Zhao Yao was amongst the emerging artists featured in Taikang Space’s "51m2” series that stretched from early 2009 to the beginning of this year; one suspects he will not be the only one to have a solo exhibition this or next year partly as a result. The pieces that occupied a single room at Taikang – the graphite-obscured bank notes, coins rubbed smooth, a chat-room-charted version of Beijing time, a long length of material inscribed with a series of numbers – do not reappear here. What does reappear is a strange sculpture effectively composed of a dark green line -- with a black sludgy substance sticking to its length in places – that is bent and curved into a strange 3-D form; big but weightless, twisted and somewhat dark but somehow dynamic, not ugly. Attendant to this odd conceptual beast is a Chinese character pasted in a line along the floor and round the walls at floor level, swelling big and small in a wavelike fashion, the sound of which when read aloud is an endless "aaaa." It is at first a perplexing and fun discovery to make.
Simply described, Zhao Yao’s current exhibition at Beijing Commune brings together a number of individual works that seem to sit oddly – and enjoyably – together because they appear at once corresponding and juxtaposed. The individual pieces are arranged on a dark floor in the white gallery space: the aforementioned line-sculpture, figurative objects with exploding, zigzagged-line edges, other objects with coloured wooden bases reminiscent of a pop-art POW! shape, found material collages, and a "video" work composed of television sets placed opposite each other at a distance; periodically, block colour flashes across their screens along with a loud clicking sound, like a human tongue mimicking the plop of water. The TVs appear to communicate with these intermittent clicks that at first take the visitor by surprise – a Dada-esque diction arising when it chooses in the otherwise quiet space.
The exhibition text traces a careful path. It implies in none-too opaque terms the difficulty in presenting a new form or idea of art to a waiting audience that has already seen so many ideas, so many works. "Has ‘interpretation’ become a barrier to interaction with art?" it asks. Interaction or encounter, rather than layered "interpretation," seems to be foregrounded in this show, not least because coming upon these works as a group is actually rather amusing or light hearted, and certainly very compelling. It is as if Zhao has grouped together several carefully-enacted references to conceptual art history; superficially enjoyable as objects and with a finely-tuned aura that stops them being trivial, these pieces voice an engaging simplicity. To say that they appear to lack depth feels less like a criticism than something quite refreshing. This is an exhibition to visit more than once.
-- Iona Whittaker
(All images courtesy of Beijing Commune and the artist.)