Han Bing, Politics of Love

by | To Watch, We Believe In...

Deciphering The Artist’s Mind: fremdkorper (Studio Koreans)

Politicians and economists are talking of a new colossus that little by little has spread new seeds.  The time seems to be ideal as the United States is crumbling with an escalating gap between the rich and the poor. China’s vast territory, working force, and technological development are propelling the country to stratospheric growth. Chinese politicians have even appropriated the “American dream”.  Slogans all over the capital celebrate the “Chinese dream”, a capitalist concept where opportunity, determination, and hard work are enough for one’s success.  

Everyday Precious

And yet, the social pyramid needs a working force at its base for the engine to continue its cycle and the ruling class needs them to keep their position at the top of the pyramid. Chinese artist Han Bing denounces his nation’s merciless politics that are devastating and sacrificing a part of the population to the detriment of some. His series Everyday Precious in which he appears alongside construction workers holding a brick, embodies the struggle of social workers, of laborers who constantly dream of opportunity, modernization, and the presumable benefits of globalization. Nonetheless, Bing’s photographs present these workers in their “existential condition” while they carry objects from their everyday lives in precarious environments, sometimes even during night-time like in Unpredictable Moon. If the government promises abundance for its inhabitants, the reality has proven to be far from it. Enduring situations often compromise the workers’ health and well-being, single objects such as lamps or shovels can save the workers’ lives. Additionally, the shovel has a symbolic value for the artist, as it represents childhood memories – he was raised in the countryside – with the promise of a better life. Objects have an emotional charge, cabbages, bulldozers, bricks, all seem to have an incommensurable power to depict China’s loss of traditions and culture.

The Age of Big Construction

The bulldozer is used to destroy ancient neighborhoods in Beijing and around the country to construct new modern buildings. Bing is against the destruction of “hutongs” in his series The Age of Big Construction where brand new constructions are juxtaposed to shatter traditional constructions. The speed of urbanization is lamentable; these images are “mirrors of the process by which their traditional everyday lives are ruptured through modernization.” Not only cities are being havocked, natural ecosystems as well are being devastated. Urban Amber constitutes reflecting images showing polluted water bodies, they reflect huge skyscrapers, emblems of the middle class, and the laborer’s fate to serve the opulent class. Moreover, ecology and global warming have become a central subject in today’s political discourse, as they are threatening entire populations, sometimes even displacing them. China is no exception, in fact, it is one of the best examples of consumerism and the neglect of ecology. The artist highlights this through his performance Forever: Polluted and Profaned as Judgment as he grabs empty plastic bottles and Styrofoam, a deadly material for the environment. 

Forever: Polluted and Profaned as Judgment

As a child of globalization, Bing’s social and political engagement has widened to India, a country facing similar difficulties to China. With an unrivaled cultural heritage, a growing middle class, pollution problems flooding the country, and powerful economic strength, India’s similarities to China are irrefutable. In 2010, Bing created his performance Dreams of Lost Home in Delhi; together with 8 Indians, he performed a ritualistic ceremony. Matching his fellow Indians, the artist hugged big stones, as if the objects were pillows, the floor was covered with cotton simulating the sky or a dreamlike surface. The performance was a metaphor for work in our life: it chains us and fuels our dreams. Labour again appears like an oppressing force and is revealed to be one of the main axes in Bing’s creations. He caricatures the Chinese new social order in his series Theatre of Modernization depicting three archetypes, the social worker, a farmer, and the “nouveau riche”. The latter always wears a suit and seems to speak on behalf of others and peculiarly, has the physiognomy of Xi Jinping, China’s general secretary of the communist party. 

Making Love to the Thirteen Shovels

Although Bing’s work deeply relies on exposing the existing injustices in his motherland, he likewise chooses to explore life’s driving forces such as love and its opposites. His work is not pure political criticism; he intends to underline the consequences of the increasing social gaps generated by new behaviors. Competition and individualism are two idiosyncratic attitudes encouraged by neo-liberal systems, kindness and love aren’t exactly part of the equation and to succeed in current societies, one must squash others to be part of the elite. Instead of this perpetual carnage, Bing believes in humanity and love as interwoven energies, both delivering messages that transcend the borders of time and politics. Even if we perceive the artist’s way of expressing it as criticism, he prefers to think about it as a way to defend freedom, the utmost important social condition. Furthermore, his aesthetics are imbibed with softness, despite the crudeness of his topics and his critical vision towards China and the rest of the world, he tints his photographs and performances with a silky array of colors. His gestures are also delicate, proven in his performance Love in the Age of Big Construction or Making Love to the Thirteen Shovels where his gentle manners inhabit his work. 

Walking the Cabbage – Tiananmen Square, Beiging, / Manchester, UK

Pacifism imbues Bing’s creations. His body of work intends to heal social rifts just like a balm. He professes understanding and empathy in his projects like in The Green Cabbage Walking Movement, a group performance consisting of people walking together with cabbages. Social coercion is constructed via this simple activity, art serves politics and humankind helping to improve social conditions, allowing them to dream of a better world.