Press Release

From December 23, 2022 to April 9, 2023, UCCA presents Zhang Ruyi: Speaking Softly. As Zhang Ruyi’s (b. 1985, Shanghai) largest institutional solo exhibition to date, the show features more than 20 new works commissioned by the museum. Together, they offer a systematic overview of several creative threads the artist has developed over a decade of investigating the hidden relationships between artificial products, urban landscapes, and everyday experiences. Alienating spaces, fossilized cacti, uniform grids—these repeated visual and material elements are the building blocks of her tranquil, post-apocalyptic aesthetic landscape. Speaking Softly also presents a new current in Zhang’s practice, her exploration of the applications and connotations of transparent materials. The exhibition is curated by UCCA Curator Neil Zhang.



International exhibitions

International Archives 2nd half of 2022

Zhang Ruyi, Speaking Softly

UCCA, Beijing (China)
23.12.2022 - 09.04.2023




Cacti form one of the central motifs in Zhang Ruyi’s practice. The artist grew interested in these plants after serendipitously finding a cactus left by a previous tenant in a dilapidated apartment she rented shortly after graduating from university. Inspired by the plant’s tenacity, she uses its imagery as a way to build spaces and as a symbol for the relationship between individuals and their social reality, mining the rich contrasts between cacti’s spiky exteriors and soft interiors. In works like Swaying Posture (2022), and Ghost of Metamorphic Creature (2022) she casts cacti in concrete and juxtaposes them with other industrial materials, turning the plants into a kind of sculptural hybrid best described by the series title “Modern Fossil” (2021–22). Shifted from an organic, biological body to an inorganic, industrial substance, the cacti become metaphors for estrangement from nature and the contradictions of modernity.

The exhibition’s two-dimensional works, including the “Decoration” (2022) and “Folding the Distant” series (2022), showcase Zhang Ruyi’s use of grids. In earlier works, Zhang drew cacti on graph paper, the strictness of the grids only emphasizing the irregularity of the plants’ geometry. She would eventually free the cacti from these matrixes and transform them into the aforementioned sculptures; the grids have also moved into the real world, taking the form of tightly arranged tiles. Zhang’s repeated use of grids as a foundational element across her art is not only the rational study of a purely geometric form, but also a kind of understated footnote, buried in the background. As they regulate and restrain compositions, the grids remind viewers of the countless hidden rules that maintain order in everyday life.

Speaking Softly also features two new large-scale sculptural installations, The Desert is Not Sad, Nor is it Deserted (2022) and Water Stain (2022), which highlight the artist’s recent use of mass-produced transparent materials. In the former, the artist evokes the recognizable form of a plastic greenhouse. Able to transform unstable external conditions into a controllable system, greenhouses illustrate how humanity often challenges and then simulates nature. However, the placement of this greenhouse alongside pristine white tiles in the exhibition hall complicates matters, removing its original function and turning it into unadulterated spectacle. In Water Stain, Zhang Ruyi constructs an enclosed space, once again using transparent plastic film. A steam generator is inside, causing water to constantly condense and slide off the plastic film, blurring our view of the tiles within the space. In these pieces, the transparent physical structures can be seen through but not penetrated—on the one hand, the plastic film represents transparency, openness, and freedom; yet on the other hand, it forms an obstruction, a means of control. Transparent materials may seem invisible, inclusive, and open, but they always maintain a kind of restraint and absolutist isolation. In Zhang’s hands, they become another metaphor for describing the complexity of contemporary social relations.

Zhang Ruyi, Submerged Landscape (detail), 2022. Concrete, aquarium, LED light, filter, heater, remodeled wooden stool, aluminum foil, metal, 75 x 47 x 28.5 cm (including pedestal and light). Courtesy of the artist.



Zhang Ruyi, Submerged Landscape (detail), 2022. Concrete, aquarium, LED light, filter, heater, remodeled wooden stool, aluminum foil, metal, 75 x 47 x 28.5 cm (including pedestal and light). Courtesy of the artist.

Exhibition 23 December 2022 - 09 April 2023. UCCA, Beijing, 798 Art District, No. 4 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District - 100015 Beijing (China). T +86 10 5780 0200. Hours: Monday–Sunday 10am–7pm.





© ArtCatalyse International / Marika Prévosto 2022. All Rights Reserved

Zhang Ruyi, Speaking Softly, UCCA, Beijing, China