QIU ZHIJIEThe Map of Busy Gods, 2013, ink on paper, 720 x 120 cm. Photo by Meng Wei. Courtesy Galleria Continua, Beijing.


Qiu Zhijie

Galleria Continua

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Chinese artist Qiu Zhijie’s new works are a backhanded compliment. Using the medium, but uprooting its message, Qiu’s multimedia works are subversive—maps of former empires become fictionalized, bands play without music and mythology presents a new parable for contemporary living. With his commitment to experiment, Qiu’s “Satire” is a strong solo show in the soup of today’s Chinese political cynicism.

Seemingly disjointed installations poke fun at the philosophical, political and aesthetic ideologies underpinning the Chinese state. As such, it seems an odd fit to see the works displayed at Beijing’s hyper-commercial 798 District. At Galleria Continua, inter-textual and multi-media pieces—such as woodcarvings, works on paper, found objects, video and installation—are combined, all in the service of a canon less admired: humor.

QIU ZHIJIEBastard Concert, 2013, installation, performance, screen, various dimensions. Photo by Meng Wei. Courtesy Galleria Continua, Beijing.

At the entrance, a floor-to-ceiling shelf displays smirk and grimace-bearing theater masks. Nearby you are encouraged help yourself to a heap with rubber masks of Kim Jong-un, or a pig head or an apron featuring an exposed buttock. At the opening of the show, Qiu enlisted a few people to play instruments in a Bastard Concert (2013) while wearing the likeness of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin-Laden, among other notorious figures, a video of this performance (played out with more enthusiasm than rhythm) is shown behind the now vacant stage.

Qiu employs mimicry and comedy to undermine fear. Along with other artists emerging in the 80s and 90s, the artist earmarked precepts from abroad, finding new avenues to express the condition of his motherland. Appropriating symbols, theology and fables, he expresses submissiveness in contemporary China.

QIU ZHIJIECannot Hold It Anymore, 2013, books, Elmo toys, various dimensions. Photo by Meng Wei. Courtesy Galleria Continua, Beijing. 

QIU ZHIJIECannot Hold It Anymore (detail), 2013, books, Elmo toys, various dimensions. Photo by Meng Wei. Courtesy Galleria Continua, Beijing. 

Upstairs, Cannot Hold it Anymore (2013) has the floor space occupied with more than 50 Elmo dolls doubled over in giggles interspersed with books of note, such as the Holy BibleThe Theories of Marxism and Critical Terms for Art History. In an adjoining space Out of Control (2013) plays on loop depicting a Chinese audience watching something out of earshot and laughing. Over the image, American President Obama’s inaugural speech is played.

Some works move away from humor and toward a subtler irony. The kinetic work Elysian Fields (2013), for example, is a blackened construction over six meters tall, made from crossties. It mimics the skeleton of a burnt out building. Beneath it, laughing Buddha figures spin slowly and mockingly. Another visual crossover is presented in the Chinese, Egyptian and Medieval icons painted across The Map of Busy Gods (2013). Spread across six white scrolls, this work speaks to the universal desire to worship.

QIU ZHIJIEElysian Fields, 2013, crossties, bamboo root carvings and electrical machine, 620 × 580 × 550 cm. Photo by Meng Wei. Courtesy Galleria Continua, Beijing. 

QIU ZHIJIEElysian Fields (detail)2013, crossties, bamboo root carvings and electrical machine, 620 × 580 × 550 cm. Photo by Meng Wei. Courtesy Galleria Continua, Beijing. 

Qiu’s interest in the inherent duplicity of story telling is evident in his works Book of Comedy (2013) and Forbidden Books (2013). The former takes the illustrated pages from the Aristotle’s “On Poetics,” which is about the pleasure of laughter, and hand draws them to look like the original woodblock prints. Carefully framed—the artist claims that generations back in rural China a family member held a copy—the drawings face onto Forbidden Books, a pile of ash in the center of the room. The juxtaposition of these two works hints at various instances of book burning that punctuate the history of revolution.

Satire thrives on mismatch, holding up truth beside the insincere. Similarly, this exhibition throws up some odd couples. But while Qiu presents some eloquent pairings it is not always clear where he believes the truth to lie. 

QIU ZHIJIE, Forbidden Books, 2013, ashes of forbidden books, various dimensions. Courtesy Galleria Continua, Beijing. 

Qiu Zhijie’s Satire was on view at Galleria Continua in Beijing from September 26–December 1, 2013.

Chloe Mandryk is a writer based in Sydney.