“There is a boundary between life and art, but the boundary is not very clear or rigid.”

Born Dalian, Liaoning, 1982

Lu Zhengyuan says he loves colour, but in his group of Mental Patients (2006), the only colour is the red flower in an old woman’s hair. Everything else—the seven patients, the bed, the hospital cabinet—is grey. “If you dilute any colour enough, you get grey. And if you mix all the colours together, you get greys,” the artist says. He recalls reading somewhere that “Grey is not associated with a flower. As a mental state it is indecisive. As an emotion, it calls for pharmaceuticals.” He made the sculptures from memory after spending two weeks in a mental hospital, taking care of a friend who had had a nervous breakdown. The World Health Organisation estimated in 2009 that about 1.8 million Chinese have a mental illness; the Chinese government has admitted that Beijing alone has 150,000 mentally ill residents and just 7000 psychiatric beds. Chinese citizens’ frantic race to improve their economic health has no meaning for Lu Zhengyuan’s subjects. While their country changes around them at breakneck speed, in the half-light of the hospital nothing changes at all. Living in perpetual limbo, these people could be citizens of any country—or of none.

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