Here - 75 Years of Collecting - Vancouver Art Gallery

Here - 75 Years of Collecting - Vancouver Art Gallery

O Zhang

July 20,

2009 to

January 03,


LO C AT E D on West Georgia

Street between Thurlow and

Bute streets, Vancouver

ORGANIZED BY: Vancouver Art Gallery

FUNDED BY: City of Vancouver through the Public

Art Program

SUPPORTED BY: Ian Gillespie, President, Westbank;

Ben Yeung, President, Petersen Investment Group;

Residents at Shangri-La

CURATOR: Daina Augaitis, Chief Curator/

Associate Director




Great Northern Way Scene Shop

Offsite is the Vancouver Art

Gallery’s outdoor public art

space featuring a program

of rotating projects. Located

downtown at the foot of the

Living Shangri-La skyscraper

development, Offsite serves

as a hub for local and international

contemporary artists to

explore issues related to the

surrounding urban context.

As artists consider the sitespecific

potential of art within

the public realm, projects may

inspire, bemuse and stimulate

broad audiences, and will

respond to the changing social

and cultural conditions of our

contemporary world.

The Vancouver Art Gallery gratefully acknowledges

the ongoing financial support of the City of Vancouver,

the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts

Council and Gaming Revenues, the Canada Council

for the Arts and the Government of Canada through

the Department of Canadian Heritage.

750 Hornby Street, Vancouver, BC

V6Z 2H7 Canada ·

O Zhang

O Zhang

Children embody the hope and potential of

any nation; they are also among the first to

mirror the changing norms of a society and its

evolving identity. It is not surprising that kids

of all ages and the associations they elicit are

the subject of Chinese-born artist O Zhang’s

artworks in which she situates her critical

observations of China’s political and social

transformations within a guarded optimism

for a brighter future.

Of her three public art projects that launch

the Vancouver Art Gallery’s new public art

space, Offsite, the most visible are O Zhang’s

giant images of young girls that compel any

passerby. Horizon (Sky) is an adaptation of an

earlier work in which she photographed girls

between the ages of four and six from the

countryside, close to the central Chinese village

where her family was moved in the 1960s

for purposes of ‘re-education.’ Living in a fairly

remote part of the country and never having

been photographed, O Zhang’s subjects have

an innocent, unencumbered relationship

to the camera and they return a gaze that is

remarkably direct and penetrating. Shown

squatting on a grassy bluff with a dramatic

blue sky behind them, the larger-than-life images

are reminiscent of the colour-saturated

propaganda posters of the Cultural Revolution,

which claimed to promote prosperity

and equality for all people. As viewers regard

these girls, who seem less like upstanding

heroes of the Cultural Revolution and more

like crouching tigers ready to spring into the

debates of the day, the consequences of

China’s one-child policy come to mind, as

do the unfulfilled promises of liberation for

women and workers, especially those living in

LEFT: Audio project installed in the

public passageway

the countryside. Young girls from rural China

occupy the lowest levels of the social hierarchy

yet here they are blown up to a scale at

which they can no longer be ignored. Offsite’s

location, adjacent to one of Vancouver’s

principal thoroughfares, makes these images

unavoidable—people walking or driving by are

drawn in by the intense gaze of these children

as they look down (rather than up) from their

perches. Even as toddlers, they already embody

a serious engagement with life, exuding

an intensity and confidence well beyond their

years. The artist’s aspiration is that in meeting

their defiant stares, viewers may find that a

deeper consciousness emerges about their

living conditions and future expectations. The

horizon line continues between frames, visually

connecting the individual images into one,

long landscape. The horizon of this work is a

line that separates earth from sky, and the experience

of the present from a future that lies

beyond—in this case, a future that appears

to be vast and bright, in which self-confident

women might become active participants in

the transformation of a society.

The public art space is tied to a residential

and commercial development that includes

several pedestrian passageways connecting

two main streets where O Zhang has made

further interventions there. Just off a busy

sidewalk is one such passage, a staircase

lined with a grove of bamboo that leads you

through an urban shortcut. The lanky bamboo

trees that rustle in the wind are a respite

from the dense city surrounding this small

forest and they create an immediate visceral

link to Asia, a connection that is reinforced

by O Zhang’s audio installation, The Same

Day, The Same City, that broadcasts sounds

from downtown Guangzhou into downtown

Vancouver. Here the imported sounds of a

busy city—hawkers, Chinese pop songs and

various street negotiations—merge with the

traffic and street noises of Vancouver. The

soundtrack is made audible through visible

outdoor public-address speakers typically

used by Chinese authorities to announce

official messages. The ‘messaging’ here is

more open and, in this aural confluence of

East and West, it serves as a reminder of the

delicately balanced ‘mosaic’ that characterizes

Canada’s cultural landscape.

ABOVE: Poster project installed in the upper

public passageway

A third work occupies an undeveloped portion

of the site, where the artist has installed

eight large cylinders that mimic official poster

stands erected in cities throughout the

world. The images glued onto these posts,

which have also been postered throughout

Vancouver, are from an ongoing series, The

World is Yours (But Also Ours), in which O

Zhang has photographed teens and preteens

in front of a variety of Chinese monuments

and attractions. The adolescents,

most of whom are girls, wear Chinese-English

T-shirts that O Zhang collected throughout

the country, and that are emblematic of

the current fascination with Western culture.

The misspelled or poorly translated texts

on the shirts are made more humorous or

ironic by the slogans beneath them that are

borrowed from advertising, popular media

and quotations by Chairman Mao and other

revolutionary leaders. These images were

produced in the months leading up to the

2008 Beijing Olympic Games, when China

was increasingly conscious of its presence

on the world stage and many contradictions

of communist-style capitalism became

abundantly apparent. The artist’s images

remain as rather chilling documents of a

rapidly changing nation in which the quest

for individuality and democracy collide with

the repressive practices of state control.

Although O Zhang’s images are deceptively

simple, they offer a striking alternative to

the histories and conventions of representation

that depict children as timid and

cute, women as objects consumed by the

male gaze, or workers as the heroic models

of revolutionary poster campaigns. As a

Chinese artist currently living in the United

States, O Zhang brings a unique perspective

to the dramatically unfolding political and

social conditions for youth in China today.

Off site, but on point.

Daina Augaitis,

Chief Curator / Associate Director


the Artist

O Zhang (b. 1976, Guangzhou, China)

currently lives and works in New York and

Beijing. She was trained at the Central Academy

of Fine Art in Beijing (2000) before

moving to London where she earned two

Masters degrees, the first in fine art from

Byam Shaw at Central Saint Martins College

of Art and Design (2001), and the second in

photography from the Royal College of Art

(2004). O Zhang was the recipient of the

Fuji Film Student Award, London (2002);


Horizon (Sky), 2009

(Centre spread and cover)

Photographic print on vinyl, series of 6,

each 340 x 373 cm

Courtesy of the Artist and Peking Fine Art Gallery

The World is Yours (But Also Ours), 2008

(Interior right)

Inkjet prints on paper, series of 8,

each 79 x 99 cm

Courtesy of the artist and CRG Gallery

The Same Day, The Same City, 2008

(Interior right)

Audio installation, 58 minute loop

Courtesy of the artist and CRG Gallery

Photography: Henri Robideau and Rachel Topham,

Vancouver Art Gallery

ISBN: 978-1-895442-77-9

© 2009 Vancouver Art Gallery,

the artist and the author

the Wilson Centre for Photography Fellowship,

London (2003); the RCA Photography

Graduate Award, London (2006); the

Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center Artist

Fellowship, New York (2008); and she is

the first recipient of the Artist-in-Residence

Program at the Queen’s Museum, New York

(2009). O Zhang has had solo exhibitions in

New York, Beijing and London. Her work has

been included in group shows throughout

Europe, North America and China, including

the Millennium Monument Art Museum,

Beijing (2003); Folkwang Museum, Essen

(2003); Kunsthalle Museum, Hamburg

(2006); Kunstmuseum, Bern (2006); and

Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai

(2006). Her work is in the collections of

Guggenheim Museum, New York; Santa

Barbara Museum; Clifford Chance Art Collection,

London; and Millennium Monument

Art Museum, Beijing.

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