The Paintcan

The artist continued his work, taking paint from the cans in front of the mural, using a narrow brush to finish a mural of the glorious masses, yellow, black, and white, marching towards progress. The stage was as real as an artist's studio: cans of paint sat everywhere on the stage; dropcloths, rolled and spread, lay on the floor. Everything was placed so that one did not search the stage for the tools that did not fit. The tools that did not fit, however, sat in plain sight. Several cans of spraypaint, strange for mural painting, which required clear stokes and strong colors, were lined up on stage. The cans went unnoticed until a girl in a Mao suit and cap came from the back of the auditorium, walked up on the stage, and picked one up.

Her face painted like a Western woman's, the girl deliberately shook the can of grey primer she held. The artist turned from his painting. He looked at her with fear and hostility; she grinned as the can shook loudly. She sprayed it right on his face, as he moved back to protect his painting. His eyes closed a split-second before the spray hit them. His expression was set in stone, colored like stone with grey primer. She smiled maliciously, grabbing another can and proceeding with the mural behind the grey artist. The mural sprouted orange flowers that dribbled like bleeding wounds. Dropping that can, she picked up another, proceeding with her rape, of artwork and artist both, replacing the progressive slogan with some of her own. In big orange characters she wrote slogans: "Democracy now!", "Free Speech, Free Thought!", and "End The Tyranny!" appeared one after the other. The young audience, watching, pensive, suddenly burst. They cheered the vandal's slogans, repeating them loudly as she wrote them silently on the mural, the gallery's walls, and the artist, who had not moved since she began. His Mao jacket matched the original grey perfectly; but the orange and red paints were turning him into a colorful parody of the masses he'd just finished painting, just seen ruined by the girl wielding the paintcan. As she finished, she threw the can out into the audience. They took it willingly, and urged her on. She drew a knife, held it like a murderer, and began to cut the canvas. They saw her object and exploded. "Right! right!" they yelled, "Do it! do it!" She finished cutting and held up her prize: the artist's painting of Mao's little red book.

The girl led the artist off the stage into the dressing rooms. She held his hand gently as they passed the reporters of the New China News Agency, reporting on the first ever performance art exhibition in China. One tried to ask what her message was, but she pointed to the man covered with paint that she led by the hand, and he let her pass without an answer. She walked faster, holding his hand in both of hers, guiding him; he kept up without faltering. She opened the door, closed it behind them, and grabbed an oily rag with one hand while still holding his hand with the other. She began wiping his face, first, carefully the eyes, then the mouth, wiping each gently but rigorously. She had let go of his hand, using hers to hold his face steady. The paint was coming off his face. She picked up a small cup of turpentine with a toothbrush in it, and started scrubbing the area around his eyes.

"Keep them closed for just another minute," she said, soothingly, as if he were a child, "just let me wipe this stuff off."

Next, the girl led the artist over to the sink and turned on the water. She lathered up the soap and washed the artist's face, bending him over the sink to rinse off the soap. Towelling his face dry, the girl wiped his eyes and told him he could open them. She stood close to him, lifting herself up on her toes. Hands on his neck, thumbs rubbing his cheeks, the girl kissed him on the mouth she had so recently painted over.

"It was a success?" he asked her, knowing the answer.

"Not bad. Not bad at all."

"We need a new act. One without paint."

Han Meng Jun only laughed a second, wondering if she should tell him. Success could be dangerous, but her boyfriend, Wang Hong Li, was blind to the danger. She had seen the riot developing; he had only heard the screams and yells of approval. Wang didn't question what the audience approved of. He was just self-centered enough to think it was him. He orchestrated the entire exhibit. Its message was not a criticism; rather he wanted to do what was forbidden. Art was a breaking from convention, creating a stir in the process, and the crowd's reaction was definitely a stir. He had moved the boundaries of acceptability himself. The tumult outside only proved it.