Sahelanthropus tchandensis from 7 to 6 million years ago; Orrorin tugenensis from around 6 million years ago; Australopithicus afarensis from 4 million years ago; Homo erectus from 1.9 million years ago. All these abstruse Latin terminologies are chronologically laying out a revolution footprint of human beings from quasi-human to human, from quadrupedal to bipedal. Walking, this great advancement in human history, enabled us from living on trees to living in caves, and to migrate and discover other parts of the earth.
A walking guide is supposedly a functional instruction booklet that is neither conspicuous nor concealed. It is almost an epitome of practicality: it shows up when needed and hides away once the course is given, in other words, completely disposable. Nevertheless, its substitutability is almost frustrating.
Guidance is the key. With a guidance, human beings evolve from primal food hunter to question the meaning of life. And that opens endless possibilities.
An artist walks through the centre of the city of Beijing, with a huge sign on his back “promoting” his own studio; a wandering of checks-in on foot at different tourist spots in Tokyo; a seemingly random doodle of the voice for freedom on the beach or a scenery from one edifice to another with a high-pitched whistle tone; a race against one’s own social memory.
Walking Guides, the recent exhibition presented by Long March Independent Project, was a refreshing study of the recent development of the new generation of young Chinese artists, the view point beyond geopolitics. The idea was shaped around the “walk”, other than a pure concept in kinesiology, was the basics of the creation process of the exhibition. To start with, the curator had invited the artist Li Niu to give the gallery a new look through erecting movable bricks of steel and mineral wool, which extended throughout the whole space. These bricks wall provided the audience with a standpoint and a general view of what to come. They constructed the exhibition foundation, “walking” as a medium that builds and directs, while their material de-constructed and interrupted, quite literally, due to its nature of being spiky and flexible. Then began the curator, a story of progression, from literality to metaphor.
Li Binyuan and Pak Sheung Chuen both tracked their traces by walking through the city they reside in, be it Tokyo or Beijing. For both, walking was basic instinct for the creating process. To create is to comprehend and appreciate. When the object of such actions is the city scape, to walk is to create.
The difference between the two lies in the internalisation of the output. For Li, the walk was more than a burden of physicality. His name and studio, painted onto the piece of timber born on his back, is charged with an unheard scowling yet in complete silence. He was just walking, and led the passer-by’s and the viewers of the work through a series of regression to the real Beijing in linear fashion. Pak took a literary approach, strolling around the city of Tokyo, not according to the map but following a topological logic: to walk along the folds of the map, the valley. Walking is seeing, and is documenting. What he had seen is what the audience saw at the exhibition. The bare audacity of the black and white, contrasted by Tokyo city map, did not say much yet was a clear show-off of the creative impulse and process of the artist.
The most daring pieces of the whole exhibition were undoubtedly the video installations by Zhou Zhang, amongst which Freedom and Whistle were definitely standing out. Both works revolved around the idea of walking as a metaphorical rhetoric. Freedom ,or 自由 in Chinese, is an unattainable ideology in the Chinese contemporary society. In a French unbeknownst town, at least to most Chinese, Zhou strode along the sandy beach with steps composing the Chinese characters of Freedom, in resemblance of a brush striking across rice paper used for traditional Chinese painting. The artist kept on walking, in the shape of the characters for around one minute, seemingly symbolising the repeatedly unsuccessful pursuit for freedom over the past century or so. It was almost silent, yet one could hear the tides, the ebbs and the wind that blew. It was almost deafening despite its absence of sound. Just like the Freedom on the beach, it was present at the moment, vividly visible, yet washed away the day after. And then came Whistle, which began by dropping a bomb into the viewers: the work was dedicated to Dr. Li Wenliang, the whistleblower who had been silenced by the Chinese government to uncover the first cases of COVID-19. The title of the work, Whistle, was essentially a pun. Zhou was whistling in the video, meanwhile he was seen pointing his fingers along the silhouettes of different edifices, jumping from one to another, from mansions to skyscrapers, from cityscapes to suburban outskirts. The high-pitched whistle somehow echoed with the silence of Freedom, suggesting the artist’s desperate and hopeless reach for help. It was an outcry and an invitation, which asked the audience to experience and share the despair and pain. At that moment, no more explanation was needed. All that was left was a blackhole of nothingness, from which not even the slightest hope would be able to escape. At the same time, a blackhole is the consequence of space and time collapsing, which by some means is giving hope, hence to deconstruct is to construct.
My personal favourite was 2045.64 Meters 13’6”17 by Zhang Donghui. It was a blunt yet straight forward record of one year of the artist’s digital foot print. The screenshot of Zhang’s WeChat Moments, each and every single one of them, was been printed out into a hard copy of a 2045.64 meter long scroll, along which Zhang initiated a running routine which took him 13 minutes 6 second 17 to complete. The record was a snapshot of a year’s life of an ordinary Chinese in the era of the COVID pandemic. The running routine was the concrete realisation and reflection of memories from that era. The memories in this case, could no longer be modified, for better or for worse, as it had been solidified at the moment the post had been uploaded. From that moment on, no entrance could be made and no exit would be allowed.
Everyone who goes to 2046 has the same intention, they want to recapture lost memories. Because in 2046 nothing ever changes. But, nobody knows if that is true or not because no-one has ever come back – Tak from 2046