For her first solo exhibition in the United States, O Zhang transforms CRG’s space with an installation that has at its center images from her latest photographic series: The World is Yours (But Also Ours). While some images are viewed as conventionally treated photographs others have been blown up to well beyond life-size in the form of large printed banners, a format deemed appropriate by the series’ historical inspiration; propaganda posters from the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The exhibition also includes a sound installation and a wall mural and is accompanied by a catalog with a short text by the artist.
Having divided her time equally in recent years between the East and the West, Zhang describes the experience of her home country as one of profound ambivalence. In her recent body of work she explores that ambivalence by exploiting the collision of her work’s influences and in doing so, she strives to capture the economic and political conflicts in modern day Chinese culture, among them, the identity crisis facing Chinese youth. The title of the exhibition comes from a speech made by Chairman Mao addressing the youth of the nation at the time of the Cultural Revolution.
Zhang creates personal revisions of the propaganda that she grew up seeing in Guangzhou, China. The visual impact of such political ephemera is described by Zhang as that which fades away into the periphery of daily life though imbedding itself into one’s subconscious in much of the same way that brand advertising is experienced in America and the West; the message is often forgotten, but the method is not. For Zhang’s series she constructed scenes depicting Chinese youth standing in front of various significant facades in China; some with political history and others with more current resonance. In each image the children wear T-shirts with phrases in what is often called Chinglish –Chinese that has either been poorly translated into English or an emerging new form of modified English that can result in seemingly nonsensical expressions, but that serves as a unique record of China’s current cultural state of convergence and transformation. The slogans at the bottom of Zhang’s images are taken mostly from Mao Zedong’s little red book, to which Zhang’s exhibition catalog bears a likeness, and from speeches by former Chinese leaders like Deng Xiaoping. Together these basic visual and textual elements combine, reinforcing or subverting each other to suggest various political, economic or cultural meanings, often to comic effect.
In the exhibition space Zhang has installed the same public address style horn speakers that once blared government announcements on the streets in China, though here they broadcast a cacophony of street sounds; popular Chinese music, the sounds of restless youth, shoppers, and storefront touters clapping and fervently competing for passer’s attention, -sounds that didn’t exist twenty years ago. On one of the gallery walls Zhang has painted in large red Chinese characters: Long Live the Great Unity of the People of the World -a statement that meant one thing to Maoists at the height of the revolution and perhaps another to a generation that has seen both increased prosperity and turmoil from a world more globally connected.
Zhang is the first recipient of the Queens Museum artist residency where she will have her first solo museum show this coming year.