Tang Contemporary Art is proud to announce the opening of Zhao Zhao’s solo exhibition “In Extremis” on July 14, 2018，in the first space of Beijing. This exhibition is curated by Cui Cancan.
This story begins with a cat. One day in 2015, dust blanketed an asphalt road in Beijing. The cars flew by, as the sunlight shining on the gravel and asphalt reflected a few pinpoints of light. White guardrails separated two lanes with different speed limits; everyone hurried onward, all with their own worries and concerns. In the center of the road was a dead cat - I don’t know how many times it had been run over—but all that was left were some tire marks and a bit of fur. The traces of this story had been weathered, and all that was left on the ground was a vague, abstract pattern, like rolling out a small carpet on the asphalt. Time had worn away its original appearance. The initial bloodiness and misery had disappeared, so the viewer became indifferent, not sad. Most of the passersby did not care about this life - it was “worthless.” No one knew what this cat experienced and encountered.
Zhao Zhao depicted this vestige in chalk, like an expert at the scene of a murder trying to figure out the final posture of the deceased. This scene was not a chance occurrence, and it was certainly not an isolated incident. In the ensuing few years, Zhao Zhao continued to see similar circumstances in different places. Accidents and indifference, rules and collisions always play out on the roads; it’s just that the protagonist is always replaced. Three years later, Zhao Zhao remade the shapes that he had recorded—the images of the flattened cats - in metal. As if commemorating what he saw, he needed to leave evidence that would not disappear. Comprised of four materials—glistening brass, reflective stainless steel, dignified black steel, and chimeric blue steel - this once soft fur has been transformed into extremely hard fragments, which are inlaid into the asphalt surface that Zhao Zhao set. Several thousand fragments of different materials and sizes constitute images of more than 20 cats, arranged in different places around the exhibition hall. They seem like a chart for an isolated island, sometimes connected and sometimes cut off by the asphalt, shattered into countless submerged reefs. They are like tombs, pebbles, or clusters of stars in a black Milky Way.
As you wander through the exhibition hall, across the fragmented floor, every turn of your body or focus of your gaze makes the scene change in a way that cannot be replicated. Light, perspective, time, distance, and different emotions imply that you have waited for centuries, but you can’t sense death in the next instant. The exhibition site is like a Mass. At the Last Supper, the wine and bread replaced blood and flesh. The form and story of the cat point to a broader metaphor; the historical information, individual growth, and meaning of life that the cat represents is situated within a surge of past and present.
An independent cat obviously cannot deal with the common rules of modern society. This conflict is stark, like the countless progressions and regressions in history or a duel between the powers that be and the individual. One side is omnipotent and fighting nature, while the other side is weak and wild. Asphalt roads govern areas, dividing social classes, types of growth, and orientations of the sun. When confronted with entirely unfamiliar rules and systems, even nature’s most ferocious animal has no way to compete. In the end, steamrollers and mechanical hardness flatten the imprint of every claw growing out of their foot pads, so that no blossom-shaped prints are left in the asphalt.
The dead cat is a symbol of these supplementary conditions. The sacrifices of individuals that were once lively and different are unworthy of mention in the face of fanatical collectivism and in the myths of this nation and this people. This symbol points to an individual’s triviality and despair, not a miracle that a challenger has achieved; it is disparate resistance, a bystander’s indifference, and a future without a future. These familiar stories are like the moment of death, where your mind is clear but cannot be expressed, in a time when the conscious and unconscious are melded together. Reality will not be resolved in art, but it provides us with a moment to bridge fact and perception. Here, the brutal, bloody tragedy is transformed into another solemn yet hallucinatory perception. It conveys real information mixed with beautiful form, revealing everything. Art compels viewers to face tragedies that truly existed, but that they were unwilling to see due to the limitations of ethics, aesthetics, and customs; here, these things cannot be avoided.
In this transcendental moment, death is an experience of the eternal; the vision of death covers all areas of experience. We temporarily forget to despair and forget about the helplessness of being unable to change anything. The beginning of the story, about the cat that couldn’t follow the rules, becomes a model, but one that is flattened into powder. The silence of death is so great, it seals the silence of naivety. We see glistening gold, flying blue sparks, and hard brown rocks between the sky and the road; they are the supreme forms of the natural world—an eternal beauty. But this is also just a moment; we are then drawn back into contemplation, sinking into a closed, naïve reality: the story of a cat, or the justice of a blade of grass.