Zheng Guogu, Planting Goose, Photo, 120 cm x 180 cm, 1/10, 1994
« On the large surface of the image three geese make a nice diagonal cut from lower left to upper right. Basically a traditional pattern of painterly composition, in that case the geese are the motif of a photograph and the bigger part of their bodies is dug into the soil.
The photo is, as so often in contemporary art in China, not the complete work. It rather constitutes a fragment of a complex that centres around one work/event-structure. The event was a performance by the then recently graduated artist Zheng Guogu: on a large piece of land, Zheng cleared away the vegetation and used white powder to lay-out an star-shaped pattern. At certain points of the pattern’s outline he had small holes dug out into which he “planted” geese by digging them in up to their shoulder areas. Unlike other artistic projects of these years, the animals didn’t get killed in the process of the event. While the performance was limited in time and confined to one specific site, the photographs taken during the event are still there. The present image is one of various shots that were taken from many different angels and perspectives. Some of these are used in a more documentary fashion others are regarded as art works by themselves. So the work/event-structure of Planting Goose consists of the now gone event – including it’s preparatory materials – and the different kinds of photos that are still extant. To a certain extent even the writing about this vanished project takes part in the constitution of the work.
Zheng Guogu belongs to a small group of south Chinese artists, designers, writers and poets who are notable for the fact that they did not relocate to one of the big urban centres but choose to live in their native Yangzhou, a town some two hours outside Guangzhou. These peoples creativity turned that otherwise un-notable place into a centre for the arts itself, gaining national and international attention. Since the early 1990s artists from the greater Guangzhou area are recognized for a distinct artistic approach to their living environment. Groups like the Big Tailed Elephant Working Group or a loose association around Zheng – the Yangjiang Group – made the experience of being young and living in the largest and fastest growing and changing urban conglomerate of China the centre of their work. As a result a corpus of works had been created that’s sensitivity to socio-economic phenomena is of notable difference to the output of the art scenes closer to the centre of power, up north. In sharing topics and thoughts with urban megalopolises all over the southern hemisphere the pearl-river delta art is regional without being provincial. »
“Planting Geese, one of Zheng Guogu‘s earlist works, is both earth and performance. It serves as the annotation of the Yangjiang phenomenon. The work itself is also an example of “soft terrorism” in that the geese were not killed, but rather planted as seedlings into per-dug holes. Coated with black ink, the geese remained alive. They flapped their wings trying to fly out of the holes.
This work forebodes a strategy used consistently in Zheng Guogu later works, from One Million Customers to the duplicates displayed at the Xiangning art gallery: smashing the truth with the false in the truth.
Zheng Guogo has developed his schemes out of his disrespect, ignorance, and even violation of those outdated customs and mores. His carefully transcribed conversation with Hou Hanrou is as unacceptable as Planting Geese, but people could not help but chuckle. The conversation has played a role in furthering our curator’s belief in the Cantonese artists whose behavior simply matches his line of curatorial thinking
Yishu, march 2004, b y Chen Tong »I