neon lights, acrylic stands
500 x 500 cm
Shi Yong’s theatrical neon installation, A Bunch of Happy Fantasies (2009), is deliriously enticing. The gallery space is filled with flickering neon tubes arranged in lines on the floor, and reflected in its surface. Each neon is an upside-down Chinese character; together, they spell out the words of a poem written by a friend of the artist, ‘Roses Made from Water’. Written in a drug haze, the jumbled imagery and delusional thinking of the poem represents for Shi Yong the fact that glamour and beauty can mask an ugly underlying truth. The text can only be deciphered with great difficulty, symbolising the challenges we face in separating fantasy from reality. Like rippling reflections of the moon in a pool of water, the flickering calligraphy connects the artist with the Chinese literary traditions of the past, but also with the illusions of the present. A city that appears beautiful at night from a speeding car on the Shanghai freeway, its flashing, jewel-like neon signs promising glamour and excitement, might reveal itself in daylight to be tawdry and banal: the ‘happy fantasies’ of modernity, urbanisation, marketing and celebrity sometimes turn out to be lies, after all.