A Solo Show by Zhang Shujian: Mad Genius
2023.09.02 - 2023.10.21
Artists: Zhang Shujian


Text by: Yao Siqing


Zhang Shujian's recent artworks, presented in this exhibition, extend from his approach applied in the “skin weaving” series, where the artist continues to unleash a subtle portrayal of the skin, and his appropriation of Chinese and Western masterpieces as the meta-picture intends to alienate further and bewilder, to resonate with the subject of “transfiguration.” In this game of brush and ink, the stereotypical understanding of realism and the superficial imitation of modernist masters' painterliness simultaneously became Zhang Shujian’s deride. He reveals the traces of "forced stitching" different types of brushstroke in the picture, reminding one of deliberately setting up bugs in facial filters. This effect aims to demonstrate that in the age of the online image, the way of looking is constantly reshaped when everything is superficial and collaged, and the modernist belief that art allows the perception of the "real" has long been shaken.


Only when viewed in the context of media renewal, can Zhang Shujian's series of portraits be perceived to manifest qualities that undermine such genre. The high-definition effect of zooming in on the texture of the skin and the presentation of subtle expressions after cropping out surrounding information is attributed to the invention of the camera, which predates today's visual habits of zooming in and out or taking screenshots on mobile electronic devices. If the birth of the camera once triggered a cognitive revolution in the history of images, close-ups of faces projected on giant screens were undoubtedly one of them. Looking back on the early movie theater experience, Americans called them "dumb giants" to convey their shock at such a new visual experience. The blown-up face, viewed through the mechanical eye, embodies an appeal that emphasizes its material texture. Still, it also dehumanizes it, undermining the essential feature of traditional portraiture, which is eternalizing an individual's social status and personality. In Zhang Shujian's artworks, we get a sense of the artist's keen awareness of media renewal. In addition, his reduced picture size and magnified skin texture – a combination that offers more tension than the big screen – demand an up-close viewing distance, which suggests intimacy in the physical world. Hence, such a way of viewing amplifies the non-human and abnormal parts hidden beneath these faces to the extent of alienation. While such a viewing experience allows us to reimagine the "other," it aims to activate a critical examination of the infinitely embellished virtuality. After all, they are images produced with intentions. Given the extent to which image production profoundly impacts our daily life, we may have reached a point of undermining conventional approaches to portraiture, in other words, to question the logic of viewing behind portraits and cease to construct an inevitable connection between the apparent and the internal.


The exhibition title, "Transfiguration," adapted from a common cross-cultural studies term, refers to the beneficial innovations resulting from the collision and intersection of various cultures. On an intuitive level, it relates to Zhang Shujian’s "reiteration" of these portrait series; by extension, it points out that in the visual cultural context of media advancement, the ways of perception have irrefutably changed. Whether or not one can adjust to the changes truthfully is at the core of "Transfiguration."