Cai Yuan. Chinese-born performance artist based in Britain today. Born in 1956, he belongs to the same post-1950s generation as other eminent Chinese artists such as Xu Bing and Zhao Xiaogang. Cai decided to leave China in 1983, four years after the end of Cultural Revolution, to enrich his learning of Western Art. He gained his international fame by undertaking a series of radical performance with another Chinese contemporary artist, Jian Jun Xi, in the form of a duo group, Mad for Real. What is the other essential information to know about this Chinese avant-gardist before attending the Art Panel with Cai in the Oxford China Forum on the 18th of February?
Regardless of the extensive performing approaches by Mad for Real, the central concept behind all the seemingly distinctive performances is in fact with clear coherence and resonance in nature. Through the often outrageous actions taken towards established art pieces from other celebrated artists, the controversy the duo has been putting forward is consistently the accusation against the institutionalism and the exploration of the boundary of art.
Their practise is undoubtedly a powerful disruption of the usual art perception. "Oh, that's it" - most viewers often end the narratives of an artwork after understanding the artist's intention. "Mad for Real", nonetheless, proved to the world that the process of art-making can be long-lasting. Once the work is done and open for viewing, the spectators could in fact resume their authority to extend the meaning of the work by further interaction.
How so? The most well-known performance of the duo is probably their Two Artist Jump on Tracey Emin's ' My Bed' (1999) during the Turn Prize exhibition in Tate Gallery. The name shall demand no further explanation to the context of the performance. Their grotesque act first received the round applause by the crowd intertwined with the confusion of the security guards being uncertain whether it was a well-planned show. Despite of the arrest of the artists afterwards, the performance received wide recognition from the critics and hit most headlines the day after.
This wry performance is just a tip of the iceberg. The list goes on and on with 'Two Artists Piss on Duchamp's "Urinal"' (2000) at the Tate Modern, 'Two Artists Open Fire!' (2000) in the Jeff Koon's showroom at the Royal Academy of Arts, etc. All names are pretty self-explanatory of what the artists did in reality. The oeuvre is more than a hint of laughter but a canny meditation on rewriting the meaning of contemporary art in history.
The satirists have left traits all over the world and Oxford is no exception. Six years ago in 2010, Mad for Real protested against the hardship of artists in our hustling Cornmarket Street besides the familiar WMS Smith Shop. Will Cai Yuan bring another surprise to Oxford again the coming Saturday? Let's see.