Born 1963, Shanghai. Lives and works in Shanghai
Much of Shi Yong’s work turns on the theme of illusion: the human drive to escape from reality and the consequences of doing so. A Bunch of Happy Fantasies (2009) renders in neon lights a poem written by a friend under the influence of opium. Titled “A Rose Made from Water” and with lines like “Still we wait to pay uncertain tribute to the question that has ended,” the poem amounts, in the artist’s words, to “mumbling”. But when he first read it, “I was deeply, irrationally drawn to the words,” which seemed all the more poignant because his friend’s addiction had wrecked his life and sent him to prison. “I imagined the words upside down, their reflections rippling in the water,” Shi Yong recalls. He transforms the handwritten characters into neon signs that stand upright on a red floor. Their glowing curves and contrasting colours make them look like reflections in a shallow pool; their inversion makes their meaning indecipherable. “Smoking opium gives you delusions,” Shi Yong observes. “My friend was seeing things that don’t exist.” By turning the memory of a vision into an object that resembles an illusion, he explores the allure of “happy fantasies” and their ability to ensnare the soul.