“I was always experimenting, and I’m still experimenting today.”
Born Hangzhou, 1957
Zhang Peili is revered among Chinese video artists for having become, in 1988, the first Chinese artist to formally present a video as an artwork. Though at the time he intended only to record a piece of performance art, he became enthralled by the possibilities of video. He specialises in using editing to comment on various aspects of the human experience of time—on boredom, repetition, and sameness—and on the nature of video itself. In his first work, 30 x 30, the artist repeatedly smashes a mirror and glues the pieces together. More recent works subvert the meanings of propaganda movies. In Last Words (2003), revolutionary martyrs utter their farewell speeches and die—over and over, to the point of tedium. In Happiness (2006), actors in the Cultural Revolution film In the Shipyard utter banalities like “Right, OK” and “I understand” to ecstatic applause of the kind that used to greet the speeches of Mao and other Party leaders. Lowest Resolution (2005) shows a similar combination of meaningless repetition and vitiated meaning through a cleverly manipulated Chinese sex-education video. In fact, the couple in the film are wearing underclothes and going through the motions with as much passion as if they were washing the dishes, but the screen is too small and far off for the action to be clearly seen. If the viewer moves closer than 5 metres, however, the image pixellates and disappears. When the viewer retreats, clarity is restored—but the image is unintelligible again. It’s the epitome of frustration: no matter what he does, the viewer is always “out of the picture”.