‘Anything that is not allowed in a classroom, you can do it in a toilet.’

Born 1991, Xinye, Henan Province. Lives and works in Beijing

Zhao Yanbin studied under the influential teachers Lv Shengzhong and Wu Jianan in the Department of Experimental Art, Central Academy of Fine Arts. There, students are encouraged to combine ethnographic and contemporary art practices, researching Chinese folk art and craft traditions. Zhao incorporates his childhood memories of 1990s small town life in the rural county of Xinye in works that are at once humorous and beautiful, recalling the delicate intricacy of gongbi court painting. His graduation work  featured a huge, repressive-looking classroom filled with hundreds of students. The teacher makes the announcement ‘Tomorrow we have class as usual’, which fills the students with dread: there will be no play and no freedom. The work is set up as an installation, with school desks and chairs set up in front of the painting. He implies a critique of the rigidity and conformity of the Chinese education system, and its stifling of creativity. The public toilet, in contrast to the classroom, is a space of liberty, where people are free to be entirely themselves: ‘Anything that is not allowed in a classroom, you can do it in a toilet.’ Zhao thinks the public toilet is a miniature version of society. This too is based on childhood memories, as well as fieldwork research where he collected stories of events that took place in toilets, and people’s experiences in public toilets. Like many other characteristically Chinese places and objects, these public toilets are increasingly rare, almost obsolete in the big cities. There is a degree of nostalgia in these works, as well as a wicked and raunchy sense of humour.

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