Zhang Huan, Yilmaz Dzwiewior, Rose Lee Goldberg, & Robert Storr. (Phaidon) $49.95
Perhaps China’s most important contemporary performance artist, Zhang Huan’s first monograph contains images from his early performance like 65 Kilograms and 12 Square Meters, as well as his most recent work, which more heavily engages with Buddhism. Huan’s work has always emphasized struggle with the limitations of the human body, and this book includes self-portraiture, photography, sculpture, performance, and even an impressive selection of ash-on-linen drawings. Goldberg’s interview is especially revealing, as Huan discusses his childhood and motivations, explaining how he came to understand his body as the most appropriate vehicle for self-expression.
In Such Hard Times, Wei Ying-wu, tr. Red Pine. (Copper Canyon Press) $18
Red Pine has done the world of Chinese poetry a favor by translating the conversational Táng dynasty poetry of Wei Ying-wu. Commonly regarded as highly as Li Pai and Wang Wei, for some reason Ying-wu has had only a few poems translated into English before this collection. Red Pine offers extensive notes, framing the poems and their allusions within Chinese history and illuminating their cultural context. I am especially fond of his lengthy, descriptive titles, like the poem below.
On a Leave of Absence, I Receive Word from Lu Twenty-two, Who Claims He Is Ill in Bed and Surprised Li Two Hasn’t Visited in Such a Long Time. I Reply with a Poem and Poke Fun at Li Two
Why did this minor official exhaust himself running errands
medicine and naps won’t restore his talent
playing chess in the garden he complains about bird shit
reading books in bed he yells at the wind
an old friend inquires because he has the same illness
thinking of him this spring I lift up my cup
but I have to laugh at that vulgar Wang Jung
if I had a fly whisk I’d wave it from here
Sound Kapital Beijing’s Music Underground, Matthew Niederhauser. (powerHouse Books) $24.95
Sound Kapital is a collection of photographs by Matthew Niederhauser of the new Chinese punk rock/new wave movement that has emerged with the advent of capitalist tendencies in China. Chinese society and culture now allow an expressive, loud, direct, and visceral movement to thrive within the general population, where it would’ve been absolutely forbidden 15 years ago. The bands play shows knowing they’ll not achieve any sort of commercial or professional success, and the concertgoers slip into the night after each show as if they just took part in an underground political meeting.
The book’s photos could be Glen Friedman’s of Black Flag shows in the early eighties. Sound Kapital is not centered on the fact that a tiny portion of a long-standing traditional society broke off to dress oddly in the face of raw, loud, angry music. So many books have covered the punk rock and alternative music scenes in the late seventies/early eighties and it’s almost old hat at this point. The interesting thing is that in today’s mostly nostalgic, watered-down, and rarely genuine punk scene, the real thing peeks out its head in the place you’d least expect it, seemingly without having ever skipped a beat from the Germs Masque days in 1978.
The pictures made me want to listen to what they were listening to, and the book includes a CD of Chinese punk that makes the book more like extensive liner notes to a stellar soundtrack. The few concert posters by Chairman Ca are fantastic as well. Like if Raymond Pettibon had adopted Chinese prints the same way Van Gogh used Japanese ones. Overall the book would seem repetitive if not so curiously and unexpectedly pure, keeping an old flame burning bright.