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Zhou Siwei
I Sold What I Grow
21.6. – 8.9.2024

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Zhou Siwei, I Sold What I GrowAusstellungansicht, Secession 2024, Foto: Iris Ranzinger

Zhou Siwei translates the contradictions of living and working in contemporary China into playful, personally fragmented and nonlinear works on canvas and painted objects. Probing the ambivalence of digital technologies, the unceasing global traffic in goods, and the sleeplessness of the late-capitalist era, Zhou interweaves diverse visual and cultural influences in ways that make everyday items and signs feel at once familiar and alien, accommodating a wide range of interpretations.

 

On the occasion of his exhibition I Sold What I Grow at the Secession, Zhou has created a series of new works that revolve around the leitmotif of the apple: from the humble fruit that is harvested in every corner of the globe, to its simulacra in the still life paintings of Bruegel and Cézanne (which were in turn assiduously studied and copied in the arts academies of China), to its greyscale ubiquity on laptops, phones and various other “i-products”. The viewer encounters three markedly different configurations of objects unfolding across the lower galleries of the Secession, as well as spaces of circulation and contemplation. The first room exhibits two recent works that explore the concepts of dreaming and fantasies: APPLE (EV SLEEP naked) (2021–2023) depicts a figure enclosed within a bulbous, semi-organic form recalling the “Project Titan” electric car that Apple was said to be developing (only to then ditch in order to focus on generative AI projects), with wheels that similarly allude to all the various iterations of apples within visual culture. This is paired with the work Tattoo (Drifting Flame Malevich) (2023), in which the Chinese characters for “wandering” (流浪) are embedded (“tattooed”) into one of Malevich’s Suprematist paintings, which is then anchored back in the real world by the incorporation of a popular tattoo design of a flame (also recalling the Western proclivity for getting tattoos of Chinese characters).

Surrounding these two works are a series of painted objects which resemble, upon first glance, mobile phone and iPad cases. Created using a 3D printer and comprising delicate or organic materials such as corn starch, these vibrant yet fragile objects speak to both the cases’ frequent use as the personal, intimate point of encounter between the electronic device and the skin of the person making the call, as well as to the more standardised forms of “personalisation” the accompany the switching of colours or designs of one’s mobile device.

Further illustrating the confluence of the “touch of the person” with the “personal touch”, each of the cases also displays a message or slogan—such as “missing you” (想你) or “not tired” (不累)— which is roughly scratched into the surface in a manner akin to somebody “keying” a car, another form of “tagging”. This exemplifies Zhou’s use of language in his work: the titles of his works are restricted to nouns, with the adjectives either inferred via the viewer’s direct engagement with, or reaction to, them or inscribed across their surfaces.

 

This idea of mark-making is then carried over into the two small works which, akin to grammar, punctuate the next space. A tiny silver case (which is surely too small for any phone) upon which the word “emotion” (情) is etched and a still life of an apple amidst an indeterminate purple field function as a parenthesis for the myriad of allusions and associations throughout the exhibition as well as Zhou’s own artistic journey from the academy (where aptitude was assessed based on one’s ability to replicate the realism of painted objects such as this) to the current moment of digital image circulation on handheld devices.

These themes are then further expanded upon in the final gallery space, which exhibits several new groupings of painted objects and works on linen revolving around the themes of the figure, myth, as well as the ubiquitous apple. In addition to the subject matter of each work, the paintings in this gallery also demonstrate a convergence of various stylistic and material considerations with which contemporary painters continually grapple. This is seen, most evidently, in the recurrence of the modernist grid in several of the paintings—in one instance, it appears to simply denote the pattering of a dress, whilst in another, it shifts from resembling a bamboo fence (a key frequent motif in Zhou’s work) to an almost neo-plasticist demarcation of abstract space à la Mondrian. This hard-edged treatment of line is then completely abandoned in another work, where it is instead deployed in increasingly expressive and tempestuous strokes across an otherwise almost flat plane of colour. (In order to achieve this effect, the artist attached his brush to the end of a fishing rod; contrasting the seemingly arbitrary nature of painting in this manner with Matisse’s careful, controlled use of a bamboo stick for his later large-scale works). This study into the confluence of form (line/grid) and matter (bamboo) is then finally reconciled in the final work in the exhibition, in which the hard-edged line returns to delineate a bamboo hat commonly worn by farmers, but on this occasion adorning the head of a serpent who is itself decorated with heart-shaped tattoos and who proffers an apple—from Eden or Cupertino, one cannot tell.

 

This final painting is a perfect example of the critical examination of fluctuating signs and objects that has informed Zhou’s work over the past few years; a period demarcated by the radically truncated flows of information and bodies brought about by the COVID-19 health emergency and its aftermath. In foregrounding these contradictory trajectories—the expedited flows of signs and data, contrasted with decelerated or delayed movements of bodies and objects—the seemingly brightly coloured objects also allude to the arbitrary forces that continue to pull at society: both backwards towards the indeterminate bucolic “past” so beloved by populist leaders and conservative societal forces, and forwards towards the idealized future of frictionless digital networks proselytized by tech entrepreneurs. In embracing these similarly irreconcilable future/past tensions—indicated by the title’s “broken” English (con)fusion of simple past and present tenses—I Sold What I Grow speaks to the experience of being a painter in the midst of an increasingly fragmented contemporary moment.




Künstler*innen
Zhou Siwei

geboren 1981 in Chongqing, lebt und arbeitet in Shanghai.

Programmiert vom Vorstand der Secession

Kuratiert von
Damian Lentini

Vereinigung bildender Künstler*innen Wiener Secession
Friedrichstraße 12
1010 Vienna
Tel. +43-1-587 53 07