Han Bing's answers to FAQs (taken from various interviews conducted in 2006 and 2007)

Brief Intro to Background:
Han Bing was born in rural Jiangsu Province China,in a large family. When he was three he began drawing, but because the family was too poor to afford art supplies he drew in the dirt with pieces of broken glass. Fifteen years of labor in the rural areas, the only kid from his county school high school class to gain admission to college. In 1998, he came to Beijing for Advanced Studies at the Central Academy of Fine Arts and the was struck by the contrast between city and country and the plights of all those people left behind in China's rush to "modernize."
Below are some of Han Bing's own words in answer to your questions.
Q: How do you describe what you do?
The important is what we do, about the universe of life, in essence, I was non-existent, and everyone is the same root, but humans are not the center, beyond the human self-centered, ecological democracy to decide “what we do.”
I don't typically "describe" what I do (I leave that task to the critics and viewers), By this I mean, what matters isn't art、politics, culture, science per se. examine the diverse and fraught human、nature、animal condition and question the established order of things,The message determines the choice of media, determines "what I do."
Q: It's interesting how the work plays with opposites: sensuality and industrialization. Please tell me a little bit in your own words about how this duality informs your art.
In my Love in the Age of Big Construction series, I use a multidisciplinary approach—video, installation and performance together, followed by documentary filming of the live event as well as performance photography, which both become new works in themselves. Because the question I'm investigating revolves around the struggles, desires and predicaments of ordinary people in what I call "the theater of Chinese modernization." In this series, I use a "dialectic of opposites" to try to create a conceptual and visual space for overcoming. Seducing machines of demolition and urban construction, I use the warmth and fragility of my flesh to neutralize the frigid, machine of China's frenzied campaign of "modernization," use fluffy cloud-like clumps of cotton to hold up tons of steel, and use love to heal the violence of "modernization."
Amor mundi, or love of the world—understood as Eros: life-affirming vitality and generativity, passion and compassion, and an embrace and engagement with the profane quotidian temporal world—features in most of my works, especially the Mating Season series. This love is often directed at objects we don’t normally eroticize or associate with passion—tools of labor, sources of subsistence and sustenance, common objects from everyday life. I want people to remember that we invest the material world with meaning and value through our everyday practices, our choices and
our actions. The objects—shovels, cabbages, bricks and the like—that I imbue with love in my work are not usually seen as glamorous, sexy or precious things. But they sustain the lives of so many people worldwide. I want us to remember the value of our labor and the power of our love to make the world in which we live belong to us again.
Q: What inspires you?
Love, labor and liberation. People who struggle and still maintain their dignity. People who think and care and have the courage to act on their principles. Art that engages real peoples' real lives and provokes genuine emotion, intellectual growth and new commitment. Art that takes place in society and belongs to the public sphere, not just in galleries and before the eyes of elites.
Q: How does it feel to be a young artist from the country in the city? Is that something you have in common with any other artists here in China ?
When I first came to the city, I was shocked by the life here. People worked like machines, squeezed together in subways, on the streets. Life was chaotic and loud and filled with pollution, noise, garbage, crowding, complicated interpersonal relationships, people struggling and striving, sometimes doing anything to get ahead.
I felt this enormous desire brewing in the city's quest for so-called "development." What especially struck me was the pervasive power of this desire—desire for survival, desire for material, desire for power, desire for fame—propelling people forward and driving them to do all manner of things.
Life in the city is not as simple as life in the country. But while rural life is in many ways much harder than city life (physically), most rural people have fatalistic attitudes towards their lots in life, and so until recently, until the onset of progressive urbanization, people didn't have such pronounced desires, and so in some ways were more at peace.
Like so many rural migrants, I came to the city with a tiny amount of money in my pocket. Although I was lucky to be attending an Advanced Studies program at the Central Academy, I felt an affinity to those other migrants who came seeking their fortunes. The city was so unyielding, and the locals were so filled with prejudice towards migrants. In some ways, Beijing was a very unwelcoming city.
The place I first lived was Xibajianfang before it was demolished (not far from where 798 is now). It was an enclave of migrants, merchants, small-time prostitutes, manual laborers, hourly workers. My neighbors in the courtyard, which was located next to a stinking garbage infested river, included a vegetable merchant couple in one room, 9 petty thieves who lived together in another 12 sq meter room, and an older thief couple who look in apprentices, next to us. I was lucky to have a room all to myself.
Because my family had to struggle to take care of my four other siblings and grandparents, I lied and told them I had a full scholarship. In fact, when I first arrived, after paying rent and buying basic living supplies, I had no other way to survive (unless I chose to join my neighbors in petty crime), but sell some cheap items, like pens and pads of paper, spread out on a piece of cloth on the ground of a pedestrian overpass. I didn't even have the money to buy a pot to cook food in. I ate what I could afford—usually one steamed bun a day. The thieves sometimes shared their vegetables with me. When I finally made enough money to buy a little coal burner, and a pot, I made some rice. At the time I remember thinking it was the most delicious thing I'd ever eaten. But the next day when I returned from class, my coal burner, pot, and 7 oil paintings had all been stolen. All I had left was a head of Chinese cabbage. It was one of the loneliest days of my life. I began to think about what cabbage really means to so many ordinary Chinese people.
My background is something that differentiates me from most of the artists in the contemporary scene. Most artists actually come from cities, or towns, but very few from rural villages. I think most of all my rural background and experience when I first came to Beijing, made me especially sensitive to the plight of ordinary people, and able to work with them as equals rather than treating them as objects of pity or disdain from a safe distance, as some people do. For some reason, in Chinese contemporary art, there is very little work that deals with the everyday lives and concerns of the vast majority of the population—peasants. Anything regarding peasants is often relegated to the category of documentary work, rather than conceptual, contemporary art. The majority here in China, then, is marginalized. In art as in life, these people have little in the way of "discursive power,"(huayu quan) they have no space of their own in the public sphere and when they are represented, it is usually from a considerable distance. Urbanization is treated as a problem of cities, but in reality, the process and effects of urbanization are intimately tied up with the rural situation in China. It is rural people who are building the New China. They are not simply the objects of "development," they are the ones carrying out the backbreaking labor of it. Ironically, there is little space for them and their concerns in this New China, just as migrant construction workers will never live in the fancy high-rises they build. This isn't just a Chinese problem, it's a problem that I think most of the Third World has faced or is facing as it is transformed.
Q: Who and what are the major influences on your work?
The world around me is the number one influence on my work. I want to make art that engages that world, that takes a look at how our world is being made and how it's making us. Specifically, processes of social development and so-called "modernization" have influenced my work a great deal. I am interested in the formations of people's dreams, individually and collectively, in the lies we're told, as well as the lies we tell ourselves. One of my earliest performances was the Countdown to the Society of Modest Prosperity (1999-2004), where I wandered around all over the country with a shovel raised in hand, ready to partake in the labor of building a better society, and searching for the "society of modest prosperity" (xiaokang shehui) that was supposed to arrive in the year 2000 (all our high school and college textbooks said so). I was ready to greet its arrival, tool in hand, as a productive member of society.
Another major thread in my work is people's numbness, coldness, estrangement from one another and alienation from the world we live in, and the existential loneliness that this induces.
The Flight of the Brick Kite (2000) was my first response to development/modernization. I walked a brick on a leash around the places I lived and frequented. It seemed to me that so many of this society's collective fantasies were just like the idea of a brick kite. This was followed by the performances of Strolling Bones (2000), in which I switched the brick for bones with some meat still attached. I wanted to reflect the way that people are violent, greedy and selfish. We treat animals like we have the right to do whatever we want to them as if they were not living creatures. And look at what we do to each other.
Mating Season (2000-2006) is a performance that deals with these questions, as well as how we invest the world around us with meaning. I use gendered language as a symbol for things that divide us and lead us to lack empathy and compassion for one another. Walking the Cabbage (2000-2006) is a 'performative social intervention' that figuratively asks why people follow the same tired routines and regularities in their lives? Why do most people lack independent judgment? Have we lost our abilities to independently create value? How can we reclaim them? Why do people blindly follow what other people do, and how does this repetition serve to constitute "normalcy."
When I first started doing performance art, I had not actually encountered any information on avant-garde or contemporary art. At the Academy, they didn't teach us things about things like that. Every day was consumed with painting the endless assignments (which consisted of repetitively painting the same old school still life tableaus and human figure exercises). I never heard of Beuys or Klein until later, when I discovered in their vision and spirit great affinity to the work I had begun to undertake in response to life and the changing world around me.
Q: Can you tell us about your new photography work and your performances. Have you shifted from performance to photography? What is the relationship between the two?

First of all, I haven't really shifted form performance to photography. I have always done both side by side, and much of my photography is related to some performance or other, with Urban Amber as the main exception. For example, Mating Season (2001-2007) and Walking the Cabbage (2000-2007) are both ongoing performances documented by photography, and usually video as well. Everyday Precious (2001-2006) and New Culture Movement (2001-2006) are a different kind of performance photography. In these two series, I use photography and video to create alternative spaces in which ordinary people represent themselves and their existential predicaments. In Everyday Precious, the work centers on the mundane objects in their lives, objects on which they rely for their lives and livelihoods. In New Culture Movement, the people in this ongoing performance form a sort of "imagined community" as I share the pictures of the others with new participants. This is a community of people, struggling to secure their futures, pinning their hopes on the possession of private property, and a space of their own—a home. None of the people in these works are actors, instead they all just "play" the part of themselves, and yet these are staged works geared towards allowing people to represent themselves and their concerns in these works, connecting them to each other through their common predicaments and tenuous dreams. Love in the Age of Big Construction (2006) is my most recent series of performances. It is a series of interrelated and yet different multimedia performance installations, in which I employ a "dialectical approach," using the interplay of opposites, such as my warm, sensual body, to seduce and neutralize the cold, impersonal violence of machines of demolition and urban construction, light cotton "clouds" hold up tons of heavy steel, etc.
Q: Why do you think performance art such a strong movement now in China?
China's particular situation has been conducive to the widespread interest in performance art among artist here. Both the need to find ways to comment on the world around us and the relatively limited material resources of many artists has meant that performance is an accessible form of expression regardless of financial means. This does not mean, however, that artists who choose to do performance do so because it is easy or cheap. On the contrary, many choose performance because of its directness the power that accompanies this. Because performance is the least lucrative form of art, those who choose this expressive medium usually do so out of a deep sense of commitment to the possibilities of the medium, rather than consideration for economic gain.
Q: Who is your audience and how and where do you show your work?
There are two ways to answer the first part of this question. There are those at whom my work is directed and there are those who are themselves drawn to my work. Something these two overlap, but because I am committed to art that engages society and ordinary people, and not just to satisfy the tastes of the moment in the art scene, my work is not simply confined to galleries or spaces designated for art. In an effort to engage the world in which I live, many of my performances take place in mundane public places, not just Tiananmen, or The Bund in Shanghai, but my home village, the ruins of a demolished building, alleyways and back streets, shops and subway stations, street corners, parks and beaches, and places outside of China, such as Japan, the US and Europe, etc. I think of these as "performative social interventions" designed to make people think twice about what counts as normal in our everyday lives, and what our relationship to the world around us should be, and how we are shaped by our daily practices, and how those daily practices are ultimately shaped by us, though we sometimes lose sight of this fact. So my audience is mixed. I want to speak to the art world, and to that end I show my work (often performance photography, video, multimedia installation, and sometimes live performance) in galleries and other art spaces. But I also want to speak to the world of people who might never set foot in a gallery, and so I persist in my social interventions and performance involving ordinary people. I don't think these are mutually exclusive. In fact, I think they are mutually enriching.
Q: There has been a lot of international interest in China lately, particularly in fashion and art circles. How does China feed into your work?
China has, and will continue to be, an important pivot in my work. Not simply because it is my home—actually I reject nationalism and loathe the sorts of arbitrary categories that separate and divide us from each other and from the natural world (nation, race, ethnicity, gender, social class, sexual orientation, human vs. animal, human vs. nature, etc.). But I think that in the big picture, China is interesting not only as the largest potential market in the world (this is really the least interesting aspect), or one of the most vibrant and increasingly international contemporary art scenes worldwide, but far more so because as a so-called third world country undergoing post-colonial processes of "modernization" "urbanization" and "globalization," China's experiences can speak to the larger experiences of nations and regions undergoing transformation everywhere (think India, Mexico, Latin America, the Former Soviet Union, Africa, etc), and the plight of China's laboring masses, both peasants and urban poor, is the plight of working people—people marginalized, excluded, and left behind—everywhere. The most interesting art coming out of China, in my eyes, then, is not those works that superficially invoke sexy, easily recognizable "Chinese" political and cultural symbols, but rather, works that engage the human condition in all its glorious, messy diversity, works that both refract China's particular experience of transformation, and simultaneously speak to questions that concern all of humanity.
A simple anecdote from a recent performance illuminates this, I think, quite well. I was Walking the Cabbage in the SF Bay Area and there was a large group of people gathered around watching and asking questions. A German man said, in a strong accent: "They call us Kraut (cabbage), I always thought cabbage was a symbol of the Germans." A Russian immigrant, nearby, chimed in: "Nyet, nyet, kapusta (cabbage) is the soul of Slavic cuisine. I always think it is our national vegetable, along with the potato." The two looked at each other, looked at each other's work-calloused hands. "Maybe" said the German, "it is not a national thing." "Perhaps "said the Russian, "it is simply food of working people." Then they shook hands and asked me if they could try walking my cabbage.
Q: Do you think it important to show your work in the West and why ?

In principle, I don't think of things in such binary terms like East and West. In fact, I tend to actively reject (in my works as well as life) these kinds of divisions that separate us (humanity) from each other, and us (humanity) from the world in which we live. Often boundary blurring that takes the form of transgender explorations figure in my work, but this is not just a comment on gender itself, really. Rather gender represents a whole set of other limiting categories that constrain and divide us—race, ethnicity, nationality, East, West, human, animal, etc. My work is first and foremost about love—not a trendy topic in today's world, to be sure, but something I believe we desperately need a lot more of. The concept of love of the world, of what Philosopher Hannah Arendt called amor mundi, permeates my work—be it love that is lacking, misdirected, lost, dammed up, distorted. Love that is immanent, love that is liberated, love that breaks down boundaries. I want to show my work to all kinds of people all over the world, because I don't believe these themes adhere to boundaries like East and West, but at the same time, our experiences, culturally and historically are distinctive and different and we enlarge our worlds and ourselves by expanding our fields of vision beyond ourselves.