In today’s world, does one have a practical evolutionary advantage over his competition if he can toss a ball through a hoop from great distance with accuracy? If he can kick a ball into a net while others try to stop him? Hit a tiny ball in a tiny hole with a tiny stick? As technology progresses and the human body becomes increasingly obsolete, physical feats of coordination, strength, and agility are less necessary for survival, and more decorative ornaments that harken back to an archaic economy when physical superiority could be directly translated into evolutionary capital. Still, these are among the few traits that translate seamlessly from culture-to-culture across the globe.
“Ornament and Crime,” the 1910 lecture by Adolf Loos, famously equates the post-construction adornment of objects to villainy. Ornamentation, to Loos, is an afterthought, diverting attention from the inherent beauty of an object’s design and function; it is a superficial perversion of said object’s structural logic, obscuring the utilitarian dignity of the base materials of construction. He believed that the goal of creation should not be to conceal or disguise the bones upon which a structure is built, but to celebrate and cast light upon their socio-cultural necessity.
Ornament and crime are not synonymous to Zhou Yilun, however. His influences begin with the Western, Judeo-Christian canons he studied and was trained to emulate in school, but skew more heavily to the laborers he saw building, tearing-down, painting, and repainting the structures in the city surrounding him, and the American basketball players, hip-hop stars, and black celebrities he grew up mythologizing and imitating. Zhou lifts and distorts techniques inherited from the Renaissance, Baroque, and Romantic eras, revisiting, perverting, and parodying their ideas for the new globalist regime. This is Raphael going Apeshit with The Carters, Goya crossing-over Allen Iverson, Delacroix sipping Cristal and smoking blunts with Weezy, all broadcast to the far east over WeChat.
Each of his artworks is formed from the same bricolage of identity—the sum of stretcher, wood, and canvases painted, deconstructed, and constructed again. Images of basketball heroes become deities, which in turn become the scaffolding and skin of his painted sculptures and often stretcherless paintings. Zhou’s practice is alive with Chinese bones and Western sinew and flesh, torn down and built back up with the same materials again and again, so that the elements that once existed as ornament are now integral to the identity and essence of each artwork itself. His works are impossible monuments to the necessarily unnecessary, yet beautiful feats of the human machine. The only crime is existence itself, and it is one to be celebrated.
Zhou Yilun was born in 1983 in Hangzhou, China. He graduated in 2006 from the oil painting department at China Academy of Art. He currently lives and works in Hangzhou.