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Artist with the Bourgeois Blues

2006-07-28 16:21

  The rising Chinese middle class and their aspirations are the targets of a satirical artist whose paintings illustrate what he sees as the absurdities of bourgeois life, writes Zhou Tao

  For most people, leading a happy middle-class existence is the only goal in life. But that's not for Zhou Zixi. In his “Happy Life” exhibition, Zhou satirizes white-collar workers and their lifestyle.

  The middle-class is the mainstream of Western society, and there's a growing number of them here in Shanghai - well-educated, with a job in big companies and handsomely paid. But are they really living a happy life?

  In Zhou's “Happy Life,” created a year ago, the artist draws people doing outdoor sports in their homes. For example, a girl dives into her bathtub wearing a face mask and oxygen tank. “In my view, this sort of thing and others like jogging in a gym are equally absurd. I just exaggerate them infinitely, ” he says.

  Born in 1970 in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, Zhou studied at Jiangxi Normal University and majored in Chinese in 1988.

  “We kids were always told by our parents that 'to learn is to earn',” Zhou recalls. “Most hardworking guys were not studying for knowledge - they just wanted to work for big bosses, earn more money and pursue fortune and vanity in the future. They are too utilitarian for me because I am an idealist.

  “For a long time, I thought I was living a 'wrong' life and I suffered a lot. I wanted to express my ideas about social problems but it was dangerous. If I wrote about them in a book, it would be too straightforward and may cause trouble. But pictures are more indirect. I don't want to tell lies and neither do I want any trouble, I chose painting instead of literature.”

  Petty bourgeoisie

  After moving to Shanghai, Zhou started to learn painting as an art student at East China Normal University (ECNU)。 He quit the university while a junior saying he did so for a “sensitive” reason he doesn't want to talk about.

  “If I tell people that I have suffered much hardship, people will say I am an idiot because every artistic guy suffers,” Zhou says. “In many of my paintings, you can see a photo by Yang Fudong, an artist and a friend of mine. Its title is 'The First Intellectual in China' and it influenced me a lot.”

  In his paintings, the living rooms and furniture are in an IKEA style, which is popular with China's xiao zi, or petty bourgeoisie. Pictures, including Yang's, are hanging walls showing farmers, laid-off worker and other poor people in China.

  In “The First Intellectual in China,” a young white-collar worker stands in middle of a road with a brick in his hand.Blood run down his head and he looks enraged.

  “I see the situation of Chinese intellectuals in it. They are angry but the cause and result of their rage are false,” he says. “The bourgeoisie doing extreme sports indoors think they are living a happy life. But I think what they do is as absurd as mountaineering in a room or sailing in a bath tub.”

  Another two pictures in the series are titled “Anti-Japan Pioneers,” in which young people carry sub-machine guns and kick or jump on the picture of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

  “I'm not against Japan, I'm against those 'angry youth' who are against Japan blindly,” Zhou explains. “There are so many of them on BBS. Most of them are young Internet addicts. They are uninterested in real life. There are so many pressing tasks closely related to their daily life, and so many social problems waiting for them to solve, but they just don't care. However, whenever it comes to Japan, they suddenly get so enraged, which is very absurd.

  “I depict things such as accidents, cops' arresting whores, and I'm deeply involved in social problems. But, just don't 'label' my pictures with any 'ism.' I won't say too much about my pictures because some of them are just humors, nothing else. I don't think the artist has the first right of interpretation of his works ahead of any viewer.”

  Date: through December 12, 11am-6pm

  Venue: BizArt, 4/F, Bldg 7, 50 Moganshan Rd

  Tel: 6277-5358

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