Zhou Tiehai

Zhou Tiehai
By Harald Szeemann

Zhou Tiehai is an artist whose visualised strategies are being given increasing attention, even in Europe. The term strategy defines a force field that in a militarily and economic, as well as ideological way, uses art as an "expanded medium" that orbits spirally around the triangle artist-gallery-museum, and the associated expectations-more glory, more money. 

The artist may behave as "Younger Statesman" before a golden backdrop and fixed banners, who makes a concise and serious announcement to the world of an historically proved but never voiced truth: "The relations in the art world are the same as the relations between states in the post-Cold War era. " And he expresses this as a Shanghainese artist, born of the most rapidly growing and booming city in the world, in a country that in spite of having many artists is still lacking an infrastructure with diverse and consecrated layers designed for their activities. 

Recognition of Chinese artists comes from outsides. That is why the "outside" has to be informed of the artist's own imaginings, at first in the caricatured critique of the capitalist yuppie as a "camel" modeled on the same creature that appears on the cigarette box, and built up into a "Godfather" figure without whose protection nothing goes. As Jupiter once controlled the lightning, the artist holds the index of stock-market prices in his hand. 

In another picture he is an aureole bearer who promises glory, splendour, wealth and rank. General Giap's subtle formula of energy in the Vietnam War - "the enemy who concentrates looses ground, the enemy who expands looses strength' - can be seen as the equivalent of the artist's approach, whereby the rapid fluctuation in the money market and world wide information bring about much incomprehensible focal points and dissolutions. Zhou Tiehai quotes the stock market, he designs fake cover pages - Power Struggle for China's Art Throne. He proposes his own airport for the increasing number of art people passing through China that are hooked on China's new wave of creativity but do not adapt their attitudes to the different lifestyle. 

In his film script "Will", he does not even spare those artists who are hell-bent on making a name for themselves. It is the artist's development of the heavy-set and clumsy Camel-yuppie in his own staged performance, to subtle but biting critiques, thereby connecting the infiltration of creativity, and his new definition of ambitions and attitudes, that moved the jury to award this intelligent and multi-talented artist the main CCAA prize. 

Harald Szeemann, 1999

(Translated from German by Ekhard Schneider and edited by Karen Smith)

Harald Szeemann