Soft Borders: Vivien Zhang

20 January - 5 March 2020 Gallery

Soft Borders is the first solo exhibition of Vivien Zhang (Beijing, b.1990) in the Middle East,  presenting eight new paintings that investigate notions of cultural and geographical fluidity, the casual appropriation of visual tropes today, and the challenges and paradoxes of our information age. 


In the namesake painting Soft Borders the image of kilim appears dominant, although on closer inspection, only fragments of each pattern materialise. This fractured composition questions assumptions based on perception and signifies the amount of information needed to represent an object. Across the painting Zhang inserts black and white drawings of mountains reminiscent of Chinese landscape paintings, but in actual fact the mountain peaks trace country borders where there has been political conflict. The most overtly political painting in the exhibition, it alludes to geopolitical border conflicts that arise out of what are natural geological formations, and the global migrant and refugee crisis.


In Spiral Columns (Red Venom) and Spiral Columns (Marble Messages) Zhang conveys her own belief in the insistence of forms and objects transcending time in eternal repetition. The use of the timeless spiral column motif, emerging out of colour-radiant and iridescent digital planes, epitomizes the passage of architecture through world cultures, appearing centuries later and continents apart. 


Finally, Under the Moon Bean and Cultivar Bearer (Woven Portals) combine three-dimensional organic forms against a flat backdrop of pixelated horizontal colours, with a series of loops that recur in the kilim patterns alongside other digital symbols and references. The compositions are a reminder of our digital world, appearing almost like a pixelated screenshot of a video game. They reflect the way in which our own memories work (bouncing from one recollection to another often by chance) as well as how images appear across our screens in ostensibly random ways.