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Pamplin Media Group – Yuyang Zhang’s cut and paste revolution

The Portland artist tackles issues of surveillance, censorship and queer identity with works that subvert images of Chinese propaganda.

COURTESY PHOTOS: BLUE SKY GALLERY - Yuyang Zhang's photo collages are at the Blue Sky Gallery until August 27th.

Photo collage artist Yuyang Zhang’s show “Stupid Little Life”, at the Blue Sky Gallery until August 27, pushes the medium to new limits.

Zhang, a 29-year-old graduate of Pacific Northwest College of Art, mixes pop-up web graphics with 1970s poster photos from his phone, in some cases placing them precisely Exacto on a card within deep frames, in others, blowing them up on vinyl that sticks to the gallery walls.

In his thesis exhibition in 2019, Zhang (pronounced Chung) used motion detectors, surveillance cameras, and redacted text to evoke the spirit of China’s restrictions on freedom, showing how the state can gather information and manipulate it on the fly to keep in check. I control its populations.

The new show is rooted in more local concerns: Zhang’s anxiety as he waited 20 months to find out if he would get his visa renewal or if he should return to Wuhan province in China. It also had to do with his identity as a gay man and as a Chinese artist in the United States.

PHOTO PMG: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - 'MOMA', one of Yuyang Zhang's photo collages at the Blue Sky Gallery until August 27, pays tribute to Andy Warhol with Lady Gaga Oreos.

The result is collages like “Earnestly Study the Congress Document” in which always cheerful, hand-drawn propaganda people crowd around a gay magazine instead of a boring political document. Zhang put his own face into the group. (In another, called “Catfish”, two muscular men hold up a lucky goldfish.) All of his works contain pop-up graphics. In this case, a small photo of Chairman Mao on a wall behind them is obscured by a WeChat pop-up.

The pop-up says something like “you must agree to the terms of service before you can view the content”. He took the photo of Mao himself in China in 2018 during a summer break.

“It’s like I’m censoring myself,” he told the Portland Tribune. “There is a notification of something sinister, a warning, which creates a tension between Butt magazine, the propaganda figures and the photos. There is that underlying uncertainty or concern that you are still observed by ‘Big Brother’. “.

Home for now

He chooses not to leave Portland and return to Wuhan. Asked if China is repressive for a gay male artist playing with traditional iconography, she said:

“They don’t openly repress queer issues, but they don’t openly support it. So you never know if your work will be removed. It’s very, very complicated and very touchy, you don’t know what could happen. And that kind of uncertainty is that it’s there. ‘last thing I want as an artist “.

The main wall of the gallery is occupied by a grid of 20 screen prints of Lady Gaga Oreo snack biscuits. Zhang is a huge fan of Gaga and loved her promotional bond when her album “Chromatica” was released in 2020.

“It was such a sensation among the queer communities, everyone was trying to find Lady Gaga Oreo everywhere: grocery store, gas station convenience store. …”

He photographed using his phone and screened it in red and yellow versions. The piece is called “MOMA” because it went to New York City on a college trip where they hit 30 small galleries a day, as well as large museums. In this work, characters in a mix of different traditional Chinese clothing (including industrial overalls) crowd around the work. Their gender composition represents her mostly female presentation art school class.

“At the Museum of Modern Art we saw Andy Warhol’s ‘Campbell Soups’, 20 screen prints on the wall. I wanted to recreate that scene. I like to pay tribute to this great gay artist who has a strong influence on our history.”

Under the grille there is a brown irregular shape. This is a photo he took in Death Valley.

“In this series of collages I always include three elements in each work: one, historical propaganda posters; two, my personal photographs; and three, screenshot notifications.”

He usually takes pictures with his phone, although he’s proficient with DSLR and film cameras, because spontaneity fits into his workflow.

“It’s more about the person, those eyes behind the camera. I’m more interested in the photo itself, rather than what tool I use to produce the photo.”

A piece titled “Cape Disappointment” shows a mom looking over her daughter’s back on a list of 10 cars. They are all Porsches except number nine, which is a BMW. “It’s still a bit stereotypical portrayal of Chinese parenting, they want their kids to achieve greatness. No one is perfect, but you have to be nine out of ten.”

He’s saying that the parents have given up a little on perfection now, and will allow the occasional B in a series of A grades.

COURTESY PHOTOS: BLUE SKY GALLERY - Yuyang Zhang's photo collages are at the Blue Sky Gallery until August 27th.

“My father was that overbearing father figure and that put a lot of pressure on me, that I couldn’t go wrong or he would have been disappointed,” Zhang said.

When asked how his father feels about him now, Zhang admits she hasn’t spoken to him in two years since his parents’ divorce, but he is sure they are both proud of him and his life as an artist in Portland.

“I think both my father and mother understand what I do. I am very grateful for the support of my family and also of the Portland artist community.”

Blue Sky Gallery is located at 122 NW Eighth Ave.

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