Zhou Tao: Time Keeper

Time has an undeniable presence in Zhou Tao’s cinematic videos. Presented in a comprehensive fashion for the first time internationally, this series of video works spanning the Chinese artist’s career in moving image shows him seeking to destabilise time from our everyday human experience. Under the sky coloured in a neon hue by the leaking city lights, he shows us a world populated not only by human beings but also by animals, architecture and natural and man-made environments, each with their own perspective on the passage of time.

Philosopher Henri Bergson described our varying individual experiences of duration through the metaphor of dropping a sugar cube into water; each person has a different interpretation of the precise moment the sugar has entirely melted away. In his patiently atmospheric videos, it is as if Zhou stages this experiment, but asks us to shift our attention from the sugared water to the ways in which we share a moment in considering time together.

Different Time Zones Without Time Difference

From choreographed group chants that mark the beginning of a working day in corporate China, to a ball of string that traces the time spent by the artist in his temporary New York apartment, Zhou’s early videos reveal the absurdity of time in its regimented, familiar form. In more recent years, he has shifted his approach to the video format as a tool of critique to a tool of discovery, visually exploring new possibilities of the experience of time. Folding together different locations and seasons, Zhou’s seamless editing allows impossible jumps in time. From Paris, Bangkok and New York, where he was an artist-in-residence, to Guangzhou, where he lives and works, his viewers experience different time zones in quick succession without jet lag. Just as we accustom ourselves to his work’s irregular flow, Zhou Tao interjects unexpected actions – some performed and others captured by chance – disrupting us with the punctuation of a moment. The private and the public, the real and the staged, and the human and non-human all coexist in Zhou’s decentred compositions where no perspective is privileged. In this unique event with the artist present, it’s about time we tune our senses to the world as Zhou Tao sees it. 

Text: Julian Ross