“It does not matter what you do, you will never be able to escape from the experiences you’ve passed through.”

b.1968, Luoyang, Henan Lives and works in Beijing

A self-taught photographer, Bai Yiluo was converted to contemporary art while working as an assistant to Ai Weiwei.  Many of his works put old, discarded things to surprising uses, exploring in the process the many meanings of value. Spring and Autumn 1 (2007) is a tree made of farm tools. The artist says he wanted to give life to the rusting rakes, hoes and pitchforks, and reflect on the ways in which human civilisation both shapes the natural world and is shaped by it. Recycling (2008) plays with the idea of love and its value with a garbage collector’s tricycle cart bearing a giant anatomical model of a heart. How often, the artist asks, do we devalue our feelings, give away our love too cheaply, or reject the love that others offer us? Utopia 1 (2011) is a mandala two metres in diameter and covered in intricate concentric patterns that evoke African textiles. To create it, the artist devised a flexible stencil-ruler that allowed him to hand-paint tiny circles, diamonds and Vs with the precise uniformity of a machine. Flanked by old coat stands, the mandala represents the entry of Chinese traders and manufactured goods into the alien culture of Africa. For Illumination (2011), Bai Yiluo spent four years collecting dozens of obsolete oil lamps from all over China. Even if every rusty, soot-caked lamp were filled and lit, they would together produce less illumination than the gallery lights that illuminate them. Electric bulbs have made oil lamps worthless. But what spiritual light might China have discarded along with this and other “old junk”?

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