“Selection/Choice” Cai Guo-jie’s Boundary Art

Text / Zhu Wen-hai, Curator
That Cai Guojie’s conceptual pieces are regarded works of boundary art is fundamentally because, the artist draws comparison between actual scenes of everyday life as the ‘phenomenonal’ reality and the social, ‘value-based’ illusion (virtual reality) possibly generated by the former and then finds out the differences in between before seeking the precise borderline amid such differences. The artist’s speculation about this boundary art actually began in “Mirror Field”, with an installation artwork created during his master’s program already showing a similar boundary exchange between real and virtual realms. However, in recent years, Cai has taken social critical consciousness as the core concept of and the compositional basis for his series of works, and therefrom he has proposed a complete series of boundary art, all of which are completed with the consciousness of making an accusation against social power.

Division and creation of boundary art

Cai Guojie’s boundary art revolves around several different scenarios to show the social nature therein. As the creator he uses humor or irony to accuse the social power behind these as a whole. His most basic approach is to find out the value of errors: In the ITPARK project, he accessed government’s cadastral map of ITPARK and found out the gap errors in various parties’ ownerships and put on sale the relevant land rights; and in the survey of the Consulate General of Portugal in Macao, he found that such cadastral errors could lead to legal disputes between countries; nevertheless, in a more positive sense, Cai Guojie went to Europe where he got in contact with the refugees, and knowing that their lands had been invaded and occupied, he used the same method to find out the errors of the refugees’ original cadastre, in an attempt to help them to seek the right to purchase the errors on the original land edges so as to make preparation for their home returning.

The artist uses the cadastral errors occurred under various circumstances to express a sort of helpless humor or irony in a structure of social power. Looking for possible omissions and errors by accessing cadastral maps, represents an elegant and humorous way of accusation if compared to uncultivated street protests or brawling in parliament, which by its form highlights the cultural and artistic traits of art. This reminds us: when asked what art is, Marcel Duchamp revealed his indifference following the chess game he was playing at the time. It makes us understand: Art as a language does not necessarily advocate something, or present something like what traditional aesthetics do.

That Cai Guojie’s boundary work can be solidly base on conceptual art, lies in the facts that he puts aside the traditional “style” traits that resort to pure aesthetic expression, and that, based on the origin (i.e. facts faced in life) he treats aesthetics. In the mean time, that ‘origin’ gives the work a dual nature: first, in terms of artistic expression, this expressional way does not disconnect life from art to emphasize the purity of art or aesthetic autonomy. We can see that Cai Guojie’s boundary art originates from different problems of various societies, and the composition of these artworks is also in line with the concept and similar to the production/generation method of social sculpture as described by Joseph Beuys.

The two share something in common, in that both their production/generation methods of art are associated with the formation and pulsation of society, and they both possess some characteristics of ascetic monks and redemption (take for example, in one of Cai Guojie’s projects in Macau, he swept out the road dirt to fill the sea, through which he attempted to alter the cadastral map and coastline.) However, the creation of boundary art shows a two-sided feature: on one side, its composition process, compressed to the bottom of the justice society and moral society, is exposed by the artist; on the other, precisely, serious distortion of social justice sets off the art created by the artist which is restructured in beauty, kindness, and truth. Very different from abstracting beauty in past works, it highlights that art can play a role of integrating in a world where truth, goodness, and beauty detach from each other. It is aesthetic self-consciousness generated when pure art or pure aesthetics lingers on the creative subject itself after escaping from the complete world of truth (facts faced in life). However, it loses the quality of art as a medium.

With his work being boundary artwork as a part of conceptual art, Cai Guojie has mastered that art does not serve beauty and how it is nurtured by scenarios. This way of thinking makes his work unconventional, and increasingly displays the vast conceptual possibilities created by art as a medium. In fact, we may easily put into Cai’s work an emotion lamenting the loss of social justice, the kind of real emotion different from that of traditional aesthetic art, which detaches itself from social context of existence. That is exactly the realm that the artist hopes the concept of his work can open up. It leads us to understand that traditional aesthetics is as if a world difficult to cross to. Although not dominating our real existence like social power does, rather than just simply regarding aesthetics as a mental faculty, it has influence over us, detaching us from emotions in everyday life in a hidden realm.

Here, in his boundary art, using existing surveying mechanism and legal right of ownership to go deep into the ancient land issue, Cai Guojie is not only to highlight justice in power, but in terms of artistic conception, he reveals and pays attention to the integration of truth, kindness, and beauty in everyday lifeworld and has achieved good results – similar to what ancient Greek aesthetics did. That seems to be a return, yet in fact it marks the new development of artistic concept.

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