|The earliest performance piece of Bai Chong-Min that I knew about was Lugu Lake, which was a collaboration with Wu Wei-He in 2002. It was part of the “Long March” projects on feminism. It could be easily concluded from Lugu Lake that the cloth dolls and clothes styles were all making an analogy to the “body bundling and packaging” approach, which was popular in performance art in 1980s. Lugu Lake took place in the context of regional tradition: the funeral ceremony of the Mosuo matriarchal society in Li Jiang, Yunnan Province. Bai was invited in 2005 to do a piece, The Selling of Tao Te Ching, as part of the Performance Project of Da Shan Zi Art Festival, and carried out in the 798 Art District.|
The earliest performance piece of Bai Chong-Min that I knew about was Lugu Lake, which was a collaboration with Wu Wei-He in 2002. It was part of the “Long March” projects on feminism. It could be easily concluded from Lugu Lake that the cloth dolls and clothes styles were all making an analogy to the “body bundling and packaging” approach, which was popular in performance art in 1980s. Lugu Lake took place in the context of regional tradition: the funeral ceremony of the Mosuo matriarchal society in Li Jiang, Yunnan Province.
Bai was invited in 2005 to do a piece, The Selling of Tao Te Ching, as part of the Performance Project of Da Shan Zi Art Festival, and carried out in the 798 Art District. Wearing a straw hat, dressed in a low-necked-no-sleeve jacket with a Chinese character “Fan” (贩) on the back, Bai was peddling while pushing a tricycle carrying pottery bricks engraved with text from Lao Zi’s Tao Te Ching. The Communist Party of China called on all its members to “keep the advanced character,” and its leader even brought forward a principle of “ruling the country with virtue.” Bai executed his ideas in a way of selling daily products along the streets. Unfortunately, Bai’s performance was stopped halfway by the 798 security guards who had no “political consciousness.” Regardless of the content of the work, the method alone could not be accepted by people in charge of the 798 Art District. It was clear that the lowest level of social administrative management was alarmed by Bai’s realistic way of acting as a hawker. Obviously, selling mainstream spiritual products only works in proprietary channels, and cannot be performed by the general public as a career. In today’s China, where contemporary art is gradually being generalized, performance art in a social environment regardless of its concept, is still the most sensitive way to touch people and reflect reality.
Another performance piece of Bai Chong-Min, Dark Clouds, created in 2006, was part of the 4th 798 Da Dao Art Festival. The inspiration for Dark Clouds came from Bai’s personal experiences. His house, located in a rural area, was surrounded by the pollution coming from neighboring factories, which affected the daily life of the local people, but complaints were never taken seriously. Using many black balloons to represent pieces of floating dark clouds, Bai regarded them as a symbol of environmental pollution. Helplessly dodging dripping ink from the “clouds,” Bai succeeded in not only expressing the awkwardness of his situation (living in a polluted environment), but also alarming people about the worsening environmental problems today. In Dark Clouds, Bai portrayed himself as a victim, which is a typical, appealing way of expression in performance art. This was also reflected in another piece Big Rats, which has the same title as an ancient poem, and took place in a performance art camp called “Joint in June” in 2007. The poem Big Rats, originally from Poems in the Wei County in The Book of Songs, was a masterpiece in ancient China. Recreating the poetic imagery of Big Rats, Bai was covered in mud, carrying on his shoulder a big rat made of sacks that weighed over 80 kilograms, running in circles on the same spot until he fell over on the ground. With Big Rats Bai criticized the problem of serious corruption in China today.
Ji Xiang was performed in Open Performance Art Festival in 2009. Bai invited eight artists to participate in this performance. Completely naked and covered in ink, Bai pushed against other artists, male and female, all naked, and of different nationalities. In this process, the ink on Bai’s body was passed onto the other participants’ bodies. In the past three decades in China, mass nudity performance art pieces such as The Anonymous Mountain Raised by One Meter (1995) and @ 41 (2005) were basically executed according to a specific plan. The participants shared the same concept and vision; the implementation process was easily under control; the sites of the performance were in the field without any audience. While Ji Xiang was performed with fixed rules, all the participants were collected on site as voluntaries, including artists, staff members, and visitors. The venue was a public exhibition space (798 Art District) where the audience gathered, and the participants could improvise. In this piece, we can see the participants enjoyed the intensive movement with their free bodies. For the performance artists, a free body represents the basic attitude of using the body as an artistic medium. Employing their body freely has become a statement for performance artists against social and political taboos, and Ji Xiang is a perfect example of this.
In the past thirty years, Chinese contemporary art has a habit of implanting social issues into artworks, which is an academic tradition of Chinese intellectuals. At a time when the recession is affecting the art market, the relationship between Chinese art and the reality in China today should be re-examined. There is no doubt Bai’s performance offers a new aspect for this re-examination. Performance art is not only a method of experimental art, but also a source of inspiration for the spirit of freedom. It conveys an artistic temperament of “to be brave to be the first.”