Olympic Reveries | Opening Dispatch

Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai, New York: the editorial staff of Heichi Magazine are scattered across these different cities. At a recent meeting, we discovered that the most memorable event from the 2008 Beijing Olympics for our team was not Michael Phelps winning eight gold medals in the Water Cube, but rather the emergence of the Xijing Men, a collaborative project comprised of artists Chen Shaoxiong, Gimhongsok, and Ozawa Tsuyoshi. Just hours before the opening of the Olympic Games, these self-proclaimed three Presidents of Xijing joined the Parade of Nations bearing flags and marched together to a gallery on the outskirts of Beijing, between the airport and the Olympic venues. In this manner they announced a 16-day rally about their nation of nowhere, nurtured only by a pan-Asian ideal and the local boom of contemporary art. This historical toponym of Xijing, or Western Capital, had roots in the folk memories of their respective homelands: China, Korea, and Japan. The works of the Xijing Men opened up a space for speculation without dogmatism; brisk, cooperative,  and future-oriented, their artworks suggested an optimistic and internationalist contemporary art practice that was also very Asian. People mistakenly believed back then that the Xijing Men had set the tone for the future. However,  it has become apparent that the utopian imaginings of Asianist art groups have already been replaced by phenomena of two extremes, like multinational flagship galleries and blue-chip artists. No longer are there such playful artworks about the Olympics, either.

Since Beijing in 2008, the world has been plagued by pessimism bordering on crisis. Now, the specter of globalism has descended on an unwilling Tokyo, where the public mood about hosting a mass sporting event is equal parts resentful, resistant, and resigned. Nonetheless the Games must go on—even under the phantasmal flag of a year already long past.

For athletes, the Olympics represent the pinnacle of a career and the peak of physical prowess. A pageant and proving ground. Thousands of hours of excruciating training are ready for this moment on the razor’s edge of public approval. Meanwhile, host cities must lavish billions to make an offering at the altar of economic prosperity. This amounts to nothing less than willful ignorance of the malcontent citizenry and a perpetuation of erasures and inequalities. The grind of global capitalism has co-opted this cyclical event to sell a triumphalist narrative of racial harmony along with a media blitz of aspirational products and lifestyles, replete with picture-perfect brand ambassadors: one-time hometown heroes, now packaged for worldwide consumption.

One of our editors Baichao was born on the hundredth anniversary of the modern Olympics. The elders of her family thus decided to commemorate this moment in her name, which means “surpassing hundreds.” Even though she does not celebrate this symbol of global optimism, she has often received Olympic-related gifts from relatives and friends: olive-branch shaped commemorative watches, Fuwa tableware, competitive swimmer Sun Yang's autograph, and so on. The boundary between the individual and the collective has been forever blurred by the Olympics. Each athlete’s triumph, without exception, has also wrought emotionally complex scenes, as the emphasis on the national and the collective is at once bewildering, inspiring, and deeply moving.

These motley reflections on the Olympics lead to a final doubt: is this event even relevant and necessary anymore? In recent days, the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the 2020 Olympics has adopted many confusing measures, such as the usage of recordings of stadium noise and cheering from previous Olympic Games in this year’s venues. Whether they improve the athletes’ concentration or not, these sound effects may trigger fanciful reveries and a public reimagining of the Olympics, reminding us to pay tribute to the Xijing Men as we become aware of the absence of sports, concepts, and countries not recognized or condoned by the Olympics. Beyond the monopoly by sovereign nations and capital, the Olympic Reveries feature of Heichi Magazine invites artists to play the role of athlete-hacker: bypassing rules, mocking authorities, modifying schedules, and disrupting rankings in a parallel sporting event of our own invention and imagination.

Translated from the Chinese by Lu Sun.

Lu Sun, literary translator, mainly specialized in book translation including fiction and non-fiction: Everything I Never Told You (Celeste Ng), A Widow for One Year (John Irving), Thing Explainer (Randall Munroe), Britt-Marie var har (Fredrik Backman), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain), Moonglow (Michael Chabon), Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro & Cornelia Funke), Brave Genius (Sean B. Carroll), etc.


平行奥运 Olympic Reveries

In tandem with the Tokyo Olympics, Heichi Magazine is hosting a parallel assembly of artist essays. Olympic Reveries emphasizes the cultural spaces opened up by sports and the illusion of spatiotemporal unity created by live broadcasts. We invited artists to extend the ideas of athleticism and national culture into their practices and speculate on real or imagined games that present values different from those of mainstream sporting events.

Photograph: Courtesy of the Xijing Men

Published: 2021.07.23