Living here I always find inspiration. Everything inspires. Sometimes it’s this, sometimes that. People say there’s no freedom in China. Maybe you can feel restricted but you can get away with this and maybe that because the rules aren’t set in stone. Perhaps that’s why many artists actually feel freer working in China.
After graduating I had an exhibition of abstract paintings. There wasn’t a market for abstract art, people just weren’t interested. I stopped painting abstracts in 1993 and I started working on installations, like Wall. I blocked up the door of an art gallery with bricks. There was a law back then banning installations and performance art from galleries. Galleries were being shut down all the time. The police would sweep in and force them to close. So, one night we blocked the gallery entrance with bricks. Of course the next day they tore down the wall. Their act of tearing down the wall is what I was really interested in. I mean, ironically the police actually helped to complete my work.
In schools they only taught us to paint colossal portraits so we’d go all out and draw portraits of Mao Zedong. The schools were really strict in the styles of paintings they’d teach. They thought abstract painting represented capitalism which was absolutely forbidden in China. We had paper and ink in the classroom so I made this piece of work but back then nudes had nothing to do with art, but had everything to do with criminal offence. I’d be arrested as a pervert if that work was found so I stashed it in a box for years. It was this feeling of depression that made me so thirsty for release.
I went to America to feel new things but I didn’t feel I needed them to teach me to be an artist. I performed it in SoHo, New York. I walked around acting like nothing was happening because I’m free but it was interesting that in America you had all the freedom you could want but nothing you did could provoke as much attention as in China. Here you might always worry that the police will come and get you but in America no one even noticed what you were doing. Then you just felt more depressed. You could walk around stark naked. “Wow, that’s great, just don’t steal anything!”
Right now it’s easy to get famous in China by making political art but I think this kind of success is impermanent. Your love for art should never be affected by politics. This is the most important.