Secret location, private invitations, undercover police – Berlin-based artist Viviana Druga shares her experience from her recent art residency in China.
For our “Spirit” topic, we interviewed Romanian artist and incredibly magical creature Viviana Druga. Now, almost a year later, we met up with Viviana in her eclectic Berlin flat again to retell her story of facing art censorship in Beijing, where she flew to participate in OPEN, an international performance art festival, which was challenged with a great deal of political backlash this year. The 18th edition of the performance art festival was shut down just two weeks before it was supposed to kick off, forcing the organizers to find a new, secret location as quick as they could. Even though the festival did indeed take place in the end, only a few dozens of visitors saw the intriguing performances from fifteen international artists.
Kneeling down in foetal position, the artist had the words “control” and “art” written in bright red paint over her bared bottom. The act, reminding of the restriction and submission of the artists, happened in what Viviana called her “first Chinese house,” a simple construction made of bricks found in the streets of Beijing. Built with the help of the festival visitors, it was drawing on Viviana’s impression of the whole country being “under construction”, endlessly rebuilt and reshaped, a feeling which is reflected in China’s politics too – laws and constantly change, making it hard to keep up with the immense speed. It seems like everything is fated to be destroyed and reconstructed, and Viviana’s little brick house was no exception.
Viviana also collaborated with Han Bing, a local artist, on a performance that took place at the Czech China Contemporary Museum. With their bodies painted black and white, the artists brought to life the polarity of yin and yang. Focusing on the construction of gender and transcending its barriers, they presented an offering of sorts; reminding one of a funeral ceremony with beautiful, fragile flowers being thrown around. The artists used the unusual architecture of the museum to further expand the notions of gender and sexuality; turning the hole-shaped window into a birth canal, which was entered by a plastic blown-up penis. The act of tossing flowers and emitting smoke thus substituted an ejaculation, a rebirth, a mournful end and an exciting beginning happening at once.
The second performance wasn’t spared of a police intervention either – a cop showed up and tried to end the show, only to leave in confusion after Viviana told him the only thing she knew in Chinese: “I love you.” From talking about her trip to China, it is clear that the most prevalent feeling Viviana got was that of being policed, watched, of being restrained. She compared it to Panopticon, the famous concept of prison – you never knew who was watching. You cannot trust anyone, so you always have to control yourself, and everything happens behind the closed doors – which is exactly the thing, Viviana elaborates, that was happening in Romania during the communist era, and which is still very painful to remember for the older generations of Czech people too. While this strictly authoritative system might break relationships, communities, and even people themselves, it seems that the strength of art itself is too great to be shunned that easily. Nevertheless, this experience stroke an interest in Viviana, who’s planning to return to China in the beginning of the year.
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