The artist has searched entire Beijing to collect used books and magazines, including literature, poetry, law dictionaries, textbooks and college preparatory materials. He put them onto stacks of bookshelves, and let the books be covered with dusts through a year-time.
In this work, the artist dresses up as “an old academic,” who might have read all the books on the shelf, but is still frown as if he is stuck with words. The paper trash scattered around witness his diligent efforts in vain. Using photography as a medium, this work combines the performance and theatrical staging, constructing a satirical “presence” of a typical Chinese study in the transitional period of contemporary China. It visualizes an education comedy that has been criticized by several generations.
One question is why uses staged photography? The danger of staging is that it removes the responsibility of photos as objective visual documents of fleeting moments of reality, which are fundamentally out of control. Staged photography constructs a conceptual idea. However, when photographs lose their original function as objective recordings of reality, they undertake a new function, to deliver feelings. We feel love, anger, or nostalgic when starring at these photos. Therefore, photographs have gained new values as expressions of emotions, as what Roland Barth has described as the true value of photography. The true value of this work lies in its deliberate staging of a fictional world confronted with reality, and when we gaze at the photo, we recall Kafka’s smiles and responses: “We photograph things in order to drive them out of our minds. My stories are a way of shutting my eyes.” As we close our eyes, the issue of studies and education suddenly become lucid in our minds.