Abnormal / Normal: the art of Cao Fei

Morgan Meis in The Easel:

There are two dead babies sitting in a medical pan inside a nondescript room. These babies face one another. Are they conjoined twins? There are tubes connected to the twin cadavers. A Chinese couple, a man and a woman, sit in chairs on either side of the babies. The tubes from the babies are connected to the arms of the couple. They are feeding their own blood into the mouths of the dead babies, who receive the elixir without discernible effect as the blood dribbles down their faces. It is a horrendous scene, made all the more horrendous by the fact that it is so compelling to look at, so fascinating to think about. Are these people trying to help the babies, connect with them somehow? Are they making fun of these dead babies or of the situation? Are we meant to laugh, cry, recoil in horror? What is this disturbing scene and why are we being subjected to it?

Well, we are in Shanghai in the year 2000. The millennium is upon us. We’re at an art exhibit. The couple feeding blood to the dead babies are Sun Yuan and Peng Yu. The show has been curated and organized by two Chinese artists who will go on to become international art stars. They are Feng Boyi and Ai Weiwei. They have created a show called “Fuck Off.” It is neither, like most exhibits of Chinese art at the time, sponsored by the Chinese government nor by any Western government or institution. The show was an epochal moment in Chinese contemporary art and will, I’d wager, become recognized more and more over time as one of the crucial moments in the history of art in general, like the famous and era-shifting Armory Show in New York City 1913.

More here.