Saamlung announces a solo exhibition new and recent work in painting from the Beijing-based mid-career artist Jiang Zhi, entitled “Impure Light” and coinciding with ARTHK12, the Hong Kong International Art Fair, in May 2012. In an ongoing series of works in oil on canvas produced as representations of moments of glitch and failure in everyday computing, Jiang explores the possibilities of perception and essence in an era aesthetically dominated by mechanical logics of sensation and communication.
The evolution of Jiang Zhi’s practice marks a fascinating traversal of a Chinese mediascape that has at times come into existence alongside his work. Prior to working as an artist, Jiang launched his creative career as a journalist for the pathbreaking Shenzhen publication Jiedao, which reported on the cultural ramifications of the early market-oriented urbanization of the southern city, once the heart of China’s nascent design world. Coming to international attention as the leading representative of a close-knit group of contemporary artists who temporarily took Shenzhen as both a personal home and a source of conceptual production for thinking about the politics of migration and the body, the status of media in the city, and the possibilities of the manufacturing base as a point of entry for global culture. He belonged to the second generation of artists in China to work with the video, and was one of the first to use to use the medium to interrogate questions of perspective. By the end of the 1990s, Jiang Zhi was a core member of the artist-organized exhibition series known as “Post-Sense Sensibility,” and has, since then, continued working primarily in photography and video that is both highly formal and markedly concerned with the social import of image-based practice.
Although it has only recently become a core medium and activity of his work in the studio, painting for Jiang Zhi has always occupied a significant role as a foil for lens-based media, defining through its absence the boundaries of his photographic projects. Aside from the painterly composition of his best-known work with the camera, it was in 2010 that this relationship first came to the fore with One Photo of Firework. In these two large-format works of oil on canvas, the artist depicts two photographic prints as if they were pinned to the surface of the canvas replete with not-quite-photorealist folds in the photo paper and reflections across the surface of the print. Both depict fireworks over the immediately recognizable CCTV Tower in downtown Beijing; in one, a plume of smoke can be seen drifting out of one block of the complex, the disastrously infamous consequence of an overzealous new year celebration ahead of the proper fireproofing of the structure. In a striking formal gesture, the painted “folds” across the flat surface of each image seem to mimic the harsh white spotlights approaching objects, people, and structures from oblique angles that Jiang so often motivates in his more properly photographic work.
The series exhibited at Saamlung, although far less recognizable as figurative painting, similarly confronts the identity of painting as a de facto lens-based technology through the representation of a highly mediated image. Here Jiang Zhi has willingly produced visual glitches through the manipulation of consumer software and a specially prepared graphics card, resulting in screen captures that resemble static patterns, repetitive neon bars, cascading windows, and other semi-digital if highly illegible formations. The artist then mediates these images again through another layer of negation: the painting process. Painting, in this case, is removed from a fundamentally creative position and made into a relatively pure form of practice, carrying with it the baggage of art historical claims alongside the social and environmental modifiers of what painting, in relation to the bare image, can be; it is stripped down to its practice, and brought to bear on a third term.
As the audience approaches the ultimately resulting images, Jiang Zhi attempts to modulate this relationship on the level of perception and sensibility. He is insistent that these images are not abstract, but are rather virtual representations of a fleeting visual sensation that did not need to exist. In the gallery space, they linger over canvas like afterimages on the insides of eyelids, the products of an impure light.
Jiang Zhi (b. 1971, based in Beijing) has arrived at a consistently rigorous practice with projects in video, photography, sculpture, painting, and installation via a uniquely circuitous route, first employed as a journalist with a magazine of street culture and then going on to re-emerge through the artist-organized curatorial projects of Beijing in the late 1990s. In parallel with this gallery exhibition at Saamlung in Hong Kong, his work will also be featured in a solo exhibition at the Times Museum in Guangzhou. Other recent exhibitions include the recurring Central Academy of Fine Arts Museum Biennial in Beijing and the major survey exhibition “Guanxi” at the Guangdong Museum of Art in Guangzhou.