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FAD Magazine covers contemporary art – News, Exhibitions and Interviews reported on from London

Artist Profile: Jiachen Zeng

Artist Profile: Jiachen Zeng

We live in a world of screens where we are continuously basking in their glow – whether it be from a television, a tablet, a smartphone, a smartwatch or right up against the light source in a virtual reality headset. Jiachen Zeng captures them all in intimate scale black and white paintings where the subject is always featureless – after all they could represent any one of us given we all exist in a digital always-on culture.

While they all reflect the close relationships we have with our devices, much of the series draws from the recent pandemic lockdowns where even our physical relationships became moderated by screens – trying to keep our spirits up through video calls with friends and family. 

Artist Profile: Jiachen Zeng

While there is a universality to these works, Zeng adds personal touches to the works as a figure with their feet up watching the television reflects the pose her grandparents adopt back in China – and us viewing them is akin to how the artist herself felt when she could only reach them through video calls during lockdown. Another personal reference is of students with crossed arms looking ahead, a pose she remembers from schools in China where all pupils must adopt this pose so teachers know they aren’t surreptitiously playing with their phones under their desks. 

In the same series she manages to capture the soft light as an isolated individual makes a wish before blowing out the candle on a birthday cake and figures gather round a mysterious glowing obelisk that feels like a spiritual moment – making me think of how technology has almost become a religion to many. In a related series these figures illuminated on one side are expressed as ceramic and other materials made into figurines, with her concept crossing mediums. 

Jiachen Zeng works across multiple media and what ties all of them together is the idea of transitory moments and the boundaries that exist in life – both for our bodies and our minds. This can be in the interlocking floor tiles where she has drawn the points where they join in charcoal, to a seat made from several enlarged hands giving the thumbs up symbol – it’s purposefully uncomfortable as while giving someone a thumbs up is comforting, it’s also transitory. 

Performance is an important part of Zeng’s practice, and for her Royal College of Art graduation exhibition she asked visitors to navigate around metal structures with a tracking system mapping out the routes they took in real time, with the amalgamation of all visitor routes only visible once the person stepped out of the installation. Much like with most obstacles we encounter, many of us think we’re forging our own path when in truth we’re usually stepping on well-trodden ground. But there are always occasional outliers who take a different path – whether that’s through life or an art installation. 

Working across the UK and China, in painting, sculpture and performance Jiachen Zeng’s work encourages us to stop and examine those fleeting moments we pay no heed to, and the boundaries that are applied to us and those we apply to ourselves. How we move forward once we’ve identified these elements of our lives is up to us, Zeng is shining a light on them and giving us the perspective we need so that we can step into that light and reclaim our agency.   

More information on Jiachen Zeng may be found on her website and Instagram

All photos copyright Jiachen Zeng. 



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