“I want to challenge the extremes in both work and life.”

Born 1969, Anxi, Fujian. Lives and works in Beijing

Chen Wenling says he was a playful child, “always monkeying around”. His parents were so poor that he had to make his own toys—of which his sculptures are, in a sense, grown-up versions. He shot to artistic fame with his Red Memory series (2001-07): more than 100 outsized figures of naked boys at play, all covered in shiny red car duco. While the red boys (a Chinese term for baby sons) were bursting with innocent fun, Chen Wenling’s focus has since shifted to adults and their vices. Many of his more recent works involve pigs, which he finds a perfect metaphor for contemporary people. In Chinese tradition, he says, pigs are seen as “gluttonous, lazy, dirty, horny and stupid as well as content and happy, while science has shown that pigs are very clever. To me the pig also symbolises speed … and great productivity.” Chen Wenling depicts pigs as human and humans as pigs, so interdependent they are hard to tell apart. In Happy Life—Family (2005), a mother stands on a pig’s back holding her baby (or is it her husband?); in Valiant Struggle 11 (2006), a couple in underwear cling desperately to a giant golden sow of success. It doesn’t look as if they will be hanging there for long.

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