“I want to show that we shouldn’t make judgements on the basis of appearances.”
Born Siping City, Jilin, 1984
Young as he is, Yao Peng has long been intrigued by the interplay between art and propaganda. In What (2011), he quietly mocks the Chinese Communist Party’s use of postage stamps as propaganda tools. His own set of “postage stamp” paintings is a tiny cavalcade of Chinese history from his own perspective, from ancient emperors and classical erotica to communist propaganda posters and contemporary news photos. The aim, he says, is to shake easy assumptions by presenting “another storyline, parallel to the official history”. To him, truth is a highly subjective concept, unstable and therefore easy to manipulate. In Five Masterpieces (2011) he excises every word from a copy of Five Essays on Philosophy, by Mao Zedong, then glues the pulped shreds of text into a small, hard cube. “Some books can influence people’s thoughts for generations,” he explains. “What these books say eventually becomes the truth people worship.” With the words of that dubious “truth” excised, the books become “meaningless piles of paper”. In another twist on that idea, in Someday (2011) he cuts out most of the words and pictures from a newspaper published on his birthday and piles the pieces in a fragile heap. How, he suggests, do the incidents of an ordinary life compare to the major events that make the daily news?