"Tonic+"--solo show by Zhou Tiehai  
ShanghART H-Space

October 30 - November 12,2004




Text On the Exhibition:

ShanghART Gallery will run an exhibition featuring works by Zhou Tiehai from October 30  to November 27 at two different venues. One is at the gallery near Park 97, and the other is the new warehouse exhibition venue along the Suzhou Creek.

It is not easy to describe Zhou’s artworks in several words. Unlike his peers who faithfully follow their own exclusive symbols or landmarks, Zhou’s symbols varied, ranging from his camel series to fake cover series. Zhou ought to have stepped on a easy path if he follows these successful landmarks, but he did not. Like his profound personality, his works always bring a surprise to the public. Honestly speaking, there is no close link among those different themed renderings, which proves that he is active in exploring Chinese culture and spirit from totally different angles. Like his “Female Movie Stars of the 1980s”, the beautiful faces are reminiscent of a systematized society, but on close inspection, viewers will find an earnest expectation of the future from their eyes. Zhou’s works are never exaggerated or overwhelmingly dominant. He didn’t state his position in his artworks, but the viewers are unwittingly be dragged back to those bygone days.

Zhou’s recent ink-wash series applied the advanced printing technique in depicting the masterpieces of traditional Chinese paintings. Traditional Chinese paintings are not easy to maintain in good condition due to the fragility of the rice-paper and the oxidation of ink and splash. But Zhou’s contemporary way of recreating these masterpieces secured the “tradition” fused with new meanings.








Stars of the 80s

Going through these rich fossil-like facial expressions of the 80s is like watching humanity’s adolescence period in which un-concealable joy and fantasy, simplicity and naivety, bestiality and spirituality intermingle among each other.

What horrifying expressions! I used to linger over here.

Get them onto the guillotine. Contemporary art is this merciless sword! If the water is clear then it must be innocent; the water originally clear so it will be clarified ultimately. Cut off the bestial joy of fantasies of modern civilization. Keep the freedom that no one can take away.

The devil fails to find your trace… Look at your own facial expression now: truly phantomlike looks; what else will you metamorphose to?


A placebo is not a medication designed to cure a particular disease; it is just an attempt to give people some psychological comfort. These works have the following distinct characteristics:

1. Western culture, which represents the main advance of human civilization, adopts a pharmaceutical way of treating the human condition. To use a Chinese phrase this is ‘treating the branches while neglecting the root’, and ultimately can only be a kind of self-consolation or self-intoxication.

2. The works themselves are an attempt to interpret Western standards. When it is incorporated by mainstream culture, non-mainstream culture reluctantly accepts its inability to break free of the standard view, just like someone awaking from a dream, and it unavoidably becomes a foil for global culture.

3. This phenomenon is of symbolic significance in East-West cultural exchange. On one hand, these works are full of admiration for the achievements of Western culture, and try to use Western medicine to cure Eastern ills. On the other hand, they are well aware that this medicine has side effects, and is unable to effect a radical cure, but people will give any doctor’s prescription a try when their illness is severe. Herein lies the powerlessness and suffering of the artist.


Tonic here has a neutral character; it is by no means absolutely a good thing, and is a narcotic when used inappropriately. These works magnify Chinese and Oriental culture to the point of vertigo:

1. They are not directed at any disease of the human spirit, nor do they aim to specifically cure an affected part; rather they express ‘the unity of heaven and man’, the Chinese medical philosophy of cultivating one’s moral and physical nature. Tonics are one type of medicine used for this purpose, and are directed at the whole person, at mobilizing the innate vital energies. Here, illness is not necessarily a bad thing.

2. The Misty effect of these large canvases originates from the idea of the Will of Heaven. Because of this the impression they give people is non-specific and indirect. Oriental-style, they move and influence people in an invisible way. This is the paradise imagined by Chinese religion, full of tranquility and depth, free from brightness and gaudiness.

3. These works are the refraction of a sense of scholarly seriousness in my spirit. Obviously, they are a ‘tonic’, but constantly vacillating, afraid of using too much, of becoming addicted to it just like ‘Placebo’. After all these are the work of ancient masters, and if they are the work of ancient masters then they are medications; if they are medications then, strictly speaking, be they ‘placebo’ or ‘tonic’, in either case it is not a particularly good thing.


Click here to visit Zhou Tiehai artist page.