In April 2017 Li Xinmo was invited to participate in "GAN AND GAN Jiangxi Meibei International Performing Arts Festival". Curator Xiong Yunhao hopes that artists can combine Meibei Village’s special history and environment to create on-site works.
Meibei is a special place; it used to be a Soviet area, the AB group incident occurred in the vicinity of Futian. Many innocent lives were tragically lost in the revolt, and the local people do not eat fish from the rivers, as there were many dead corpses. Walking into the village is like walking along a river of history, and this river is drenched with blood. In the old village, one can see many historical residencies of the Red Army leaders and memorials of old meeting places, the walls are filled with faintly recognizable slogans of land reform. When the land was changed hand, countless local gentry were executed under the label of “local tyrants”, the land confiscated, and many detained by unwarranted AB groups for torture and guillotine.
When I came to this village, the curator gave us the real history buried underneath the facade, while the tour guide held a touristic discourse, narrating about the brilliance of the revolution and its glorious processes, the two kind of discourses forming a strong dissonance and bazaar absurdity. When we arrived in front of a pair of interlocked camphor trees, the interpreter said that it was where the white general Zhang Huizan’s head was hung, he was killed, and his head hung on the trees for three days and nights. After that, the trees gradually withered, and eventually died.
The artist found this shocking and was attracted by the trees, and kept looking back at the trees, feeling the image of death. This image has been ingrained in her mind, so she chose the tree to implement her performance. She filled 77 balloons with water, forming 77 water drops. These water balloons were particularly heavy, and were scattered on the stone road leading to the camphor trees. Hanging in the tree above the dead camphor trees was a balloon filled with black liquid. This came directly from the image of the general’s skull, and the black liquid was a metaphor for the spirit of the dead. Her mouth held a razor blade, her hand carried a black pot, filled with blue powder. These blue powders vaguely symbolized the ashes of countless dead. She took out the blue powder in the jar, while picking up the blue water droplets scattered on the roadside, hanging them one by one on her neck. In the beginning her body was erect, gradually it became more bent, until she began to crawl. The weight of the water balloons was getting heavier and heavier until she could not lift her head or get up, her body firmly pulled to the ground by gravity, reaching the limit of her weight bearing. Finally she had to puncture the water balloons using her blade, and they busted instantaneously, forming a river of water. She finally finished drawing the blue line, and reached the camphor tree where the balloon with black liquid was hung. She put the jar on top of her head, and dumped the remaining powder on her head and body. She then came to the front of the hanging balloon with the blade in the mouth, she cut the balloon, the balloon bursted, and the black liquid in the balloon splashed all over her face and body.
The artist extended the concept of the theater, and decorated the scene into a theatrical space. She used her body and a series of actions to construct a metaphorical visual process. Meibei’s specific history and environment provided a radically different context to this performance; there is an interrelated relationship between the place and the artist’s actions. Meibei became a giant open theater, and this pair of interlocked camphor trees provided realistic theatrical props. Because of the authenticity of the environment and the event, she chose to use abstract expressions, the blue balloons being usually very light and drifting in the air, were made particularly heavy, lying on the ground. These blue balls covered her body, forming a dynamic installation. Her thin neck dragged the weight of hundreds of pounds, as she crawled on the ground, staggered forward. The black jar emanated mystery. She took out the blue powder from the black jar in order to draw a strange line on the ground; the razor in her mouth indicating a sharp violence. At the last moment when she cut the balloon with the razor in her mouth, the black liquid splashed out, as if the release of the great power of darkness.
This work is not a reproduction of a particular historical event, nor is it an interpretation of a concept, but a way to create a visual poem through the use of the body, props, and a sequence of actions, and to re-enact the heaviness and the pain that she feels in Meibei with a ritualistic and theatrical performance.