“We believe that what we know now is more important than what we do not know. We believe that our understanding (knowledge) of things, allows us to use things any way we choose, forgetting that we ourselves are also things…”
–Wu Shanzhuan about “Thing’s Right(s)”
Wu Shanzhuan (b. 1960) was born in Zhoushan and currently lives and works in Hamburg, Reykjavik and Shanghai. He graduated from the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Art in 1986 and Hochschulefürbildende Künste in 1995. In 1990 he started his “Red Humour International” series and has been working and exhibiting collaboratively with Inga Svala Thorsdottir (b. 1966) as Thor’s Daughter Pulverization Service and Red Humour International since 1991. As one of the major conceptual artists to emerge from the ’85 New Wave Art Movement in China, Wu’s work has played an integral role in redefining both the nature of language in art and the ontological connotations of art itself. His work questions the nature and meaning of art as a concept and as physical objects during a time when commercialism and commodification are drastically shaping the world. Supermarkets, logos, slogans, and everyday objectsoften make their way into his work. Primarily working as an installation artist, Wu, in the words of the critic Gao Minglu, is a “conceptualist with an attitude of anti-conceptualisation in art”.
Wu’s work was first brought to international attention by his “Red Humour Series” (1985) andhis 1986 installation 75% Red, 20% Black, 5% White. The installation reassessed the visual language of the Cultural Revolution by juxtaposing political slogans, big-character posters, his made-up ‘deficit’ characters (chizi), and random pieces of text to create an installation made up of words with virtually no meaning political or otherwise. The artwork, like the words used to create it, is incomprehensible and therefore reduced to its purelyphysical existence, rendering it a tabula rasa of endless possibilities. Although Wu’s earlier work primarily examined the meaning and meaninglessness of language and political slogans, his concerns later shifted toward the issues of semiotics and the nature of identity. For Wu, identity must be seen both in terms of personal identity as well as how we identify and think about objects separate from our preconceived, culturally constructed notions of them.