CHI-02 is the second project of Garrastudio. Inspired by ancient Chinese sexual culture, it looks for new ornamental keys to erotic construction — or deconstruction. The project tries to decipher the reiterated codes in the first erotic Chinese artistic manifestations in order to renegotiate and repolitize them from a contemporary context.
The result is a collection of objects made of graphic, musical, textual and acrylic nature. Colors, shapes, and textures are part of this new erotic vision, but the way of consumption, too, pulls its weight. Looking for anthropological keys, the project goes back to the first literary and illustrated erotic repertoires, called Spring Images (春画 in Chinese), which have appeared since the Tang (618-907), Song (960-1279) and Ming (1368-1644), to the Qing Dynasties (1644-1912).
These artistic manifestations managed to prosper in a common context of imperial censorship although the free expression of eroticism was punished, by death even. It is not surprising that the Spring Images flourished with teaching and doctrinal pretexts. They illustrated certain behaviors that the courts thought were inappropriate and they were executed only under anonymity or pseudonym.
The languages of these drawings and texts, transmitted from generation to generation for more than 12 centuries, were the ones that established the male and female prototypes and their interaction.
Sexual human relationships are inspired by the world around them. Subsequently, cultures influenced by the intense contemplation of the ranching industry, follow wild copulation patterns of the animal kingdom. In the opposite way, if we focus on China, where agricultural activity allows for feeding 20 percent of the world’s population, we detect how the erotic imaginary is continually inspired by vegetable allegories.
The erotic literary work par excellence in China of anonymous signature, Jin Ping Mei (“The Plum in the Golden Vase or The Golden Lotus”), describes as follows: “His slanted eyes were limpid and cold, and his lips were cherry. His body was light as a flower and his fingers as thin as the soft shoots of an onion. His waist was as undulating and flexible as the willow.”
If we conjure up a gender interpretation of Chinese canonical painting, the large-scale landscape is reserved for the male role, while the female image Meiren (美人) — a beautiful and eager woman — is portrayed in the most private domestic of spaces. Curiously, the bedroom spread out to the garden during erotic interaction. The intimate game is framed between the inside and the outside which is dominated by domesticated and wild vegetation.
In fact, the Four Chinese Nobles – the top four represented motifs in Chinese erotic art- are seasonal plants: the chrysanthemum welcomes autumn, the thorny plum tree welcomes winter and orchid and bamboo welcome spring and summer respectively.
Using these arboreal references as erotic imaginary may be strange in other cultures, for example bearing Catholic influences, where chrysanthemums have funerary connotations and thorny plants symbolize punishment.
The Revels Of Voyeurism
A woman on the doorstep appears frequently in the first erotic images surfacing from Ancient China, “a woman looking out”. The character is the counterpoint to the correct behavior that the imperial court expected from a girl: “Your ears should not hear obscenities; your eyes can’t see any perversion. When you go out, you can’t show a seductive appearance; inside you should not neglect your clothing. You should not mix with crowds or look from the doors. All this is possible by concentrating your mind and rectifying your sexual attitude.” BanZhao (48-116), Advice for Women (NüJie).
In fact, some of the most important preserved drawings are part of a spy mission. One of them, The Night Revels of Han Xizai, was a commission that Emperor Li Yu (Tang dynasty) instructs the painter GuHongzhong. The purpose was to observe at night the private accommodations of Han Xizai Minister and to leave a proof of the happening in a pictorial work. The artist made a long roll of the different scenes that took place.
Like a voyeur, Gu Hong Zhong represented the Minister joined by some officers and women of the court during a banquet where music, dance, and wine remove inhibitions from right to left. The spectator or artist is clearly constituted as a voyeur through the creation of open architectures, integrated into the landscapes. Divans, beds and tea tables are intertwined with leafy vegetation. A leading element of geometric ornamentation appears veiling and framing the wildest in all of nature; the lattice or jalousie.
The architectural wall becomes a camouflage element and a separator between two prohibited actions; you should not have a sexual appetite (jealousy) and you should not look at the sexual scene (spy).
During the Ancient China bedroom performance, in the cross-linking of bodies, the feet are visualized as a differentiating element. The female feet covered and hidden from the male gaze are converted into a sexual fetish. The contemplation of the lotus foot, always dressed in luxuriously embroidered silk shoes, encourages sexual action in the couple. This ceremony is the goal and culmination of a tradition in which culture is defined as an element superimposed on nature.
The allusion to the value of bandaged feet is constant in ancient Chinese literature as one of the signs of status and beauty of women: “….her silk shoes hardly reach a span; its willow waist can be held with one hand. Shy and humble does not want to lift her face, she just caresses the Mandarin duck pillow…” Wang Shifu, Romance of the West Chamber (
At the same time, bandaged feet are a symbol of labor. Dressed lotus foot devotion persisted for so long because it had an obvious economic reason: it was a way to ensure that young women remained seated and helped to manufacture products such as yarns, fabrics, mats, shoes and fishing nets. Bear in mind that a lot of families depend on the incomes for these labors and parents even told girls that these tasks would ensure the chances of getting married.
Clothing and deformation in Ancient China.
One way of hiding nature and remaking the body between the hidden and the forbidden.
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