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When Art Happened

When Art Happened

  • A summer night in 1996. At Udo Hoffman’s house in the Summer Palace. A few days before, Liu Anping gave me a call and said he wanted to do a performance that night and wanted me to come. As always, I didn’t know what to expect of his performance. Udo’s house was a traditional compound around a courtyard, extremely pretty, situated within the quiet and beautiful Summer Palace. After I got there I realized that the whole night was just a big party, and many artist friends were there. Liu Anping was wearing a shirt dappled with ink and looked well put-together; Uli held a thermos in her hand—a gift typically given by friends to newlyweds. I am not too certain whether this was a performance or an engagement party, but either way Liu Anping clearly did not want me to know the truth about this “performance.” So I chose to simply enjoy myself, and in the meanwhile take a few photos.
    A summer night in 1996. At Udo Hoffman’s house in the Summer Palace. A few days before, Liu Anping gave me a call and said he wanted to do a performance that night and wanted me to come. As always, I didn’t know what to expect of his performance. Udo’s house was a traditional compound around a courtyard, extremely pretty, situated within the quiet and beautiful Summer Palace. After I got there I realized that the whole night was just a big party, and many artist friends were there. Liu Anping was wearing a shirt dappled with ink and looked well put-together; Uli held a thermos in her hand—a gift typically given by friends to newlyweds. I am not too certain whether this was a performance or an engagement party, but either way Liu Anping clearly did not want me to know the truth about this “performance.” So I chose to simply enjoy myself, and in the meanwhile take a few photos.
  • July 1998. Cui Jian and Liu Yuan performing at the French Embassy music festival.
    July 1998. Cui Jian and Liu Yuan performing at the French Embassy music festival.
  • The hottest bar for music in Beijing at the time was the Poacher’s Inn. Back then, they held lively rock and roll concerts every weekend. Most of the people who went there were Westerners, alongside a number of stylish, cosmopolitan young Chinese.
    The hottest bar for music in Beijing at the time was the Poacher’s Inn. Back then, they held lively rock and roll concerts every weekend. Most of the people who went there were Westerners, alongside a number of stylish, cosmopolitan young Chinese.
  • March 1995, early spring. I was invited to be one of the artists filmed for the German television station ARD’s documentary about the Chinese avant-garde. Because it had to capture me at work, I suggested that they kill two birds with one stone and record me shooting Wang Pu as he set up his installation, which consisted of Wang reinserting bricks from the Imperial Palace, plastered with American money, back into its ruined outer walls. On the left is the ARD photographer, and Wang Pu is on the right.
    March 1995, early spring. I was invited to be one of the artists filmed for the German television station ARD’s documentary about the Chinese avant-garde. Because it had to capture me at work, I suggested that they kill two birds with one stone and record me shooting Wang Pu as he set up his installation, which consisted of Wang reinserting bricks from the Imperial Palace, plastered with American money, back into its ruined outer walls. On the left is the ARD photographer, and Wang Pu is on the right.
  • June 1994. Zhang Huan at his East Village home performing <em>65 Kilograms</em>. Actually, this was the first of a string of performances that included Ma Liuming and Zhu Ming. The first day was Zhang, the second day was Ma, and the third day was Zhu. More than twenty people came, including some artists, friends, curators, and foreigners (among whom were Germans and Japanese). Zhang’s performance went extraordinarily smoothly from start to finish.
    June 1994. Zhang Huan at his East Village home performing 65 Kilograms. Actually, this was the first of a string of performances that included Ma Liuming and Zhu Ming. The first day was Zhang, the second day was Ma, and the third day was Zhu. More than twenty people came, including some artists, friends, curators, and foreigners (among whom were Germans and Japanese). Zhang’s performance went extraordinarily smoothly from start to finish.
  • May 1995, Guangzhou. Lin Yilin’s performance <em>Safely Crossing Linhe Road</em>. A freelance photographer at the time, I was working on a feature on Chinese avant-garde art for the German magazine <em>Stern</em>. <em>Stern</em> photographer Hans-Jürgen Burkard (crouching on the right; standing on the right is me) and I traveled together to Guangzhou to shoot. I planned the trip beforehand with the artists, and all of them did something for me to shoot. The four artists of the Big Tail Elephant collective all prepared new works, becoming the very reflection of my camera lens.
    May 1995, Guangzhou. Lin Yilin’s performance Safely Crossing Linhe Road. A freelance photographer at the time, I was working on a feature on Chinese avant-garde art for the German magazine Stern. Stern photographer Hans-Jürgen Burkard (crouching on the right; standing on the right is me) and I traveled together to Guangzhou to shoot. I planned the trip beforehand with the artists, and all of them did something for me to shoot. The four artists of the Big Tail Elephant collective all prepared new works, becoming the very reflection of my camera lens.
  • 1994. Zuoxiao Zuzhou at his East Village house giving me a personal performance. The inside of his house was plastered with playbills from the Western rock musicians he most revered—you could literally see what his ideals were. A good friend of Zuzhou’s, the first time I went to Germany I bought a real bargain of a handmade guitar for him, which became one of his most favorite instruments.
    1994. Zuoxiao Zuzhou at his East Village house giving me a personal performance. The inside of his house was plastered with playbills from the Western rock musicians he most revered—you could literally see what his ideals were. A good friend of Zuzhou’s, the first time I went to Germany I bought a real bargain of a handmade guitar for him, which became one of his most favorite instruments.
  • Early May, 1994. East Village artists taking part in an independent film shoot. Ma Yingli, who would soon graduate from a German film academy, wrote a script based on the life stories of a few of her girlfriends, and employed amateur actors for its adaptation—hence the participation of the artists.
    Early May, 1994. East Village artists taking part in an independent film shoot. Ma Yingli, who would soon graduate from a German film academy, wrote a script based on the life stories of a few of her girlfriends, and employed amateur actors for its adaptation—hence the participation of the artists.
  • August 8, 1994. An early photograph I took of East Village artworks published in Hong Kong’s <em>Ming Pao</em>. I used the pen name “Eva Piano.”
    August 8, 1994. An early photograph I took of East Village artworks published in Hong Kong’s Ming Pao. I used the pen name “Eva Piano.”

In the 1990s, there were very few places to hold contemporary art exhibitions, concerts, or even simple gatherings of friends. Nonetheless, some of China’s most celebrated cultural figures—particularly in the fields of art and music—would manage to break their own ground. Just as this new New China would capture the attention of cultural observers in the West, the artist Xing Danwen acted as a visual intermediary, code switching between artist, photojournalist, and participant.

Editor’s Note: These images originally appeared in LEAP magazine’s June issue.

Born in Xi’an, China, Beijing-based artist Xing Danwen received her B.F.A. in painting from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing and M.F.A. in photography from the School of Visual Arts...
LEAP is the leading international art magazine of contemporary China. Published six times a year in Chinese and English, it presents a winning mix of contemporary art coverage and cultural commentary...

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