Fuck Off (art exhibition)
"Fuck Off" (Chinese: 不合作的方式) was a controversial art exhibition which ran alongside the Third Shanghai Biennale (2000), which itself was the city's first attempt at a truly international survey of contemporary art. The exhibition’s title translates as "Uncooperative Attitude" in Chinese, but the blunter English language sentiment was deemed preferable.
The exhibition was held in an Eastlink Gallery warehouse by Feng Boyi and the 43-year-old Ai Weiwei, and is revered by many young Chinese artists. Ai encapsulated "Fuck Off"'s artistic-curatorial attitude with one set of photos in which he gives the finger in turn to the White House, the Forbidden City and the viewer, and another in which he releases an ancient Han Dynasty Chinese vase which smashes at his feet.
The exhibition included works by 46 avant-garde artists, among them He Yunchang, who posed in a color photograph while bare-chested and suspended from a crane by his ankles over a rushing river into which he holds a blade, the same knife he later used to cut his own arm. Sun Yuan exhibited Solitary Animal, a glass case containing an animal skeleton and—purportedly—enough poison gas to wipe out the show's entire audience. Wang Chuyu's performance consisted of a four-day fast. Zhu Ming floated down the Huangpu River in a plastic bubble wearing a diaper.
"Fuck Off" has been one of the most famous contemporary art exhibitions in recent history. It took place in the Eastlink gallery as well as a warehouse at 1133 West Suzhou River Road. The show included both emerging and famous artists and totaled 48 in all. The work displayed in Fuck Off was raw and unedited, which was a polar opposite of the Shanghai Beinnale that was open at the same time. The entire purpose of the show was to truly show the Chinese government exactly how “uncooperative” these artists could be, and that is evident in the closing line of the exhibition catalogue: “Perhaps there is nothing that exists ‘on-site,' but what will last forever is the very uncooperativeness with any system of power discourse.”
In an interview by Chin-Chin Yap, Ai Weiwei was asked if the actual exhibit of “Fuck Off” had a concept similar to the Black, White, and Gray Cover Books he published. He went on to say that after the books were finished, there were a lot of interesting art works happening, and the people in his life continually recommended creating an exhibit with the theme of the books. His opinion was not that the show was really that good because it was organized so quickly, and he knew that there was a possibility that it could be shut down by the police and having all the work confiscated. Luckily, he said that the artists involved were “cooperative and interested and the attitude was there.” In a very eye-opening statement, Ai goes on to say that “maybe Fuck Off was most important because of what it represented.”  Those involved had a clear thought about the image they wanted to give to Chinese institutions and Western curators, institutions and dealers, and that thought was: “We had to say something as individual artist to the outside world, and what we said was ‘fuck off.’”
One of the most famous examples from this exhibition was the performance of "Eating People" by Zhu Yu. It consisted of a series of photographs of him cooking and eating what is alleged to be a human fetus. One picture, circulated on the internet via e-mail in 2001, provoked investigations by both the FBI and Scotland Yard. The piece's cannibalistic theme was controversial in Britain when Zhu's work was featured on a Channel 4 documentary exploring Chinese modern art in 2003. In response to the public reaction, Zhu Yu stated, "No religion forbids cannibalism. Nor can I find any law which prevents us from eating people. I took advantage of the space between morality and the law and based my work on it". Zhu has claimed that he used an actual fetus which was stolen from a medical school.
Many influential artists of the current Chinese art scene took part, many of whom have since been included in international exhibitions, catalogues and television documentaries.
The exhibition was closed by the Shanghai police before its scheduled closing date.
A catalog of the exhibition has been published, a black book with the simple title "FUCK OFF" on its cover.
Feng Boyi on "Fuck Off"
Feng Boyi felt as though Chinese artists were just working for foreigners because the early Chinese contemporary art shows were being held in foreign countries. In co-curating Fuck Off, Feng said that “We wanted to show the ‘fuck off’ style, not working for the government or in the style of western countries, but a third way.”
Description by Ai Weiwei and Feng Boyi in October, 2000:
“’Fuck Off’ is an event that is participated by both the organizers and artists. In today’s art, the alternative is playing the role of revising and criticizing the power discourse and mass convention. In an uncooperative and uncompromisable way, it self-consciously resists the threat of assimilation and vulgarization. A cultural attitude that stands against the power and makes no compromise with vulgarization is, together with independent individual experiences, feelings and creations, is what extends the pursuit and desire of art for spiritual freedom – an everlasting theme. Such a cultural attitude is obviously exclusive and alienated. It aims at dealing with such themes as cultural power, art institution, art trends, communications between the East and West, exoticism, post-modernism and post colonialism, etc. ‘Fuck Off’ emphasizes the independent and critical stance that is basic to art existence, and its status of independence, freedom and plurality in the situation of contradictions and conflicts. It tries to provoke artist’s responsibility and self-discipline, search for the way in which art lives as “wildlife”, and raise questions about some issues of contemporary Chinese art. Allegory, directing questioning, resistance, alienation, dissolution, endurance, boredom, bias, absurdity, cynicism and self-entertainment are aspects of culture as well as features of existence. Such issues are re-presented here by the artists with unprecedented frankness and intelligence, which leaves behind fresh and stimulating information and traces of existence. In this exhibition, participants and their works are not objects of choice, identification and judgment. They have no quest for any kind of excuse. Group identification and inner difference are both so fully respected and encouraged that it may be doubted if there is the necessity for the presence of audience. An on-site ambiguity and uncertainty forces one to seek meaning and satisfaction only in the form of proliferation and postpone. Perhaps there is nothing that exists ‘on-site’, but what will last forever is the very uncooperativeness with any system of power discourse.”
Ai Weiwei is so concerned with Chinese history as a whole and the fact that people are not playing the proper role in learning about it or preserving it. By dropping a near-priceless artifact, Ai is essentially asking if the Chinese people really care about their history, and why not? It is taking something that is worth an immense amount of money and reducing it to shards. If he can do this with an artifact this important, it should suffice to raise awareness about the importance of all aspects of Chinese history.
Golden Sunlight (Performance)
He Yuchang does a large amount of performance art and is known to push the limits in what he does. His goal is to “seek enduring and fearless confrontation with reality and a poetic expression for this.”
Chinese Landscape: Tattoo No. 2
Huang Yan sees landscape paintings as a way of expressing himself. The landscapes he paints show tranquility, and does so on a variety of things. These scenes are painted on his body, on pork, and even on cow bones.
Jin Le experiments with a wide variety of materials in order to demonstrate what he thinks that people and animals would look like if scientists succeeded in combining them into one form.
Peace series No. 19
Liang Yue uses photoshop as his main form of expression. He attempts to photoshop a variety of ads onto photos he takes and then post them absolutely everywhere in an attempt to require people to see them.
Paradise Lost No. 17
Meng Huang was born in Beijing, and says “I grew up, knowing nothing. Now I live in Beijing and find that works of art stars are very much westernized.” His works seem to be reminiscent of an almost unattainable land that was once a paradise, but is now sad and downtrodden.
Stamping on Water
Song Dong notes “I find more pleasure in doing ‘art’ as a matter because of the openness of artistic language. As I understand it, the time is over when artistic styles are defined by medium, method and paradigm. When I make use of these, the only thing that I have in mind is whether they fit my ideas.” His work seems to show a lot of disparity in life and the fact that humans are a lot less important to the world around them.
Zhu Yu is a very outspoken artist who uses his work to make a statement. His work is aimed at making people think about the world around them. He says that “We’re not very afraid that we are not thinking what others are thinking since such an issue is taken care of by our spirit. What we are afraid of is that people are thinking what they are not supposed to think. So we need to re-think over what people initially take to be right, and abstract out everything that has nothing to do with reality.”
List of artists exhibited
Ai Weiwei, Cao Fei, Chen Lingyang, Chen Shaoxiong, Chen Yunquan, Ding Yi, Feng Weidong, Gu Dexin, He An, He Yunchang, Huang Lei, Huang Yan, Jin Lei, Li Wen, Li Zhiwang, Liang Yue, Liang Yue, Lin Yilin, Lu Chunsheng, Lu Qing, Meng Huang, Peng Yu, Peng Donghui, Qin Ga, Rong Rong, Song Dong, Sun Yuan, Wang Bing, Wang Yin, Wang Chuyu, Wang Xingwei, Wu Ershan, Xiao Yu, Xu Tan, Xu Zhen, Yang Yong, Yang Fudong, Yang Maoyuan, Zhang Zhenzhong, Yang Zhichao, Zhang Dali, Zhang Shengquan, Zheng Guogu, Zhu Ming, and Zhu Yu. Chen Hao, Zheng Jishun, and Song Tao exhibited a video documenting their walk through the city while blood leaked from plastic tubes inserted into their veins.
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- Ai, Weiwei (2000). Fuck Off. China.