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Painting (MA)

Zechen Zhang

Zechen Zhang(b.1995), a Chinese woman, grandchild of oppressor and oppressed, mainly roams in London, Shanghai, Lhasa and Xi'an. She graduated with a BA in Philosophy from Fudan University in 2017. Her greatest achievements in this field were in designing and producing the College's mascot and then switching to study art.

Degree Details

School of Arts & Humanities

Painting (MA)

My work can be defined as a Test Report of my own critical overthinking. 

I found that the autonomy of modern art could make artworks an institution unrelated to the practice of human life. The excessive focus of Modern art on aesthetics and formalism can make art a religion-like 'spiritual opium'. It seems to express the artists' personal dissatisfaction with reality, but at the same time, it soothes people's pain about reality and takes away the impetus for social change. 

At the same time, the over-emphasis of individualism in artworks can make it difficult for people to feel the functional purpose through formalism, such that the transformative and innovative nature of art can be easily misrepresented as a commodity fashion in the commercial society. Thus, art is exploited by the market and loses its original quality. 

Through critical overthinking, I realised that I needed to find a balance between artistic-personal expression and mass acceptance, that is, to maintain artistic autonomy on the one hand and to bring art into greater social use on the other. The thought of transforming reality and leading social change through art is clearly idealistic and utopian in the context of today's bourgeois instrumental rationality. However, I still believe that artistic creation should not stop at the deliberate pursuit of aesthetic forms but should construct a deep connection with life and political practice.  

Art for me is not only an aesthetics project but also a tool of philosophical contemplation. I hope I can use my work to explore the edge between art and everyday life, and potentially extend it. The themes of these experiments include topical politics, urban landscape, self-discovery and memories. I work for human beings.

The Elegance Of Hedgehog — Defensive Lie: To protect oneself from exposing their weakness and mistake.
Catch Me If You Can — Pathological Lie: To deception, juggle with others and control them by lies.
Eyes On The Peacock — Vanity Lie: Using fake things to promote themselves and get satisfied.
Icing On The Cake — Pandering Lie: To pander others' mood, speak some nice in the social association.
The Emperor's New Clothes — Conformity Lie: To yield mass people.
Confort Zone — Escape Lie: Liars use escape lies to shirk their responsibilities.
Sugar Coat — Excuse Lie: Liars use acceptable excuses to substituted for unacceptable truth.
Great Forward — Lobbying Lie: To persuade others for ones own gains.

This is a TR of lies.

According to the physiological study, people tells 20-200 lies each day. There are 8 different lies in Psychological classification, which defined every lie we tell in daily life. There are many reasons to tell lies, for social manners, for selfish aims or just for protecting someone from unacceptable reality. No one can live without lies.

Triangle: Triangle is the most stable shape. The inevitable acute angles may represent the harm.

Rectangle: Unshakeable shape represent solid truth.

Circle: Circle is the perfect shape in philosophy and mathematics to represent the perfect lie.



Watercolor on wood


45cm x 30cm x 8

Warning: This work contains mature or explicit content.

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WIND HORSE OX — Yes, you, you are the third person in this conversation.
WIND HORSE OX (Installation vision) — Dimensions variable 2019

The name of this short movie is based on the ancient Chinese Narrative history that is traditionally regarded as a commentary on the ancient Chinese chronicle Spring and Autumn Annals (Chunqiu 春秋).



To be totally unrelated like wind, horse and ox, to have absolutely nothing in common with each other.

Effective communication based on similar thinking. How can different people communicate is an interesting question I really want to discover.





In The Offering 2021, I have attempted to reinvent a 1778 colonial painting through digital media. I hope to break down the barriers between my individualistic expression and collective reception through a combination of symbolic recreation and new technologies that facilitate communication.

In today's world, we no longer see only through the naked eye but through images produced by cameras, VCRs and even virtual reality technology, which make everyday life a place dominated by microscopic power. That is to say, people tend to experience history through images, and this increasingly symbolic world makes it possible for images to construct a narrative as well. I see this fact as both an opportunity and a challenge for artists.

What would new technologies give us in the 5G decade?



Digital output


140 x 100
How To Make Every Body Happy — Is this a solvable question?
Privitisition Is Key — Somebody keep lobbying this.
Make A Concrete Analysis Of Concrete Condition — I should stop changing here.
Losing The Fruit of Revolution — In my personal art history, this is the Waterloo event. But I am brave enough to look history in the eye, whether it was the slaughter of my inspiration or the exploitation of my own former labour, I need to internalise that fact.

In the group of work Make a Concrete Analysis of Concrete Condition, I used the Communist Manifesto, written in Chinese calligraphy, underlying the image. I wanted to focus on the structure of the square ideograms in the picture rather than the content.

Is the content of the text something that can be ignored entirely? I kept asking myself this question during the process of creating the work. In fact, the creation of this group of works was so full of twists due to my doubts about myself that at the end, I painfully covered the third image with black and began to doubt everything I had ever done.

Fortunately, I was able to document the entire creative process through photographic techniques, and the process became a personal construction of my history. Coming to terms with my own failures was difficult but feeling the clash between my personal account and my collective history thrilled me. So, I named my painful third painting Losing the Fruits of Revolution.



Oil on Paper and Canvas


51 x 51, 51 x 66, 66 x 92, 66 x 92

This is an experiment about Psychoanalysis. I use three scenes to recreate this therapy course. The first scene is to take apart an old hand-made sweater I used to wear, then I rearrange the woollen and knit it into a new one.

The red woollen, Interlaced Flesh and Blood

I accept all that influence and finally remake it into a part of me.

The Japanese writer and artist Kimifusa Abe had a short story named The Red Cocoon about a solitary man who used his whole life to find a home. At the end of the story, he created a red cocoon and lived in it.

Rebuilding influences behind oneself is a lifelong subject. Just like finding a destination, whether you make a nice fit sweater again or a cocoon, it's still a precious memory.





Knitting — I’m spiritual knitting my leg.

In addition to using the red wool to represent flesh and blood, the mechanical act of knitting creates value as labour in this work too. Frederick Engles claimed that labour created the human being, and I was curious about how my work could recreate me.

Chinese calligraphy is perhaps another form of weaving, but in a spiritual way; the peculiarities of the square font and hieroglyphs allow it to be structurally reconfigured at will, opening up endless possibilities.

Descartes' dualism of mind and body divides body and spirit into two distinct entities, with the soul overriding the physical body. My thinking is more in the direction of the relationship between body and soul that Hegel mentions in his discussion of life: the concept of life is the soul, and the soul has the body as its reality or realisation, and the body is merely the externalisation, particularisation and individuation of the soul, a mere appendage of the soul. So it is the plasticised rice paper and text prescribes the rough physical form, while the flesh at the level of material intention is broken and bloodily clinging.


Communist Manifesto on Integrated materials


230 x 105 x 50
— I found a piece of lost memory inside Zhi's mailbox.

This installation is a letter to Zhi Zengxia. In a way, it was also a collaborative project between me and her. The main body of this installation is a wall-mounted mailbox that she made in the early years of the 1950s, which is both functional and installed. What I did is reproduce her floral stitch pattern with oil and board, tried to connect with her younger spirit.

She was an ordinary peasant in rural China. Like most poor people in developing countries, my grandmother could barely feed herself in her youth. This mailbox was also put together from scraps of fabric, which means that she could only keep it as shiny as possible on the surface. She wasn't able to read and write, but she still snitched some characters as decoration. This leads to a slight difficulty in the identification of these characters.

She actually achieves a balance between the structure and meaning of square characters without being able to read or write. This technique has inspired me too. It was a pleasure to work with her.

I will always remember her with fondness.


 I liked that dream.

I typed my birthday.

I cried for a little dead chicken. 

I have grown up.

I no longer need to afraid.

I still can fight.


120 x 80 x 5
Pin — 66 x 66 cm
Let People Eat Great Pork — 40 x 80 cm
Juicy Juicy — 45 x 90 cm



Oil on Canvas