Uncertain Pleasures

Chinese Artists

The Chinese Oil Painter Who Became The Father Of Video Art In China – Zhang Peili

Known as “the Father of Video Art in China”, Zhang Peili is a contemporary artist, a curator, and a new media art pioneer. His artworks aim to show the paradox of the relationship between man and the world. Instead of defining his position in his works, Zhang tends to isolate himself from any subjective values and let the audience decide from their own perspective.

Zhang Peili never stops making new choices in his artistic exploration, “Life is all about choices”, he once stated in an interview. The skeptical attitude against empiricism is in his blood and has been proved by his works from oil paintings to contextual art, and from contextual art to the exploration of video installations. Zhang Peili believes in no stated rule for the creation of art, and he suggests that artworks should just present the concrete facts which are full of randomness.

Born into a doctor’s family in 1957 in Hangzhou, Zhang Peili was lucky enough to choose his own life in learning oil painting at the China Academy of Fine Arts. In his earlier works he experimented with aesthetics of boredom, and has played with the themes of technological, social, and political control.

Zhang Peili stopped oil painting in 1994, when he got bored of it, and picked up a new interest in contextual art. He chose contextual art as a brand new way to express himself, because he believed that contextual art is more comprehensive than visual art. “To think is very different from to see. Using your brain to think may cover a lot more than merely using your eyes to see”, says Zhang.

However, what made Zhang Peili a household name in China is his exploration into video art. He started the exploration in the late 1980s, when China had just gone through its isolation of the Cultural Revolution. Only a few people at that time had the opportunity to step out of the country to view the artworks by Andy Warhol or Bruce Naumann (Zhang Peili is not an exception), which is probably why people were astonished when Zhang Peili’s video work 30×30 first came out.

“When I first shot 30×30, what I was interested in was the timeline and the video language, as well as the effects that were brought to my audience”, said Zhang. “What I was trying to do was to replace the pleasure presented by normal videos by something tedious, boring, and even disgusting. There is no story or emotion in this video. It seems like that I recorded a process, but the process has no beginning or ending. It won’t change much if you start watching it from anywhere in the middle.”

In another video work, Zhang Peili recorded the decay of a cake in a closed room with Pudong as the background. “The cake here is a symbol”, he says. “Rather than mere food, cakes are more often bought for memory and celebration. And it is not hard to tell that Pudong symbolized a more developed China. The funny thing is, though, prosperity and eternality are all comparative terms. As time goes by, the cake turned into a pile of shit under the background of Pudong.”


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