Zhang Peili is a senior artist who emerged in the first wave of Chinese contemporary art in the 1980s. His seminal video work 30 X 30 (1988) anchors his reputation as one of the most significant figures in Chinese contemporary art and is broadly accepted as being the first video art work produced in China.
After studying painting at Zhejiang Art Academy (now the China Academy of Art), Zhang’s experimental practice quickly transgressed painting. His conceptual approach to art making led him to a variety of media and techniques including instructional text, photography, mail art, performance and sculptural installation. While his expanded practice is once again being studiously considered following his first major retrospective at the Minsheng Art Museum in 2011, it is his video and media work that is best known. His experiments with media-art-forms critique the hardware employed as both a physical medium and as a social construct. Zhang’s early video practice, developed independently of his contemporaries in the West, is personal in subject matter and deeply rooted in the social and political conditions of China.
The exhibition presents two recent works in conversation with two other significant works from the early part of Zhang’s career; Uncertain Pleasure (1996) and Document on ‘Hygiene’ no. 3 (1991). An ongoing project in Zhang’s practice is the deconstruction of authoritative claims, and recurrently his work has addressed the specific claims of media, technology, language, politics, and medicine. His treatment of technology (specifically, screen media) as an illusory form is analogous to his treatment of these other authoritative forms. In Zhang’s work, however, authority is not always actively rejected – sometimes it is treated as benign, other times it is unwillingly tolerated. This is evident in the recent works presented in this exhibition, Q + A + Q (2012) and Standard Translation (2008-2010) – the latter work originally commissioned by MAAP and presented here for the first time in a gallery setting.
The exhibition curates a small selection of works produced over a two-decade span, offering a unique perspective on the artist’s experimentation with media. Apart from this being a rare opportunity to see a collection of Zhang Peili’s work, it is also timely to consider the impact of this highly influential artist on the current generation of Chinese media artists and internationally.