Rewriting Goes On
In 2020, global art production mechanism was suspended under the pandemic; meeting each other in the physical body came to a sudden halt; social gathering became a universally experienced theme. During this transformative year, the exhibition "Rewriting Theatre History” emerged, problematising the physical space of gathering and echoing two historical precedents: the 2018 manifesto of “Rewriting Theatre History" at Inside-Out Museum and Institute for Provocation in Beijing and the 1998 2nd Guangdong Modern Art Small Theatre Festival (renamed as 2nd Guangdong Modern Art Small Theatre Showcase for Professionals due to censorship). A participatory exhibition of archived contemporary performance in the Chinese context came to shape at OCAT Shenzhen, based on a lasting open call. The exhibition called to attention a great number of social actors and their practice in ‘performance' over the long two decades that stretches from the end of 1990s till Year 2020, in the contemporary China context. The open call called for reactions with ‘autobiographies’, to come together in form of performative archive, addressing connected agency of singular-plural being. It allowed an ephemeral group presentation of undercurrents parallel to the Zeitgeist, in their autonomous spirit and invisible ecology. Suddenly, the focus was placed on the individuals who found themselves fugitive or exiled from different institutional systems, who found each other in the game of theatre, against the backdrop of societal transition from the collapse of Soviet socialism to the rise of neoliberalism. In the summer of 2020, when covid statistics and the city policy allowed for restricted public gathering in Shenzhen, we took the museum, as space of art history and public discourse, appropriating the form and mechanism of an exhibition to make a manifesto, with archives, so as to allow histories and the present to recontextualise each other. The artistic event raises a series of questions: what is 'theatre' in relation to history? Is history relevant to the gathering in the here and now known as ‘theatre' – if so, what kind of historiography? Does historical awareness introduce resources and opportunities to the gathering? What departs from rewriting?
In dealing with the volume of autobiographical materials and such a historical span, we found ourselves repeatedly returning to a critical awareness: what does an archive call for? Firstly, the collection of historical materials calls automatically for the creation of a narrative; secondly, over the last two years, through meeting with colleagues and institutions that have been interested in the archival materials, we gather a momentum that suggests building an encyclopaedic archive seems only logical and expected. However, could these individuals who are found on a fugitive path, who encroached different institutional boundaries with creativity, be placed in an alternative narrative? We see an inherent paradox: historiography and archives inevitably monumentalise the living encounter space; the presence of an historiographical image replaces the actual presence of the actor with creative and political agency – the signifier covering the signified, the active individuals get reduced to a voiceless pixel in a background image. Risk-conscious of objectification, we are obliged to make clear that a historiography can serve only as index towards approaching the subjects of autobiographies. It is precisely the fragmented narrative that leave space for the subjects-authors. In the 2020 event “Rewriting Theatre History”, its narrative pointed clearly to the plural individual presence in the Chinese context. The actors have created common space of contemporary history, on and through multiple dimensions physical, textual, audio, visual, material, ritualistic, integral and life-immersed. The actions continue.
Towards where lead the performative actions on the fugitive? In the 2018 manifesto we observed, going undercurrent was not a strategic detour towards visibility. Quite on the contrary, only through going undercurrent can constructive space be secured, for authentic connection between theatre, history and reality in our socio-political context. History is going to inevitably surface from undercurrents and sink back into silence, incomplete, incompleted and incompletable. A plurality of action-takers, who ‘performs’ in the contemporary historical contexts, continuously encounter and meet the spaces created with the bare minimum of one’s own Leib (body in experience). Individuals with agency gather. Performative archives build a common memory between actors. Theatre is not a topographical place, but a temporal space where actors gather. Two years after 2020, we find in front of us more than before a ‘world theatre’, the world as theatre, we hold the white paper that is heavily written and to be written on. Dismissing the institutional gaps and barriers marked by languages of hierarchy, social conditions, capital, professionalism, etc., we aspire to present a common memory that is alive, regenerating, beyond specific time and location.
Zhang Yuan, Liu Chao
11.2022, in Bangkok and Berlin in exile
出走中的表演行动走向何处？我们在2018年说，下潜并不是“浮出”的策略，只有下潜才能构建出我们文化语境下剧场和历史现实的真实关系。历史终究会从下潜中浮现出来，再归于沉寂，没有完成并拒绝完成。 一个个在当代历史情境里“表演”的行动者和一具具肉身撑开的空间持续性交叉、交汇，具有主体意识的个人会集，行动的文献构成行动者之间的记忆，“剧场”不是一个地方，而是行动者集结的时间。 时隔两年，继续面对一个世界剧场，我们铺开继续“重写”的白纸，穿过语言、文化语境、资本、专业等体制的分野，无时无刻、无所不在地显现一个鲜活的、始终更新中的共同记忆。
Exhibition Foreword 2020
在这个“待测”之年，出走中的表演行动将走向何处？本次在深圳“OCAT表演” 项目系列中进行的当代表演文献开放展“二〇20年：整个世界变成了剧场”，无意用文献描绘一场全景式的中国当代表演史，而是旨在以过去的20年回应未定的2020年，也是以2020年为起点回望20年的“出走”。展览通过公开与展期内持续的征集，不断汇入主流话语之外、具有主体意识的一代代创作个人与群体的行动文献，集合20年内具有开拓意义的当代表演事件，同时导入此次“重写剧场史” 事件的现场，试图以多个视角呈现一个鲜活的、始终更新中的共同记忆。
Participatory Exhibition of Archived Contemporary Performance
2020: Twenty Years Towards a World Theatre
Dates: July 3 – August 9, 2020, extended to September 13, 2020
Opening: 4:30pm, July 3, 2020
Towards the end of the 1990s, the social space for questioning and certain idealist tendencies had shrunk drastically. Social space released by the Thaw was pushed, expanded and gradually institutionalised by privatisation and marketisation, with movers and shakers of the society having their hegemonies negotiated and settled. In 1998, the 2nd Guangdong International Experimental Theatre Modern Arts Festival cracked open a historic state of exception, taking an opportunity accidentally shaped by the remains of the post-Soviet social system. A rare ground for contemporary theatre was generated. In the ten years that ran up the 2008 Olympics, a fleeting state of tacit consent by city administrations was taken advantage of by artist communities and artist studios. In the wake of the roaring years of Chinese art capital, independent spaces took the chance and acted against the predominant capitalistic logic, constituting a fugitive autonomy from the institutions, continuing the lineage of self-help and mutual support - a spiritual heritage from the 80s.
From 2005 to 2010, the Crossing Festival Beijing, the Shanghai Fringe and many artist-led performance events emerged and changed the game of the performing arts. In 2008 “OCAT Performs” in Shenzhen made some early experiments on performance in museum in China. This period saw a rapid increase in international exchanges and liaisons. Independent contemporary theatre revolutionised the closed monopoly of culture-industrial departments in the name of Soviet professionalism, namely drama, dance, music and the fine arts. In the post-Olympics years, independent spaces started again to recede and vanish vis-à-vis various forms of force majeure. In 2015, however, museums in Shanghai, Beijing and other cities found a common focus on performance and the performing. A phenomenon was observed at the time. The past two decades saw the social space for performance expand under the pressing forces of social and political transformations. Some performing artists play the game with their radical agenda while some exit. Theatre gets restored to a live situation. The standing purpose and definition of theatre is no longer valid for the new generation of artists. Boundaries annulled, a sweeping new landscape stands here and now.
In 2018, Living Dance Studio, Paper Tiger Theater Studio and Niao Collective made a manifesto through the event “Rewriting Theatre History: 20 Years, the Whole World Has Become Our Theatre”. The writing of a history was brought to light as topic, of the contemporary theatre that has been undercurrent and countercurrent in China, against the backdrop of the changing and changed times. The “2nd Guangdong International Experimental Theater Modern Arts Festival” in 1998 was seen as a historical mark for new departure. Chinese contemporary theatre took a fugitive approach from a time co-formed and conformed by and with capital, market and institutional violence. A continuing exit has been taken from the state theatre institutions that dominate the resources in the ecology. Independent theatre, experimental theatre, political theatre, documentary theatre, dance theatre, performance theatre, transcultural research theatre, site specific performance, transmedia performance, live art, etc. - one tag after another have been ripped off. One action taker after another have been contributing to the creation of a total contemporary theatre, departing from either the body, text, sound, image, materiality or ritualised living. All point to one: the individual presence in the China context.
In 2020, as COVID-19 poses serious questions on the evaluation of the living scene, the surreal situation where we find ourselves in a widespread State of Emergency has made the 2018 manifesto transformed into a vision: 2020, the Whole World Has Become Theatre.
Theatre as the mechanism of social reflection and site for action gets suspended, together with the cultural production mechanism of festival - residency - tour. Online seems to be the solution. Performers around the world are deprived of the norm of a maintained image of prosperity. Professionals get together on the screen, online and have to reimagine the zero-point. The virus has penetrated capital, market, institutions and walls. The virus catalyses an emerging ‘we’, though temporary.
In this year on the waiting and to be tested, where is the performance in exodus going? This open-call exhibition, taking place in the context of“OCAT Performs”, has no intention for a panoramic narrative of Chinese contemporary performing arts. It is, however, in this vision that the past two decades have an answer to this year of suspension. At the same time, 2020 makes the point of departure for the retrospective exodus in the past twenty years. With a continuing open call, the exhibition aspires to witness the concurrent of archived actions from different generations of individuals, away from the mainstream discourse. The groundbreaking contemporary performance events from the past twenty years will gather. The event that is taking place here and now, this 2020 Rewriting of Theatre History, will resonate with the exhibition, and vice versa. A living and renewing common memory will be approached via multiplicitous perspectives.
Curating: Zhang Yuan, Liu Chao