“We were all born from the earth, and earth has always been very important in traditional Chinese culture and philosophy.”

Born 1983, Shaba, Qinghai (Amdo, Tibet)

In previous performances, Liu Chengrui ran into a wall 116 times, noting the moment of each collision, cut off his little finger and wore the bone on a necklace, and tramped barefoot around a city, oblivious of dust and mud. In Guazi Moves Earth (2008) (guazi in his local dialect means “fool”), he transfers dirt one mouthful at a time from a large pile to an area 50 metres away, propelling himself across a concrete slab on filthy belly and bandaged forearms. After coughing up each tiny heap, he records, as carefully as any besuited bureaucrat, the precise moment of its deposit. The video shows less than 8 minutes of a performance that lasted from 9 to 5, with a two-hour break for lunch. Art, like office work, is inclined to be insular, Liu Chengrui believes, shutting out unpleasantness and disorder. Bringing dirt, time and pain into his performances is his way “to shock viewers and bring them back to reality”. For him it is also a route to “a temporary feeling of absolute freedom”.

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