ADAHA II

Tianzhuo Chen

Palais de Tokyo, Paris

22 Jun 2015

© Khai Hori

Key to the installment of Tianzhuo Chen’s presentation at Chi K11 Art Museum in Shanghai is the performance titled Trayastrimsa, after the heavenly abode of 33 devas or divine beings mentioned in Buddhist and Hindu scriptures. In other traditions, 33 is the age when Jesus Christ was martyred, and in our own mortal existence, it is the number of vertebraes in our spinal column. Trayastrimsa continues the vein of ADAHA II, the operatic performance presented at Palais de Tokyo performed by a cast of Parisian vogue dancers from the House of Drama, contortionists and butoh dancers. ADAHA II was performed across three separate platforms, traversing a water fountain, neon flame and two, four-meter tall polyfoam sculptures that resembled deities whose ‘ruined’ aftermath are presented here in Shanghai.

In Trayastrimsa, a large platform constructed as the arena and ‘runway’ where actions are to unfold dominates the exhibition. Taking more than 95% of the main gallery space in this exhibition, this arena is surfaced mainly with white tiles, while certain parts are strategically designed with black tiles, with messages that are slightly codified. One part formed the Chinese words meaning ‘big comfortable day’, on another, the Hindu-Buddhist mantra ‘OM’, and another, a pixelated sign of trishula, trident of Hindu deity Shiva, the weapon used to sever the original head of Ganesh, the elephant headed deity.

ADAHA II

Tianzhuo Chen

Palais de Tokyo, Paris

22 Jun 2015

© Khai Hori

The exhibition was breathed into life on opening night, where rows of electric lights pulsated and flashed often blinding colours; and stacks of speakers pumped  bass so loud and thick it rattled your nerves and made you feel as if it could rip your heart to the floor. The performance commenced to an anxious (and sweaty) capacity crowd, launched by the appearance of an old man praying by a shallow pool of water. Moments after, to a somewhat mystical-yet-techno arrangement of music by collaborator Aisha Devi, Prakti, a young girl played here by a male actor enters, performing the Yogamaya, an emotional interlace of sorrow, happiness, darkness and temptation dressed in kabuki inspired costume, wielding a red umbrella. Referencing the Hindu epic Bhagavad Gita and utilising various Buddhist apparatusses as sculpture and prop, each act in this theatre intensifies and brings forth the presence of goddesses, demons, vultures and debaucherous characters between ritualistic moments. This highly ornamented theatre ends with an act of pervert ecstasy, a climax that is at the same time, an anti-climax. The praying old man returns, now looking disshelved yet still as intense. He urinates into a silver bowl and by his divinity, the urine turns blood red. He baptises Prakti the young girl with this blood, smearing red liquid all over her. He then strips naked and gestures as the deity Kali, the goddess of change and destruction while Prakti lays in submission under her foot, seeming neither dead nor alive.               

ADAHA II

Tianzhuo Chen

Palais de Tokyo, Paris

22 Jun 2015

© Khai Hori

Similarly, the journey of all sentient life forms on earth climaxes (or de-climaxes) with death. In the Tibetan Buddhist practice of ‘sky burial’, a deceased is often brought on land journey of days on end to be dismembered by a rogyapa, or body breaker, and left outside, away from any occupied dwellings, to be consumed by wild vultures. In this last ritual, no body parts are spared. After the skin, flesh and organs have been cut, minced and fed to the vultures, bones are then hammered, crushed and mixed with dough so that they too could be consumed. This funerary ritual conceptually returns one back into the cycle of nature and in allowing oneself to be consumed by birds of flight, one is believed to be brought closer to its maker in the skies while at the same time, leaving no trace or waste on earth. This ritual is illustrated in the 6.5 x 5 meters large hanging sculpture I Like The Way You Taste, where a woman is disemboweled by a vulture, inflating and deflating, taking and giving space as it breathes and exhales in automated mode. 

The open and bold representation of debauchery, decadence and indecency in Tianzhuo’s work belies its superficial outlook. More than the capitalization and manipulation of trends of the day, the core of his works are inspired by concepts drawn from Tibetan Buddhism, the faith he profess. Each video, sculpture or installation is a scape, an impression, not dissimilar to traditional Tibetan Thangka or devotional images that are teaching tools and devices for introspect; and all confrontations not dissimilar to the various ‘wrathful deities’ in Tibetan Buddhism such as Nagpo Chenpo  (Great Black One) or Vajrabhairava (Conqueror of Death) fearsome representations of the enlightened whose task is to lead mortals to enlightenment.

Beio and Han Yu resting between rehearsals of ADAHA II

Palais de Tokyo, Paris

22 Jun 2015

© Khai Hori

Tianzhuo’s mental projections are composed of images and installations constructed as theatres, filled with a menagerie of acrobats, androgynous characters, five-eyed blondes, gangster rappers and other outlandish characters on caramel and neon-coloured backgrounds. They all remind us of something uncannily familiar and paradoxically as attractive as they are repulsive. This is a world where we depend on drugs to introspect while pandering to violence and wealth at other times. In reality, these are a reflection and magnification of everyday ridicule, of our contemporary celebrities and heroes, fashion and affectations, all animated as if they are celestial gods and goddesses worthy of praise where most trends and life’s habit begin as alternatives to mainstream practices. These habits, often viewed as acts of deviancies typically find themselves prematurely purged but some ultimately evolve to pave its way to the mainstream. And as part of the mainstream, it constructs hierarchical structures, each commanded by the most persuasive and prophetic leader. Clans and tribes are formed, and the ardent and most dutiful of its doctrines become devotees. Devotees mature as idolizers, or ‘blind adorers’ in a newfound system of belief. Like Tianzhuo’s work, they are an allegory of the breakdown in society where blind devotion to carnal desires and a habit of faith and worship-when-convenient are commonplace.

ADAHA II

Tianzhuo Chen

Palais de Tokyo, Paris

22 Jun 2015

© Khai Hori

All that happens are witnessed by the all seeing eye. To some, this is the power of governments, or covert sects such as the famed illuminati. For others, this is the eye of the divine, impossible to define, void of illustration and invisible to the faithless. In Tianzhuo’s realm, there is the Eye of Adaha, the all seeing eye, reminiscent of the Egyptian symbol of the door to the soul, the Eye of Horus. In Islam, adaha refers to the feast of sacrifice, a day where Muslims the world over emulate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son, Ismail for the sake of God by slaughtering camels, cows and lamb to be given for charity. As everlasting and ever-seeing witness, the Eye of Adaha sees and records all activities in our short, mortal life. It remembers as we forget, it sees what we would prefer to remain unseen, it is a reminder to our dimunitive existence. Like Tianzhuo’s work and world, it reminds us of karma, of the payback that will come for all our actions. And if need be, we should be petrified into acts of goodness for we can never know where we would be after we exhale our last breath. So while we continue to breathe, take time to gaze deeper.

ADAHA II

Tianzhuo Chen

Palais de Tokyo, Paris

22 Jun 2015

© Khai Hori

Khai Hori, May 2015

First published in the exhibition catalogue of three exhibitions (IRRreversible intrusion / Tianzhuo Chen / Zhang Ding: Enter the Dragon) at the Chi K11 Art Museum in Shanghai from 21 May to 30 June, 2016 by K11 Art Foundation (Hong Kong).