Utopia Group:Enclosure . BETWEEN ARCHIVE

Video Clips


Enclosure: an absurd allegory in the reality of transposition

– about Utopia Group’s work in ATM2011

HE Hai (From Utopia Group)

In 2011 September, invited by Chinese Arts Center in Manchester, Utopia Group went to Manchester to execute an art work including performance, video, drawing and object in their art residency for about one month, the title is Enclosure. It became one part of Asia Triennial Manchester 2011.

In Manchester, We visited lots of places concerning this city’s history and try to know Manchester through researching the document and talking with people. For example, we visited the People History Museum, the Science and technology Museum, the Castle Field, the China Town, the Huiyan Society, the synagogue Museum. Certainly, the most important are those old miles area- the heritage of the Industrial revolution.

Then, we drawn a Manchester city map with ink on the wall in the exhibition hall of Chinese Arts Center, marking those places that we choose with red points, and connecting those points with a closed curve whose form looks like a sheep, it means our journey in Manchester.

In the same time, we made a 1.5 meter diameter sheep like woolen ball, full of “S” foams in it.

As to ourselves, we wear in the sheep like woolen costumes, from head to feet, and pushed this big woolen ball to advance – or retrograde – according to the journey from the map. Because our gesture is a little bit strange: we prostrate our body with the four limbs touching the earth and kick the big ball by our feet. Exactly said, we crawl backward.

At last, in the exhibition hall of Chinese Arts Center, our exhibition includes three parts: on the wall in middle, we projected the video of our performance of pushing the ball; on the wall in left, it’s the map with our trip as we said before. In the big streets, we marked the name of the street, but in the small ones, we wrote some sentences and phrase from the dialogue between the public and us in the process of our performance; on the wall in right, we hung the two sheep like woolen costumes, and we install the big woolen ball in front of them – after several days of walking, they turned very dirty.

In the opening, we wear these costumes again and pushed the woolen ball with the same gesture from the main gate of Chinese Arts Center to the garden in back of CAC.

Sheep is the key figure of this work. In fact, when we received the invitation from Chinese Arts Center in Manchester, the first conception about Manchester that comes into my mind is “Industrial revolution”, and then the relative conception “Enclosure” as well. I think that except the fans of “Manchester Union” or “Manchester City”, the first connect in the mind of most of Chinese with Manchester should be like this. I will explain the reason later. The image coming with these conceptions isn’t spinning machine or steam engine, but sheep.

But why it is sheep? This is a problem, even if sheep is the purpose of “Enclosure”, or even wool is the important material of woolen weave industry. Logically said, the Image of sheep is too narrow to represent “Industrial Revolution”. The rather that the main industry in Manchester is not wool weave industry, but cotton weave industry – as some local people in Manchester argue – so Manchester seems having no direct relation with sheep.

In fact, we are not so anxious to justify ourselves and prove the direct relation between sheep and Manchester. We admire that this image comes a little bit mysteriously and a little bit by accident, we can’t really explain it completely, maybe the inspiration comes always in this way. After all, an art work is not a rigorous logic system. Moreover, when we deduce some other images according to our research, the image of sheep still stay in our mind and refuse to leave. At last, all the aspect of our works is about the key image of sheep: from the sheep like woolen costumes to the big woolen ball, from our gesture of pushing the ball to map of our journey.

But the problem is still there: what is the relation between the “Industrial Revolution” – the most important movement in the civilization history of human being – and sheep? In repeating thinking, we found that the signification of the image of sheep stay no longer in the wool weave industry or “Enclosure”. In the place of that, it became a symbol of the relation between animal and human being. In other word, this image allows us to reflect us human being, standing out of human being. In this work, we change into sheep, a being out of human. In the image and the gesture of sheep (or certain kind of animal with four feet), we visit this city belong to human being. Compare with the rapid progress of the human being’s civilization, the sheep’s world stay always in its original appearance, it keep always stable. The only important change in it concern human being: they turn from wild into domestic. They always live according to the given manner and to the natural rhythm, never impatient. In one hand, sheep is enslaved by human being so it’s humble and poor; but in the other hand, sheep is much elder than human being, as a elder master, it look on coldly human being, a young guy with impatient, also be envious of his vigor, also laughs at his boldness.

Sheep is always so docile and so silence. I have seen the scene of cutting the wool. The sheep obey the manipulation of their owner. They keep silence even they are forced into the painful gesture. It’s told that even when they are killed, they won’t cry as pig. Probably because of this character, sheep is significant in Judaism and in Christianity. In Judaism, sheep is the necessary sacrifice in the annual sacrifice rite. The blood of lamb is used for atonement. According to the Genesis, when Abraham is killing his son to sacrifice, God replace his son by a sheep. So, sheep represent Messiah for Jew. As to Christianity, sheep become the symbol of Jesus Christ. The character of sheep – humble and docile – is also that of Jesus. Here, sheep become animal even noble than human being! In many painting on altar, sheep even judge the human being.

Sheep, an animal also humble, also noble, become a perfect observer of human being. It keeps itself at an arm’s length with our subject.

However, all the people can not recognize that it concern a sheep. Some bodies consider us rather as a pole bear, or certain kind of animal with four feet. It means that the real appearance that we made keeps also at an arm’s length with sheep. We ever considered making the big ball and the costumes look like a real sheep more. For example, install a sheep head, a sheep tail or four sheep legs, or just a pair of horn. But we finally reject these entire too concrete projects and keep the abstract form.

In the process of pushing the ball, it is hard to say which of us present the sheep, the woolen ball or we two. In the view of appearance, we two people in the costume prostrate our body, with the four limbs touching the earth, looks rather like sheep. But in the view of the movement’s relation, the big woolen ball looks rather like a sheep that are propelled by the sheepherder. Or they formed together the image of a sheep.

The speed of the movement of the ball varies along with the condition of the earth’s surface: in the bumpy road or in the upgrade, the ball move slowly and difficultly; in some narrow passageway, it’s more difficult than former, the ball move a little bit with one time of kicking; in the smooth road, the ball goes more easily and quickly, once kicked, it keeps moving for a long time and for a long distance so that we have to chase after it on crawling quickly; In the downhill, the big ball seems become alive, it scamper down quickly and happily, leaving us far away. So, we found that we keep also at an arm’s length with the big ball, it could be the perfect metaphor of the ambiguous relation between the sheep and our subject, and the one between our appearance and the real sheep.

The process of our journey seems slowly and difficultly, and more important, it seems no destination. We can call it rather roam. Utile they saw the map on the exhibition hall’s wall of Chinese Arts Center, the public can not understand the purpose of the ramble: to enclose a field in Manchester. This is the direct origin of this work’s title. This fictitious “Enclosure” echoes the real historical “Enclosure” in the form, it refers to the “Industrial Revolution”, a most exciting period in the human being’s history. That is the key period when the human being get from agricultural society into the industrial society and they start to accelerate their development in that period. From that time, the human being experienced the gesture change in a short time: from crawl to walk, from walk to run, from run to fly.

Therefore, the clock of human being turned quicker and quicker, the human being’s feeling for time various completely with the agriculture society. In the later, people calculate the time by the natural rhythm. They define the year by the alternation of four seasons, make the month by the change of moon’s form, and confirm the day by the appearance and disappearance of sun. That’s enough for their life. But in the industry society, the time is devised into hour, minute and second, which is completely “artificial time” in compare with “natural time”.

In the agriculture society, the time is for slowly feeling and enjoy; in the industry society, the time become cost of production. People always stay in an anxious for time: they need always the higher efficiency and the quicker rhythm to save more time, but as results, they have less time to enjoy the life.

In the crowd who stride proudly ahead, we prostrate our body with the four limbs touching the earth and retrograde: backward to the pre-industry society, even to the animal’s state. We try to enclose a fictitious field, where people won’t be controlled by the time feeling of industry society, but return to the natural time feeling. In fact, our action make at least a few people stop or slow down, they enjoy a short while leisure in the surprise. Isn’t it the special charm of art?

In fact, in Unite States even in entire Europe, the time is slowing down again. Industry Revolution has became history, post of the industry has migrate to the third world. The old mile area in Manchester turned very deserted and silent. Many red brick building stay empty. When we walk in those areas, we seem to be in the large spectacle theater scene. As many European city, Manchester conserve attentively his own history. In the city, there are full of old buildings who have more than hundreds years of history. It’s told that it’s very difficult to get a permit to build a new building in the city center.

In opposition, our own country, China, is experiencing the process of industrialization as fierce wind and rainstorm. The real and cruel modern “Enclosure” is executed every day here. Large quantity of old building is disappearing, even many new building younger than ten years old can not escape the doom. When we go to our hometown, we often lost the way home because of the quick change, even we have just gone back one years before!

Our country is so eager for whipping all the old things and creating a entire new world. The more interesting thing is that they often cite “Industry Revolution” and “Enclosure” in history to justify this process in China.

Maybe this work will be more significant if it is done in China, maybe we shall redo it in China in a suitable time. But even in Manchester, our work is still concerning our own problem, or a universal problem. As I mentioned formerly, our work concern profoundly the completely different time feeling, which occasionally concern also the subject of Asia Triennial: Time and Generation. From China – who is experiencing the industrialization and modernization – to Manchester: the origin of “Industrial Revolution”, we are alike to travel in a time machine in which we have the chance to observe the destiny of the industrialization.

The industrialization is now transferring from developed country to developing country, this is a global tendency. In Asia, beside a few developing country, such as Japan and South Korea, the other countries are experiencing the impact of this transferring and the change of time feeling. The latter may bring the double discomfort of spirit and of body, as if we have to suffer the torture of jetlag when we shuttle back and forth between China and United Kingdom. Before we are adapted in one new time zone, we have gone anxiously to another. We run so fast that our pursuit for speed exceeds the natural rhythm of our body. As result, we are hard to avoid bewilderment. It’s said that in the Indian’s custom, when a people find himself running too fast, he will stop for a while to wait for his own soul. This interesting scene – the soul can not follow the body – isn’t it a perfect metaphor of China today? Isn’t it the common puzzle of all the developing country? What dose it like if a body lost his soul? In Chinese, we have an idiom: “walking cadaver and moving flesh”.

For waiting the soul, we prostrate our body with the four limbs touching the earth, moving difficultly and slowly. The ascetic of body re install the soul, we get the chance to experience attentively every detail of our body. When roam in the street with this gesture, many people are interested by us. Someone is so excited to cry, the others look us with smile in a distance. When we stop to have rest, they will crowd around to ask many questions. Many people concern if there is some special thing in the ball, or what dose it for. Somebody ask “Is it a big football?” or “Can I kick it?”, they are probably the fans of Manchester City; somebody ask “Is there somebody hiding in it?” or “can I hid in it?” they maybe bring to mind the wood horse of Troy in which hid lots of Ancient Greek soldier; many people ask to take photo with us; the kids jump on the ball once and again and laugh and cry happily. For them, the ball is like a big toy in Disney garden. In one word, this ball contains various mysteries for various people.

Some times, we answer seriously: “This is a sheep”, “This is a pole bear”, “This is a big football” or “this is an aerolite”. Sometimes, we joke:”there is our soul in it”.