Zhong Biao. The Universe of Unreality. Venice 2013.

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“The Universe of Unreality: Zhong Biao’s Visions”, a solo exhibition of Chinese artist Zhong Biao‘s work, is organised by Beijing’s Today Art Museum in collaboration with Chengdu’s Winshare Art Museum and curated by Prof Xu Gang (Gary Xu), Head of the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Illinois. The exhibition is a combination of various elements such as painting, installation, video, music and interactive design, located at Santa Maria della Visitazione Church in Venice, running until 27 October 2013.

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“The Universe of Unreality” tries to traverse contemporary conflicts between nations, societies, people and natural disasters by questioning the ultimate value. How can we face up to real problems? In Zhong Biao’s view, the hidden connections in the vast universe is a real treasure house, for it has the exact answers we want. It provides the hint which is exactly the chance for human beings to surpass their own limits. By placing this kind of questioning in the church and merging the senses with ideas through art’s reconstruction, even common folks can easily grasp the real meaning that lies deeper within.

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The curator used the following eight questions to replace the common introduction at the entrance to the exhibition, adding only a short text at the end.

* How do we understand the economic, ecological, cultural, and political changes in contemporary China?

* How can we be political without losing the visual richness and complexities of art?

* What happens when the contemporary changes are seen in deeper historical and universal times?

* What happens if we can look at the earth from light years away in space?

* What are revealed in Zhong Biao’s giant sketches titled “Revelations”?

* What are the forces at play in the universe as imagined in Zhong Biao’s “Light Years”?

* Why is the artist’s video “Shangri-La’s Sky” projected onto the dome ceiling?

* How is it relevant to us if we know that the original Tibetan meaning of “Shangri-La” is “the sun and the moon in our minds”?

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This solo show of Zhong Biao’s latest works address all these questions, inviting the audience to interact with his visual imaginations, his political views, and his understanding of the co-existence of past, present and future. One of China’s leading contemporary artists, Zhong Biao has developed a unique hyper-realist multi-perspectivism, making his paintings simultaneously two- and three-dimensional.

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Contingencies and inevitabilities constitute Zhong Biao’s universe of myriad imageries, which he relies on to critique or comment on everything from Hong Kong’s handover, financial crisis, Gwangju Democratic Movement, the Biejing Olympics, to the ecological breakdowns. His immensely rich images are reflective of China’s realities but they also go beyond the immediate reality and into the infinite universe and deep historical times, which he calls “unreality”.

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In this over 500 year old church, Zhong Biao’s art integrated with Venice’s ancient wall paintings. The artist says that “Paintings and spaces are like lovers, they will get along very well if they are familiar with each other’s characteristics. They both have lives. Finding the way to cooperate can activate them in order to lighten up the life.”

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“The Universe of Unreality” is a perfect combination of eastern contemporary art and western classical architecture. It is also the reflection and practice of artist Zhong Biao using artistic language to traverse places and cultures.

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The huge sketch Revelation, 3.5 metres in height and 9 metres in length, displayed on both sides of the walls at the entrance, is filled with streams of consciousness changing without logic, concealing infinite possibilities. The 33 empty frames on the sketch represent the future waiting to become reality. Meanwhile, the 12 metres religious fresco painting on the dome represents the remote past, which expands deeper into the church and guides the visitors to walk around the text board and enter the middle section of the church accompanied by a beam of lights.

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There, turning around to face the entrance, a huge painting named Light Year will jump into sight and help answer the fourth question stated before. When we view the earth in many light years’ distance, we will know that many things that happened on earth have not really disappeared yet, they are just on their way to other distant planets.

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From this point of view, we can conclude that the past, the present and the future of Earth exist together in the sense of space. Light Year explains this co-existence: life emerging from darkness, the changes of the galaxy, the explosions of the supernovas… all of them make us feel tiny and, at the same time, vast.

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A video is projected on the floor, between the two shrines in the middle section of the church: in misty fog there derives the form, just like the way energy moves to create the real, material world via exiting time and space. As the artist explains, all the information of the macro, micro world, and the real world exchange and transverse with each other, forming multi-directional movements yet still fail to fend against the overall trend of going east. Therefore they melt into the universe. The beautiful sounds of nature is what we are sending towards the sky.

P1400274The following space is a dramatic present. Four projectors form a circle and cast light on the dome of the church. The video of the sky was shot in Shangri-La, the place on Earth nearer to the sky, on the south of the Tibetan Plateau. It sublimates the whole scene. When the dome opens, we get to see the Shangri-La sky with casual movements of the clouds and stars; and at night, the video is changed into a virtual travel experience into the cosmos.

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Underneath Shangri-La’s Sky, 81 paintings are like fragments falling from the sky, describing the hidden dynamic world of energy, the restless reality, along with quiet lights and daily scenes, whispering that our suffering is nothing compared to the deeper spaces. Levitating pictures make visitors feel as if time had stopped. The frozen time, for Zhong Biao, is exactly what “the present” means: “look outwards, there are the past and the future; look inward, there is the permanent present without a trace of past or future.”

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The St. Maria and Jesus in the shrine join with the pictures to take us away from reality. Although time difference is still playing with our senses of space and delusions are conveying the information, there is no obstacle that lies in between our inner connection with the universe of unreality. “Just let your thoughts wonder”, as the curator suggests.

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People can walk under the Shangri-La sky with questions, clarifying the revelation and chaos, the past and the future, the reality and the dream, when in fact the whole installation suggests that everything is one unique whole. At this point, what we see might not be true, yet what we feel is by all means, solid.

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Zhong Biao says:

“When we are talking about not seeing through, we are referring to the connection lies in the deep of information pieces. Theatricality is an abundant and intact causality. If we can see through the fragments of reality and spot the complex inner connections that lie in the deep, if we can see the whole process of how the beginning affects the results, we can expect the theatricality. In the deepest place, the world and the universe is a united whole. Everything interacts with each other.”

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More about the artist

Born in Chongqing in 1968, Zhong Biao is one of leading artists that emerged from the late 1960s generation. His works are full of passion and strong visual imagination. From 1987 to 1991, he studied in the Department of Oil Painting at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, now the China Academy of Art, and is currently an associate professor at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute. He lives and works in Beijing and Chongqing. Zhong Biao experiences the limits in society, and understands the infinite limits of the universe, combining the view of life in the real world and the view of the universe in the world of energy.

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All Photographs: “The Universe of Unreality: Zhong Biao’s Visions”, Chiesa di Santa Maria della Visitazione, Venice 2013. Photos: Prof Danilo Ardia.

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