COSMIC WONDER

Zhao Yao, The Power of Nature, 2016–18. The Workers’ Stadium, Beijing. Photo: UCCA.

EARLIER THIS MONTH, the artist Zhao Yao experienced what it’s like to be a pop star, preparing for a one-show-only event at the Workers’ Stadium in Beijing. Built on the tenth anniversary of the new China in 1959, the stadium has been a cultural and sports center for the past six decades, accommodating various activities, but mostly football games and pop music concerts in recent years. It’s also surrounded by the most popular nightclubs in Beijing.

To the stadium, Zhao brought his 108,000-square-foot painting, The Power of Nature. Think of it as a massive rug made of cloth and fabric, on which are abstract patterns that are typical to Zhao’s long-term painting practice. (He’s known for appropriating colorful but intricate pictures from brain-teaser books in his paintings.) At 6 AM on May 18th, Zhao and some fifty people from his team loaded the rolled work in and unraveled it in the football field.

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Three leading artists explore the complex notion of a multi-ethnic national identity in post-globalization China
BY COLIN CHINNERY

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 in Qinghai province on the Tibetan Plateau. Independently, last October, Zhao Zhao brought a camel and its keeper from the far western region of Xinjiang to Tang Contemporary Art in Beijing. His exhibition, ‘Desert Camel’, was a coda to the major work Project Taklamakan (2015–16), for which the artist transported a functioning refrigerator to the middle of the Taklamakan Desert. Zhuang Hui, meanwhile, has been visiting the Qilian Mountains in Gansu province for the past seven years,  exploring the geography and culture of the region through photography, video and installation. All three artists live and work in Beijing, yet have spent years working on  projects relating to the far west of China, a region loaded with historical and political contention.Gansu, Qinghai, Tibet and Xinjiang collectively form the great western flank of modern China. Consisting largely of impassable mountains and inhospitable deserts, these vast regions represent about 40 percent of the country’s landmass but house only four percent of its population. Areas of vital strategic importance to modern China, they are also home to peoples with their own ethnic and cultural identities, which frequently clash with Beijing’s objectives. Consequently, it has been an important part of modern Chinese politics to develop the notion of a multi-ethnic national consciousness.

Zhao Yao, Spirit Above All, 2016–17, project documentation, Nangqian County. Courtesy: the artist

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