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Posted on on September 3rd, 2007
by Pincas Jawetz (

Chen Zhen (1955-2000, he died of leukemia in December 2000) was one of the outstanding artists of the Chinese avant-garde artists who disillusioned by post-Maoist reform policies left China in the mid-1980s.

Both of Chen's Parents were medical doctors, and during the cultural revolution were
sent to the country-side. When they could return to Shanghai, Chen started
first to study medecine, but dropped out and decided to be an artist.
Eventually he decided to leave, and as the door to the US was closed to
him, he went ln 1986 to Paris.

In Paris, Chen continued to develop his work into a transhistorical
projection with intention to create a "utopian harmony by
accentuating contrasts." Originally a painter, in Paris, he turned to
sculptural and installation works, using among other means also the human body, illness,
and Chinese medical practices, as methaphors to explore the complex
interplay between the material and the spiritual, the communal and the
individual, the inside and the outside. In his last years, his illness had
probably also impacted his works.

With the help of Chen's widow, the Kunsthalle at the Museumquartier in
Vienna, organized a "Homage to Chen Zhen" exhibit, May 25 - September 2,
2007. The exhibit included about 40 of his works. Thanks to my having come
to Vienna for the August 27-31, 2007, meetings on climate change, and to
the fact that I was limited by the UN media people to have my contacts
with the participants only outside the proper meeting rooms, I was able to
catch also this important exhibit that I found extremely topically
relevant to the goings-on at the meetings.

A main object of my interest was Chen's 1999 installation that he titled -
"Exciting Delivery." In this large work we look at a large dragon snake, a
reference to a typical Chinese heavenly dragon, or if you wish - a
menacing black cloud in the sky - made of interwoven bicycle tires - and
on the strands of bicycle inner-tubes, lined up on these tubes as if they
were roads, we see an innumerable horde of toy cars as if they were
parasites on the dragon's skin. The whole thing is painted black and is
seated on a triangle made by three bicycle wheels. The shape of the dragon
is also reminiscent of shapes of internal body organs, that he was
designing in his last years. Though usually they were also symbols of
cleanliness or medical purification, with one installation made of blown
glass. "Exciting Delivery" can also be seen as a large black kidney with
parasites in this context.

The bicycle and the dragon are features of Chinese identity, while the
heavenly dragon is an ancient cultural symbol, the bicycle may be an
indication of Maoist modernity, which is linked with the car as a symbol
of "Western affluent society." The catalogue of the exhibition says here
that "The past, the present, and the future merge into a complex triangle
bursting with suspense. The used materials and emerging forms, critically
hint at the social change brought about by economic and cultural
association with the West."

As I returned to see the exhibit at a time of a guided tour, I asked the
guide if one could see in the cars the menace that this black blob of a
cloud, with its parasite cars, does generate by sitting on the back of the
bicycle wheels, that had already become at the time part of China's
existance - perhaps this cloud with its cars is the invasion of China by
the West?

The lady quoted to me one of Chen Zhen's statements: "I don't play with
incomprehension, I try to create it." At a time when the words
globalization and multiculturalism were not part of the prevailing
language in the discourses dedicated to an explanation of the world, Chen
Zhen evolved ethical and aesthetic maxims which, with faresightedness,
brought the critique of globalization, interculturalism, and ethnicity
into international discourse.

Chen was a boundary crosser, he became a "cultural homeless" who created
symbolical bridges between different realities. In his life, cut short by
his leukemia, he managed to work in many different places. Besides his
beloved Shanghai, and his adopted Paris, he also had a third main cultural
home in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, where he loved to do projects with local
underpriviledged children.

Another installation that I found extremely interesting was his
"Purification Room" conceived in 2000, his last year of life. He covered
space and objects with brown earth - sort of a monochrome grave - this to
show people today's objects as they will be discovered by the
archeologists in the future ... it is sort of an archeology of the future.

The above reminded me of another China related exhibit that was shown at
the Vienna Kunstlerhaus 29.4 - 26.8, 2007, "The Terracotta Army," that I
was able still to catch at its closing day. That was a very similarly
looking archeology that dealt indeed with the past - so no wonder about
this Chen concentration on archeology as evidence.

While the exhibition tour guide was saying that in 2000, when Chen
designed this installation, he obviously has not seen yet the 9/11
pictures of 2001, but then I asked her what if he did make reference
instead to Hiroshima, and the intended shocking idea being thus of life in
the West being covered with this sort of ashes? People usually associated
this sort of ashes with that particular bomb that was thrown in the East?
Is this again a reference to a disaster in progress?

A third installation - titled "Homage to Duchamp" - designed in 1955 -
shows a panel made of mesh in which on one side there is a cover of rags,
 and on the other side there is a cover of ashes from burned paper. This
panel can swing between two door-frames that have no openning. On one it
says "No door to Earth" (the rags), and on the other side it says "No way
to Sky." This is a door to nowhere - please figure it out - dear reader.
But please remember also: Chen Zhen said: "Newspapers are snapshots of
time  .. Ashes the eternity of newspapers."

Further, with relevance to  the climate change Vienna rally - what about
Chen Zhen asking: "How far are we going to go with our material desires in
the presence of so many ecological problems?"

And Chen Zhen stating flatly: "Misunderstanding is the most seductive form
of communication - a powerful instrument permitting processes of
intercultural exchange and vital coexistance of different cultures."
Was this Chen's definition of diplomacy at work? Is this sort of the means
by which the dilemma of climate change will be solved before much of our
cultures become history? Are the final press releases from the UNFCCC
event merely a misunderstanding required in the search for coexistence?

Having strengthened myself with bits of culture, I was now ready to face
the realities of the UN diplomacy at work.

After five days of deliberations, the Vienna Conference ended on Friday
August 31, 2007 with the UNFCCC Secretariat declaring: "Vienna UN
Conference Shows Consensus On Key Building Blocks For Effective
International Response To Climate Change," and the world press, reading
that release translted it as - "Targets Agreed For Greenhouse Emissions in
Post-Kyoto Era."

We would love nothing more then to think that the case was indeed as
descibed by above statements - but this is simply not the case.

Indeed, as the Secretariat says now, more then 900 participants (the
previous figure was 1000), including delegates from 158 nations (out of
171 signatories and one observer to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on
Climate Change), came to Vienna to participate in the FOURTH SESSIONS OF
"Dialogue On Long-Term Cooperative Action To Address Climate Change By
Enhancing Implementation Of The Convention."

The AWG and Convention Dialogue, are two activities that were established
by decisions taken during the eleventh Conference of the Parties to the
UNFCCC (COP 11) and the first Conference of the Parties serving as a
Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP/MOP 1) in Montreal in
late 2005. At those meetings, delegates discussed a range of issues
relevant for a framework for the post-2012 period (when the Kyoto Protocol
first commitment period ends) and a long-term cooperative action on
climate change.

AWG 4, the last of the series, was expected to analyze mitigation
potentials and policies, and address ranges of emissions reductions for
Annex I parties after the first commitment period. It was also expected to
develop a timetable to guide the completion of its work.

The AWG 4 will resume  at the start of the COP/MOP 3, which will take
place from 3-14 December 2007 in Bali, Indonesia.

What above meant was that the Annex I countries to the Kyoto Protocol to
the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the UNFCCC, had to come to
Vienna  in order to come up with a program of how they intend to proceed
for the period starting 2012 in what regards their continuing decrease in
CO2 emissions. It was hoped that the advanced countries from among the
newly developed countries, read the five large countries that participated
at the German led G8+5 meeting, read here mainly China and India, will
then start making proposals of how they will then enter the process that
eventually will allow in Bali the start of the process that by the time of
the COP 15, in 2009, in Denmark, will formalize the new post-2012 regime.
So, let us make it clear, the AWG 4 was for the 38 Annex I countries to
come up with clear proposals, and in the Dialogue, all the signatories to
the UNFCCC could voice on how to proceed.

The parallel Vienna "Convention Dialogue" was supposed to focus on
bringing together ideas from the previous workshops and address
overarching and cross-cutting issues, including financing. This was also
intended as the fourth and final workshop in the series launched in May
2006 and after Vienna, the co-facilitators will present their report to COP
13 in Bali in December 2007.

So, despite the official press release by the UNFCCC, and most of the
material that appeared in the press that was based on those releases -
though quite clear reporting by  Reuters already pointed at discenssions
among the Annex I countries, the facts and the mathematics, are as

Out of the 38 Annex I countries 2, though present in Vienna, did actually
wash their hands of the Kyoto route - the US and Australia. The US will
nevertheless come possibly up with an alternative route based on bilateral
negotiations with high polluters that are not Annex I countries. President
George W. Bush has called a meeting of major emitters in Washington
September 27-28, 2007. If there will be openings created by these
negotiations, an alternative roadway to Bali will come into existance, and
Vienna might have lost its relevance. In case the US will not succeed in
the coming three month to provide its own negotiating alternative, then
clearly Vienna will have even less to present to Bali without having the
US on board.

But above is nothing yet, in effect it was known that the US and Australia
did not come to Vienna in order to treck back to Kyoto, so what about the
remaining 36 Kyoto Protocol Annex I countries? In here is the rub - and
the reason that we do not see how the UNFCCC can have justification to
their expressed optimism - beyond the clear good intentions to put up a
nice face, and expressions of hope for diplomacy reasons. But those
interested in the subject should not be fooled. When following closely the
exchanges in this week's meetings, it becomes clear that the road to Bali
is still far away, and the time left very short.

In Vienna, the European Union came up with an agreed proposal by its 27
members, to which adhered also the following 6 non-EU members who are
among the 38 Annex I countries: the EU candidate Croatia,, the aspirant
Ukraine, and the non-members - Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Monaco.
On the other hand, EU members Cyprus and Malta became EU members after
signature of the Kyoto Prtocol of 1997, have made no effort to join and
have no committments for emissions reduction under Kyoto. The mathematics
are thus 27-2+6 = 31 which means that five countries - Japan, Canada, New
Zealand, Switzerland, Russia are not part of the EU proposed targets. So
what is the reason here for happinesss?

The proposal is to reduce by 2020 the Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 25-40%
bellow the 1990 values, but the five countries that did not accept these
targets, and contend that they are too drastic for them to go along, this
in addition to the two countries that did not subscribe to the system
altogether, has weakened the EU chances at achieving an agreement in Bali
on the basis of these figures. Further, the Pacific Island States have
declared that even these figures are much too low, and stiffer cuts are
needed in order to avert rising seas that could wash them off the map.

It is true that Germany, and some others, are making serious diplomatic
efforts to drum up interest in these proposals, but all what the Vienna
meeting came up with was an agreement to allow the EU proposal to proceed
on its way to Bali without any promiss to back it there. The proposal is
backed officially by 31 countries from among the Annex I countries, out of
38, and we can say that the agreement not to explode the Vienna rally by
leaving with nothing in hand, all what the meeting is sending to Bali is a
suggestion to which 7 main countries have pronounced their disinterest,
with the remaining 150 countries not having had any role in its
formulation altogether.

This, even though we note that "the conference has recognized the
Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) indication that global
emissions of greenhouse gasses need to peak in the next 10-15 years, and
then to be reduced to very low levels, well below half of levels in 2000
by mid-century, if concentrations are to be stabilized at safe levels."
The remaining question is who will agree to do the reduction.

Now, that is our evaluation, and we think that Chen Zhen might have
approved of our analysis.

Among the most positive aspects of the meeting we found the mention of
technology - such as:

China, New Zealand and others highlighted the role of technology in
long-term cooperation. Uganda called for a formal and binding instrument
on technology; Iceland emphasized climate friendly technology as a way to
reduce emissions without halting economic growth and the Maldives called
for modern cleaner technologies. Nothing revolutionary here, but at least
the recognition of the need to bind the Annex I countries with the rest of
the world.

Mexico went even further. They said that a new process is needed that
provides a way for long-term reductions in concentrations of GHGs, and
identified the need for evolution of the current division betwen Annex I
and non-Annex I parties into a more realistic form of differentiation. He
said voluntary commitments, based on gradual strengthening of capacity,
should be part of a new formalized dialogue, and advanced developing
countries should have incentives for innovative schemes to build goals
over time. Uganda added that developing countries had no objections to
reducing emissions, but were asking about cost and impact on development.
Uganda said it was time for the Dialogue to deliver and called for the
launch at COP 13 in Bali of a process leading to a legally binding
instrument. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia, as it did at many previous
occasions, just tried to kill the whole process by arguing against
attempts by countries to use the climate regime to exert economic leverage
at the expense of others.

Canada stressed the need to build on the momentum created by the dialogue
and proceed at COP 13 by launching the post-2012 framework involving all
Convention parties. on this basis, called this
Conference a "Rally," because indeed, as the UNFCCC Secretariat's Press
Releases attest: "Vienna UN Meeting Tests Temperature Of International
Climate Change Process," it recognized, also as our friends from The Earth
Negotiations Bulletin, the publication we love to call KIMO/IISD, said in
the conclusion of their analysis, that with the limitations of the AWG's
mandate, the managers of the Vienna agenda calculated that
confidence-building from an open discussion under the Dialogue was the
only alternative left to them by the realities of the UN. KIMO/IISD finds
that this goal was achieved, and that a rich discussion emerged - on
building blocks that are likely to make up the agenda - "if, and
presumably when" - there will be a transition from informal dialogue to
formal negotiations . Moreover, the style of the dialogue took account of
the fact that decission making on the available options no longer lie
exclusively within the UNFCCC process. Above is basically what also felt after the initial visit, on Tuesday, with
the conference/rally. As we said, this was just one more talk-fest,in a
long line of such talk-fests labeled as confidence-building exercises, but
many of the delegates did indeed try to find a way out from this reality.
We wish, a Chen Zhen would show up to provide the visible presentation to
what manny of these negotiators feel.
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