Cheng Meixin：Arm-Wrestling with God Xiao Han and His Perfor
This is a banal age that contains sufficient destructive ability. The world is in this day and age, China as well. China is perusing absolute economic growth at the cost of neglecting historical lessons, environment and social ethics. Thus, China becomes crazy, irrational and abnormal. The general consequence of sick China could be neglecting dignity, intelligence and personality for all walks of life, including peasants, scholars as well as doctors and artists. Usually, however, some talented guys could survive from the indecent social context by their outstanding competencies. They are trivial or insane in the eyes of the public.
Xiao HAN is an excellent plastic surgeon and a successful manager of his plastic clinic. He feel challenged for doing good job at his double duties because of the high requirements on his professional skills and the heavy demands for running private clinic in China. By chance, Xiao HAN entered the art world where he present plastic surgery as performance art under the help of his previous knowledge on arts. His financial strength helped him inviting mainstream commenters and media to join his art show. His sudden and strong presence in the art world astonished the public, caused concerns on him, criticizing his works as publicity stunts or weakness in the art expression.
In fact, investing in publicity is the common practice for galleries, which is echoed by the commonplace of the post-modern art, which is focusing on media and communication effects. Xiao HAN’s performance art is accepted by neither Chinese authorities, as they deem it illegal, nor Chinese modern art world, as Han’s work does not in line with their anti-mainstream nature. Xiao HAN always present the authentic surgery occasion with less regards on the nature of art. Post-modern art, however, is featured by transferring the elements of life into art expression. This is especially true for performance art. It depends on the context to express rather than the work itself. The value of performance art could be ignored or be concluded as meaninglessness in the view of mainstream aesthetics or modern art.
The modernity in China is not fullyfledged. For example, cultural freedom, social equality and democratic institutions remains the dominating topic in the domain of cutting-edge art. As a result, we emphasize these issues over other cultural conflictions. China hasn’t went through the binary traces of the pre-modern period during which the new and the old; the right and the left; the east and the west stand in great contrasts and conflicts; and consume the possibility of diversities. Modernity is a dynamic process without clear starting and finishing points. At the forefront art, the unexploited land could only be approached by innovative way. Therefore, we credit Xiao HAN for his exploration on performance art. Han’s work presents the reconstruction on human body but also on the social architecture; ethic norms and values. The appearance and body function are no long defined by God but by artificial filling materials, service in the consuming market, social gaming and artistic creation. The implication is that we are going to consider the final question for human again— “who am I? Where do I come from? Where should I go? ”
Xiao HAN’s performance art could be conceived as authentic representation of surgery occasion expect from the sociological or forecastological perspectives. In fact, Foco’s deconstruction philosophy; Joseph Beuys’s “Social Sculpture” and Gunther von Hagens’s corpse taxidermy offers theoretical and pragmatic references to Xiao HAN. Commenters who attempted to analyses Xiao HAN’s work theoretically, failed to justify themselves. The deep reason for their dilemma is that traditional theories could not disclose the heart of the performance art world. In the pre-modern society, we emphasize modernization issues concerning social progresses over cultural conflicts embodied in modernity, such as conflicts caused by communitism, capitalism and consumptionism. Whereas, these conflicts stand on the forefront of post-modern culture world.
Plastic surgery art and its system
Knowledge gap and common discrimination are the manifestations of power tyranny. Reformers at every age are dedicated to enlightening the public, legalizing all issues that are legal in nature, and expanding legalization scale to cover the previous illegal issues. In this way, reformers demolished traditional social obstacles, enlarge the influence of their social value and prevented historical stagnation. Taboos develop from decimations and value gaps, which is designed by the powerful in order to form power tyranny. It can be exemplified by the management of secret, which could be a real thing but always be patented and mystified for the sake of financial benefits. In some cases, the secret is not real but a trap in disguise of a serious programs and mysterious air. Knowledge and social class gaps allow the powerful to take over cultural tyranny, which could be found in the field of religion, politics, economics and education.
“Surgery: Xiao HAN’s Performance Art” lives the occasion in the glasswalled room. The audiences appreciate it as watching blacksmith in the forge. Live surgery has been introduced in the medicinal education and popular science film, but the public still feel puzzled and scared for the human body and plastic surgery. Xiao HAN’s intention for his art is no longer to demonstrate the surgery itself but to implicate discrimination, social taboos and ignorance. Moreover, his art presents the unknown world in a comic manner, which breaks the traditional practice of humanistic art and takes over a carnival attitude toward life and strange matters. In reality, we are used to fuss over the unusual issues, even it is trivial, and to blame them unfair ethnical judgements, which forms cognition differences and discrimination. For example, sex is a part of adult life but it is always a secret in the civilized society. The complex processes before the real sex lead to indecent sex experience.
The performance art will be legalized in the condition of inclusive knowledge system. Not in line with the traditional art, the context including audiences, venue and society, makes the performance art possible. As performance art is various in expressions, Xiao HAN integrated his professional experience and thoughts on life into his works. Han’s large patience base disclose him the hidden problems of surgery; surgery carries interior and exterior risks, sound expectations, and desire for happy life. As the Chinese saying goes “So long as green hills remain, there will never be a shortage of firewood”; Chinese consider health as the key in life. Cosmetic surgery is the product of social gaming, is the combined game between capital and technologies and is the signal for the cultural crisis and historical trend in the post-industrialization age. During the surgery, the human body is under examinations and reconstructions, which ushers us into a new world on human body. Therefore, the surgery could be compared with an arm wrestling with the God. It is an obvious violation on traditional ethical rules and religious values. Natural worship forms the foundation to the primary society. Both from the viewpoint of Chinese family hierarchies or Catholics, it is a rule that the body is preordained by the God, parents and nature. At dawn of industrialization, the brave denied the existence of God and even announced the death of God. After that, people got rid of their reins on minds.
Xiao HAN’s plastic surgery practices and performance arts definitely violate the religious taboos and secular values. Han, however, is optimistic and detached to death and focuses on life itself. The nature of art is to obey the natural will of life; a real artist should break the module and violate taboos. They are fated as fighters against the God. Even in the medieval age when the God was the dominator of the world; masters of art, like Dante， Leonardo Da Vinci， Michelangelo，Raphael were all fighting with the God in the name of their god. From the age of renaissance to industrialization, the history of desecrating encouraged people to presume the human nature and show their characteristics. The ultimate goal for civilization is to reconstruct ourselves by lancets. No matter in the field of science, religion, art or philosophy, their final purpose is not to meet tasks assigned by nature or god but to control human body.
The ideological emancipation aims at legalizing the performance art. The mission of philosophy is to legalizing our conducts; art is to enrich life, including enrich sex experience and the meaning of society. Plastic surgery takes over the god’s power in controlling shape and appearance, which could be perceived as a breakthrough. Had obedience to natural order, god and fate were prevailing, the life and the whole human history would be plain and halting. Xiao HAN is exploring the miseries hidden in the plastic surgery. Where would we arrive in the path of body perfection? After all, plastic surgery remains in the early stage as a kind modern technology. It takes years to be popular and widely-accepted. When it comes, body esthetics and orgy would change completely and insert strong influences on social order and value system.
The Future Art for the Carnival Effects
In the age growing capitalism, communitism and consumptionism, the traditional elite culture lost its dominating role. Anything with the color of social elite would cause concerns for the public and would disobey the value of didacticism and democracy. The modern democracy would lead to a banal society where the public will take over the social elite. In China, modern civilization has not been developed, for example the world is poor in democracy, equality and justice but is excessive in vulgarism, consumptionism and pluralism. Thus, all truths and ethical rules are based on immediate interests.
In the half slavery society, China lost the noble morale, cultural authorities, moral icons and justices and remained crucial powers and uneducated heads. In this context, comedy is the final and blissful solution to social conflicts, even to slasher tragedies. Comedy is not only an art language but a philosophical way to change the world that is different from the traditional way of social elites. They may alert the public by their ungrounded judgements, heartfelt warnings and criticism. Efforts to fight against the public who gained strengths from the post-industrialization age would be futile except from arousing public hatred. The real artists and philosophers should change their coping methods accordingly. Their last coping method is to accept all social issues in an attitude toward future and create the carnival effects.
The art of plastic surgery expresses this attitude and gets out of the context to forecast the trend of human development. More importantly, artists’ forecasting methods is carnival indeed and pushing the development of modernity. The advances of plastic surgery allow the surgery as part of life and commodity and marks the progress in the journey of transferring body into material. The ultimate freedom for life is controlling fate and death. Plastic surgery is a manifestation of perfectism and byproduct to social competition. The cosmetic surgery industry take its shape to meet social demands. Moreover, in the post-modern age featured by high materialism, human body is the ultimate object for plastic surgery and any wild reconstruction wills.
Now, the value of middle class, capitalism and consumptionism take all and put critical philosophy, rebellious spirits out of the context, which serves the reason for the outdating of elite culture. Democracy means the banal preferences for institutions and social values, like clone technology and genetic enginnering are confined in institutional cages by trandional cultural forces. The frontlines of art is always not in line with the mainstream social value. Venice International Art Festival, that was once the flag for modern culture, adapted by the middle class as entertainment, let alone galleries that follows the same pattern to present wide and meaningless issues like environmentalism, peace, equality and human nature. Every biennale art show in the Venice International Art Festival does not allow performance art, as they are deemed as illegal, which hurts the artist’s feelings.
The historical dilemma for art is the side-effect of middle-class growth and democratic victories and stirs up art evolution against public interests and banal expressions. Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, and Damien Hester tailor their art for the middle class and capitalism and being treated as the Master of Art. The key feature of creativity is revolting the past and avoid halting rather than form a constant order for the world. The performance art deconstructs the culture and natural order via consumption and opinion building. The ultimate goal of art is to challenge the authorities rather the judge the right and wrong.
The performance art: from the philosophical perspective
“Xiao HAN returns what goa owed you” meets the common customs and the developmental trend. According to the commons customs, we are presuming ultimate and immediate happiness, sexual excitements, even drug orgasm. When we announced the death of god, human lost its spiritual demands and focuses on prolonging the life span, expanding belongings and finally pleasing ourselves by wealth, consumption and sense of happiness. The advances of modern art is driven by the upgrading of campaign for sex resources. As the pillar industry in the post-capitalism age is sexual excitements, the advances of plastic surgery marks the positive market feedbacks on consumer’s satisfaction and experiences. Nice shape, amicable appearance for ladies are all spiritual products whose quality could be improve by money and the power attached to it.
“I can control my body” is the popular slogan, referring the largest satisfaction would be gained by breaking natural rules and traditional values. Body could exchange for products that demonstrates the freedom of market economy. The developments of freedom, democracy, peace, stability, science, technologies and market economy are progressive and irreversible. The plastic surgery is an art of reconstructing human body and a pushing force to big changes in the history to meet the human desire and to enrich the social competences. The plastic surgery must be the producing force in the post-capitalism age. Plastic surgery, as way to beauty, is a historical breakthrough; is a conflicts between two streams due to its high uncertainty. The coping strategies for the conflict is be positive and create the carnival effects. The primary and ultimate aim of art is to chanting the death; forecasting and disguising tragedies.
Xiao HAN’s performance art brings a new glimpse to the surgery, ditching public discriminations and scares, transforming it as a kind of daily comedy. Therefore, Xiao HAN’s patients could insect the fillings into their own body while singing songs. In order to improve the comedic effects, he even undertook the surgery for himself. A man should be a master to change body as a kind of material before belonging to the camp of post-futurism. The exhilarations of life from the view of futurism are to correct physical defects, ease pains and scares and to please life, even to be optimistic for the death. That is the carnival effect; the effect to fill the emptiness after the death of god.
What is the stream or edge of plastic surgery? Technology could not hint the answer. Advances in genetic engineering and surgery technologies together with the declining cost ushered the utopian age of beauty. We are lured to be handsome guys or pretty girls by the spirit of freedom and democracy. The appearance, pretty or ugly, is not the gist for social gaming and sexual excitement. Plastic surgery remains as a product, little to do with social and vale structure, except for philosophy. Xiao HAN wants make a difference on this point and poise to challenge life and art. Xiao HAN is wresting arm with god in a subtle and irrational manner.
A glimpse of Xiao HAN’s performance art
12 May, 2012 “Surgery: Xiao HAN’s Performance Art” held in Jinan Han’s Hospital. The post of this show marked a special starting point on Han’s artistic journey where Han presented his transgender case, the before and after picture of the patient. Both transgender and plastic surgeries are brand new experience for life, concerning law, costume, sex orientation, ethical and esthetic values; more importantly, the future of life. Where would the development of technologies and ideologies lead the human society to? This question is luring artists and cultural scholars. They are curious on the big and sudden changes caused by transgender and plastic surgeries and the relevant cultural issues.
August 9, 2012, “Surgery: Xiao HAN’s Performance Art” held in Beijing, it was live event where the boyfriend of the patient had been invited. The guy joined in preparation and assisted in locating the cut. The atmosphere is ease and pleasure with comedy effects. Some mainstream critics also attended the event, which added more doubts on Han’s art. Some argued that Xiao HAN’s art is a complete publicity stunt. Han put himself at the center of public opinions and attracted tons of concerns on him.
August 25, 2012, Beijing Today Art Museum, “No Surgery Today: Xiao HAN’s Performance Art” held. It exhibited many pictures on surgery and some items from the surgery, such as bones. These unprocessed pictures and items present the daily side of art. In fact, exhibiting items present the deep social issues rather than the reconstruction effects and technological developments; less than art expressions and methods but the concerning social issues. The plastic surgery is the access and path for human to adventure during which we may find the overview picture of civilization and ultimate solution of society. Xiao HAN is not an unusual case in art world but among the same group with many artists, philosophers, scientists and humanitarian scholars. They all are ponding on where should we go and how should we face the world. Artists are used to predict the world according to pure imagination whereas scientists peak to prove the real world. The double social roles of Xiao HAN, as a doctor and an artist, and the changeling plastic surgery industry allow him to be a neo-futurist. He could be passionate on all new issues even at the cost of losing the human nature.
In 2013, UCCA Beijing, “The Power of Body”, Xiao HAN attempted to use his own body as the material for surgery. He got follicles from the back side of his head and planted in temples. From decontamination to completion, it is not only a surgery but a presentation of game theory. In fact, the development of non-medical treatment reorders the natural order. Human body has been considered as a kind of value from the view of technology, material and exchange relations. Xiao HAN’s art discloses the truth of life by a scientific and comedic way. The dearth-to-earth and serious attitude is the defining feature for a doctor. However, art is easing and pleasing, even for art elements like anesthesia, blood and naked body.
29 October, 2013, the National Gallery of Czech Republic, Xiao HAN joined the group activity and injected hyaluronic acid into his own nose for 3 millimeter improve on height. Fate is embodied in the body. Human has a history of changing their fate by worshipping god to restoring plastic surgery. In fact, Han chanted that “I return what god owed you” when he established Han’s hospital in Jinan. He played the role of priest and recalled Alan bell to his patient. Xiao HAN materialized himself in his work of “Ji”. As a neo-futurist, he is open to anything that is going to come, no matter of esthetic experience, value system and ethic costumes. He is optimistic for anything ugly even for ruins.
23 May, 2014, Xiyuan Hotel, Beijing, Han exhibited “who is on my bed”. Plastic surgery is not only his business but the platform for him to explore the society. Fate is predestined, that is consist of gaming relations. Plastic surgery is the product at the high level of self-materialism, as it is in the cost of expensive money, vital risks and great pains. The self-realization rely on material and implications. From “nature and humanity” to “object and humanity”, body has been materialized. Xiao HAN shows the shortcut of changing fate, especially for ladies. Their life quality is everything to do with their appearances. Therefore, Xiao HAN, different from most modern artists, favors post-futurism. He takes over a gaming attitude toward commerce, art and surgery and supposes the existence is rational. He will insist in gaming even in middle of failures.
April 4, 2015, “entropy” further proved that Han’s futurist view. Facing the girl who suffered from failure plastic surgery, Han felt helpless in this case and restored to live event to deliver facts. The process of arm-wresting with god is full of uncertainties. However, Xiao HAN presents a part of the society by this failure and shows that the ever-growing desire is irreversible like the entropy theory. Therefore, plastic surgery is not only a kind of business but an achievement. The doctor and patient in the surgery maintain the dynamic. A plastic surgery could hardly be defined as a “success” or “failure”. The two girls who suffered from the surgery failure were hurt by psychological pains. At this occasion, it is not helpful of being a doctor for Xiao HAN but being a healer. Han tried to release the psychological pains and reveal the driving forces behind the plastic surgery. All rewards is in exchange of high risks. The easy path to exhilaration is to materialize your body, which is echoing with comsumptionism or the philosophy of being exited, forgetting all. Moreover, as a futurist doctor or artist, a failed surgery is simply unpresentable work. Ladies adapt the same attitude that body is deemed to meet the demand of expression.
May 5-10, 2015, Han held two performance art in Venice. The public perceived it as the single to Han’s strong presence in Venice Biennial Exhibition. In fact, the exhibition still locates within the gallery and has not cover performance art. In “worship”, Xiao HAN put equipment in the populous port and sterilize them. At the following day, “Romance and Surviving”, is held in a cruise, with audiences in patient suits. The cruise circled Venice Island and created the romantic air. The performance art tends to be entertaining and stands in strong contrasts with modern arts. Without brunt preference, questioning power, the art creates the pleasing effects. The style of this art derived from commercial culture, regarding the surgery as easing holidays. The art takes over a comedic and optimistic attitude toward everything in life, including the world, life and art itself.