* 1962/1956 (CN), live and work in Great Britain
Two Artists Piss on Duchamp’s Urinal, 2000
The gesture of iconoclasm is often misunderstood and dismissed as ignorance or vandalism directed against image-making itself. Yet attacks against images spring necessarily from a belief in their power, and the act of destruction itself produces not merely rubble but also new images. This is captured by the video, which shows the artist duo Cai Yuan and JJ Xi urinating on Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain at the Tate Modern in London: like religious iconoclasts, the artists appear to have no respect for the venerable cultural tradition of European modernism. That both of them have lived outside China since the 1980s and taught at prestigious London art schools does not prevent us from seeing here an image of “foreigners,” who because of incomprehension or disbelief indecently assault “our” canon. And, in fact, Cai Yuan and JJ Xi seem to want to lever out the artistic achievement of modernism: the title of their work already calls the object a “urinal,” simply ignoring Duchamp’s act of translating an object of utility into the context of art.
Of course this is not a naive rejection of modern art, but rather a humorous continuation of Duchamp’s game with the concept of art, which Cai Yuan and JJ Xi extend through the postmodern mystification of cultural contexts. We should see the performance as, in their own words, a “celebration of the spirit of contemporary art,” and the act itself as a release of qi, entirely in keeping with Chinese tradition. (JB)
Two Artists Piss on Duchamp’s Urinal