DEJA-VU. Sweeping Gulou area
by Alessandro Rolandi

On May 1, 1972, after the Labor Day demonstrations, artist Joseph Beuys was sweeping up the Karl-Marx-Platz in West Berlin together with two foreign students. Since then, Beuys was performing socio-political and ecological actions and interventions, in addition to the more elaborate art performances.

The cleaning squad from May 1, 1972 only required a small gesture to make plain what Beuys meant by his extended concept of art. He refers to social differences and to a problem of leftist politics: Those who had to clean up after the Labour Day celebrations and demonstrations were the “guest workers.” Yet, the unions had never done much  for the foreign workers who were paid low wages. On the other hand, throughout the 1970s the political Left kept mentioning international solidarity between the lower classes. In this respect, the group of three also achieved some considerable social clearing work. It is no coincidence that the two students and Beuys swept up not only on May 1, but also at Karl-Marx-Platz. While Beuys subscribed to Marx’s analysis of the economic relations, he had a different conception of alienation. Beuys shared the view that every form of capital is a form of slavery, but he saw actions as a way out. Moreover, to him every person was a subject and not an object of history. Hence, picking up the broom is a step towards Beuys’s ideal of self determination.

Sweeping Gulou area on may 1st 2013, from 5pm afternoon
Chinese and foreign artists currently in Beijing can join
This Chinese expression expresses with a metaphor the shift from Communist times to the current Authoritarian Capitalist one.
It is a sentence with a negative connotation for the aged people and a sort of evidence and dilemma for the young ones.
Instead of providing an explanation, we can rely on the multiple associations generated by this possibility and turn them into questions and paths of thought.
does context and time change the meaning of a gesture?
Beuys cleaned after the demonstrations;his gesture was a direct critic to any form of capitalism,
if we clean without any demonstration having occurred, are we anticipating something?
Is there anything interesting in this void, this absence of the previous act?
one of the reasons put forward to explain the ongoing renovation of the Gulou-Junlou area ( as a consequence of which all the residents have been evicted) is that Hutongs are dusty, dirty and unhealthy.
Generally speaking, the claim for “cleaning” seems to be the current trope in China and all over the globe; from pollution, to curruption, from urbanism to social sphere..but what kind of cleaning?
The dust is important; the dust is memory and information, material leftover and testimony.
We can share the dust.
The dust of our studios, the dust of our walks, the dust of the places where we have been
We will collect the dust of this Beijing neighbourhood,
we will keep some and give some to the observing crowd and to the local residents to think and to remember.
This gesture is maybe a mourning, maybe just a physical activity, maybe a service to the community, maybe just a way to be here now and do something,
maybe it is something else we will discover later, after we did it
Dust brings all together, doesn’t it? Who can deny it?
there is no budget or sponsor for this event.

A project by Alessandro Rolandi, Alain Jullien (architect) and Megumi Shimizu (multimedia and performance artist), curated and facilitated by Za Jia Lab.


Alessandro Rolandi (*1971 in Pavia) is a multimedia and performance artist, researcher, curator and writer based in Beijing since 2003. He holds degrees in Chemistry, Fine Arts, Experimental Theatre, and History of Art. His work focuses on social intervention and relational dynamics to expand the notion of art practice beyond existing structures, spaces and hierarchies and engage directly with reality in multiple ways. He is the founder and director of the Social Sensibility Research & Development Department at Bernard Controls Asia, a currently ongoing program. His work has been shown, among other venues at Venice Biennale, WRO Wroclav Biennale, CCD Photofestival Beijing, Museo Pecci Milano, MCAF Gent, FUSO VideoArt Lisbon. In Beijing, he joined the collective Forget Art since its founding in 2009 and collaborates constantly with Za Jia Lab, Homeshop, Institute for Provocation. He was nominated by the Global Board of Contemporary Art for the Alice Awards 2011 together with Megumi Shimizu for their performance “Something on the way”.

Za Jia Lab is a self financed project founded in 2011 by Ambra Corinti and Rong Guang Rong. Its main mission has been to create and support cultural venues that can provide a proper environment to enhance appreciation of independent performing arts and film making inside Taoist Temple in Beijing city center.


Alessandro Rolandi
Uncut Talks

Za Jia Lab

All images were taken by Yves Chan You.
This work was submitted by Alessandro Rolandi on 3 March 2014.

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