Home Magazine Chen Zhen at Pirelli Hangar Bicocca

“Short-circuits” is the ample exhibition that Hangar Bicocca dedicated to the Chinese (French) artist, tracking his artistic research through scattered traces and installations all over the space. It is a tribute to the artist, conceived by the curator Vicente Todolí as an “immersive exploration within his complex artistic research”.

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Chen Zhen (Shangai, 1955 – Paris, 2000) plays a fundamental role in the art system and in the Chinese society: he is a critical and sharp witness of his time. 

The exhibition is a map made by everyday objects assembled together in compositions that took the items away from their original functions and into a metaphorical dimension. Each Chen Zhen piece looks like something that we already know, but, instead, it is always something else. This is the special capability of Chen Zhen critical approach towards reality. 

Indeed, the title of the exhibition is inspired by the artist’s creative method, which he referred to as a “short-circuit phenomenon”, which is that “of revealing the hidden meaning of a work of art when it is taken from the original setting for which it was created to a different place. This process led Chen Zhen to reflect on the concept of symbolic and cultural enrichment as a means of artistic creation”. 


Chen Zhen Six Roots Enfance Garcon - Childood Boy, 2000, Courtesy Hangar Bicocca.


The city of Milan had already welcomed Chen Zhen work in 2003 with a solo show at PAC. Almost 20 years later, thanks to this 24-piece retrospective at Pirelli Hangar Bicocca, some of the artist’s most significant works from 1991 to 2000 are on view together at Pirelli Hanger Bicocca in the Navate and Cubo spaces. 

Chen Zhen developed his art from the late 1970s. Chen Zhen’s oeuvre was marked by his personal suffering from an autoimmune disease: at 25 he was diagnosed with a form of hemolytic anemia. The artist’s approach against this illness was to work in a very productive way. Hard worker and creator, Chen Zhen also depicted his fragility into a big, refined and touching installation, “Crystal Landscape of Inner Body (Serpent)” (2000), that the audience reach in the middle of the show path. In here, the artist made crystal organs and arranged them on a surgical bed to create a sort of inner landscape in crystal too. When placed on these “diagnostic tables” like samples for scientific study, the crystal pieces remind a still life composition; they refract the light while also reflecting the surrounding environment, generating an exchange between what is inside the body and what is outside.“Crystal Landscape” is also an autobiographical work revealing the value of life and its fragility.


Chen ZhenPurification Room, 2000, Courtesy of Hangar Bicocca.


The use of various materials is a fil rouge of Chen Zhen works. Wood, water, everyday objects, steel, old beds and tables, Buddhist worship things, lights and plastic, recycled train rails … all kind of physical materials that could indicate new structures, new worlds that could help people think about their reality. Chen Zhen moved the original functions of things away, transforming them into a metaphorical dimension.The artist first installation was created in 1989. Before that, Chen Zhen, who was born and raised in Shanghai where he lived through the Cultural Revolution in China, and then moved to Paris in 1986, was oriented towards painting. At the Academy in Paris in fact he started to study as a painter, and he was accepted despite of his difficulties on French language. But later language become important too, as we can see from his titles: “Lumière Innocente” (1999), “Le Chemin/Le Radeau de l’écriture” (1991), “Black Broom” (2000), “The Voice of Migrators” (1995), “Prayer Wheel - “Money Makes the Mare Go (Chinese Slang)” (1997).


Cover image: Chen Zhen Jardin, Lavoir 2000. Installation view at Pirelli Hangar Bicocca Milano 2020 © ADAGP-Paris.Photo-Agostino-Osio.

Wrtitten by Rossella Farinotti

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