellent performance artists you told me about. I did not know some of them until I saw exhibitions by, for example, RongRong and Inri, who worked on a photo series that shows the rapid change in Beijing’s urban development in the mid-1990s. They documented the vanishing of the old courtyard houses in Beijing’s city center. Until now about 90 percent of the historical hutongs have been destroyed and hundreds of people had to move, which caused an immense change in social life.
In the early 1990s RongRong collaborated with performance artists like Ma Liuming and Zhang Huan by documenting their performances. I was impressed when I saw photos of Zhang’s performance 12 Square Meters (1994). I see you in this tradition of performance art that developed during that time through artists that worked together in Dongcun, an artist village on the outskirts of Beijing.
Your work Heavy Rain reminds me of American artist Dennis Oppenheim, who did a piece called Reading Position for Second Degree Burn (1970). Oppenheim is lying in the sun with an open book on his chest and after five hours he got a terrible sunburn. A photo that was taken afterwards shows the sunburned skin. Only where the book was lying is the skin white and not burned. Have you ever heard about the work?
»There is no possibility to learn about one’s body, as there is no possibility to steal one’s body. The inspiring part may exist on how to understand the body, and get to know the body in natural, sexual, social, and political existence.«
XZ: Yes, I know the piece and I like Oppenheim’s works a lot. He really inspired me while I was thinking about transformational processes and how to make them visible. In Heavy Rain I tried to do something very similar. For 50 minutes, I was sitting in the sun, holding a wet book page in my hands. After a while my body starts to sweat and weaken in the midday sun. The opposite happens to the page, which slowly starts to dry. What really struck me when I heard about Reading Position for Second Degree Burn is the idea to »print« an open book on human skin by sunlight. It is very simple, we can get the work even with a few words, but it is marvelous! It is an extreme way of using the body and to expose it to nature. I have to say that if I just read the images, but never know the book Tactics, which was put on his chest, I would never have gotten the information in this performance Reading Position for Second Degree Burn.
Here, »body« exists with an identity including sexuality, sociality, politics. It is the opposite of the body in nature or natural body. If a body naturally belongs to someone, then I deny the inspiration from their body. I think performance is born from nature, because our body is born from nature. There is no possibility to learn about one’s body, as there is no possibility to steal one’s body. The inspiring part may exist on how to understand the body, and get to know the body in natural, sexual, social, and political existence.