Saturday, May 09, 2009

Liao Yibai: "Top Secret Hamburger"

Top Secret Hamburger
Liao Yibai
(Image from Mike Weiss Gallery)

I learned about the Chinese artist Liao Yibai by reading a New York Times article reprinted in yesterday's International Herald Tribune as I was riding Seoul Subway Line 6 and headed for Bonghwasan Station . . . not that my geographical whereabouting makes any difference to what I was reading, but it does give my report that anecdotal feeling, that raw sort of graininess so quintessentially bloggy.

Anyway, I'd never heard of Liao Yibai, but he has a fascinating life that began in a most unusual way:
"I was born, unfortunately, in a top-secret missile factory during the Cold War."
You can read online about this life of Liao in Dan Levin's article, "The Fantasies of a Cold War Child," available on The New York Times website for May 7, 2009. Levin writes of Liao growing up in a factory that came to inspire his modern art in a manner rather different than Warhol's or Cosmo's factory inspired artists:
The son of a prized cruise-missile engineer, Mr. Liao grew up playing with machine guns, surrounded by speakers blaring Cultural Revolution propaganda by day and air raid drills by night. Almost as frequent were the accidents that sent shards of tools and weaponry exploding into the sky.

"They looked like beautiful fireworks,” he said. “Except our fireworks killed people."
Even the "Top Secret Hamburger" shown above derived from Mr. Liao's childhood experience in the factory:
In kindergarten Mr. Liao began learning the ways of the wicked Imperialists, including the notion that American and Taiwanese children had no food or clothes. He learned one English word a day, but when his teachers taught the word "hamburger," they were unable to explain its meaning, only that it symbolized America's "decadent and evil nature."

When a classmate's father made a trip to the United States, the children begged him to bring back a sample of the mysterious dish. Upon his return, the scientist called the youngsters into his home and, after closing the curtains, pulled out from his suitcase an envelope emblazoned with the words "top secret." Inside was a hamburger.

"It looked like an alien," Mr. Liao recalled, adding that the rotten burger "tasted disgusting, so we believed our teacher that capitalism was horrible."
Reading that anecdote, I had to laugh out loud (disturbing my fellow passengers, undoubtedly, but they had opted to sit next to a foreigner, so what could they expect?). This symbol of America's "decadent and evil nature" was apparently a McDonald's hamburger, which is indeed -- as everyone knows -- the symbol of American consumerism, capitalism, industrialism, imperialism, colonialism, anti-environmentalism, and . . . um, "dead-end-jobism." In fact, it's more than a symbol! It's a synecdoche! Every McDonald's hamburger is a propaganda piece from America, and every McDonald's outlet is a little bit of American territory. Like an embassy or a consulate. That's why any anti-American demonstration worth its salt will have mustered up its spirits to march into a McDonald's franchise and trash the place, taking care to pick up a few decadent hamburgers as evidence on the way out. Maybe some fries, too.

As for Mr. Liao, his artworks are as hot as McDonald's hamburgers these days, "with collectors snapping up sculptures based merely on conversations and photos," so perhaps the popularity of his "Top Secret Hamburger" implies the 'decadence' of American capitalism playfully expressed through the 'decadence' of modern art.

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At 9:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel a little like the hillbilly listening to his preacher warning of the perils of sin. He was okay with the usual list of mortal sins, until the preacher warned of gluttony and improper diets that affect the temple of the Holy Spirit, the physical body.
Afterward he told the preacher, "It's ok to talk 'bout sin, preacher, but leave my mashed 'taters and gravy alone!"

Lay off MacDonalds, Mac. After all, they stopped using lard to cook their french fries, and now use vegetable oil.

I say, "Give me Big Mac.....or give me the Double cheeseburger meal."


At 9:13 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cran, I try to watch my diet, but it's difficult to do that as the food disappears down my throat.

Still, I'd like to sink my old gold-crowned teeth into that silver-shiny "Top Secret Hamburger" . . . hold the onions.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:17 PM, Blogger writtenwyrdd said...

That anecdote is priceless.

At 9:19 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, I still laugh to think of it.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:14 AM, OpenID sonagi92 said...

"Lay off MacDonalds, Mac. After all, they stopped using lard to cook their french fries, and now use vegetable oil."The resident K-blog health nut is going to inject a little seriousness into the banter by pointing out the vegetabled oil long used by McDonald's and other restaurants was partially hydrogenated, full of trans-fats, which are harmful to the body in any amounts owing to their chemically altered nature. The body thinks trans-fats are saturated fats and incorporates them into cellular structures, but these fake saturated fats do not behave like real saturated fats, thus compromising the cell's functions. Do you want artificial trans-fats incorporated into a key organ like the heart with its sensitive electrical system. Heart cells have a lifespan of about 15 years, so that faulty trans-fatty cell won't get replaced anytime soon. You really, truly are what you eat.

Saturated fats from nature have always been a part of the human diet and are beneficial in small amounts. I prefer tropical vegetable oils like coconut oil and palm oil because their medium-chain saturated fats are burned directly as energy and unlike other saturated fats, are not metabolized by the liver with harmful triglycerides as a bi-product. Given a choice between french fries fried in 100% trans-fatty Crisco and lard, I'll take the lard fries. They taste better, too.

At 3:17 AM, OpenID sonagi92 said...

vegetabled = vegetable

...sensitive electrical system?

At 5:12 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sonagi, I actually read Uncle Cran's words -- "Lay off MacDonalds, Mac" -- to mean "Stop eating at McDonald's" (thinking that like any good hillbilly, he loved lard), but from your comment, I see that he meant more or less the opposite.

I've been away from native speakers of English for too long.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really meant my comments as tongue-in-cheek humor.
Actually, my wife and I are careful to eat properly prepared meals. Seldom do we eat fried food, and try to eat healthy meals.
It has paid off in my case with such good reports on my annual VA blood tests, with everything in the "good to excellent" range.
The doctor said it was un-American for a veteran of my age to be in such good health. (almost 70).

Except, of course, when I tried to challenge a 600-700 angry steer....
Then my health took an immediate nose dive, from which I am now almost recovered.

But Sonagi92, I really appreciate the wise counsel.

Hopefully this will be of help to decadent diners such as nephew Jeffery.


At 8:03 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Lord Byron remarked that "Much depends upon dinner," but I go with the subjectivists and insist that "Munch depends upon diner," having faith that my body will transfigure all that is imperfect into an ambrosial delectation.

So, gimme fries with that burger!

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:54 AM, OpenID sonagi92 said...

"ambrosial delectation"?You're starting to channel that Won Joon fellow and his thesaurus-thumbing rival, Charles Tilly.

At 3:02 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I admit that I sometimes have recourse to a thesaurus . . . but not this time.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you very much, I'm Yibai say hello to everybody from New York. thank you like my Top secret hamburger.

At 4:02 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Liao Yibai wrote:

"Thank you very much, I'm Yibai say hello to everybody from New York. thank you like my Top secret hamburger."

The internet is still a small world if a renowned artist takes the time to visit Gypsy Scholar (and lest any be sceptical, recall that Terrance Lindall has also visited here).

Thanks for the visit Mr. Liao. We do like your "Top Secret Hamburger and your explanatory anecdote. Say hello to folks in New York from all of us in . . . Korea (Seoul), Arkansas (Gepp), Viginia, Maine, and doubtless other places around the world (among the lurkers).

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:28 PM, Blogger hellorealfake said...

I come to Miami to show big hamburger here, very excite. it will show in Art Basel Scope. Tomorrow I will open crate to show it to everyone. Thanks. Yibai

At 1:30 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yibai, thanks for letting us know.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks. we can not visit this website in China,they blocked many website in China; this is reason why I reply you so late, I have to fly to US to visit this website. please don't mind reply you so late. Yibai

At 6:05 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I don't mind. I'm flattered that you reply at all since I'm merely a minor blogger . . . though I hope that I provide some publicity for your aesthetic work.

Enjoy your time in Florida (if you're now there).

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:40 PM, Anonymous viagra online said...

Hey guys!
It seems very interesasnte the story about the Chinese artist Liao Yibaiel. I want to know more about who I could not read the article in the New York Times. that kind to share the information.

At 5:27 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Mr. VO, you're the only advert-spammer who actually reads the blog entries that you use to advertise your wares, so you have my respect on that.

But I may need to start holding you to a higher standard, say, offering comments that state something more substantive on a topic.

Jeffery Hodges

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