Anti-Projection: Media Sculptures in Early Chinese Video Art



The 1990s is undoubtedly a watershed period for video art. Since its inception, the close relationship between video and “television” was beginning to collapse at this moment, increasingly replaced by the rise and widespread use of projected images. Since the ninth edition of Documenta in 1992, projection works began to appear on a large scale at international exhibitions. The more “cinematic” experience they offered presented a challenge to earlier modes of video art, and forced art critics, curators, and institutions to re-consider the future of moving image art. However, the sudden rise of the projected image also caused a lot of controversy, especially with its “advantages”—flexibility of scale, ability to fit with architectural space and unparalleled immersive viewing conditions—projection created new aspects of “public-ness” and “entertainment” going far beyond the exhibition experience that could be provided by monitor-based single-channel videos or video installations. On the other hand, the “tradition” of video had also encountered enormous challenges. The radical “utopian dimension” that it had long represented, with its use of the unique “feedback” mechanism, its “anti-media” and anti-hegemonic ideological practice, and self-referential explorations of the subjective were gradually replaced by the fictional and illusory character of the projected image. Behind the “hard” of the monitor and the “soft” light of the projection, there are many contradictions between concept and narrative, materiality and demateriality, the “white cube” and the “black box”.


From the perspective of the medium of film, the debut of projection in contemporary art is undoubtedly a “good thing,” with the museum becoming a new base for film to trace back its own history and explore possibilities for the future. “Gallery-based cinema” preserves the legacy of film through projection while stripping off the outer shell of its “media specificity,” bringing it into dialogue and collision with other media in the field of the exhibition, and thus creating a more “hybrid” contemporary film form. But from another perspective, the powerful deployment of film is bound to cast some kind of “shadow.” In a round-table discussion entitled The Projected Image in Contemporary Art, Hal Foster proposed that the popularity of films in contemporary art led to the “reformat 1 of various other practices. This provides a “reverse” focus for the exhibition Anti-Projection: returning to a time before the dominance of projection, and tracing key features of “classic” video aesthetics.


This exhibition focuses on the material and spatial aspects of early Chinese video art. The video installations and sculptures presented are based on the basic form of everyday objects such as the TV/monitor, but they attempt to block the image machine aspect of these “ready-made products” by combining them in new physical modes (“video wall”, video relief, “kinesthetic painting”, etc.) to form a strong “presence” in three-dimensional space. This kind of presence invites viewers to enter a field that emphasizes the “here” and “now,” where the audiovisual is only used as a surface or “passageway” to bring the body into a kinesthetic system composed of different ontological levels: space, time and matter. In fact, video installation underwent the same process as the “expanded field of sculpture” of the same period, the pursuit of which causes the subject to be swept in to a “performance” mechanism. Under this mechanism, televisions or other objects in the works are transformed into plastic elements, and attached to some material texture of “imagination” or “replacement” or concept”. This texture has a clear “manifesto”: not only to resist the pictorialism of two-dimensional vision, but also to reflect on the popular image culture of mass communication.


Chinese video art of the 1990s was still in its early stage. Although limited in the number of participants and of works produced, it still concentrated a variety of artistic endeavors, both experimental and adventurous in nature. The twenty-year lag behind the West did not constrict artists; instead this framework encouraged their attempts to surpass what had gone before. Despite having extremely limited resources—lack of equipment, shortage of funds, and backward technology—artists working with video art rapidly completed the transition from single-channel to installation, and set out to build relatively complex systems to reflect the media and social environment they faced. In the exhibition Anti-Projection, different works respond to this theme. In Zhang Peili’s Assignment No.1 (1992) and Focal Distance (1996), a large number of TVs are arranged to form a linear structure possessing a certain “rational” order. The superposition, gradient and progressive relationship between the pictures is like a deduction and analysis of reality, while the industrialized appearance of the TV monitors (uniformity of line and color) also gives strong support to this “sense of order.”


Unlike Zhang Peili, Chen Shaoxiong’s Seesaw (1994) deliberately carries out a critical “mixed assemblage” of reality. Here, three television sets and a gun are allegorically combined, releasing signals of anxiety, alertness and instability behind a seemingly integrated state. The gesture is provocative, and this method was also implemented in the artist’s subsequent Sight Adjuster series, a similar “dystopian” reminder, hinting at the unspeakable secrets of vision subjected to daily discipline.


Both Hu Jieming's Home? (1998) and Yang Zhenzhong's Fish Bowl (1996) contain close-up images of people. Generally speaking, early video works portraying the body and face have been given the psychoanalytic label of “narcissistic2, but this aspect of narcissistic performativity is partly resolved through the process of combining a work into installation, and the communication mode shifts from closed to open. The material parts of the two works—a door and fish tanks—both possess metaphorical possibilities, constituting a “screen” in front of the body being filmed. The body displays itself through these materials, and is also shaped by them, as if it has undergone a second process of “sculpture” in addition to “representation. The images can only be seen through a tiny keyhole or rising bubbles; thus vision is put through a doubly physical and semantic “dilution,” where the physical materials become the intermediary between the viewer and the monitor. Rubbing against the image on one side, and causing the viewer’s gaze to become opaque on the other, the materials bring the position of the viewer into the process of production of the work’s meaning.


The only projection in the exhibition, Wang Gongxin's Baby Talk (1996) is similar. The vertically projected light is no longer cinematic, but creates a fragile, ephemeral screen. The “milk” flowing in the crib disturbs the stability of the image, and the resulting vortex and noise also cause a “disorder” of the entire audiovisual experience - this disorder is due to the constantly changing meaning of viewing as it moves through the mediums of light, liquid, and the bed in the process of arriving at the screen. In other words, the existence of the material part of the work is the “mechanism” set in place by the artist to express the concept. Conceptual meaning occurs precisely because the viewer’s gaze is “moving through” different materials. In contrast, the material parts of Zhu Jia's two works are “hidden” inside single-channel video images. Whether it's the camera's probing into the closet or “looking out” from within the refrigerator, both force us to have repeated encounters with everyday objects that are blocked between our line of sight and the picture, our gaze seeming to intimately “caress” them.


Anti-Projection does not aim to be a completely historical retrospective exhibition. Rather it focuses on exploring the creative logic and specific strategies of artists in early video practice, such as how the ratio of visuality to materiality was allocated within complex processes of meaning production, or how effective connections between images, installation design, and viewing were established. Admittedly, the “tradition” of video art before projection has gradually been forgotten. However, as an important stage of media art, it still has some archaeological value - just as how in the exhibition one can instantly get a sense from that era, which although materially lacking was full of creative intensity, up until our current overly-mediated era, why the moving image has always been the most important channel for us to establish connections with the world.



Notes: 1. Hal Foster, "Round Table: The Projected Image in Contemporary Art", October, no.104(spring 2003), p.93.

References: Rosalind Krauss, “Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissism, October, no.1(spring 1976), pp.50-64.


Text by Yang Beichen

From outdoor to indoor: 14'06", PAL, 720 x 576, sound, color

Daylight lamp: 6'43", PAL, 720 x 576, sound, color

Seascape: 5'42", PAL, 720 x 576, sound, color


Rhythm of the breath controlled the movement of images: one screen displays a vast view of the ocean; the other shows the surrounding phenomenon where the artwork is located. The two videos are placed at each end of the seesaw. The video in the middle was shot while holding one’s breath, a neon light written with “see”, and then disappears in a sound of “puff”, then another neon light is lit with the word “saw”, and then it disappears again…. in front of the seesaw, hangs an air riffle.

(Text courtesy of the artist)


Chen Shaoxiong was born in Guangdong in 1962, and educated in the department of printmaking in the Guangzhou Fine Art Academy. The artist’s conceptual artistic practice utilizes a variety of artistic mediums, encompassing photography, video, installation, performance art and painting, to investigate the ever-changing urban landscape of contemporary China.

Major solo exhibitions include “Chen Shaoxiong: Prepared,” Power Station of Art, Shanghai (2016); “Chen Shaoxiong: Ink. History. Media.,” Seattle Art Museum, Seattle (2014).

 Chen’s works also participated in important group exhibitions include  “The 21th Biennale of Sydney”,Sydney,Australia,(2018); “Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture,” Shenzhen (2017); “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World,” Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2017); “Xijing Men: Xijing Is Not Xijing, Therefore Xijing Is Xijing ” 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan(2016) ; “Sights and Sounds: Global Film and Video,” The Jewish Museum, New York (2014); and “Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2013). “ROUNDTABLE, The 9th Gwangju Biennale”, Korea(2012)


Hu Jieming  



Video installation

Material: wood door, monitor, recorder, light


The monitor is set behind the keyhole of a door.

And the image being played on the monitor is a close-up of the face peeping through the keyhole.

These faces consist of facial features of fifty-nine ethnicities that are screened at 5 seconds intervals.

Behind the door, the viewer may look at the video through the keyhole.

(Text provided by the artist)



Hu Jieming, born in 1957 in Shanghai, is one of the pioneers of digital media and video installation art in today's China. One of his primary themes is the co-existence of the old and the new in a modern society. In his art he constantly comments upon and questions this concept with a variety of media including photography, video, digital interactive technology, and architectural elements, along with musical aspects.


Hu Jieming has exhibited widely. Recent shows include: Art in Motion: 100 Masterpieces with and through Media, ZKM Germany2018; DEAF07 Rotterdam2016; Busan Biennale 2016; Reactivation - 9th Shanghai Biennale, Power Station of Art, Shanghai (2012); N Minutes Video Art Festival, Shanghai (2011); 100 Years in 1 Minute, HU Jieming Solo Exhibition, ShanghART Gallery, Shanghai (2010); Fantastic Illusions, Media Art Exhibition of Chinese And Belgian Artists, MoCA Shanghai (2009); The Thirteen: Chinese Video Art Now, P.S.1, New York (2006); Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China, various cities in the US, U.K. and Germany (2006/2005), etc.

Wang Gongxin

Baby Talk


Video Installation: Iron bed, milk, videotape and projector.


In Baby Talk (1996), a suspended projector is hanging from the ceiling, projecting images of facial expressions of six adults: the parents, the paternal grandparents and the maternal grandparents, teasing and playing with a baby. These images are projected on the surface of a cradle. This cradle is actually a mini pool filled with milk. In the middle of pool there is a circulatory system which pumps and drains the milk. The only sound we can hear is the running of milk. This work was first shown in the first video art exhibition PHENONMENA & IMAGE, which took place in the China Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou in China in 1996. (Text provided by the artist)


Wang Gongxin, born in 1960 in Beijing, China, was admitted to the Capital Normal University Academy of Fine Arts in 1978, and taught there upon graduation in 1982. In 1987, he went to State University of New York (SUNY) as a visiting scholar to study a master’s degree. In 2013, Wang nominated for the Olivier Award’s XL Video Award for Best Set Design. In 2014, he was awarded an Honorary Doctoral degree at SUNY. Now he lives and works in Beijing and New York.

Wang Gongxin has exhibited widely around the world, including major exhibitions such as the Shanghai Biennial, and Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial, and has exhibited in institutions such as the Tokyo Watari Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan; MOMA PS1, New York, USA; Queens Museum of Art, New York, USA; Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany; Tate Liverpool, Liverpool, UK, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia; Victoria and Albert Art Museum, London, UK; Fukuoka art Museum, Fukuoka, Japan; ZKM Museum of Contemporary Art, Karlsruhe, Germany; SF Moma, San Francisco, USA; Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA; Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan; Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, Germany; Institute for Contemporary Arts, London; The Bronx Museum of Arts, New York, USA; White Cube Gallery, Hong Kong, China; OCAT Contemporary Art Center, Shanghai, China; Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China; and National Art Museum of China, Beijing, China.

Yang Zhenzhong

Fish Bowl


Multi-channel video

Three monitors, a video machine, a concave glass fish bowl, iron

30 minutes

In a large fish bowl filled with water and 4 small water pumps, monitors are placed inside that show a human mouth repeating, “We are not fish”.



Born in 1968 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, YANG Zhenzhong has been living and working in Shanghai for more than 20 years with a career closely related to the development of new media art around the area. Since the end of 1990s, he has been curating and organizing numerous highly influential contemporary art exhibitions with artists including XU Zhen and YANG Fudong etc. They have not only enlivened the atmosphere of the new media art industry in Shanghai, but also promoted the artist himself to stage on an international platform. The key themes of YANG’s works are to strengthen the contradictions and disorders existed in the society with a cynical attitude on one hand, to utilise the perception of the space in political and psychological levels on the other hand. Now mainly focuses on the creation of new media like video, photograph, installation work and interaction etc., and curating as well.

Zhang Peili


Assignment No.1


6-channel video installation with 12 screens

Exhibition view: 1'16", PAL, 720 x 576, sound, color

Channel 2: 13'18", PAL, 720 x 576, sound, color

Channel 3: 13'18", PAL, 720 x 576, sound, color

Channel 4: 13'18", PAL, 720 x 576, sound, color

Channel 5: 13'18", PAL, 720 x 576, sound, color

Channel 6: 13'18", PAL, 720 x 576, sound, color

Channel 7: 13'18", PAL, 720 x 576, sound, color



The video Assignment No. 1 depicts the collection of blood samples for routine lab tests: cleaning the finger with a sterilized medical cotton ball; pricking it with a needle; bleeding; collecting the blood in a glass dropper; wiping away the bloodstain with a sterilized cotton ball; pressing the finger to make it bleed again; and drawing blood again. The process, played in slow speed in its entirety, is repeated several times, after which the blood collected is pooled on a glass sheet and scraped away. As with several other works, the viewer suspects that this documentation of a strict procedure is motivated by a cataloguing of the techniques of bodily control, transforming what could become nauseating into a routine and even boring



Focal Distance


8-channel video installation with 8 screens

1'46", PAL, 720 x 576, sound, color


Work description: Copied frames of the streaming traffic at the crossroad; take shoot of the real scene for 15 minutes by a single camera (traffic stream on the street); finished frame is displayed on 25 inches TV, and copy the scene (just partial) on screen; copy for seven times by the above way, keep the focal length of copies identical with the first shot, result in eight frames of different effects – images of traffic stream on the street as well as the sounds become more and more abstract. In the form of video installation, all copied frames are arranged into a fade effect by the sequence of copying.


Filming process: First shot: long shot; fixed camera position; shot for 15 minutes. Second to eighth shots: copy the frame (partial) displayed on the screen, fixed position and same focal length; actual sound; copy shot for 15 minutes each time.

Camera: Panasonic M8000 video camera, VHS video tape

Site: From an apartment building by the street in Hangzhou

Staff: The artist

Post-Production: Find out the synchronous key frame, and make the start and end points of eight frames in sync. Keep the actual sound.

Film editing device: VHS video camera; Betacam SP video tape Editor

Output Media: VHS video tape; DVD

Editor: The artist

(Text courtesy of the artist, excerpt from Artistic Working Manual of Zhang Peili, p208)


Consisting of eight monitors arranged in a straight line, each facing outward at a comparable angle, Focal Distance involves a single video monitor playing back a 15 minute loop documenting the flow of traffic at a typical intersection. The adjacent monitor plays back the same loop, albeit re-recorded from the first monitor with the same camera; each successive monitor thus evinces a slightly more blurred, abstract, and painterly image, all depicting the same content but filtered through increasingly thick layers of remediation that destabilize the veracity of the initial documentation. Sound, too, becomes abstract over time, creating a temporal sculpture out of the failures of audiovisual sensation.




Zhang Peili was born in Hangzhou, China in November 1957. He graduated from the Department of Oil Painting at Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (now China Academy of Art) in 1984, where he is now a professor. He is also the executive director of OCAT Shanghai. Zhang currently lives and works in Hangzhou.


In 1985 and 1986, he organized and participated in the "'85 New Space" exhibition and artist collective "Pond Society" activities. His major works include Rest, X? series, 30x30, Water: Standard Version from Cihai Dictionary, Document on Hygiene No.3, Last Words, A Gust of Wind and Collision of Harmonies etc.. Among them, the work 30x30 (1988) was the earliest video artworks in China.

Zhang emphasizes the concern and invention for real life through art, and he emphasizes the judgement of artistic language and self-criticism.  Zhang is mainly engaged in works with the media in video, text, sound installation, mechanical installation and photography, along with art education and administration.


Zhang has held solo exhibitions at renowned institutions such as Art Institute of Chicago and Museum of Modern Art New York, and he participated in Venice Biennale three times. His works are also shown in several important international exhibitions such as Lyon Biennale, Sydney Biennale, Gwangju Biennale and Shanghai Biennale. His works have been collected by prominent institutions such as MoMA New York, Guggenheim Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, Tate Modern and Centre Georges Pompidou.


Zhu Jia




Single-channel video

Colour, Actual sound

7 minutes 30 seconds


A camera lens replaces the hand and eyes as it moves inside a wardrobe. The camera records the direct contact between the lens and clothes in the wardrobe, emphasizing the body of the camera as not merely recording device but as capable of creating sensorial and visual contact.


Repeat On Purpose


Single-channel video

Colour, No sound

15 minutes


A high-8 video camera is placed inside a refrigerator with the lens pointing outwards. As if in a state of auto-recording or surveillance, the camera records a series of casual actions of an item being placed into or removed from the refrigerator. When the refrigerator is open (and the light inside illuminated),the camera records an image. When the refrigerator door is closed, the screen appears black. The video imagery is subjected to the physical attributes of the inside chamber of the refrigerator with alternating conditions of light and dark. The removal of the audio emphasizes the inherent subjectivity in the image.


Zhu Jia, born in 1963, Beijing. Graduated from China Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1988. He lives and works in Beijing. As a pioneer of the practice of video art in China, Zhu Jia always tries to capture ordinary scenes through distinctive methods of practice.


Selected exhibitions include Art and Chine after 1989: Theater of the world, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, U.S.A. (2017); Scarcity& Supply, The 3rd Nanjing International Art Festival, Baijia Lake Art Museum, Nanjing (2016); 3rd Bienal de Montevideo 2016, Montevideo, Uruguay (2016); That has Been, and May be Again, Para Site, Hong Kong (2016); Displaying Fragments, Ten Years of OCAT (2005-2015) , OCAT, Beijing (2016); Art Changsha 2015 , China: Bridges to History, Technology, Poetry and Grace, Changsha Municipal Museum; Tan Guobin Contemporary Art Museum, Changsha (2015); Critical Pervasion, Shanghart Gallery & H Space, Shanghai (2015); Mobile M+: Moving Images, Hong Kong (2015); Landseasky, Revisiting Spatiality in video art, OCT Contemporary Art Terminal, Shanghai (2014); Out of the Box, The Threshold of Video Art in China (1984-1998), Guangdong Times Museum, Guangzhou(2011); Trans Local Motion—7th Shanghai Biennale, Shanghai Art Musuem, Shanghai (2008); 10th International Istanbul Biennial-Not only Possible, But also Necessary-Optimism in the Age of Global War, Istanbul, Turkey (2007); Zooming into Focus (NAMOC)-Contemporary Chinese Photography and Video from the Haudenschild Collection, National Art Museum Of China, Beijing (2005); 50th International Art Exhibition Venice Biennale-Dreams and Conflicts. The Dictatorship of the Viewer, Venice, Italy (2003); Tempo, the Works Show of Contemporary Art in 20th, The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York, U.S.A. (2002); Living in Time-29 Contemporary Artists from China, National galerie im Hamburger Bahnhof Museum fuer Gegenwartskunst, Berlin, Germany (2001); Every Day-11th Biennale of Sydney, Museum of Contemporary Art etc., Sydney, Australia (1998); Trade Routes: History and Geography, 2nd Johannesburg Biennale, Johannesburg, South Africa (1997).