Life imitating art: Wang Qingsong's "Follow You"

Mike Boyle
Jul 9, 2013 7:21PM

Currently on view at the China pavilion at the Venice Biennial, Wang Qingsong’s large-scale photograph Follow You has struck many viewers as something from a surreal nightmare: row after row of cramming students collapsed at desks piled high with books. In the center, one scholar (portrayed by the artist) is wide awake and hooked up to an IV drip.

But in today’s China, scenes like this are at once surreal and all too real. These blurry cell-phone photos show students in Hubei province cramming for the “gaokao” – China’s grueling three-day national college entrance examination – with the aid of intravenous drips. Many of the same elements in Wang’s photograph are here: the IVs, the towering piles of textbooks, and the many rows of tired pupils.

The photos caused a stir in China when they were leaked online before last year's exam. According to media reports, the IVs were provided and paid for by the school and were administered in the classroom “to save time for students having to travel between the clinic and their classrooms.” Students preparing for the gaokao will often cram from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., six days a week,  for an entire academic year.

Mike Boyle