This is an excerpt from the article about Vivien Zhang, Digital Deep Diving, written by Pairat Temphairojana, which can be found in the June-July Issue of Eltite+ magazine.
With the emergence of technology and an increasing role for artificial intelligence (AI), many feel they’re at risk of becoming less human due to the rise of machines working on auto. But for Vivien Zhang, a Chinese-born award-winning artist, it’s an exciting and intriguing time.
“We’re essentially the first generation of kids that grew up with access to the digital, access to computers, access to these data gadgets and I personally feel their effect on us,” Zhang says, standing inside her private studio in London filled with brushes, duct tape and canvases.
“Big companies have invented new modes of looking at space and digital surfaces for us. We scroll through the webpage and the user interface; that way of looking at images affects how we process other things in daily life.”
Since her debut in 2014, Zhang has done 11 solo and duo exhibitions across 12 countries – and at 26 was named on the Forbes 30-under-30 Asia list for her artwork. Zhang’s work is abstract, futuristic and uses colourful repetition as an underlying device.
“I was in Siena [Italy] putting together a solo show at the Monteverdi gallery, curated by Sarah McCrory, and woke up to find I was a list-maker for 2017! Receiving this astonishing news on the Tuscan hills was quite the start of a day.” Zhang shares that the list brought attention in the first years of her career for which she’s still grateful.
Zhang’s art colleagues and patrons call her the “collector of motifs” for a reason – a good portion of her studio’s vast walls are heavily taped with references she uses as a recurring theme in her artwork.
Velvet Murmurs, 2016
Her work features different objects ranging from hand gestures (Velvet Murmurs, 2016) to peaches taken out of their diverse contexts and mashed together inside the canvas.
Contra Prunus, 2017
For instance, her painting Contra Prunus (2017) was inspired by 8-bit computer cursors that were originally designed by Susan Kare for Apple. The work is also infused with peaches that pay homage to a 15th-century Venetian painter, Carlo Crivelli. Crivelli used fruits as a secondary signature in his work and Zhang was particularly drawn to Crivelli’s fruits as she reflected on how personal identity is changing against today’s explosive growth of AI technology.
Codescape Exhibition @ Beijing
Zhang’s latest solo exhibition, Codescape, was held in September last year in Beijing and was her biggest yet with 19 paintings displayed at a 2,500-square metre space. The show was specifically made to reflect on how humans have been affected by the digital age and what it means to be a digital native today.
“Most of the 19 paintings were created in the space of nine months – that was the most intense period in my career so far. I became a hermit in my studio,” she recalls, and laughs during her break from a meditative painting session preparing for Art Basel in Hong Kong in late March.
A continuation of her work in Beijing, the six new paintings that were on display at Art Basel included glimpses of NASA images of sand dunes taken on Mars to mundane price tags seen in China’s ubiquitous stationery stores.