Jiajia Zhang “A FILM IN TWO PARTS, THE SECOND of WHICH NEVER ENDS” at Istituto Svizzero, Milan

By Last Updated: April 6, 2024Views: 43

Coming into the exhibition area from the courtyard with its mosaic flooring, I unexpectedly discover myself standing on a gentle carpet. Behind me, gigantic promoting posters partly masks the facades of the buildings on Piazza Cavour—a spot emblematic of Milan’s “fashionable” post-war architectural and ideological reconstruction. In entrance of me is Jiajia Zhang’s set up, L’invitation au voyage (There all is order and wonder, luxurious, peace and pleasure). Stone bollards, generally utilized in public areas to control motion (of autos, pedestrians), tackle a brand new context within the exhibition, organized on the carpet like readymades. There may be an intriguing intermingling right here between the outside city area and an inside non-public area. The exhibition title, “A FILM IN TWO PARTS, THE SECOND of WHICH NEVER ENDS,” is derived from the collective Shanzhai Lyric, who since 2015 have been compiling a poetic archive of damaged English and mistranslated phrases (resembling these discovered on “shanzai” t-shirts from China, offered worldwide). By way of their archive, the collective explores the language of forgery, mimicry, and hybridity as a commentary on the artificiality inherent in world hierarchies. Jiajia’s exhibition title, as she explains to me in an e-mail, juxtaposes a finite second (regulated, maybe outlined by the bollards) with an infinite second (a small baby’s endlessly curious gaze). However extra on that later. Jiajia’s curiosity lies within the seen and invisible constructions and norms that form us: our actions, actions, language, ideas, our appropriation of the world, and certainly our very existence. These forces function not solely in public areas but additionally in presumably non-public, intimate interiors. For Jiajia, who studied structure at ETH Zurich earlier than finishing her Grasp’s diploma in visible arts, such concerns typically begin within the city area. In lots of cities at this time, public squares and streets are rigidly designed: benches are made so we will’t lie on them, whereas wall protrusions are fitted with sharp spikes so we will’t sit on them. Obstacles direct us, and video cameras monitor our exercise. Such a defensive structure is intently linked to the capitalist use of public area. It creates inhospitable environments for many who are unwelcome (like youngsters with skateboards or people experiencing homelessness) whereas disciplining those that are welcome, encouraging the usage of public areas primarily for consumption. In his e-book, The Observe of On a regular basis Life (a theoretical reference for Jiajia), French thinker Michel de Certeau describes strolling by means of the town as a every day apply the place pedestrians navigate city landscapes, forging distinctive paths, together with shortcuts and detours. By way of this act, they etch their reminiscences, tales, and aspirations onto the cityscape. For de Certeau, this constitutes a type of resistance by means of appropriation, as people assemble social area and problem standard norms with different makes use of. Might this idea describe the “invitation to a journey” formulated within the art work’s title (which Jiajia took from a line in Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal)? Gazing on the eight stone bollards (which the artist borrowed from the Milan metropolis council), I proceed to ponder the extent to which these reflections apply to all our bodies—in any case, motion in public areas is all the time additionally linked to sexual and ethnic attributions: the physique of somebody recognized as a girl of color should transfer by means of the town otherwise in comparison with a white man. Standardising measures—on each a tangible architectural degree and an intangible ideological degree—are extremely current, particularly in cities like Milan or Rome. Over the previous 12 months, Jiajia has lived and labored in each these cities, traversing their city landscapes on foot (typically accompanied by her daughter Fibi in a child carriage), by streetcar, bus, or subway. From the bustling metropolis centres with their pedestrian zones and luxurious boutiques to the meticulously regulated Cathedral Sq. (Milan) and the much more tightly managed St. Peter’s Sq. (Rome), or their car-centric peripheries, their city areas dictate and handle the actions of our bodies in some ways. And but, Jiajia’s set up presents a promise of freedom—a playful journey throughout the carpet and between the bollards. The invitation to journey.
In her video work If I Can Make It There… Jiajia explores one other dimension of standardisation that shapes our identification formation and our ‘being on the planet’: language, particularly the method of language acquisition. The spatial association depicted within the video mirrors her childhood dwelling state of affairs when her dad and mom moved the household to Switzerland for work, the place a partition wall divided her youngsters’s room from her dad and mom’ bed room. Within the audio monitor accompanying the video, we hear a male voice studying German. Hesitantly, virtually in a fragile method, the speaker makes an attempt to assemble German sentences resembling “Wie geht es Ihnen?” (“How are you?”) and “Was machen Sie hier?” (“What are you doing right here?”). It’s a language studying course of that takes place inside inflexible boundaries—with questions on work, about the place from and the place to. Questions on wellbeing, to which the one realized reply is “I’m high quality.” Sentences that path off in vacancy, like “Ich bin…” (“I’m…”) or “Ich komme aus…” (“I come from…”). It’s a language that presses individuals right into a standardised system of thought in accordance with the customs of a selected tradition (on this case, the working world of Eighties Western Europe. The voice we hear belongs to the artist’s father, who emigrated from China to Switzerland throughout that interval). As a result of sure, studying a language is far more than simply studying phrases. And since Foucault on the newest, we all know that language determines the boundaries of our pondering, certainly, that language is our pondering, and that language is energy. Jiajia filmed the footage for her video work on the streets of Rome and Milan. We see neon indicators, promoting screens and store home windows and other people circulating throughout the city area. Jiajia is especially within the many personas of the city area—the businessman, the police officer, and even fantastical figures like a cowboy or Aladdin—and intertwines this with reflections on the performative nature of identities. The actions guided by implicit and specific structure and guidelines are just like the standardised technique of language acquisition. Now and again, there are disruptions: a split-second minimize to a flying plastic fowl or a pink inflatable dolphin. And there are additionally the curious eyes of a toddler (Jiajia’s daughter Fibi), reminding us of the extra intuitive language studying course of, the place listening to (sounds, syllables, and phrases) and seeing (as objects are assigned to phrases) play pivotal roles. Concurrently, there’s a recognition that Fibi will quickly navigate this regulated society herself. Throughout her time in Milan, Jiajia delved deeply into analysis on the postwar city growth. A major reference for her is Ermanno Olmi’s 1961 movie Il posto, which employs neorealist imagery to inform the story of Domenico, a younger man who applies for a job in a big firm, and the weird examinations and assessments he undergoes—an allegory for confronting and assimilating into the norms of a capitalist work surroundings. Countless curiosity and regulation.
In the identical room, a sequence of drawings revisits themes across the blurring of personal and public domains. Jiajia had commissioned the drawings by artists usually portraying vacationers round Milan Cathedral.
The varied sources are Instagram screenshots, style commercials or images Jiajia took on the streets of Milan, or selfies of the artist herself. These non-public scenes seize intimate acts of care–for oneself (making use of make-up) or for others (braiding a baby’s hair, feeding a child with a bottle). In different phrases, these actions embody care work, transcending the confines of the non-public sphere on a number of ranges. On the one hand, they intersect with feminist discourse on the remuneration of home and reproductive labour (largely spearheaded by Italian feminist Silvia Federici within the Nineteen Seventies), which elevates this supposedly non-public work right into a political situation. Furthermore, social media is more and more blurring the traces between non-public and public spheres. It’s not unusual for intimate acts of care to change into a part of public show, with the skin world typically showing on our smartphone screens, even throughout the intimate confines of the bed room. By paying artists to provide drawings from the collages Jiajia assembled from visible supplies, she additionally acknowledges the networks, infrastructures, and bills related to numerous forms of (creative, reproductive, caregiving) labour. In the identical room, the wall sculpture Secure Crash includes a discovered piece of glass lined with yellow security foil (usually used for glass enclosures housing fireplace extinguishers). Jiajia mounts the piece of glass in opposition to a mirrored background and provides the phrase: “You left one thing behind”. What initially feels like a caring reminder echoes a typical response from on-line retailers, prompting prospects about gadgets lingering (and ready to be bought!) of their digital procuring carts. Very like how bollards information our actions in public areas and the way city planning and structure subtly management our behaviour, our actions and desires are equally monitored and nurtured in digital area.
The 2 video works on show within the second exhibition room tie in with these themes. Untitled (After Love) consists of discovered footage (from Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok, in addition to from the artist’s household archive) and self-shot video materials. The montage options scenes from a Japanese TV present (the place Taiwanese pop singer Teresa Teng is resurrected as a hologram paired with Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody: “Is that this the true life? Is that this simply fantasy?”), karaoke lyrics and voiceovers about youngsters’s passage into maturity. These visuals are interspersed with footage of video calls between the artist and her mom (continuously disrupted by a poor web connection) and clips from the Eighties exhibiting Jiajia dancing and singing as a baby. Feelings and intimate relationships (within the household, between influencers and their followers) manifest by means of shiny smartphone surfaces and the confluence of personal and public areas. The second video work, EOD, takes us again to the start, so to talk. Again to the toddler forming first sounds and syllables. Filmed by Jiajia from a streetcar in Milan, the video captures fleeting promoting posters, billboards, and store home windows passing by. In the meantime, the textual content displays on how infants study language, tracing the development from babbling sounds to coherent phrases as infants make the world their very own—an appropriation of the world, occurring inside predetermined constructions and norms.
A “being in language” that unfolds inside intimate in addition to public areas, formed by each actual and digitally mediated emotional relationships. And but, the place moments of escape are all the time doable. The invitation to a journey. To interrupt free from the inflexible rhythm. Don’t reply ASAP (as quickly as doable), however solely on the finish of the day—Finish of Day (EOD).

—Gioia Dal Molin

at Istituto Svizzero, Milan
till April 12, 2024


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