No to Being Good

Since 2004,after returning to China from France where I studied photography, I have been thinking of and creating my own independent works. In the last eight years, I have held nine solo exhibitions. After having seen some of my earlier pieces, such as Terra Cotta Migrant Laborers of People’s Republic, To Keep on Living, The Second Sex, Rain, Faraway Place, To Live, and Home, people would have associated me with actively trying to help the disadvantaged. But after my emotions became calm, I gradually came to see myself clearly — Of all that I have done, nothing has been simply for the sake of being good.

At first when we see the so-called disadvantaged, we are used to having compassion for the them. In the beginning, this is how I thought when I initiated a 3-year project called Supporting the Poor through Art. But practice is really the best teacher; three years later when I gave up the project, I realized that what I reached was not the bank that I intended to. Instead what I gained was much more than what I had hoped. I understood two points:

1. Never think we can help others condescendingly, the ones who look as if they need compassion may be stronger than us in their hearts.

2. The ones who are really weak cannot be supported by us. Superficial charity can only make these people reliant on charity; the giving of charity is in actuality a type of prejudice against those who receive it.

If I no longer believed that I can give charity, why did my artworks continue to be about migrant laborers, orphans, and the women in area poor? I think the real reason is that the grass that grows in the cracks between stones has always moved me more than the precious peony that grows in a luxurious garden.

Recently I started an art project about people who have AIDS(PLHIV). In a letter to a patient who has suffered with AIDS for 18 years, I wrote, “I know there must be times when we are on the cliff of our life. You are now at that time, or have transcended the darkness of that cliff, and one day sooner or later, I will stand on a similar cliff for some reason too. I wonder what humanity is really like, whether our spirit really has the ability to transcend the suffering of reality. “Facing the sea, flowers bloom in a warm spring” or is this only a kind of myth? If I see and believe, I will not be afraid of the unknown day when I reach that cliff. I believe that fate has brought you this crisis and will also you bring you inspiration. So I hope to understand your experiences and show them to the world using art.

For many people, contemporary art is a game for the rich, but for me it is altar – an altar to save oneself. No matter how many resources we have, no matter how much we think we have given to charity, the only person we can save is ourself.