People and their living environment within a dynamic social development – it is within this complex area that Zhong Biao finds the subject of his artwork. He does not attempt to trace or illustrate specific, apparently typical current events. He uses images which he separates from their original context and then transforms into new combinations. His point of departure is an involvement with motifs of very different origins, semantics and functions. Zhong Biao combines scenes of modern life with historical fragments, and he merges contrasting eastern and western references. As he himself has declared, the present is the sum of the entire past and is also always inscribed by the prospect of the future. Consequently, his compositions are to be understood as momentary snapshots within a framework of research concerning the relationships between images of differing origins. Just now unsuitable, inappropriate and non-homogenous these different visual codes are, is demonstrated in the pictures. The subject then becomes the coexisting and interacting of levels of reality and perception that cannot be reconciled.

 

Currently there is hardly a country on Earth, in which during rapid economic and social development contrasts are displayed as blatantly as within the People’s Republic of China. Still totally rural in parts and shaped by the mechanisms of state socialism, Chinese society is currently experiencing an accelerated modernization demonstrated by the massive expansion of cities and huge waves of technological development, in the course of which influences from western culture are continuously explored, copied and incorporated into native cultural concepts. A process of acquaintance, utilisation and processing is occurring which, from an outside point of view, can be hard to comprehend. The continual change and renewal of structures developed over centuries, inevitably produces contrasts which can hardly still be grasped and expressed in a traditional pictorial language. The aesthetics of political agitation, traditional culture, western-influenced contemporary art and the mass media coexist without any prospect of a reconciliation or merger.

 

In his pictures Zhong Biao has found a method of portraying these contrasts without erasing the accompanying discontinuities. He depicts them and raises the non-logical conjunctions to the subject of his pictorial narratives. For this the artist seizes up different levels of reality displaying differing time-space structures. By means of repetition and superimposition he conveys an experience of the interweaving of temporal and spatial situation comparable to a cinematic methodology.

 

Zhong Biao’s aim is not to re-engage the former meaning of pictorial signs and symbols, but rather he wants to demonstrate the transformation of meaning the respective pictorial contexts evoke. In particular those motifs which are especially close to everyday reality, are liberated from colour and removed from any familiar references. In contrast, historic references are redefined by colour.

 

The colours of the present fade, while aspects of the past are transformed into a contemporary pop aesthetic, and so the borderline between reality and memory, fiction and dream, is blurred beyond recognition. An aspect of illusion is introduced, and the outcome of this transformation is that the viewer almost inevitable doubts his own knowledge of history and the present.

 

Completely inappropriate, sometimes provocative obscene scenarios are the result. For example, Zhong Biao shows a young woman in modern street fashion, who is somewhat removed from everyday perceptions by her depiction in nuances of black and white. She is shown in an extremely confined space, which could be that of a museum or gallery. Disturbingly, on the rear wall an identical figure appears, even though here she is portrayed as a framed drawing. Fragments of reality are catapulted into an extremely condensed imaginary space triggering completely unexpected chains of thought. In some cases even pornographic sources are quoted. Through their body language and gaze, the female models consciously engage the viewer directly; the apparent exhibitionist presentation of themselves and their sometimes provocative postures appear to encourage erotic fantasies, while Biao simultaneously keeps these at bay by use of a grisaille technique and the completely inappropriate relationship of figure to space. The above-mentioned uncertainties and ambiguities are intensified by a fusion of interior and exterior spaces. So far example in one picture the protagonist is depicted in a toilet, which is installed unshielded and prop-like on the roof of a multi-storey tower block. The intimate interior collides with the seemingly futuristic urban landscape. In another picture the scenario of the “viewer as voyeur” is provocatively reversed, as a virtually naked model posing in a bathroom hides her face with an oversized camera and so the viewer’s gaze is redirected and is returned to them like a boomerang. Whilst in this scenario the rather shadowy contours of two male supporting actors convey an almost surreal quality, other motifs in Zhong Biao’s pictorial worlds are derived from the aesthetics of political agitation or western advertising. For example, “Non Smoking Day” shows a confident young woman apparently goose-stepping, who seems to be joining a parade on the occasion of an unspecified historical revolutionary event.

 

This is contrasted by a rather ragged, disorganized and already disintegrating parade. A comparable collision of heterogeneous realities occurs in the picture “Shanghai”. The couple on an advertising poster are at odds with the shrunken old woman who is looking towards the viewer and whose features identify her as being of Asian origin. The western figures embody an ethical canon which is questioned by the pensive appearance of the old woman, and in a reflective moment re-references the history of the Chinese society. The advertising poster and the foreground figure are removed from each other, whilst by use of the grisaille technique they are also conveyed onto an equally ethereal spatial temporal level. Graphically the artist creates a visual equivalence for a social and economic present, in which the concept of the Maoist Cultural Revolution has set the scene for an untamed capitalist expansion of the rule of the market.

 

In pictures like “Happiness” and “Paradise”, Chinese propaganda and the mass media of the western world find a common denominator in the promise of a peaceful, completely carefree reality verging on paradise. Zhong Biao refers to this religious topos to depict it in all its fracture and complexity, but also addresses its continual relevance to present times. By deconstructing the motif and suspiciously questioning its validity to the present, he is not concerned with criticism or opposition, but rather a discovery of a pictorial formula in which the complex reality of his country and our present are appropriately captured. He succeeds in doing so in disturbing but also sensually appealing pictorial montages, which engage the viewer in a dialogue.


Dr. Christoph Kivelitz, October 2008

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