(B. 1970, Xi’an, China; lives and works in Chengdu)
Color video with sound, 4’ 30’’
Courtesy of the artist
The story in the videotaped performance is simple as can be. For 90 minutes Zhou Bin follows an ant through Tiananmen Square, trailed by police officers who watch his strange and suspicious movements. During the performance regular and military police squads came to the square, but found no reason to intervene. The work finished when the ant dug a hole in the ground and disappeared into it.
In this work Zhou assembled a complex system of meanings and historical references. The events in Tiananmen Square had a huge impact on the political development of China, which in its turn influenced the global social situation. In 1989, as China was transitioning to a new economic model and the party leadership was fighting over its course, mass student protests in Tiananmen Square ended in a military intervention that resulted in many deaths. The footage of the military crackdown was shown across the world and became part of the iconic imagery that illustrated the dramatic global changes of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The act of following that Zhou Bin reproduced in Tiananmen Square is a clever critique of a totalitarian state in which a small human being is watched over by Big Brother, who can crush them in the blink of an eye (with Big Brother, in turn, watched by a different power).
The choice of protagonist is intentional. The ant is a hard-working creature (interestingly, ants never sleep), forever devoted to the common cause, which symbolically relates it to the Chinese worker (the face of the world’s second largest economy), whose work ethic requires a similar level of selfless dedication. But Zhou is not just observing a person subject to a repressive regime. Here the ant is also a symbol of living nature and, according to Taoism, contemplation of nature and the flow of life offers a path to happiness contained in the natural order of things.