Taikang Space presents "The Isolated and the Destroyed" to commemorate the 75th victory anniversary of Anti-Japanese War, WWII

TEXT:CAFA ART INFO    DATE: 2020.9.3

Poster of the Isolated and the Destroyed.jpg

In the coming days, I will lead my troops to Songhu, Shanghai to fight. Half of China’s land are being subjugated day the day. It is caused by others, yet it is my responsibility to defend. If it fails, no one could survive and pass on to future generations. Killing the enemy for our nation has always been the aspiration for soldiers in National Revolutionary Army...

— A letter from Xie Jinyuan to his wife

Taking photographs and news movies from the Taikang Collection during the Battle of Shanghai as its starting point, the art document collects and discusses a large number of official and private photographs, letters, stamps, newspapers and other archives. It also pays attention to the art works during the same period of the war and commissions young artists for new creations. Striving to present the intense relationship between the battlefield facts identified by the researchers from the archives and contemporary news writings, documentary videos, and the interpretation of latecomers. 

Demonstrating the dispersive influence of the visual establishment during the Republic of China, the old and new interpretations derived from the above are also being introduced. 

The journalist of The Daily Telegraph, Pembroke Stephens witnessed and filmed the seizure of the Vicks tank of Chinese army on August 21, 1937. "Fierce street battles took place in the Huishan Road area of Shanghai. Many populated streets were in ruins. It is here, beyond the riverbank in the photograph, that the Chinese tank was seized by the enemy while resisting the advance of Japanese. It's a bleak scene in no man's land.”[1] 

On the afternoon of August 22, 1937, the Japanese army correspondent Yoshio Hamano used staged photographs to restore the attack of Vicks tank commanded by the National Army Major Zheng Shaoyan at dawn on that day. Two of his works were published in the Sino- Japanese War Photograph News (The Seventh Edition), and later included in the Complete Photographic Collection of Sino-Japanese War: Shanghai Battlefront and other selected photography albums, as iconic images of Japan's promotion of its "achievements" of the war. However, these two photographs later became hollow frames, loaded with different meanings from the original context, and even became advocates of two diametrically opposed positions— the fate of the image and the Vicks tank behind have been obscured in the myth of history. 

"In itself the photograph cannot lie, but, by the same token, it cannot tell the truth; or rather, the truth it does tell, the truth it can by itself defend, is a limited one.”[2] Owing to such limitation, the section "China's Vicks” in "The Isolated and the Destroyed" avoids constructing a pure photographic narrative, but employs methodologies such as textual criticism, image-history cross-references, close textual reading, and "post-memory", etc. Densely weaving photographs, pictures, news reports and various reminiscence texts into a montage-like meaning web, this section aims to carefully investigate the fate of Zheng Shaoyan and the Vicks tank under his command. 

At the end of October 1937, the Battle of Shanghai has almost come to an end. Under the bombing of the Japanese army, the entire Zhabei district was almost completely damaged. On the 26th, Chiang Kai-shek ordered all troops in Zhabei to withdraw to defend the western suburbs of Shanghai, and at the same time ordered Gu Zhutong, the acting commander of the Third War Zone to leave the Eighty-Eight Division to stand alone in Zhabei. In the end, the first battalion of the 524th Regiment of the 88th Division was ordered to move to the four-line warehouse on the north bank of the Suzhou River, next to the Sihang Warehouse in the International Settlement, and to defend the last position of the National Revolutionary Army in Zhabei. 

From October 26 to November 1, witnessed by the Chinese people and foreigners in the International Settlement, Lieutenant Colonel Xie Jinyuan, the regimental adjutant and Major Yang Ruifu, the commander of the battalion, leading more than 400 soldiers, fought the Japanese army for four days and five nights, leaving an indelible mark in the history of the Second Sino-Japanese War. The Sihang Warehouse also became a "black box" that gathers all kinds of testimonies, including news reports, commentaries, and commoners’ essays, etc. Among which, a video of the defense taken by a foreign reporter is an excellent document for Sihang Warehouse as the "black box" : Due to its special political status, the International Settlement separated by a river from the warehouse was temporarily exempted. Therefore, the people in the International Settlement had the opportunity to witness the whole process of the battle on the shore, but were limited by physical space (they could not go to the war zone on the north shore, nor could they enter the warehouse and live with the soldiers. What was actually visible for them was merely the appearance[3] of the warehouse), the rendering of wartime propaganda and the poor interpersonal communication, For Chinese people at that time, what they have perceived was not so much reality as it was a simulacra on top of the reality. 

Baudrillard regarded the Gulf War that broke out in 1991 as "a degenerate form of war, and an operation of facts", since "we can only understand the world through mass media. The real world has disappeared. What we can see is the hyperreal world created by the media and composed of manipulated codes"[4], the world of simulacra. The simulacra of Sihang army even continued to perform when the troop was trapped in the International Settlement for years. The heroic "Sihang Isolated Batallion" created by the government, the media, and the public were wandering inside and outside the text, sometimes leading to new textual production, sometimes affecting the corporeality of officers and soldiers. “The Isolated Batallion" section in "The Isolated and the Destroyed" is a re-exploration of this spectacle of dissemination. Through the dual perspectives of researchers and artists, this section uses marginal files, the hidden image structure and mythological models to re-sketch characters and events in the past time and space, exploring the sub-themes surrounded Sihang "black box”, such as strange dreams of Xie Jinyuan, the handwriting and disposition of his wife Ling Weicheng, the dimming fame of Yang Ruifu. 

Continuing exhibitions and research projects such as "The Ordinary and the Revolutionary: Landscapes of Mountain Huang and Mountain Lu", "1949: The Artistic Choice", "The Isolated and the Destroyed" is another attempt of Taikang Space entering Taikang's collection. At the same time, as a brand new experiment, the art document also invites young artists and writers to participate in revisiting historical narratives, visual institutions, and war relics, in order to activate the vitality of archives, to disturb the desolate time and space, and to transform the dormant past in to histories with contemporary and reflective dimensions. 

The Archive and Research Center of Taikang Space was established in 2015, with the aim to provide academic support for the existing curatorial practice and research projects initiated by Taikang Space. At the same time, the center also attempts to transform the concerning academic issues and its research results into curatorial production as document exhibitions. With the accumulation of research in the Archive and Research Center, Taikang Space plans to launch three document exhibitions in 2020, in order to investigate another way of narration in the context of modern and contemporary art research in China.   

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[1] Xu Fan and Zhen Rui, The History of Armored Force in China and Japan 1918— 1937, Beijing: China Chang'an Publishing House, p. 396
[2] John Berger, translated by Ren Yue, Understanding a Photograph, Hangzhou: China Academy of Art Press, 2018, p. 102
[3] John Berger, translated by Ren Yue, Understanding a Photograph, Hangzhou: China Academy of Art Press, 2018, pp. 89- 142
[4] Chen Lidan, "Baudrillard's Postmodern Media Perspective and Its Inspiration to Contemporary Chinese Media-in Memory of Baudrillard", http://www.aisixiang.com/ data/22811.html, December 1, 2008

About the exhibition

Dates: Sep 3, 2020 - Nov 7, 2020

Venue: Taikang Space

Artists: Hu Yichuan, Lin Shu, LiuZhang Bolong, Yu Ying

Courtesy of Taikang Space, for further information please visit http://www.taikangspace.com/.