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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