Helping art career by harming public order

By Liu Yan Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/3 20:18:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Four years ago, art student Ge Yulu turned his name into a street sign (the last word of his name is the same word for road in Chinese) and put it on one section of a small street in Beijing. It was designed to be a project for school work, but later Ge found the road name was adopted by several online maps.

The street name sign was dismantled by authorities after the incident was circulated on social media, yet several of Ge's other projects made headlines recently. Ge, who was a graduate student from China Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), put a dildo atop of a flag pole on campus earlier this year. Not long after that, an image emerged of him sitting on scaffolding and staring straight into the lens of a surveillance camera.

While he reportedly was punished by CAFA for putting the sex toy on the flag post, the surveillance-camera staring project has aroused intensive debate about whether it constitutes a performance artwork or an act that disrupts public order.

The 27-year-old student said in an interview that his purpose is to question the right of surveillance. "Since the surveillance camera is generally staring at us, can't I stare back? I just look at it and hopefully in a few hours can be noticed by people behind it. When there is a moment of looking face-to-face between us, I think it would be fantastic."

While the bold artwork received applause from some for challenging "Big Brother-style" surveillance, many also question whether blocking the camera has imposed a danger to public security. What if a criminal act happened in the area that the surveillance camera covered and an image was needed to find the perpetrator?

A broader question perhaps is whether society should tolerate the diverse expression of opinion and where the bottom line should be drawn. As China develops, society is transforming from one that advocated conformity to one that encourages individuality. It can be taken as progress that artists like Ge can emerge and exist.

Performing arts face controversy everywhere in the world. In late July, a naked teen boy, who claimed he was living in his own video game world, was taken away by Hong Kong MTR staff. The incident was interpreted by some as a criticism of a joint checkpoint plan for Hong Kong's future high-speed terminus. There are others who chart the murky zone between performance art and political activism.

Ge's punishment from CAFA didn't come completely as a surprise. A majority of people think that putting a dildo on a national flag pole is inappropriate. Challenging public order has brought Ge's artworks more public attention, which is important to an artist. As he may be enticed to continue this way, or even may be incited to provoke authorities, Ge could collide with the reality of Chinese society, which places high importance on social order.

The boundary of individual freedom and how it should interact with public order is the subject of a long debate. Ge's aim is to provoke public's participation by creating interference. In this sense, his artworks have achieved the goal.

The author is a commentator with the Global Times. Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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