The attraction of Zhong Biao’s works lies in his a unique perception and observation of images.  Whether that should be images from old photos or romance and confusion in scenes of modern life, they are arranged together with a unique sequence in his paintings, which in itself creates a unique atmosphere.  Temporality has been an integral element of Zhong Biao’s previous works, according to him, “It actually makes no difference whether it is ancient or modern, western or eastern, our present includes all of our yesterdays, even those things that we have forgotten about; to put it another way, today is in fact the sum of all of our yesterdays, and all things of today will be carried forward and enveloped in the future.  Conversely, as we face the many possibilities of things to happen in the future, those possibilities too are enveloped in our present day.  This moment and this place, Yuan dynasty antiques, a chair from one hundred years ago, a sofa produced just last year, this year’s freshest batch of tea, or bread just out of the oven, these things are only differentiated by the time of their production, they have their own possibilities which fills the air and gives rise to the future.  All things co-exist naturally, changing all the time.  Therefore, the past, present and future form an indivisible whole and as we pass through, we are making an entrance upon its part and nothing more.  In fact, Zhong Biao’s experience may not be a universal one, but it may actually more closely resemble the unique existential experience in the process of modernization and urbanization of China.


The spiritual experience of the process of modernization was described in the 1920's by Pearl S. Buck, “the intellectuals have received all manner of extremist education both in spiritual and materialistic terms, squeezed between the masses of stubbornness and conservatism.  A big gap is hence created and this gap is so great that it cannot be filled by their intelligence alone, and so their souls are lost and confused amidst this contradiction”.  Urbanization, as the fruit of modernization, produces a particular kind of cultural background and visual experience for today, “it is the misplaced pieces of Paris, New York and London, and sometimes it is a skilful blending of Jerusalem, Borobudur and a Japanese shrine . . . He fuses together the ancient doorways of Yanjing alongside the seemingly impossible modernity of the Sears Tower” (Zhong Ming, 1993).  To me, what Zhong Biao’s works communicates is precisely this feeling of misplacement, contradictory and impossible fusion, and the direction that lies behind such contradictions lies the “loss and confusion” of the soul.


With the flow of time, images tend to become ready-made, whereas Zhong Biao’s paintings are like a piece of installation art, a placement and arrangement of ready-made objects.  His arrangement and judgement of these images are then presented to the audience.  This type of objective perception could more fittingly be described as the effective transmitting of principles via a modern visual experience, which seems to remove it yet further from painting in its traditional sense of the word.  The technical skill and curiosities in Zhong Biao’s paintings are usually carefully retained.  They may at times realize in the effects of a preparatory sketch, or a sunset of flesh tones.  This methodology has consistently placed his works outside of the standard modern Chinese painting style of Expressionism for the last ten or so years.  Unlike many of his contemporaries who are also excellent artists, Zhong Biao’s creations are not pictorial, but are based on the relationship between images, or the visual presentation of misplaced time.


The expression of the paradoxical nature of time is a theme that has permeated Zhong Biao’s previous works, and now he is attempting to go one step further.  Perhaps this is because the arrangement of images, whilst direct is not complete enough, for the artist; he therefore attempts to have his paintings reflect further visual curiosities and realize modern conceptualism at the same time.  With this in mind, within the limited dimension of time, Zhong Biao has begun to consciously increase the spatial curiosities in his paintings.


In the new “Beyond Painting” project, space has two layers of meaning.  Firstly the layering of space in the paintings has begun to show signs of moving away from logical lines.  In Zhong Biao’s early works, he would always try to make the non-existent spaces more objective when opening up the arrangement of images along the temporal dimension.  This idea is reflected in the layering of different images as its key technique, leaving empty spaces to create a feeling of spatial depth.  At present Zhong Biao uses the form of paintings within paintings, moving a part of the background painting directly to a central position on the canvas, whilst using a clear-cut framing to establish their distance from the background.  Compared to earlier creations, his present series of works no longer seek to create a certain logic, but wilfully emphasize the illogical.  One space full of paradoxes after another is produced.  Through the repetition and layering of different spaces, we feel as if a certain point in time has undergone a real and objective repetition, and has been visualized and captured.  The works approach what psychologists refer to as the experience of “déjà vu”, however, appearing on a canvas, this moment of “déjà vu” is captured and preserved, whilst we do not need much time to realise it and begin to feel as if we have lost the feeling of real time, we become detached, doubtful of what is true and false.


The addition of spatial elements in this new project also includes the physical space of the exhibition hall.  We see the twelve metre long painting hanging there, enclosed on both sides by mirrored reflections, on the wall opposite this main painting, details of the original painting hang, repeated in black and white; that is to say that spaces copied from the original painting have been made real and temporal and moved to a new space altogether.  Owing to the deliberately low placement of the point of view in the main painting, the life-size images, the use of mirrors causes the audience to also be reflected in the piece as soon as they enter the physical confines of the exhibition space - they too become a part of the painting.  Strictly speaking, Zhong Biao attempts to introduce new elements of expression into the spatial dimension of the painting itself, it is for this reason that the painting attains the qualities of installation art.  At the same time, the whole painting, along with the repeated details and the black and white details within the real frames create a repetition and extension of space, and the reflections in and presence of the mirrors cause the inclusion of the audience’s bodies into the painting, thus adding a layer of complexity to the already complex game of space and the visual experience created.


The biggest difference between this new work and Zhong Biao’s earlier works is that not only are the images ready made, the painting itself has become a ready made object.  In the same fashion, the audience is not there merely to observe the painting, but is led into a new territory of experience.  In these new visual relationships, the audience is no longer a passive observer in the peculiar temporal feeling that Zhong Biao creates, but is passively drawn into the visual temporal-spatial game.  For us, “Beyond Painting” is an ambitious plan by an artist; he seeks to melt the dimension of time into the displacement of space and exchanges with colour.  In this vast visual game, Zhong Biao’s aspiration is to further explore the realist language of painting that is created by the techniques of perspective and three dimensional space as well as the mechanical reproduction of contemporary visual culture, and where its possibilities may lie.  At the same time, he asks to what extent painting can enter into our complex visual culture and existential experience.  Just as Zhong Biao packages time in space, our visual experience is often enveloped in our experience of life.  A further result of this is that our observation of the paintings becomes an experience in their setting.  We experience not only the transcendence of space and time, but the weightlessness in the whirlpool of space-time.  That is our experience in this exhibition which is common in reality itself.



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