Shanghai Art Gallery - Chinese Contemporary Art

  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.


© Art Scene Warehouse and Zhong Biao
Images of art by Zhong Biao may not be reproduced without the prior
written presmission of Zhong Biao or Art Scene Warehouse, Shanghai.