- Video, colour and sound (mono)
- Duration: 11min, 8sec
- Purchased with funds provided by the Asia-Pacific Acquisitions Committee 2021
To Add One Metre to an Anonymous Mountain 1995 is a video documenting a performance that was staged on the Miaofengshan, a mountain to the west of Beijing whose name translates directly from Mandarin Chinese into English as ‘Marvellous Peak Mountain’. The video footage shows members of the Chinese artist collective Beijing East Village and was made by a cameraman who was paid by the group for his services. Beijing East Village was an unofficial commune of artists that was based in Dashan Zhuang, an area near the Third Ring Road of Beijing, for a short period between 1993 and 1995. The staging of this particular performance on 11 May 1995 was significant, following repeated intrusions by the Chinese state police into the activity and living quarters of the group and the temporary incarceration of its members Zhang Huan, Ma Liuming and Zhu Ming, events which made life for artists in Dashan Zhuang increasingly untenable. To Add One Metre to an Anonymous Mountain was the penultimate performance of the Beijing East Village artists, and was immediately followed by Nine Holes 1995, which was performed on the same day.
The video opens with intertitles in broken English, giving the name of the work (‘An Anonymous Mountain Increased One Meter’ [sic]) and a written proposal in which ten individuals collectively increase the height of the mountain with their own bodies. The recording then cuts to footage of surveyors, Jin Kui and Xiong Wen, standing by a road in bright daylight, using equipment borrowed from the land bureau to confirm the height of the mountain (86.393 metres). This they shout out for the benefit of the recording. The video cuts to a group of ten artists nonchalantly standing in a line on top of a hill; after several seconds they start to remove their shoes and clothes until they are completely naked. Remaining in this formation, they are individually summoned forward by name, whereupon they each weigh themselves on a set of bathroom scales before strolling off to the right of the camera. The first artist, Wang Shihua, returns into the frame and lies down on the rough ground. The other artists then proceed to arrange their bodies alongside Wang and then on top of one another, one by one, forming a human pyramid. The cameraman circles around them, occasionally revealing other photographers also recording this ephemeral event. The final two minutes of the footage is a still shot of the temporary human sculpture. In order of heaviest first, the artists who took part in the performance were:
Through this simple collective action, the artists demonstrated the possibilities of subverting truths as seemingly unquestionable as the height of a mountain, a longstanding symbol of sacred power and depicted in Chinese ink paintings dating as far back as the Song Dynasty (420–279 CE). The perception of raising the summit of the mountain in closer proximity to the sky is also of significance, with the Beijing East Village artists metaphorically bringing themselves closer to the heavens.
The performances To Add One Metre to an Anonymous Mountain and Nine Holes concluded the collective activities of the Beijing East Village, who were forced to disband after numerous police interventions. However, their endeavours are a significant incursion in the wider history of contemporary art in China, signifying how ‘the naked body serves as a kind of language to reflect the innermost feelings of the self, and to express these feelings to a larger audience in staged performance’ (Berghuis 2006, p.110).
The video footage of To Add One Metre to an Anonymous Mountain was included in the survey exhibition Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World, which was presented at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Guggenheim Bilbao, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Still photographs of the act, from many different vantage points, have come to be among the most widely published images of Chinese contemporary art. Subsequent discussion and interpretations of this performance have focused not only on the immediacy of the idea and the imagery, but also on a wider exploration around how performance art in China has gained traction through its documentation and how single photographic prints have been sold and circulated internationally. Although the critic Kong Bu and other artists have stated that the concept was ultimately devised by one of the participants, Zhang Huan, an agreement was signed by all the artists that they should have equal authorship of the work, with different negatives shot by the photojournalists Lu Nan and Robyn Beck distributed amongst them. As part of this loose agreement, the artists were each permitted to edition and sell the work as they so wished, so long as the collective authorship of the performance was acknowledged.
This video, which lasts just over eleven minutes, was previously owned by participating artist Ma Liuming and is number one in an edition of ten. It is shown on a monitor.
Thomas J. Berghuis, Performance Art in China, Hong Kong 2006, pp.194–6, reproduced p.26.
Kong Bu, ‘Zhang Huan in Beijing’, in Zhang Huan: Altered States, exhibition catalogue, Asia Society, New York 2007.
Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 2017.
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