Zhang Peili (张培力), frequently dubbed the father of Chinese video art (视频艺术), has a retrospective ongoing at Shanghai’s Minsheng Art Museum (民生现代美术馆). Dubbed Certain Pleasures (确切的快感), the show extends over two floors and three main gallery spaces, showing Zhang’s videos and high conceptual work.
Some of the works are almost purely conceptual, both wry and academic. “Brown Cover Document No. 1” (1988), installed in both Chinese and English, features a pair of latex gloves mailed to unwitting participants with instructions like “6. Don’t inquire the presenter” and “8. Do everything as usual.” His Ask First, Then Shoot (1986) series presents a series of photographs he never took and art works he never produced, spelled out only as instructions, as so:
1. By following the specific instructions of the steps of the project, the “pure fantasy” indulged in by the writer becomes fact, whether or not the large-scale work of art itself is realized at some time and in some place. Even if the artist encounters unexpected problems, he has reason to be pleased by this.
2. For the writer, this pure fantasy may, to some degree, become more important than or replace visual experience.
Zhang is boisterous in person and loves cracking jokes, and his video pieces show more of his talent and sense of humor. “30×30” (1991), his most famous video piece and often dubbed the first piece of video art in China, presents three hours of his hands in rubber gloves breaking a 30×30 piece of glass and painstakingly putting it back together before breaking it again. “Water: Standard Edition of Cihai” (1991) shows veteran newscaster Xing Zhibin (邢质斌) reading all the dictionary words starting with water during a time when floods were very much on the Chinese mind.
Zhang currently heads up the School of Intermedia Art at the famous China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, which leads the country in new media art. Certain Pleasures reveals a fascinating retrospective of Zhang’s experiments, some of the first new media works in the country.
Certain Pleasures runs until August 14 at Shanghai’s Minsheng Museum of Contemporary Art.