Expand Constantly

Zhang Peili


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6 channel video on 12 monitors (colour, sound)
27 min 4 sec
Zhang Peili produced what is generally acknowledged to be the first video work in China, ’30 x 30’ in 1988. Together with other pioneering artists working in time-based artforms and new media, his work has been of undisputed significance in bringing world attention to the energy, ambition and innovation of Chinese contemporary art. Yet Zhang has always deliberately sought to separate himself from mainstream practices, continually questioning the commodification of art and the sentimentality of cinema and television. Zhang’s work has often focused on the repetition of everyday, routine actions: by forcing us to examine these more closely, Zhang introduces subtle critiques of power and authority. He has continued to experiment and innovate for more than four decades, influencing new generations of artists and supporting their growth through his roles as the first director of the New Media Department at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, and as director of OCAT, Shanghai. Zhang’s video works since the 1990s have been characterised by his interest in seriality, repetition, and the breakdown of the cinematic image. His work challenges us to find new significance in the apparently everyday: ‘Expand Constantly’, for example, was inspired by his students in Hangzhou, and their delight in the discovery of American-style bubble gum. Zhang was impressed by their bubble blowing prowess and began to record it. He made twelve individual recordings of different students chewing gum and blowing bubbles with a close focus on their lips. The videos are played on twelve screens, edited so that the chewing is at normal speed and the bubble blowing is shown in slow motion. The result is a continuous field of chewing mouths and expanding bubbles that pop at different times. Like the iconic American brand of Coca-Cola that appeared in much late twentieth century avant-garde Chinese art, the bubble gum that Zhang’s students so enjoyed is also a product associated with globalisation and China’s entry into the international marketplace. Like all Zhang Peili’s work, however, associations of social and cultural critique are subtle and nuanced.
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