The Artful Dodger on Zhang Peng
As a Photographer, I have been predetermined to dislike/loath/make-funny-faces-at Anne Geddes’ work. The insipidness of those babies being shorn into animals, sewn inside flowers, and drooling upon each others’ tentacles is similar to receiving a blood transfusion from Anne Murray. However, as a fan of creepy children, colour me delighted when I ran into Zhang Peng’s work.
Peng started his artistic career as a painter and took on photography to showcase the ideas he thought ‘would be lost in the process of painting’. His process is scripted by modifying women into dolls: extending their proportions and suggesting the look of plastic surgery. Save Zhang Peng’s determinations of human sincerity vs. money traumas & an aesthetic childhood vs. a distorted adult life, and first taste the creepy.
Zhang’s proclaimed main goal is to demonstrate oppression, which I love because, really, what woman or child doesn’t. The work, here, is imbued with irony via frozen & punchy colours surrounding the faces of Peng’s models. Discharging tears and twisted limbs are fantastically fabricated, however realistically slight, even for a modified beauty of Chinese culture.
It is with great love that my background for the creepy began by wanting to run along side with Dare Wright, Edward Gorey, and Arthur Rackham when I was a wee. Larry Clark became my Boyfriend of choice during college and I had a rather odd obsession for all things involving Fredrick Wiseman’s documentaries. With these undertones, I developed into one of the creepiest creepers and undeniably someone Anne Geddes wouldn’t want taping up babies in her studio. (Although, in Geddes’ defense, those babies do take on the appearance of being dead and embalmed into their tulip and bear costumes.)
Better creepily speaking, however, Zhang Peng acquired my attention with the image Xiao Yu (Little Jade), because there is really very little more statistically humourous (at least in my world) than a child with child decked out in quasi-christening attire. I’ll spare you my political views, and simply write that I find the irony of Peng’s images strikingly close to the truth of modern society. All of the brightness and colour incorporated by child Photographers in order to expose the innocence of a young age is quite contrary in Peng’s photographs where oppression is prominent and tweaked with pretty smirky subtleties. I don’t consider the ability to knock boots whenever you choose to shoot up some sperm and start carrying a being in your belly a ‘miracle’. A miracle, to me, is someone having the ballz to present an image of a child doll donning it’s pregnancy in a plush pink furry setting.
And that setting seems to be a pretty dominant backdrop for Zhang Peng as is found in his 2007 image, Guifei. He portrays the same amount of oppression with Guifei, as Xiao Yu, and gloriously builds on it with a ‘doll’ dressed in an ornate peacock headdress and silken-stitched kimono. With props strewn over a plush pink couch and upon the same pink styled floor, the effects morph the model’s already distorted face into a matching colour. Guifei‘s got an exploitative quality painted into it, which becomes muted once you get over the initial pink shouting.
Far far far and away, my favourite of Zhang Peng’s images is Goldfish. Maybe it’s The Shining similarity of the knife-toting doll model or the ‘Who would ever want to murder a goldfish and then put it on a cake?!’ idea that nets the viewer in. I dunno, but I find Goldfish hysterical and I can’t even watch those Humane Society commercials on the telly. (Although, that may be largely because I cannot stand Sarah McLachlan, her voice, or Liliah Fair.) Images of childrens’ birthday parties are not adorable to me unless someone bothered to save me a piece of cake. In my cold little heart, if you’ve seen one cake-splattered baby, you’ve probably seen all you need to. Therefore, the hilarity of Goldfish is not wasted on me. It looks as if the cake has already taken a turn for the worst, so doctoring it up with bloodied fish will only add to the hysterics…in a positive way. Yes, I would hang Goldfish on my wall, insert it into a photo album, and show it off to whomever considers children & childhoods the be all & end alls.
It’s certainly not a wonderful life within Zhang Peng’s photographic world, but it is an aesthetically beautiful one. Of course criticizing an oppressed culture (this work & culture specifically being Chinese) is easy, but twisting it with humour is to make quite a respectable leap. I’ve gathered a lot of respect for Zhang Peng, just as I would for anyone who incorporates the combination of dead goldfish and the colour pink in their medium. I mean, really, what’s not to like?