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Yang Zhenzhong

Author: Jonathan Watkins 2006

This presentation of work by Shanghai-based artist Yang Zhenzhong demonstrates a remarkable range in style and technique. On the other hand it exemplifies an extraordinary consistency. The same kind of logic, wit, the same political edge and very considered visual impact feature in every photograph, video and sculptural piece he makes.

At Ikon Eastside Yang Zhenzhong's work is in an interesting correspondence with its immediate architectural context, enhanced to some extent by the formal qualities and the history of the spaces here. Let's Puff (2002) an installation, involves two video projections screened parallel to each other in the box-like space of Gallery 1(??). On one side we see a young woman against a black background blowing air in sharp bursts towards the other side which features footage of a city street in Shanghai. Every time she exhales, the street scene is distorted into concavity, suggesting an impermanence in this urban environment, famous for its always being "on the move". The viewer is thus caught between cause and effect, the illusion also suggesting an elasticity in the walls of the building that we currently occupy.

Massage Chairs: Then, Edison's Direct Current Was Surrendered To The Alternating Current (2003) consists of six massage chairs - each differently designed - stripped of their upholstery. Still in operation, their various mechanisms are clearly visible, the cogs and belts moving the various shapes intended to knead and gently pummel the backs of human bodies requiring relaxation. Without their padding and soft surfaces, the chairs themselves are skeletal, strangely anthropomorphic and not unreminiscent of electric chairs, especially in the stark space of Gallery 2. The sounds they emit, the whirrings and rhythmical clickings, echo ominously in this interior still haunted by its industrial past, and so they evoke a response which is a far cry from the desired effects of massage.

Spring Story (2003) is a video piece, screened on a monitor in the corridor between Gallery 1 and Gallery 2. Commissioned by Siemens, it features 1,500 workers in their new Shanghai factory, it is based on a speech to the nation by the late Chinese premier Deng Xiaoping. The workers enunciate one word each from the speech in Yang's extraordinary feat of editing. We see their faces in quick sequence as they tell of the wonderful things China can expect in a foreseeable future, now past. The everyday lives of these factory workers are spent concentrated on specific tasks, like many small jigsaw pieces adding up to a bigger picture of manufacturing achievement, as the single words they have to utter amount to the articulation of some overarching vision. Yang Zhenzhong, through his collaboration with Siemens employees raises intriguing questions about the role of the individual, and the possibility of individualism, now in a country encouraging foreign (capitalist) investment, but still communist at heart.


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