Artforum | Jiang Zhi: Predestinity

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2016.08.27 – 2016.10.09


By Manuela Lietti

Man has regarded the importance of exercising his free will as the precondition for his being and fully becoming a human being; it is only man that claims to retain primacy in terms of freedom and decisive power, even though these attributes are increasingly threatened by both technological advancement and environmental decline, factors that have forced humankind to reconsider its role within the grand design of science and the universe at large. “Predestiny,” Jiang Zhi’s most recent exhibition currently on view at Magician Space Beijing, fully embodies the artist’s total commitment to reflecting on issues that, in transcending the artistic realm, make the artist’s practice more ontologically and philosophically relevant, less adherent to a certain aesthetic style, and more universally interesting.

The body of work on view proves once again that Jiang is not interested in pleasing or pandering to the quick, distracted gaze. His new pieces are not immediately comprehensible, as they are both cryptic and evocative. They are a relatively small group of visual reminders that articulate his reflections on fate, his perceptions of the great and the small, and the manner in which fate and perception interlace.

The viewer is first confronted with the photographic series Among the Destined hanging in the entrance hall of the gallery. These shots are the result of an apparently unknown process, where alien totemic structures arise from an unfamiliar context that the viewer can only place as an imprecise outer space. These pictures challenge the perception of both the photographic media and the subjects portrayed. The viewer cannot really discern the cause and effect that has given birth to these shapes, which nevertheless were destined to be, until he or she is confronted with To Look and To Know or Amor Fati, the double-channel video projected in the main hall. The video is paired with excerpts from the novel Solaris by Polish writer Stanislaw Lem, lines from the dramatic film Contempt by Godard, and passages from a conversation with Rodin projected onto screens scattered across the exhibition hall; the music of Ge Fei, a composer with whom the artist has collaborated for about a decade, resonates in the room.

The content of one screen revolves around the “encounter” between two naked bodies, entities that, despite their physical proximity, give the impression of being completely sealed off, unable to communicate or share real intimacy; the other screen presents images of barren landscapes, intertwined with images of what could be defined as a new world, a sort of planet-organism that regenerates from itself in a never-ending chain, submerging and reemerging in a continuous metamorphosis. Shapes similar to the “destined” objects that dominate the photographs at the entrance naturally emerge from land that is alien yet at times familiar, an environment that can easily embody both mankind’s utopia and dystopia, man’s ability to project himself (physically and mentally) towards the unknown but also his failure to comprehend and master it. If seen as a total artwork, Among the Destined and Amor fati are extended to their maximum point: mankind must not just accept what has been destined, but love its never-ending return, even if that takes place in known or unknown forms and ways of being.