I created this Chinese chair scroll when I lived in Shanghai, China. This was a tribute to Liu Xiaobo being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. Liu Xiaobo was a writer, professor, human rights activist, and co-author of Charter ’08, a manifesto calling for political reforms in China. Liu was serving an 11 year prison sentence for “inciting subversion” when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Liu’s family and friends were placed under house arrest to prevent them from leaving China to collect his award in Oslo, Norway. In a symbolic gesture, Liu’s prize was placed on an empty blue upholstered chair.
“He is in isolation in a prison in north-east China. Nor can the laureate’s wife, Liu Xia, or his closest relatives be here with us. No medal or diploma will therefore be presented here today. This fact alone shows that the award was necessary and appropriate. We congratulate Liu Xiaobo with this year’s peace prize.”
The image of an empty chair became a censored image in China. Chinese bloggers were shutdown for using the term “empty chair” or showing the image. During this time the Chinese government blocked BBC and CNN International from coverage of the story. Our TV would often go to a black screen and our ability to access the internet became very difficult.
I exhibited my chair scroll in three contemporary art shows in Shanghai during those troubling days. I also made collages out of flyers from a protest in Hong Kong to free artist Ai Wei Wei. As a result, I was interviewed twice by government officials. One day, a group of officials showed up at my home and photographed me and my art.
I collected loads of fabulous ephemera in Shanghai and created a series of collages. I set out trying to find very old papers to use, but it was shockingly very difficult finding materials more than ten years old.