Binding The Lost Souls: Huge Explosion 1993 Great Wall signed in pinyin and Chinese, numbered 1/15 and dated 1993 (lower left) c-type print 120 x 153 cm. (60 1/4 x 47 1/4 in.)
Exhibited: Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Documentation of Chinese Avant-garde art in the 90s, 2000 Pinyao, Second Annual International Photography Festival, 2002 New York, Asian American Art Center, Reappearance of Exit IV: Performance Art of Zheng Lianjie, 2002 Guangzhou, Guangdong Museum of Art, The First Guangzhou Triennial Reinterpretation: A Decade of Experimental Chinese Art (1990-2000), 2002, illustrated in the catalogue, p. 149 Beijing, Millenium Art Museum; Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, The Wall: Reshaping Contemporary Chinese Art, 21 October, 2005-29 January, 2006, illustrated in the catalogue p. 303
Zheng Lianjie belongs to the generation of Chinese artists most shaped by the harshness and excess of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), when all but the most basic of educational facilities were shut down by government authorities. Despite the lack of formal education, in 1986 at the age of 23, Zheng founded one of the first night schools of fine art in Beijing. It was shortly thereafter in 1988 that Zheng turned his attention to the Great Wall as a backdrop for what has come to be considered among the most seminal performance works in post-Tiananmen (June 4th 1989) China.
Between September 21 and October 7 of 1993, Zheng created a series of four performances held at the Great Wall, near Si Ma Tai, in Hebei Province. Collectively titled Binding the Lost Souls: Huge Explosion Series, 1993 the four pieces - Memory Loss, Black Cola, Cavern-Strategy and Huge Explosion - took a year of preparation and the recruitment of several score of local residents and a group of artists assembled by Zheng to complete. For Huge Explosion Zheng and his collaborators gathered more than 10,000 broken bricks over a seventeen day period from along the foot of the wall, wrapping them and themselves in strips of red cloth. The wrapped bricks were piled along a 300 meter stretch of the wall, passing through three of the fire towers. The funerary significance of the colour red, which Gao Minglu, curator of The Wall, refers to as A sacrificial colour for calling and commemorating the lost soul, was now used to wrap the Great Wall itself. As Zheng says, The brick is a piece of frozen history. What we are doing is to bind and compress the lost souls at the sunset.
Gao Minglu elaborates: The series of works involved certain ritual forms, but instead of celebrating the greatness of the physical form of the Wall, it seemed they were performing a cultural funeral in calling back the souls lost by people. In the current reality, The Wall thus became a wounded Great Wall in need of reconstruction and revival.
While Chinese and international critics called the performances stunning and epic, the Chinese government held a different view, banning all media coverage of the event, closing a press event opening, and even forcing the shutdown of Beijing Art News for daring to feature an image on its front page.