After a decade producing experimental music through his label Subjam, sound artist Yan Jun spent 2010 organizing a monthly performance series at UCCA in 798. When I met with him a few days before the final event in the series, he spoke with a mix of disappointment and mischievous anticipation.
Over the course of the year, Yan Jun experienced a growing sense of alienation. He describes UCCA as a “supermarket” patronized not by a loyal group of supporters, but rather “tourists” with no stake in the community Subjam worked to create. Frustrated by this “capitalist logic,” Yan Jun turned to more radical ideas for the final act. At first brainstorming an aggressive sonic assault on the space, he ultimately invited a group of past collaborators to share this moment in the label’s history.
I walked into UCCA to find Subjam artist Feng Hao positioned at the entrance. His piece was the most unsettling: he “performed” for one person at a time, providing his listeners with a blindfold and earphones plugged into a microphone and leading them—sometimes in circles, sometimes at a run—throughout the performance area, encompassing three large galleries on UCCA’s ground floor.
After experiencing the melee blind, I was curious to see what I’d heard. A coterie of itinerant saxophonists roamed throughout the space, soloing in front of empty music stands. Sound artist Hong Qile enthusiastically played a toy guitar, punctuating pre-recorded pop riffs with harsh tonal bursts.
The defining moment came when Catalonian artist Gerard Altaió emptied a bucket of goldfish onto the gallery floor alongside a PRC flag. On the surface, this stunt added a heavy-handed political dimension, but I took away another reading: this cathartic gesture conveyed a sense of alienation mirroring that felt by the artists, who each month felt more like fish suffocating out of water.
Ironically, this was the most “touristic” performance of the series. Most of the audience came equipped with a camera to capture what I felt to be a surreal pageant, a sly joke between friends. Susan Sontag said of tourism and photography: “To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed.” After a year of being appropriated within a commercial art paradigm, Subjam left UCCA with a selfconscious spectacle. Only Feng Hao’s piece was about sound, and it was a performance available only to those willing to sacrifice their sight in a supermarket of visual stimulation.
For more on Yan Jun, see pangbianr’s recent interview: http://pangbianr.com/yan-jun-interview/