ARTLINES: 'Zhou's Blue and Red'
Based in Guangzhou, in China’s highly urbanised Pearl River Delta, Zhou Tao is part of a generation of Chinese artists born after the Cultural Revolution (1966–76) that is now coming to maturity. His primary medium is video, which he uses to document movement within given environments. Non-linear and highly poetic, Zhou’s artworks combine the unscripted gestures of work and play with deliberate performative acts. Over a series of highly regarded videos the artist has created since 2011, the relationship between everyday actions and performance interventions is treated with increasing subtlety, to the degree that the two become indistinguishable. All this occurs in fascinating settings — a crumbling village amid towering skyscrapers, lush wetlands, a public square under citizen occupation — conflating the human and the topographic at the same time as a confusing artistic and quotidian gesture. Zhou uses an editing technique to conflate two separate spaces into a new ‘third’ space where his narratives occur.
Shot between public squares in Guangzhou and Bangkok, Blue and Red 2014 is the fourth of Zhou’s mature video projects. Interweaving footage of the 2013–14 Occupy Bangkok protests with sequences of state and corporate-sponsored night-time spectacles in Guangzhou, for the first time Zhou directly represents an implied third space: the rusty silt run-off of Dabaoshan heavy metal mine in northern Guangdong province. The LED-washed skin of people in night footage of these urban squares registers as a luminous electric blue, while zinc contamination stains the sands and waters of Dabaoshan an alarming shade of red. Through oblique framing and agile editing, Zhou combines the surface of human skin with that of the land.
Blue and Red eschews cliché in depicting its subjects. Its presentation of the various entertainments of Guangzhou and the occupation sites of Bangkok are intentionally presented against expectation: the convivial games of Cantonese families are shot in such a way that their object is out of frame, directing attention to their abstract movements; and apart from a brief sequence of police confrontation, the Bangkok demonstrations are presented as largely quiet, laconic events, pictured during long passages of waiting and resting. Vast though their contexts may be — the Pearl River Delta megacity, a militarised state, irreversible environmental degradation — the tiny gestures and prosaic associations of daily life captured in these works remain pregnant with meaning.
The most recent development in Zhou Tao’s mature phase — which has developed across the video installations South Stone 2011, Collector 2012 and After Reality 2013 — Blue and Red was commissioned for the artist’s 2014 solo show at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, which is adjacent to the square in which the protests took place. It was awarded the inaugural Han Nefkens Foundation BACC Award for Contemporary Art, and also attracted first prize from the Jury of the Ministry at the 61st International Short Film Festival in Oberhausen.
Author: Reuben Keehan, Curator, Asian and Pacific Art, QAGOMA.
Source: Artlines 3-2015, p.39.