The initial aim of the Social Harmony exhibition was to show how COVID-19 affected the lives of the Chinese people, how they stood together against it and managed to stop the disease. As the pandemic prevention measures in Suzhou changed over time, the show itself came to bear the marks of the pandemic and the evolving response to it – from the two-week delay of the opening to the quarantine the installed works went through with the rest of us as the spring semester began online due to a recent outbreak. The struggle against the virus continues and I feel evermore inspired by the will of the Chinese people to put social benefit above selfish desires and their willingness to face the common thread united. As a part of the international creative team of Shiheng Peking University New Century School I am proud to present to you the Social Harmony exhibition – a show consisting of three separate but interconnected parts – a series of paintings, a performance and an installation.
The common element uniting the three parts of the exhibition is a popular children’s toy – a suction ball. Besides the fact that it bears a stark visual resemblance to the virus it also reminds of COVID-19’s ability to stick to anyone and anything. The toy is both used as a pastime and as a tool in learning games, thus acutely representing two of the most important parts of a child’s life – studying and playing, which were greatly affected by the virus.
The six paintings depict six common activities – going to the movies, playing at the mall, eating out with friends, playing football, having fun at the waterpark, and studying in the classroom. All of these activities have been strongly affected by the spread of COVID-19 to the point where these normal scenes periodically are being erased from the children’s lives. In the exhibition this idea is represented by white paint, applied by a thrown sticky-ball, that erases in unpredictable and violent ways whole sections of the printed stock images.
The second part of the exhibition tells the story of the response of the Chinese people. Twelve children, dressed as different professionals (policeman, firefighter, nurse etc.) and wearing surgical face masks inscribed with the Core Socialist values, recite sentences that show the commitment and determination of the Chinese people to fight against COVID-19. Each student is holding a glass lantern containing a white suction ball. The symbolic charge of the white color that appeared as a force of erasure in the first part of the exhibition is now turned against the virus itself – stripping it from its power and transforming it into a marble-like museum piece to be displayed after the performance.
The final part of the exhibition consists of eight red nets suspended from the ceiling of the gallery space. The installation reinforces the message made explicit with the performance – the white suction balls represent COVID-19, while the red thread of the nets stands for the enduring social ties, strengthened by the common moral virtues shared by the Chinese people, which form an impenetrable net of solidarity and cooperation containing and disarming the virus.
The preparation of the show put the children at the center of every stage of the work. Students from grades one and two took part in the performance. Third and fourth graders threw the paint-covered balls to create the paintings, while students from grade six spray painted over three hundred balls needed for the installation.
списание „Нова социална поезия“, бр. 34 (извънреден), април, 2022, ISSN 2603-543X