b. 1980, Handan, Henan

Wang Lei explores power’s manifold meanings and shifting locations using paper—a Chinese invention—which he slices into narrow strips, dampens, and twists into yarn. His Armour of Triumph (2013) is a copy of the armour of Qing dynasty emperor Kangxi, knitted from newspapers. It symbolises the power of the ruler, which was believed to pass into every object he touched. Not only is it now soft and colourless, but its underskirt is unravelling. Along its trailing strands the artist has tied pictures cut from the papers, evoking the ancient practice of using knots in long ropes to record major events. Once, having a person’s picture was thought to give one control over them; attaching pictures of hoi polloi to the emperor’s armour suggests that his power is passing to the masses. For Everything from Nothing (2013), Wang Lei went through a year’s editions of the Oriental Daily, cutting out all the faces and attaching them to a long scroll. He placed the datelines in a transparent box and knitted the remnants into sacks. These contain “nothing”, he says, but viewers are free to fill them in imagination. One of Wang Lei’s most frequent paper sources is a two-volume Chinese-English dictionary (“sea of words” in Chinese), which for him represents the power of language and the world’s two most powerful languages. In Fabrication 3 (2009), he knitted its pages into dragon robes, worn exclusively by the Qing dynasty emperors and their courts. In A Ribbon of Dictionary (2012), he transformed them into a 20-metre-long roll similar to the hand scrolls on which texts and paintings were inscribed. It is as if power has escaped elite control but lost its meaning at the same time.

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