Zhou Xiaohu, born 1960 in Changzhou (in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu), is one China's pioneers of video animation and experimental film. But he also makes sculptures and installations that often combine older and newer media forms. Originally trained as a painter at the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts in Chongqing (as well studying sculpture at the Suzhou Art Institute), after graduating in the early 1990s Zhou began work as a graphic designer. His experience working with computers as a tool for creative work (to which he also bring his painterly and sculptural knowledge) has determined his artistic practice since the mid-nineties. Classical stop motion animation plays as much of a role as computer game software, or slapstick, or classical media art approaches. Such genre-bending seems to fit the zeitgeist of the eastern Chinese metropole Shanghai, where Zhou lives and works. Situated on the Yangtse Delta, the city is the centre of the Chinese financial industry and, with its vast container port, also a global shipping hub. But Zhou is no techno-futurist: “No matter how much we can achieve with computers, and in spite of the perfect images they allows us to attain, I remained concerned to retain a 'hand-made' touch in my work that keeps it in the sphere of fine art. Art can never be made by machine alone.” In his four-and-a-half minute animation “The Gooey Gentleman” (2002), for example, Zhou used a male and female body as the canvas for his animated drawings, which tell a tale of seduction and desire with a popular Shanghai love song droning in the background.
Zhou became famous with his small animated and non-animated clay figures that seem to link the mythical Terracotta Army and the early Chinese mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang with the little
clay figures in the “Plötzlich diese Übersicht” cycle by Swiss artists Fischli/Weiss. The have an awkwardness at times, as if they had been made children. Zhou confirms this view: “I personally think that what I am doing today directly relates to what I did as a child.” The artist also presents the clay figures alongside his films in sophisticated installational assemblages such as “Parade” (2003), where the viewer immediately recognises the famous Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the setting for huge state parades as well as the repressed memory of the brutally quashed demonstrations of 1989. Humour, irony and the reference to a child's play instinct make it possible to address sensitive issues here. Zhou's installation uses the parade as a medium to reflect on the history, present, and future of modern day China as if in slow motion. The procession
includes scenes from the early phase of the People's Republic founded in 1949, scenes of Maoist terror during the so-called Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976, the influence of Deng's pragmatism since the 1980s, and on to a planetary future in which (in the artist's fantasy) dinosaurs and aliens serve in the People's Liberation Army. Print