Crazy Chinese Artists and Their Sick Art

When art geeks talk about Chinese contemporary art, the first name that comes to mind is Ai Weiwei. The course of his artistic path has been fraught with difficult complexities: he’s been imprisoned, his studio was demolished and for several years he wasn’t able to leave China, not even to attend his own exhibition openings. However, he is not the only artist to be affected by the harsh reality and absurd laws of China, which also affect billions of people. Get to know the crazy, radical peers of Ai Weiwei who are living and working in China and fearlessly disseminating their disruptive messages through art!

Birdhead. The Light of Eternity No. 3.

1. Birdhead
The work of Shanghai-based photo duo Birdhead (Ji Weiyu, a former Central St Martin’s student, and Song Tao) is rooted in the rapidly changing urban scenery of their hometown. They compulsively capture their friends, strangers, buildings, themselves; building a rich social document of life from their perspectives in contemporary China. Their work embodies the impulse of a young generation of Chinese artists who want to be part of the bigger picture. When you come from China, radicalism is simply wanting to behave like outsiders.

Wang Qingsong. Thinker and Requesting Buddha No. 1

2. Wang Qingsong
Wang Qingsong used to be a painter, but since the ‘90s he focused on photography. His works take on the apocryphal nature of Chinese post-Mao consumerism. Like Weiwei, there is a feeling of an artistic responsibility in Qingsong’s output to question the political and cultural status quo. There’s humour in his work, but it’s perforated with the feeling that laughter is a coping mechanism, a way to be able to look at the senselessness of a system in thrall of products where the individual struggles to keep up.


Liu Ding. Traes of Sperm.

3. Liu Ding
Liu Ding has dedicated his entire practice to questioning conventional approaches to art and life. He challenges the artist’s symbiotic relationship with history – an unreliable framework by which we measure and fix meaning and value, in both the commercial and intellectual space. Ding’s subversive practice includes the creation of rooms, immersive installations of paint, paper, photographs, mirrors, coat hangers, cups and carpet.


Zhang Huan. 12 Square Metres.

4. Zhang Huan
Within the current landscape of Chinese art, it’s impossible to ignore Zhang Huan, one of China’s monumental artists. His painting, sculpture, photography and performance always carry a provocative social commentary. Huan rose to fame in the 1990s with his durational performances inspired by monastic rituals, often extreme or masochistic acts involving his own body. In one of his most famous pieces, “12 Square Metres”, Huan revisits a childhood incident, growing up in an overcrowded village, by covering himself in a sticky fishy liquid to attract flies, and sitting on a toilet for an hour as thousands settled on his body.

Li Lihong. MickeyMTVMcDonald'sApple.

5. Li Lihong
Li Lihong hails from Dezhen Jin, the Jiangxi province where China’s royal porcelain is produced. In his village, Lihong studied traditional ceramics and he has experimented with the possibilities of Chinese ceramics. In the ‘80s, during Lihong’s formative years, global conglomerates such as McDonald's and Coca Cola arrived in China for the very first time. These two major influences in the artist’s environment – ancient tradition and the brash iconography of global consumer culture – are evident in Lihong’s visual language, and symbolic of the conflicts inherent in China’s ideology.

Chinese artists often use their own cultural surroundings to provide the dialogue that spearheads their disruptive critiques on society and the world. This is also the case of PHoA’s very own superstar artist, Shellie Zhang, who has taken mass-produced objects from Toronto’s Chinatown to illustrate how same-consumption links the world.



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