In recent years, whilst contemporary Chinese art has not surpassed all other categories in international art circles, it may be considered to have won much attention from all circles. Particularly its performance on the international art market has been outstanding, and as a result many stars of the art world have appeared. Amongst them, only a minority having experienced improvement of their quality of life have looked back to reconsider the course of their creative work, and to further pursue the connotations of their own artwork. Zhong Biao is one of them.


The “Revelation” solo exhibition that opened in Shanghai in early September may be considered to be a concrete example of the continued and persistent search present in Zhong Biao’s artwork. Differing from the traditional concept of artwork that seeks to portray the artist’s meaning through singular images, the various combinations of imagery portraying life in Zhong Biao’s paintings tend to leave the audience with a struggle to pinpoint the axis or vein of the story when viewing his work.  Rather they can only perform deliberate additions or subtractions in order to make the painting’s poetic and lively form of expression meaningful, and thereby they seek to further organise the relationships between the objects in the paintings.


Escaping Expression • Straight to the Core


However, what Zhong Biao tries to raise is a more complete and total concern. For him, artwork is no longer a mere matter of telling a story on a canvas, but rather to construct more clearly his individual aesthetic principles. He has said that no matter whether we consider questions of love or death or any other of the eternal questions that we all must face, or the embodiment of abstract concepts such as time and space, all things inevitably come back to a question of metaphysics. The “Revelation” exhibition is not only the result of the development of Zhong Biao’s past creations up until the present day, but also a deeper explanation of the artist’s ultimate ideas regarding the meaning of ‘existence’.  Hints to which were to be seen in the experimentation in last year’s “Beyond Painting” exhibition, a profound and complex narrative structure lay hidden within the representation of image, whereas in this exhibition he does away with representation altogether by means of capturing the truth in the midst of change and its traces, going straight to the core of existence.


In an exhibition venue newly organised for the event, Shine Art Space’s exhibition hall was divided in two by Zhong Biao.  The first thing we see is three large-scale paintings that form “Six People - One City”, the figures in the foreground are sitting or walking, dancing and jumping; they appear closely connected to the backgrounds which show different urban landscapes, when in fact they are separate, which is the artist’s observation of today’s life in the city.  “Gospel” follows on a past technique of embedding one painting within another.  Within the contrast of the black and white painting, a ray of light passes by the Buddha and illuminates the face of an inconspicuous boy in the throng behind him, transforming him instantly into the focus of the painting and serving as a distant contrast to Cologne Cathedral in the background.  Below the coloured painting within a painting appear a couple of young lovers looking upwards as they take their own photo. Yet the combination seems apt, creating a natural connection between religious symbolism and everyday life, which is transformed into an intrinsic and spontaneous stability for the artist and members of his audience. “Holy Book” and “Apex” are similar in composition, the difference between the two being in the treatment of the former.  Apart from the figure clad in white in the foreground, a white crane, a horse, an image from classical painting as well as modern athletes and other objects with no direct interrelation appear together, and then vanish without a trace as we move on to the next painting. The arrangement of the paintings makes it appear as if the artist had opened a Holy Book, and in a moment all his imaginings of ‘transcendence’ had leapt out, appeared before the audience, and then scattered in all directions.


Entering the inner room of the exhibition hall, “Revelation 1” and Revelation 2” extend along two opposite walls bathed in a light that is dusk-like.  A mirror is installed at the far end creating a limitless extension of the images originating from those large-scale, de-chromatised paintings. Only at the far end is there a shaft of light passing through the narrow opening, that is the only connection between the works outside and the inner space. Four overhead projectors fitted on the ceiling continue to play a constantly repeating loop of 92 source images collected by the artist on his travels, to the accompaniment of electrical music.  The images gradually float into view and drift about, overlapping and blending together.  Watching their movements closely, it is difficult to see the logic, just like the representations in life. Especially when the artist in his presentations and choices shows no definite standards; but instead makes decisions based on the serendipitous and the random, in this sense the work shares a common source with the linguistic symbolism of Saussure. The artist places his emphasis upon the inevitable development of the situation following investigation. The natural order that stems from this is that more often than not it is when a member of the audience turns aside they will find themselves penetrated an emotion in the traces of the paintings, and then they realise that states such as past, present and future are not as linear as we are accustomed to believe, but may co-exist within a single orientation, silently yet powerfully revealing the mysteries of ‘existence’.


Back to the Source•Cause and Effect Revealed


The catalogue for the exhibition acted like an independent echo, playing a part like a reflection, not only does it undertake a major feat of explanation, but also allows the audience to smoothly peel back the layers of imagery and discover the likeness of the artist’s true aesthetics. Zhong Biao arranged the catalogue by the eight words, “Prologue, Source, Idea, Traces, Cause, Effect, Image, Epilogue”, which include his investigation of ‘time’ and ‘existence’. For example, in “Source” he writes “Rising against the tide, at the source the fate of the river is beyond our imagination. In their present state, the waters pass by the past and the future, the riverbed is the form of time, the future already exists, waiting for us in the distance.”.  The final “Epilogue” describes his conclusion in clearer terms, “Everything is pre-existent, revealed only in passing”.  In both we can see his attempts to combine aesthetics with philosophy.


We could say that Zhong Biao’s “Revelation” is an exhibition which includes painting, installation and film, with cause as its centre and effect as its exterior, and that cause and effect at best are only the temporary meetings at the beginning and the end, ready to part until their next chance meeting; or that this never to be seen again exhibition concept is doubtlessly a challenge for the audience to “read space through time”; but it is also a deepening of the “determination of the stages of the meetings of the traces of cause and effect” between the audience, artwork and artist, perhaps to make the audience a part of the exhibition, successfully realising the artist’s grandiose aesthetic aim.


Thinking of the Belgian poet Henri de Maeterlinck (1862~1949), who said, “Whenever something happens, whether it is past, present or future, regardless of where it occurs, that moment exists somewhere, in an eternal present. Because of their existence it is possible for us, in some states, to recognise the events of the future, to recognise the place that the paths of our past have not yet taken us.” This passage may be the best footnote for Zhong Biao’s “Revelation” exhibition; even though it was written half a century ago, and may have even appeared before that …


――From “Art Investment” October 2008 Trial Edition 12