Eternal Sleep, 2010. Video, thin paper, 5 min.

Starting off in September 2009, Jiang Zhi’s solo outing “Attitude” passed from Shanghai to Hong Kong to Beijing in his largest scale, longest spanning exhibition yet. Jiang Zhi used video, installation, painting, and a variety of other methods to focus on the expression of the “rhetoric of the subject” and “the relationship between body and politic.”

The most eye-catching were without a doubt his video works. Video is Jiang Zhi’s favorite medium, as it allows for a more direct sense of involvement, and thus results in a more intense impact. For the most part, these works draw their material and their inspiration from actual public events. Eternal Sleep, at the exhibition entrance, is an example: a human face possesses a curious, radiant beauty as it is silently consumed by flames; but upon learning the story behind the work, observational delight quickly warps into something else. Here, Jiang Zhi effectively imitates and applies Lu Xun’s notion of the implicit cruelty of the disinterested “bystander.” The manipulation of the notion of “watching” similarly appears in 0.7% Salt, an extended video that shows the movie star Gillian Chung crying, but more so in terms of the suspicion of “truth.” Jiang Zhi seems to be mechanically applying a kind of readymade visual logic, in order to call our attention to the constructed nature of our so-called “reality.”

It is clear that Jiang Zhi has an intellectual sensitivity to “society,” this fictitious  entity whose power is concentrated on the control of individual lives. He is aware of the ultimate result of ideological control: it leaves no visible trace, while simultaneously desensitizing those under its spell, rendering them thoughtless and feelingless. It manifests itself in the form of what curator Bao Dong proposes is a kind of “rhetoric”: a delivery dressed in excessive ornamentation and used as a means of persuasion. This is why Jiang Zhi likes to take material from the media, public figures, and societal events; as far as he is concerned, it is all emblematic of a kind of “rhetoric.” He takes great pains to use artistic “alienation” to bring observers into greater self-awareness; this objective is the fundamental intention behind just about all of his recent works, and is the reason for Jiang Zhi’s weighted emphasis on literary “disguise.” Curtain Call, situated in the depths of the exhibition hall, also employs methods of “estrangement.” Anyone would smile at the sight of it; Jiang Zhi distills “the stage” and the entertainers who are unwilling to step down from it into their purest forms; as for the real-world context that it means to call out, the work far exceeds the bounds of the implicit in making its point. Next, in the seven-screen video work, Tremble, similar circumstances are dealt with again, this time in terms of the greater social landscape. The conditions of the piece are subject to a high degree of signification and symbolization; the very overuse of signs and symbols serves to expose their underlying contrivance. Just as with the nude men and women on the screen, “strip away and reveal” is the key “rhetoric” Jiang Zhi highlights in this piece.

In Chinese, the idea of “voicing an attitude” (biaotai) from which the exhibition takes its title is a powerful one. Though the curators, in their preface to the exhibition, repeatedly stress their desire to access and examine the social context through the use of terms, the pieces in this exhibition are pure Jiang Zhi. The intensity of this body of work indicates a kind of hopeful enthusiasm, the wish to take this opportunity to appeal to the attitude of general public. As far as Jiang is concerned, if his audience can read into his work at this level, then and only then is his work effective.     Liu Xi