"Che cosa è la vita” explores themes of identity, diaspora and belonging in society through a series of videos and an artist book. It is a collaboration with a Milan-based Chinese language teacher, Mao Wen, who stars as the protagonist in these works. The artwork traces his past as a Young Pioneer in China, to the present where his older self revels in the art of wandering in Italy, revealing a portrait of a modern day vagabond who strives to reach out by searching within. Mao Wen can be regarded as a double outsider. Unlike most Chinese in Italy who are from Wenzhou, he is from Beijing and found himself destitute in Italy through a twist of events during the Cultural Revolution. When he first arrived in Italy, he also did not speak a word of Italian, and found himself estranged from both Chinese and Italian communities. The artist book features the home, selected possessions and writings of Mao Wen’s, as well as pages of books from writers, such as Emily Bronte, Bertrand Russell, Zhuangzi etc. that are significant to him.
The motif of the ant runs through the book as a symbol of social conformity and mass action, which contrasts with the solitude of Mao Wen.