Zheng Guogu, The chat god of Millenium No. 5, Oil on paper, 250 cm x 89 cm, 2001
« The viewer immediately recognizes two layers of motifs. In the back, a mountainous, desert like landscape is mirrored right in the middle of the paintings surface in an undefined plaine of water while a collage of single characters, small texts and computer screen-like text fields is laid over the centre of the landscape. Reminding one of the neon lights of the nights, it forms a stark contrast to the pastoral tranquillity it overlays.
Born in 1970 Zheng Guogu started to make art when the unpredictable ups and downs of the Mao era as well as the social utopianism of the 1980s did not longer influence China’s youth. Instead, other issues inform the art creation of Zheng. His various undertakings may be grouped under two large general headings: in one complex of works the artist is occupied with the impact of a globalized pop-culture upon the local level, another one centres around issues of identity. Both complexes share so many overlappings that at times they become nearly indistinguishable. Zheng’s mode of creation can be linked to what the art critic Hou Hanru once termed the urban guerrilla approach of the Pearl River Delta artists. Besides more conventional media like photography – in his first phase of works in the early 1990s – painting, installation, calligraphy etc., Zheng draws on actionist and collaborationist methods. Occasionally, he invites non-artist amateurs to participate in his works. Some of them as models – with a role that goes beyond that of an anonymous academy model – like in My Teacher of 1997, others as active collaborators such as the hundreds of people who wrote calligraphies for Zheng who later transferred those into a wax sculpture in Waterfall, executed from 2001 to 2004. Both works transgress the conventional boundaries of fixed positions in society (in Teacher) or of cultural status (in Waterfall).
Such underlying penchant for unpredictable combinations can also be found in the juxtaposition of an ideal, though foreign, landscape – notably not one of the idylls of the Chinese visual canon – with the flickering colourful writings of an urban life. Chat god of Millenium No. 5 belongs to the artist’s second large work phase, the Text paintings, which he started in 1999. At first made up of monochrome paintings, he later added text fragments in Chinese and English, mostly poorly sensed slogans of urban pseudo-emotions. Recently Zheng started using silk as a painting ground and included calligraphed characters, adding to the Text painting series another aspect of change in modern China – that of the role of writing. »