Zhou Xiaohu is a great-nephew of Zhou Enlai, the first Premier of the People’s Republic, who predicted when the artist was five: “This kid’s going to lead everyone astray.” As one of China’s best known and most prolific contemporary artists, Zhou Xiaohu specialises in inducing confusion and bafflement, his goal being always to make viewers question their perceptions of reality and their default view of the “facts”. Steppenwolf and America Likes Me (2012) are based on a 1974 performance piece by Joseph Beuys, in which the German artist, wrapped in felt and holding a shepherd’s crook so he resembled the Grim Reaper, shared a room for three days with a wild coyote. In Zhou Xiaohu’s versions, trompe l’oeil paintings and projected animations construct a multilayered “reality” in which the coyote appears to be moving around the Death figure.
In You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know (2013), the viewer indeed finds himself mired in incomprehension at the sight of two lifelike “businessmen” each holding a cell phone to one ear while facing a “mirror” video screen on which his reflection appears as a painting-like animation. What is being said remains a mystery, however, since neither man emits a sound.
In Even in Fear (2011), a giant weather balloon repeatedly inflates and deflates in a comment on the expansion of desire in a materialistic society—and the disappointment and doubt that inevitably follow. Every so often the balloon bursts and is replaced with a new one. Renown (2007) is his take on the news media, which he believes routinely and knowingly lead everyone astray. “I grew up with propaganda machines,” he says. “Whoever gets hold of the loudspeaker gets hold of the power to dictate thoughts.” So lifelike are the figures in this “press conference”—which include a talking 3D model of the artist—that people approaching the installation often stand back and stop talking themselves.