I’m miserable like everyone. My life is kind of confused and I am always working. I don’t know what to do; what is art? What is life? I try to use art to tulipi myself and just use the lip. At that time, I was in New York and I am a pin maker. I have a lot of leftover paper from when you make a pin. So, I use that to recycle paper for drawing.
I draw every day, but mainly it’s the idea of yin and yang, of forms meeting together. It starts like a life form, to a biba and then they transform to become nature, become a cow, wind, raining, mountain, flower, animal and become a waterfall or mountain. It becomes the universe again, something abstract.
It’s kind of trying to spend time with that moment and thinking about where we come from by drawing and using material. I use water, charcoal and I make holes, sometimes I use fire to burn the paper. I try to use the four elements of the human being. That’s from Chinese philosophy. They believe that our bodies combine water, earth, fire and wind.
I use that material to create the drawings and start to see where we come from, from the universe, from really a big bar, really small you and developing. Mainly is more about developing myself and questioning the value of being here as a human being; where we come from and where we go.
I spent almost 2 years and create more than 1,000 pieces. When I have an exhibition, I am always thinking about the creation; what is the meaning of creation or the meaning of art, the value of the product or the art object?
It reminds me of when I was young. I lost my mom. I’m from a Chinese family. My mum was in an accident and lost her leg, so my father asked me to make a paper sculpture of her leg and burn it. In Chinese philosophy, in the Chinese idea about when you are dead, in the next life when you transform to spirit, if you have an incomplete body, you may not have a complete body if you live on. They asked me to do it.
That is a Chinese tradition. They build a car, a house, money, all from paper, and then burn it for the spirit, to use this money after death. This reminded me in my life, in my idea about if it is true, this kind of thing and this kind of value, what is the real value about living here and being a good person or burning some good material for your next life you know. That’s why I wanted to burn all my drawings in this project for the people who were creating before me.
So, it’s questioning the value of being the artist or creation. You are burning for people who died before you, who are developing a lot of knowledge and many creations. So, I wanted to donate this artwork and I burned it for them.
I calculated the time for two weeks, eight hours a day and it came out to one thousand pieces. So, every eight minutes, I burn one piece. When people visited to see the show, on the first day, they will see that the whole room has many drawings. But closer to the end, they will see I’m burning a drawing every eight minutes.
Then they are shocked and start asking: What are you doing and why are you doing it?
So instead, it has become a conversation about life and art and value. For me, that is a process of learning, when you are showing them also. In the same way, it’s physical; they can be in your work. Your drawing transforms to be the air and smoke and then they can be in it. That’s questioning what the value of life and drawing of art is. What is the real value and what did they learn. Many people were surprised and shocked: “Why do you burn it?”.
Many people are saying: Such nice drawings. I’m not sure why you are burning them, but the work is nice. If someone had offered me to buy the whole thing, I would have said no, I don’t want. That’s testing yourself also: Do you really believe in this or not? After I did it, I was kind of successful, right?
I am happy with what I have done because at least it takes something out of my curiosity, you know, my doubt. Now I understand, what is the real value.
Many people talk about it; when people come to research about me or interview me. I think most people are surprised why I did that. They want to know why. They ask me Why did you burn it?. Last year, I had one interview on TV. They asked me about my work and then they asked about that story; why did I burn it. I tell them the same thing. Then they tell me: Maybe it’s better if you don’t burn it and then you can show it again. And I said:
If I don’t burn it, you’re not gonna come here to talk with me about this
Maybe people are curious about it because they expect art is more about the material or object. But when it transforms into an idea or energy, they’re not really sure what it is, I think. They are curious because that is the true value in themselves. But they’re not really sure.
Maybe this work represents the value in themselves, and then they can see something that is hopeless or useless or pure value, what they live for. Then they don’t know what to compare this work to. Maybe this provokes them to see their real value of them being, I think.
Some Biennale asked me to repeat the same thing. I said no, I don’t want. They asked me to create the drawings and show and burn it. I don’t do something that I learned already. Just for a show means nothing. I don’t have to do the same, but I can do another thing that’s more interesting and maybe not the same, but it’s different, but more fitting with my spare time now. That’s more valuable for me.
I don’t make art to show or repeat or to make pleasure for other people. For me, it’s more about the process of learning about my life and society or nature. So, even though already, well, I have to do it again, I have no reason, just for a big show, it doesn’t mean anything, or big money, I can do something else and get the same thing maybe, or better. For myself, that’s better.