Chen Zhou’s HD video Muhammad Ali, Superman, and the Secret of Banana-1, Penis is Praying (2012) binds into his larger body of work of incongruous relationships between images that create disjointed narratives. The artist is known for obscuring if not mocking both the artist’s and viewer’s relationship to meaning by juxtaposing symbols and signifiers of popular culture. Muhammad Ali, Superman... is a prime example: Superman - strong, morally up righteous protector of society - slouches in a chair eating a banana, the latter blatantly creating an association between the character and an erect penis. The scene is accompanied by a monologue discussing Superman’s potential weaknesses. Could he slip on a banana peel? And if not so, would he have to pretend to do so when incognito as Clark Gable? Chen: “playing a joke on a superhero like Superman is comical; it must make us laugh”.
Chen, who has frequently used the colour yellow in his works in order to enhance symbolic juxtapositions, seems to make no exception with Muhammad Ali, Superman.... Chinese culture considers the colour as signifying the centre of power and symbolically the centre of the world - China historically also being referred to as Middle Kingdom - associating it with happiness, glory and wisdom. However, in contemporary Chinese culture, the term “yellow movie” (黃色電影) may refer to pornographic films and is analogous with the term “blue movie” in the English language.
Chen’s mockery, brought about by continuing strands of references that juxtapose associations, histories, meanings and styles becomes clear. What appears random subject matter transforms into a working process that frames and reframes until every aspect of the work and its meaning has become ambiguous. The artwork belongs to the Déjà Vu collection curated by LEAP LABS.
Chen Zhou lives and works in Beijing.