05 Feb 2004

Zhao Bandi & Friend
Feb 5 - March 21, 2004
Please join Zhao Bandi & Friend at the opening Thurs 5 Feb 6pm
Artist Talks
Gallery 4A, 1pm Friday 6 February, 181-187 Hay St, Sydney
Newcontemporaries, 2pm Saturday 7 February

Beijing based conceptual artist, Zhao Bandi is known for his whimsical poster images where the artist is seen in conversation with his stuffed toy panda; the cute and cuddly national symbol of China. Together Zhao Bandi and Panda discuss various issues facing contemporary Chinese society - issues such as the environment, health, unemployment, hygiene and safety. The images show photographs of Zhao Bandi and Panda in various settings with their dialogue captured in cartoon style speech bubbles, in Chinese and English. In one image, as Zhao Bandi lights up a cigarette he turns to Panda and asks ‘Do you mind if I smoke?’ Panda replies with the question ‘Do you mind if I am extinct?’ This kind of deadpan humour recurs throughout Zhao Bandi’s images and leaves viewers with curious questions about the scenarios.
His works are widely recognised in Beijing, as in May 1999, three hundred of the ‘Zhao Bandi & Panda’ series were displayed in the Beijing underground railway system, on light boxes and as posters on train carriages. The use of these works in Beijing’s public spaces addresses the wider Chinese public in a unique, humorous manner, crossing boundaries between art, advertising and propaganda. The placement of the work in this public context and the mass media techniques employed, reflect the growing influences of consumer culture and advertising that are rapidly replacing the ideological slogans of the previous generation.
The limited support for contemporary Chinese artists from the institutionalised or commercial art system in China has prompted the current generation to use creative methods to reach mass audiences. Not only has Zhao Bandi reached recognition in his homeland but the works have become familiar overseas as well. Whilst these images were being displayed in the Beijing underground system in 1999, they were simultaneously being shown at the 48th Venice Biennale.
Since then, Zhao Bandi and Panda have continued to be seen in the public eye, further blurring the distinctions between art and the everyday. For example, early last year, they did not pose in the usual carefully measured manner, but rather interacted with mainstream society by entering a national marathon race. A photograph of the pair appeared as a sports news item in the Chinese newspapers, with panda poised upon Zhao Bandi’s head.
At the outbreak of SARS and the war in the gulf in early 2003, the artist used this opportunity to create images to comment lightly on increasingly serious global issues such as war, terrorism and disease. Zhao Bandi appears in a combat uniform; both he and Panda wear medical face masks and hold toy machine guns, ready for any crisis. The caption reads ‘Block SARS, Defend the Homeland’. The image was reproduced in various Chinese newspapers at the height of the SARS epidemic and later in overseas publications all over the world including Newsweek and Australian Art Review. Later, legal issues surrounding the image were to take Zhao Bandi and Panda into the public eye again.
When the SARS out break had calmed in China, it was time for Zhao Bandi and Panda to battle issues to do with copyright. Zhao Bandi and Panda took two local Chinese newspapers to court for not crediting his ‘SARS/Terrorism’ art work, when it was published in their newspapers earlier in the year. At the time of the trial, November, 2003, images of Zhao Bandi and Panda with their legal advisers appeared in the media and thus brought to light China’s issues with intellectual property, an area that is still highly underdeveloped.
The duo have continued their project across cultures and produced a new series of images of the artist and his side-kick having various encounters in London. Zhao Bandi and Panda engage with a range of people, asking questions which reveal the artist’s perceptions of western culture.
Zhao Bandi’s artistic journey makes his art accessible to the general public by removing it from an exclusive art context and blurring the distinctions between art and the everyday. Although a grown man having conversations with his stuffed toy may seem absurd, Zhao Bandi and his alter ego, Panda, are able to effectively bring our attention to many common concerns by means of that universal weapon, a sense of humour.
© Tammy Wong, Curator
January 2004
Huang Du, Special Focus – Zhao Bandi, Hong Kong, www.chinese-art.com, volume 3 issue 2
Goldkorn, Jeremy, Artist or Ad Man – The whimsical work of Zhao Bandi, China, Beijing Scene, Volume 6, Issue 2, October 22 – 28, 1999
In a book called The Miracles of Chairman Mao (1971), George Urban collected stories from Chinese newspapers and radio in which the words of the Great Helmsman were seen to cure cancer, make crops grow, and achieve phenomenal production quotas. All these tales were recounted in deadpan fashion, as though nothing could be more natural and obvious. While Mao was working his miracles, an imaginary Communist saint, Lei Feng, was featuring in exhibitions and countless newspaper articles – his every good deed being reported as inspiration for the masses.
This is the backdrop against which Zhao Bandi and Panda hold their conversations, making brief, oblique comments on social and political issues. Is it any less likely that a toy panda should talk, than that all Lei Feng’s virtuous acts should be recorded by hidden cameras? Like the Party leaders of a previous generation, Zhao Bandi asks us to suspend disbelief and concentrate on the message. His playful scenarios send up the more sinister forms of public infantilization practised by state propaganda.
Neither is his appeal confined to his homeland, because states everywhere – be they communist or capitalist – insist on treating their citizens more and more like children. We are all being infantilized by government spin-doctors, by pop culture, by commercial TV and advertising – by modern life itself. We are whipped up into a consumer frenzy, then warned to avoid the worst excesses of drink, drugs and fatty foods. We are urged to buy fast cars, then told not to speed.
Contemporary art too, is an increasingly childish activity, with some of its most successful practitioners throwing themselves headlong into an ocean of kitsch. In this sense, file Zhao Bandi and Panda alongside Jeff Koons’s porcelain sculpture of Michael Jackson and his pet chimp, or Mariko Mori’s photographs of herself as a glamorous astro-pixie. But Zhao’s special charm lies in his avoidance of expensive techniques and museum-scaled artefacts. He and Panda are as much pantomime heroes as Dick Whittington and his cat. Zhao speaks to his audience in a Chinglish that adds just the right amount of distance and humour.  Although his work suggests that it is ultimately better to be cute than deep, when we laugh at these pictures we are also laughing at ourselves.
John McDonald, Director
January 2004
For more information on Zhao Bandi go to http://www.shanghart.com/home.htm
Zhao Bandi was interviewed on FBi, Wed 4 Feb.  
(late) ant mrav
11 February - 21 March 2004

Cupola Room installation, brailed paper aeroplanes, dimensions variable, 2004
Join us for drinks with the artist
2pm, Saturday 14 February.

Australia. Continent/island. Geographically, Asian. Literally, Western. Politically, Multicultural. Internationally, obsessed by the safety facilitated by "big and powerful friends". A colony, a satellite, an outpost. A child, young and shackled by its needs. Then a young adult, choosing its own leader, kneeling before the Star Spangled Banner, caught by the heart and by the mind by the culturally superior World Policeman. The tyranny of distance triggers desperate attempts - accumulating a myriad of found culture, importing legends, myths, heroes and idols, piling on the layers and working with the mechanisms, perpetuating its own dependence. The place where a war becomes the means by which it may barter for protection. Where everyone has Kangaroos bounding around the Hills Hoist while they put another Shrimp on the Barbie and reflect upon the merit of Rubber Thongs in the heat. Where a Vietnamese woman lies awake thinking about her dead family and wishing she could speak English better so she could understand the comment a woman spat at her on the bus. All flying under the same flag, where the Union Jack honours the cultural debt owed to the Mother and the Southern Cross epitomises Something. . . or Other. §  Rebecca Stringer


(late) [ant mrav] is represented by MULTIPLE BOX SYDNEY, 2 Danks St, Waterloo
Level 3 South, QVB, George St, Sydney, 2000 / PO Box Q292 QVB Post Office Sydney NSW 1230
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Newcontemporaries is a non commercial gallery proudly supported by the QVB, Sydney, Australia

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