© Christopher Pelley  2019

 

Lei Feng Coal Dust

installation / performance, Black Space, XiaYuan (Beijing)

Coal.  It permeates everything in Northern China.  The line dried sheets smell of it. The winter air is unbreathable because of it, and for me it is the essence of industrial China.  It is an environmental reminder of the Great Leap Forward and a consequence of China achieving its long held dream of becoming an industrial powerhouse.  In my work, which revolves around the interstices of myth, memory, history and nostalgia, I have begun to explore coal and its position in Chinese daily life.  In tandem, I have adopted a folk hero from China's turbulant 1960's, Lei Feng, as the vehicle to examine contemporary China's complicated relationship with its recent past, and explore my observations and feelings about the Red China of my youth in the '60s and '70s and the China that I am experiencing today.

 

Lei Feng Coal Dust was an installation performed at Black Space in ShangYuan, Beijing, the end of October, 2015.  Lei Feng was singled out (post mortem) by no less than Mao ZeDung as a model comrade.  His good deeds and service to the communist ideal are legendary in China.  Using a large stencil, an iconic portrait of Comrade Lei Feng was made using coal dust, while the spectators wore dust masks, referencing both the not too distant past of revolutionary rhetoric and the very real current problem of severe air pollution.  Unscripted and spontaneously viewers became active participants helping with the application of coal dust.  A few of the older generation in the crowd sang revolutionary songs about Lei Feng from their childhood. The cynicism which usually surrounds Lei Feng as a product of the propaganda department dissolved and a more communal and energised spirit emerged, surprising everyone.... including me.

time lapse video created and produced by  Lee Seung Jae