“Mud is the building block of our world … a repository of human memory.”

b. 1974, Beijing. Lives and works in Beijing

Digging things out of river-bank mud as a child, Ouyang Chun used to feel that he was uncovering “the world’s memories”. When alien archaeologists dig through the remains of our civilisation, he wonders, what will they find? Something not unlike the “detritus” that makes up Volcanic Ash (2014). Hand-pressed from mud, then moulded in fibreglass and cast in bronze, his 960 items are deliberately crude, with the same childlike quality as Ouyang Chun’s paintings. They seem as disconnected as the curiosities he still enjoys picking up from roadsides and rubbish dumps; what links them—apart from their grubby colour and diminutive size—is that they are all “related to people”, he says. Like their owners, these once-valued possessions “came from mud or dirt, and they will return to it in the end”.

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