Exhibition Tour | Wen Pulin: Where Did the Joy Come From?

Wen Pulin: Where Did the Joy Come From?

Essay | Wen Pulin

The Turn of the Century, Xie Yang Island: The Future of Several Ways of Life, December 31, 1999 - January 1, 2000, Stills from video

The millennium finally arrived.


Let’s look back to 1988, when we were bandaging the Great Wall. We were eager to say goodbye to the 20th century, but why were we so eager to move to the new century?  The answer lay in our belief in the future. As expected, we had realized the Four Modernizations by the end of the 20th century; we also hoped that the digital 21st century would bring humanity greater blessings.


In the Bible’s Book of Revelations, millenniums are often mentioned as potential turning points for humanity. Christ will come back to the earth to perform the Last Judgment, ridding the world of all evils, ending injustice in the world, and turning the earth into an eternal paradise.


Throughout history, since ancient times, beautiful fantasies and revolutionary romanticism have been cast in the shadow of the millennium, as we believe that a beautiful new world is lying ahead, beckoning to us.  


On the eve of the new millennium, an exhibition entitled The Door of the Century was held at the Chengdu Art Museum. A number of artists were to spend this eve before the millennium inside the exhibition hall.  


Song Dong enacted a performance, he wrote down the time differences across the world, provoking reflection on the artificial and unreal aspect of time. After all, the calendar that we use today started with the year when Jesus Christ was born in the manger.  


Yin Xiaofeng invited several blind fortunetellers from the street to perform divination for the new millennium.


Sun Ping, all in funeral dress with silica gel breasts, commemorated the end of the millennium by dispersing funerary money from high up in the hall.


At the same time, Shen Yun, in a faraway desert, was knocking his head against the earth in his performance “Inquiry into 2000”.   


In the depth of the desert, Pian Shan shut himself inside a black box. He remained there for seven days before the box was split open with a sharp axe, so that he could greet the vigorous dawn.  


Before the performance Pian Shan called Zhang Shengquan inviting him to be the night watchman.


“I have nothing to do with human beings”, replied Zhang.  


Before the New Year’s bell rang, Zhang left this world.  


He was tired of playing with humanity.  

He fled from his palace of garbage.  


Pian wrote lines in memory of his friend:

“You left.

That’s not bad.”


Zhu Yanguang and Ren Xiaoying, members of Zhang’s WR Group, visited the place where Zhang had hanged himself. Zhu spread white sheets with the Chinese characters for double happiness (a form of blessing) over the wilderness of Zhang’s abode, asking the joy to come.


There were also other happenings. In Guangxi, far to the south of China, Zhou Shaobo and his peers sent out invitations for the project, “XieYang Island Artists—a Couple of Lifestyles in the Future”.


More than twenty artists accepted the invitation and agreed to gather on the island to say goodbye to the last ray of the setting sun. They then enacted some performance works on the first day of the new millennium.    


Liu Chenying set loose a kite with four characters saying “must emancipate thought”.


Ma Jian lay naked on a round floating platform, leaving adrift arrows that indicated directions.


And so we may ask, is there any direction after all?