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Sculptor of surprises

PIONEERING conceptual sculptor Sui Jianguo once dressed Michelangelo's David in a traditional Chinese costume and is famous for his gigantic made-in-China dinosaurs and Mao Zedong suits.

He was selected as one of the 2011 Martell Artists of the Year, along with Chinese oil painter Li Songsong who retraces historical memory; Chinese photographer Hai Bo, who captures historical change; Dutch art, fashion and portrait photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin.

Sui, head of the sculpture department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, was recently in Shanghai for an exhibition at Shanghai Art Museum.

Sui, who was born in Qingdao, Shandong Province, in 1956, is known for his social critiques.

In the Shanghai show, he exhibits a huge iron box that contains, unseen to observers, a moving iron ball that clangs against the sides from time to time.

Q: Let's talk about this new work. What inspired you?

A: I want to shield the visual field of viewers. Our visual information is too strong and acute. Sometimes we trust too much in what we see, but this work focuses on hearing.

Q: In 2006, you made a small work using a real human skeleton. What was the meaning?

A: In that year I turned 50. I was suddenly aware that I had totally changed. The work conveys the power of personal memory.

Q: How did you change when you turned 50?

A: I found that there was not enough time for me. I even doubted whether what I had done before age 50 was meaningful. And I also felt that I was unable to do something that I thought I could.

Q: In the year 2006 Chinese contemporary art was hot. What was your feeling at the time?

A: True, it was a crazy time. Many artists vied with each other unrealistically. I kept asking myself when I was nobody, what supported me to move on in the past decade? So I decided not to sell my artworks from 2006 and referred a lot to my past sketches for some inspirations.

Q: You once worked in a factory. Does that influence your sculpture?

A: Yes. You can see how I love to use hard materials, such as iron and steel.

Q: Why did you dress Michelangelo's David in a traditional Chinese costume?

A: I wanted to present the difference between two cultures directly in front of the viewers.

Q: What do you expect to be doing at age 60?

A: If I am in good health, I expect to be working.

Q: Your works emphasize the relationship between the object and its space. Do you believe in feng shui?

A: I don't believe in feng shui, but I do believe a person intuitively knows whether he or she fits the environment.


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