Potlatch of Derivatives | 衍生宴,2023
14 4月 2024
Potlatch of Derivatives
commissioned by the 14th Shanghai Biennale“Cosmos Cinema”
carpet, copper wall lamp, gold frames, wallpaper, pine, marine board, acrylic, four wax mixtures, wooden sluice, food, food prep, food resin, antique replicas, 
1155 x 725 x 620 cm
1155 x 725 x 620 cm

Potlatch of Derivatives

commissioned by the 14th Shanghai Biennale“Cosmos Cinema”

The Potlatch of Derivatives reflects on financialized capitalism’s commitment to endless growth.  

Picture this picture of the cosmos of financial derivatives: a fragment of jade—the food of Daoist immortals, symbol of perpetual growth—held in the mouth of a dead derivatives trader. The corpse makes a ratting sound; the jade continues to be traded through risk-free quantitative arbitrage.

Comprising two lake-shaped and one cicada-shaped tables—like those at which to dine and gamble—and twelve dishes perched on twelve sluices, Potlatch of Derivatives invites the audience to follow the whirling currents (of time, history, and money) through the universe of financial derivatives.In doing so it proposes that the capitalist cosmos is one of “derivatology”: whenever the system is at risk of collapse, it tries to avoid the consequences by deriving a new cosmos of financial opportunity, filled by the promise of future growth.





《衍生宴》由两张湖形和一张蝉形桌子组成,如同用餐和博弈的桌子一样,12道菜分别摆放在12座水闸之上,它邀请观众跟随(时间、历史和金融)的旋流,溯洄金融衍生品的宇宙。在此过程中,它提出资本主义世界是一个 “衍生学 “世界:每当系统面临崩溃的风险时,它总会试图衍生出一个新的金融投机世界来转嫁风险,而这个世界又充满了对未来增长的承诺。

A Cicada-shaped stele – The Story of erivatives
B Ancient Lake Hongze – Born with a Jade
C Ancient Lake Zhenze – Tradeoff
12 Crimson Beans as Tears (red-bean smoothie) 
01 Red Dates Booster (red date liqueur)
02 Period: Spot and Futures (assorted cold dishes)
03 Circle of Life and Death (smoked bullfrogs)
04 Deeds of the Great Yu by the Dragon Shore (braised and crisp fried yellow eel)
05 Huangpu (River) Replacing Wusong (River)(shrimp roe, hairtail)
06 Umami Deriving from Fishiness and Gaminess (fish and lamb)
07 Withered Bones of A Beauty (preserved potherb mustard with bamboo shoots)
08 Emerald-Decorated Feathery Cloth (snake-gourd with Sea Grapes)
09 The Great Arhat (“Buddha’s Temptation” soup – vegan, dry version)
10 Prefabricated Flavors (prefabricated flavorings and meat paste)
11 Jade as Insurance for Afterlife (jade, sculpted potatoes)
12 绛珠还泪(红豆·冰沙) 
01 红枣解春(红枣·甜酒)
02 近月远月(冷菜·什碟)
03 生生不息(烟燻·牛蛙)
04 龙滨禹迹(软兜·脆鳝)
05 黄浦夺淞(虾籽·带鱼)
06 腥膻之鲜(脍·炙·鱼羊)
07 红颜枯骨(春不老·炒·鸡髓笋)
08 翡翠羽衣(薄衣铜钱王瓜·拌·海葡萄)
09 罗汉大宗(干制·素·佛跳墙)
10 预制衍香(预制·香精·肉膏)
11 石玉无望(琀玉·土豆饼子)

It all starts from Nüwa, the mother goddess of Chinese mythology, mending a hole in the sky, which opens up the The Story of the Stone. Nüwa used stones to restore the order of the cosmos but left one piece of stone behind. It’s an ideal story about economic surplus. This surplus force hasn’t led to sacrifices, wars or inequality; instead, it has evolved into art, in a self-pitying manner. The stone left behind by Nüwa turned into a piece of jade with which Jia Baoyu was born in his mouth. At the end of this “story of the stone”, also known as the “dream of the red chamber”, it once again became a piece of stone covered with inscriptions and returned the Great Waste Mountain.


The stone is like a projection screen, on which the dreams and stories of the red chamber are playing. Jade, a derivative of stone, is like a camera, following the steps of Jia Baoyu to record everything happening in the Grand View Garden.


A: Cicada-shaped stele – The Story of Derivatives
The legs of the table derive from Ding cauldron with elephant-shaped feet which features elephant-shaped feet, ears with patterns, a realistic elephant head with ivories, and trunk as a foot. Table top is made of cicada-shaped marine board with surrounds. Acrylic, four wax mixtures. 
A: 蝉石 – 衍生记

The first table at the Potlatch of Derivatives (for dining, gambling and worshipping) resembles a cicada-shaped stone monument on which The Story of Derivatives is inscribed: 


衍生宴第一张桌子 (餐桌-赌桌-供桌) 的桌面酷似一座蝉形石碑,上面刻着衍生记:


B: Ancient Lake Hongze – Born with a Jade
The legs of the table derive from Ding cauldron of King Wen which features flat and dragon-shaped legs. Table top is made of marine board with surrounds in the shape of ancient Lake Hongze. Acrylic, four wax mixtures.
B: 洪泽 – 衔玉而生

The second table at the Potlatch of Derivatives features the shape of Hongze Lake. A seemingly hermaphroditic semi-human-semi-fish creature is floating on it. In its mouth, there’s a piece of jade, which looks like the cicada-shaped stone. The stone is derived into jade. Jia Baoyu was born with a piece of jade in his mouth and in ancient China, a cicada-shaped jade was placed in the mouth of the deceased in the hope that s/he would embrace a good afterlife as cicada shedding carapace. Time can be reversed, shifted and edited.


C: Ancient Lake Zhenze – Tradeoff
The legs of the table derive from Taibao Ding cauldron which features the shape of Taotie, an ancient monster from Chinese mythology. Table top is made of marine board with surrounds in the shape of ancient Lake Zhenze. Acrylic, four wax mixtures.
C: 震泽 – 权衡博弈

It can be derived to infinity, duplicated, distributed, traded and gamed. The name Zhenze is preserved when referring to Taihu Lake. Today it’s hard to imagine what a grand view it was when nomads in the land of rivers traveled through it. Its glory is now overshadowed by its neighboring city, Shanghai, the economic center of the country. The third table resembles the shape of ancient Lake Zhenze. Its humanoid hands are covered with fish scales, which fall onto the ground and become banknotes. Jade is derived to chips and stacked pile by pile on its fingertips. 


It’s hard to tell whether it’s an alter, dungeon, ballroom, museum or casino. Water comes and goes and is beyond visibility. Water is derived to financial figures, which are added or subtracted in the spreadsheets of the central bank. Twelve sluices are erected around with food placed on top. We’re not sure if it’s tribute or chips…


12: Crimson Beans as Tears (red-bean smoothie)
Wooden Sluice: 100 x 30 x 84 cm
Twigs, phoenix coronet, scrub balls resembling red beans, acrylic, Koelreuteria bipinnata
12: 绛珠还泪(红豆·冰沙)
木质水闸:100 x 30 x 84 cm

Red beans are used as a base and frozen into a full-moon shaped ice ball. The red moon slowly melts into “bloody tears” (which is reminiscent of the story of Lin Daiyu, a principal character of classic 18th-century Chinese novel Dreams of the Red Chamber, paying back her “debt of tears”).It’s the first course to be served, but last to be savored. Nation and home become a debt people on this land are born with; and just like Lin Daiyu, the debt will need to be paid back with “bloody tears”.

In prior to the abolition of imperial examination system in late Qing Dynasty, the feudal empire was already on the verge of collapse. In the places for pleasure in Shanghai, the most frequently used stage name by courtesans was Lin Daiyu. But they were fully aware that tears could be created out of thin air. Likewise, debt could also be created out of thin air. Lin Daiyu didn’t owe Jia Baoyu anything, but Jia needed to pay off her debt in the hope to realize the romance between them. 



01: Red Dates Booster (red date liqueur)
Wooden Sluice: 100 x 30 x 84 cm
Crystal champagne glass, silicone sounding rod, acrylic, thick wine, red dates
01: 红枣解春(红枣·甜酒)
木质水闸:100 x 30 x 84 cm

A silicone-made sounding rod is subtly poked into the dates. With the redness of the dates spreading in the liqueur, the cocktail glass seems to be dyed red. 

There’s a hidden financial element embedded in Jin Ping Mei (The Plum in the Golden Vase), which is embodied through medicine. Medicine on the one hand strengthened Ximen Qing’s sexual power; and on the other, accelerated the course of his life. After taking it, his fortune increased further. Medicine allowed an overdraft on life of the future; and it could also accelerate the arrival of death. Red date plays a prominent role in Jin Ping Mei. The place where this story took place abounded in dates. Each time before and after Ximen Qing took the medicine, he would eat red dates. The red date was like a medium to enhance or relieve the effect of the medicine. In the novel, Ximen Qing once put some aphrodisiac into the hole on his penis (his urethra). This is probably the earliest writing about the act of sounding. “Red Date as Booster” refers to Ximen Qing’s usage of aphrodisiac (“financial leverage”), and the fact that phallus can also be poked into as it also has a hole. 



02: Period: Spot and Futures (assorted cold dishes)
Wooden Sluice: 100 x 30 x 84 cm
Famille-rose “bird and flower” bottle-shaped vase of Qing Dynasty (replica, broken), famille-rose “golden pheasant” vase with two handles of Qing Dynasty (replica, broken), official kiln enamel porcelain (replica, broken), dried tangerine peel (1 day – 7 days – 1 month- 3 months – 1 year – 5 years – 10 years – 30 years), chicken kidney (replica), shredded deer penis (replica), foie gras (replica), pig’s ear (replica), quail legs, cured beef, mackerel
02: 近月远月(冷菜·什碟)
木质水闸:100 x 30 x 84 cm
清雍正粉彩花鸟纹胆式瓶(仿)()、清乾隆粉彩锦鸡纹双耳瓶(仿)()、官窑珐琅彩瓷(仿)()(1-7-1-3-1– 5-10-30)陈皮、鸡腰(仿)、鹿鞭花(仿)、鹅肝(仿)、猪耳朵(仿)、鹌鹑腿子、牛干巴、马鲛鱼

(1 day – 7 days – 1 month – 3 months – 5 years – 10 years – 30 years) Dried tangerine peel is laid as a foundation of all the cold dishes. The cold dishes feature meat of rare birds and exotic animals in different flavors, including pickled, dry-cured, fermented, salted, marinated and braised flavors. The short-sighted time view of the financial world is synchronized with the time it takes for food to lock up freshness, dry-cure and ferment. It’s a kind of human time scale. 


03: Circle of Life and Death (smoked bullfrogs)
Wooden Sluice: 100 x 30 x 84 cm
Iron cauldron-type censer of Ming Dynasty, Xuande Period (replica), bullfrogs
03: 生生不息(烟燻·牛蛙)
木质水闸:100 x 30 x 84 cm

The powerful reproductive ability and the texture highly similar to that of human muscles especially after being air-dried make (bull)frogs an unfortunately fit substitute for food ingredients and human sacrifices. 

The brutality behind the circle of life probably lies in that living, human sacrifices were deployed by the emperor generation after generation. It points directly at the economics of death during the Shang dynasty: the higher the status of the human sacrifices, the greater the value they had as an offering. Human sacrifices were used as the direct currency to make deals with gods and ancestors for the “financial returns” – blessings from gods and ancestors. In this way, the economic circle of life (and killing life) took shape. Sacrifice is probably the earliest act of investment, and the way human sacrifices were treated has been partly inherited in culinary culture. 


生生不息背后的残酷本意可能是:活着的人牲一代一代供王用作人牲祭祀。它直指殷商时期的死亡经济学:人牲的地位越高,作为祭品的价值就越高。以人作为祭祀的直接货币,与神灵先祖献祭交易,获得先祖神权庇佑的“经济回报”,从而循环的一套 生生(杀杀)不息经济学。祭祀可能是最早的投资行为,而其对待人牲的方式也部分遗留进烹饪与饮食文化里。

04: Deeds of the Great Yu by the Dragon Shore (braised and crisp fried yellow eel)
Wooden Sluice: 100 x 30 x 84 cm
Brass censer holder, Buddha relic stupa, sliced rice eel (replica), crisp rice eel, avocado skin, hairtail eyeball
04: 龙滨禹迹(软兜·脆鳝)
木质水闸:100 x 30 x 84 cm

Dragon is a derivative of the centralization of power; and the derivative of dragon is snake, whose derivative in cuisine is eel. While cooking eels, different proportions of oil and water would lead to different degrees of their crispness: tender ones could be seen as rivers (circulation, transportation and irrigation) and crisp ones as navigation towers (water control, navigation marking and sensing). 

Great Yu controlling the waters marked a starting point of emperors placing an emphasis on river management and agricultural efficiency, transforming Eastern China from the state of swampland (where there were no clear distinctions between waters and lands) into a high-efficient economic region with a clear and densely-arranged network of waters and lands. 



05: Huangpu (River) Replacing Wusong (River) (shrimp roe, hairtail)
Wooden Sluice: 100 x 30 x 84 cm
Frosted cloud lampshade (D: 49.4cm, H: 12cm), hairtail (replica), hairtail bone, hairtail head, hairtail tail, hairtail eyeball, avocado kernel
05: 黄浦夺淞(虾籽·带鱼)
木质水闸:100 x 30 x 84 cm
磨砂云彩灯罩(直径49.4cm 高度12cm)、带鱼(仿)、带鱼骨、带鱼头、带鱼尾、带鱼眼珠、牛油果果核

During the Yongle reign of Ming Dynasty, Xia Yuanji, the Minister of Revenue, was in charge of controlling the flooding in Suzhou and Wusong areas. He took Ye Zongxing’s proposal to dredge the Huangpu River and diverted the river course towards the north. Eventually, Huangpu River took the place of Wusong River as the main stream of the Taihu Lake system into the sea. This laid the foundation for Shanghai’s emergence as the hub of cultural exchanges and trading between the inland and the sea/ocean, the East and the West. Waters located closer to land are seas; further, oceans. And the inland area fosters a variety of water forms including lakes, rivers, streams and rivulets. The ingredients of this course feature hairtails from the East China Sea and white shrimps from the Taihu Lake. High-temperature deep-frying is the best way to stimulate the fusion of their different flavors (Taihu Lake – Shanghai – East China Sea – The Pacific Ocean).


06: Umami Deriving from Fishiness and Gaminess (fish and lamb)
Wooden Sluice: 100 x 30 x 84 cm
Candlestick with “crane standing on the shells of dragon-headed turtle” pattern, lotus-shaped tin candlestick with a foot and stem of Liao Dynasty (replica), lamb chop (replica), tiger grouper (replica)
06: 腥膻之鲜(脍·炙·鱼羊)
木质水闸:100 x 30 x 84 cm

People in northern China consider lamb as the most delicious and never feel it gamy. People in the south, on the other hand, consider fish as the most delicious and never feel it fishy. This course manages to offset the gaminess and fishiness through the two flavors themselves. The combination of lamb and fish makes a perfect “hedge strategy”.

The course is reminiscent of a traditional Chinese pattern with crane standing on the shells of dragon-headed turtle – a symbol of auspiciousness and prosperity. The hedging combination deriving from both the north and south helps to prevent risks and keep the country strong and secure. 



07: Withered Bones of A Beauty (preserved potherb mustard with bamboo shoots)
Wooden Sluice: 100 x 30 x 84 cm
Lace gloves, underglaze red goblet with painted fish of Ming Dynasty (replica), Ru kiln celadon-glazed chrysanthemum dish of Song Dynasty (replica), green bamboo (replica), high-mountain bamboo, potherb mustard, bone marrow of Chinese black-bone chicken (replica)
07: 红颜枯骨(春不老·炒·鸡髓笋)
木质水闸:100 x 30 x 84 cm

Bone glue extracted from the bone marrow of Chinese black-bone chickens is dabbed on top of the fresh bamboo shoots stir-fried with preserved potherb mustard (also known as “Spring Never Grows Old”).After all, the mismatch between supply and demand requires us to “pluck Yin to nurture Yang”. Grandmother Jia in the novel Dreams of the Red Chamber still felt the need for more blessings despite all the blessings she’d already been endowed with. So did the seedless watermelons who chased young ponies.


08: Emerald-Decorated Feathery Cloth (snake-gourd with Sea Grapes)
Wooden Sluice: 100 x 30 x 84 cm
Wrinkled dish, celadon-glazed Dehua white porcelain Buddha statue of Ming Dynasty (replica), cucumber, sea grape
08: 翡翠羽衣(薄衣铜钱王瓜·拌·海葡萄)
木质水闸:100 x 30 x 84 cm

Copper-coin shaped snakegourd and sea grapes are mixed in salad juice and wrapped around a buddha statue. Buddha not only possesses endless merits but is also an existence beyond the scale of time. To accumulate endless merits, people build statues of buddha with metal; excessive enthusiasm for giving offerings to Buddha tends to lead to monetary tightening, which in turn causes the melting down of buddha statues to gather more metal to coin money. Throughout the long histories of casting and melting down buddha statues, buddha is always somewhere waiting for wealthy followers to offer credit.


09: The Great Arhat (“Buddha’s Temptation” soup – vegan, dry version)
Wooden Sluice: 100 x 30 x 84 cm
Cizhou kiln green-glazed vase of twining branches & flowers and two dragons of Song Dynasty (replica), carambola (replica), grape stems, Tofu balls, Cenchrus alopecuroides
09: 罗汉大宗(干制·素·佛跳墙)
木质水闸:100 x 30 x 84 cm

Chinese vegetarian cuisine takes pride in presenting the flavors of meat or the forms of meat dishes with vegetarian recipes. This course features a cluster of grapes protruding from a treasure bottle. At first sight, it seems the branch is laden with meat balls. But if you take a closer look, you’d realize they are meat-free. The side dishes of carambola and grapes collectively create an elegant imagery. By practicing vegetarianism and repetitively chanting the name of Amitabha, we believe our hearts would stay as virtuous and pure as the crystal ice in the jade jug. 


10: Prefabricated Flavors (prefabricated flavorings and meat paste)
Wooden Sluice: 100 x 30 x 84 cm
Dish with stone pattern, Ru kiln celadon-glazed cracked Qingliang Temple pagoda (replica), prefabricated flavorings, prefabricated meat paste
10: 预制衍香(预制·香精·肉膏)
木质水闸:100 x 30 x 84 cm

To extract aromas from different food by pairing different ingredients with different durations and degrees of heating is supposedly a must-have skill of a virtuoso chef. Nowadays with the developments of prefabricated food and food chemistry, this skill seems to have evolved into a cost-effective management strategy featuring chemical synthesis and food tricks. This is a straightforward presentation of the aromatic ingredients used to transform flavors of food. A sniff is more than enough. Never take a deep smell.


11: Jade as Insurance for Afterlife (jade, sculpted potatoes)
Wooden Sluice: 100 x 30 x 84 cm
Blue-and-white glazed goblet with red phoenix of Ming Dynasty (replica), celadon jade figure of a cicada of Han Dynasty (replica), potato
11: 石玉无望(琀玉·土豆饼子)
木质水闸:100 x 30 x 84 cm

Mined from stone, jade is considered an epitome of high moral character. In ancient times, a cicada-shaped jade would be placed in the mouth the deceased in the hope that s/he would embrace a new life in afterlife as cicada shedding carapace was believed to be a token of its regeneration capacity. A cicada-shaped jade carved out of potato is placed in juxtaposition with a piece of real jade. Eat it up, leave the homeland behind and never look back.