“In my work I am constantly thinking through the question, What are the things that are truly important?”

Born 1976, Sanming, Fujian. Lives and works in Beijing

Gao Xiaowu has never had a nine-to-five job—and he’s proud of it. He has been lucky enough to earn a living by following his dreams. But recognising his own good fortune makes him all the more sympathetic to those less blessed: the millions who yearn for a bigger life and a loftier status but cannot get off the ground. His Dream City sculptures (2007) present one view of such people: balloon-shaped men and women with tiny wings, arms and legs spread as if for take-off, but clearly doomed to remain earth-bound. The effect is both poignant and inspiring: these figures cannot fly, but will not stop dreaming of flight. Standard Times (2004) is another take on the tussle between ambition and the force of gravity: figures in servants’ garb, grinning obsequiously and bowing so deeply they risk toppling over. The artist writes: “I am looking for a world without reality … let’s go to a world without reality.” In the meantime, his work celebrates those who will never escape reality, yet never abandon hope.

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