By Sara Beretta
In depicting the instability of China’s social environment, the work of Zhao Liang is a wake-up call to audiences. Zhao reflects his perspective through a range of visual approaches – photography, video and documentary – offering a valuable space for self-reflection and awareness. His gaze is elegant and artistic, gently detached yet sharply observant in picturing daily contradictions and human tragedies, offering a poetic reflection that shades into social criticism.
All of this makes his solo exhibition Beijing Landscape (Beijing Shanshui) a must-see event. Beijing Landscape, which runs from November 12 to December 7, is hosted at Studio-X, in partnership with Three Shadows Photography Center. Zhao’s 25-minute video Narrative Landscape, along with selected works from his previous Water Series (2004-2008) and Beijing Green Series (2004 – 2007) juxtapose tradition and modernity, both in nature and aesthetics, not transcending the commonplace but offering original and quiet introspection.
Zhao’s solo show also features his documentaries, starting with Crime and Punishment (2007, distributed by dGenerate). Conflicts between individuals, authority, state, society and environment flow throughout Zhao’s narrative. There’s also the masterpiece Petition, a 12-year project that intimately and dramatically shows the lives of petitioners in Beijing. Zhao’s committed approach immerses us in the petitioner’s plight, implying that anyone is potentially a victim of the dysfunctions of the social institutions governing China. As Zhao himself becomes an active participant in his own film, Petition demonstrates Judith Butler’s theory of how social reality is not a given but continually created as an illusion “through language, gesture, and all manner of symbolic social sign.” Zhao points out the oppressive contradictions governing China’s society, while depicting a humanist struggle whose pain is universally recogniziable.
Sara Beretta is an anthropologist and PhD student at Milan University, researching Chinese independent cinema and visual production.