Truman Show, Chinese style: Artist creates quarantine isolation artwork to question China's zero-Covid strategy

A performance artist live-streaming his 14-day 'quarantine life' on a small platform probokes the public to think about China's Covid-19 strategy.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

An artist in Beijing has begun live-streaming a recreation of 14 days in quarantine in response to China's zero-Covid policy and to raise public awareness of art.

The live stream, launched on April 23, is being broadcast on Tencent's WeChat Channel and has drawn public attention with 3.1 million people watching at the time of writing.

Pang Kuan, the lead singer and keyboard player of Chinese rock band New Pants, will spend 24-hours a day being live-streamed performing the behavioural artwork which he has called Bye Bye Disco until May 6, at the Star Gallery in China's capital.

A musician follows Western artists from recent decades by living in a small space while on public display, which he says is to highlight challenges faced by people in quarantine.
PHOTO: Weibo

For the two weeks Pang will live in a "mini home" set on top of a 2.5-square-metre raised wooden platform equipped with a box of water, rice, alcohol, snacks, clothes, an armchair and a portable toilet.

In a video posted on April 24, the second day of the live-streaming, Pang was seen moving back and forth from sitting on a chair to lying on a bed. In the evening, Pang changed his clothes, drank alcohol, and danced. At one point, more than two million people watched him go to the toilet.

By the afternoon of the fourth day, Pang, now dressed in a black T-shirt and white trousers, had spent half an hour on his phone, shifted from the chair to the bed and then read a magazine. He did not make eye contact with the audience who came to the gallery to watch the spectacle.

Pang's performance art has already made a splash on the internet, with 2,586 comments made on the stream so far.

Some applauded him as a contemporary artist and a "warrior", while others asked if it was a way to pay tribute to those who are currently in mandatory quarantine. However, some were critical, with one asking: "Is this performance art? Or is it grandstanding behaviour?"

"Can Pang make money on that?" asked the mother of Pang's friend Zijiang Zhao who is the lead singer of the rock band Hedgehog, adding that she has no idea about performance artwork. She also asked if Pang is torturing himself.

Millions have tuned in to watch the performance piece.
PHOTO: Weibo

Originally from Europe in the 1950s and 1960s, performance art is a genre where artists challenge audiences with thought-provoking pieces — often combining physical actions and interactive elements with more traditional art forms.

To fight against the latest wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, China has still stuck to its zero-tolerance strategy. In Shanghai, it has sent large numbers of infected citizens to quarantine facilities and placed more than 25 million people under lockdown.

On April 25, Shanghai logged 1,661 new infections and 15,319 asymptomatic cases.

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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.