According to the New York Times, despite his being detained, the Chinese government has yet to admit they even have Yuren in their custody.
Last winter Yuren joined other artists in their opposition to urban development in the neighbourhood of Beijing that housed their studios, District 8. The development plan subsequently allowed the seizure of their studios by authorities. Their highly visible protest went past Tiananmen Square, a particularly sensitive region of the city in connection with public demonstrations of dissent.
The Daily Telegraph (one of the UKs largest daily newspapers, owned by real estate billionaires David and Frederick Barclay) reported that the current arrest came about after Yuren – whose studio had been relocated – attended at a local police station to complain about problems with his landlord. After a fractious interaction with the police, he was beaten and detained.
The brutal police response may be linked to the activist histories of Yuren and some of the other artists involved in the original protest against the development plan, many of whom have signed Charter 08, a manifesto demanding a variety of political changes in China including an independent legal system, freedom of association and the elimination of one-party rule. Charter 8 is not so popular with the current administration.
Yuren’s work has been widely appreciated as an element of the most innovative art being produced in China today. In the Imperial Criminal (2001) series, for example, Yuren displays twelve passport-like blue tinted photographs with fluorescent brands stamped on their foreheads to indicate ancient/modern crimes – the brand is exposed when placed under ultra-violet light. In The Sparks Program (10,000 Years Art Exhibition, Oct 2005), seven labourers strike a pile of flint in a dark space for three hours with metal batons, producing a heavy knocking sound with flying sparks – a commentary on the situation of peasant construction workers in Beijing’s real estate boom. And in connection with his resistance to land development, he transformed White Box Museum of Art into a large demolition site. According to ML Art Source (a Beijing-based promotional website for contemporary Chinese art with the self-stated goal of serving as “a platform that will bridge the art to the people and the people to the art”) the controversial nature of Yuren’s installation at the White Box has ensured that there is little information available about it.
It may be that this story is being reported in such high profile mainstream media sites because of his wife Karen Patterson’s Canadian citizenship. For more information and to keep up to date you can follow Karen Patterson’s twitter feed @KPinChina.