“Sometimes I feel as if I am in a strange space where I don’t recognise who I am or what I am doing. This awakens me to the fact of my existence, an existence whose only certainty is its end—which is unknown.”

b.1944, Zhangzhou, Fujian. Lives and works in New York City and Beijing

One of the oldest artists in the White Rabbit Collection, Augustin Tzen (Zeng Shiyou) is also one of the most westernised, having spent almost 40 years abroad, in Paris and then New York. He says his works—whether painting, sculpture, installation or “conceptual photography”—emerge from an “immense passion” that builds to “a manic feeling for something unreal”. The portraits in his series Existence Precedes Essence of the Theory (2010) are each made from multiple copies of a single black-and-white photograph, cut into thousands of tiny squares. Tzen happened on the technique when he was preparing to leave for Paris in 1973. “I had nine passport photos, and I was playing around with them; I cut them into pieces and glued the pieces together to make one picture.”

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