b. 1991, Australia

Louise Zhang Biography

Louise Zhang predominantly works in painting, sculpture and installation to create objects that simultaneously engage with desire and disgust. She uses a wide range of materials to reach this effect, including acrylic, resin, expanding foam and silicone. In these media she explores the kind of horror that makes the viewer want to look away at the same time as they find themselves eager to look closer.

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Zhang walks the line between the cute and the grotesque. She works to bring the feeling of sticky slimy repulsion and the messiness of the body together with her interest in kitsch and glitter. In New Year Rot!, an exhibition at Gaffa Gallery (19-28 August 2016), Zhang investigated Nianhua—Chinese prints that celebrate the new year. Often these prints depict fat babies blissfully holding flowers or hugging fish. Zhang utilised the sweetness of these images and combined it with the bodily iconography of horror. Juicy Juicy Fuzz (2016), for example—executed in polyfoam, polyester, plastic petals, plastic and acrylic—looks like a cross between a peach, a vagina and a brain. By combining vibrantly artificial candy colours and images of innocence with visceral and confronting forms, Zhang plays on the journey from sweet to uncanny and back again.

As well as darting between the lovable and the hideous (and embracing both), Zhang pursues a path between solid form and formlessness. While she began her artistic career in painting, she now places a strong emphasis on sculpture as well as the interaction between the pictorial and the three-dimensional. This interaction is evident in Ghoul (2016), where an organically-shaped painting board hangs off a phallic rainbow hook (visible through a large hole in the painting). The painting itself is thick with paint, dripped so that the surface looks almost stretched by the weight of its materials. In such an image, representation seems to drip to a surreal abstraction, leaving the viewer disgusted and intrigued.

In her art, Zhang pursues her personal interest in horror as a genre of storytelling where the sinister and the absurd frequently collide. In the exhibition New Year Rot!, she explored the Chinese version of Hell, which has 18 levels, each with different types of torture. In the Chinese conception of Hell, every single person must stay there for a time, but how long that time is depends on how good they were while still alive. With this research in hand, Zhang made the painting We're all gonna burn in hell for a little bit (2016). The painting on board is shaped like clouds or smoke from a genie's lamp. Superficially, it seems to be a cheerful painting of bright colours and swirling patterns. However, on closer inspection the images seem to have more sinister intentions. Combined with the title, the viewer finds themselves in conflict between the seeming serenity of the image and the tortures that await them in the afterlife.

Zhang received her BFA with First Class Honours from College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales, in 2013, and her MFA by Research from University of New South Wales Art & Design in 2016. She has undertaken residencies with Organhaus in Chongqing, China, and with Institute for Provocation in Beijing in 2017 and 2016 respectively. She lives and works in Sydney, Australia.

Casey Carsel | Ocula | 2018

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