Beichen Zhang and his 111,565 Kilometer Project – A retrospective journey of an artifact
artnet News China, May 26, 2020 (Original Chinese/Translation)
[Picture 1: Picture of 3D printing work “A Sample of Cultural Relics #40-35-4” : Picture credit to: Beichen Zhang]
When artist Beichen Zhang visited the Asian Exhibition Hall of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania in May 2018, an exhibit came into his sight-a fragment of a Han Dynasty tomb numbered Object#40-35-4, taken away from his homeland in the late 19th century and early 20th century.
In fact, this is not a very conspicuous cultural relic, unlike the “star exhibits” in the Asian Hall of the Penn Museum, the Zhaolu purple and boxing hair in the six armies of Zhaoling, it is displayed in the corner. What attracted Beichen Zhang’s attention was the description of the cultural relic. He experienced an indescribable feeling: “This cultural relic comes from Shandong, but the description here makes me feel ‘misplaced’. The cultural relics it depicts are completely different from my imagined hometown.”
[Picture 2: Screenshot of the short film “From 11,565 Kilometer to 10 Kilometer” Picture cretidt to: Beichen Zhang]
So, triggered by this fragment, Beichen Zhang began to think about the expression relationship between matter and text, as well as the cultural, historical and sociological significance behind it. He named the subsequent project “11565 Kilometer”-this is the physical distance between Object#40-35-4 from Shandong Province to the Exhibition Place and Penn Museum.
[Picture 3: Screenshot of the short film “From 11,565 Kilometer to 10 Kilometer” Picture credit to: Beichen Zhang]
The artist decided to return to his hometown to conduct a survey to re-experience the “Shandong area” in the perspective of the cultural relics description of the Pennsylvania Museum, and to try to understand the path of the fragment to the country: in the 1880s, the Germans built the Jiaoji railway in Shandong to transport military resources in the northern part of the Shandong Peninsula. Decades later, the Japanese took over the railway and continued to extend it southward.
In a section of the Jiaoji railway, there is a small village called Liangshan Village, where the mausoleum and coffin making industry has been going on for thousands of years. Guanye Zhen (Sekino Tadashi), a famous Japanese archaeologist, also came to study the stone carvings of the Han Dynasty, and his research gave Beichen Zhang a new clue of thinking. he decided to take a step further from the social history level to inspect the historical sites of the place on the spot.
[Picture 4: Screenshot of the short film “From 11,565 Kilometer to 10 Kilometer” Picture credit to: Beichen Zhang]
After months of investigation and detailed documentation, although Beichen Zhang is still unable to determine the exact location of Object#40-35-4, he has a blueprint for the project in mind: in April 2019, he held a special field display of “11565 kilometers” in the main building of the Maryland Academy of Art-what he called a “virtual cultural relics exhibition.” For real museums, the important function of cultural institutions is to carry cultural significance and construct stories between cultural relics (of course, these stories are always based on the knowledge structure of curators and researchers).
[Picture 5: About “11565 Kilometere” special field exhibition. Picture credit to: Beichen Zhang]
Skeptical of this way of construction, Beichen Zhang chose to build a “museum outside the museum space” and used material text to satirize the way itself: “in most cases, museums provide a complex environment that includes political, racial, economic, and other factors, and many cross-cultural contents must be included. Experts elaborate on cultural relics, which is also a process of forming an official interpretation system.”
[Picture 6: About “11565 Kilometere” special field exhibition. Picture credit to: Beichen Zhang]
In terms of the choice of media presented by the project, Beichen Zhang enriches the virtual museum space by means of 3D printing, prose movies, photographic devices and on-the-spot material collection: “here, the mobility of time and space and the sense of substitution of on-the-spot sightings are my primary consideration, so the metaphors in each paragraph are spread out in parallel with the work that evokes associations.
Only in this way can the audience see the intricate historical clues behind these landscapes. ”
In the prose movie from 11565 km to 10 km, Beichen Zhang divides his search into nine chapters, corresponding to his attempts to explore the spread of Object#40-35-4: “at the beginning of their establishment, many encyclopedic museums are engaged in ambitious competitions to integrate world history into one building. The crisis implied by this ambition has had an impact on the legitimacy of acquiring cultural relics. “Object#40-35-4 is only a very common one of many cultural relics acquired through the same path, but Beichen Zhang hopes to present the power mechanism of the entire cultural system in pieces through his own exploration.
[Picture 7: Photo book and installation “Village, Field, Shipping Port and Museum” Picture credit to: Beichen Zhang]
Therefore, the process of exploration is a rethinking of the so-called cultural authority, and the overall presentation of the project is a “remote reproduction” of the museum’s architectural structure, cultural structure and even power institutions. 3D printing of “samples of Cultural relics # 40-35-4” tortures subjective selectivity in narrative clues: in order to emphasize the authenticity of the text, American museums often use specific cultural relics samples to support and complete the stories they want to express. Although this white 3D printed “copy” has its shape, its connotation has long gone. As evidence of Beichen Zhang’s investigation of the Chinese circulation of the museum, it even stands on the other side of examining the “real cultural relics.”
If “the sample of Cultural relic # 40-35-4” is the image given, then two more documentary works, “shovel, Sand and Map” and “Village, Field, Shipping Port and Museum” form an ingenious intertextual relationship with the short film: two maps in the former show the real history of the German occupation of Shandong. The latter visually presents the photos and investigation notes sorted out during Beichen Zhang’s visit from a more general point of view-although the visual form of prose films is concise, the supplement of documents and archives is always the key to building an understanding system.
[Picture 8: The photographic installation “Shovel, Sand and Map” in the exhibition “Geomagnetic Culture: About Four Chinese Artists”. Photo credit to: Beichen Zhang and curator Wang Minwen]
[Picture 9: Photo book and installation “Village, Field, Shipping Port and Museum” Picture credit to: Beichen Zhang]
In addition to the reconstruction of the visit process, Beichen Zhang also incorporated black humor into another work called “an interview with curators on Saturday.” the audio partly comes from the conversation between the artist and the curators of the Penn Museum. the latter talks about how the museum has formed a large and precious collection system, but next to the screen that plays the video, there is a replica of a sculpture. The authenticity and authoritative source of cultural relics have been raised to an important position.
Hermeneutics theory points out that the context-based relevance analysis is needed for the social and cultural background of events, and all the analysis of humanistic and social phenomena without context is lack of explanation. This is especially true for the museum, as a creation in the process of the development of human society, it can be said that materialization is the representation form of its narrative meaning. From the original Treasure Museum to today’s museum from the private to the public, all its collection classification and spatial layout serve to create a knowledge-based sense of identity and desire itself. In a series of different media works in “11565 kilometers”, they work together to create a museum-like function-with the help of Darwinian narrative, to make the audience understand this unknown history and ourselves, and connect the imagination from things to people. At the same time, with the help of the thinking mode of his own photographic archives, the artist sublimated the whole project more artistically-in Beichen Zhang’s view, the archives he constructed through images and photographic works, it is also a reverse approach to the knowledge authority system that he is thinking about.
[Picture 10: Screenshot of the short film “From 11,565 Kilometer to 10 Kilometer” Picture credit to: Beichen Zhang]
All the works in the “11565 Kilometer Project” refer to many aspects of Beichen Zhang’s thinking, but the environment it exhibits– this is not a museum space– makes the boundaries of the whole project more difficult to define: if “defining the field” (site-defining) is the core priority in the field-specific art, then here. The core of creation has become “creating field” or “non-site” itself-which seems to be in line with Heidegger (Martin Heidegger) ‘s understanding of the relationship between art and space, that is, he believes that works of art have the ability to generate fields. As a result, “11565 km” is not entirely a research project of on-the-spot investigation, but also traces and reconstructs the imagination, and at the same time puts forward multi-level cross-examination of the existing social and cultural system.
In the Invisible City, Calvino (Italo Calvino) constructs an illusory imagination through the dialogue between Marco Polo and Genghis Khan, and the museum’s narrative system is more or less based on this unknown place and unopened history. Object#40-35-4 is still lying quietly in the exhibition hall of the Penn Museum, perhaps it will not know that it will be led by an artist to complete a trip home in a thousand years’ time.
[Picture 11: “11565 Kilometer Project” Poster. Picture credit to: Beichen Zhang]