“When I was studying art, Chairman Mao said that art should help people. This is one side of the coin. The other side is that art has to represent society.”

b.1958, Shuining, Sichuan. Lives and works in Beijing

Wang Jianwei approaches art with the critical curiosity of a born intellectual. His highly conceptual works explore ideas from philosophy, physics and poststructuralism and freely mix sculpture, performance and film. That approach, he says, perfectly matches the “ambiguous, non-fixed and multilayered” world we live in. He is especially attracted to the barely noticed gaps in our reality, the blank spaces between our certainties. For Observe (2002), he got 200 students in sunglasses to stare fixedly at an invited audience: spectators mirrored by spectators. The Flying Bird Is Motionless (2006) includes a martial-arts video that ends with all the slain warriors rising from the dead, and three white sculptures depicting moments in a man’s decapitation. The title refers to the paradox noted by the Greek philosopher Zeno: that if a moving object occupies a definite location in space at each point in time, then it must always be at rest. Zeno, the artist says, “made us notice that there are errors and holes in this perfect and reliable world”—holes the creative mind is ever eager to fill.

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