The character 拆 is painted in black along the narrow alleyways of old Chinese neighbourhoods slated for demolition. Most houses are vacant, and sometimes you can explore inside and find things left behind by the last residents. There are abandoned objects like photos albums or majiong pieces, portraits of President JingGuo, or cassettes of Theresa Deng. These are places of quiet desperation where the remaining habitants shuffle recycling and struggle to conceal their poverty in stained monastic robes. They cling to the site of their old life in perpetual vigils of sulking zithers. Images of life awaiting termination are everywhere, and perhaps this character “拆” could stand for all the junk life which is pervasive around the world.
Besides marking old neighbourhoods for destruction, the dictionary lists other connotations for this character 拆: a literary practice where verses are disassembled and recombined for purposes of divination (拆字格); the dissolving of relationships such as marriages or business partnerships (拆散); the dismantling of machinery (拆卸) for the purposes of maintenance (拆洗) or salvaging (拆船); the opening of sealed envelops (拆封); the exposing of plots or schemes (拆穿).
The English word “character” once indicated tattoos marking the bodies of criminals, and the practice of painting 拆 on buildings echoes this archaic sense, as though the mark of Cain appeared on the wall of Gomorrah. Capitalism maintains undesirable life in a terminal suspension which has important analogies with ageing, AIDS, heroin and nuclear contamination. The negative side of development relates allegorically with contagion. The commodity spectacle indicates where life is sanctioned to live, and negatively determines junk life as an obstacle. 拆 is the sign of cultural apocalypse where a way of life has been terminated, but biological live continues. The developmental program insists on drastic reconstructions of human form, and occasions for resistance or mourning are limited.