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ZHONG BIAO -

INTRODUCTION


It can be said that the transformation China underwent throughout the 1990s is essentially economic. From the transition to market economy launched in the early 1990s to the current macro economic restructuring and the implementation of stock-holding system, nearly every economic measure has brought about great social stirring while resulting in economic growth at the same time. The economic reform and opening up to the outside world, initiated in 1980s, have considerably improved, within the past 20 years, the living standards of Chinese people. Generally speaking, in the early period of economic reform the improvement in living standards was merely quantitative; in other words, though the old Three Durables used to measure the wealth of China's citizenry (wrist watch, sewing machine, and bicycle) have been replaced by the new Three Durables (TV set, washing machine, and fridge), no significant change in life style has taken place. Given the inevitable trend of economic globalization and integration, China's economic reform in the post-1990 era will necessarily lead to the opening-up in economic realm, which in turn will result in cultural opening-up. It can be said that starting from the 1990s every material improvement in China's living standards has been intimately related with spiritual aspect. Telecommunication has made inter-personal communication ceremonial, private car ownership imprinted ordinary life with conspicuous class distinctions, and the thriving of real estate destroyed the traditional life style typical of courtyards with four sides surrounded by houses and made private space possible. The immediate consequence of social and economic opening-up is that large quantity of foreign-made commodities began to flood domestic market. For Chinese people, what they accept is not only the commodities themselves but also the life style advocated by the numerous advertisements accompanying these commodities. China's repeated efforts to crack down on VCD industry and CD-ROM piracy have proved ineffective. Products of this kind have tremendously changed Chinese people's concept and consciousness, for these cheap products are affordable to urban residents in most cities. The emergence of pirated CD-ROMs have not only brought about improved artistic appreciation of films among Chinese people and an immense impact on officially controlled imported films, but also exerted an influence on the ethics of Chinese people. In the meantime, the geometric growth of Internet users within the past years and the development of pop music and fashion magazines have resulted in changed structure of Chinese people's knowledge. In addition, the uneven progress of China's economic reform relative to political reform also has brought about changes in traditional social structure and the corresponding values. The undeniable consequence of economic reform is the breakdown of the traditional values, which is primarily reflected in the loss of life security in modern Chinese society, the newly emerging economic pressure, and the temptation of material wealth. Economic pressure and the richness of material life have, under such circumstances, joined to produce a "composite force" which enables pop culture and consumer culture to irrevocably replace previous ethic education and to become the real dominant force in every aspect of contemporary China's social life.


In the early and mid 1990s, China's new art movement beginning in the 1980s has brought about the emergence of two artistic styles which take pop culture as their forms: political bop and gaudy art. Considering the history of western art, the two styles are typical examples of art classification in contemporary China. Yet the fact remains that the two styles and their hidden origins are characterized by an obvious gap and a disparity in values. Whereas political bop, with its basis in politics, features parallelism and juxtaposition of pop culture symbols and political symbols, showing the chaotic state of China's social values, gaudy art is a two-way tampering of political and pop culture symbols, i.e., commercial credendum is used to break up political symbols and self-consciousness to ridicule philistinism and ignorance of commerce. The internal spiritual orientation and cultural values of gaudy art are jumbled and what we observe is but an artist's cultural attitude. In general, political bop and gaudy art, both internationally recognized standard art styles of contemporary China, target at China's official ideology, and pop culture is merely the medium they adopt, not the focus of their attention. Or what they are concerned is the disintegration of mainstream ideology, and pop culture is nothing but a tool. Pop culture is, in fact, a double-edged sword which can break up certain ideology on the one hand and disintegrate the credendum of humankind on the other. If political bop possesses certain meanings because it can foresee the disintegrating function of culture, then gaudy art under the same guidance degenerates into a handcraft catering to the curiosity of foreign "art sightseers." For gaudy art does not possess the sensitivity to the changes of contemporary Chinese society, nor does it probe deeper into the "Chinese characteristics" of pop culture than political bop does, thus making it merely a political stunt.


Zhong Biao's art and his artistic values have to be understood in the context of these cultural and social changes. As a sensitive artist, Zhong Biao has captured the pulse of China's social reforms through the visual symbols Chinese people are familiar with. He takes all the visual experience of an era as the image sources of his works, including sculpture and china representing China's past glories, the labor models in the Cultural Revolution, and such symbols of modern life as McDonalds and Boeing aircrafts. Of course, most symbols are skyscrapers and western-style buildings in old China. What attracts artists is the different meanings of these images, because in the language of ordinary Chinese people, what used to be synonymous of the once corrupted capitalist society or colonization is now the symbol of modernity. With the development of movie, TV, printing, and digital technology, modern people have successfully undergone an acceptance style transition from one of letters to one of images. With such a new style, images from different times are frequently taken out of their original context and used repeatedly. And in this process they are continuously endowed with new cultural meanings. Zhong Biao's work is like what Facult Michael described as "knowledge archeology." In "visual archeology" similar to "knowledge archeology," he cuts a section from the visual symbols people are familiar with, then takes out those fragmented symbols from the cultural deposits of different times, and last arranges and combines them in a unique way. What he wants to present is not the symbols themselves, but the track of changes in the meanings of the images by setting up specific scenes.


As an artist, Zhong Biao adheres to "visualization" to accomplish his "archeological work." Instead of juxtaposing concepts, he expresses himself through paradoxical scenes. While his early works usually juxtapose cultural images of different times, his later works are characterized by more transformation. He sets color dimensionality against time direction. Those aged images are endowed by artists with colors, yet the images close our daily life are deprived of any color and scene. Lively men lose color, yet the dresses and accessories they wear, which are the symbols of the era, stay on. With the fading away of colors, the limit between reality and memory is completely destroyed and illusion begins. This illusion, rather than being founded on pure biological sensation as in the case of surrealism, is based on cultural accumulation and memory. If surrealist style is but the crisis in self-identity reflected in the early rapid industrialization, then Zhong Biao's works appear to have initiated a "new surrealist style," which embodies an individual’s doubt about his knowledge.


Zhong Biao's unique work style means that his cultural attitude is entirely different from that of previous artists. Be it political bop or gaudy art, what they were eager to put across was their own attitudes, criticizing either ideology or commercial culture. Zhong Biao seems to keep distance with this sort of criticism. In his works we find calmness unique to intellectuals. What he broods over is not how to criticize, but where our evidence for criticism comes from and how their meanings undergo changes. Behind Zhong Biao's pondering over China's pop culture and mass culture, we find a new cultural attitude. Unlike artists concerned about pop culture who either mix their works with real pop culture under the pretext of concept or criticize mass production of pop culture as artists defending old handcraft. It is possible that art based on handwork and individual production is not a match to real mass culture and its media. The relationship between art criticizing mass culture in the name of art and mass culture itself is more like that between a fly bat and a big fly. In Zhong Biao's works, we can see that through the setting of illusions and the incompleteness of images he gives up not only the antagonistic relations between art and mass culture but also the attempt to control mass culture, finding by "visualization" a surf for art in a place where there is no influence of mass culture.


© Art Scene Warehouse 2004-2006.


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Art scene China

Visual Archaeology by Pi Li


As a sensitive artist, Zhong Biao has captured the pulse of China's social reforms through the visual symbols Chinese people are familiar with. He takes the visual experiences of an era as the image source of his works, including sculpture and china representing China's past glories, the labor models of the Cultural Revolution, and such symbols of modern life as McDonalds and Boeing aircrafts. Of course, most symbols are skyscrapers and western-style buildings in old China. What attracts artists is the different meanings of these images, because in the language of ordinary Chinese people, what used to be synonymous with corrupt capitalist society or colonization is now the symbol of modernity. With the development of movies, TV, printing, and digital technology, it seems that the way modern man receives information has already undergone the transition from text to images. In these new circumstances, images from different eras are frequently taken out of their original context and used repeatedly. And in this process they are continuously endowed with new cultural meanings. Zhong Biao's work is similar to the "knowledge archeology" described by Facult Michael. In "visual archeology" similar to "knowledge archeology," he cuts a section from the visual symbols people are familiar with, then takes out those fragmented symbols from the cultural deposits of different times, and last arranges and combines them in a unique way. What he wants is not to show the meaning of symbols themselves, but to reveal the changing meanings of the images through setting up peculiar scenes.


As an artist, Zhong Biao adheres to "visualization" to accomplish his "archeological work." Instead of juxtaposing concepts, he expresses himself through paradoxical scenes. While his early works usually juxtapose cultural images from different times, his later works are characterized by more transformation. He sets color dimensionality against time direction. The artist's imagination adds color to aged images, yet the images close our daily life are deprived of any color and context. Living people lose color, yet the dresses and accessories they wear, which are the symbols of the era, stay on. With the fading away of colors, the limit between reality and memory is completely destroyed and illusion begins. This illusion, rather than being founded on pure biological sensation as in the case of surrealism, is based on cultural accumulation and memory. If surrealist style is but a reflection of the identity crisis experienced by people during the earlier rapid industrialization, then Zhong Biao's works appear to have initiated a "new surrealist style," which embodies an individual's doubt about his knowledge.


Zhong Biao's unique work style means that his cultural attitude is entirely different from that of previous artists. Be it political pop or gaudy art, what they were eager to put across was their own attitudes, criticizing either ideology or commercial culture. Zhong Biao seems to keep a distance from this sort of criticism. In his works we find the calmness unique to intellectuals. What he considers is not how to criticize, but the source of evidence for our criticism and how it's meaning undergoes changes. Behind Zhong Biao's approach to China's pop culture and mass culture, we find a new cultural attitude. He is unlike other artists who deal with pop culture, who either mix their works with real pop culture under the pretext of concept, or use old handcraft methods to criticize the mass production of pop culture. It is possible that art based on handcraft and individual production is not a match for real mass culture and its media. The relationship between art that criticizes mass culture in the name of art and mass culture itself is much like that between a small flyswatter and an enormous fly. In Zhong Biao's works, we can see that through the creation of illusions and the incompleteness of images he gives up not only the antagonistic relations between art and mass culture but also the attempt to control mass culture. Through 'visualization' Zhong Biao has staked out his own claim within the domain of mass culture.


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Frey Norris Gallery

If innovation is simply the result of drawing on skillfully hidden source material, Zhong Biao may be the most innovative painter at work in China today. His gift is not to radically overturn what he's inherited and replace it with a whole new system of art and understanding - as many cutting edge European or American artists have sought to do-but rather, and simply put, he's a collector of disorienting images who paints arresting and intriguing hybrids. These distinctive pictorial inventions are accessible to people all over the world; the artist communicates to a vast audience by drawing on the familiar. His people are distinguished as ephemeral, fleeting and changing, painted in gray-scale, contrasted against the rest of the world, which is far more static, painted in rich color. As the above quote illustrates, the inclusion of a person, symbol or place doesn't always make perfect sense, so the viewer is given something in flux, a relationship to contemplate.

"We don't have to understand everything in each picture. Like our lives, we cannot make sense of everything we have seen or experienced." Zhong Biao

Steven Hawking, Marcel Duchamp, Marilyn Monroe, Alfred Hitchcock, Mao Zedong and many others all find their way into a surreal history of the world that doesn't exist outside the artist's mind. These narratives are more concerned with the passage of time, the contrast of gray-scale and color, and the juxtaposition of clashing symbols, than with explorations of the subconscious. Each is essentially a story from the past, addressing the present and speculating about the future of an accelerating and shrinking world.

Biao's synergistic mix is both pan-Asian and pan-western, drawing on images from Europe and America. Buddhist and Confucian symbols, Communist slogans and songs, commercial products emblazoned with the artist's initials, great works of literature; Zhong Biao deftly situates himself at his very own crossroads, making use of jolting juxtapositions and clashing ideologies. At its heart, the work succeeds as a transfusion between East and West as perceived by the general public and examines things we all have in common. In a calm, even adoring, way Zhong looks at the manners in which every object and bit of information can be transformed into a commodity, a frantic embracing of everything new, of incessant change. A room full of his art is a dizzying bazaar of ideas, which when multiplied against one another produce an infinity of associations.

The art critic and essayist Pi Li has called Zhong Biao's process "knowledge archaeology" or "visual archaeology." He "excavates" popular histories and creates refreshing poetic combinations. Biao's work has received significant attention and commentary in essays and reviews. He recently licensed "Prosperity Brought by the Dragon and Phoenix" to Dragon Air, a Hong Kong based airline that blanketed China with the image through their ad campaign, increasing both national and international awareness of his art, and exposing him to hundreds of millions of people.

Only 40 years old, he has already exhibited in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Korea, El Salvador, Brazil, Germany, the Netherlands and the U.K., among other nations. We are the first gallery to represent Zhong Biao in the United States and the first place in North America where his work can be purchased. We first featured his art in our first Asian Invitational in 2004. In May of 2007, we will hold his first ever solo exhibition in the United States, consisting of approximately twelve canvases and several recent original prints. A 30 page catalogue with an essay by Cantor Center for Visual Art at Stanford University's curator Britta Erickson will accompany the exhibition.