Mo Yi is a highly respected and recognized photographic artist. His new installation series, to be shown at his solo exhibition at Contemporary by Angela Li, is a continuation of his photography works. The trend of singing “red” songs in China a few years ago triggered him to dig out materials left behind from the Cultural Revolution. The background images of the works are pixilated – they are merely coloured tiles when viewed close to the works. However, when you take a step back, even those who are not familiar with Chinese political history will be able to recognize the images immediately, for example, Deng Xiaoping sitting on a sofa; Mao swimming, waving to the crowds or inspecting the guards; Mao and Lin Biao together, Mao standing side by side as Hua Guofeng, his “dearest comrade-in-arms”; Luo Feng’s portrait and other propaganda images from the Cultural Revolution period. All the coloured squares are made with specially ordered ceramic tiles, imitating the once most commonly used material for political propaganda posters in rural China. On the tiles are small words from different extracts and quotes complementing each image, such as Mao’s famous saying “With you in charge, I am at ease” and the artist’s different versions of this sentence, the congratulatory message to Mao and the Party that all students had to chant before each class when the artist was in primary school, and words on the first page of the Little Red Book. In between the tiles are red threads that creep out, a bit like grass growing in between floor tiles but stained in blood red, symbolizing the vitality of lives that try to survive in hard situations. The works have a “pop” look and are aesthetically pleasing, yet the stories behind are much deeper, more complicated and thought-provoking.
Mo Yi has been a true artist throughout his life. He was very radical when he was young. As early as the 1990s, he started doing street performances in Tianjin where he used to live. After the Tiananmen Square massacre, he wore a costume to a protest and got pushed to the front, and was put in jail for a few days. In his early forties, he decided to have only water and a mandarin each day for 41 consecutive days - he ended up damaging his digestive systems and has still not fully recovered to this day.
Mo Yi was born in Tibet in 1958. His works had been included in important exhibitions such as the Guangzhou International Photography Biennial, the Guangzhou Contemporary Art Triennial and the Daegu Photo Biennale, and in the collections of the Guangdong Art Museum, Guangzhou, China; the Sifang Art Museum, Nanjing, China; Houston Museum, USA; and the Chinese Image and Video Archive, Canada. He received the Gold Prize at the Pingyao International Photography Festival in 2008 and the Silver Prize at the Lianzhou International Photography Festival in 2006. He currently lives and works in Beijing.