Tuesday, May 29, 2007

da zi bao by group material

One of the first projects that we did in a public space or outdoor space was called Da zi baos, or The Democracy Wall. "Dazi bao" is Chinese for "large-scale character posters". Our cursory understanding of the democracy wall movement in China is that it is a traditional form of social written dialogue occurring in public squares. The chain of events is that someone or some group would mount a commentary poster about public policy or a certain issue on an outdoor wall. And then another person would come and put another poster next to that and so on and so on. What ensued was a kind of opinion landscape, which in fact sometimes influenced public policy. In 1976 after Mao's death, Deng was reinstated in the party and by 1980 he consolidated his power and deleted four freedoms from the 1978 Constitution; speaking out freely; airing views fully; holding debates; and writing big character posters_the traditional form of political protest. We tailored the concept and form of Da Zi Baos and made a kind of constructed version.

We were thinking at that time, in 1982, about ways in which public opinion is instrumentalized and wielded by the media in the United States and how opinions and views are reduced to a yes or no, with no complexity or gray area in between, replicating cycles of reductive thinking. The process of gathering the statements that you see on the wall involved interviewing people on the street at the actual Union Square location where the posters were later installed about a number of social issues that were relevant to the site of Union Square and current events. We juxtaposed those statement from individuals (black on yellow) with organizational statements from various groups (black on red ) who were working with the same issues. So in a sense the democracy wall is not so dissimilar from some of our interior shows in terms of the overall framework being a forum or a model of a democratic form. The first statement in the wall was from Group Material:
"Even though it's easy and fun, we're sick of being the audience. We want to do something, we want to create our culture instead of just buying it."
Juxtaposed with that was a statement by a housewife: "Government funding of the arts should depend on the actual purpose, what they are giving it for. If it was being based on as far as to help other people or something like that I could see it."
Two other statements were about unions. An office worker said:
"Unions benefit society, but not in my office."
And the Home Health Care Workers Union wrote:
"These are rough times to stand alone. Even though people are now paid for working, the attitude of masters towards servants remains the same." I want to point our that this was a very inexpensive project to do ($200) as we did them by hand. We put the posters up illegally at night, and they stayed up for approximately five weeks before they were covered up and/or dilapidated. Up until then Group Material had been self-generating financially, meaning the members of the group pooled our moneys to make events and pay for projects. Around this time we began to get National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) support.


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