As we in China live in a society that is developing at an unprecedented rate, our perception of reality and history may very well have nothing in common with that of any past era or of any other nation. The shape of history and reality changes with great speed, and because of this speed, history and reality appear to be overly buoyant.
Zhang Xiaogang’s continual exploration and creation fulfills a process through which we construct the necessary consciousness of the self and thus are able to develop. We need him to persevere, to carry out his practice.
16:9 is the modern way of watching and seeing things. Together with the artist, we are here to confront this.
Hello! I'm sorry that it's taken me so long to answer you. It's not because I don't want to or anything, but because every time I pick up my pen, I just end up sitting there, stuck without knowing how to begin, or what to say. In a flash, autumn has flown by along with the fierce wind. I had meant to take the camera out to photograph the yellow leaves, but when I finally had the time to go out, there was nothing left but withered branches. The once brightly colored trees had been stripped bare by the wind overnight, and the once yellow-black earth of below woven into a myriad of colors by their leaves. The contrast with the visible half of the surrounding building was striking. Only the pine bonsai at home was still lush and verdant, naturally alive and growing. They say this year isn't a good one. The famines never stop. As soon as one war is fought, another one starts up. The financial crisis is slow in going away (housing prices here have gone up again). There are too many unnatural deaths. Family leaves us one after another. When work isn't going well, people start getting suspicious. There's the problem of our children's education, of getting into better schools. People talk about these issues as they talk about power, profit, and traps, as if they were talking about meaningless things like quiz shows, fake emotions, or probing into the lives of others. The little blood vessel next to my heart has become intractably clogged...and so much more seems to have befallen us this year. Sometimes, it seems like we've no choice but to believe in idealism, doesn't it? Perhaps what the rapid development of the age brings us isn't only material success, but also, a pile of garbage on our souls. I must sound pretty desperate talking like this. But on the contrary: although I don't know why, I feel curiosity and desire for everyday life as autumn fades away. Slowly, I have begun to understand the slant of sunlight more deeply than before, the occasional puzzlement of the trees among its quivering rays. I'm not complaining by telling you all this, nor is it some excess lyricism. It's just that I haven't written you for so long,and I feel I should “incorporate scenes from the outside.”My apologies. I've held dear to me the music you sant. Although high quality CD’s are a dime a dozen these days, I find that some music will always follow you around. Until death, this music won't let go of you. With the passing if each day, the relation between you and it multiplies in strength. In it there is warmth, sentiment, awakening. It fills us with daydreams so that the music that accompanies you will not disappear, but rather, will quietly appear in your life when you least expect it. The book you sent I have also remains dear to me, but I find that it is a novel that can never be finished-perhaps only at the very end of my life I will understand the secrets it contains. I have also realized that no matter how many times I read it, the book is never the one and the same. Even if I were to read it backwards, everything would still tie together. Thank you for so many precious gifts-I don't need to mention them all here. In a word, I shall cherish them until my demise. Well, that’s all for now. Take care! ---Zhang Xiaodong 2010.12.07, 4:27PM
In this “16:9” exhibition, there are works from Zhang’s “Train Window” series. During the artist’s early learning and maturation period, trains (and riding in them) played an extremely important role, carrying Zhang to a world inside himself, a world that contained all the knowledge he would gain, opportunities he would ave and friends he would make, a world he would come to perceive with his body. This world contains romantic longing (a young boy who played the violin), patterns of idealism (red plum blossom and green pine), as well as all the schools and countryside that reshape every individual’s experience and education. With his use of line and even application of paint, Zhang attempts to re-experience, or at least to leave traces again on his experience, traces replete with all the tenderness of a caress. His use of color makes it seem as if a thin layer of sand were covering the entirety of the canvas, and the imagery of line conveys what seem to be the stains of tears that could not bear to live, searching for a lost connection.
Ours is a world of screens that has already become the medium through which we receive information and knowledge of the self. This world inherently possesses a fictitious character, one that history and the memory themselves share.
From the series “Big Family” and “Amnesia and Memory” to “In-Out” and “Green Wall”, we can detect a process through which the culture of his self is consciously released and thus defined. In his newest work, we continue to feel the natural extension and development of his creation, through now he has placed greater emphasis on position, and perspective. This does not only apply to this exhibition. It is also a clarification of the position and perspective in his earlier work.
The “Heaven” series depicts a series of imagined relationships that are often inappropriate, and an impulse to re-define what those relationship mean. The artist has always been immersed in his perception of all sorts of relations, as visible in all his different periods and series. For him, depiction is not only expression of form, but a method for illustrating these relations as well. What’s interesting is that when art in the context of modern China was earliest taught to be used as a tool-and only a tool-for reflection, the artist as an individual had been ostracized. And that today, in accordance with the progress of the times, the artist as an individual has been given newfound respect, as a true practitioner of art,as someone who lives art; and that this “tool” has already thoroughly penetrated the development of all sorts of complex relations between the individual and society.
In the several works of this exhibition, we can see a life that is both fleeting and familiar. Zhang Xiaogang is trying to get a film grip on that life, even if it is in a constant state of movement (the imagery of the train carriage and the medicine bottle). He must solidify a kind of hope, even if that hope only appears in the shadow of memory or history. Our era is like a train that constantly deserts the “now”. As this train carries us whistling towards the future, the artist has chosen to remain in one particular moment, hoping to keep the visible components of reality and history as part of his private memory. Remaining in that moment is a reaction against the fleeting nature of time, an individual’s transcription of public memory.
The 16:9 aspect ratio is considered optimal for feature films and online gaming. Within this scale, then, what we have begun to experience is fictional life, fictional feelings. It works for the tear-jerking melodrama of TV dramas, and the thrill of online gaming. Our energy is suddenly expended on fictional feelings directed at mass audiences.
What corresponds to the “real world” seems to no longer be part of the “historical world”, instead part of the “fictional world”. Real life is already being rebuilt under the constructs of fiction. Zhang Xiaogang is attempting to make contact with the truth through personal experience,and in depicting this process, he fictionalizes the relationship between memory and reality. Through this fiction, he releases himself; and history, memory and reality all become a component if this release.