Artforum | Jiang Zhi: If This is a Man

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Guangdong Times Museum

April 29–June 24, 2012

By Lee Ambrozy

Although based in Beijing, Jiang Zhi trained at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou and is associated with a generation of video artists (including Yang Fudong) who attended the school during the 1990s. In this midcareer retrospective, the notion of the artist’s ego as primary creative force is challenged through imaginative curatorial strategies. The exhibition consists of two smaller shows curated by the artist––a solo show of paintings by a childhood friend and a suite of photographs downloaded from the Internet––as well as a solo exhibition of works by Jiang and a minimuseum homage to the artist’s alter ego: a wooden doll he calls Mu Mu. Jiang has photographed the doll since 1997 as a fictional character whose experiences parallel his real life. Mu Mu is, in effect, Jiang’s avatar, and it embodies his interest in hidden psychological personae, both his own and those of others––a preoccupation that seems to be the most distinct theme uniting Jiang’s diverse practice.

Maiden, All Too Maiden!, 2009, shown here in the show dedicated to Jiang’s work, is an installation of ninety-five portraits in which dozens of young women pose for his lens, with affected shyness. Exhibited en masse, these subjects faking shyness make a comment on the performance of gender. The Internet-photo portion of the show, titled “Landscape of the Very Spirit,” explores a darker side of humanity. On view, photographs downloaded from the blog of Yang Jia, a murderer executed in 2008, show images of flowers and landscapes displayed like precious souvenirs. At face value, they appear benign, but the context from which they are divorced reminds us that behind these lovely images lurks something sinister. In the video Shine upon Me, 2006, Jiang projects a blinding, almost divine, light onto the faces of volunteers, who––having been instructed to act natural––reveal their personalities through varied reactions. All the while, hidden behind his lens, the artist’s psychological state remains buried.

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