If I Could

Mar 23, 2018 - May 20, 2018 Solo Exhibition

Opening: Mar 23, 2018 16:00 Friday
Curator: Cui Cancan
Artists: Zhang Yue
Address: Gallery Yang

If I Could

I'd rather be a sparrow than a snail,
Yes I would, if I could, I surely would.
I'd rather be a hammer than a nail,
Yes I would, if I could, I surely would.
I'd rather be a forest than a street,
Yes I would, if I could, I surely would.

Away I'd rather sail away
Like a swan that's here and gone.
A man gets tied up to the ground,
He gives the world its saddest sound.
——If I could

Yes I would, if I could, why wouldn't I rather be a hammer? El Condor Pasa and Comandante Che Guevara, two songs roaring above the lands of South America, soars up from the tropical rainforests, along the river of Amazon, carrying with them the echoes of the ancient Inca civilization, all the way across the deeps. The mighty eagle flies across the Atlantic, spreading its sounds all over the Eurasia. The two songs stand for the resistance of the South American peoples against colonization, and their yearning for independence. The spiritual strength transferred is inspiring, and the reminiscences of the history of revolutionary culture and the left movements are touching.

Sparrow and snail, hammer and nail, forest and street, of each pair the former is chosen. It's like assuming the form of sparrow or hammer to fight among rainforests as Che Guevara did. The intense sounds resemble the fatal fighting of field, the mournful tunes sigh for the sacrifice of heroes, and surely the cheerful parts celebrate the return of heroes' souls and the happiness of the world as one. Today, adapted to various editions, El Condor Pasa is no longer just a folk song of Machu Picchu, but has become a bugle call shared by resistant movements all over the world.

The exhibition starts with "Firing". This part, as if cobblestones along the river of war, forms a path leading to every corners of the whole show. In this first exhibition room, 162 pieces of target paper spread one by one, on which bunches of bullet holes huddle up densely. Every bullet has its unique trajectory. Since 2013, Zhang Yue has made a series of works about guns via investigation and research. In the past, if one wants to somewhat probe into such an unfamiliar field, one has to read lots of academic books and seek help from related novels or movies. Today, clicks on the Internet instantly produce needed copies and data. Zhang Yue also interviewed various persons to secure a host of first-hand information, including the shooting experiences in shooting ranges, veterans' actual combat experiences, criminal cases, catalogued certificates for taking guns from different periods, and gun cants in vernaculars and local code words.

Quantity often means quality. Zhang Yue visited many places, and completed 104 interviews by himself. There are first-person narratives, and hearsay legends and stories as well. In documenting, sharing, and researching, new possibilities have been created by cameras, recording devices, smartphones, and scanners. But operations can be made behind recorders - any shared documents could be forged by slight movements of a mouse. Conveniency brings with it convenient cheapness. It makes a researcher's work harder that he has to check the facts and identify specious arguments.

First-hand experiences can be subversive. They can cast severe doubts on exotic novels about heroes and dictators, local reports from front line, and assertions made by interrogators; they can tell truth from lies, half-lies, myths, and promises swiftly made to bribe the wretched.

In 2015, Zhang Yue and Bao Xiaowei went to the battlefront in Kokang, Myanmar. They reached the borderline by way of Kuiming and Nansan, then crossed it on motorbike taxi, and stayed in a refugee camp for 65 days. In those disturbing days, Zhang Yue drew some narrative drawings, which recorded his initial ambition, ensuing minor incidents, his depressed emotion, fear, sympathy, and the helpless end. In the second part of this exhibition, the entrance is a tent set up between the two rooms, and bullet holes no longer stay on target paper, but are embedded in every wall. Here, the shooting scores are counted only by lives. The fragile shack-tent is people's only safety house. There lived tea peasants, tobacco growers, guerrillas, drug dealers, prostitutes, and casino bosses, and their interviews were no more confident assertions, or fondly reminiscences. They wanted rice. Two months later, Zhang Yue and Bao Xiaowei went to Kokang again with 50,000 jin (25,000 kilograms) of rice for which they had exchange their works in Beijing, and distributed it among over 6,000 refugee households. Nothing is more important than surviving.

"It's just past ten o'clock in the morning. The streets are empty due to the war. The sounds of cannon firings outside the window are clearer than ever; sometimes it was as near as hell, sometimes I could only discern its rough direction. Everywhere are notices by the Kokang Army, which says: 'The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army is a national army of justice, a people's army protecting the lives and properties of the Kokang people.'" In 2017, Zhang Yue went to North Myanmar for the third time, and in his room he counted the cannon firings in a whole day and noted estimated distance of each shot; this work he names "The Longest Day".

Yes, away I'd rather sail away, like a swan that's here and gone. War and suffering have never found a solution, but are just substituted by renewed happenings. The core of this exhibition represents this constantly repeated tragedy which has now erupted along the Tropic of Cancer in this globalized world. One's viewpoint can be suggested by perspective. Zhang Yue began with Asia: first the Myanmar war, then the Korean situation in Northeast Asia. By reading books and Internet documents, he analyzed the arms trade of the Kim Dynasty, satellite-guided weapons of North Korea, its uranium ore detector, and its trade of parts of war vehicles and submarines. Behind these mystical black markets is the ideology of the Cold War. The nuclear weapon has changed the way of war, deterrence becoming the new strategy. In Cuba, over 13,000 kilometers away, the missile crisis of 1961 shocked the whole world. By organizing de-classified documents, and by his imagination, Zhang Yue re-explained that crisis. Seeking facts is not a work that an artist can do by himself. But such an independent investigation provides fresh approaches for analysis. It is like mosaic tiles, or an ever-running fax machine, piecing together a richest historical picture.

At the end of the Cold War, the history encountered an East Europe moment. The strifes of the Balkan Peninsula took place before the millennium. The former Yugoslavia disintegrated, the NATO was expanding, and the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual area was under constant conflicts. Focused on a historical detail, and inspired by some sci-fi plots, Zhang Yue fabricated a story in which Serbs revise the English pronunciations of Albanians out of the hatred of one nation toward another's language. Borrowing plots of gene editing of some e-games, he tried to fabricate a war and oppression on the accent.

The facts are never transferred faithfully, as in a message relay game. The publisher knows well how to make use of the media and editing, and circulate information in his own interest. Therefore, we have to find out the "possible information" neglected by the history, put it into an alternative framework, and then think, doubt, criticize, and imagine. It is only by this way that we can approach as close as possible to the complicated reality, and form a personal view of history. This is the unique way of Zhang Yue's work, and its meaning and value.

The "fact" that we have been into a new millennium gives out an feeling, or an illusion, that the history has entered a new era. But the Boston explosion reminded us that the shadow of the past century is still stalking us. After the 911 terrorist attack, a new "global anti-terrorist war" began. Focused on the Boston terrorist explosion, Zhang Yue analyzed its mystical relations to several other attacks in 2013 in the form of 20 freehand blueprints. Those attacks' historical relations are inherent, and can be seen everywhere in the media, but are always rendered invisible by the unalarming modern life.

Welcome to the virtual world! In the third part of the exhibition, the artist ushered strifes and violence into the game world. As a player of the e-game Watch Dogs 2, Zhang Yue hided himself behind the hundreds of CCTV cameras in the city of "San Francisco", and in the course of 24 hours, incessantly watched everything in the monitors. In this 24 hours, various violent events took place in this "city", and the game emulated in every possible detail accidents that could happen in a real-life day. So Zhang Yue in the game became a surveillance man of a city, and he also drew up plans to take criminals under custody. The images of surveillance and the process of actions are showed by 12 computer monitors and 60 drafts. There is a big screen too, which displayed another scenario: in the e-game GTA5, Zhang Yue played an opposite role, a killer in the city of "Los Angeles", a "thug" who kept taking revenge on the society, and could be arrested in any time. The switch of role gives us a warning: who really are we? One who constantly surveil possible violence, or who are under surveillance? A victim of violence, or a potential gunman?

Game doesn't welcome reality. The game part of the exhibition is an case of imagination and reaction toward the reality, as well as an extension and a return to the first two parts. These games are never completely virtual, but rooted in real happenings and experiences - the real strifes and conflicts taking place all over the world, and also, one of the artist's most critical personal experience, his jail life, which is described by his 80 drawings drawn in prison shown in the last part of the exhibition.

At the entrance of the exhibition hall, a large-scale photo tells something about Zhang Yue's recent years. Most of time he was crossing some borderline: night or dawn, a hard rain, fully armed guards, a constantly tense life. He rides a motorcycle, and far behind him is the ruin of Kokang ravaged by the fighting. He raises up his camera, and nails down the moment.

Now outside the hall is the neat white courtyard. There the sound of a future war (from the artist's work "Tomorrow") is loudly played, and the sky is defenseless as always. It will be played around-the-clock, as the sound of El Condor Pasa is ever soaring above the lands of South America. The spirit of the song is still inspiring, but we know very well that while we can choose between sparrow and snail, hammer and nail, forest and street in the game world, the real world can never be controlled by keyboard and mouse.

Curator: Cui Cancan
March 14, 2018
  • Welcome

    Painting, Video | Pen on black-and-white photograph, Videos | 20 × 28.5 cm × 60, 108 Video files | 2017

  • English, Kosovo 1991

    Painting | Watercolor and pen on paper | 18.5 × 24.5 cm × 27 | 2017

  • The Massacre of Los Angeles

    Video | Single-channel video | Variable size | 2017

  • Gun Certificates

    Painting | Oil on canvas | 34 × 50 cm × 3, 69 × 50 cm × 11 | 2016

  • Snatch a Gun

    Painting | Pen on paper | 23.5 × 32 cm × 24 | 2014

  • Announcement of the Military Committee of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Arm

    Painting | Pen on paper | 37 × 29 cm × 15 | 2017

  • The Empire Plan

    Installation | Printed by fax machine | Variable size | 2013

  • A True Lie

    Painting | Watercolor and pen on paper | 23 × 30 cm × 20 | 2013

  • The Longest Day

    Painting | Pen on paper | 12 × 17 cm × 21 | 2017

  • Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

    Painting | Wood engraving, pen on paper | 41 × 32 cm × 210 | 2017