The Wire


Yan Jun

Yan Jun: Who Will Eat The Sun?

June 2014

Yan Jun chews over some spicy food and experimental music: What are these enlargements of bodily experience reacting to?

The second season of A Bite Of China is as hot as its previous one. This documentary TV series looks at Chinese food, though I think it’s impossible to include all of China’s varieties of cuisine in less than 50 seasons. Its current aesthetic is dreamy scenes with vivid colours, its style is based on the art of advertising – some say it's a copy of BBC’s Earth Story. Everything in it looks like it’s from the Promised Land.

Everybody has a dream, especially those who watch TV. History has been full of people living in reality, so now it’s time for us to live in dreams. You have to find more and more exciting things to make people feel new and proud of their nation, culture, skin or whatever. Shows like A Bite Of China are also a kind of Olympic Games: go and find some of your distant cousins living somewhere in a desert and catch the scene where they gather wild honey from the forest! Shoot some footage that will make people cry! But remember: they will not cry twice from watching the same scene!

I’ve never actually watched A Bite Of China but I do enjoy the jokes being told about the show: Their researchers have already licked the whole surface of the Earth twice... The director has discovered someone is opening a hot pot restaurant on top of a lunar crater of the Moon and wants to send a team to interview him... In the distant future when our sun cools down, Chinese people will arrange a cooking party and eat it.

I live in a huge city. It's not like in small towns where you still know where to find the best beef noodle soup or a third generation chicken feet cooker. These cuisines are disappearing, or at least their aura is disappearing. And there are few products of experimental music, contemporary dance and avant garde literature to balance out this damage. There are only dreams balancing out the absence of these things. Experimental art can’t provide dreams – it always only presents reality. That’s why people enjoy noise and anticlimax music: it’s a positive reaction to their reality.

Since the 1990s, spicy food has become overwhelmingly popular all over China. Meanwhile, subwoofers have become more and more popular in Western countries. Somehow I think both those enlargements of bodily experience are a reaction to something. Maybe to the fall of the Berlin Wall? Maybe from deep memories of the Tian'anmen massacre? Maybe to the end of outdoor rave parties? Maybe to balance out the dematerialising effects of the internet? Or maybe to nothing. But my imagination makes a relationship between everything.

There is an extra large LED screen on Tian’anmen Square that shows how beautiful China is (using the same aesthetics of A Bite Of China). And there are many more similar sized screens at outdoor rock festivals, which have been blooming recently. And there are large LED screens on thousands of skyscrapers, like they are all permanently hosting media art festivals. Any kind of music can hypnotise an audience as long as it comes with visuals. Once a friend of FM3 asked me to curate something showcasing their world fusion music line-up. She mentioned Ryoji Ikeda. Food changes, music changes, everything changes. The legendarily quiet FM3 are playing a dub session this week.

The curator of the last Shanghai Biennale once said that he asked his students to come up with proposals of art works on a scale sufficiently grand enough to occupy the prime site of the entrance hall to any museum. On the other hand he considers his genealogy as coming from Laotse plus Marcel Duchamp. Does this mean that today even Laotse or Duchamp would have to win at a competition that they don’t even believe in – just to persuade people to follow them and learn about uselessness and anti-aesthetics?

Musicians are not armed well enough against this competition. The development of film sound design has made audiences familiar with massive, abstract, low end sounds and so-called crystal clear sounds. As yet these aren't so familiar in our music scene. But sooner or later we will have a local version of Francisco López with his 128 channel concerts and Amazon field recording workshop. I wouldn’t be able to hold myself back if someone gave me those speakers and a round ticket to Mars: it’s human nature to go bigger and push farther.

Several years ago 100 school students smashed their violins during a commemoration for the artist Nam June Paik in Seoul, South Korea. Is there any other way to show our love for this Fluxus artist? A bigger love?

When I type fluxus on Google there is an advertisement:

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I know why I love to travel. And so does López. We are not talking about flying to the sun in order to cook it. But there is definitely a myth about exploring unknown possibilities. You can read it in many musicians’ CVs. I feel confused sometimes: have we already discovered all the possibilities and crossed all the roads? After Cage, like hunters and skull collectors, we have put our everything into music, we have marked every spot on the sound map. But the more animals humans get to know, the less of them are alive. So sad.

Some gourmets keep bears in their manors so as to chop their hands off and feed them to guests.
Scientists discover the universe.
Poets free the words. Some name the things.

Today I read a conversation between Mattin and Richard Francis: “I think of guitars flying off into the sun... And this is the opposite, this is like getting inside the computer or into the fridge... It's like a drone that moves away from the sun in the other direction." They're talking about their music, which sounds like it comes from heaters, fridges or computer fans. This reminds me of a friend of mine who has been strongly influenced by traditional art and culture. He's sensitive about the subtle details of arts and things, especially the most refined ones. Once he said to me while preparing tea at his place: "After staying on the tea hill with tea farmers for three months I’m not picky about tea any more. Their life is so hard. There are at least 30 processes for even the lowest quality tea leaf. So please enjoy this normal one I have at this moment..."

Many musicians love food. One of the best things about touring is eating and drinking with friends. Mostly in restaurants but not fancy ones. Sometimes someone cooks – a group of Chinese people travelling to another country always ends up in a cooking party. In Japan there is always an after party after an after party. In Italy it’s possible to eat three dinners before a concert. Once in Lausanne we – FEN, four Asian musicians, sometimes we call ourselves For Eating Network – couldn’t find any restaurants in the evening except for a McDonald’s. That made us hate European culture (and the American one).

From time to time I conduct a Chewing Music workshop. Sometimes I use different titles like “Snack Music”. We eat, chew, swallow and sometimes drink. I use music in the title but who knows if it’s music? (And who cares?). Watermelon is always popular. It gives everybody equally wet faces and gets them excited. Some people hate it. Life is short and we, especially Chinese people, spend too much time eating noodles and bread. Now is a time for dreaming of when the artists are going to come to town! But artists looking for a restaurant in this professionally managed culture get lost on the way. They want something special as well. So sad.

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