Cell Project Space presents Sideways Looking, the first UK solo exhibition by Chinese artist Peng Zuqiang, including newly commissioned and existing moving image installations, and the artist’s first publication Hindsights, to be published by and launched at Cell Project Space in June 2022. For the first time throughout Cell’s exhibition programming, the show will span across all three exhibition spaces including the first-floor gallery and two recently opened spaces on the site’s ground floor.
In Sideways Looking, Peng Zuqiang polemically addresses the subjects of solidarity, non-violent looking and withheld memory to examine the relationship between desire, class and race.
Building upon the artist’s ongoing formulation of a moving image language, it suggests gesture, opacity and silence as forms of reciprocity to part ways with the dominant regimes of visibility.
Split across two floors, the 5 audiovisual channels of moving image installation keep in touch appears fragmented with moments of silence, uneasy gossip, and coded bodily communication to consider the complexity of contact, touch and solidarity. Emerging from one reel of Super 8 film and a brief prompt given to a group of friends, the artwork’s polemic tension arises as a sense of being together-in-difference brushes against the fleeting, unstable solidarity that comes through such shared refusal to become easily legible as subjects and identities.
Sight Leak, a 16mm black & white single-channel installation, reimagines Roland Barthes’ memoirs of his 1973 journey to China, published posthumously, from the perspective of a local tourist visiting Changsha; Peng Zuqiang’s hometown. Sparse scribbles on a trip that Barthes saw as a dud become a point of departure. As the French intellectual was unable to access the city beyond the route orchestrated for the delegation, the city’s social and cultural fabric remained to him opaque, inscrutable, thus, in his own words, dull. Decentering the importance of the speaking subject, Sight Leak at once looks for and places in doubt transient moments between gazing and looking, to which one responds neither in resistance nor in acknowledgement.
Newly commissioned for Sideways Looking, The Cyan Garden considers the limits of giving form to the past which cannot cohere into memory. In part filmed on ‘Lucky', a discontinued b&w 16mm film reel stock intended for military aerial detection, the moving image revolves around a radio station that was not supposed to be detected and Airbnb ‘The Lover’, run by Peng’s friend in their hometown. Between 1969 and 1981, a Malaysian communist underground radio in exile Voice of Malayan Revolution resided in what is soon to be a resort, the revolutionaries often staying in the ‘Qingyuan Hotel’. Projected on a holographic screen producing shadowy after-images, the work flickers between radio static, bursts of archival jingles, ruins of the radio station and choreographed scenes of the Airbnb apartment decorated in imagined ‘Southeast Asian’ style.
Contemplation on a revolution’s fraught relation to emancipation, The Cyan Garden interweaves fiction and documentary footage to think through contemporary urbanisation, stifled romance, inability to remember ‘rightly’ and the restrictions placed on the revolutionary body as mandopop and cantopop love songs lull in the background.
A choreography of non-linear narrative, silences, associative images, codes of communication between bodies without language mark the artist’s most expansive project to date. Sideways Looking is a meditation on affect, kinship and collectivity counter to the enclosure of identity and the individual subject. It examines the agency of tacit, silent and partially inscrutable gestures as a visual vocabulary that neither erasure nor transparency can permeate .
Curator Adomas Narkevičius
Peng Zuqiang makes moving images. His recent exhibitions and screenings include Times Art Center Berlin, Antenna-tenna, Antimatter, IDFA, UCCA Beijing, Open City Documentary Festival, and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. He has received fellowships and residencies from the MacDowell, Skowhegan OrganHaus and the Core Program. Peng is the recipient of the 'Jury Special Prize' from the 8th Huayu Youth Awards and a 'Special Mention' from Festival Film Dokumenter, Yogyakarta for his first feature film, Nan (2020).
Made possible with generous support from Arts Council England, Antenna Space and Foundation for Contemporary Arts.