Eating Mao Zedong

Eating Mao Zedong

Eating Mao Zedong

In the video sequence, performance artist Chris Ryan eats Mao Zedong miniatures made from candy. They are cast from a porcelain figurine of Mao bought at a Beijing antique market in 1999. These ubiquitous porcelain figurines canonised many of the communist party heroes and were made by "re-educated" artisans working in ceramic workshops. The souvenirs were often presented to party functionaries bringing the revolution from the street into the home while fulfilling their purpose as propaganda.

Part adventurers dream, part DIY instructional video - an absurdist tone is set as Chris eats through the pop confection sweating profusely while clothed in a high altitude snow suit. Accompanying the video, the same objects are re-cast in resin and arranged on a shelf as a tourist supermarket. They were available for purchase and replenished for the duration of the exhibition.

The act reconstituting Mao into candy extends the existing industry of Cultural Revolution commodification, begun in 1949 by the Maoist propaganda effort. It has seen Mao transformed into novelty pens, wristwatches and cigarette lighters that play the national anthem. Both great revolutionary and brutal dictator, the work amplifies the irony in now selling Mao miniatures as tourist souvenirs. There is also a comic register generated through the discontinuity between their material kitschness and their purposefully childlike execution while embodying some fairly dark moments in recent Chinese history. As such, the work celebrates a kind of natural retribution - the humorous shift in meaning and function these objects have taken on.

Due to their ubiquity and the transformed political landscape of China today, Mao has also become a benign symbol of 'Chineseness'. As such the work parodies tourists whimsical and often misguided fascinations with a foreign culture - where the expectations we have of a place based on symbolic exchange within the tourist industry and the souvenirs we collect are often disconnected to our experience.

Eating Mao Zedong

Eating Mao Zedong
Title: Eating Mao Zedong
Year: (2002)
Media: Installation view - Canberra Contemporary Art Space
Video, sound and resin
Image courtesy of artist

Eating Mao Zedong

Eating Mao Zedong
Title: Eating Mao Zedong
Year: (2002)
Media: Detail
Cast Resin, 28cm high
Image courtesy of artist

Eating Mao Zedong

Eating Mao Zedong
Title: Eating Mao Zedong
Year: (2002)
Media: Video Still
DV PAL / DVD
Duration - 3:35 min
Image courtesy of artist