Gary Zhexi Zhang: Essayist and Emerging Artist

Gary Zhexi Zhang, The Kernel Process, 2017. Film still. Courtesy of the artist.
ACT at MIT

Current graduate student, Gary Zhexi Zhang (SMACT ’19) has won an essay competition in the Journal of Design and Science (JoDS), a joint collaboration between the MIT Media Lab and the MIT Press.

In February 2018 the Journal of Design and Science announced a call for essays on the topic of “Resisting Reduction,” broadly defined and in conversation with Joi Ito’s manifesto and Issue 3 of JoDS. This was an open competition and everyone was encouraged to submit a proposal.

JoDS received over 260 abstract submissions from around the world, of which 50 were invited to submit full-length essays. Some of these 50 essays will be published in future issues of JoDS and just 10 were selected as competition winners through a double-blind review process.

In support of open access scholarship and the free exchange of ideas, JoDS will award authors $10,000 for each winning essay. Selections are published here under a Creative Commons license and will be published in a 2019, peer-reviewed volume by the MIT Press. Proceeds from the publication of this volume will support open access publishing at MIT.

Zhang’s essay, “Systems Seduction: The Aesthetics of Decentralisation,” asks: How do we deal with unimaginable complexity? Ecological crisis looms over our every move, as new technologies stagger absently into the political realm, somehow managing to disrupt a biosphere in the process. In so many areas of art and science, our situation demands that we think in terms of heterogenous systems and porous boundaries.

Click here for the full essay.

Additionally, Zhang was just featured in ArtAsiaPacific‘s July/August 2018 issue, under “New Bodies and Biologies.” Established in 1993, ArtAsiaPacific magazine is the leading English-language periodical covering contemporary art and culture from Asia, the Pacific, and the Middle East. Published six times a year, AAP includes features, profiles, essays and reviews by experts from all over the world.

The feature reads:

“Erotic communism” is how Gary Zhexi Zhang refers to the lines of inquiry in his practice. It’s a loaded term, encompassing the artist’s interest in 20th-century intellectual Georges Bataille, who understood eroticism as a quest to remove the boundary between the discrete self and the continuity of life beyond; as well as Zhang’s own attempt to understand the feedback loops between individual, communal and environmental systems.

Stemming from such investigations, the video The Kernel Process (2017) begins with a 3D rendering of the human body. We see the internal structures of the brain, which we often perceive as our central information-processing unit; however, the sequence highlights how signals are dispatched from the pituitary gland to other parts of the body, activating our audio, olfactory and haptic senses, thus decolonizing how we gather intelligence. In this way, Zhang describes the bodyas a rhizomatic, porous interface, and probes the possibilities of rupturing the physical and conceptual confines that separate people from each other. Drawing on Bataille’s meditations around images of lingchi – a form of torture where sections of the victim’s body are cut off slowly – and his theory that in seeing this, we become part of the transgressive act, the frame cuts to footage of someone peeling back a transparent film from his neck, further evoking that “the determination of agency is increasingly difficult. Solidarity is forgotten but so is hierarchy. It is better perhaps to speak in terms of inhabitants. To be living is to live inside and alongside one another.”