Thousands of years ago, the Jade Emperor decided to assign an animal’s name to every year, in order to simplify the calendar for the people of China.
A swimming race amongst twelve animals across the mighty river was organized to determine the sequential order in which year they would appear. This would become the Shengxiao, the Chinese zodiac.
It is a well known that the rat, the winner of the race, cheated. Nevertheless, this oversight established an order that has remained a celebrated tradition for centuries.
In the interest of fairness, I propose a rematch!
Working with local artists and communities along the canals of Zhujiajiao, China in April 2012, I will restage this race. All of the zodiac animals will be represented by actual live animals. Each will be ferried separately through the canals in boats paddled by expert rowers from the community. In addition, each boat will be decorated by a different local artist according to the animal it carries.
Brooklyn Artist Duke Riley, in China, Organizes a Rematch Race Between the 12 Chinese Zodiac Animals
April 15, 2012 at 4 pm CST on the Caogang River, Zhujiajiao, China
(March 22, 2012 – New York, NY) According to Chinese mythology, the Jade Emperor initiated the zodiac in order to organize the measurement of time. The first twelve animals to cross the mighty river in a competitive race would each receive a year of the zodiac. The rat and the cat, both poor swimmers, persuaded the gullible ox to carry them across. As the ox began to lead the pack, the rat pushed the cat overboard and jumped off the ox to win the race alone. Hence, the first year of the zodiac was bestowed upon the cheating rat.
In the spirit of art, community, and competition, artist Duke Riley has organized a rematch. On Sunday, April 15 at 4 pm CST, a river race and performance will take place on the Caogang River in the historic water village of Zhujiajiao on the outskirts of Shanghai. Each animal of the zodiac will be transported on a traditional gondola, accompanied by a local rower and an opera singer from Zhujiajiao. The singer will perform songs from the “first animal” perspective, making a musical case for why that animal should have won the original race.
According to Riley, an American artist with a history of staging epic water-based battles and performances, “No calendars will be reset at the finish line nor will any closer understanding of that mythical day be realized. The only realization will be a brief moment of divine absurdity between two shores.”
The Rematch, commissioned by smARTpower, an initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered by the Bronx Museum of the Arts, has brought Riley to China for the first time. Though the country may be new terrain for the American artist, his proclivity for maritime themes features strongly throughout his body of work. Riley chose this particular project to highlight the porous nature of waterfront communities, and the tolerance and cultural exchange that transient maritime cultures generally foster.
In addition to the race, Riley has organized workshops that integrate the efforts of the community into the production of The Rematch. Drawings of the zodiac animals by local twelve year-old students have been translated into silk embroideries by local artisans. The embroideries will function as banners on the gondolas and will indicate which zodiac animal is on the gondola.
The twelve gondolas bearing the live zodiac animals (some animal stand-ins will be necessary, i.e. the dragon) will begin at a leisurely pace and will be split into two different starting lines. They will meet in the middle of the Caogang River and line up side-by-side facing the Fangsheng Bridge. At the start of the race, they will row past Ming and Qing dynasty architecture and continue under the Fangsheng Bridge. This bridge is one of the main areas to watch the race, along with adjacent waterfront restaurants and the boat launch pavilion. A master of ceremony will announce the progress of the race from the top of the bridge. The gondolas will continue beyond the bridge where the traditional architecture gives way to demolition and new condominium developments under construction. The rowers will make a loop around a stationary post, then head back to the Fangsheng Bridge. The first to pass any of its arches will be declared the winner.
An awards ceremony will take place on a floating grandstand. Prizes and trophies will be awarded to the first, second and third place animals/rowers. They will pose for photographs with Riley and local dignitaries. A feast with the participants will follow.
smARTpower, an initiative of the USA Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, administered by The Bronx Museum of the Arts, sends 15 U.S. artists abroad to work with local artists and young people around the world to create in situ art projects. Selected artists design and implement programs within a 45 day period in cooperation with local arts organizations in China, Ecuador, Egypt, Ghana, India, Kosovo, Lebanon, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Venezuela.
smARTpower artists are strongly encouraged to create a tangible legacy of the work, to remain in country, through a variety of visual arts media, including painting, sculpture, drawing, video, installation, photo-based work, public art, and interdisciplinary projects.Projects emphasize participatory work and address a full range of relevant subjects including, but not limited to, women’s empowerment, the environment, health, education, and civic engagement.
Programming and production assistance to Duke Riley in China has been provided by Arthub. Spearheaded by a dynamic team of specialized curators and producers, and in collaboration with museums and other public / private spaces and institutions, Arthub Asia initiates and delivers ambitious art projects through a sustained dialogue with visual, performance, and new media artists. Inspired by the collective intelligence generated by independent thinkers across China and rest of Asia, Arthub Asia serves as a collaborative production lab, a creative think tank, as well as a curatorial research platform. Arthub Asia is committed to furthering experimentation, knowledge-production and diversity among dedicated artists, art professionals, scholars, and arts organizations in the region. arthubasia.org
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Location Scouting in Shanghai.
Local Zhouzang fishermen collecting snails from the river.
First volunteer for the dog boat
We visited several ancient water towns.
Most of the fishermen in these towns now have traded in their nets...
...for ferrying tourists from Shanghai.
Many of the animals I plan to use for this project
can be found right on the banks of the river.
Wind-powered irrigation system.
We finally settled on Zhujiajiao as the best fit.
It still retains a strong community.
Probable site of the race finish.
ArtHub producer Zoe (middle) introduced us to local artist, Ning (left). We hit it off and immediate
Another potential participant in Zhujiajiao.
We scoured some local pet markets for monkeys, but got distracted wagering on cricket fights.
Duke and Zhingyu heading into a meeting at ArtHub Asia.
I wonder who was more freaked out.
Me seeing them.
Or them seeing me!
Haggling for prices can be exhausting for both the buyer…
…and the seller.
But we finally worked things out.
ArtHub Assistant/Translator Jing and Project Manager Kitty Joe.
Working out costumes for the Rematch
We took a gondola ride to plot out the race route
Ancient architecture gives way to new condo development—not unlike what’s going on back home.
Ning introduced us to the Zhujiajiao custom of releasing goldfish into the canals for good luck…
...so we bought some goldfish before embarking on our trip…
…and let them go to bring luck to the project.
I’m not sure it’s so lucky for the goldfish.
We made our way up all of the narrow side canals of the village.
At Arthub headquarters with Dadou, Jin & Zoe, planning for the children’s Shengxiao workshop.
Broom delivery at the Zhujiajiao school
“Welcome American artist Duke Riley….” With Zhujiajiao Elementary School principal and Ning Zuohong
Forty 12-year old kids participated in the workshop.
I gave a brief lecture and formal instruction (of course, translated into Mandarin).
The kids seemed excited to attend the race and see their artwork displayed on the boats.
One student stood up & told the story of the Shengxiao (Chinese zodiac) and how the rat cheated.
Then the kids picked animals out of my hat.
I realized afterward that I probably haven’t washed the hat since November.
Some of the kids jumped right into drawing their animals…
…while others needed a little extra encouragement.
Being able to draw sure comes in handy when your Mandarin is so lacking.
Zhujiajiao artist Ning Zuohong also helped the kids with their drawings
I asked the kids to imagine what it was like for the animals to swim across the river.
A lot of the kids worked to emulate my style of drawing water.
We then paid a visit to the embroiderers of Zhujiajiao…
…to see if they could translate the childrens’ drawings into their medium.
Since each tapestry takes weeks to create by hand, we had to find 12 different embroiderers.
One embroider requested to work on the tiger, because she was born in the Year of the Tiger.
I gave the children black paper to draw on so their designs would stand out at the race.
3 people on a scooter, riding on the sidewalk with no helmets—can’t do that at home!
The business card: A Shanghai necessity and my ultimate ice breaking tool
Translation: I’m ugly but I’m tender
Our new friend Zhou Peng is a graphic designer here in Shanghai
Our new friend Zhou Peng is a graphic designer here in Shanghai
He helped us translate the kids’ drawings into nautical burgees
Trophies are a big thing in Shanghai so I decided for the Rematch we’d need a huge one.
I got inspired by this plant pot while I was at the liquor store.
So I set out to buy a bunch of cheap flowerpots and buckets.
…and started gluing and screwing
…some gold spray paint…
And we have a winner.
Who would have thought that behind this innocent-looking day care…
…lurked some seriously scary animals.
The owner was forced to close his privately owned zoo.
Now the animals are kept here in tiny cages,
while he scrambles to come up with the funds to find a better place for them to live.
We were excited to see he had a snake, monkeys….
and what could only be described as a dragon.
The zookeeper is a good man that loves his animals, in a difficult situation
We devised a plan that benefited both the future of the animals and the Rematch.
And that’s when he mentioned the giant rat that lives on the roof! (I swear this is all true)
We had a meeting at Ning’s studio and I described our success at finding the giant rat.
I also found that they sell giant jade pickles outside of Ning’s studio.
Meeting the staff of the Minsheng Art Museum in Shanghai in preparation for a lecture.
For ethical reasons instead of transporting a tiger from Guangxi we transported a performance artist
...from Siem Reap. Eliza getting measured for her tiger suit
Getting measured for my race official costume
Eliza measuring the boats to make corrals for the animals.
We enjoyed having smARTpower evaluator Jan Castro-Cruz along for the ride!
We met a guy in the park who makes beautiful candy zodiac animals. So we invited him to the Rematch
Chenliangyou has making costumes for the Shanghai Theatre Academy for 30 years
He seemed like the perfect guy to interpret my costume designs.
We stopped by to check on his progress
He was born in the Year of the Dragon.
Costumes not to be confused with cheap animal pajamas we wear to get people psyched for the race.
A tiny sea-faring horse.
And of course, the fattest pig I could find.
We had our first opera workshop with the traditional singers of Zhujiajiao.
We wrote songs from the ‘first animal’ perspective to be sung during the race.
We also invited younger musicians who worked out hip hop and rock versions of the songs.
Eliza led a Passover Sedar at our hostel.
I tied a sheep shank knot because she couldn’t find a lamb shank in the village
We met the rowers and did a dry run of the race
A bunch of bloodthirsty animals!
Had our final opera workshop and recorded each animal’s song
Embroidered burgees almost finished.
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'The Rematch' Installation at Magnan Metz Gallery
I'm Ugly But I'm Tender, 2012/13
The New Order of the Shengxiao, 2012
Masks of the Opera Singers (2012)
I Will Go and Go and Go and Go (Song of the Horse), 2012
My Only Crime Is I Was Just Too Kind (Song of the Ox), 2012
I’m About to Lose Control and I Think I Like It (The Song of the Monkey), 2012
Oh How Stylish I Will Be at the Finish Line (Song of the Rooster), 2012
I Should Win This On My Good Looks Alone (Song of the Tiger), 2012
How Dare They Question My Title (Song of the Rat), 2012
There Are More Important Things Than Showing You Are Best (The Song of the Dog), 2012
I’ve Been Walking Around for 5000 Years Depressed with a Broken Nose (Song of the Rabbit), 2012
I Probably Would Have Done Something Irresponsible with the Prize (The Song of the Goat)
I Made It So Loud For Everyone (Song of the Dragon), 2012
I Just Want the Other Animals To Suffer Like I Suffered (Song of the Snake)