HUANG YONG PING
In the summer of 1995 a series of deadly terrorist bombings organized by the Armed Islamic Group shook Paris. Many of the bombs were hidden in garbage cans in metro and train stations. During the same summer, a largescale riot pitting North African Arab youth against European French unfolded in a suburb north of the city. Not long after these racially charged tragedies, Huang Yong Ping conceived his Three Steps Nine Footprints project, a work in which the footprints of the earthly representatives of three major religions meander together, blocked in places by garbage cans symbolic of strife. Characteristic of Huang's oeuvre subsequent to his 1989 immigration to Paris, Three Steps Nine Footprints (Lot 847) weds current events and longterm philosophical issues in a way that is both site-specific and yet universally relevant, presenting those issues through a combination of found objects and unique hand crafted pieces created specifically for the work of art.
As described in Huang Yong Ping's proposal for the work's 1996 exhibition at the Ateliers d'Artistes de la Ville de Marseille, France, Three Steps Nine Footprints is installed by first spreading out a 120 square meter, twenty centimeter thick "continent" of plaster in the center of the exhibition space. Then footprints are impressed into the plaster by lowering a contraption to which three models of feet—those of Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad—are attached. The Footprint-making tool is constructed from metal rods of adjustable lengths, allowing for the variable spacing and direction of the attached feet relative to one another. Calling the contraption the "Three- Footed Tool," Huang points out that walking usually produces pairs of footprints, but with this process each step produces a trio of prints: for the exhibition, after a total of twenty-four steps, the Three-Footed Tool leaves seventy-two footprints in the plaster. Garbage receptacles stand at the ends of paths trod by the trio of feet. Visitors to the exhibition are to walk on the unsteady plaster surface, navigating alongside, around and between the elaborate footprints.
Interestingly the three belief systems involved in Three Steps Nine Footprints-Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, all feature footprints left behind on earth by their most important worldly protagonists. Generally, the footprints mark the place where the holy one passed between earthly and transcendent states of existence. The prophet Muhammad left his footprints on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, site of his ascension into heaven. (Other narratives explain the earthly trace of his footprint as the result of his mounting his favorite horse, or helping to build the Ka'aba.) Jesus is said to have left his footprints at the Mount of Olives, from which he ascended to heaven. Another set of Jesus' footprints, each with a nail hole from his crucifixion, is housed in a church outside Rome, where Saint Peter had a vision of Christ ascending to heaven. Of the three religions, Buddhism is the one for which the holy one's footprints hold the greatest significance. The historical Buddha left footprints (termed Buddhapada) in various places, among them the spot where he first touched the earth, the place where he stood upon first attaining enlightenment, atop a peak in Sri Lanka, and in Chengzhou, China. Representing both the presence and absence of the Buddha (indicating as they do that the Buddha had been there and then departed), the Buddhapada stood for the Buddha during aniconic periods of Buddhist art. As ideas of the historical Buddha evolved, he came to be considered beyond human, and his earthly body was believed to display auspicious signs: on the soles of his feet appear the Dharmacakra (Wheel of the Law) and the Triratna (Three Jewels), and his toes were of equal length.
Huang Yong Ping took a variety of approaches in designing the three feet for Three Steps Nine Footprints all of which are approximately double the size of a human foot. He followed the iconography from an imprint of the historical Buddha's footprint, with Dharmacakra and Triratna and toes of even length. Instead of modeling Muhammad's footprint after the unadorned prints he left in stone, Huang took an elaborate illustrated footprint as his source. The starting point for Jesus' footprint is particularly complex and indicative of the depths to be explored in Huang's works. As he stated in a 2003 interview: "in the Three Steps Nine Footprints project . . . Duchamp's Torture-Morte (1959) is transformed into The Foot of Christ."1 Torture- Morte is a plaster cast of the bottom of a foot with flies embedded in the
surface, and mounted on wood for display. Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), a long-term major influence on Huang, is likely to have been inspired in turn to create Torture-Morte, meaning "torture-death," by an anonymous woodcut of Jesus's feet used to illustrate an article by French writer Alfred Jarry (1873-1907) published in 1895.2 Jarry was an important predecessor to the Dadaists, 3 and the woodcut depicts the bottom of Christ's feet, each with a nail hole as is found in Huang's "Foot of Christ."
Summarizing the meaning of the piece, Huang Yong Ping has written: "on the periphery of the footprints are seven street garbage cans sealed by different things (such as an Arabian brass tray, fried oil cakes, and so on) [as they were sealed for public safety following the bombings]. This causes people to think back to the horrific events of 1995 Paris; the sealed garbage cans and the footprints of religion seem to transmit some information: violence and conflicts between different cultures, walking along and taking the wrong path...."4 The ready-mades (i.e., the garbage cans) so specific to the time and place act as a direct and visceral link awakening viewers to the installation's relevance. Even without a careful analysis of their iconography, the footprints' basic meaning should be apparent to most. The fragility of the prints' traces lies in stark contrast to the utilitarian sturdiness of metal cans mass produced, and then transformed into implements of destruction when those fragile traces of religion meander from the path of peaceful coexistence. Huang Yong Ping's masterfully orchestrated assemblage of disparate materials conveys a profound and many-layered message relevant to our times and beyond.
 Chen Ya-Ling. "Dada is Dead, Beware of the Fire!: An Interview with Huang Yong Ping." toutfait: The Marcel Duchamp Studies Online Journal, vol. 2, iss. 5 (Apr 2003; updated Feb 2005). http://www.toutfait.com/online_journal_details.php?postid=1523#> (Accessed 6 Feb 2011)
 Raymond J. Herdegen. "Jarry = Duchamp." toutfait: The Marcel Duchamp Studies Online Journal, vol. 2, iss. 4 (Jan 2002). http://www.toutfait.com/issues/volume2/issue_4/notes/herdegen/herdegen. html (Accessed 9 Feb 2011)
William Anastasi. "Jarry, Joyce, Duchamp and Cage." toutfait: The Marcel Duchamp Studies Online Journal, vol. 1, iss. 2 (May 2000). http://www.toutfait.com/issues/issue_2/Articles/anastasi.html> (Accessed 9 Feb 2011)
Wu Meichun 吴美純, ed. Huang Yong Ping 黃永砯. Fuzhou: Fujian People's Fine Arts Publishing House, 2003. P. 180.
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