August 31, 2018 - S.M.A.K. - Zhang Peili: Uplifting
August 31, 2018


Zhang Peili, X?, 1986. Oil on canvas. M+ Sigg Collection. © Zhang Peili [2012.40].

Zhang Peili
June 2–October 21, 2018

Jan Hoetplein 1
9000 Ghent
Hours: Tuesday–Friday 5:30pm–9:30am,
Saturday–Sunday 10am–6pm

T +32 9 323 60 01

Since the mid-1980s, Zhang Peili (b. 1957, Hangzhou) has made a significant contribution to the field of contemporary art in China and beyond: first as a painter associated with ’85 New Wave, China’s first avant-garde movement, which rebelled against the doctrine of Socialist Realism, then as a conceptual artist, during which period he became widely known as the godfather of Chinese video art. His artistic practice, comprising painting, text, video, sound and digital media, has played a pioneering role in shaping the histories of Chinese art.

Zhang has formed his work conscious of art’s commercialisation, institutionalisation and ideological appropriation. He has defied, as he puts it, “mechanisms of restraint” by avoiding “interference from power unrelated to art”. Accordingly, Zhang explores the intricate interplay between power and subversion that mediates between art, entertainment and social, political and cultural apparatuses. Through his reflection on reality and its mediation, Zhang examines the representational capacity of various media by subverting or appropriating their conventions and, in so doing, questions the essence and social purpose of art. Embodied by the use of restraint and repetition, Zhang’s work, with its aesthetics of control, boredom and absurdity, offers a subtle commentary on the social, political and cultural environment.

S.M.A.K. is proud to announce Zhang’s first solo exhibition in Europe. With a selection of works covering the last thirty-five years, Uplifting plots Zhang’s artistic trajectory from his rational paintings and textual pieces to his early video works and recent media installations. Borrowed from the sound installation A Standard, Uplifting, and Distinctive Circle along with Its Sound System (2015), the title refers to the "uplifting" propaganda campaign of the Reform and Opening-Up Era that dramatically transformed post-1978 China.

Starting in the mid-1980s, Uplifting addresses Zhang’s painting and textual practice. To give an example, the "X?" series (1986–87), cold and realistic paintings portraying clinical gloves cleansed of possible affect and narrative content, provoked reflection on art’s raison d’être and annulled Zhang’s earlier involvement with the Chinese avant-garde movement ’85 New Wave. Together with textual instruction projects such as Procedure of “Ask First, Shoot Later”: About “X?” (1987) and Brown Book No. 1 (1988), "X?" epitomises Zhang’s artistic principles, which continue to guide his rational and conceptual practice today.

Moving towards the 1990s, Zhang’s iconic video works 30 x 30 (1988), considered to be the first video artwork produced in China, Document on “Hygiene” No. 3 (1991), and Water: Standard Version from the Cihai Dictionary (1991) are also included in the exhibition. Deconstructing the codes and conventions of television, seminal works like these mock the medium’s passive and submissive spectatorship and include a myriad of underlying subtexts. Multi-channel video installations such as Assignment No. 1 (1992) and Uncertain Pleasure II (1996), for example, allude to China’s 1990s transition from a disciplinary society to a society of control. Recent media works such as the responsive video installation Lowest Resolution (2005) and the sound work A Standard, Uplifting, and Distinctive Circle along with Its Sound System (2015) are evidence of Zhang’s continuing research on communication systems and his enduring interest in audience interaction.

Zhang Peili was born in 1957 in Hangzhou, where he still lives and works. He studied oil painting at the Zhejiang Academy of Arts (China Academy of Art) from 1980 to 1984. After graduating, Zhang became one of the pioneering artists of ’85 New Wave and co-founder of the Hangzhou-based art group Chi She (Pond Society). In 1988, Zhang broke new ground by introducing video art into China. Since 2002 he has run the Embodied Media Studio at the School of Intermedia Art (China Academy of Art). Zhang has recently held solo exhibitions at the Minsheng Art Museum in Shanghai (2011) and the Art Institute of Chicago (2017).

With the kind support of Boers-Li Gallery, Beijing/New York

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