Pillars of Fat: The corporeal aesthetics of civilisation (wenming) in contemporary Chinese art

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This paper examines a work of contemporary art by the artist duo Sun Yuan (b. 1972) and Peng Yu (b. 1974). Entitled Wenming zhu (Civilization Pillar), in form the work resembles a classical stone column, but it is in fact entirely composed of layers of congealed, gleaming human fat. While the work has previously been read in relation to the emergence of zhenhan yishu or “Shock Art” in the late 1990s, I argue that it provides an important mirror on the corporeal aesthetics of the wenming discourse. In Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s Civilization Pillar, flesh is fetishized as a site for the accumulation of wenming as a by-product of the hedonism and decadence of the 21st century. Wenming is thus defined as the corporeal surplus of burgeoning consumerism, a means by which both to figure and to counter the destabilizing forces of sociopolitical transformation.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-138
Number of pages17
JournalThe China Journal
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jul 2014

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