In 2011, Chinese artist Zhao Zhao (* 1982 in Xinjiang) created the expansive sculpture of a still image of a police officer that had fallen and broken into many pieces. The fictional ‘service number’ 201143 on the jacket of the uniform could be interpreted as an indication of the date of Ai Weiwei’s abduction; nonetheless the sculpture was exhibited in Beijing for weeks without problems. In 2012, the work was seized by Chinese authorities from the customs storage. An invoice with the sum of 300,000 RMB was sent to the artist, in order for him to pay the 'destruction' costs of the artwork he created. (Please see the article in DER SPIEGEL, no. 34/2012.) Zhao Zhao, who works in Beijing, received a never officially formulated exhibition ban, but his sculpture remained 'untouched' and the balance of the invoice remained unpaid.
The title NOTHING INSIDE makes a direct reference to the eponymous (and last) show in our Beijing gallery in summer of 2012. In that exhibition, very few works were exhibited and these were absolutely secondary in context to the space. While completely darkening the space, the artist ostensibly went against the traditional exhibition design, where artworks are the central element of one’s perception. The darkness ignored the paintings of the artist; it even demoted these, as it hid what should be seen. Through the targeted exclusion of artwork, Zhao demonstrated the deprivation of their right to exist in a powerful way. The result was a sculpture in space that did not exactly show lost perceptions, but rather knew how to represent them.
The upcoming exhibition in Berlin is a sequel to exhibition NOTHING INSIDE and will partially reconstruct the initial installation, but this time the works themselves will be visible. Furthermore, these works will be complimented by works that have been created since then.
One of which is a large-scale painting of the riding monk, Xuanzang. It is based on Journey to the West, a Chinese folk epic dating back to the Ming Dynasty, where a monk travels in the direction of the western sky to bring Buddhism to China, and learns about suffering in many ways on his journey. Zhao depicted the monk from behind, from eastern point of view while the monk still rides away. This classic novel is still well known by most Chinese people today, along with its iconography. Nevertheless this depiction must seem strange, partly because the monk's face is hidden, and partly because what is usually depicted as a noble horse is an ungraceful creature in this case.
This image was created in dark colours, which can be said for most of Zhao’s works created after the events of the past year. The smaller sized works usually show figurative and banal subjects, such as peculiar deformed fruit, or objects that are so difficult to decipher that they border on abstraction. They are sometimes barely visible, or crossed out by white lines, reminiscent of the prison windows which bear reference to his situation and that of other critical artists in China.
The content, form and media diversity of Zhao Zhao’s work further express his critical attitude: in order to question constructed meanings, he tests the boundaries of reality and its ideological conventions, as well as cultural stereotypes and the dominance of certain, primarily European categories of art history.
NOTHING INSIDE (II) is the third solo exhibition at the ALEXANDER OCHS GALLERIES BERLIN | BEIJING.