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Interview: Sheng Qi on the past, present and future of China.
Most of it has never been shown before. I paint images, I select images that have meaning for me and a wider audience. They are public images that have been shown in many places — on websites or in newspapers. I'm just reconsidering them using my dripping technique. It expresses a kind of sadness or suppressed anger. It's about violence, bleeding, crying or sadness. It's about the past. The past is often very sad, even the good memories. When you think back, about your first love, you're sad. You had a good time but are still sad.
Do you expect anything substantial will happen on the June 4 anniversary?
I don't think anything will happen this June. The past has been washed out. That's why my painting uses the dripping, it's like a washing — it can be brain washing, or washing dirty clothes white. The washing can make things clean or it can make them even dirtier. It depends what you use to do the washing — water or polluted water (laughs). For example, no Chinese are interested in my work, it's mostly Europeans. I think they're more concerned with history, it surrounds you everywhere in Europe. You know who lived somewhere before, you feel part of a continuum. In China, I don't really know where we are, there's no connection. Beijing is like a fake city. Ping An Avenue (the section of roads that runs through the center of Beijing) is like a stage, it feels fake.
Is China's emphasis on looking forward rather than back sustainable?
All the media in China is about advertising. If you want to be a real man, you have to drive this car. If you're a pretty woman, you have to use have to buy this or that product. These messages will make you think of yourself as foolish or powerless if you can't access this lifestyle. Most people still want to chase a better life — buy the car, buy the gold car, buy a house, buy a bigger house. It's never-ending. The education Chinese people receive through the media pushes them in that direction. It does not offer or suggest that there is another way to live.
Last year a number of academics and intellectuals put their names to Charter 08 (a document calling for greater freedom of expression and a move towards a more democratic political process). Did you ever think about signing?