Social Gifts

Art, Screening, Milano

I Pomeriggi series

Art, Screening

I Pomeriggi series

The event will take place at H18:30 at Istituto Svizzero, via del Vecchio Politecnico 3, Milano. Free entry.

I pomeriggi series 
I pomeriggi at Istituto Svizzero is a series dedicated to our Fellows. It is an opportunity for the public to learn more about the projects they are working on during this year’s residency.
The event is curated by Jiajia Zhang (Milano Calling 2022/2023).

Artist Jiajia Zhang presents two of her latest video works: a video made during her residency in Milan, and an emotive collage of moving images reflecting on cultural and social issues from 2021. To follow, a conversation between Jiajia Zhang and Gioia Dal Molin (Head Curator Istituto Svizzero) on topics such as working methods, public and private spaces and the role of emotions in her work.

Social Gifts
Jiajia Zhang, 2023
Duration: 13:09 min

Jiajia Zhang’s newest film, Social Gifts (2023), was created while the artist was on a residency in Milan. It consists of footage the artist shot on a handheld camera while walking through the streets of Milan and Rome with her partner, Jiƙí Makovec, and her daughter, Fibi Lou Zhang, who was born in September last year. Included in the footage are images of the crowds around attractions like the Duomo in Milan and the Fontana di Trevi in Rome, but the attractions themselves are cropped out of the images. Instead, we see mostly zoomed-in shots of bodies. The camera focuses on the textures of jackets, the torsos of teenagers clasping each other in complicated knots, the patterns of shoes, and the flow of the fabric of a skirt in movement. The camera directs our gaze to mundane infrastructure too: a close-up of water gushing in a fountain, the grid of a shaft surrounded by traffic control bollards. We see a woman posing for a picture: parts of her body are obscured – her head, for example, is at times blocked out by a bystander – but the camera focuses on her hands, which are busy one moment directing a camera outside the frame, and then held to the body as she assumes a pose for a picture. Christmas lights, up close, come in and out of focus. The camera points to the pavement as green, blue and purple light washes over it, saturating the frames momentarily. All of this appears stage-like, as if directed by a chorus of invisible spotlights.
The footage is accompanied by Gertrude Stein’s 1936 text What Are Master-Pieces and Why Are There So Few of Them, read by Martin Burr, a Swiss actor, whose recording of the text Zhang found online. Imposed onto the images are sentences taken from scientific texts, marketing papers and how-to guides on the business model of influencers. Through this collaging, Zhang links the stage that is public city life in Italy, and the particular performativity of this setting, to the flattened-out, commercial performance space of the internet, for which the influencer has become the emblematic figure. By superimposing the opening sentence ‘What are Influencers and why are there so many of them’ when the title of Stein’s essay is read, Zhang connects the rarified space of avant-garde artmaking, where value is based on scarcity, to the cultural space of the internet, where profits come with mass quantity and scale of reach. One is drawn to ask: What is a masterpiece? Are they so rare because they are so hard to pin down? And, more specifically, linking the three streams of which the video consists: Is the influencer a masterpiece? Are the bodies that we see moving in and out of shot, when Zhang’s camera is trained on the streets of Milan and Rome, masterpieces? Or are they influencers? There are so many of them, and they look for the most part uniform, de-individualized. Yet in the light in which they are captured, in the poses they strike, as their puffy jackets reflect the cold winter light and the colorful Christmas ornaments, in the pattern they become, they look beautiful, meaningful, purposeful.
Text excerpt by Melanie BĂŒhler

Untitled (After Love)
Jiajia Zhang, 2021
Duration: 16:26 min

The video Untitled (After Love) comprises a collage of associated images linked by found footage from karaoke, social media and television videos, and interspersed with personal filmed material as well as archival family footage. A succession of Western pop songs presented as karaoke lyrics is combined with written quotations to create the narrative of the video. The moving images evoke a palette of emotions, mention cultural conditioning and different styles of upbringing, meander from the personal to the collective, and reflect upon female identities shaped in terms of social roles as well as beauty standards – all while making strong reference to popular culture and the artist’s dual cultural heritage, which is anchored in both Western and Eastern cultural realities.

Jiajia Zhang works across different digital (moving-)image media, video, and photography, which she presents in spatial installations. She rearranges the partly self-produced and partly found visual material in an exact process by relating the fragments to each other in unexpected ways. This way, social phenomena, and mass-produced products meet minor matters like private YouTube videos or Instagram posts. The artist thus opens up a tension-filled borderland that blends the personal and the generic, challenging our entrenched definitions and notions of private and public. On the one hand, Jiajia Zhang’s work is a pictorial stocktaking of reality; on the other hand, it confronts us with the speculative element reality’s perception entails. Jiajia Zhang studied architecture at ETH Zurich from 2001 to 2007 and photography at the International Center of Photography, NY, from 2007 to 2008. In 2020, she completed her Master of Fine Arts at the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK). Her work has been part of various exhibitions, including Kunstmuseum St.Gallen (2023), Kunstraum Riehen, Basel (2023), Fluentum, Berlin (2022), Swiss Art Awards, Basel (2022); Werkstipendium ZĂŒrich (2022); FriArt, Fribourg (2022); Coalmine Gallery, Winterthur (2021); Kunsthaus Glarus (2021); Fondation d’entreprise Pernod Ricard, Paris (2021); Haus Wien (2020); Kunsthalle ZĂŒrich (2020); Kunsthalle St. Gallen (2019).