Wang Qingsong, Yaochi Fiesta, 127 cm x 410 cm, 2005
An uncountable number of male and female nudes casually laid themselves down in front and amongst an idyllic stereotype of a “classic” Chinese mountain landscape. They friendly look back towards an audience, who will have some initial trouble to get an overview of the lively scenery.
The Yaochi Fiesta was neither Wang Qingsong’s first nor his last work highlighting the nude body. Nevertheless, the print is his first work that he explicitly made out of consideration with the growing visibility of nudity in China. The nude human body, in particular the female one, still is not as omnipresent in the Chinese visual public as in many other societies. There is, though, an unprecedented access to visual representations of the nude in almost any media available from unlicensed street stalls to government run bookshops. Unlike other cultures, the Chinese of the last few centuries adhered to concepts of the human physique that did not support the wider public circulation of representations of the nude or even of sexuality. From a certain point of view the body was viewed as a vessel of essential energies. While a vast corpus of medical and religious texts existed, which discussed various ways of cultivating such energies through physical exercise, forms of physical expression that were termed as “wild” or “extreme” by the authorities such as certain forms of religiously co-notated martial arts practices were subject to outright oppression. Some religiously covered sexual practices might occasionally also have met with official disapproval. Before this rather biased background of an understanding of the human body as a potential threat to socio-political stability no ways of artistic representations of the nude body evolved such as those well known in Occidental art history. When the first painting schools and art academies that taught a “Western” curriculum including drawing exercises with live nudes where founded around the turn of the century before last, they met with heavy official and private pressure. Things have vastly changed since and the medially transmitted body is readily available to the interested eye in such different institutions as old-fashioned oil painting exhibitions, advertisements etc., etc.
The fact that Wang’s photographic installations, which surely would have been denounced as pornographic not long ago, can be displayed and traded without arousing much attention might be taken for an example of how art occasionally may serve as a lackmus for societal changes. »