China, in 1968, proletarian artists created a collection of clay statues. These sculptors depicted the violent exploitation faced by the peasants. Titled Rent Collection Courtyard, each sculptor revealed a bit of the existential and physical horror endured by farmers under the heel of the dreaded landlord Liu wen-tsai of Tayi County, Szechuan Province.
The goal of the project was to depict the inhumanity of the exploitation; children clinging to their parents, elders contorted in pain after hauling their rent many miles, and people of all creeds torn in anguish over whether they would be able to pay their rent in full, or face the tortuous machinations of the landlord’s brutes.
The value in a project like this is that it delineates space; more aptly, it re-articulates spaces which, formerly, were subjected to exploitation and re-imagines them as spaces for communal advancement precisely through the uncovering—the depiction of violence—which exists just underneath the surface. Because history is sediment and is layered in succeeding levels as time proceeds, uncovering those previous layers is an exercise in revolution. In short, it takes both study as well as creativity in order to create the art projects which, like Rent Collection Courtyard, aim to help raise class consciousness; study for discovering (or remembering, if someone is of age) specific acts which occurred during specific times, and creativity for how to depict the act which was uncovered (what materials the artist will use and so forth). In true Maoist practice, neither can be divorced from one another as long as the artist expects a revolutionary outcome.
But, because of our present degree of distance from when this art piece was made and displayed, and because of the cultural and historical difference, this abstract and any extrapolation concerning it, will focus less on the specific aspects of this particular project, and more on what can be learned from interpreting similar spaces of re-articulation. Meaning, I will be exploring not merely certain aspects of how this piece relates to Chinese history and art, but how other projects similar to it, can help the revolutionary artist come to grips with how to interpret the physical space which surrounds them and how to use that space in bringing attention to class based ideas of emancipation.
For the PDF of Rent Collection Courtyard, see here: http://www.bannedthought.net/China/MaoEra/Arts/Sculpture/RentCollectionCourtyard-1968.pdf