The Traces,

The Beings,

and The Fictional

Voice (2018)  Pulse (2019)

Zebra Zhang used the term ‘beings’ to refer to subjective but authentic existences. And to claim them genuine, He would need to collect their ‘traces’ for evidence. The only thing that separated reality and illusion, ‘the beings’ and ‘the fictional’, was the quality of ‘the traces’. Through the arc of his practice, Zebra found himself trapped within a vortex, which was formed around these three terms. Step by step, he turned himself into an ‘unreliable narrator’.    

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Zebra Zhang

In Return, I Give You 352 Paper Cranes

Oil on Canvas

2017

Zebra Zhang used to make origami cranes. After he folded it for hundreds of times, repeatedly, he started to question himself – what was so exciting about paper cranes. The answer he found was the folded paper creases on them. Frankly speaking, origami cranes were all looked the same – they were folded following the same procedure, often presented in a massive amount with the same size. Still, these minor but unique creases differentiate one crane to another, provided personalities to every single one of them. The creases were made distinctive unintentionally, yet, they became the evidence for the existence of origami crane individuals. Zebra Zhang was hooked by the connection between traces and beings

Zebra Zhang

Folds

Video

2018

Voice

 

The very first thing drew Zebra Zhang’s attention was names. Like creases to origami cranes, names were the traces to human beings. A name was a coordinate to everything a human being was and had; it carried the existence of a person from beginning to death. Names often gave away their owners’ information - nationalities, genders, and family backgrounds, which were the source distinguished one person to another. Knowing one’s name could be easily confused with knowing that person, and Zebra wanted to test if people felt the same, consciously, or unconsciously.

‘Unreliable Narrator’

‘Unreliable narrator’ is a term firstly appears in American literary critic Wayne C. Booth’s book The Rhetoric of Fiction (p158-159). He uses this term to define a first-person narrator, who gives misleading information. Occasionally, an ‘unreliable narrator’ appears trustworthy on the surface, yet as the narrative goes on, flaws will show. Despite Booth centring this idea through a perspective of the audience, flexible but easy effected, Peter J. Rabinowitz criticizes that an ‘unreliable narrator’ could be more than dishonest, but also telling the truth under a subjective standard. For a more precise classification, In Pícaros, Madmen, Naīfs, and Clowns: The Unreliable First-person Narrator, William Riggan lists five categories for ‘unreliable narrator’.

In fiction, an ‘unreliable narrator’ can easily create a false image of particular characters, scenes and plots, twist the direction of storylines to an un-expectation. It represents a significant uncertainty in fiction, which is already a genre of entirely biased writings. And if an ‘unreliable narrator’ emerges with writings of a documentary, a massive drama of contrast might occur.  

The Pícaro

A narrator who exaggerates to brag.

The Madman

A narrator who has a mental disorder.

The Clown

A narrator who intentionally teases and tricks the audience.

The Naïf

An immature narrator who is limited by his/her acquired knowledge.

The Liar

A narrator who lies to cover secret.

*In Jorge Luis Borges’s The Garden of Forking Path, he suggested that contrary might imply a possible reality. Hearing a voice, which was both intimate and unfamiliar, might lead to a strange curiosity.  

The recorded sounds were the voices of strangers calling strangers’ names. Both the owners of the voices and the names were working in the same building but never befriended. Participants were instructed to record calling a stranger’s name in a way like greeting to their best friends. They were also asked to leave their names for other participants. After fifty samples were collected, the sounds were played through the building, where these participants were working at. Three speakers were hidden around corners, and there was a five minutes gap between one clip to another to avoid unnecessary flaws.

 

Click on them~

Zebra Zhang

Voice

Sound

2018

Pulse

 

To summarize Voice as an attempt to conceptualize the trace of something solid, a person, Pulse was a serial of drawings that physicalized the evidence of something ethereal, emotion. Pulse was inspired by electrocardiograms (ECG), graphs that showed the electrical activities of a heart. ECG often represented as the life of a dying patient, and after the ECG cried and the patient died, it would be the trace of that person’s last minutes of life. Zebra did not want to express a general idea of a particular emotion, but to track feelings of calmness in real-time.

AFTERMATH

Voice meant to expose people’s reaction, when they were called by an unfamiliar voice intimately, to create a fictional friend they never had, yet, for a short moment, they would trust it to be real. It was thrilling to see when a person heard his/her name, turned back and looked for a non-existing friend. However, it happened rarely. The difficulty Zebra found through this project was to capture the moment when the matching person reacted to the matching name. Since that, Voice could hardly be considered as a success, but it led Zebra to the third key element, in addition to traces and real beings, in his practice, the fictional. 

*Sophie Calle created a piece called Suite Vénitienne – Vientiane Pursuit in English. She stalked a man she barely knew and recorded the experience. The same to Pulse, Suite Vénitienne justly documented a period of time without personal aims.

 
 
To create and visualize a direct trace for feelings, Zebra Zhang started with analyzing some traits which feelings generally had. He found that feelings would often renew themselves, the same feeling would fade and come back, again and again, like waves; souls would leap - a continuing emotion would suddenly alter into an old one, the one which supposed to be gone for good; a new feeling was always generated on the wreckage of the recently passed feelings. The drawings were made in a slow but constant process, under a peaceful environment, to avoid powerful swings in mood, so the delicateness of emotion would be observed, recorded, and presented.
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Zebra Zhang

Pulse

India Ink

2019

AFTERMATH

Pulse provided an opportunity for Zebra Zhang to dig deep into the complexity of emotion, and further to that, it also offered a chance for him to view ‘traces’ from a different perspective. By intentionally producing physical ‘traces’, Zebra was able to notice the subtle details, which proof needed to have to support authenticity.  

Man of My Words

 

Instead of expanding the idea of ‘traces’, Man of My Words aimed to focus on ‘real beings’. It used ‘promises’ as the core, played with words, and distorted the meanings of different actions to fulfil those promises. Zebra Zhang found that a fact could be understood differently by different eyes, and by defining fact, he could easily keep or break an oath. ‘Real beings’ were not as certain as it appeared subjectively, but easily transformed entirely. Man of My Words developed multiple aspects of ‘the beings’, which in this case, the actions that were required to keep promises.

*It was exactly the behaviour described in the short novel, In a Grove. The story discussed how did a person alter the objective truth for his own benefit.

 

Zebra Zhang

Man of My Words

Video Installation

2019

Man of My Words began with a list of promises, from something simple, like making a smile to something almost impossible, like getting pregnant as a male. After that, Zebra would have to come up with ideas about how to keep these promises in a limited time, with limited materials. Zebra would film the evidence showing he had kept his words. Many of these promises were beyond reach, and it forced Zebra to pretend, even to fake clips. The video was shown by projecting on a right-angle corner, and the screen was bent into halves. As an addition, this work was made during the 2019 Hong Kong protest, and therefore it also connected to riots and mobbing issues.
AFTERMATH

The origin of Man of My Words was pure and simple – to uncover the uncertainty of ‘solid facts’, yet while making it, extra thoughts and touches were added into it and made its essence over-weighted and excessively complicated. Moreover, its dull presence was not able to carry the much burdens of ideas. It was chaotic and confusing. By streamline its idea and filming times of more finer clips, Man of My Words could turn into a better 2.0 in the future. On the bright side, through this project, Zebra Zhang created himself a chance to examine ‘real beings’ apart from a vague concept.

Intruder

 

Just like nothing came out from the void, even illusion would need to generate from something real. A Chinese dragon is nothing but a chimaera with bunny eyes, cattle mouth, camel forehead, oyster belly, tiger palms, hawk claws, fish scales, serpent body and a pair of antlers. Since nothing was entirely fictional, and ‘fact’ was uncertain, the proportion of provided realness, ‘the traces’, was what decisive. The more shreds of evidence were offered, the more honest a story would appear. Intruder was designed to find the stability in the proportion, to write a story that was neither true nor fake, and to create an ambiguous, contradictory, and surreal mood.

*Sophie Calle’s Suite Vénitienne gave a similar trepidation to dishonesty. This work of hers was too suspicious and surreal to be true.

 

*UniAddDumThs was a well-curated exhibition, which gathered objects from different time to create a strange but harmonious scenario. It treated objects alive and let them communicate to each other.

Zebra Zhang

Intruder

Installation

2019

Intruder set a scene with a cushion (coat), a half-drunk Dr Pepper bottle, two empty bags of crisps, a delicate teacup and a 1940’s Imperial typewriter, which had a piece of text in it. The combination of objects created a narrative of someone who was sitting there, taking snacks and writing. The objects contained information of different tastes, regions, cultures and time periods. The text in the typewriter was a story of a man breaking into this room in the middle of the night, sitting on his jacket, taking snacks and watching films. The text was written in a documentary or cheap-detective-novel-ish style.

 

27/11/2019

Intruder

 

At approximately 1:15 am, he climbs over the southern side of the fence and enters the campus. He digs out a shallow pit in the designed smoking area in the campus in between 1:15 and 1:34.

At 1:34, he saws the chain and makes it through the studio door. He walks every corner of the room to make sure no one else is hiding, and then he finds a cozy spot in the middle of the space.

He takes off his down jacket and drops it on the ground, alone with the bag he carries, and it is 2:03. He connects an extended cable to the north-western corner of the room, and then he goes back to his spot.

He sits down on his jacket, takes his equipment out from the bag, connects his equipment to the extended cable, and he adjusts his gesture twice.

Starting from 2:23, he stays there for 1 hour and 25 minutes before he gets up. He is speculated to have either watched Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, including the casting list, or 2 episodes of Doctor Who season 7, from black cubes to Amelia Pond goes.

At 3:48, he stands on his feet to stretch his body. He takes a mop and a bucket out from his bag, fills the bucket with water from the sink in the room, and he starts to mop the floor for extra exercise. After 10 minutes, he stops. He leaves the mop and bucket against the east-northern wall, lights up a cigarette.

At 4:11, he goes back to his spot and sits down. He is speculated to be stressed out according to the quantity of the snacks which he takes out from his bag afterwards. He sits on his jacket for another 39 minutes, and at the same time he finishes 2 bags of 89g Lonely God, 1 bag of 150g sugar snap peas, 1 2 liters Dr. Pepper and 1 cup of chrysanthemum tea.

At 5:02, he overhears sounds outside, flees from the room and leaves trace in behind.

AFTERMATH

 

Intruder focused on building narratives with installation and text, and their combination intrigued Zebra Zhang. To present thoughts around the fictional and the non-fictional, bringing in physical and mental representatives offered a solid foundation. The choices of materials initially processed a conflict between reality and fantasy. The presentation of Intruder was a bit too simple and casual, but its result gave out some inspiring patterns to follow.

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