Zhao Bandi

In the form of posters and lightboxes, the artist’s latest series of photographic works is entitled Zhao Bandi and the panda. These computer-enhanced images come complete with strip-cartoon text recording the conversation between the artist and the panda, which is both an ideal companion and the chaming and engaging symbol of China itself. The choice of the animal dates from work on Calendar for 1996, a sort of Jeff Koons composition laden with garlands of roses and intended as a playful parody of the illustrated canlendars that are so popular in China. Details of everyday life – such as the artist’s work-apron or plastic bucket – are placed in a very different setting, thus enhancing that sense of de-contextualization rendered most clearly by the girl in a night-dress who looks on in amazement – and perhaps disapproval – as an athletic Zhao Bandi holds the panda in his arms.

In all his works since then the artist has aimed for a sense of total displacement: the toy panda, the artist’s own clothing and expression, the setting and the dialogues are all carefully-measured expressions of a very personal sense of humor. Taking commonplaces concerning personal hygiene and safety, the artist explores the most irrational and absurd aspects of those 'ideological campaigns that are still quite common in China. Details such as the hat he is wearing in Sagety is Everything, or the intent expression with which he drives while holding his hands on the wheel in a perfectly ‘standard’ position – all bring out the irony of his intent (as does the seat belt worn by the toy panda).

Zhao Bandi has always had a keen interest in details, even when he was producing large oil paintings. Though in a realistic style, these works managed to create an uncertain atmosphere that hinted at meanings well beyond mere technical proficiency and accuracy of representation. The paintings of the early 1990s – such as Xiao Zhang (1992) or Miss H. Jin (1990) – used odd-shaped canvasses (curved at the top, or with the rectangular form hung askew) in order to heighten the contrast between pictorial effect and the banality of subject-matter and setting.Perhaps this taste for the everyday was a reaction against the celebratory heavy-handedness of socialist realism; yet here this normal world is both decontextualized and ennobled, leaving one with a vivid sense of the unreal. The same could be said of Zhao Bandi’s video works, which Karren Smith has described as 'eperiments planned with care and then presented impeccably'.

The 1994 solo show Moonlight-held at eh Hanmo Gallery in Beijing – also used carefully reworked everyday objects – metal bedheads, old tables ,colored rages. Everything is transformed, becomes the point of departure for a Pindaric flight of fancy beyond the prosaic everyday world to the realm of dreams that the artist harbors in his soul. Probably Zhao Bandi would be an enthusiastic fan of Kusturica’s films – and of the surrealist Arizona Dream in particular. Just as the main character in that film sets about creating his own flying machine, so here a naked Zhao Bandi fastened on the metal bedhead like a pair of wings and took on the appearance of an apprentice lcarus ready to take to the skies.

Zhao Bandi can make us aware of even the most obvious aspects of everyday life and transform them into an aesthetic experience. One of his recent works is a large neon sign installed on the side of a tall buildimg; it reads: ‘My Heart is Trembling’. 

Monica Dematte
(in 48a esposizione internazionale d'arte, by La Biennale di Venezia)