Activist artist duo Gao Zhen and Gao Qiang, known as the
, believe “the artist’s role is to restore and preserve historical memory.” And in this case, “the artist is not only a repeater in the narrative of the reconstruction of Tiananmen Square, but also a reflective critic.” The siblings’ involvement in the protest had lasting consequences. In 2000, their Utopia of Hugging
, a piece that brought dozens of couples together to publicly embrace, was supposed to be performed at the Venice Biennale but was canceled after the Chinese government denied them passports. The Utopia of Hugging
—dubbed a “raised finger to the prudish regime,” by critic Pia Camilla Copper in 2008—would have called into question China’s turn toward traditional values post-1989, on an international stage.
“In times of repression, art is a powerful alternative to open criticism,” Cohen noted. Today, that type of creative repression and censorship still exists. For Guo Jian, an artist who was exiled to Australia after making a diorama of Tiananmen Square in pork meat, dealing with the authorities only furthered his commitment to boundary-pushing art. “When those people came up to my studio to arrest me, I knew my power,” he explained, “otherwise they wouldn’t care.”