acrylic on canvas, acrylic on wood and metal
3 pieces, 200 cm diameter, 187 x 54.5 x 54.5 cm, 187 x 43 x 43 cm
Utopia 1 (2011) is a circular form two metres in diameter, covered in intricate concentric patterns; tiny hand-painted circles, diamonds and zig-zag shapes, recall both African textiles and Buddhist mandalas. Part of a series inspired in part by African tribal shields, the work demonstrates Bai Yiluo's interest in the relationship between economic forces and the lives of ordinary people. Chinese investment in Africa (the source of at least one third of the world’s commodities) is changing the political, economic and social fabric of that continent. Bai’s installation, flanked by two coat stands, represents the mutual exchange of trade and, perhaps, the inevitable slippages of communication and cultural misunderstandings that ensue when different worlds come into contact with each other. Influenced by a perceived confluence of both Chinese and African sources, and part of a body of work entitled ‘Song of Systems’, paintings such as this initially drew their inspiration from the patterns carved and painted onto old wooden chairs. At first, the artist started to hand-paint African textile patterns directly onto chairs, then later he designed a system to produce perfectly regular, mechanical abstract patterns on canvas, using a modified Lazy Susan and a plastic ruler. Like a form of tribal Op Art, these hand-painted works comment ironically on the mass produced goods exported from China to Africa.