Chinese artist turns COVID-19 tests into art to represent the pandemic life in China

For most of China’s 1.4 billion people, regular COVID-19 tests have become a way of life. Siyuan Zhuji is trying to turn them into a work of art.

Since March, the 33-year-old multi-disciplinary artist from Jiangsu province has been filming his own nucleic acid tests with a small camera in his mouth.

His video clips show teeth and tongue and an approaching cotton bud. In some shots, a PPE-clad health worker can be seen through his teeth, administering the test.

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“This is how our life is now, this period of time involves doing regular nucleic testing,” Zhuji told Reuters in an interview in his studio.

“It’s a way of life that’s unique to our time.”

Artist Siyuan Zhuji poses in a picture as part of his artwork called “Shengji” on the coronavirus disease in China on Sept. 29, 2022.
(Siyuan Zhuji/Handout via REUTERS)

Zhuji said the idea for the videos came to him when he began considering the vulnerability of the mouth, as an entry point for the virus and also for the repeated testing to find it.

He has recorded about 40 tests and says he will continue taking video with his thumb-sized camera as long as regular testing is required.

He aims eventually to display the videos simultaneously on a big screen in a grid, a snapshot of pandemic life in China. He calls his work “Hesuan Jiance”, which translates as “COVID test”.

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“This work can represent this era. This is what I want to express. It is to record everyone’s current life,” Zhuji said.

The novel coronavirus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019 and for nearly two years China was relatively virus free. But the Omicron variant brought persistent outbreaks across the country, which authorities have been battling with a barrage of testing.

In many places, a negative COVID test is required to use public transport, and enter schools, places of work, shops, banks, parks and anywhere else people gather.

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China’s pursuit of “zero COVID” means Zhuji might be filming tests for some time yet.

“I will continue shooting these videos until the end of the pandemic,” he said. “If I die before the end, then I will keep shooting until I die.”

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