Born in China in 1956 and 1962 respectively, Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi have been living and working in the United Kingdom since the 1980s. Cai Yuan trained in oil painting at Nanjing College of Art, Chelsea College of Art and the Royal College of Art. Jianjun Xi trained at the Central Academy of Applied Arts in Beijing and later at Goldsmiths College. They started working as a performance duo in the late nineties with their action Two Artists Jump on Tracey Emin’s Bed (1999) at Tate Britain’s Turner Prize Exhibition.

Mad For Real (Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi)’s oeuvre has continually questioned the relationship of power to the individual. Using a position of resistance Cai and Xi have consistently produced work which is necessarily oppositional yet the warmth and humour of their work also acts to draw viewers in. their performance have taken place as radical gesture calling to mind notorious artists of earlier radical art movements but the historical, linguistic and political context of their practice is often related specifically to their origins: China.

Exhibitions include Silent Energy, Museum of Morden Art Oxford, 1998, Cities on the Move (Hayward Gallery) 1999, Shanghai Biennial 2000, Venice Biennale 2001 and Touring London (IniVA). Their film Two Artists Piss on Duchamp's Urinal was shown at the 9th Biennial of Moving Images in Geneva, and Dazed Eye, a film commissioned by Dazed & Confused and Film4, was shown in La Foret Arts Space, Tokyo. Cai & Xi`s Soya Sauce and Ketchup Fight performance show at the Liverpool Biennale 2002, a video screening in Live Culture at Tate Modern, Wandering Library for the 50th Venice Biennale and Sauce performance shown at the Prague Biennale 2003, and also a short film Monkey King cause havoc in the Heavenly Palace commissioned by British Museum 2004.Transposition, Office for Contemporary Art Norway; Apple of My Eye, V&A Museum, London; Dou-pi-gai: struggle criticise reform, performance, Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt, Berlin 2005; Vital int`l Performance Festival, Orbiz Square, Manchester; Point to the East, Strike in the West, photograph and performance, 798 Dashanzi, Beijing 2006; Transfiguration, performance, LTB Foundation, London; Legacy, Rossi & Rossi Ltd, London; Mad For Real Film, BBC big screen, Clayton Square, Liverpool; Soya Sauce and Ketchup-Universal Project, Louisiana Museum for Modern Art, Denmark 2007.

Their recent exhibitions include: Aircraft Carrier Project, Tokyo Gallery+BTAP,2009. Beijing English Lounge, Tang Contemporary Gallery, Beijing, 2009. The Global Contemporary - Art World after 1989, ZKM, Karlsruhe,Germany,2011. The Blood in my Hands, Kunstverein Ludwigsburg, Germany 2013. Scream, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 2013. Duchamp and/or/in UCCA, China 2013. Scream, Shanghai Tang, Hong Kong 2013.

Perform, Repeat, Record 2009

by Amelia G Jones

Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi, Two Artists Jump on Tracey Emin’s Bed, 1999, Tate Gallery, London. According to their website ( this intervention took place during the Turner Prize exhibition, for which the Emin was being displayed; Cai and JJ were arrested and then released without charge.

Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi, Two Artists Piss on Duchamp’s Urinal, 2000, Tate Modern, London. Their website notes: ‘This intervention took place on Duchamp’s iconic work Fountain in Tate Modern, the urinal which revolutionized the concept of modern art in the twentieth century. The artists employed the concept of Qigong, channelling the internal energy after storing it for a few hours before releasing their Qi (spirit). They intended to broaden the context of the urinal, with the suggestive act of pissing on it to celebrate the spirit of contemporary art. Subsequently the performance was made into a film commissioned by Dazed & Confused/FilmFour.’ In fact, the artists could only piss on the vitrine in which the Fountain was fetishistically contained and protected in its vaulted status of high art.

Faichra Gibbons, “Satirists Jump into Tracey’s Bed,” The Guardian ((25 October 1999). Both performances were extensively reported in the UK and international press, further extending the performative reworking of the meanings of the two major works of art.

Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi were both born in China in 1956 and 1962, respectively, and have been working in Britain since the 1980s.[1] Once of their first performances as a collaborative was their 1999 ‘intervention’ in Tracey Emin’s Bed (1999). They have been working together since that time producing radically political works that intervene in various contemporary political narratives and belief systems.

Cai and JJ’s performative ‘interventions’ shift the cultural meaning of both major works of art, Duchamp’s Fountain (1917) and Emin’s Bed, changing their meaning and their place in cultural history. The numerous newspaper accounts of Cai and JJ’s Two Artists pieces further exemplify the way in which successful acts of intervention gain their own narrative momentum, in turn transforming the historical understanding of the ‘original’ objects.

More specifically, both of the interventions illustrated here engage with works of art that already challenge the definitions and cultural value attached to ‘high art’. Duchamp’s readymades were epochally important as found objects he put in the context of aesthetics (the art gallery or juried exhibition[2]) during the period of high modernism to put pressure on definitions of art as autonomous from the social realm. Emin’s Turner Prize project, which infamously offered her actual bed, replete with stains and rumpled sheets and documented with tales of her sexual exploits, once again in the context of high art, reiterates this set of questions from a postmodernist, feminist point of view. If Duchamp’s presentation of a mass-produced plumbing fixture as ‘art’ in 1917 questioned modernism’s assumption that art involved skill and the hand of the ‘genius’ artist, then an installation documenting a woman’s sexual encounters in 1999, placed in the highly rarified space of the Tate Modern, claims a different shifting of boundaries between the aesthetic and lived experience . And to intervene in both works (per Cai and JJ’s project) is yet again to question value judgments attached to institutions such as the Tate and the Turner Prize show.

By aggressively performing the works as objects to be used (as in the urinal) or played with and on (the bed), Cai and JJ rearticulate the questions originally posed by Duchamp’s readymades and posed in a different way by Emin’s feminist project: what are the boundaries between everyday use value and aesthetic value?; what are the boundaries between art and life? They point particularly dramatically to the way in which Duchamp’s anti-aesthetic gesture had (by the year 2000) been so thoroughly aestheticised that it had come to represent one of the most celebrated objects in the Tate’s collection. The paradox of this status of Fountain lies in the fact that Duchamp’s gesture was to erase the use-value of an industrially made object and call it art, clearly with his tongue in his cheek; remaking the lost urinal in the 1960s, he further ironicised the fetishisation of the art object as an ‘original’ expression of a genius-artist’s intentions.[3] . Re-capturing the spirit of the readymades in the late twentieth century, Cai and JJ reverse Duchamp’s gesture—resolutely insisting on the urinal’s use value to point to the artificiality of its designation as high art. In so doing they retain the most crucial critical tension of the original act of the readymades (which were performative in that they involved an act of choosing, which, rather than skill or other processes that would result in a final fixed object, made them ‘art’).

When interviewed about the Duchamp intervention, Cai noted, ‘the urinal is there - it's an invitation…. As Duchamp said himself, it's the artist's choice. He chooses what is art. We just added to it.’[4] Far from ‘just adding to it’, actually Cai and JJ profoundly (if subtly) shift the terms of its place in history. This is a ‘re-enactment’ of a still work of art that opens out the performative dimension through which it originally challenged in the most radical way beliefs about art. To return even a vestige of the radical to such a now canonised work in 2000 is no small thing.
[1] For this and other information on the artists and their work I have drawn on two sources: their website ( and the catalogue, Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi, Mad for Real (London?: Carrots Press and Mad for Real, 2005).
[2] Duchamp signed the Fountain ‘R. Mutt’ and submitted it, infamously, to the Society of Independent Artists exhibition in New York, which, although it claimed to be unjuried, rejected the ‘urinal’ and removed it from the exhibition hall. The ‘original’ Fountain was lost in 1917 but Duchamp made a number of replicas in the 1960s, of which the Tate’s Fountain is one.
[3] The Fountain was voted the most influential object in the history of art by 500 British artworld professionals (see ‘Duchamp’s urinal tops art survey,’ BBC News, 1 December 2004; available on-line at One of the replicas was sold in the USA at auction in 2003 for almost two million dollars; see Francis Naumann, ‘Marcel Duchamp: Money is no Object,’ Tout Fait issue 5 (2003);
[4] Cited in Nick Paton Walsh, 'It's a new Cultural Revolution', The Observer Sunday June 11, 2000 The Observer

I Miss Us - realigning oneself constantly or new alignments concurrently 2009

By Shaheen Merali
The Game of identity is an endless search looking for routes- ways forward; a simple quest yet one that eludes our every move, swirling above and below our body, like a roaring sea we become washed out in the rush.

The Game of identity is the earth itself, spinning around us whilst we are flying in the sky above and crawling on the ground itself, falling all about in a dizzying madness. The Game of identity- a constant goodnight spoken in different places, dreaming all of our dreams at once, worrying about all things, closing our eyes to all of our hopes and awakening to all of our predicaments.

Life as a historic image:
The history of art is indebted to those fragmentary, but explicit statements that have been made at times of political and social hypocrisy, widespread war and genocide, by Goya and Hogarth, Kollwitz and Heartfield. They all embody the essence of the great statement made by Hannah Arndt, “Never Again”. Yet, here we are again, seemingly resourcing and feeding the largest accumulation of weaponry and killing machines ever designed. Artists have been invaluable to society in recording such turbulent, acrostic contiguities and are able to then seize on that moment to the absolute in its vindication. Without the work of such visionaries, we would remain acquitted of those crimes committed in the holocaust and the genocides that surround us. If it were not for the photographs, we would not have known of the existence of Abu Ghraib, “For a long time -- at least six decades -- photographs have laid down the tracks of how important conflicts are judged and remembered. The Western memory museum is now mostly a visual one. Photographs have an insuperable power to determine what we recall of events, and it now seems probable that the defining association of people everywhere with the war that the United States launched pre-emptively in Iraq last year will be photographs of the torture of Iraqi prisoners by Americans in the most infamous of Saddam Hussein's prisons, Abu Ghraib”. (1)

So images are key, even if they are images that have been leaked, in allowing us to understand the real construction of our times. The question remains: will we ever acknowledge that it is us who are committing these atrocities, these unspeakable acts of misogyny and horror? Or will it always be someone else? The "Other" who so conveniently and silently bears the untold consequences of our hurried and hypocritical accusations?

In the recent work, by Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi, One World One Dream, also known as the Aircraft Carrier Project, these very strands are singled out: “the aircraft carrier can be read as the object of the ‘fantasy of power’. The sentimental notion of the ‘dream come true’, encapsulated by the American ethos, can be seen as mirrored onto the highest level of governmental game-playing.” (2) The 17.8% rise in Chinese defense funding alone in 2007, which would amount to 350.92bn Yuan, an increase of 52.99bn Yuan, has had many correspondents question China’s defense policy beyond seeking to modernise its huge but often poorly-equipped military forces but is in actuality targetted to build and to purchase new ships, missiles and fighter planes in the competitive desire to emulate the Americans.

One World One Dream is a complicated and spectral sculpture, of a single aircraft carrier, at seven meters long, is a replica of the USS Enterprise, itself a grandiose statement about the power that can be employed by military might and prowess to conquer and to maintain conquest. It is worthwhile recalling the works of Chris Burden, specifically The Reason for the Neutron Bomb (1979) and Cost Effective Micro-Weaponry
 and Related Machines
(1983) which have an affinity to the intentions behind the mediatic shift in Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi, One World One Dream sculpture. Whilst the similarities are uncanny to Burden, Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi have shifted their energies from laborious performances which have been full of pathos and laughter that often turns to grief and are tests of endurance and moved towards large scale sculptures and installation environments; In 2000 Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi crawled through central London; a similar act of crawling but on broken glass was executed in Los Angeles by Chris Burden in 1973; Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi hung naked, upside-down, and sang the British national anthem in 2004; in a similar fashion many of Chris Burden’s “performances operate as commentary on social order and the government’s political and economic control over its people.”(3) The current work, in Games of Identity, depends on salvaging the relics of the performances as documentation that has been re-created as ‘miniatures’ or paintings to present the audience with a guided tour of their subverting intentions. The Soya Sauce and Ketchup painting, Running naked across Westminster Bridge with Tony bear photograph as well as the Happy and Glorious and Piss on Duchamp’s Urinal mix media sculptures, remain points of referents of acts of violations, both of power and the body. The power found in creating images, as Chris Burden and Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi have come to realise is to re-appropriate their testimonial component and, in a psychoactive shift, to allow a secondary or repetitive experience, for new audiences and to add to the constant fiction of writing available in the contemporary archive.

Life as a constant image:
The image and the transmission of the image, in its current pernicious state of velocity, combined with a fathomless audience, has become a source of daily reality for most users of technology. E-mails, mobile phones, search engines and even navigation systems propel images towards us throughout our daily waking hours and generate even more during our nocturnal hours. No longer are images confined to photographic tools but lens-based technology has become pervasive, routinely subscribed to, without a second consideration. Prior to this plethora of images, the decision-making time span was attached to their presentation or recording capacity. No longer are we dependent on secondary sources such as the photographic laboratory or other specific technologies for their retention, development or processing. Images are produced in one instant and disseminated within the next. The power to move and communicate with others has already reached beyond most people’s ability to consume or analyse that which is handed over in a single hour, let alone during the course of the day. The history of importing images is not a contemporary condition; it was always with glee that we received, a collectable, a postcard, a souvenir or photographs from travels and thus, by implicit or explicit simile, the world. Images were, and remain, the notations of the world, a consequence that can account for the state of the world and one which can help to multiply our identification even boost our significance in a mimetic process.

The use of images in this loose way provides one of the intriguing ways to consider and understand many of the interventions and performances by Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi, also known as Madforreal (professionally). Their primary source of recorded images is generated from their public interventions, captured haphazardly on clandestine cameras which have often been smuggled into institutional spaces, where their action on monuments and guarded cultural artifacts is recorded and then distributed using existing networks including journalism and even social networks.

Is it documentation? Or a recording? A question that has been asked of their performance works since 1999. Their first and most infamous performance, Two Artists Jump on Tracey Emin's Bed, 1999 at the Tate Gallery, London, is, in retrospect, disturbingly construed both as a criticism and an act of taking advantage of the convergence of celebrity as status in contemporary British popular culture. Both of these readings still remain important in terms of the current frenzy that reality spectacle generates; a tumultuous inertia that journalists drool upon and the mass are fed as daily fodder.

Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi’s selective and impertinent act of jumping on the infamous Young British Artist Tracey Emin My bed, which had already received an infirmed critical reception for the Turner Prize entry, was an act of palimpsest expediency and one of taking advantage to vent their concerns.

Imagine a scenario- an ordinary king-size bed soiled and bounded by condoms and remnants of a drug seduced life further tinged with the despair of an attempted suicide, was suddenly and further mired by two Chinese artists living in the diaspora, who decided to use it as a trampoline.

There are two interesting details about the way that the “British” as represented by the security guards and press reacted to the intervention. Primarily, the guards thought that Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi were Kung-Fu experts, so decided to take their time in disarming the intervention and secondly, their shirtless antics were seen purely as a protest “to call attention to the presence of Chinese artists in the UK..... As well as to expose the sensationalism of contemporary British art and its press”. (4) This may be a reductive reading, partly due to the nature of the work as resolved by the two artists, in handing out leaflets prior to the performance and the subsequent expose of their bare chests that were covered in words ending with ‘isms’. - sexism, stuckism, modernism etc

In such a work, many attempts have to be made in order to reach some conclusions. Initially, we can be left with not much to contemplate beyond its didacticism, as was the case for the press who had only just encountered this, their very first intervention by Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi. Through the advantage afforded by looking at their strategic development in this retrospective manner and by concluding from their re-presentations in this exhibition, including, the various enactments of the Soya Sauce and Ketchup Fights (2000-onwards), Two artists piss on Duchamp’s urinal (2000) to the recurring symbol of power shown as Big Ben primarily encountered in Running naked across Westminster Bridge with Tony bear (2000) one starts to read beyond the circus of reactions which have confounded their works.

Rookie Times:
The enigma and publicity associated with Two Artists Jump on Tracey Emin's Bed I believe formed an explosive entry point that has since both haunted and flagellated their oeuvre. An event that has doggedly marked all readings of their work as ‘complicated’, so much so, as to make it problematic to extrapolate a focused reading of future works. It is worth returning to all the combusting, imploding, even sordid, realities associated with Two Artists Jump on Tracey Emin's Bed; both theirs and hers to understand this particular work’s reception and strategies and why it has had the power to shape the reception of their future work: her success in terms of a Hirstian celebrity status and further more importantly here- the exacting refusal of the media to consider her latest diatribe as a work of art or as suitable for the prestigious Turner Prize; and their disturbing of the pristine centre of control, within the hallowed white cube temple of British Society, of a major YBA’s new work, (incidentally in the recent work by Jake and Dinos Chapman, 2009, in recreating Emin’s destroyed ‘tent’ work Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995, Emin further becomes embroiled as a figure of ridicule in the court of British Art History)- both (re)works start to unveil the expressed nature of any mélange that disturbs Emin’s adventures into the inclusive subjectivities of the transpersonal.

If the exchange of information embedded in objects and images is a valuable way to recognise difference- of opinion, of the normative, of expectations or of highlighting the frames that compile lineage as such, art objects, images and events are often held high to be examined for their innate qualities, from which one can understand how any of their qualities can specify the significance of its time. On this occasion, I believe like many works by artists living in the diaspora, the performance by Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi has assisted in highlighting the cultural contest between the superannuation of race, postmodernit(ies) and economic powers (5) which has been the mocking manner in which so much of the new millennium can be contextualised.

In Two Artists Jump on Tracey Emin's Bed performance, we are made to re-visit the complexities of the Pax Britannica empirical routes. Tracy Emin, a mixed race British artist (of Turkish and English origins) who has made her autobiographical “dross” including abortions, complicated sexual relationships, rape and more recently, menopause into her visual vernacular has successfully accrued a generation of young urban women fans who themselves have matured on contraceptive pills and abortion. Two Artists Jump on Tracey Emin's Bed, can be seen as a double whammy, for the contempt it drew, both as an ethnic break (of behaviour) in the line of high British culture, by two young Chinese artists living and having studied in Britain. Their action, within the sanctum of the heavily guarded domain of British arts, was seen as one that had travelled a long way from the closed circuits of the Cultural Revolution to breach the freedom of the arts and commit an art crime. Emin had said “It was upsetting and disturbing - a criminal offence...I wouldn't go round to someone's house, smash up a coffee table and call that art. It's terrorism - like some failed artist threatening to jump off Waterloo Bridge unless they're given a gallery.” (6) How many crossroads of lived realities can a single reader of contemporary art contemplate? We are left totally confused and possibly nauseous from the amount of cross referencing that the work Two Artists Jump on Tracey Emin's Bed consolidates within its matrix. The routes of the empire here include the values determined by the state of a ‘denatured’ identity assimilated into the west.

By delving a bit deeper into this denaturing, one can consider the ethnic references from the artist Tracey Emin, the Tate Gallery and the press, of notions of terrorism, art crime and threats to staff made by these actions “The pleasure of our visitors has twice been disrupted by two artists who have threatened works of art and our staff” (7) is ultimately a discourse of blame and alludes to an aloofness associated with the civilised, based as it is on the magisterial authority of the sovereignty of class and race in its assertion of cultural knowledge.

The Doomed Field:
The iconic status of Emin’s sculptural monuments, the bed, the tent, the beach hut and the monoprints of abortions, collectively bred by the notorious White Cube Gallery and the collector Charles Saatchi was highly distributed, becoming the icon of the nineties British nihilism as of the time of the asphyxiation of the working-class which was still reeling under Thatcherite policies. Her rise as a standard bearer of iconoclastic status was accompanied in the significant way her work became highly collectible, rewarded by her presence in 2007 at the Venice Biennale. It fulfilled the consecrated function in the British environments of The Sun and the Daily Mirror culture, the slow motion battle of class and culture. Her simple but powerful, emotive assemblages had been solidly usurped in the virulent, even savage, displeasuring of their power by the threatening ferocity of Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi, a real Madforreal.

Madforreal’s desire and unbridled search for an explosive act geared towards exploring change through their potential to be disturbing of the consumptiveness that had evaded the current avant-garde of which Emin’s vomit- postured as most populous. Their act of invasive violence ‘within’ the hallowed realm of The British Art Institution (The Tate) by…two WOGS (western oriental gentleman) was indigestible, a reduction by its identitarian outsiderism of it all, an unforgivable act of cultural hooliganism.

In constructing a second work of non-fiction, Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi’s work of art on top of the existing first work of non-fiction, which was already being debated and thrashed as “too found”, became embroiled in a process of dissolution. This dissolution that took place a few years after the British returned the territory of Hong Kong back to China was often referred to as the Handover of 1 July 1997. The event marked the end of British rule, and the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong back to Chinese rule. In this climate, all things Chinese were looked at under British frames as in the case of a forced marriage between cousins and strangers, shrouded in clouds of pessimism and the limiting of 156 years of ‘democracy’.

It is important to conflate these events, in terms of these artists’ use of ‘found’ objects but also the two conditions within which their work was “found” – of a public coming to terms with the Siamese conditions and reaction ‘to the Chinese presence’ following the handover as well as the uneven and trivial realisation of British culture embroiled in Gordon Gecko greed. Both depressingly made the media dependent some say ‘hooked,’ on celebrity but in reality this is to look through the registers of an uncertain globality. This cumbersome realisation, of an evolving liturgy based on desecrated class values (8) and the loss of colonially negotiated status, created identities as approximations, especially of identities from the transitory zones of Asia. The work by Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi / Madforreal in that sense dissected how things were put together, of a flux in which agendas were porous between class, race and genders and wealth and power became the nouveau class from the empire’s unfolding.

Bonjour Tristesse / Hello to Sorrow
Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi / Madforreal became both the uber critics of everything evolving and that which became fashionable, slicing the avant-garde with their boyish antics and laddish lack of control which lead them to be the bearer of the media brunt on all things Chinese. A brunt which was also borne by Chinese goods (cheap and full of chemicals), by the Chinese economy (slavish and too much, too soon), and later to the Chinese contemporary culture (too close to western postmodernity, too fast) etc. China could no longer be defined as an alternative, its growth rate was unprecedented by any recorded measure and, horror of horrors, was now to be found on the streets of Britain, making a greater impact than the new entrepreneurs and celebrities from the upwardly mobile, chic working-class and women. A dethroning then, that had to be resisted on any front of the market.

A battle of histories in midst of the BNP
In terms of the artists Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi, Madforreal, the notion of “truth” is often deduced from their being flaneurs of the streets - the streets of the major capitals where they have lived, studied and worked, a larger-than-life gallery - of poverty and recognition, of politics and magic, of retail and spirituality, of difference and abundance - the street is a contemporary place of mediation in which imagery can be sourced for its emblematic, even touristic, power. Here, Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi / Madforreal’s use of public spaces is a desegregation of order and culture in sorting out the use of its symbolic design to nurture knowledge and enhance power, in the way it both contains and distributes ideas - from identity to territory.

The symbolic Big Ben, a convivial name for an agent of control of time, order and centrality and is often used symbolically by the British when talking about British culture as the centre of the English-speaking world.

In Game of Identity, this central symbol, Big Ben, is surrounded by a flowing, sweeping set of countries, skewed and out of proportion, providing a carpet of inordinate longing to be part of Britain. Big Ben is Britain, it is the line of the prime meridian, the House of Parliament, the seat of democracy and the tower of credence. Three faces of Big Ben have three distinct clocks, administrating timelines, time zones and timeliness- a commitment to its centralising mission and role in constructing the major binary that divides us & them. This central symbol does not allow speculation of layers of meanings or positions- everything is accounted according to its measure. Metaphorically it acts like the Big Middle, not only London’s iconographic building which has framed the burgeoning multicultural population but guided their re-invention as British, from citizens from the territories and the commonwealth to citizens of the ‘included’ cosmopolitan.

In trying to understand any national or global condition, especially in times of consumption and gluttony, of covert governance and gradation of information, the diasporic position as outlined by the strategic way that symbols, places and spaces are reworked, can help start to be an invaluable, valuatory one. Indifference and artistic imaginations as an interpretative strategy recognise the role played by marginal characters and the reworking of ‘the given’ from an experimental proposal. These invaluable strategies provide a deconstruction of a visual narrative in negotiating difference by attempting to supervise history. In negotiating from difference, discounted traits are reassessed in an assimilated culture, affected by both travel and migration; a reiteration, in playful new surroundings, of Britain or Hong Kong. Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi / Madforreal, drawing from the half-light of heritage, examine the rich references that craft popular culture and effect high culture. These artists’ work return (to cultural memory) a partially cracked mirror of diasporic politics, albeit with its ethical commitment to marginality. This hybrid, International representation manages to respond to, as well as question the enduring necessity to question identity both as a zone of fatality and a fatal, collective response to the persistence of a scripted multiplicity.

These cracked mirrors are defining us as we define the subjectivities that inform the quotidian in this shifting paradigm between the west and the east. “BBC Sport executive producer Jonathan Bramley is a key mover behind Monkey. Speaking on the phone from Beijing, where he was scouting out the studio location for the Olympic Games, he told me: "Monkey's journey to the West becomes a journey to the East.” (9) But that’s another essay.

(1) Susan Sontag, Regarding the Torture of Others, New York Times, Published: Sunday, May 23, 2004.
(2) Katie Hill, One world One dream or Toying with Power, p.26, Beijing, Tokyo Gallery+BTAP Publication, 2009
(3) Press Release, Chris Burden, Early Works, Zwinner and Wirth, New York, 2004,
(4) Nick Paton ‘The Observer’, Walsh Sunday June 11, 2000
(5) Edward W Said, The Clash of Ignorance, The Nation.
October 22, 2001
Edward Said, writing one month after the attack on the twin towers in New York, purposefully continues this questioning of rudimentary thinking and the terms of its engagement and application to larger complicated configurations including histories, nations and belief systems. Samuel Huntington’s seminal work, The Clash Of Civilization, use of monochromatic terminologies from a populist language, with its simplistic trappings of difference then applied to real life situations, was exactly the way that the eleven oddballs who attacked the Twin Towers came to represent 1.5 billion Muslims during this traumatic period of American history.
(6) Nick Paton ‘The Observer’, Walsh Sunday June 11, 2000
(7) Nick Paton ‘The Observer’, Walsh Sunday May 21, 2000
(8) Charlotte Higgins. If Tracey Emin got in bed with the Conservatives, I wouldn't be surprised;
(9) Ollie Williams, Monkey's journey begins., 28 May 08,
* An interesting further advert to watch is the following British Olympics video for Beijing 2008:

Game of Identity 2009

By Wei Xing
Under the prevalent influence of Post-modernism and Postcolonialism, in the context of contemporary culture and art, people generally emphasize on the deconstruction of the East & West dualism; de-nationalism and the hybridity of cultures. For those trendy cultural elites, it has become the only choice for political correctness. When this trend was applied to art & cultural production, the characters of flatness, superficiality and over-consumerism has become the dominant fashion, therefore the spirit of avant-garde and radicalism are absent. However, the economic Neo-liberalism that has flourished globally could not eliminate the political and territorial boundaries between the nations, and today’s demarcation between the East and the West still exists; the religious and cultural clashes happen everywhere; massive famines has still threatened some part of human society.

As a means of reflection and expression, contemporary art is obliged to carry out its duty and responsibility. In the age of globalization, artist, especially those non-western artists, have been obsessed with the perplexity of maintaining and developing their cultural subjectivity, meanwhile trying to be brought in line with international practices in the age of globalization. For Chinese Contemporary Art, its initial stage of development has relied on the appropriation of Chinese social, cultural and political signs and symbols, as a strategy to gain the acceptance of the Western cultural system. Basically, this methodology has, in practice, strengthened the dualistic understandings towards the very idea of the “East & West”, therefore it has nothing in common with the concept of otherness promoted by postmodernism.

Since China opened its door to the rest of the world at the end of 1970s, there were a group of people that has taken the opportunity to go abroad, and started the first wave of migration and attaining overseas education after the end of Great Cultural Revolution. America and Europe were their primary destination. Among them, there were some of the most pioneer artists who had been very active in launching the country’s first avant-garde art movement in the early 1980’s. Some of them have been lost their cultural sensibility after their migration to the West, become speechless in terms of artistic creativity; while there were others that have been successfully intervened into local cultural systems by employing Chinese political and cultural symbols, using the status of marginality to gain the acknowledgement from the system. There were also some individuals who have been firmly putting themselves in a critical stance, as a speculator, using art as a weapon, to criticize cultural and political phenomena in general, transforming their marginal status as an advantage to attack.

Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi are the two representative figures of such kind. They have arrived to UK at the mid of 1980’s and studied Art at the Goldsmith College and Royal College of Art respectively. Although the two artists have received very solid academic trainings in art, they have chosen to carry out their art practices through a very unconventional and alternative way, a method that is anti-academic, anti-mainstream and anti-authority. They executed their radical art performances under the name “Mad for Real”, having gained their fame initially as performance artists. They have actively intervened with the British art scene since the beginning of 1990’s. Due to the difference and discrepancy of social and cultural background, and the years of cultural conflicts and impacts, they have participated in Western cultural and art events as both an insider and outsider. They are the perfect example when we examine Homi K. Bhabha’s post-colonial theory in which the description of the intellectuals in diaspora could to some extent be applied to the analysis of their case. Like many of the other artists living abroad, their 20 years and more experiences gained in living overseas have gained them with broad international vision, so that enabled them to transcend the limitation of the borders between nations, cultures, civilizations, religious and ideologies and geopolitical concept of East and West, therefore differentiated their works from those that were produced within Chinese cultural and social context in terms of pursuits and temperaments.

Frantz Fanon has once said: The so-called black people are merely the creation of the white. In the theory of Postcolonialism, the status of otherness is a necessary reference for the construction of subjectivity. So for immigrants to the West, especially those artists and intellectuals, the biggest issue they ought to face in the first place was to conciliate the contradictions between their past cultural background and the current social and cultural systems while trying to re-build their new life outlook, world view and values, under the superiority of Western cultures. To Cai Yuan & Jian Jun Xi, they have chosen to position themselves from the relationship of the others. As Jacques Lacan has pointed out once, the other is a double entry model. This status of the other has entitled them to some degree, the free act, to enable them surveying social phenomena within the new cultural context by shifting their social roles. Their early work could be regarded as anti-aesthetics, radical and revolutionary. The recent works have been contemplated upon the further interrelationship between power, politics and culture, the languages and media applied to the work have become various and diverse, including painting, photography, installation, sculpture, print, mixed-medium and performance. Like their most recent solo project, of which a eight-meter long aircraft carrier, a direct copy of American marine Enterprise, was constructed, reflects their contemplation upon the power games played in international political arena.

In 1999, they made headlines on the front pages in major British newspapers and media by jumping on fellow provocateur artist, Tracy Emin’s bed. It was a bold and disputed work of performance. On that day, they invaded the temple of British high culture, Tate Britain, in which the Turner Price nominee’s works has been exhibited, and their notorious jump on the mattress on which Tracy Emin’s autobiographical wastes (including condoms and underwears) that functioned as the carriers of her private memories were displayed, to challenge again people’s limited capability of perceptions and the authority of British high art, endowed this controversial work a new meanings hidden in the look-like irrational and crazy work. This kind of subversion of the subverted dialectically embodied the very nature of avant-garde and experimental spirit in contemporary art. Its antagonism does not appoint to the two different subjective identities, but to the artist’s critical stand against established cultural authorities.

Despite the radical colour found in their works, ultra-nationalism is simply a word never exists in their art language. Actually, nationalism is a very product of Western modernity, and in their work they have also criticized and questioned nationalism in their own satirical way. In a church, they have hung themselves naked and sang British national anthem. This work could be regarded as a kind of gestures that expressed the two artist’s implicit scepticism towards the very nature of nationalism, and further more, the cultural fundamentalism.

In their recent works, a portrait of young queen Elizabeth that was drew by Warhol in his signature Pop Art style has expressed artist’s reflections on the relationship between state politics and nationalism. Painted with acrylic, Cai Yuan & Jian Jun Xi adopted an image from the coronation of young queen. The technique is not realistic but looks similar towards an affect from silkscreen print. The image of the queen was covered with English and Chinese words; they make people associate these words with the scene when a foreigner is going to have the oath to swear the loyalty to Great Britain.

In 2000, Cai Yuan & Jian Jun Xi carried a toy bear called “Tony” running across the Westminster bridge in full naked glory. This performance was part of a demonstration against globalization occurred in London on May 1st, a global holiday dedicated to workers. From the picture, we can see they are heading towards the Westminster Tower, and the Big Ben was standing imposingly under the blue sky. This image has later inspired the artists to produce a sculptural installation, “Big Ben Tower”, a declining four-meter high work with one side sculpted with the structures and relieves to look identical to the façade of the tower. On another side, a small shrine space is opened, with pictures and miscellaneous objects filled in the space including a statue of Buddha, few Chinese medicine bottles, a bottle of Scottish Whisky and the books “Capitalism” by Karl Marx and “Anthology of Mao Zedong Thoughts”. All these objects are displayed as if they are for oblation. They are the metaphors signifying the history of thousands year’s cultural fusions, conflicts, clashes and mutual creations carried out between the East and the West. So is this installation a symbol of deconstruction of western centralism? Or a sign for the social reality in which cultural hybridity is engendered under the context of postmodernism? Is this ostensible cultural hybridity merely a cover up of the structural world conflicts in terms of race, religion, politics, economy and culture that is brought by global economic Neo-Liberalism? As this declining tower implied, maybe our utopian dream of Community of Diversity is merely an illusion? Or as professor Samuel Huntington has declared in his writing, the clashes of civilizations are human’s foreordination?

Maybe a kind of local-internationalism is forming, but it may only occur in the level of elite society. Meanwhile, people who are experiencing cultural hybridity are also trying to restore and re-construct the traditions and national cultures that were once undermined by the process of colonization and Westernization. In the current social and cultural context, everybody is aware of the issue of identity. It’s the personal label or badge imposed by society. Identity is never a fixed imagination and self-consciousness, instead it’s always in a state of constant shift and transformation, nevertheless its core is never changed. Construction of identity is a social game, a game in which a process of construction, deconstruction, recoding and reconstruction is in constant shaping.

身份的游戏 2009

受到后现代主义和后殖民理论的影响,在当代的艺术和文化语境中,人们普遍强调的是对于东西方二元对立的消解,去民族主义以及文化的混杂性。对于时髦的文化精英们来说,这已经成为一种政治正确性的唯一选择。这种趋势表现在艺术的创作上就体现为作品的平面化、 去深度化和过渡的消费主义的特征,前卫的精神与激进的态度普遍缺失。但是全球化的资本主义自由经济体制并不能消除国际间的政治和领土的边界,在这个世界上,东西方的分野和界限依然存在;宗教和文化的冲突时时上演;大规模的贫困和饥饿依然是一种现实的威胁。而作为对于社会现实的一种反思和反映,当代艺术必然要承担起批判的角色和责任。在全球化的时代,艺术家,尤其是非西方的艺术家,一直面临着在融入世界的同时如何保持和发展自己的文化主体性的困扰,而中国当代艺术的发展,就利用了中国社会的、民族的和政治的符号来作为获得西方文化系统承认的一种策略和手段。从本质上,这种做法实际上在强化固有的东西方的文化二元性的理解,而在本质上与后现代思想所强调的差异性有着很大的区别。

中国自从于1970年代末宣布对外开放以来,有一批得风气之先的人在80年代早期就走出了国门,开始了文化大革命后的第一波海外留学和移民的浪潮。美国和欧洲是他们的首选目的地。他们中有些人在出国后丧失了文化上的敏锐性, 表现为艺术创作上的失语症; 而有些则积极地介入所在国当地的艺术圈,利用中国文化和政治符号来作为打入西方系统的利器, 也就是以一种边缘性获得合法的身份;也有些人则始终以一种批判的姿态对于普遍的文化和政治现象进行反思和表达,把自身的边缘性转化为主动的进攻力量,蔡元和奚建军就是其中的代表人物。他们于80年代中期先后负笈英国,分别在伦敦大学哥德史密斯学院和皇家艺术学院学习。两位艺术家尽管具有深厚的学院艺术训练的背景和功底, 却一开始就以激进的姿态,走上了反学院,反主流和反即成体制的艺术道路。他们在英国组成了一个Mad For Real艺术小组,以外来者的身份,全面地介入到了90年代英国本土的艺术活动和事件中去。因为文化和社会背景的差异,同时也由于身处在西方语境下多年的文化碰撞与矛盾,使得他们既能够以一种外在和他者的身份参与到西方当代艺术和学术活动中, 又能够与之拉开距离和保持客观与怀疑的态度。可以说,他们俩正契合了霍米巴巴后殖民理论中对于离散知识分子的描述,和众多海外艺术家一样, 在他们20多年的海外求学,生活与工作的经历,让他们具有了国际的视野和丰富的艺术实践经验, 从而在相对的意义上,得以在艺术的创作上超越通常的国族、文化、文明、意识形态和东西地缘政治的范畴,游刃有余地游走在这些人为的社会和文化边界之间,进而使他们的作品呈现出一种不同于那些在国内语境思考中产生的艺术作品的气质和诉求。

弗朗兹•法农曾说过:所谓的黑人不过是白人的人工制品。在后殖民的理论里,他者的身份是一种中心主体建构的必要参照物,因此许多来到西方的移民者,主要是艺术家、人文知识分子和专业人士,他们面临的最主要的问题是在面对西方的优势文化主体,重新构筑自己的世界观和价值观的同时,如何调和过去的知识和文化背景与现在的系统之间的矛盾。对于蔡元和奚建军来说,他们正是从对于“他者”的关系来确定自身的定位,正如拉康所指出的‘他者是一种双重的进入模型’。正是这种身份反而给与了他们行动的便利和特权,使得他们可以凭借新的角色的转换, 在新的文化语境下去审视各种社会现象。他们早期的作品可以说是反语言和反审美的,具有激进和革命的色彩。近期以来的作品正逐渐转入对于权力和政治以及文化关系的深入思考,作品的形式语言和媒介也趋向多样化,涉及到架上,摄影,装置,行为,综合媒介和版画等多个领域, 就如他们最近的作品<航母计划>, 一艘仿造美国海军企业号的长达8米的航空母舰模型, 体现了他们对于国际政治中权利游戏的本质理解。

1999年他们在伦敦泰特美术馆的大胆和极富观念性的行为作品在英国艺术界广为人知。在那次的事件中他们跳上了特纳奖提名的获得者Tracy Emin的富有争议性的著名作品《床》,其大胆和颠覆性的行为在实际上加强和延伸了这件作品的内在观念性,通过对于一个撒满避孕套和其他女性私密物品的床的侵犯,再一次挑战了人们认知和承受的极限以及英国当代艺术的权威,赋予这件在当时可谓骇世惊俗的作品一种全新的语义。这种对于颠覆的颠覆辩证地体现了当代艺术所应该具有的实验性与前卫性。它的对抗性并非体现在不同的身份主体之间,而是体现在艺术家对于艺术权威体制的批判, 这就使得这个行为具有了不同的意义。


在两位艺术家的创作中,一幅以沃霍尔式的波普艺术的手法绘制的伊丽莎白女王的肖像画仿佛向我们传达了某种对于国家政治与民族主义关系的思考。 艺术家采用了年轻的女王加冕时的照片,其形象并非是高度写实性的,而是以一种填色的手法去表现一种丝网印刷的版画效果。画面中女王的模糊形象被中英两种文字所覆盖,它们让人联想起外国人归化英国时面对女王的肖像宣誓效忠的情景。在2000年,蔡元和奚建军牵着一只玩具小熊,裸体从威斯敏斯特大桥上跑过,通过这种行为表演向参与国际劳动节抗议全球化浪潮的示威人群表示支持,从照片上可以看到大本钟巍然屹立在大桥的尽头,而两位艺术家牵着那头命名为“托尼”的小熊玩具向着威斯敏斯特奔去。这一幕情景后来启发了艺术家制作了一件高四米的倾斜的“大本钟”的雕刻装置作品,在一面以逼真的手法雕刻模仿了大本钟的建筑结构和立面装饰,倾斜的一侧却开着两扇拉门,里面布置成一个类似神龛一样的空间,;里面贴满了照片,摆放着各种来自东西方的消费品包装物以及中英文书籍,其中包括一尊佛像,中国制造的传统中药的药瓶,苏格兰的威士忌酒,以及马克思的《资本论》和《毛泽东选集》。它们以一种宗教仪式般的方法呈列,隐喻着东西方之间长达几千年的文化融合,冲突,矛盾和互相创造的历史。那么,这个装置作品是象征着对于西方中心主义的解构吗?还是隐喻着一种在后现代的文化、政治和经济的语境下混杂文化的社会现实?这种表面的文化的混杂性在多大的程度上反映了掩盖在全球自由主义经济浪潮之下所被淹没的结构性的世界性种族、政治 、经济、文化和宗教的尖锐矛盾?正如这件“大本钟”所呈现的那样,不同的文化和政治类型是否能够共生在一处?差异的共同体是否只是人类的一种乌托邦的梦想?或者如同塞缪尔•亨廷顿在他的书中所断言的那样,文明的冲突是人类的宿命?


Hangmu project – One World (One Dream) or Toying with Power 2008
Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi (Mad For Real)

By Katie Hill
In One World One Dream, a dystopian vision is presented in spectacular new work by Cai Yuan and JJ Xi in the aftermath of the Beijing Olympics. The huge, scaled down model of an aircraft carrier confronts the viewer with a manifestation of the ultimate political aspiration: the military superpower. In the titling of the show, the work cites China’s ubiquitous slogan for the Olympics. It is also a literal citation of a US warship, of which the work is a small replica. A representation of brute metallic force, this is no less than a superpower status symbol, like a giant executive toy. This work is a dramatic evocation of the spectre of power itself. The cultural paradox which runs through much of the work of Cai and Xi, lies in ‘the fantasy of absolute power or presence – although it is in the nature of this fantasy that it can never be realised or fully acknowledged.’[i]

The object of the aircraft carrier or ‘mother ship’ is brought to sit (heavily) in the gallery space at Tokyo Gallery (BTAP) in 798, a space itself established on the back of ammunitions factories built during the 1950s. A replica of one of America’s well-known vessels USS enterprise the sculpture is fifty times smaller than its real counterpart, yet at 7 metres long it is a work of industrial proportions. As such, we can see it as a statement of cultural as much as military power. Grounded on the gallery floor surrounded by walls, we are reminded of what it takes to make such an object and we are compelled to contemplate its meaning. Even in a confined space its physicality remains elusive and unattainable. We are only allowed to look, to view from a platform and to see its surfaces and appendages. Its large metallic presence emits a sense of otherness leaving us feeling removed.

A literal transposition of a feature of modern military capacity, this ‘thing’ poses questions about global aspiration, violence and the vying of powerful nations for superpower status in the world. A modern day monster of military might, it is created for defence and ultimately destruction. We are used to seeing this über-object on television screens in short film clips as part of the furniture of war, a vast flat surface from which little supersonic planes set off dramatically to wreak violence on others.

Translated from the Japanese for mother ship, in China, hangmu has had resonance in the public imaginary for a hundred years as the ultimate object of naval supremacy. As a conquerer of the seas and a guardian of territories the vessel relates to centuries of naval history between empires and now points to a critical moment in global power dynamics. In the Chinese context it signifies the possibility of a new balance of power, which perhaps is shortly in sight.

From this giant object, questions of capacity, weight and scale are posed in the never-ending quest for human scientific ‘progress’. Encompassing invisible borders drawn up between nations, the seas occupy a strange position as murky waters obscure the lines the (enemy) other is not allowed to cross. Aircraft carriers have a quasi glamorous status in naval terms. Moving slowly due their great weight, their vast surfaces allow tiny aero-dynamic military planes to take off suddenly rising at great speed on missions to wipe out an unseen enemy.

This work marks a milestone in the body of work produced by Cai and Xi over the past ten years. Their work explores the boundaries of political and cultural institutions in incisive pieces which combine performance, film, photography and installation. The materials they use extend outside conventional artistic media to the media itself via newspapers, television and radio, as well as real life situations such as the Turner Prize (a latter-day benchmark of the British art world) and high profile political protests such as May Day 2000, a mass protest against globalisation. In recent months, their work perhaps takes on even greater significance as the global economy collapses along with multi-national corporations, unhinging a sense of progress and stability.

Cai and Xi’s work has often explored notions of the ‘real world’, and the absurdity of how it is bounded by preconceptions and perceived ‘order’ falsely imposed. In previous works they have stepped into the real world via intervention into the public realm during mass protests about globalisation and war. Here they reverse the process and move the notional ‘real’ into the bounded gallery space, exposing the gap between ‘culture’ and power, whereby ‘power resides in the intoxication of loss and not in the control or suppression of a pre-existing identity’. One World One Dream takes the post Olympics environment to toy with the notion of utopianism, collective national fantasy and its darker Other: the dream of destruction in ‘the modern concept and practice of warfare (and indeed of science) as violent struggle or combat with death’.[ii]

Crossing a wide range of media over the past ten years, Cai and Xi’s oeuvre is not bound by convention (artistic or otherwise) and often dares to range into difficult territories to question power structures and their meaning in human terms. The individual’s relationship with power is always at the heart of their work, and how identity is bound up with the interwoven relationships between ideologies, histories and cultural contexts.

In the UK, radical and singular performances have earned them a cult following. Works which are funny, critical, yet accessible, have gained appeal to audiences beyond art world circles and pushed cultural boundaries suggesting alternative ways of seeing and other identities. From hanging upside down naked singing the British National Anthem, to running across Westminster Bridge with a giant panda named Tony Bear (read ‘Blair’), their work has critiqued cultural and political symbols. It has also targeted artistic icons. In two well-known, even infamous works, their intervention Jumping On Tracey Emin’s Bed (1999), appropriated the Turner Prize work by Emin, (which had been broadly vilified in the British press) and literally occupied it, jumping up and down gleefully with slogans written on their naked torsos, as security guards struggled to get them down. This was followed by Pissing on Duchamp’s Urinal which also took a literal form. In this work, they joyfully peed on Duchamp’s seminal work Fountain (1917), in a bid to revive the spirit of Marcel Duchamp in an increasingly institutionalised art world in which the newly built Tate Modern reigned supreme.

In more sober form Cai and Xi have delved into darker subject matter such as the two recent tragedies involving the deaths of scores of Chinese immigrants in Britain – the drowning of cockle-pickers exploited by gang leaders in Morecambe Bay and the suffocation of Fujian immigrants who were smuggled on a tomato lorry and died from lack of oxygen. These works act as a kind of memorial to unknown, underprivileged workers connected with them through their homeland. They can be read as political and social critiques of how these events could occur. In other work relating to China, they have taken the Monkey King story and given it their own narrative in a fluid use of masking and miming. Their work made in Lianyungang, the site of the Mountain of Fruit and Flowers in the Monkey King film, explored the monkeys dressed up and brought in to play-act to tourists at the mercy of their owners’ chains. In one work, an exquisite photograph of one of these monkeys reveals the sadness in his face. In another, a short film shows him moving from rock to rock in a depressing display of helplessness.

The communist capitalist combo that China embodies, is caught in its historical longing of ‘equality’ chasing the American dream in a perpetual love-hate relationship with the West. The ongoing powerful drive of China’s modernisation leaves vast areas of rubble in its wake. Building projects take place on a scale never witnessed before. New symbols of global status are spawned as international architects are brought in to facilitate the shaping of new skylines forming fabulous silhouettes in fantasy-style constructions. Newness became China’s obsession in the early twentieth century in the New Culture Movement and remains so today. In the Cultural Revolution the slogan was: Destroy the Old World, Create a New World as thousands of youth were called on to destroy feudalism, capitalism and revisionism. Now, newness has shifted onto a different plane led by China’s capacity to work. As Chinese manufacturing feeds the world’s consumers, new technologies are avidly taken up and new forms of global business practices streamline the circulation of goods around the world.

The aircraft carrier also carries within its own historical trajectory a transnational story of inventions, purchase, appropriations and competition. Japan, Russia, UK and the USA all feature in the aircraft carrier discourse that falls within a distinctly modern era of military violence. In this story, the aircraft carrier transforms from a simple air balloon carrying weapons in the early twentieth century to nuclear-capable supersonic structures of gargantuan proportions, weighing 100,000 tonnes and encompassing several football pitches in square metres.

This work, the aircraft carrier can be read as the object of the ‘fantasy of power’. The sentimental notion of the ‘dream come true’, encapsulated by the American ethos, can be seen as mirrored onto the highest level of governmental game-playing ‘which has to sustain itself as desire’.[iii] In the words of Maurice Blanchot, ‘a desire for the impossibility of desire, bearing the impossible, hiding it and revealing it, a desire that […] is the blow of the inaccessible, the surprise of the point that is reached only in so far as it is beyond reach, there where the proximity of the remote offers itself only in its remoteness.’[iv]

To move back to the work itself, it is simply an object in the gallery space, a sculpture and nothing else.

航母计划——同一个世界,同一个梦想(或权力游戏) 2008
蔡元 & 奚建军 (疯狂的真实)

by Katie Hill
在蔡元和奚建军的宏大之新作《同一个世界同一个梦想》中,一个反乌托邦的幻景以北京奥运会的最终结果的方式呈现出来。观众面前巨大的、按比例缩小的航空母舰模型宣告了一个最终极的政治渴望:军事霸权。展览的标题引用了中国无处不在的奥运会宣传口号。这件作品也是美国战舰的缩小的仿制品。它看上去有着金属般的坚硬的力量,也恰是一种霸权的符号,就像是一个巨大的精巧玩具。作品是对权力这个鬼魅本身的戏剧性召唤。蔡元和奚建军作品中贯穿的文化悖论,附着于“绝对权力或存在的幻想——尽管这种幻想从本质上来讲,永远也不可能实现或者完全得到认可” 。











在这件作品种,航空母舰也可以解读成为“强权幻想”的对象。美国精神所浓缩的“美梦成真”这种感性的观念可以被视为折射到政治最高层次的游戏当中,“尽一切可能达致想要的目标” [i]。用莫里斯·布朗肖(Maurice Blanchot)的话说,这是“一种对欲望的不可能性的欲望,秉承着不可能性,将它隐藏,再将它揭示,这种欲望。。。就是难以企及后的爆发,是一个位于不可企及之处的爆发的临界点,这种不可企及性的可接近性只在其遥不可及这一点上体现出来”。
[i] 安得烈·本雅明(Andrew Benjamin),“破解自我认同:布朗肖的巴塔耶”(Figuring self-identity: Blanchot’s Bataille),参看斯泰因主编文集,第22页。

蔡元、奚建军和冷林的对话 2007

料阁子,798 北京

In The Name Of Art
Madness Duplicity and Reality 2005

by Katie Hill
Manchester, September 2004. The audience wait in the dark gallery for something we know will be shocking, bizarre, a spectacle. The tipsy atmosphere adds to the buzz and excitement of the performance to come. Cai and Xi spring into view clothed only in giant Union Jack worn as capes reminiscent of boxers’ regalia. They move to the corner where a severed picture of the young Queen Elizabeth II crowned and enthroned is projected on the wall. Facing her, they start jumping up and down rhythmically, speaking breathlessly, their voices slightly out of synch to add to the sense of disjuncture: ‘I, Cai Yuan do solemnly declare, that I … will be loyal to her majesty…’ After the fragmented, breathy oaths uttered in Chinese accents, they sit down, take the flags off their backs and tie them around their ankles. It takes three assistants to lift the heavy body of each man up, hoisting them on ropes so they can be suspended upside down from gallows. They swing precariously round and back, heads filling with blood. The National Anthem suddenly sounds out and the artists join in, uncomfortably swinging, their voices separate from the grandiose sound filling the gallery space: ‘God save our Gracious Queen, long live our Noble Queen…’

Happy and Glorious, the performance and exhibition, addresses the bizarre ritual of citizenship and its inability to instill loyalty and attachment in the nation’s others. The work has a lasting relevance, that moves beyond the usual focus on identity and the colonial subject. It enacts the distorted relationship of cultural and political coupling which causes a sense of alienation in its very quest for national belonging.

In the light of the London terrorist attacks of 2005, issues of identity and ‘being British’ are hotly debated in the press: how could these young men, living for years on British soil, feel so disenfranchised? Although the discourse focuses on Islam and jihad, many others have a deep understanding of the diffi culty of ‘fitting in’. In this work and in all the previous Mad for Real performances, it is the revelation of the madness of reality, though, that is fundamental to the work’s raison d’etre.

In a neat manipulation of artistic power, the letter sent by the Tate’s lawyers banning the artists from all Tate premises, is framed and exhibited in a giant coffin (the Death of Art). The Tate’s failure to cope with the threat of art’s power from within, (ie art in the making, what art is really about) is shown to be deeply ironic, almost tragically out of touch with ‘reality’. In booting out two artists who are beyond the pale, the institution is revealed to be merely an art bully.

Performances by Cai and Xi use the body as an agent between historical, geographical and institutional frameworks. The unspoken barriers of cultural protocol, class, taste and national loyalty are all dissolved in their work but the appeal of much of their 1999–2005 projects still lies, ironically, in its Britishness. It is the specific cultural references, the focus on larger symbolic aspects of British culture and their absurdity, which makes it accessable to a broader public – a public which is not ensconced in the narrow elitism of the art world.

The My Bed intervention, which launched them into the public eye six years ago, was a classic moment of British popular culture, which has become insinuated into institutions of British life such as University Challenge and Have I Got News for You. The bed incident is regurgitated by the press when the Turner Prize comes round year after year. Ironically, this work is democratic. By being critical, it opens a conversation with both the establishment itself and with ‘foreigners’, young people and those outside of the mainstream.

Here the idea of the ‘foreign body’ literally comes into play. The artists’ bodies are partly used as ideological instruments, with inscriptions of political ideologies hand-written on their torsos, symbolically denoting the histories into which we are inadvertently thrown. As foreigners, they challenge the presumption of who is expected to appear where and why. The body is used to disrupt expectations and behave rudely within certain cultural and political settings that require sets of rules and codes of behaviour in order to uphold them. When these rules or æsthetics are disrupted, the established order is upset. In this way, the body is primarily a tool of subversion and an agent between three spheres of life: a public divided by their loyalty to or boredom with ‘the system’, the media, and the art world. The use of the body in their work as objective material nevertheless belies an undeniable humanity in the work. In the interventional works that take place in public, there is an assertion of and insistence on the notion of a real possibility of freedom that is witnessed in the act of performing, even if this possibility remains essentially within the artwork itself. True freedom, perhaps they are saying, is only possible in art.

In Soya Sauce and Ketchup Fight the artists, wearing white t-shirts bearing the words ‘Mad for Real’, squirt each other with soya sauce and ketchup, splashing the walls of the gallery space as they do so and gradually become drenched with the liquids. The action, accompanied by loud shouting, is offset by shrill pop versions of Mao songs, with the audience watching from the street through the gallery’s glass windows. The artists use strong physical and vocal gestures which evoke Tai Chi and Qigong to throw calligraphic splurges of colour in a gradual process of immersion in a fusion of liquids, red, yellow and brown. The result is an intervention between the audience and the artists, with the audience literally blocked out by the splattered walls and window. This could be interpreted as a play on issues of globalisation and marginalisation. Although the everyday products of global consumerism are instantly recognisable, once the products are squirted out, they become alien substances out of context. What is left is a slimey, dark, stinking mess which reeks of the aftermath of violence. The amusement and entertainment of the spectacle of the fight, afterwards changes to bewilderment and disgust at the sight of repulsive gunge covering the ground.

Cai and Xi use the city of London as an exhibition space fusing their actions onto the British national landscape as symbolised by new buildings such as Tate Modern and the Millennium Bridge, and established icons such as St Paul’s Cathedral.They engage with artistic, political and social activism, making comments on present conditions of globalisation, consumerism and the relationship between East and West.

What is interesting about the Chinese side of the work is not only the oblique use of Chinese history in references to Maoism but also the simplicity of using their ethnicity as naked costume. Merely to look Chinese and to be Chinese makes the performances work. This idea is taken further in the Monkey King work when make-up is used to push Chinese symbolism further.

When the artists jumped onto the infamous confessional work by Tracey Emin, My Bed, the intervention became known instantly through its extensive media coverage. Interest in Emin’s work had grown due to Cai Yuan and JJ Xi, Two Artists Jump on Tracey’s Bed, Tate Gallery, London, Turner Prize Exhibition, November 1999. Tracey Emin, My Bed, Turner Prize Exhibition, November 1999 Cai Yuan and JJ Xi, Soya Sauce and Ketchup fight, Fordham Gallery, London, 1999. At the Liverpool Biennial it was performed in a glass case outside the Bluecoat Gallery on 21 September 2002 3 Cai Yuan and JJ Xi, Two Artists Swim across the Thames, May 2000 debates in the media about whether it could possibly constitute ‘art’. The artists were arrested, the exhibition temporarily closed while Emin was called in to pass judgement on the event and ‘remake’ the bed. The artists were released without charge. In the resulting news coverage Cai and Xi were described as ‘Japanese tourists’, or ‘Chinese art students’. Many members of the public liked what they saw as the debunking of the self-seriousness of young British art. Matthew Collings, an afficionado of the ironic aspects of the contemporary art world and presenter of the televised ceremony of the Turner Prize, wrote dismissively about it, seeming to be out of his depth as the artists were not established yba’s (young British artists), but somewhat strangely from mainland China. In an article he wrote for Modern Painters, he referred to Cai and Xi as ‘Chinese art students’. ‘I happened to meet one of these students [Xi] in a bar the other night’. He studied at Goldsmiths and is now ‘studying to be a situationist’. Collings’ patronising remarks as one of the insiders of the British art world, have racist and elitist connotations which continue the notion of ‘backwardness’ of non-Western artists vis-à-vis the ‘real thing’ (in this case yba). In fact Xi was part of the earliest movements of performance art in China in the late 1980s, well before Emin ‘made her bed’. Also, Cai’s art education in Britain has paralleled Emin’s to a remarkable degree; he spent time at Maidstone School of Art before entering the Royal College. Both Cai and Xi were by no means new to art, each having their own history in China before coming to Britain.

In Two Artists Swim across the River Thames (pp.84–89), Cai and Xi use an oblique reference to Mao Zedong’s famous swim of the Yangste River, a symbolic act at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution to ‘struggle with great waves and wind’ as a preparation for political and class struggle. In the performance the artists stripped down to their underpants with ‘isms’ written on their torsos, then stepped into the river at the site of the newly built Millennium Bridge, which crosses the river at Tate Modern to St Paul’s Cathedral. They swam across as crowds of people watched from the side and from the newly built bridge. The river police then appeared and intervened, forcing them to give up the swim. It is well-known that the River Thames is a dangerous river to swim in because of its strong currents, and the police pick out dozens of bodies a year, which illustrates the degree of physical and explicitly masculine bravado involved in the work. In the water, the ideologies inscribed on their bodies were washed away symbolically. Shortly after the performance, the Millennium Bridge was closed as a result of faulty engineering which became another story in the press, the scandal of a new piece of architecture which failed to fulfi ll its promise. In the photograph crowds of people are standing on the bridge.

The London series of performances use the city as a kind of stage or ‘real’ canvas, bringing an element of Chinese history briefly into the realm of contemporary London and its own cultural and historical institutions. The act of performance in their work is a display of freedom and an articulation of marginality, marking the marginal by literally ‘placing it on the map’. The ‘real’ in the work is not only in the use of London as a physical and æsthetic space, it is also the constant interplay between the work and the media’s own commentary in small pieces of news appearing with headlines such as: ‘Nude streak puts London on the map’. The artists’ use of London is touristic in the choice of its location. Their use of the press is a shrewd way of revealing and perpetuating the voyeuristic view of contemporary art by the general public, always thirsty to follow a bizarre snippet in the press about the latest antic. The ambivalence of the work as art also highlights the rigid structures within which the vast majority of works of art are embedded and forced to be given credibility. The photographs that this work produces show images of the artists appearing as small fi gures making a blip on the cityscape – standing by the riverside, Chinese and English scribbles on their backs, two heads bobbing in the Thames, with clear markers of the location through the presence of the bridge. These seem like acts of futility – expressions of individual human fi gures attempting to make their mark. In this way they both act, physically, by the use of the body, but also in doing so, describe the act, through the concept of the artwork.

Running Naked across Westminster Bridge with Tony Bear only caused a mild stir in the media. Whilst by no means shocking, it involved the naked body and an overt reference to the prime minister and a streak across a landmark of the British establishment. A bizarre fusion of cross-cultural misunderstandings was enacted on a famous London landmark, a fl eeting streak in the heart of tourism and the symbol of the British political system: the Houses of Parliament. Here China’s reduced view of Britain is blended with Britain’s reduced view of China, in a parody of partial understandings and positioning. The institutions of Westminster and the prime minister are left absurdly trivialised, as Tony Blair is transformed into a panda bear and the unlikely vision of two naked Chinese bodies disrupt the usual tourist view of a London icon: the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. In all of the London performances, the body is performing some sort of action: jumping, running, swimming, crawling, shooting – emphasising the power of the body as an active physical force, in a suggestion of activism with political connotations of the difference individual action can make. There is a strong evocation of strategic warfare, or an imaginary view of it through the lens of the media. The work draws on the radical political tactics of the Cultural Revolution in the slogans: ‘Down with…’ (as in the cries of ‘Down with Saatchi’ at the Tate or the ‘arrest’ of the curator Hou Hanru), which recall the persecution of individuals who were deemed to come from the ‘wrong’ class background.

Several of these works have a specific cultural or political referent against which the work is played out. Emin’s Bed is the first – now an icon of British contemporary art – which as Deborah Cherry says, ‘became an over-night sensation, as a rhetoric of shock, sensation and controversy swirled around the artist and her work’. In the urinal piece Duchamp’s Fountain is one of the most famous iconic works of twentieth century art; Tate Modern could be seen as one of the new architectural symbols of London; in Open Fire in the Royal Academy, the artists use Jeff Koons, a contemporary artist whose representations of consumerism and sex, in kitsch figures of La Cicciolina and Michael Jackson and Bubbles, are legendary. The Royal Academy also has exemplary status as the establishment. Its own engagement with contemporary art has been highly controversial with the staging of exhibitions such as Sensation and Apocalypse, which caused some academicians to resign. Other new and old icons are simply the symbols of British public life such as Westminster, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s and the Millennium Bridge. In the Paradox series the nude bodies of the artists are shown absurdly positioned in London. The magnification and manipulation moves beyond the action work, so that the body is shown publicly posturing in impossible ways. This extends the idea of the foreign body as agent still further, so that what is seen is unbelievable to the point of absurdity.

Ultimately this work raises questions about agency and the relationships between art, public life, the media and the art world. It does not seek to answer them, but is made to show them up. (The Sun’s headline ‘Fan hits sheet’, was one of the typically comic elements in the media’s own sideshow which has accompanied their work and cannot be separated from it. Another aside is the policeman’s remark: ‘We usually get a different kind if artist in here’, when the two of them were brought in for questioning after Jump.) Since this first intervention, the work has gained an apocryphal alternative discourse through anecdotes revolving around what happened when, which is important as part of the concept of the work. In this work the body is an interventionary agent, which works subversively to highlight the structures of these frameworks and the position of the artwork and the artist within these structures. Working from the outside of these structures emphasizes the absurdity and ambivalence of systems of culture and system of belief, challenging these systems which are normally taken as given or fixed. This work cannot easily be categorised as it stands at the edges of art history and art institutions, perhaps serving to critique both of these as mainstream, Western structures of power. In the performances the body is literally inscribed with ideologies, both communist and capitalist, serving to highlight how it is impossible to live outside ideological structures and inherited histories.

Mad for Real’s work appears to be about being at odds with the environment and yet curiously, also seems to be asserting a new form of belonging artistically and perhaps culturally as well. In it, the foundational structures of Western thinking are challenged. Crucially the performances take place in real time and space. The live, physical action of performances become frozen as visual images. Like all artwork, the ‘real’ becomes unattainable in retrospect as history takes over the moment after it is made. The testimony of these pages is that art gives form to life. The visual simplicity of the photographs is enriched by the work’s contexts, its layers of language, æsthetics and form. Appreciation of work by Cai and Xi is not in its accommodation or commodifi cation, it is in the understanding and embracing of it as art which continues to pursue its own æsthetic.

Pissing on Duchamp: Interactivity Gets the Firehose

By Brett Schultz
“All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.” -Marcel Duchamp, April 1957

“…On 21 May, [Yuan Cai and Jian Jun Xi] … made a contribution to Marcel Duchamp’s seminal work, the Fountain, a factory-made urinal he chose to autograph in 1917 and call art. Cai and Xi urinated on it for over a minute, their contribution kept away from Duchamp’s porcelain by the work’s Perspex case.” -Nick Paton Walsh, June 2000 (for The Observer)

Like an Eastern Bloc refugee driving a New York City cab while his worthless medical degree collects dust at home, Marcel Duchamp’s urinal was stripped of its intended social purpose and left to live out its days in existential mire. Perhaps we should praise Yuan Cai and Jian Jun Xi, these momentary liberators of a conflicted urinal, for at least now La Fontaine knows that it is still fit to serve. With a golden stream of answers, the two Chinese-born artists rather boldly resumed the dialogue Duchamp began in 1917 when he first presented the work. In spite of the Tate gallerists’ outrage over the incident, one can imagine Marcel would have approved – he, himself, proposed using a Rembrandt as an ironing board. The potential for meaningful, (though not necessarily desirable) destructive interaction exists in every work of art.In their act of urination, Cai and Xi materialized the (typically) internal dialogue between artist and spectator that Duchamp trumpeted in his 1957 lecture, “The Creative Act.” Anticipating Roland Barthes, he described a two-part construction of meaning in art: first, being the artist’s original intent and, second, being the unintentional meaning ascribed to a work by its audience. Thus, while some critics condemned Cai and Xi for misunderstanding La Fontaine, the duo could justify the action with the laconic explanation, “The urinal is there – it’s an invitation.” This tongue-in-cheek subjectivity perhaps betrays a stronger understanding of Duchamp’s theoretical teachings than their detractors might afford them.

French art critic, Nicolas Bourriaud, believes that Duchamp’s lecture was among the most powerful and sophisticated assertions that interactivity in art far precedes the era of gadgets, gizmos, and screens (Relational Aesthetics, 44). Lev Manovich, in The Language of New Media, takes similar aim: “All classical, and even moreso modern, art is ‘interactive’ in a number of ways. Ellipsis in literary narration, missing details of objects in visual art, and other representational ‘shortcuts’ require the user to fill in missing information” (56). Cai and Xi’s atypical interaction is noteworthy because it favored physical form over the cerebral, making tangible the audience’s contribution to the creative work. There are, of course, regrettable, if not dangerous, aspects inherent to this method of interaction. This becomes especially clear if we return, for instance, to the Rembrandt ironing board, or the very real blue vomit that Jubal Brown issued forth upon a Mondrian at the Art Gallery of Ontario, or Gerard Jan van Bladeren’s 1986 slashing of Barnett Newman’s “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Blue?” at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

Cai and Xi’s stunt seems harmless in comparison but one must recognize that the impulse driving these actions can be one and the same as that which leads fascists to burn books. I emphasize their methodology here only because it represents a generally ignored interactive practice that threatens widely adopted notions of ‘Interactive Art.’ Unfortunately, definitions of ‘Interactive Art’ offered by many of the primer texts on new media, for lack of a better term, fail to account for such possibilities. We can take Frank Popper’s Art of the Electronic Age as one example of this misdirected group. Popper argues that an ‘interactive artist’ tries “to stimulate a two-way interaction between his works and the spectator, a process that becomes possible only through the new technological devices that create a situation in which questions by the user/spectator are effectively answered by the art work itself” (8). Beyond his insistence on the work’s dependence on ‘technological devices,’ this definition inexplicably limits the role of an art work to that which answers questions rather than raises them. Obviously, this flies in the face of Duchamp’s theory of constructed meaning. It implies that the user/spectator cannot provide any answers him or herself. It disallows Cai and Xi to assert, “You are a urinal. See? I am going to piss on you,” which was one of many acceptable answers to the questions raised by La Fontaine. And, again, their engagement with the work was interactive without being bound to any technology per se. It was quite simply a realization of the potential that was always there. Randall Packer and Ken Jordan, in Multi-Media: From Wagner to Virtual Reality, define interactivity as “the ability of the user to manipulate and affect her experience of media directly” (xxxv). They elaborate, “Reading a text is not an interactive experience; interactivity implies changing the words of the text in some way — adding to them, reorganizing them, engaging with them in a way that affects their appearance on a screen” (xxxvi, emphasis mine). They might thus see the Burroughs-Gysin cut-up method as interactive, but would differ with Manovich, Duchamp, Roland Barthes, Stanley Fish, and many others over the inherent interactivity of reading/viewing any creative work, even text on paper. Yet still they concede that interactivity is “an overused word in danger of losing its meaning.” In this instance, they seem not to see the forest for the trees. Manovich clearly disregards the term ‘interactivity’ as being “too broad to be truly useful” (55). Indeed, the term is overused precisely because interactivity, be it cerebral or physical, is an inherent – if invisible — characteristic of the work of art. Yuan Cai and Jian Jun Xi have done us the favor of harmlessly demonstrating the potential for interactivity’s physical manifestations within works created long before the era of ‘Interactive Art.’ With this understanding, we can either work toward a new definition or lay the bothersome category to rest once and for all. If we choose the latter, perhaps we ought to let the ball continue to roll over the countless other inept terms that describe the various currents of ‘new media’ work (and let that one be the first). For if useful insight can be gained through destructive engagement with art, perhaps its vocabulary could use a shower as well.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Bourriaud, Nicolas. Relational Aesthetics. Trans. Simon Pleasance, Fronza Woods, and Mathieu Copeland. Paris: Les Presses du Réel, 2002. Duchamp, Marcel. “The Creative Act.” Convention of the American Federation of Arts. Houston, Texas, April 1957. Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2001. Packer, Randall and Ken Jordan, ed. Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2002. Popper, Frank. Art of the Electronic Age. London: Thames and Hudson, 1993. Walsh, Nick Paton. “It’s a new Cultural Revolution.” The Observer 11 June 2000.,6903,330551,00.html

Yishu Journal Contemporary Chinese Art, Issue of December 2004

by Sally Lai
Original from China, Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi have been living and working in the United Kingdom since the 1980s, having trained at Goldsmiths and Royal College of Art. They achieved notoriety in the late nineties for the their action Jumping on the Tracey Emin’s Bed (1999) at Tate Britain’s Turner Prize Exhibition. Their work to date has included antics such running naked across Westminster Bridge with Tony Bear (a pun on British Prime Minister Tony Blair; 2000), swimming across the river Thames (2000), arresting the curator Hou Hanru (2000), Soya sauce and Ketchup fights (1999,2000,2002), and creating a penis wine (2003).

Recently Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi staged their first full-scale exhibition, Happy and Glorious at the Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester. The interview with the artist reflects on how this project came about and places it with their practice.
SL: The two of you have been working together over the last five years. How did this partnership come about? Up until this point, what kind of work were you doing?
Cai & JJ: We have collaborated since Jumping on Tracey Emin’s bed (1999) at the Turner Prize exhibition. The partnership came about by chance. Up until then we had been doing a lot of abstract and conceptual work. When we saw the bed it excited us. We realised we could be doing something more interesting. To stage such an action needs a lot of courage; you need to be mentally and physically prepared for an unpredictable result. Our real motivation was to make a more significant work. Our attitude towards the establishment is important. We started a year-long campaign by doing a series of performances in London inside and outside the British institutions, including pissing, fighting, swimming, crawling, and running - a series of action-based performances.
SL: How do you see your work in relation to what is going on in the Chinese art scene?
Cai & JJ: We are working in different directions in a different contexts. Our position and experience are moulded by our existence in the Western world. What we do is completely separate from what is going on in China. It would be impossible to do what we do in China, as it would be interpreted as a political action. Something we still participate in the Chinese art scene. SL: The body has been a site for expression historically in live art. What role does the body have in your work?
Cai & JJ: We use our bodies as a vehicle of communication. On most occasions, the body appears as a symbol of our identity. The body acts like a piece of original material. As Mao said, you can paint the newest, most beautiful picture on a blank piece of paper.
SL: Do you think that Chinese artists have a different way of treating the body from contemporary artists in the West?
Cai & JJ: Yes and no. They interpret the body in different ways, using it as a means of expression.Chinese performance is a gesture, while performance in the West involves lots of discussion. Itcombines the subjective and the objective…the body in relation to ideas. Having said that, the Chinese use of the body has historical reasons behind it. Sometimes the body has been used to confront an oppressive regime. In that sense the body can be used as a site for protest against corruption, reflecting the human spirit of freedom.
SL: One work that was particularly shocking to British viewers is the Penis Wine (2003) in which an alcoholic drink was made with a penis lift over from a transsexual operation. Do you think that this is a difference between UK and Chinese attitudes to the body or does this work have as much potency in China?
Cai & JJ: In China, the attitude towards the body is cannibalistic, historically speaking. The body is not respected in the same way as the West. This is really shocking. Our penis spirit is to do with the spirit, not the body. We did that work in China, as it would impossible to use a body part from a transsexual operation in the UK. One or two people in China might understand this work, but most obviously wouldn’t.
SL: The media, in this case Channel 4, was used as a means of the disseminating this piece to a wide audience and as a means of generating hype about the work. Quite often things in the media take on a life of their own. How have you found this? Have you been able to deliberately utilise this?
Cai & JJ: The media does what it wants to do. What we want to do is raise questions about the Chinese art practice and Western commercialism in the Chinese context. That’s why we did it (the penis wine piece) in the Sanlitun district, in the heart of the Westernised bars where artists and Westerners go to drink. Ironically, the street which was called “bar street” has now been demolished. It’s like Pissing on Duchamp’s urinal (2000) -it’s celebrating the original spirit of the avant-garde. The work is highly metaphysical. Drinking the penis wine gives energy and gives you health. Drinking this in China was a gesture to remind artists in China that they have lost their values, prioritising capitalist and commercial values. The original value of art has been left behind.
SL: With the Penis Wine work it is now difficult to know what to believe; some people say it was really a human penis and others that it was purely faked for the programme. Does the truth behind the project matter to you, or is it interesting that all these contradictory stories simultaneously exist?
Cai & JJ: We took part in the film made by Channel 4, which was looking at extreme art in China in which artists used real body parts in their work. We got the penis from an artist in Beijing. It is an original piece. It has to be true. You can’t fake it and fool the Beijing’s “top art circle.” The stories are always interesting to hear because it shows the stories evolve as they circulate around different people.
SL: The performance-related photographic project Paradox is also about contradictions, with its deliberate juxtaposition of contrasting images. What is the significance of positioning yourselves in front of , for example, Buckingham Palace naked?
Cai & JJ: The Arts Council of England supported Paradox,a series of twelve images in which we positioned ourselves as Chinese against British settings - places like the Houses of Parliament, symbols of British national identity. The significance is the contrast between us, as barbaric Chinese bodies, and the respectable British monarchy.
SL: Your work has often involved institutional critique questioning the boundaries of institutionalised artwork. What to you is the importance of doing this?
Cai & JJ: We are keeping an eye on certain institutions. We are interested in what they are doing, their programmes, etc. It is like a process of democracy, like people keeping an eye on their government. If the government decides to go to war for wrong reason, we are going to protest. This is very important. Without it, our critique would not function. If people do not criticise their government, society becomes unhealthy. The majority of works of art and institutions are very unhealthy, due to self-indulgence and lack of social-political awareness, which often means no critique at all within the institution. They are very limited for various reasons.
SL: Over the last year there has been a different and more formal relationship with institutions, e.g. the Monkey King Creates Havoc at the Heavenly Palace Monkey King Creates Havoc at the Heavenly Palace Arts Centre. How has this come about, what relation does this have to your past work, and what impact has it had on your practice?
Cai & JJ: We are not against institutions. Working with institutions is not going to change the nature of our work. In fact, institutions can help us realise our practice. The only problem is: are they going to take us? Are they prepared to open up to different forms of practice? The British Museum and the Chinese arts Centre are different. They are both concerned with cultural diversity; that’s maybe why they have taken us on.
SL: Much of your work is based on spontaneous live interventions. What life do you think these actions have beyond the actual moment? How important is documentation to your work?
Cai & JJ: We create our own history. Our actions are very important for our future. We live in a moment when the world appears to be ever so surreal. At the same time, it is very real. As artists the only thing we can do is depict the time. Our documentation is like grabbing the moment of our lives. There is the meaning of art and the meaning of life.
SL: In the past you have been most recognised as the two artists who jumped on Tracey Emin’s bed. At the time when you did it, were you aware of quite how much controversy it would cause? What role does controversy and shock have in your work?
Cai & JJ: We never expected such a lot of media attention about this piece. Jumping on the bed gave the bed life. It will go down in history because people will always remember it. People see Bed as a controversy, but to us there’s nothing new in Bed. The real controversy is jumping on it. We gave the bed life and transformed its meaning. It challenged the institution and its perception of what is art, in the same way what Duchamp presented his Fountain. Duchamp’s Fountain will always be remembered.
It’s a true masterpiece.
SL: It was five years ago now. Has it become a hindrance that it has stuck with you for so long?
Cai & JJ: Not at all; we are proud of it. It reminds us to continue in this direction, to keep the real spirit going. It’s placed us in British popular culture and we have been questioned on Have I Got News for you, University Challenge, Private Eye, and even the Tate Quiz.
SL: The exhibition Happy and Glorious,at the Chinese Arts Centre, was your first full-scale exhibition. How has preparing for this differed from your other work, which has been seemingly more spontaneous and action / intervention based?
Cai & JJ: We are trained as visual artists and have had work in other exhibition, of course. We always prepare and discuss the ideas, whether it’s a performance or installation. We are able to do both large-scale work and spontaneous work using different forms. In fact, doing something quick is more difficult. With Happy and Glorious the installation took place over a week, compared to Pissing on Duchamp’s Urinal, which only lasted one minute.
SL: How did you go about researching and developing ideas for the exhibition?
Cai & JJ: Research began with illegal immigrants and the Morecambe Bay tragedy, looking at why Chinese people want to work here and obtain British passports, it then developed into the idea of becoming British. This crossed over with our real experience. We developed the idea of subversively performing as loyal citizens, happy and glorious British subjects. We used to have loyalty to Chairman Mao and the communist party; now we can manipulate this loyalty with our new imagined leader, the Queen.
SL: The exhibition consists of three different elements, an installation, projected video documentation of past performances, and the documentation of a new performance piece performed at the opening of the exhibition. How do the different elements relate to each other?
Cai & JJ: There are three elements to the show. In the giant coffin (In the name of Art,2004),a letter from the Tate is displayed which bans us from entering or being on their premise. In the letter we are accused of harming their staff, “threaten (ing) the health and well being of …visitors,” and damaging works of art. We use the letter to create our work, inviting everybody to read it, displayed in a coffin-room, decorated in traditional British style. The story of becoming British is the performance piece when we sing the National Anthem hanging upside -down and naked in front of a picture of the Queen at her coronation. The large-scale video projection shows documentation of our live interventions and performances in public spaces. The way these different elements work together brings out our story and shows the irony of the situation. To put it simply, you become a British citizen, you live in a free society, then you are banned from its institutions. This is all in the name of art.
SL: At an obvious level the coffin, In the name of art, can be read as a symbol of death with many readings, such as a reference to the death of art and museum as morgue, but also assign a more positive reading to it. Can you tell me about this?
Cai & JJ: The death of art and museum is an old story. We are more interested in bring it to life. Most of time you can’t save museums and art - the only way to do it is to infuse some action and make things happy in a more optimistic way.
SL: Can you explain the significance of the title of the show, Happy and Glorious?
Cai & JJ: It has a double meaning . In China, under the party’s leadership, the significance is the idea of living a happy and glorious life of communism. Since we have become British, the words are from the national anthem. People are sheep under communism and capitalism alike.
SL: The black -and -white photographs of past performances have a grainy quality. How deliberate is this? It seems to me to be newspaper-like; is this to historicize the work?
Cai & JJ: Yes; a sense of the importance of historical documentation. Newspaper have used those image many times. It would look better in larger size; then you really feel you are standing in front of the road of history - a history written by our bodies.
SL: What role does an audience play in your work? Are they a necessity to the performance?
Cai & JJ: We don’t choose the audience. We just let it happen when we are there. You never know what the audience will consist of. They witness something which they have never seen before and have to confront their feelings about it. In the recording of jumping on the bed, there is dialogue between a mother and daughter in which the mother says how exciting it is and the daughter says, “Yes, it is”! We prefer the audience to be unprepared. Most of the time, they are forced into a difficult situation in which they have to react immediately without much information. We value their quick judgement. This is more truthful for us.
SL: Looking at the question of repetition, how do performance evolve you change when repeated? For instance you have performed a number of works several times in different contexts, such as Soya Sauce and Ketchup (1999, 2000, 2002) and also a version of the performance Happy and Glorious.
Cai & JJ: On May Day, 2000, we performed Soya Sauce and Ketchup, witnessed by activists and demonstrators and the police. In this situation it was amidst chaos and thousands of people and no control. In Liverpool at the Bluecoat, we performed it in a Perspex box on a Sunday afternoon, a sunning day-then it appeared to more entertaining. Obviously the context changes the work. Before this exhibition, we did a slicker version of Happy and Glorious, the performance in Beijing, at a performance festival. This version was called Think UK. It was deliberately taken from the British Council marketing strategy in China. We wore formal suits and the title made the work have a different kind of appeal.
SL: Happy and Glorious is very much a continuation and development of institutional critique in your work. It challenges and jibes at in many ways what is seen as very “British”. How do you think audiences in other contexts and countries would receive this work?
Cai & JJ: It will be interesting to see people’s reactions from other countries. That’s why we’d like it to tour and hear different opinions.
SL: What are you working on at the moment?
Cai & JJ: We are working with the Munch-museum in Oslo, on a large-scale video installation to recreate the lost Scream . Another project is a sound installation of the lorry tragedy, which refers to the fifty-eight Chinese who died in a lorry transporting tomatoes from China. We are also producing a limited edition Penis Spirit, bottled and labelled from our earlier performance work, Penis Wine,carried out in Beijing. Another new work is a monkey cast in porcelain for a large sculptural installation based on the legendary monkey king story.


Cai Yuan
1986 - 1989 BA, Chelsea College of Art and Design, London
1989 - 1991 MA, Royal College of Art, London

Jian Jun Xi
1982 - 1986 BA, Central Academy of Arts and Design, Beijing
1993 - 1994 MA, Goldsmiths' College, University of London

Exhibitions and Projects

2013  The Blood in my Hands, Kunstverein Ludwigsburg, Germany
     London Chinese artists biennale, Asia House, London
     Scream, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
     Duchamp and/or/in UCCA, China
    Scream, Shanghai Tang, Hong Kong      

2012      Screem, Tate Morden, London
     Occupy, Fridericiaum Museum Kassel Germany
     Performance for 3rd Guangzhou Int'l Live Art project, Guangzhou China
     2nd Xi'an Live Art project and Suzhou Live Garden project, China

2010      Bed-in, Bluecoat Gallery, Livepool
     Crazy Wisdom, Pan Asia Performance, South Korea
     GeZiBiaoShu, Arthur Sackler Museum, Beijing University
     Now Asian Artist, Busan Biennale, South Korea
     The Flower of May, The Gwangju Museum of Art, South Korea
     Spoken Word, Invia, London

2009  Aircraft Carrier Project, Tokyo Gallery+BTAP, Beijing, China (solo)
     Happy and Glorious’ Tang Contemporary Art Gallery, Hong Kong (solo)
     Soya Sauce and Ketchup-Universal Project,Colchester Arts Centre, UK (solo)
     Soya Sauce and Ketchup-Universal Project, University of Essex, Colchester (solo)
     Lilith Performance Studio Project, Malmo, Sweden (solo)
     Chinese contemporary art retrospective, Duolun Museum of Modern Art, Shanghai
     Being British, Stephen Lawrence Gallery, University of Greenwich, UK
     English Lounge, Tang Contemporary, Beijing
     2nd Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art, Greece

2008  National Review of Live Art, Glasgow, UK
     China Night, Film, British Museum
     Far West, Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol, UK
     Mad for Real, Square Gallery of Contemporary Art, Nanjing, China
     Earthquake, Art Channel, Beijing      

2007  Soya Sauce and Ketchup-Universal Project, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
     Chinese Performance Photograph Documentation Since 1979, Inter Art Centre, Beijing
     Transfiguration, Performance, Louis T Blouin Foundation, London
     Legacy, Rossi & Rossi Ltd, London
     Mad For Real Film, BBC big screen, Clayton Square, Liverpool

2006  On the Big Screen, Corner House, Manchester
     Vital int‘l Festival Performance, Orbiz Square, Manchester
     Monkey King Sculpture and Live Art Project, Colchester Arts Centre, UK
     Point to the East, Strike in the West, Photo and Performance, 798 Dashanzi, Beijing
     Dou-pi-gai: struggle criticise reform, Performance, Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt, Berlin

2005  Monkey King Photograph Project, Artists Link Shanghai, British Council
     Transposition, Office for Contemporary Arts Norway, Oslo
     Apple of My Eye, V&A Museum, London
     ANTI Contemporary Art Festival, Kuopio, Finland

2004  Salon Series, Home, London
     Liverpool Live, Bluecoat Arts Centre, Liverpool
     Nasubi Gallery, Mori Museum, Tokyo
     Face to Face, AURA Gallery, Shanghai
     Happy & Glorious, Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester
     THINK UK, DaDao International Live Art Festival, Beijing
     Monkey King Causes Havoc in the Heavenly Palace, British Museum
     Alive, Alive-O! Morecambe Bay, Installation, Lancashire, UK

2003  Paradox Post and Billboard Project, London Underground
     Cultural Breakthrough, The Guardian Newsroom, London
     Peripheries Become the Centre, Prague Biennale1, Prague
     Wandering Library, Project of the International Artists’ Museum, Venice
     Dazed Eye, La Foret Arts Space, Tokyo
     Burning Fields, Speaker’ s Corner, Hyde Park, London
     Live Culture at Tate Modern, London

2002  You are Here, Bluecoat Arts Centre, Liverpool Biennale
     Penis Spirit and Beijing Swings, Documentary Channel 4, UK
     Big Screen in Little China, Home GMI, Leicester Square, London

2001  StopForAMinute, Dazed & Confused and Film 4 project,
     9th Biennial of Moving Images, Geneva; Leeds International Film Festival;
     13th International Film Festival, Cardiff
     Markers, Banner Project, The International Artists’ Museum, 49th Venice Biennale
     Touring London, online project, inIVA
     Uncovered, University Gallery, University of Essex, Colchester

2000  Two Artists Arrest Hou Hanru, Shanghai Art Museum, 2nd Shanghai Biennial
     Open Fire! Royal, Academy of Arts, London
     Two Artists Swim Across the Thames, Millennium Bridge, London
     Run Naked Across Westminster Bridge with Tony Bear, London
     Soya Sauce Ketchup Fight, May Day, Trafalgar Square, London
     Two Artists Crawl Through, Central London
     Two Artist Piss on Duchamp's Urinal, Tate Modern, London

1999  Mad for Real, Fordham Gallery and Whitechapel Art Gallery, London
     Two Artists Jump on Tracey Emin's Bed, Tate Gallery, London
     Cities on the Move, Hayward Gallery, London

1993  Silent Energy, Museum of Moeden Art of Oxford, UK

1986  Founder member of Concept 21 Group, first performance at Beijing University, China

Talks and Lectures

2009  Tate Morden, London
     ICA, London
     Malmo Konsthall, Sweden
2008  Tsinghua University, Beijing
2007  Tate Liverpool
     Vital, Manchester
2006  National Gallery, London
     Royal College of Art, London
     Beijing University, China
     Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London
2005  Office for Contemporary Art Norway
     ART: What is Good For? Dartington College of Arts
     ANTI Contemporary, Kuopio, Finland
2004  We Love You, Goethe Institute, London
     Oxford Brookes University
2003  Marked, Arnolfini Art Gallery, Bristol

1983  中国南京艺术学院
1989  伦敦彻尔西美术学院
1991  英国皇家美术学院

1986  北京中央工艺美术学院
1994  伦敦大学歌德史密斯学院


2010  'Bed-in', Bluecoat Gallery, 利物浦
    疯狂的智慧, 泛亚洲行为艺术展, 韩国
    各自表述, 赛科勒博物馆, 北京大学
    现在的亚洲艺术家, 釜山双年展, 韩国
    五月的花, 光州美术馆, 韩国
    字的行为, Invia, 伦敦

2009     同一个世界 同一个梦想, 东京画廊+BTAP, 北京 (个展)
    酱油和番茄酱全球计划, Colchester 艺术中心, 英国(个展)
    作为英国人, Stephen Lawrence 画廊, 英国
    2nd Thessaloniki 当代艺术双年展,希腊
    Lilith 行为工作室计划,瑞典

2008  行为权利,英国行为艺术回顾展,戈拉斯哥, 英国
    远在西方, Arnolfini 画廊, 布里斯托, 英国
    疯狂与真实,四方当代美术馆, 南京 (个展)
    地震,艺术通道, 北京

2007  酱油和番茄酱全球计划,路易斯桑那现代美术馆,丹麦
    变形,Louis T Blouin基金会,伦敦
    遗迹,Rossi&Rossi Ltd,伦敦

2006  大屏幕,Corner House,英国曼彻斯特 
     斗、批、改,柏林世界文化宫, 德国

2005  猴王计划,英国文化艺术协会艺术家链接项目

2004  沙龙系列,伦敦HOME
     活,活的哎!Morecambe Bay计划,英国Lancashire

2003  矛盾,广告招贴计划,伦敦地铁
     迷惘之眼,东京La Foret艺术空间
2002  你在这,Bluecoat艺术中心,利物浦双年展
     大屏幕小中国,Home GMI,伦敦Leicester广场

2001  一分钟,第九届Geneva电影双年节,Leeds国际电影节,

2000  两位艺术家逮捕候瀚如,第2届上海双年展,上海美术馆

1999  疯狂和真实,伦敦Fordham画廊和Whitechapel画廊

1993  沉默的力量,牛津当代美术馆,英国

1986  参与组织观念21小组首次行为,北京大学,中国


2009  泰特当代美术馆, 伦敦
     当代艺术研究机构, 伦敦
     马摩当代美术馆, 瑞典
2008  清华美院, 北京
2007  利物浦泰特美术馆, 英国
     曼切斯特中国艺术中心, 英国
2006  国家肖像美术馆, 英国
     皇家美术学院, 英国
     北京大学, 中国
     苏富比艺术研究院, 伦敦
2005  当代艺术协会, 挪威
     ANTI当代艺术节, 芬兰
2004  德国歌德学院, 伦敦
     大英博物馆, 英国
     牛津布鲁克斯大学美术学院, 英国
2003  布里斯托Arnolfini画廊, 英国
2002  国际视觉艺术中心, 英国


Cai Yuan and JJ Xi performance 1999-2005
Edited by Katie Hill

Published by Carrots Press London 2005
in a limited edition of 500 copies
ISBN 0955107407

Pages 128
Binding Soft back
Illustration 135 colour, 19 b&w illustrations
Dimensions 260mm x 210mm

This book is a very richly illustrated full-colour catalogue of JJ Xi and Cai Yuan's performance work from 1999 to 2005, with an essay by Dr Katie Hill and an interview by the curator Sally Lai.

The photographs are strong images of the work which have never been presented as a body of work before. it features performance such as Cai Yuan and JJ Xi Jumping on Tracey Emin's Bed at Tate Gallery 1999, Monkey King causes havoc in the Heavenly Place at British Museum 2003, and artists recent solo exhibition at Manchester Happy and Glorious as well as the more controversial performances in the Tate and other London public-space and locations. Yuan Cai and JJ Xi make strong use of irony in their performance and photographic work, drawing on seemingly banal subject -matter such as soya sauce and Monkey King to make witty and absurd commentaries through ironic action and posturing.

Table of Contents


Order at


东京画廊 BTAP 2009
Tokyo Gallery + Beijing Tokyo Art Projects, Beijing


香港当代唐人艺术中心 2009
Tang Contemporary Art, Hongkong