Vivien Zhang 月薇
Artwork’s Title: Geoframe
Materials Used: Acrylic and oil on canvas
Studio Based: East London
Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
I make lots of small paintings on primed paper, they are my preparatory sketches. I then translate these onto the canvas.
I often start with a ground in my painting – be it a gradient blended with a soft brush, or pools of colours formed by diluted oil paint. I would then grid up the canvas and devise a simple algorithm (or set of rules) for the composition of the work – this would determine how shapes in the “foreground” of the painting would permutate and assemble. So I don’t need to work out the composition of the work beforehand. I would say my process is as much about control as it is about relinquishing that authority.
I also use a lot of paper stencils. I enjoy how paint bleeds from the edges of these crude stencils, and how then this inconsistency with other more precisely articulated forms in the work can generate various dialogues – about repetition and the digital, for instance.
How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?
Symptomatic of our digital information age.
Would you use another three different words to describe the ‘Geoframe‘ painting?
Rethinking our current representation of the world, and creating an “alternative landscape” for an imagined generation of third-culture, digital inhabitants.
How did you come up with this painting idea? Is there any story behind this painting?
Several threads of thought came to shape this work. Firstly, I was revisiting Rosalind Krauss’ seminal paper, Grids, at the time when I was making the work. I have always been interested in the idea of repetition and playing with space in my work. Hence here, I wanted to draw reference to Krauss’ ideas, for example the tensions and paradoxes the grid presents in relation to the painting surface.
Secondly, I’ve also been looking at map projections from the last century. These maps were developed to better represent land masses and country sizes (hence geopolitical relationships) than our standard Mercator map. But perhaps because of their difficult irregular shapes (one even has the nickname of “orange-peel map”), we have largely discarded their use. In this painting, I wanted to bring to light one of these maps – the Sinu Mollweide projection, which you can see as two violet-green shapes in the background of the work.
I’m also interested in how context-specific objects function as anchors to geographies and memories. Fruits, for instance, are my personal anchor to different places. So in the painting there’s a “frame” of dragon fruits rendered in tiny squares (or pixels). They represent Southeast Asia, where I spent my formative years growing up. During the pandemic, my work has been the only way for me to reminisce and indulge on the places I have personal attachment to. Also, the dragon fruit (like many fruits and objects) has surprising origins and I am interested in how the history of these “exotic” objects reflect on our own vantage point.
What would be the best way to exhibit your work?
This work can be seen in my solo show at TANK Shanghai right now. It’s hung against a vinyl background of Martian landscape taken by NASA.
Can you mention any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?
I’ve been thinking about James Bridle’s writing. Recently I’m also looking at Leon Polk Smith, Liu Wei, and Mamma Andersson.
How do you know when this painting was finished?
When adding anything more to the work would tip it over.
What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space look like?
My studio is in East London, it’s a self-contained space with high ceilings. The space is long, with an alcove at the back and access to a tiny backyard (which people have said I’m not making the most use of because I’m not a smoker, ha). I keep the alcove relatively clean so to store and look at finished work.
Which exhibition did you visit last?
Virtually, Natalie Ball at Half Gallery (during Art Basel Miami Online). I saw a bunch of physical gallery shows around Frieze week just before the second lockdown, including Laure Prouvost at Lisson Gallery, Liu Xiaodong at Massimo de Carlo, Oliver Beer at Thaddaeus Ropac, and Wilhelm Sasnal at Sadie Coles.
Which are your plans for the near future?
I’m working on a solo show for 2021 at the moment. It’ll be my second solo show at Long March Space (Beijing). I’m also hoping the situation will get better soon so I can invite my studio assistants back – I started having part-time assistants last year for the first time. Having people around is new and I was just learning how to manage that before the pandemic…
All images are courtesy of the artist