Red Canteen #5, #2, #3, #1, #4, 2017
Aesthetic of Surfaces Series
Chromogenic Print
26 x 16″
Edition of 5

Red Roses, 2017
Aesthetic of Surfaces Series
Size variable

Aesthetic of Surfaces is a series of photo and vinyl installations featuring Chinese brocade silk and collections of Chinatown objects that depict floral patterns. The series takes its title from Towards an Aesthetic of Surfaces, the introduction essay from the 2015 Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition, China Through The Looking Glass. Here, curator Andrew Bolton cites Barthes’ Empires of Signs, written after his trip to Japan where he found the cultural signifiers so beguiling and satisfying, that he did not feel compelled to understand their meaning. Similarly, Bolton asks viewers to consider China as a collective fantasy in the context of the exhibition – a perspective that Zhang wonders if possible from those with associative ties to Chinese imagery.

From times of antiquity to contemporary commercial markets, film, and fashion, these floral brocade patterns are seen as expressions of Chinese femininity. In recent years, motifs echoing Chinese floral brocade have emerged in the world of high fashion, and then gradually trickled down to retail clothing and accessories. Camouflaged in a loud reoccurring floral motif, Aesthetic of Surfaces reflects on the markers of Chinese femininity in a globalized context. How are these motifs produced, made, sold and worn? What are the distinctions of high or kitsch taste? And how are these symbols then interpreted through the Western lens where East Asian femininities are often hyper-exoticized? Rejecting colonial orientalist views, the installation utilizes flowers as a vessel for diasporic feminine markers to bloom and take up space.

Installation photos by Morris Lum and Toni Hafkenscheid.
This project was made possible with the support of the Ontario Arts Council.