Lt. Francis Meynell

Lt. Francis Meynell

 

Ann Hirsch: Playground at JOAN

Ann Hirsch: Playground at JOAN

 

“Paradiso: Performing The Renaissance”

“Paradiso: Performing The Renaissance”

 

William Kentridge

William Kentridge

 

Michael Beutler

Michael Beutler

 

Artes Mundi 7 selectors announced

Artes Mundi 7 selectors announced

 

Dispossession, a collateral event of 56th Venice Biennale

Dispossession, a collateral event of 56th Venice Biennale

 

Horace Pippin

Horace Pippin

 

Rachel de Joode

Rachel de Joode

 

Mariana Castillo Deball at Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca

Mariana Castillo Deball at Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca

 

Frances Johnston

Frances Johnston

 

Ilan Averbuch

Ilan Averbuch

 

Miriam Böhm: At On at Ratio 3

Miriam Böhm: At On at Ratio 3

 

your body is my body

your body is my body

 

Marc-Antoine Fehr

Marc-Antoine Fehr

 

New Zealand Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale—opening dates

New Zealand Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale—opening dates

 

Resolution 827

Resolution 827

 

#catcontent

#catcontent

 

The Space Between

The Space Between

 

Jordan Tate

Jordan Tate

 

Anarchic Color in Katharina Grosse’s Paintings

Anarchic Color in Katharina Grosse’s Paintings

 

Anna Franceschini at Kunstverein Düsseldorf

Anna Franceschini at Kunstverein Düsseldorf

 

Didier Faustino

Didier Faustino

 

Milan Design Week. Federico Pepe

Milan Design Week. Federico Pepe

 

And the Word Is… at Gershman Y

And the Word Is… at Gershman Y

 

Meyer Vaisman at Portikus

Meyer Vaisman at Portikus

 

‘Totally Happy’: Radical Chinese Theatre

‘Totally Happy’: Radical Chinese Theatre

Tian, who has been involved in Beijing’s independent theatre activities since the late 1980s, founded the Paper Tiger Theatre Studio in 1997. Since then, the company has produced many of his highly experimental works, which often incorporate improvisational techniques and dance movements. In the last decade, with the Chinese government’s investment in the development of the creative industries, the country’s theatre scene has thrived, thanks to newly built theatres and a nationwide online network of ticket sales. Yet Tian has remained an outsider from this system, which primarily presents and promotes entertaining dramas targeted at a mass market. Many of his productions can only be seen in his own studio or in international theatre festivals outside of China.

Totally Happy was realized as a co-production between Paper Tiger Theatre Studio, Münchner Kammerspiele in Germany and Goethe-Institut China, and was first staged in the Münchner Kammerspiele last October. The fact that the production could not be performed legally and publicly in China spoke volumes about the intricate politics of obtaining the right permission for any form of public expression. To highlight the fact that these two stagings had to be dubbed ‘internal rehearsals’ in order to keep the company out of trouble, Tian opened the play by standing up from his seat in the audience and giving a short speech about his ‘rehearsal’ approach – in this case as a deliberate artistic gesture. Throughout the performance, he occasionally made brief interruptions to give instructions to the actors or to ask them to re-perform certain scenes. In doing so, he became ‘part’ of the performance. Despite their necessity, the interruptions felt somewhat strained and obstructive to the production as a whole.

‘Totally Happy’: Radical Chinese Theatre

Photo: Liu Yin.

The initial idea for the play was rooted in Tian’s own childhood experience of growing up, according to him, ‘during the craziest period of “mass movements” in China.’ As Tian says:

‘Everyone, without exception, was swept away by this mass torrent. Since childhood, I was told throughout my education to become a tiny little “screw” in the grand revolutionary career; only in this way could a life become meaningful. Thus, the ideas of individualism and self were synonymous with “sin” and “filth”. Under this heavy, inevitable pressure, the idea of becoming part of the mass actually came from the fear of not being accepted by it, or the times.’

A research-based play two years in the making, Totally Happy took its title from a survey conducted with a randomly chosen group of Chinese people in their 20s and early 30s who were asked to describe their memories of a formative mass experience. As part of the research process, members of Tian’s studio carried out interviews and surveys, both with artists and scholars, as well as with a large pool of other people, about their perception of communal groups and their experience of the ‘mass’. As it turned out, the unanimous answer given by the younger generation of Chinese was ‘Fei Chang Gao Xing’ – ‘totally happy’.

The play itself was a mixture of genres and methods. Comprising a Chinese and European cast and crew, the production was an unusual collage unfolding in time, bringing together different texts and statements from news reports, research interviews, fiction, and documentaries, fragments of which became words and lines articulated by the performers. Both Chinese and German were spoken on stage, with translations appearing on screens at both sides. The movement on stage – both individual and collective – and the interactions among performers were based on stories, events, images and emotions drawn from research into the histories and phenomena of masses of various cultural and historical periods, in China and beyond. Their totality, as the director wrote, aspired to ‘an accidental encyclopaedia of mass performances in performance.’

‘Totally Happy’: Radical Chinese Theatre

Photo: Liu Yin.

For a Chinese audience, certain references were obvious: scenes alternately recalled pollution and the public fear of it; the panic of the SARS outbreak in China in 2003; the socialist revolutionary sculptures and figures in paintings that have adorned public spaces in China since the 1950s; a square-dance that is performed by thousands of small groups of middle-aged women in public squares across the country as a form of exercise; the desperation and suicide of a seven-member family; moments of revolutions, group excitement and blindness, and so on. Equally, references to Germany’s Third Reich were symbolic but highly recognizable.

The play, full of references to both historical and contemporary moments, and to Chinese and European contexts, did not proceed linearly. Rather, it was like an unravelling string of re-enactments and portraits of mass commotion and evidence of group mentality, sometimes charged with pointed forthrightness and deafening energy, other times filled with the poison of mutual destruction and distrust. The play presented the paradox of being an individual who makes up a collective, a condition that sometimes contradicts the needs of individual existence.

‘Totally Happy’: Radical Chinese Theatre

Photo: Liu Yin.

Ultimately, the ‘risk’ of staging such a production in China lies in its demonstration of deep disbelief in any form of ‘mass movement’. As such, the play contradicts the government’s mandate and persistent rhetoric for creating a harmonious front in Chinese society toward the outside world, and keeping the collective in order to defuse any threats to their power. Recalling the increasing number of uniformed and plain-clothes police force that have recently appeared across Beijing – even in public buses that run through some of the most heavily guarded areas, such as Tian’anmen Square – the cost of maintaining a unified ‘totally happy’ front is running higher and higher for the government.

Thanks to the electric performance of the cast and the exceptional, minimalist set design, the two-hour performance was evenly paced and remained engaging throughout. Perhaps most memorable was the lighting, which transformed the simple stage and cast the different scenarios with subtly different emotions. There is no doubt Tian has tapped into one of the most fundamental and relevant issues in Chinese society, if not in the global community today: the potential and yet the blindness and destructive nature of any large group or mass movement.

Carol Yinghua Lu

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Sebastian Stumpf

Sebastian Stumpf

 

Fan Mail: Paul Taylor

Fan Mail: Paul Taylor

 

STUDIO VISIT #32 – Martina Bassi

STUDIO VISIT #32 – Martina Bassi

 

Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson

 

Spring open studios 2015

Spring open studios 2015

 

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot

 

Longlist announced for the 2015 Sobey Art Award

Longlist announced for the 2015 Sobey Art Award

 

A Breathcrystal

A Breathcrystal

 

DO NOT BID OR BUY Meets DO NOT LIST OR SELL

DO NOT BID OR BUY Meets DO NOT LIST OR SELL

 

New Work Friday #187

New Work Friday #187

 

Michelangelo Pistoletto: A Reflected World, again

Michelangelo Pistoletto: A Reflected World, again

 

Glenn Ligon at Regen Projects

Glenn Ligon at Regen Projects

 

FEATURED ARTIST: Marysia Gacek, Gifts to the Glasgow Skies,…

FEATURED ARTIST: Marysia Gacek, Gifts to the Glasgow Skies,…

 

Jayson Musson creative project “Jamel” debuts Episode 2 today!

Jayson Musson creative project “Jamel” debuts Episode 2 today!

 

Frank Bramblett’s mysteries and miracles at the Woodmere Museum

Frank Bramblett’s mysteries and miracles at the Woodmere Museum

 

Mitchell Syrop at Croy Nielsen

Mitchell Syrop at Croy Nielsen

 

Helmut Smits

Helmut Smits

 

Patryk Stasieczek: Asking For It at FIELD Contemporary

Patryk Stasieczek: Asking For It at FIELD Contemporary

 

Anche le sculture muoiono / Sculptures Also Die

Anche le sculture muoiono / Sculptures Also Die

 

Aogashima

Aogashima

 

Call for submissions: Frieze Writer’s Prize 2015

Call for submissions: Frieze Writer’s Prize 2015

 

Design Oracles exhibition

Design Oracles exhibition

 

Drawing Ambience

Drawing Ambience

 

Shortlist for 46th PIAC (Prix International d’Art Contemporain / International Prize for Contemporary Art)

Shortlist for 46th PIAC (Prix International d’Art Contemporain / International Prize for Contemporary Art)

 

Slip of the Tongue at Punta della Dogana

Slip of the Tongue at Punta della Dogana

 

Imponderable: the Archives of Tony Oursler

Imponderable: the Archives of Tony Oursler

 

Pushing Strings: Jonas Lund Paintings At Steve Turner

Pushing Strings: Jonas Lund Paintings At Steve Turner

 

Müge Yilmaz

Müge Yilmaz

 

Luigi Ontani at Kayu

Luigi Ontani at Kayu

 

Bald Spot Comics by Gregory Labold

Bald Spot Comics by Gregory Labold

 

FEATURED ARTIST: Marysia Gacek, Marcel & His Shades of Blue,…

FEATURED ARTIST: Marysia Gacek, Marcel & His Shades of Blue,…

 

Facta – Gambiologia magazine #3. Hacker poetics

Facta – Gambiologia magazine #3. Hacker poetics

 

The artblog Reader Advisor

The artblog Reader Advisor

 

Rafaël Rozendaal at Postmasters

Rafaël Rozendaal at Postmasters

 

Adam Cruces

Adam Cruces