You walk into the gallery. There’s a thin piece of paper lying on the floor. Your first thought is that this is another example of the kind of conceptual work that gives art a bad name. Then you notice that it’s not really lying on the floor, but that its corners are curving away from it. As if the thing is trying to fly off. At this point, you notice that each of the corners of the sheet is tied to a gas-filled balloon (of the simple type that might decorate a children’s party, rather than something that might support intercontinental travel) bobbing around near the ceiling. As you move to approach the sheet it takes on an animate form and dances across the floor. The last, of course, is the effect of the air your body displaces as it moves in space. So, while all the attention appeared to be on the sheet of paper and its balloon supports, it stops short of asserting its own presence in the end, and rather serves to remind you of your own. The work is called Walking Balloon (2013), and like most of Tant Zhong’s output, it is simple, elegant, somewhat comic, perhaps even absurd, and with the faint whiff of a classroom physics demonstration.
But what the Shanghai-based artist really explores are the basic elements of sculpture: those made visible in the form of material expression (the paper and rubber balloons of Walking Balloon, the Slinkylike coils – and punning title – of The Endless Spring, 2017, the wooden boards, rubber balls, copper tubes and steel brackets of Materials Group – Part 2, 2015); and the invisible forces of gravity and buoyancy. Sometimes simple is best. And simple mixed with elements of whimsy and humour (The Princess and the Pea, 2016; Riverbed, 2017) is better still.
Tant Zhong is a Shanghai-based artist, primarily working in the field of sculpture, who trained in China and London. Her most recent solo show took place at J:Gallery, Shanghai, in 2017.
Mark Rappolt is editor-in-chief of ArtReview Asia
From the Summer 2018 issue of ArtReview Asia, in association with K11 Art Foundation