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Sunjung Kim’s Real DMZ Project Interrogates the North and South Korea Divide Ocula Conversation Sunjung Kim’s Real DMZ Project Interrogates the North and South Korea Divide

Ongoing since 2012, the Real DMZ Project interrogates the demilitarised zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea through annual, research-based exhibitions that bring together the works of Korean and international artists. Sunjung Kim, the independent curator behind the project, conceived the idea of exploring the DMZ while curating Japanese artist...

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Sydney Lowdown: Exhibitions to See Ocula Report Sydney Lowdown: Exhibitions to See 6 Sep 2019 : Elyse Goldfinch for Ocula

The fifth edition of Sydney Contemporary will take place once again at Carriageworks between 12 and 15 September 2019, with Spring 1883 bringing together a cohort of 27 galleries from across Australia and the region to inhabit rooms at the Establishment Hotel from 11 to 14 September 2019, uniquely presenting contemporary works propped up on...

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Mark Bradford’s Call for Unity at Shanghai’s Long Museum Ocula Insight | Video Mark Bradford’s Call for Unity at Shanghai’s Long Museum 16 August 2019

Mark Bradford walks through Mark Bradford: Los Angeles Mark Bradford: Los Angeles at the Long Museum West Bund in Shanghai (27 July–13 October 2019) is the artist's largest solo exhibition to date in China. In this video for Ocula, Bradford and Diana Nawi, curator of the show, walk through selected works that convey the artist's concerns with...

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Zhao Zhao

b. 1982, China

Zhao Zhao is an artist who works across media, incorporating objects, performance, video, and painting into his practice. A significant figure among the young post-1980s generation of contemporary Chinese artists, the artist's work often interrogates his home country’s institutional systems and politics, appearing anti-authoritarian and non-conformist in its ethos.

Zhao’s background has greatly influenced his artistic output. Zhao Zhao was born in 1982, and he grew up in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China's north-western frontier. Graduating with a BFA in Oil Painting from Xinjiang Institute of Arts in 2003, he became Ai Weiwei’s assistant, working with the well-known Chinese artist on documentaries that investigated several major Chinese national events, such as the Sichuan earthquake (So Sorry, 2012) and the imprisonment of Chinese dissidents (Disturbing the Peace, 2009).

In 2011, after Ai's well-publicised arrest in Beijing, Zhao struck out on his own as an artist, his time with Ai influencing the subversive and often provocative nature of his subsequent work. The sculpture Officer (2011), for example, is an enormous statue of a police officer shattered into pieces, possibly referencing the idea of a broken police force or overthrown power, or querying ideas around freedom of expression. Insofar as the statue’s face resembles the artist’s face, the work also arguably speaks to the vulnerability and powerlessness of an artist to make an impact on the world. Created after Ai's arrest, Officer is a juxtaposition of power and powerlessness. In 2012, the work was confiscated by the Chinese customs police while in transit for a scheduled solo exhibition of Zhao's work in New York.

Zhao’s interest in the impact of violent force on objects, which can also be glimpsed in Officer, has its origins in a car accident he had in 2007, in which he hit his head on the windshield of a car. Preserving the glass, Zhao referenced its form to create the ‘Fragments’ series, ongoing since 2007, that includes sculptures in steel, gold, and bronze, and are made from irregular fragments that radiate from the centre in a manner reminiscent of shattered glass. Another ongoing series with a similar concept is ‘Constellations’ (since 2013), which takes the form of glass panels featuring holes and cracks made by gunshots. The series also consists of paintings depicting shattered glass, hyperrealistically rendered in a limited colour palette of Prussian blue, Van Dyck brown, and white, such as those exhibited in Zhao’s solo presentation Zhao Zhao: Constellations II at Chambers Fine Art, New York, in 2015.

The year 2015 also marked the start of two important projects for the artist. One involved the artist completing 20 oil paintings (each 35 x 27cm) of himself over a two-year period, each presenting the same composition of the artist’s head and shoulders slightly in profile with hand placed dejectedly on chin, and staring blankly into space. Presented in 2017 at Lin & Lin Gallery in Taipei, the portraits become increasingly executed in looser and darker tones as the series progresses. Project Taklamakan (2015–2016), on the other hand and in marked contrast, involved the artist and a team of 30 people traveling 100km to connect a refrigerator in Beijing to a power source in the Taklamakan Desert in Xinjiang, which flanks the country’s north-west border. In October of 2017 in a follow-up to this marathon effort, the artist bought a camel and its keeper from Xinjiang to appear at Tang Contemporary in the artist’s aptly named solo exhibition, Desert Camel. Project Taklamakan appears to poke fun at Beijing’s geo-political manouverings in the region, including those relating to President Xi Jinping’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI); however, it is equally a very personal exploration of self, Zhao’s journey to Xinjiang marking the first time in ten years the artist had visited his home region. Conversely, the portraits, in regard of the context of Zhao’s wider practice, are arguably not only expressions of self-analysis, but equally reflect a wider social sense of helplessness.

A contrast in approaches appears to mark the artist’s practice generally, with it swinging deftly between subtle subversion and full-frontal provocation, and the personal and the political. The ‘Sky’ series (ongoing since 2009), for example, includes semi-abstract paintings that depict deep-blue skies with swirls of colours. Based on the polluted skies of Beijing, the 'Sky' paintings appear to be poetic renderings of nature’s beauty, but in the colours used they reference China’s state of pollution. The photographs and video from Zhao’s performance Slap and Secret Love, Leather Shoe and Family (2014), on the other hand are more directly confronting. In these videos, the artist slaps a volunteer, stabs artist Sun Yuan in the back, gifts a volunteer with the knife used to stab Sun, and finally spends 15 hours with a family until he is asked to leave.  

Rui Tang | Ocula | 2019
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Featured Artworks

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One Second by Zhao Zhao contemporary artwork
Zhao ZhaoOne Second, 2018 Oil on canvas
200 x 300 cm
Tang Contemporary Art
Cat No.13 by Zhao Zhao contemporary artwork
Zhao ZhaoCat No.13, 2018 Brass, Stainless Steel, Black Iron, Blue steel
210 x 120 x 5 cm
Tang Contemporary Art
Fragments by Zhao Zhao contemporary artwork
Zhao ZhaoFragments, 2015 Brass
90 x 210 cm
Tang Contemporary Art
Sky by Zhao Zhao contemporary artwork
Zhao ZhaoSky, 2018 Oil on canvas
150 x 150 cm
Tang Contemporary Art
Sky by Zhao Zhao contemporary artwork
Zhao ZhaoSky, 2018 Oil on canvas
200 x 200 cm
Tang Contemporary Art
Peach 桃子 by Zhao Zhao contemporary artwork
Zhao ZhaoPeach 桃子, 2019 Oil on canvas
70 x 60 cm
Lin & Lin Gallery
Peach 桃子 by Zhao Zhao contemporary artwork
Zhao ZhaoPeach 桃子, 2019 Oil on canvas
35 x 27 cm
Lin & Lin Gallery

Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Afterimage: Dangdai Yishu at Lisson Gallery, London
Closed
3 July–7 September 2019 Group Exhibition Afterimage: Dangdai Yishu Lisson Gallery, Bell Street, London
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, 52 ARTISTS 52 ACTIONS at Artspace Sydney, Sydney
Closed
18 May–4 August 2019 Group Exhibition 52 ARTISTS 52 ACTIONS Artspace Sydney
Contemporary art exhibition, Li Qing, Yi Xin Tong, Cao Yi, Zhao Zhao, Adrift at Chambers Fine Art, New York
Closed
24 January–2 March 2019 Li Qing, Yi Xin Tong, Cao Yi, Zhao Zhao Adrift Chambers Fine Art, New York

Represented By

In Ocula Magazine

Sydney Lowdown: Exhibitions to See Ocula Report Sydney Lowdown: Exhibitions to See 6 Sep 2019 : Elyse Goldfinch for Ocula

The fifth edition of Sydney Contemporary will take place once again at Carriageworks between 12 and 15 September 2019, with Spring 1883 bringing together a cohort of 27 galleries from across Australia and the region to inhabit rooms at the Establishment Hotel from 11 to 14 September 2019, uniquely presenting contemporary works propped up on...

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Afterimage: Dangdai Yishu at Lisson Gallery, London Ocula Insight Afterimage: Dangdai Yishu at Lisson Gallery, London 23 August 2019

An afterimage is a false visual burned onto the eyes even after its source is no longer being viewed. Victor Wang, the curator of Afterimage: Dangdai Yishu (3 July–7 September 2019) at Lisson Gallery, London, borrows the term to describe one of the key accomplishments of contemporary art: the accommodation of work that is post-figurative, or 'after...

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Dismantle the Map: As Demonstrated by 52 Artists and their Actions Ocula Insight
In Collaboration with Artspace Sydney
Dismantle the Map: As Demonstrated by 52 Artists and their Actions 17 July 2019

This essay appears in 52 Artists 52 Actions: Small Acts of Disobedience, co-published by Artspace Sydney and Thames & Hudson Australia in 2019. It is now exclusively published online with Ocula in collaboration with Artspace Sydney. The publication is available to purchase from here.As part of his Instagram intervention for 52 ARTISTS 52...

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Notes On Desire: The 19Th Biennale Of Sydney Ocula Report Notes On Desire: The 19Th Biennale Of Sydney 12 Nov 2013 : Stella Rosa McDonald for Ocula

"Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will."George Bernard ShawIn 1879, a French postman named Ferdinand Cheval began building an esoteric homage to the beauty of sandstone. On one of his postal rounds, Cheval came across small pieces of the...

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In Related Press

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'One Second • One Year': Chinese artist Zhao Zhao’s depictions of time Related Press 'One Second • One Year': Chinese artist Zhao Zhao’s depictions of time Art Radar Journal : 30 September 2018

Zhao Zhao had formerly been Ai Weiwei's studio assistant for seven years; they had first met in 2004, a year after Zhao had graduated from the Xinjiang Arts Institute. Ai Weiwei's close friendship with Zhao Zhao is very much in evidence in this particular essay that Ai Weiwei wrote for Zhao Zhao; in it, he recounts the various projects that Zhao...

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Along China’s New Silk Road: Zhao Yao, Zhao Zhao and Zhuang Hui Related Press Along China’s New Silk Road: Zhao Yao, Zhao Zhao and Zhuang Hui Frieze : 16 April 2018

While I was writing this article, in February 2018, the artist Zhao Yao received permission to rent the iconic Workers' Stadium in north-eastern Beijing for one day in May. His intention was to show an abstract composition on fabric, measuring 116 × 86 m, which was produced in 2016 and initially displayed 5,000 m above sea level on a mountainside...

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Art Basel Hong Kong Related Press Art Basel Hong Kong art agenda : 29 March 2017

Twenty years after the handover of sovereignty from the United Kingdom to China, Hong Kong stands at a crossroads. The generation to come of age in the intervening decades has become restless, frustrated by the rejection of demands for universal suffrage (the election for the next Chief Executive takes places tomorrow, March 26, but only 1194...

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ZHAO ZHAO Related Press ZHAO ZHAO Flaunt : 26 February 2015

Zhao Zhao and I first met on November 27, 2004. We have known each other for more than 10 years. He graduated from the Xinjiang Arts Institute, one of the top eight art academies in China. The institute is something between a teaching university and an art academy: a comprehensive art school offering classes in fine art, broadcasting, dance, and...

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In Video & Audio

Zhao Zhao: ‘You cannot separate art from politics’ Related Video & Audio Zhao Zhao: ‘You cannot separate art from politics’ studio international : 4 October 2016

A prominent member of the post-1980s generation of Chinese artists and a former assistant of Ai Wewei, the Beijing artist talks about his visually stunning, anti-authoritarian and provocative work. Lilly Wei talked to the artist in his Beijing studio in 2015

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