by Chad Chatterton, 2001
Many people asked to write about painting in the digital
age are content to admit that for some, the computer is a
tool, an endlessly revisable sketchpad that the artist uses
before he commits to canvas. It then follows that painting
creates a stillness of time outside of the endless flow of
images into which we are submerged daily by a chain of screens
permeating our every place. The painting reinforces the viewer
as a body in space, representing a fixed position from which
we can develop our subjectivity. In light of the promiscuity
of much contemporary media, painting represents a kind of
As paintings, Zhong's pictures successfully seduce us
into believing in these digital allusions, while using
a medium that gives the corporeal greater authenticity.
In so doing he reveals the present contradictions and convolutions
in our experience of imagery and place.
Location is elusive where digital place is concerned,
and this has particular significance in the context of
Zhong's continued exploration of being in another place.
In the Stupid Laughing series Zhong's classic rendition
of the Australian landscape was used for its very specificity,
but also functioned as a kind of backdrop, and interstitial
space for instances of himself and friends. By now allowing
the computer in his practice to get closer to the painting9s
execution (and thereby closer to the viewer), by pixelating
the figures and the landscape, and through referencing
gaming, Zhong is tapping into a very important phenomena.
The combined heightened resolution and (Trans-continental)
multiplayer possibilities in computer games are presently
allowing more people to associate with these spaces as
In his Shaolin Spin Kick Combo series, Zhong references
the Platform Fighter; a game genre built on the martial
arts fighting styles popularized by Chinese figures like
Bruce Lee. The platform fighter marries the elegance, control
and precision associated with Eastern fighting traditions
with the similarly precise nature of the computer's logical
executions. These games hold timing in high esteem, capitalizing
on the rhythm of block and counter attack and a hierarchical
system of moves. They also have an important history within
gaming having functioned as the platform where increasingly
spatial representations of the human form have been developed. "Virtua
Fighter" was a landmark attempt at giving polygonal
form to the avatar and as Takashi Murakami comments, "we
Japanese felt that we had finally entered actual space
within the computer".(3)
In the Platform Fighter the surrounding environment becomes
a backdrop; images of places are pared down to their generic
forms, enabling us to focus on the figure's form and actions.
We might find ourselves in 'India' with some suitably adorned
Elephants as part of the scene, or in downtown 'America'
with all the cinema of the back alley. But they are static
environments disengaged from the body, and not meant for
exploration. Unlike most other games, rather than explore
a place you explore a body.
It is in this genre of game especially then, that Zhong's
insertion of 'place' is notable. The New Year woodblock
prints from the Ching Dynasty, that have for centuries
shared an idea of nature and its relationship to Chinese
culture, shine brightly upon the players, granting them
a kind of classical majesty akin to mythology. From here
Zhong steps back, taking in a broader scene by shifting
the camera's focus. Our gaze passes over the drama of the
figures in the foreground and travels into the serene landscape
beyond. We are above all in a landscape. Or are we?
By representing that paradox of digital imagery whereby
the closer you get, the less you see, Zhong's pictures
announce a formal interest in information. The Size and
function of the pixels he uses are carefully determined
relative to the canvas size and relative to the viewer's
body. The complex scale of the pictures operates carefully
on our position in space, pushing us a certain distance
away from the image surface, while creating a tension in
our desires for the image. Zhong uses pixelation to control
the flow of information, and we find his impressionism
leaves us desiring more.
"China wants to be Global". In Zhong's eyes
the digital offers a global platform of less conflict.
When positioned in Hong Kong he explains, the digital age
has a Western face with a neon glow. But this is not so
clear perhaps to the Westerner. Zhong's pictures continue
to view traditional Chinese beauty through a Western lens.
In many ways, these paintings, which refrain from giving
us too much, lead back to the screen, as if that's where
you have to go if you want to find out more.
(1.) For me, Zhong's paintings' perform a similar operation
to Adam Phillips' aphorisms in Monogamy: "Outwitting
time and change he builds a monument of continuty among
the promiscuous ruins. Valuing a relationship because it
lasts, as if time proves something", Faber and Faber,
London 1996, p.18.
(2) As Julian Oliver succinctly
explains in Polygon Destinies: The Reproduction of Place
in the Computer Role Playing
Game, "Where our shared generation of experiential
knowledge produces 'place"'.
(3) Murakami, Takashi: Super Flat, p.123. Madra Publishing,