Spring Festival 2020 is a time that all Chinese people, myself included, will never forget.
I had decided to give up on this show one month ago. Right now, my hometown of Wuhan is subject to an unprecedented city-wide quarantine of tens of millions of people because of the sudden outbreak of a new coronavirus. Because the health authorities were slow to manage the outbreak in its early stages, the virus has spread rapidly. As of February 2, 2020, the official data shows that infections have been confirmed in more than 10,000 people and more than 300 people have died. Many of them died due to a lack of prompt treatment. Some were not even given a funeral—their bodies were sent directly from the hospital to the crematorium. This is happening in 2020 in China, my homeland. As a resident of this city, I feel very sad and angry, but there is nothing we can do, because this is a war against an invisible enemy. The outbreak of the virus has caused a moral crisis for Chinese people, and presented a severe challenge to public safety, the government’s ability to manage emergency situations, and the international image of China. The Chinese government has currently launched a Level One Emergency Response. Personally, I’m in quarantine and have had fluctuations in my physical condition because I have had close contact with people who have been diagnosed. This experience made me feel that discussing art in the face of disaster is unimportant.
When the first case of the new coronavirus was diagnosed in Wuhan on December 8, 2019, I was confident that this wouldn’t have anything to do with me. On January 22, I received a message from my good friend, who told me that his colleague in Yinchuan had been diagnosed with the new coronavirus. He and I were momentarily nervous because he had had close contact with his colleague, then he and I had had close contact with one another. On January 20, an official media report announced that the coronavirus could be transmitted between people. I knew I was in danger. This year in particular, my family had come from Shandong to celebrate the New Year with me. The youngest, my nephew, is only three months old. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I had infected my relatives.
On December 24, my friend sent word that the son of another of his colleagues had also been confirmed infected. Since then, two other colleagues of my friend were confirmed infected on January 28 and 31, respectively. The number of infected people is soaring, and the death toll is rising. My God, I’m really scared that death could be so close around me. I withdrew from everything, and even forgot about my solo exhibition in New York, but Lingyuan kept encouraging me, telling me not to forget my significance and value in society and to believe in myself. I woke up and began to record everything about the epidemic for this exhibition, because everything needs to be remembered. This is a very real coincidence for my solo show, and I'm praying that God will keep me and everyone else safe.
Since 2017, I have created performance works every year during Spring Festival, which bring together my body and the Chinese traditional zodiac in pictures and videos. I would like to keep track of the changes in my body year after year, but I also want to observe and record every moment of Chinese society and identify problems. The twelve Chinese zodiac signs are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, pig, and dragon. They originated in the Qin and Han dynasties. In Chinese culture, everything is connected, including the fates of people. 2017 was the Year of the Rooster, 2018 was the Year of the Dog, 2019 was the Year of the Pig, and 2020 is the Year of the Rat—I plan to do these performances for 12 years.
Over the last few years, I have brought South Korean grass to North Korea to feed sheep, I was robbed in Bogota, Columbia, I have walked through a primeval European forest, and I have shaken hands with Mexican drug dealers. I have created art projects that seem crazy to everyone around me, but I have never been more afraid than I am now in this sealed city—my hometown. You don’t know where the risk could come from, and you don’t know when the people around you, or you yourself, are going to be diagnosed with the virus. Once someone is diagnosed with a severe infection, you worry that there won’t be enough medical equipment, wards, and doctors to treat you. So many people are infected, and even though the government and the Chinese people are putting in their best efforts, the number of infections is far beyond the diagnostic capacity of the government and the hospitals.
I had no way of understanding the mindsets of people who have faced wars and disasters throughout human history. I could not relate to this in the past, but I will now personally experience it in 2020!
On the evening of February 2, 2020, I was still not sure whether I was infected or not, although my physical condition had fluctuated. I had had bouts of vomiting, fever, nausea, and chest pain from time to time. Many friends who have been diagnosed with the virus have told me that, because I am only 40 years old and had been in decent health, I had to keep a positive state of mind and will, which would enhance my immunity and combat the virus.
Now, I’m fighting the invisible virus with my body. I have been isolated in a separate room for seven days. I pray that God will bless all those who are at risk of contracting the virus!
February 2, 2020, 17:37