From another angle
Updated: 2013-12-06 07:53
By Zhang Zixuan (China Daily)
Zhu Jia takes a noticeable pause before answering every question - apparently his brain works faster than everything else.
At ShanghART Gallery in Singapore's Gillman Barracks art district, the Chinese conceptual artist presents his first-ever solo exhibition in Singapore, which also marks his debut into the whole of the Southeast Asian region, wowing the audience with his vanguard works and unique thinking.
As an event running in parallel with the ongoing Singapore Biennale 2013,Zhu's exhibition has been picked by Blouin Artinfo - an international art website - as the first of the top 10 satellite shows during the biennale.
The exhibition features Zhu's most recent project The Face of Facebook, and some earlier representative video and photographic works, providing an engaging and in-depth retrospective of the artist's works over the past 30 years.
The newest work is made up of more than 60 paintings in various styles and sizes, occupying three joined walls. The foreword indicates that each piece comes from a different creator. However, they all depict the same subject - Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, in profile.
Zhu says the original version of the image is a photograph from a September 2010 issue of New Yorker magazine. The photo was used to illustrate an article headlined "The Face of Facebook", a story about the global networking website's founder.
"I found the profile very classic, reminding me of many great names such Caesar and Mao Zedong, who were also featured at a similar angle," the 50-year-old says of his initial motive for the project.
Zhu sent the photograph to many artists, friends, colleagues and relatives, inviting them to make a creation based on the profile.
"Mark Zuckerberg has created a new way of social connection - that's what I'm interested in the most and why I chose him instead of other figures such as Bill Gates," Zhu explains. "However, the project isn't really about Zuckerberg or Facebook, nor about Facebook's ban in China; it explores connection among people, especially when being adapted with China style."
Since 2011,Zhu has received pictures of Zuckerberg from all over, including pieces from leading contemporary Chinese artists such as Zhang Xiaogang and Yue Minjun. He has also received pieces from non-artists; all have exuded wild imagination and a sense of daring adventure.
These pieces are not marked with the names of their creators. Zhu stresses that he is not a curator of a group exhibition - he is the sole creator of the entire conceptual work.
"The project is very humorous and dynamic. Both the creating process and final presentation unveil how Chinese people establish relationships," says ShanghART Singapore director Xue Liqing.
This is the first time Zhu has used painting in a conceptual project. After eight years of orthodox education in oil painting from the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Zhu abandoned painting and began to use his camera to make images of the world.
Zhu says his switch from brush and canvas to camera and lens was quite accidental. He was given a camera to shoot a friend's wedding ceremony and he forgot to turn it off. Later he found the captured images were surprisingly interesting.
Zhu's first video work that won international acclaim is a 27-minute video titled Forever. The camera was tied to the wheel of a tricycle to capture spinning and vortex-like footage of a street scene in Beijing. The work is featured in his current exhibition.
"Reeling and bizarre, the video outlines a unique visual experience of familiar city scenes observed from an odd angle," Xue says.
The photographic series Did They Have Sexual Relations?, featuring eight black- and-white snapshots, is Zhu's other major work, created one year after Forever.
Zhu asked an assistant to hold a panel with the above - mentioned sentence in Chinese, in front of randomly chosen couples on the street. The panel appears to be a kind of imposed accusation to an unattested crime.
"I found that the lens is not the lens itself, it's your mind; it's not your view, but a subjective imagination in your mind. However, I think the lens itself is strong and aggressive. It comes with the kind of non-negotiable usurpation. There are a lot of things you have no way to discuss openly at that time. I would describe this feeling as 'a soft knife'," Zhu says.
As a conceptual artist, Zhu believes the medium is the last thing to worry about while the thinking is key. Zhu says he believes conceptual art has never really blossomed in China.
The best time was during the 1980s and 1990s, Zhu says, when art had strong connection with other fields. The peak was the group exhibition Another Long March - Chinese Conceptual Art in the 1990s held in the Netherlands in 1997,which Zhu believes was "a group show of the highest quality even looking back at today".
The honeymoon period of Chinese conceptual art ended in 2000 when the capital market invaded the Chinese art world, Zhu says. The value of an artwork or an artist is increasingly defined by auction price.
"I might have edged away too far, but still, honesty makes me fearless," concludes the artist.
Conceptual artist Zhu Jia has taken his solo exhibition to Singapore for the first time, featuring his most recent project The Face of Facebook. Provided to China Daily
(China Daily 12/06/2013 page18)