Since the early 1990s, Zheng Guogu (Chinese, b. 1970) has harnessed a variety of media to consider the impact of globalization and digital technologies on contemporary Chinese life and tradition. Ranging from photography and calligraphy to sculpture, painting, and landscape design, his works display an interest in shifting ecologies of energy. Since 2005, Zheng has gradually built and recomposed a large complex of buildings and gardens on the outskirts of his native Yangjiang, a coastal city in southern China. He invites family, fellow artists and friends to inhabit this utopian domain he calls Liao Garden, which includes living quarters, various social spaces, studios, a teahouse, and numerous canals and ponds. This evolving landscape provides Zheng with a setting for experimentation that is rooted in tradition but anarchistically constructed outside of what governmental authorities typically permit. As such, his negotiations with the law provide another forum through which Zheng can explore networks of power and distribution—interests that have drawn him to subjects as varied as the economies of commercial products and the body’s circulatory system. Less concerned with the stability of forms and symbols than their mutability, Zheng aspires in his work to what he calls a state of “pure energy.”
The artist’s first solo museum exhibition in the US, Visionary Transformation highlights a selection of 12 paintings from Zheng’s Great Visionary Transformation series made over the last eight years. These works retool imagery from traditional Buddhist thangkas, hanging scroll paintings that serve as meditation tools, typically depicting a central mandala or deity surrounded by disciples and donors. Zheng digitally superimposes multiple thangkas into a single hallucinatory image, which he paints on canvas using a number of different techniques. In their dense and evanescing complexity, these paintings evoke the Buddhist belief in the impermanence of the physical realm, offering allegories for the unstable relationships between systems of power, belief, and history that mark our age.