“As China gradually merges with the rest of the world, it will become more difficult to tell which works are by Chinese artists.”
Born 1976, Beijing
Dai Hua works as a web designer, but he also uses computers for fun. The low-resolution “cross-stitch” forms of his pixel art look crude compared to the sleek computer graphics of today, but creating them takes enormous patience and technical skill. Assembling, copying and combining pixels into ever-larger units, Dai Hua builds fantastically crowded panoramas like I Love Beijing’s Tiananmen (2006), a cavalcade of Chinese history that zooms in on the chaotic collision between tradition and Western influence. The title refers to a Communist song all Chinese children learned at school, and to an early video game whose soundtrack endlessly repeated the song’s first two lines. The 6.3-metre scroll teems with figures, from Confucius to Mao, terrorists, Transformer toys, and the man with grocery bags who stopped the tanks in 1989. Along similar lines, Birth and Destruction (2008) is a witty take on capitalism and its follies, Map of China 1911–2010 (2010) records the century of tumult since the 1911 nationalist revolution, and Wowzah! (2008) is an idiosyncratic ode to rock and roll.
Dai Hua has a deep fondness for the legend Journey to the West, especially the character Monkey King (Sun Wukong), who appears in his works under many guises. Monkeys and Peaches (2008) is based on a celebrated science experiment in which monkeys that were punished for touching bananas taught other monkeys not to touch the fruit. It reminded the artist of an episode in Journey when Monkey King eats the sacred Peaches of Immortality and becomes indestructible; in Dai Hua’s view, peaches are a better metaphor than bananas for “what people desire”. In Tiger Skin, Brain and Kiss (all 2012), the monkey serves as stand-in for a rampaging human id. And in the GIF animation Monkey King (2016), Sun Wukong’s magical powers inspire a humorous commentary on evolution, art, sex and tyranny.