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Everyone, Do What They Want! (II)


Hi Art, November 2007


Last time we discussed that the Olympic Games have almost demonized us again.  A lot of events not related to the Games are distracted due to the year of 2008.  This is nothing new to notice.  The founder of the Olympics Pierre De Coubertin actually intended to put “art” together within the Games years ago.  In 1906, Coubertin held an international congress on the collaboration of art, literature and sports.  It was suggested that the International Olympic Committee should organize 5 contests, including architecture, music, sculpture, painting and literature.  Later on, the category of painting was split into classical oil painting, watercolor, sketch, practical painting (poster, certificate, postal stamp, seal/ chop), woodblock and etching etc.  Literature was also separated into poetry, drama, prose (novel, mythology and fantasy); the music game was divided into orchestra, musical instruments and singing.  The result for all these was that it was impossible to really evaluate a competition score, or even to set instructions and rules.  The operation of the Games was basically full of obstacles and the actual competition was absurd.  Gold, silver and bronze metals were unable to be awarded.  Yet, there was a long poem called “Ode to Sport” written by Georges Hohrod and Martin Eschbach, which won the Golden award for Literature.  However, nobody knew who the writers were until 7 years later-- Coubertin finally disclosed that Hohrod and Martin Eschbach were actually his pseudonym.  Royal Swedish Academy of Arts even claimed, “From the perspective of art, these competitions are meaningless.”  At the end, the Art Olympics marked a closure due to the lack of interest from both artists and organizers.  Art competition gradually transformed into an art festival held during the period of the Olympics.  And now, most people put their focus on the Opening and Closing Ceremony more than the actual games. 

The Opening Ceremony is in fact a revelation of a country’s ability and strength.  Firstly, one has to ensure that there would be no electric power cut within an hour or two; the coliseum must be able to withstand millions of people cheering and stomping without collapsing; evacuation is possible during emergency.  Secondly, as performance is supposed to be seen instantly, both performers and audience should come for an exchange, but not for a torture.  The worst thing to happen is for a show to become a presentation with millions of people only performing for one or only up to ten political figures, like an “Arirang” in Korea.  Furthermore, the performance in the Opening Ceremony is even a demonstration of cultures in the host country.  Within the short 1.5 hours, an enormous atmosphere is created.  And the whole world can immediately witness whether the environment is filled with superficiality, rashness, anxiety, or steadiness, confidence, subtlety and elegance.  If the show is ruined, it will take years to remedy the negative reputation.   

In the past Opening ceremonies, I think the Sydney Olympics has done the best.  The theme song—Hero Lives Forever is solemn, firm and elegant, like the silence at the night before a battle, contrasting with the following exciting contests, bringing a sense of rhythm that stimulates one’s anticipation.  However, the well regarded Hand in Hand, theme song from the Seoul Olympics is like Asian Spirit, destroying the uplifting mood.  Its lyrics: “Hello you, hello me, hello everyone; you are strong, but I am not weak; it is not easy to be together” sound like the end of the world.  Here, it reminds me of an old military proverb: “The first drum encourages the troop, second discourages it and third spoils it” which describes the key of going to a war.  And let us not forget that the Olympic Games are a sport competition, not an extravagant Chinese New Year show, nor the fancy Japanese “Red/ White” Singing Competition!  One really ought to be serious for the long run right from the beginning. 

The mistake that Coubertin has made was to merge the two unrelated events: sports and art together.  Sport contest is about how human beings challenge the extreme physicality and compare/ compete among a crowd.  Under a set of rules, the competitions get fiercer and the results are pushed to be better.  But art is about the combination of human thoughts and consciousness, which sometimes can be invisible and untouchable.  Eating hamburger and hand-standing may one day become part of the Olympic Games, but mankind’s momentary thought and consciousness can never be compared.  Coubertin once said in 1915: “In the past 20 years or so, I have been promoting sport, history and culture.  You all have responded to the physical culture and received the benefit out of it.  But you have not answered my calling for history and cultures.  Don’t think that I will give up.  I will continue until my very last moment.”  The Art competition has soon ended after his death.  

I think we would not make Coubertin’s mistake again.  But whether the Olympics can be organized more sophistically, but not just about the competition among countries and regions, is still yet to be balanced and compromised.  The year of 2008 is in sight and the Olympics are imminent.  Everybody is talking about how the Olympics Opening would be and how those big shot directors’ behinds are coming up with different versions.  I have several friends who work for the Beijing Olympics Opening and have been consuming the lunchboxes there for a year already, but I have yet to hear any exciting concepts from them.  Let’s just leave it for nature and history to tell us that this is no business for us and current moment.  If we want to flaunt our large-scale gymnastics, we cannot do better than Korea, just as if we use “world peace” as a gimmick, we cannot beat the Seoul Olympics.  Playing the tricks about the harmony of acrobats and athletics cannot lead us further than Sydney and Athens; in terms of being economical, Los Angeles and Atlantic City have already set excellent examples that are hard to top.  So, what do we have left?  Perhaps it is about being sober and subtle.  These two characteristics are indeed, our tradition and strength but they seem to be the least respectable to us these days.


Zhu Wei

2007.10.1 Tuesday