The Silicone Sage in Shanghai

January 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

Confucius is back again and, at 10 meters tall, is bigger than ever.  Why the continued preoccupation with the ancient Sage (551 B.C.E.-479 B.C.E.) in today’s China is still unclear (see here and here).  Only time will tell whether the current interest in him has real staying power.  In this particular incarnation, Confucius is a statue constructed of silicone and steel, complete with pulsating heart, submerged from the waist down in a pool of water.

 

 

 

 

Q Confucius No. 2, as it is called, is but one piece in Zhang Huan’s solo show, Q Confucius, now on display at the Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai. I haven’t seen it–but wish I could.  (It runs through January 29.)  Zhang Huan, who works out of Beijing, Shanghai, and New York, explains that the images in the show have their origins in a series of questions he’s been pondering:

Faced with rapid economic and societal changes and energy and climate challenges, how can we achieve sustainable development? What responsibilities come along with China’s rise in international importance? Where is the sense of spiritual belonging for contemporary Chinese?

Where indeed?  Confucius No. 2, half submerged, half emerged, invites us to consider whether the iconic Sage has a sustained, moral-spiritual role to play in China today.  How fully will his age-old teachings and ideals connect with the needs of a country undergoing sweeping social, economic, and cultural changes?  Will an updated, vital Confucius emerge from his relative insignificance in the 20th century–from the pummeling of the May 4th movement and then Mao’s cultural revolution–to serve as spiritual guide to the Chinese people in the 21st century?

Zhang Huan offers no answers.  But that he, one of China’s edgiest avant-garde artists, feels compelled to ask the questions, to contemplate the meaning of Confucius in China today, is sure indication that Chinese today are searching for meaning.

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