The root of the word “idiot” comes from the Greek idiotes, which originally described those incapable of shouldering communal responsibility. The definition certainly fits people in current popular culture who also shirk all responsibility, preferring to spend their time following absurd internet trends. To an extent, these modern idiots bear the shadow of the hippies, but where the one was a euphoria-seeking subculture, the other now courses through the mainstream. In a world full of sound and fury, idiot tendencies breed and feed off one another, yet their significance will become obvious only in retrospect. As if attached to a metronome, any meaning we can deduce is at best incomplete, constantly swaying between right and wrong.
The centerpiece of this exhibition is a series of black-and-white videotapes that Paul McCarthy made between 1971 and 1975 in a basement. They are not only avant-garde but individualistic: obscure, disdainful, witness to a man treating his ennui with various unexpected instruments. Self-amusement also takes the form of masturbation— the sexual organ is just one more type of equipment, impervious to assiduous experimentation. In comparison, the installation Ho Fatso seems more like an amusement park attraction: gallery visitors can don flesh-colored fat suits and fight one another. The body is a favorite subject for these “idiots.” In Lin Zhipeng’s photographs, shot in the hipster vernacular, sexual innuendos abound amidst cross-references between the images and their accompanying text: Same Category is a naked female holding a white rooster; Obscene White is a pool of milky white liquid next to the lower half of a woman’s body; and so on.
Whereas for the Beat Generation the word “beat” originally denoted exhaustion and burnout, in the hands of Jack Kerouac it gained dimensions of celebration, joy and rhythm. On this spectrum, the idiots here fall on both ends as well. On the playful, absurd side is Olaf Breuning’s photographic series, in which the subjects all desperately strain to carry out performance entertainment. MadeIn Company’s large-scale, wall-mounted cloth collage The Result of Evolution Produces Deceit brings together figures such as King Kong and Benjamin Franklin. Though strongly reminiscent of “Sesame Street,” the message is not childish. The metronome continues to sway; to the left is historical parody, to the right is self-entertainment.
Idiots, however, are also capable of reflection. In Ma Daha’s video installation, History Channel: Back to Basics, two televisions sit on opposite podiums. One podium is made of tree branches; the other, a stack of bricks. On one television, the face of a prehistoric man is lit by fire. His fearful, puzzled gaze follows the other television, images of falling buildings and burning cities. His bafflement is twofold: wonder at the fire and confusion, and wonder at the diminished survival instinct of modern, civilized people. His gaze seems to ask: Why don’t they escape?
Jean Christian Bourcart’s photography portrait series, Human After All, is particularly breathtaking. Terrifying but obviously fake hoods and skulls are fitted with spasmodic and real human bodies to create unnatural monsters. The fantastic element in Bourcart’s photographs is also seen in Dai Qing’s work, Untitled: messy, chaotic brushstrokes reveal anthropomorphic cats or dogs with bitter expressions. Barely contained by the canvas, these creatures threaten to suddenly leap out and run wild in the gallery.
For visitors who seek entertainment, to poke fun at the idiots, now is the time to turn back. Lurking behind the idiots’ dimwitted manners and underpinning their crazed talk is an inexpressible anger. They have found themselves in an undefined war against an invisible enemy, there is nothing much to do besides flashing a ridiculous, degenerate smile and live on. Just as Zhou Xiaohu’s work Bitchy repeats in the gallery hall: “You’re so dirty. Don’t f***ing feign tough. Wash up and go to sleep.” Yuan Jing (Translated by JiaJing Liu)