“I hope the Great Wall Plan will encourage viewers to think about the history of the Great Wall and the stories it tells.”
Born 1983, Baoding City, Hebei
Ten tonnes of old bricks: that is what Wang Cheng used to make his Great Wall Plan (2011-2013). He found these dusty slabs in rural villages in Hebei province, but they originally came from the Great Wall of China. During the Cultural Revolution, the Communist Party urged the destruction of the “Four Olds”, including most of China’s architectural and artistic heritage. Impoverished villagers used chunks of the Great Wall, most of which was built more than 500 years ago, to build huts, outhouses and animal pens. After learning that most of the Wall has been wrecked, removed or fallen into ruin, Wang Cheng located a pigsty and a communal oven made of Great Wall bricks from the Ming Dynasty, and, with the help of local villagers, dismantled them and trucked them to Beijing. For him, these and similar structures represent both the decay of China’s past greatness and the immense weight of its history, which Chinese people have spent sixty years trying to erase or forget. Paired with Plan’s pigsty and oven is a Little Shrine (2013), a roadside shrine to the Dragon King rain gods that the artist bought from the families who tended it and moved intact to his studio. “The oven, the pigsty and the shrine represent human, animals and God,” the traditional pillars of Chinese life, he says. Although he did not alter the structures (except by adding photographs and video for context), he believes that focusing people’s attention on them transforms them into art. Though passers-by would not look twice at them in their village setting, these humble “little walls” of China are still in some sense part of the Great one.