ArtReview is pleased to present an exhibition of works by Zhu Jia at Modern Art Space, Shanghai, curated by ArtReview and ArtReview Asia editor-in-chief Mark Rappolt. Running from 11 November to 13 December 2020, its launch will coincide with Shanghai Art Week
Based in Beijing (normally), Zhu Jia is considered one of the pioneers of video art in China, with works such as Forever (1994), which features footage captured by a high-8 camera attached to the wheel of a tricycle as the artist pedalled through the streets of Beijing offering an early and dizzying documentary of the relationship between the city and the body in the context of China’s fast evolving urban and social development of the time, and increasingly the onset and effects of globalism. The theme of the disorientating relationship between dreams and realities is further evolved in other works from the period such as the video Talk (1992) and the photo series My Room (1994).
While developing his practice in the then new medias of video and photography Zhu Jia kept a focus on the individual attempting to find a place in society and the relation of private dreams to public expressions, certainty and uncertainty, at the heart of his work, while continuing to experiment the with the potential of the mediums. These themes continued to preoccupy him as he spent periods of time outside of China, in the US and Europe, documenting, in new ways, the experience of being a stranger in a strange land, his own family history (Waltz, 2013), and the nature of artistic community (The Face of Facebook, 2011).
More recently the artist has moved to explore similar themes through the medium of paint, culminating in an exhibition, Recent Paintings, at ShanghART Gallery, Shanghai this past September. But as the world has come to terms with lockdowns, border closures, national isolation, a lack of mobility (in every sense) and a new sense of the fragile nature of globalisation and the forces that shaped it during the COVID-19 era, the themes that Zhu Jia has engaged with throughout his career – dislocation, isolation and unsettling relationships to the environment surrounding us – have returned to the fore in a way that allows his probing of them to offer new insights into current times. An era in which we are all reminded of our relationship to our environment, while being alienated from it at the same time. In that respect, Related to Environment (1997), in which a goldfish jumps, flips and struggles to breathe outside of water, might seem an articulation, now, of the primary fear of the age of the virus.
Appropriately this exhibition was founded on dislocation: conceived in London (where both the artist and the curator are currently locked down), and on show in Modern Media’s Modern Art Base in Shanghai. A personal exchange, an international conversation in which we travel without moving, stay the same but change. A virtual presencing. A homecoming of sorts.
The works on show in Faraway Friends span the course of Zhu Jia’s career to date: the earliest were made before the age of social media; the most recent, just before the age of social distancing. Yet you could say that they are about both those things: media and distance. And all of it under the guise of various ideas of what it means to be governed by everchanging definitions of ‘social’. Follow in the artist’s footsteps, through videos, photography and, more recently, paintings (all of those on show here depicting artworld gatherings), and you’ll find it to be a very shifty path. A negotiation between common sense and a particular sense. Always somewhere in between.
Don’t panic. It’s not the destination but the journey that counts, the saying goes. And so we taxi along, but never quite take off. (The 747, incidentally, is another ‘victim’ of COVID-19. In July Boeing announced that it would cease production of that icon of travel in 2022.) But back to what’s present. Zhu Jia himself appears in half the works on show here. Usually at a distance, on the margins, or the fringe. In fact, in some ways he’s not really ‘here’ at all. But I think, by now, we all know what it’s like to not quite actually be here. Or there. Wherever it is we think we’re headed. ‘We travel, some of us forever,’ the French-American writer Anaïs Nin once wrote, ‘to seek other states, other lives, other souls.’ And sometimes, also, our own.
Zhu Jia, born in 1963, Beijing. Graduated from China Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1988. He lives and works in Beijing. Selected exhibitions include Zhu Jia: Recent Paintings, ShanghART Gallery, Shanghai, 2020; Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2017; 3rd Bienal de Montevideo 2016, Montevideo, Uruguay, 2016; That Has Been, and May Be Again, Para Site, Hong Kong, 2016; Displaying Fragments , Ten Years of OCAT (2005–2015), OCAT, Beijing, 2015; Critical Pervasion, ShanghART Gallery & H Space, Shanghai, 2015; Mobile M+: Moving Images, Hong Kong, 2015; LANDSEASKY: Revisiting Spatiality in Video Art, OCT Contemporary Art Terminal, Shanghai, 2014; Out of the Box’: The Threshold of Video Art in China 1984–1998, Guangdong Times Museum, Guangzhou, 2011.
Special thanks to ShanghART Gallery, Shanghai for making this exhibition possible