What do roast chickens and love have in common? Absofuckinglutely nothing.
Form and content in art should go hand in hand. However, in Guangzhou-based performance artist Kang Yi’s recent work, nothing seems to fit. He stands on a podium, stripped down to a thong, with three golden-brown, baked birds hanging from his limbs. A girl climbs up and bites his exposed flesh, leaving red, raw teeth marks on his neck, belly…
With this piece, Kang Yi theoretically hopes to inspire people to choose a more traditional Chinese path of love. I think this performance will turn me off physical contact with others altogether — and that takes a lot. Performance art is always best experienced in person, and perhaps I would have hated it a little less had I been present, but to add insult to injury, the video documentation that has been circulating for Kang Yi’s work is insultingly poorly edited.
The watching of it leaves me a little confused at best. There is no feeling between the boy and girl. The chickens are there to make the connection between human flesh and meat? — it’s either too obvious or too obscure, and aesthetically very displeasing.
This search for “true love” can be seen in other contemporary Chinese performance pieces. In Liu Jin’s “How Much Love We Still Have,” the artist rolls his nearly-naked body through a room of rose petals which stick to him, and fall off. This is a beautiful piece that works with the audience to create an almost religious environment.
The shock value itself of Kang’s piece is not enough. Use of public nudity and self-mutilation is not new to the Chinese performance scene. Zhang Huan covering himself in honey, sitting in a public toilet, and waiting for the insects to descend upon him is a prime example of great art. Kang, on the other hand, makes a spectacle of himself without considering the audience as viewers, onlookers, voyeurs at all.
Suggestion: Make Zhang Huan your new role model. Or take a look at Yoko Ono. She may have broken up the Beatles, but she makes a mean performance.
Lola B is BJC’s resident artist. You can read her previous work in the Yishus Archives.