The Third Contact
A staged shot comprises this photograph: the two performance artists, Zhang Huan and Ma Liuming, reclined in a bathtub naked. The bathtub was full of water, with human hair, all from Zhang, floating on the water surface and scattered over their bodies. On the right side of the bathtub, Zhang was leaning on his own arm and seemed to be sleeping, while Ma, with his signature hair and makeup, gazes at us distantly. It is said that this was one of a series of staged scenes in which Zhang and Ma both appeared, with somehow contradictory presentations: ruthlessness and loneliness presented by Zhang's bodily gesture, with tenderness and openness shown by Ma. The title suggests the well-known Steven Spielberg sci-fi film from 1977, that tells stories of aliens making efforts to communicate with human beings. It is the uncanny nature of the image that grabs us: two naked men (one of them a hybrid figure of male and female appearances), the scattered hair and a rather fashionable device at that time: the bathtub. Does it refer to a state of apparent acquiescence along with the contrary-mindedness of the two artists? Does it imply a more general cultural contradiction between the West and the East? Or, in other words, can the aesthetics of this photo be translated into sociology?