How a Beijing Artist Uses Geography and Geometry to Break Down Social Boundaries

In a solo exhibition of new works at De Sarthe Gallery’s new Beijing location, Zhou Wendou presents installations, sculptures, and mixed-media wall pieces in which he explores a variety of borders—and then breaks them down.


  • Installation view of “Zhou Wendou: BORDERLESS,” courtesy of De Sarthe Gallery

    Installation view of “Zhou Wendou: BORDERLESS,” courtesy of De Sarthe Gallery

Titled “BORDERLESS,” the exhibition is premised on Zhou’s sense that contemporary life is defined by boundaries. Land and sea are carved into (often disputed) territories. People are divided into groups and defined by their educational, economic, and social standing, not to mention their gender, sexual orientation, and skin color. Political districts and neighborhoods are continuously mapped and re-drawn. Hardly anywhere are these ever-shifting borders more apparent than in such rapidly modernizing cities as Zhou’s native Beijing, where international, political, economic, environmental, and social forces are radically reshaping this ancient capital into a 21st-century megalopolis.

These concerns, combined with his interest in Zen Buddhism and its tenet that everything contains its own opposite, feed into the works on view. Among them is Black Order (2015), one of several map- and globe-based pieces in the exhibition, which consists of a large-scale, full-color map of the world, almost entirely blacked out by a grid of jet-black squares. The thin, colorful lines running between these squares, and giving shape to the grid, are all that can be seen of the map itself, made useless by the artist’s interventions.

  • Installation view of “Zhou Wendou: BORDERLESS,” courtesy of De Sarthe Gallery

    Installation view of “Zhou Wendou: BORDERLESS,” courtesy of De Sarthe Gallery

Zhou also presents a series of openwork sculptures, one of which hangs from the gallery’s ceiling and shares the exhibition’s title. It is composed of subtly differing shapes that seem to resemble the outlines of various countries, the artist’s native China. Projected onto this piece are continually shifting colored lights, each of which lends it a different mood. It has no edges. Rather, its sculpted lines jut out into space, and the shapes they describe are left open and unfinished. In this way, Zhou suggests that perhaps one day we will learn how to exist without divisions. “I hope that through using borders to create a borderless space, the lines between fantasy and reality will become blurred,” he says.

—Karen Kedmey

Zhou Wendou: BORDERLESS” is on view at De Sarthe Beijing, Apr. 4–May 24, 2015.

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