Artist Qu Guangci: The Innocent Me

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X+Q Art Founder/Sculpture Artist: Qu Guangci

2020 is a special year in the history of humanity. We are personal witnesses to it.
As artists, our responsibility is to use our own ways to document what happens during this special time. Modern art isn’t just for people to appreciate in the present. It’s a historical record for the people of the future. Experience is temporary, but the memory of it lasts forever.

                                                                      X+Q Art Founder: Qu Guangci

The year of 2020 is the memory we leave to the future.

Prologue:

The epic is the term used by people to describe long narrative poems that record major historical events. It is a solemn literary genre.

X+Q Arts, as a contemporary art brand, hopes to commemorate the crucial memories of 2020 through creation. In X+Q Arts’ first new series of artwork released in 2020, Remembering 2020 in Sculpture, X+Q Arts artist and founder Qu Guangci creates an epic memorial to X+Q Arts in 2020.

1. If artists aren’t essential, what is essential?

Over the past nearly 2 months, many of us experienced the long, arduous wait to return to work. Miraculously, we at X+Q Arts did not. Several other sculptors and I on the X+Q Arts team feared that if Beijing were put under lockdown, we wouldn’t be able to go back to work on the sixth day after the Chinese Lunar New Year. When we got news that lockdown was imminent, we immediately returned. As a result, we had to resume work earlier than planned on the sixth day after the New Year. From that moment, we started talking about what we wanted to create. We discussed everything from individual images to group homages, from personal caricatures to the virus, from Zhong Nanshan to the couriers who deliver our packages, from holding a fundraising auction to imagining giving our products for free to Wuhan. The idea went from passion to terror, from the heroic to the ordinary, from the comic to the tragic… And we had no idea what to do, so in the end we gave up. It’s not that we couldn’t actually do it (well, actually, we couldn’t). What stopped us is that someone pointed out that what people needed at the moment wasn’t sculptures of face masks. In all of our stores, we had gone 48 hours without a single customer walking in. After we did the math, we realized that we’re facing the situation where no one would come to the stores in the next total 480 hours to 960 hours. Practically, none of the workers in our sculpture workshops could return, which meant none of them could resume work, and we couldn’t produce any new works. I am a person whose sense of mission waxes and wanes. Sometimes it matters to me, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I breathe a sigh of relief, or even take joy, in the fact that I have money and time to waste, especially at times like this when nurses and doctors are so critical and in such shortage, while artists are nothing but a burden. Immediately after that, we shut down our direct sales channels. Perfect, I thought to myself. Cheered on by my fans and colleagues, I got ready to follow the crowd into virtual tours, online dating, working out, cooking, live streaming, online learning, and all the other things people suggested I learn and try. And so, at that point, I began to seriously think about the true significance of my profession. At this moment of genuine crisis in the world, artists didn’t have any real reason to exist. Wuhan, We’re Waiting for You campaign series, the over 30 graphic design images to thank our heroes as pictures and posters wasn’t released yet. It seems like documentary directors are at the best use, but they might not even admit that they are artists. Journalists have always resolutely refused to call their work “creative”. They take their own independent path, and their work can’t be disguised as something else or twisted into something it isn’t. As a genre, their format is stubborn and inflexible, which is why politicians call journalists “uncrowned kings”. During that time, I saw many people shooting documentaries about epidemics, viruses, and disasters, creating silent tribute to the moment. In the epidemic period, I earnestly and intimately felt the importance of journalists and reliable news media, and I felt that artists are expendable. We don’t necessarily need artists, and we can certainly get by without them. In that period, I assumed many people felt as I did, that our reliance on self-produced media in public WeChat accounts was like being stuck in an endless game in which we choose our understanding of the outside world from an infinite menu of selections.

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A group photo of X+Q Arts first day back at work

2. The delivery courier was my only social interaction. What about you?

The epidemic made me feel a deep fondness for delivery couriers. The more I considered the significance of other people’s careers for society in comparison with my own, the more I felt that medicine, writing, logistics, and the whole internet industry all provide more value to others than I do. I felt like everyone was more worthy of appreciation and more useful than myself. When I was alone, with no one to talk to, I bought things online and picked up my packages. Every morning when I woke up, the first thing I did was to pull back the curtain on my window to see if the JD.com courier was here, and then I would say to my cat, “My friend is here.” Every day, my social interaction began with the delivery courier. Sometimes only one came the entire day, but later, their numbers grew, and as more and more of the logistics companies resumed work, I began to feel like I had enough social interaction. They would deliver everything I bought, and I would go downstairs 7-8, even 10 times a day, and it never got annoying. It seemed to me that after the epidemic, I wouldn’t see them again, because property management, who take my property management fees for this very reason, would accept the packages on my behalf, and I would retrieve them in my own good time. I would never again see these delivery boys who brave wind and storms to deliver packages appear at my window, all I would see is what I ordered.

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Qu Guangci and delivery courier

Later, once I remembered all their names, I stood inside my gate and shouted their full names to greet them. “Gu Haitao!” He worked for JD.com. “Qi Shenghui!” He was from Shentong, or “magically connected”, which together with his own name slots perfectly into the old parable about Sun Wukong, “the Great Sage Equaling Heaven whose powers are vast and profound”. “Liu Yanke!” He was from Yunda. “Tai Zhengguo!” He worked for Yuantong. I only hope you can imagine my excitement as I stood there, at the gate, shouting my hello. We saw each other often in the winter of 2020, and I’ll always remember them. Some of them, my package in hand, would shout, “Zhai Guangci!” because some of them didn’t know the difference between the similar-looking characters “zhai” and “qu”. But, they all knew my name, so I ought to know their names. I was sure that since they made so many deliveries every day, they must be happy to have someone know and greet them by their names. My favorite was the young man who couldn’t distinguish between the characters “qu” and “zhai”. This was because every time he called out the familiar form of my name. He simply stood the required ten or so meters outside my gate and said, “Guangci!” During that special period, when there were no drink-filled dinners or parties to be had, hearing my name spoken that way was a very precious thing!            

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X+Q Arts “A Gift for the Delivery Couriers”

3. At this moment, what we need most is a gift.

Honestly speaking, all any of us could really think about during that period was how we would get back to work and how much money we were losing. On top of that, since I couldn’t create sculpture related to the epidemic, the greatest possible contribution I could make to the country was to do what everyone else was doing and isolate myself. Inspired by the fitness gurus in my WeChat Moments, I got ready to submit myself to stricter discipline, and ordered a pile of workout equipment online. But just when my rowing machine arrived, before I could even get things ready, our Yintai Center store manager told me he had received an order on his phone. That was the tenth day after the Chinese New Year.

The customer insisted on having a piece called “I Miss You” sent from the empty-street Guomao to the equally empty-street Haidian. No one realizes how many complicated steps are involved in what seemed like the simplest thing in the past. Fortunately, we operate our own logistics. One of my colleagues, out of what was claimed to be a humanitarian impulse, but what was primarily green-eyed of that customer who was about to receive a gift  (I personally think it was both), had another of the typically unpopular “I Miss You” figures sent from the desolate reaches of Songzhuang to the remote Haidian. After that day, I not only had to go back to work, I had to be at meetings, and I haven’t touched the rowing machine set up in my living room since. This is because, overnight, “I Miss You” went from unpopular to a hot sale. Every day people sent it to others as a gift, all the way to Valentine’s Day.

When we can’t see each other face-to-face, we need a gift that can speak for us. When we can’t see each other on Valentine’s Day, we need to be able to say, “I miss you.” People who love each other can be on opposite ends of the earth, but they can’t go without the words “I miss you”. For “From X + Q to you” series, our graphic designer came up with an idea to tag a “barcode of love” on the box. There’s a giant “XXX, I miss you” written on our package in clumsy, blocky handwriting by the logistics staff. One of the young women who works in our warehouse imitated the technique commonly employed by SF Express and pasted a sticker saying “I’ve been sanitized” on my picture. When I saw it, all I can say is I was very moved. When I thought about it later, I realized that they were the real artists. Seeing our boxes decorated in these absurd, outrageous, and chaotic ways seemed incredibly appropriate.

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X+Q YOU Online Brainstorm Meeting

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X+Q Arts Shipping Package

When I discovered, to my utter surprise, that our sales representatives are amazing. I was equally surprised to discover that the vast majority of our orders weren’t coming through e-commerce platforms. They were direct sales through our store staff. Every one of their mobile phones became a lifeline for X+Q Arts, and this had everything to do with how much our customers trusted them. That made me think, for the first time, that there was no point in them going to work. They did just as well laying on their couches at home with a phone in their hands, so why did I bother keeping stores open? Even funnier was recently, when the lonely watch of one of our staff was finally broken by the first walk-in customer in a long time, only to be told immediately by the customer, “Don’t talk to me, and stay 2 meters away from me. I’ll just look around and leave. Have the merchandise delivered to me, and I’ll send you the money on WeChat.” Again, I didn’t understand why bothered keeping stores open. It was around that time that I was interviewed by a media in Shanghai; I forget if it was Wenhui Daily or Oriental Morning Post. They asked me how much the epidemic had impacted retail sales and how much we had lost by not being able to open our stores. I told them it seemed to have no effect at all, because our customers are our fans, and that my losses amounted to all the unnecessary rent I paid in years past.

Especially at times like these, what people need is a gift. They especially need to know someone cares about them. The gift can be to ourselves or someone else, but we especially need a way to reestablish connection. I’m more certain than ever that as an artist, even in times of epidemic or war, I’m still useful. There are people who need me. Even though the “I” and “you” in “I Miss You” had nothing to do with me, that “missing” had a lot to do with me. I helped other people turn “missing” into something unforgettable. Art makes the process of transmitting a message more earnest. Now I understood why I stayed in Beijing. I was here to live or die with my brand.

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X+Q Arts sculpture “I Miss You”

4. T-Mall and JD.com saved me

Data is powerful. Even now, after 10 years of effort and expense to acquire customers, it feels worth it. All of our stores, now closed, were the first sales channel to be recognized by our customers. Sincere affection repaid in times of trouble is always built on a long-tended foundation of loyalty. In that light, the affection of customers on e-commerce platforms, who are often tempted away by 10 RMB discounts, seems rather shallow by comparison.

After that first wave of customers who still needed X+Q Arts, I returned to my established track. My sense of mission, which, as stated, waxes and wanes, and which varies in its importance to me, re-established itself. Our JD.com channel, never a reliable performer, began to perform better, because this was the only platform which could send deliveries. Orders through T-Mall, Taobao, and our other self-operated digital storefronts also ship through JD.com. In the second burst of sales, the product flying off our erstwhile shelves was no longer the “I Miss You” sculpture, it was the “Because of Love” cup. In the past, we sold it as a cup, but now our customers demanded premium packaging plus a handwritten card. The cup represents intimacy, trust, warmth, companionship, and care. Its only flaw is that it shatters easily, and this is why, if I could attach a time value to it, I would use “a lifetime” (homonym in Mandarin for “a cup”). We called our cup “a lifetime”. People constantly threw our cups in their shopping carts, and the orders poured in. We suddenly realized “a cup, and a lifetime” had  truly become a gift.

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X+Q Arts Art “Because of Love” cup

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Screenshots from X+Q Arts Art’s livecast

Even though this wave of sales was insignificant compared to our previous whiskey glass and “Rat Money”, in those days when not a single person or open shop could be found on the street, it still made me feel like some things in the world were still normal. The market still existed, at least. And that was the moment our e-commerce sales surged past our direct store sales. I knew many people still hadn’t returned to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen, but they had returned to their digital shopping carts. The things they placed there during that period were more comforting, practical, and affordable than usual, and this was all the better, because it was the best they could do given the circumstances. Obviously, this is an international phenomenon – Japanese people often give gifts like Patek Philippe chopsticks, Americans give matching plate sets, and Germans often give pots.

We again started having conversations about the purpose of sculpture, but this time more people joined the discussion, including the e-commerce sales leaders working at our direct sales stores. They said thinking about sculpture from the traditional perspective was wrong. Making a bust or statue was too old-fashioned. As gifts, these leave people wondering where to put them, and just being an extra headache. It will definitely be a failed attempt if we try to sell on e-commerce platforms. Our sales staff said, for the next series of sculptures, we needed an “animation” style. Some ideas were Wu Gong beating back the virus, Harry Potter subduing demons, Zhong Nanshan wiping out villains, or Qu Guangci cooking, Qu Guangci sweeping the floor… And even though all these ideas had X+Q Arts’ characteristic sense of humor, they also had material covering touching sentimentality, solemnity, and tragedy, as well as some interesting perspectives. But did they think making sculpture was as easy as making dumplings? That I could just knead the metaphorical dough and produce it? At the fastest, I would need 3-4 weeks. And is this really what people needed right now? I didn’t have any reasons to be sure this was the wrong form of expression, but my instinct told me something wasn’t right about these ideas. I couldn’t just consider this an artwork from an artist’s perspective, nor could I think of it as a product from a merchandising perspective. Against the backdrop of such a grave and momentous event, should an artist be a participant? A bystander? Or am I simply a creator? In the midst of epic, humanity-scale events, it has always been impossible for art to stand aloof, isolated from its surroundings. I have always believed that art’s greatest enemy, it’s greatest lie, is the belief that through art, we can pretend to be completely aloof and apart. An artist who stands aloof is someone for whom art is just a paycheck. Art should be something that resonates with others. When a seed is just planted in the ground, there may be rain and thunder. Art can enter the world utterly incompatible with it, but once it arrives, you should stop being selfish and making art only for yourself. Artists always begin from the assumption that they can change something, but soon they discover they don’t have that much power, and that they’re actually not as tough as ordinary people. My biggest change after 10 years at X+Q Arts has been that I’ve learned to exchange, to hold a dialogue with the era, with society, and with the people who need me, and to keep that line of communication open.

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“Beating the Virus” clay sculpture

5. What else can sculpture do?

In our times, sculpture is a gravely outdated artform. It calls for professional-level skills, complex techniques, and high costs, and in the language of artists, it offers a less direct experience than even a photograph. However, the law of conservation of energy applies throughout the universe. It isn’t easy to destroy something that has existed for so long. In the sculptures we have from ancient Greece and Rome, you can still see immortal things, such as gods, knights, war horses, and angels, and immortal qualities like purity, nobility, bravery, innocence.

On February 14th, in the main company chat group, we were all helping one of our sculptors write a love letter to his wife. He himself had made a sculpture called “A Second Marriage Proposal”. Our logistics staff went specially to buy flowers for him. His new wife was a nurse, born in the 1990’s, who remained on the front lines of the epidemic despite being 6 months pregnant. Returning home even once meant isolation, so they hadn’t seen each other. I said to him, “This woman is worth your love.” My colleague told him, “You have to be proactive, otherwise she’ll get tired of you and dump you on the streets.” He said he didn’t know how to love her at the moment, but after the epidemic, he planned to propose to her again. He planned to named their son “Gong Nanshan”. Later I heard his wife didn’t agree to that name.

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The sculptor’s marriage proposal sculpture

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The sculptor and his wife

I knew 2020’s impact on me wouldn’t be as simple as fighting off a virus. The virus wasn’t as much of a global problem as it is today, so at the time, the experience of the past I had to offer the future was centered on Wuhan, not all of humanity. Nevertheless, I knew this would become a significant year for them. Their individual memories were formed against the backdrop of a new era and major events. It was the same for all of them, but entirely different as well.

The community of shared human destiny is one that shares both honor and disgrace, and one defined by our refusal to be defined by fate.

Our millennial members of the design team finally returned from overseas, and they were all immensely proud, because when the Civil Aviation Bureau issued the directive to return from abroad, those who entered China through Beijing Capital Airport didn’t need to be isolated. They hadn’t gone experienced those oppressive days we endured, so they immediately formed creative groups, and at what felt like light speed, we had a creative framework in place. Bill Gates said, “Because of the virus, we have to endure temporary oppression, but there are people in this world who spend their entire lives oppressed.” But when we are oppressed for a long time, our sentiment and reflection habitually deepens, and we forget the earnestness we find in shallow things. Sometimes there are good reasons we never forget the memories that come flooding back to us. In this article I’ve written about many trivial matters and said many trivial things, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t feel panicked, anxious, defeated, and helpless. It’s just that now, in all kinds of articles, we also need to include words that help us put the past behind us. In every industry, you’ll find people who suffered disaster as well as winners.

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During the epidemic, a tiny bun shop in Gulou flooded with customers. The shop also opened a new branch.[

With the addition of the millennial staff, the bulk of the workforce, as well as the small group of even younger interns, we began to think about what they needed. Would they, after making it through this year, still recall waking up every day to news of the leapfrogging numbers of new infected? They all lived within their own personal stories. They all loved Zhong Nanshan and the heroic nurses, but they also loved themselves. They still care about places beyond Wuhan and China, all the places that made up the spring of 2020.

“2020 will give everyone enough stories to tell for a lifetime, so what we need is a commemorative edition!”

A “commemorative, limited edition” is what we needed to make people really remember these moments!

We had gone from creating a sculpture to creating a “memorial”, and I felt like this, imbuing art with commemorative significance, was more in line with X+Q Arts’ vision. We waited too long for a face-to-face greeting, for an embrace that takes our breath away, for the moment we can rip off our mask, take our lover’s hand, and kiss them on the lips. This epidemic brought all of us to the brink of death and back. We needed a gift. We needed encouragement, approval, gratitude, a blessing. We needed the interpersonal communication achieved through artistic expression. We also needed consolation and consideration.

We had found the most important mission of sculpture – remembrance. Those masks, eyepieces, and protective clothing, those words, pictures, and stories, as we remember, will become symbols that stand forever in the mural of history.

6. We put a mask on “Youth”

We put a mask on “Youth” that corrects the shape of her shape. We think nurses look more beautiful this way. Everyone has a reason to be passionate, and youth only comes once. We put protective goggles and a sanitary suit on a delivery courier because to us, they were “Zhong Nanshans” for the entire country, brave knights who drove away the terror and darkness. We put a disproportionate box on the Lucky Cat. How many people were tirelessly accompanied, night and day, by this scrawny little fellow during the epidemic? They were our family during the epidemic, and they were who we came to know during the epidemic.

We paired a globe with a solitary child, and then on the cup added the caption, “2020, the year I…, and 2020, were very special”. In the blank space, we want everyone to add their own unique reason that made 2020 a special year. Maybe “2020, the year I became a father” or “2020, the year I decided to become someone else”. The cup is meant to be an attitude you hold in your hand as well as a record of your life experience.

Finally, we put a shopping bag on an angel’s head. We want him to be a sign of optimism that brings us back to humor, that little universe of laughing at things we all inhabit. Most importantly, though, we don’t want you to lose his desire to entertain yourself and spend money.

The angel is a piece I designed for a Hong Kong exhibition in 2006. I never imagined that later, at many special moments like this, he would really take on the role of an angel.

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Rough cast of X+Q Arts “Rainbow Angel”

The term for narrative poems that describe important historical events is “epic”. Only the great poets ever attempt to create them. In 1665, as the Black Death raged in London, Isaac Newton, who had just graduated from university, was isolated for 18 months. During this period, he discovered gravity, and later he described those 18 months as being kissed by God. During the same epidemic, Shakespeare wrote King Lear. That’s not what we’re doing. Even with our best efforts, we can only make a fragmentary record. Many people may be able to remember these fragments. Moments may come in the future when they are moved or taken by a feeling, and that’s a good thing. Life comes in every variety, but there are only a few things we remember forever. For many people, the biggest reminder of this year may be to focus more on their families and home life. It reawakens us of the importance of our health and freedom, and reminds us that life is short, and that we should contribute to the lives of others. As Bill Gates said, “The point of life isn’t to buy toilet paper.” What ties together modern artists, major national events, and the fate of humankind is creation. What I try my hardest to do is to maintain my passion and ability to create.

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X+Q Arts 2020 The Epic Edition

7. Do art students need their own Hippocratic oath?

The cover of Yi Magazine displayed this sentence, “From the moment I step foot in the sacred institution of medical school, I solemnly swear that I will do my utmost to eliminate the suffering of pain and disease, aid in the refinement of human health, uphold the sacredness and honor of the medical profession, save lives, and rescue the wounded. To this cause I will contribute all my effort, devote my health, and sacrifice my life.’ – excerpted from The Medical Oath” From what I’ve been told, every medical student takes this oath upon entering medical school. I think this oath also applies to artists. It applies to us.

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Qu Guangci and the cover of Yi Magazine

One morning, I woke up to a news headline about Italy on my phone, “A generation, gone in two days”, and I felt an inexplicable sense of tragedy. Why, only 85 days into 2020, does each day feel like its own ear? The beginning of 2020 was like a period signifying that 2020 is already over, and what remains of the year are pages full of footnotes to explain what came before the period. The period came too suddenly, and lasted too long, like the dark after a power cut as we wait for the lights to turn back on.

The 15 changes we set out to complete for X+Q Arts in 2020 were originally planned to take 3 years to finish, but this year, we’ve started all of them.  Our reliance on the media during the epidemic made us reevaluate the importance to our brand of self-produced short videos for social media, and I’ve decided to start creating my own content. We’ve started livecasting, and even though we don’t rely on this channel to market and sell our products, we do use it to recruit and interview sales leaders. Thanks to the good relationship I established with delivery couriers during the epidemic period, on March 8th we ran an event in which we sent gifts to their girlfriends, and due to that event, established this year’s landmark X+Q Arts gift. The designer who created the “from X + Q to you” barcode for “I Miss You”, afterward, created X+Q Arts YOU, X+Q Arts’s third extension brand after X+Q ART and X+Q China, specifically to turn cups, plates, and bowls into art related to love to be given as gifts, which was inspired by the people who bought our cups during the epidemic. We eliminated our general manager-level positions to give all of our supervisors independence. Most importantly, we reconsidered and reorganized X+Q Arts to better focus on our positioning and pursuit of offering artistic gifts. At the same time, during the two months of the epidemic, we completed our most fruitful creative period in recent years, completing work on both our “Divines Series” and our 16 “Stud Bulls”, which awaits collaboration with major brands.

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X+Q YOU

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X+Q Arts “Divines Series”

2020 has been a special year. The continued upward trends in the economy and growing sales totals every year have made us think only numbers are important. Now, we have the chance to redefine the value of art, brands, and artists. Here, I salute the things we thought about in 2020. I salute the brave, passionate doctors and nurses, and I salute the farewell to a youth spend complaining about Kobe Bryant, watching the Australian brush fires from afar, and not knowing how hot it is at the South Pole or how many locusts swarm the skies. I hope our days spent hiding in our homes never return. At times we even forget the mask on our face, and then suddenly realize, “Oh, I’ve been wearing this for too long.” That facemask has become an important symbol by which we recognize 2020.

During the Wenchuan earthquake, we saw a piggy that lived under the ruins for 36 days and it started trending on the internet. In the Wuhan epidemic, we discovered a cat who can stay at home alone for 40 days. In Life of Pi, Pi says that if not for the fact that he has to exist alongside tigers, he might have lost the desire to survive. Maybe that heroic cat in Wuhan, without the 4 baby cats it just gave birth to, would lose its sense of purpose, and from there all signs of being alive. As we face a stubborn virus, all of humanity faces its own mortality, and in this, we are all equal.

I live and die with my brand.

If we say the epidemic causes many things to change in the future, then I’d like to express my gratitude to it for returning me to the sometimes helpless and sometimes naïve sate of my youth.

Epilogue:

X+Q Arts uses its own way to create dialogue with our era, create singular and unique works, and become the most distinctive and socially responsible brand in the field of modern art.

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