Sichuan sculptor, installation and new media artist Li Yongzheng's artworks are the most heart-wrenching in Bad Exhibition: Value in Art. Although they appear unassuming, perhaps almost escaping notice altogether, the backstory on A Brick from the Gate of Utopia (A Brick of Wukan), Online interactive performance & mail artwork (2014); as well as Death Has Been My Dream for Many Years, Performance & Installation Artwork (2015) have made people who have taken tours of our exhibition (these tours give detailed explanations of artworks) stop to catch their breath, and in one case, nearly start to weep.
A Brick from the Gate of Utopia (A Brick of Wukan) was created to keep within the memory of China's national psyche a very calamitous event that has since been darked-out on Chinese social and print media.
“Wukan in Guangdong province was a sleepy fishing village of 13,000 people, little known until 2011 when villagers took to the streets in a stand against government corruption. The protests led local authorities to grant Wukan democratic elections, a groundbreaking event in China that made global headlines. Lin Zuluan, the protest leader at the time, would become the elected village chief, both a traditional and semi-official position. However, the process left a long list of corrupt political casualties. It seems now, five years later, retribution for these long standing grievances is coming back for Lin.”
The artist had a brick made from Wukan soil. He then created an online forum which drew thousands of participants to sign up to be a part of this online media experiment. Forum members could request the brick be sent to them. They could then exist with the brick, and even act upon the brick, in whichever way they chose. Some chose to break it, others fixed it; still some others placed it in meaningful situations. The only requirement was to document one's co-existence with the brick, post this documentation online in the forum, and then send the brick to the next participant. This was how the artist chose to keep the Wukan protests alive as a physical meme which traveled through thousands of pairs of hands, meaning many different things to various participants.
A brick-sized book of this forum's postings, documenting the journey of Wukan brick, is placed presently on a nearly invisible steel plate on one wall of Art City Gallery in Ventura, CA, with full explanations of this artwork posted both above and below the exhibited artwork.
Whereas most of the gravitas and weight of this artwork resides immaterially in cyber space, Li Yongzheng's second artwork in Bad Exhibition: Value in Art--Death Has Been My Dream for Many Years--is much more substantive in a physical way, with multiple bricks made, this time, of Himalayan salt that the artist retrieved and had made in the Himalayas. He then drove the bricks from the Tibetan plateau down along the descending topography of China eastward all the way to Tanggu, about 60 miles from Tianjin along the northeastern seaboard of China. He then used the bricks to spell out the Chinese words "死亡，我多年的梦想” which translates into English as "Death Has Been My Dream for Many Years".
These words derive from another dramatic social incident in China, when three children living in the impoverished countryside finally gave up on living, having no elders to care for them. Their parents, aunts and uncles had all gone to the city to earn money building the cities that now anchor the world's second largest economy. After years of raising themselves, they decided life was meaningless and too difficult to endure. A suicide note reading "Death has been my dream for many years" was all they left behind, but this tragic incident caused an online uproar until authorities stamped out traces of this incident, as well.
Once Li Yongzheng had placed the salt bricks spelling out "死亡，我多年的梦想” along the shoreline, he filmed the duration of time it took for the lapping waves and creeping tide to take back the sea salt into itself, dispersed yet not forgotten. This video is on display to watch at Bad Exhibition: Value in Art at at Art City Gallery through June 23, 2018.
Adamantly engaged with social issues facing Chinese people today, the artist feels it's more important to give expression to vulnerable members of the population than to raise one's own voice against the government.
Li Yongzheng's most recent exhibitions include Hello at MOCA Chengdu in 2017, and Death, I’ve Dreamed of You Many Years at TEDA Contemporary Art Museum (Tianjin) in 2015. His recent selected group exhibitions include: Today’s Past at the 2017 Anren International Biennale; Stress Field at the Hubei Museum of Art’s Fourth Art Literature Exhibition in 2017; Supply and Depression at Nanjing International Art Thematic Exhibition in 2016; Rock Bottom at the Yinchuan Museum of Contemporary Art in 2015; New Field of View at the Taiyuan International Sculpture Biennale of the Taiyuan Museum of Art in 2015; Everyday’s Name, Blue Roof Art Festival Thematic Exhibition at Chengdu Blue Roof Gallery in 2014; Extend at Datong International Sculpture Biennale in Datong, Shanxi in 2013; Confronting Anitya – Oriental Experience in Contemporary Art at the 55th Venice Art Biennale 2013 in in Venice, Italy; and Voice of the Unseen at the 55th Venice Art Biennale 2013 in Venice, Italy.
Li Yongzheng, A Brick from the Gate of Utopia (A Brick of Wukan)
Li Yongzheng, A Brick from the Gate of Utopia (A Brick of Wukan), Online interactive performance & mail artwork, 2014, China.
Death Has Been My Dream for Many Years
Li Yongzheng, Death Has Been My Dream for Many Years, Performance & Installation Artwork, 2015, China