Black Face White Face 黑脸白脸 2

Zhao Liang 赵亮, Black Face White Face 黑脸白脸. 2013. Three channel video installation, video in colour, HD 16:9, 10 mins.

Hazy blue mountains and rocky red dirt. The drifting fog creates the only motion in this barren and lifeless landscape. At first, the mining site seems abandoned, devoid of people, until you notice something small and fragile hiding inside each one of the screen images: a naked male body in a fetal position, resting on the rocks. It lies there, motionless, stripped of any protection. It may be hard to see it, since the body is always positioned to the side of the camera frame, on the bottom or in a corner. But unlike its surroundings, it is clean and smooth. You wonder how long it has been there, lying still, with the cold dusty breeze against its back. But is this body truly powerless against the environment?

In this piece, Zhao Liang portrays the body not only as powerless, but as a representation of the force that led to the destruction of the landscape it occupies. This duality—the fragility of the naked flesh, the strength of man to dig holes and remove mountaintops—defines the complexity of the relationship between humans and landscape. By placing the figure on the outskirts of the mined pit, Zhao Liang brings attention first to the space, to its vastness and multilayers of sediments built over thousands of years, its dull but saturated blues, reds, and yellows. Once the body is found, it acts as a subtle but shocking reminder of the insignificant size of a person in comparison to the magnitude of the landscape. Yet, that same body, though portrayed as vulnerable, has shaped the landscape beyond repair.

Violence is the process of forcefully removing someone or something from their desired or ideal state and it goes beyond physical control. That is, violence exists beyond an intentional act; it is present when it is felt. In Zhao Liang’s work, violence describes the relationship between the pictured land and body, where both have been visually stripped and exposed by each other. Elements of violence in the landscape include the unnatural, thick smoke leaving the ground (possibly from a mining explosion), as well as the lack of vegetation, and human disturbances to the landscape such as buildings and roads. These are typical to mining sites, where the goal is extraction through destruction.

Elements of violence to the body, in this work, are not only implied in physical force but also in emotional vulnerability. The position the body takes shows defencelessness, as if it had been kicked to the ground or cast aside. It speaks to the violence the body feels as a response to the mine, alluding to both an emotional reaction to the barren land as well as the impact of the hard labour miners endure in order to conquer the land.

In Zhao Liang’s work, both body and landscape are portrayed are subjects to each other’s force. Both are passive and active agents in each other’s demise.

Nina Barroso Ramos