"I usually work on photography, performance, digital film, and social media. In my art practice, I explore patterns of behavior and communication in our current over-saturated media and social environment. And my work, Nothing But Dance, is my response to people's behavior and our media industry, which consumes the public's pain during the global crisis.
As a post-90s artist, I hope to present our generation's life and understanding through my works. And I have also been thinking about creating a more vivid and multi-dimensional art project that allows more people to be involved in the experiences and discussions, so I used a lot of digital media in my work." - Tianyi Zhang
A short snippet of the shortlisted artwork
Zhang is a multi-media artist who works in photography, performance, digital film, and social media. Throughout Zhang’s work, she explores patterns of behavior and communication in our current over-saturated media and social environment. She creates interactive performances where simple habitual gestures are emphasized to explore cultural pressures, expectations, and identity. Recently, Zhang built a virtual idol, Zelffie, by creating music videos, movies, advertisements, virtual events, and social accounts. Through this identity, the artist has exposed topics such as pseudo-environment, propaganda, and social discipline in the current media environment.
Zelffie Project: Nothing but Dance
Nothing but Dance is an interactive video game which is a part of the art project, Zelffie - Perfect Creation.
The Zelffie project is a multi-dimensional art collection based on social media and the Internet. The artist built a virtual idol, Zelffie, by creating music videos, movies, advertisements, virtual events, and social accounts. Through this identity, the artist has exposed topics such as pseudo-environment, propaganda, and social discipline in the current media environment. Nothing but Dance is the artist's response to people's behavior and our media industry, which consumes the public's pain during the global crisis. The program's form is similar to a musical rhythm game. The player can tap the corresponding keyboard according to the music’s rhythm and arrow prompts to complete the game achievement and achieve a high score. But behind the strong electronic music and dazzling animation, the artist created a doomsday-era self-consoling program. And what the program presents is brainwashing music full of slogans and an absurd game setting which always results a perfect score.
As a post-90s artist, Zhang hopes to present this generation's life and understanding through her works. She has also been thinking about creating a more vivid and multi-dimensional art project that allows more people to be involved in the experiences and discussions. And Zelffie project was created under this thought. Zhang thinks that idol culture and the entertainment industry are not only an important economic form but also a source of our ideology in our current over-saturated media and social environment. We need to be aware of how these public entertainment machines affect us. Especially in the 2020 global epidemic situation, direct communication between people is restricted, and electronic windows have become our main channel for news and entertainment. Even though these small windows are very close to us, the real landscape within them seems far away. In the apocalyptic era, all disasters and pains are transmitted and fermented on these digital screens and network windows. It seems that whether they are true or not is no longer important. The reality has retreated behind the scenes, and the media has become an entertainment monster. All information now is born to cater to the public’s excitement. It's irrespective of reality and intended above all to entertain. Therefore, Zhang dressed up as Zelffie and joined the carnival.
Video & sound installation
99 Agreements is a performance-based video & sound installation. In 99 Agreements, Zhang plays 99 different female characters. They are doing different things on different occasions, while constantly repeating, “Yes”. Some are talking to others pleasurably, some are muttering by themselves nervously, some are helpless and in pain. When combined, these voices build a full spectrum of emotion. Undoubtedly Zhang’s video creates a dizzying sensation in her continuous loop of “Yes”.
People are accustomed to a stereotyped lifestyle, repetitive action, and habitual language. Our reactions to the outside world are often mindless. “Yes," not only expresses agreement, but also nuanced emotion, providing multiple meanings through a meaningless oral habit. “Yes” is used cheaply and understood simply in daily communication, its ambiguous implications always overlooked. Behind the simple language may be habitual harmony, may be the consent to authority, may also refer to absolute resistance.
In this project, Zhang explores the meaning of a spoken habit through the scenes of 99 women's lives, especially discussing the relation of consent to female identity. The audience may interpret the various scenes and their multiple implications especially in regard to career association and linguistic expression.
Digital film & Performance
In“Let’s Clap”, Tianyi Zhang visited hundreds of passers-by in Hunan, China. She told them she was an artist, and she needed to collect some clapping videos to make a project. Many people accepted her request and applauded in front of Zhang’s camera. She then edited different people’s clapping gestures and sound together to create an installation. Through this installation, she represents the individual’s reaction to collective behavior. In addition, Zhang saved the process of communicating with participants to keep them clapping till the end of the shot. The interesting parts of the communication and people’s reflection all show in the video, Can You Clap for Me? I Am An Artist.
Zhang uses this project to demonstrate how people react when they are instructed to do what they are accustomed to, while discussing the influence of pedagogy and stereotyped thinking. Clapping is a simple habitual action, and causes a domino effect in groups. It holds certain meaning in some situation, but in Zhang’s project, the gesture become meaningless. People performed this very common gesture with minimal motivation and only Zhang’s instruction. Under Zhang’s lens, the way participants’ responded to the prompt reflects people’s instinct thinking to an unexpected order. Some obeyed Zhang’s request because of her claim to be an artist, some were intrigued to bring their authentic emotion for this project, and some merely followed the crowd.