On New Year’s Eve I found myself ringing in 2014 at Outlet gallery in Bushwick, watching Miao Jiaxin’s performance piece “News.” It was a fitting choice: “News” elicits a hollow catharsis not unlike a New Year’s Day hangover. The artist’s 21st century take on an ancient tea ceremony reduces the daily routine of contemporary life to its rawest elements. Wearing a suit, tie, and sunglasses, Miao plays the archetypal corporate goon, drinking tea, and smoking a cigarette, all while reading Chinese business papers and the Wall Street Journal. As the embodiment of conspicuous consumption, he vainly attempts to purge himself of its toxic impact on the spirit.
A metal slop bucket reading “Made in America” (perhaps implying conspicuous consumption is an export) was progressively filled with hot water, newspaper ink and various human byproducts, including nail clippings and urine. The resulting concoction was then ceremoniously returned into the air through the steaming tea kettle, a sort of reverse aromatherapy — excess palpable in the air, like the unintended consequence of economic progress in China: the smog that suffocates its skylines. Conspicuous consumption has also reached a new level of toxicity according to the China Economic Review:
The country is set to become the biggest luxury market in the world in the next few years, possibly accounting for up to one-third of global luxury purchases by some measures.
Miao Jiaxin’s “News” performance was the feature part of a one-day exhibition at Outlet titled No Return, which also includes two of Jiaxin’s surveillance video pieces. No Return could mean a number of things, but I think it’s most interesting to view these words paired with ad text found on the back page of the Wall Street Journal:
“Bigger, Faster, More Reliable” sounds like an Orwellian mantra in a post-Snowden world. Loss of individual freedom at the expense of safety has been in the news consistently since the whistle-blower’s revelations were first published. Are we past the point of no return? Will state surveillance only continue to increase regardless of Snowden’s perceived interference? Maybe our loss of freedom or privacy is self-inflicted. I counted at least seven people documenting the performance unfolding, not to mention the four security cameras projected on the wall, the proceedings thus surveilled from a near-omniscient perspective.
Miao Jiaxin’s “News” took place on December 31 at Outlet (253 Wilson Ave, Bushwick, Brooklyn).