From SoHo to Tiananmen Square Brother Nut took his vacuum cleaner. With it he sucked in the air of Beijing for 100 days. Taking the tiny particles, which otherwise might be breathed into the lungs of Beijing’s residents, the 34-year-old performance artist mixed in clay to make a brick.

It’s an unusual way of drawing attention to a ubiquitous and urgent problem in China, but the unusual is Brother Nut’s speciality.

“When you come across something that you think is abnormal, that art is always a reflection, critique, or inspiration,” he said.

nut brother
Photo: Weibo.

While China’s most famous artist Ai Weiwei draws the ire of the Chinese authorities, Brother Nut manages to stay away from their wrath due to the generally apolitical nature of his work, and the fact his work is so ambiguous as to defy the full-on definition of “art”. He survives on the brink of the art world.

In March of 2015, he registered the Shenzhen Meaningless Company Limited, hiring 37-part-time staff, including a cat, for meaningless tasks. He told HKFP that he paid his staff 100 yuan for two hours work of: pretending to be a depressed murderer, waiting for aliens to send you home or teaching a fish how to smile.

One man even had the task of counting the hairs were on his leg. After an hour, his final tally? 923.

waiting for aliens
One of the recruited staff waited for aliens to pick her home. Photo: Nut Brother.

“Because our society places emphasis on profit, I deliberately assigned tasks to my employees that did not emphasise productivity,” said Brother Nut of his wacky foray into entrepreneurism. 

It’s a marked departure from the corporate world of advertising Brother Nut was once a part of. As an artist he provokes, he teases and plays games. There are no fixed guidelines. Life in itself is a performance, as his 2010 performance piece Closing Down in 30 days.

closing down in 30 days bookshop
File photo: Weibo.

Inspired by the story of a second-hand bookseller in Shenzhen who abandoned his store and disappeared as he could no longer afford the rent, Brother Nut hired 30 managers to open a 30-day long bookstore extravaganza.

Each manager was responsible for a day’s operation, a daily topic for discussion and an ideas exchange with visitors. He also installed an outdoor cinema.

“Some thought this bookshop project was a cultural festival, because there were a lot of cultural activities in it, but others thought it was a piece of art. Thus, its identity is rather ambiguous,” he said. “It can be both simple and complex.”

nut brother
Photo: Weibo.

What’s next for Brother Nut? He’s looking for 99 volunteers to join him for Probably the Most Impulsive Bookshop in 2016.

No matter what the subject, ultimately the human connection is the common element to all of his projects.

“In a society that excessively advocates reason and logic, impulse appears to be more precious and lovely,” he wrote on the Chinese social networking site Douban.

koel chu

Koel Chu

Koel Chu is a second-year journalism and fine arts student at the University of Hong Kong. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Koel is interested in the arts and urban design. She interned at China Radio International in Beijing and, at her university, she also works as Vice-President of Branding and Marketing in AIESEC, the largest youth-run organisation in the world.