Zhao Zhao: Constellations
Abu Dhabi Art Fair | New Horizons: China Today
In view of the prominent role played by astronomers from the Islamic world in the development of astronomy, it is appropriate that Zhao Zhao has decided to develop and debut a new group of works for his ongoing series of Constellations for our presentation at the Abu Dhabi Art Fair.
During the Islamic Golden Age (9th–13th century), Islamic astronomy played a significant role in the revival of Byzantine and European astronomy, following the loss of knowledge during the early medieval period. The primary source for of knowledge for Islamic astronomers was the treatise Almagest by the astronomer Claudius Ptolemy (2nd Century) who lived in Alexandria. In his Almagest he tabulated the celestial position and brightness of 1,025 stars. This was translated into Arabic in the eighth and ninth centuries. Muslim astronomers translated many of these descriptive names into Arabic and added references to traditional Arabic star lore. Thus in Western astronomy most of the accepted star names are Arabic, with a few in Greek.
Zhao Zhao's 'Constellations' series began in 2013 when he decided to conduct an experiment involving gunshots and glass, a difficult undertaking in China where with very few exceptions private ownership of guns is illegal. Initially, it seems, he was primarily interested in the technical challenges presented by this activity but the scattered bullet holes and radiating cracks were reminiscent of celestial bodies, leading to the title Constellations. After a successful exhibition at Chambers, two years later he developed the concept into a series of oil paintings on canvas, meticulously depicting the moment that the bullet passes through the glass.
Zhao Zhao has since presented the series as embroidery, collaborating with his mother who did the embroidery for the first work and now with skilled artisans in China. For Abu Dhabi, Zhao Zhao chose to create a new series of embroideries, the silk material a clear reference to the shared historical connection between China and the Middle East. In the Islamic world, honorific garments (khil'a, in Arabic) represented a ruler's mark of honor. The textiles for these robes of honor were generally produced in royal workshops, which used precious materials such as silk and gold-wrapped thread to weave and embroider inscriptions. Thus, Zhao Zhao chose to use gold thread on a black silk background for this new body of work.
Supplementing the new embroideries will be four small 'Constellations' paintings from 2016, each depicting one bullet hole as it passes through the glass: a single moment of impact. We look forward to seeing you at the fair.