Zhang Xiangxi: Screen Savant

The Chinese Artist Creates Miniature Universes in Abandoned Television Shells and Empty Fridges

A series of hollowed-out cathode ray tube television sets frame beguiling scenes imagined in artist Zhang Xiangxi's best-known works, begun while studying sculpture at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Art. Situated in a small creative community in Hei Qiao Cun on the northeastern edge of the city, his studio is littered with second-hand appliances like washing machines, which become the sites of miniature worlds inspired by locations such as Zhang's old workspace in Guangzhou, the workers' dormitory he once lived in, his parent’s sitting room, the interior of a train carriage—even his dream home. They are replicas rendered faithfully, but playfully, often using the cement, brick, glass, stone or paper materials found in their life-sized equivalents. “I like to closely observe daily life and work out how to make things,” he says.  Since moving north to Beijing from Guangzhou with his wife and fellow artist Liu Tian Lin five months ago, Zhang has been working on recreating an intricate five-floor mall inside a large old refrigerator. But whether or not it's a comment on his new surroundings in a city where the old and the abandoned are being elbowed out by the shiny and new, Zhang will not say. His work toured his home country last year and has brought the 33-year-old artist a degree of fame oversees, and he will exhibit as part of a collective of Chinese artists in Bangkok in May as well showing four works at the upcoming 55th Biennale di Venezia.

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    Lily Cole: Wild Rubber

    The Model-Turned-Polymath Takes Us Deep Into the Brazilian Amazon

    A region in peril is distilled on 8mm film in Wild Rubber, directed by the multi-talented Lily Cole. The flame-haired model made the short while on assignment in Acre, northwest Brazil as an ambassador for Sky Rainforest Rescue, a partnership between Sky and WWF that raises awareness of the jungle’s plight, and aims to help protect one billion trees in the area. Cole, who has successfully melted the divide between the worlds of fashion, art, film and literature, shot the film across a day-lit Amazon vista after spending time with a rubber-tapping community in Feijó, where she learned more about the practice she believes is key to curbing deforestation. The hazy sepia and cyan-toned video depicts bird flocks, rainbow-hued spiders and nymph-like forms diving into the river’s purple wash. It is relatable, youthful, and eerie—particularly when overlaid with Cole’s soft British-accented singing. “Early one morning, I took a few hours out to go into the forest alone to film, and make a sound recording on my iPhone,” she says. “I only had two rolls left, so every shot felt incredibly precious.”

    Aesthetically, the film has an old-school look. How did you select this format?
    Lily Cole: I had been meaning to buy a non-digital camera last year in Paris, when I happened to run into Tacita Dean—a friend and one of my favourite artists who campaigns for film to be valued and protected as a medium. She took me shopping for a camera and we found this 8mm in one of the last camera shops in Paris to still sell it. I took it with me to Brazil and, without time to construct a set narrative, I simply captured moments as we explored the area, shooting whatever drew my eye. 

    What are your hopes for the future of rainforest conversation?
    LC: I hope a growing market can be created for forest products, such as wild rubber, as it essentially could protect the rainforest by making it worth more standing than cut down. Knowing she is passionate about the rainforest, I asked Vivienne Westwood if she would be able to make a dress using rubber for this year’s Met Ball to show its potential versatility, and she and her partner Andreas made something very special for me to wear. This isn’t for a consumer audience but who knows what we can do in time.

    What is the most memorable thing to have occurred during your time in Brazil?
    The rubber tapping itself was very impactful. Cutting thick lines into bark to watch a latex material bubble up was very surreal and filled my mind with possibilities. Rubber seems like such a synthetic material so it is really surprising to see that it is produced by a tree.

    Has deforestation been curbed at all?
    LC: Yes! Last year it was reported that deforestation rates were declining. Paraguay reduced the rate in their country by 85% following the enactment of its 2004 Zero Deforestation Law. It doesn’t mean the issues are fully resolved but I feel very optimistic that we are heading in that direction.

    Why is this cause important to you?
    LC: About 20% of the planet’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon rainforest so it's definitely something to value. Well, if you appreciate air. 

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    Mobile M+: High Art

    Inflatable Originals from Jeremy Deller and Paul McCarthy Command Hong Kong’s Shoreline

    A large-scale pig and a bouncy re-imagining of Stonehenge star in Mobile M+: Inflation!, an exhibition that taps into the irreverent side of Hong Kong’s contemporary art scene. To mark the awakening of a cultural district in Kowloon, M+, the city’s new museum for visual culture, has installed six huge inflatables on a stretch of once-derelict land along the Victoria Harbour waterfront. Documented here by photographer Kurt Tong, the public show incorporates the work of influential and often X-rated Los Angeles sculptor and performance artist Paul McCarthy, and Britain’s Turner Prize-winning conceptual artist Jeremy Deller. Asia is represented by South Korea’s master of inflatable art Choi Jeong Hwa, China’s Cao Fei, renowned for works that incorporate role play and simulated reality, and Hong Kong artist Tam Wai Ping, who once floated a blow-up temple above the original holy site that inspired it in Taiwan. M+ will not open until 2017, but in the meantime curator Tobias Berger will be taking full advantage of the surrounding park land. “There are already plenty of MoMAs out there,” explains Berger. “We are open to all fields of visual art and want to be more fluid and inclusive than those who have gone before us.”

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