Shadow World
10 August – 14 October 2022
Institute for Australian and Chinese Arts and Culture,
Western Sydney University
Monday to Friday, 9:30am–5pm

Shadow World is a political-ecological-mythical exhibition created by Chinese-Australian multimedia artist Tianli Zu. It comprises drawings, papercuts by hand, and site-specific installation with an immersive soundscape composed by Andrew Zhou.

Zu continues her exploration of light/shadow, east/west, and handmade/technology to comment on environmental emergencies. She creates new myths combining ancient Chinese folklore with contemporary interpretations. Zu titles the new body of works ‘Shadow World’ and defines it as a yin element in Chinese terms – taiyin 太陰‬ (‘the Moon’). It manifests Mother Nature’s forgiveness, beauty, regenerative powers, and letting it go.

After Black Summer 2022
Installation. Charcoal, hand-cut on mulberry paper, painted with Chinese ink and acrylic
2-layers, 100 x 100 cm each, 9 units

Artist statement: ‘After Black Summer’ depicts nine gigantic fairy-like Australian native plants in flower and an Australian native bee pollinating among them.

The installation reveals Mother Nature’s forgiveness, beauty, and regenerative powers. Since the 2019-20 devastating bushfire, some endangered native species took 2-years to regerminate, grow, flower, produce seeds, and return to the soil bank. In this work, they burst to life with vibrant colours through the cutout shapes that symbolise the species burnt by the fires.

Inspired by the iconic and special Australian native plants that survived the bushfire, I carved the seed pods and flowers, such as Banksia, native orchids, rock orchids, Mountain Devil, trigger plants, and Waratah. Eucalypts and wattles have numerous adaptation strategies to cope with fire. Pink flannel responded to the fire and flowered. 

Simultaneously as I wanted to instill a feeling of hope, I drew a skull on the reverse side of each native plant as a sense of warning. Plants are vital for life. This work combines science and art manifesting the urgency to ensure the survival of our planet.

The Moon 2022
Installation of hand-cut acetate film, painted with acrylic, LED lights 
240 x 484 cm, 11 units 
Music by Andrew Zhou

Artist statement: In this new large-scale installation, I continue to explore the interplay between light and shadow, yin and yang in Chinese terms. The Moon is a yin element, associated with the shadow, female and negative energy. It is a metaphor for ones unconsciousness. 

I first painted, daubed, and stained the landscape obscurely on the film with black, yellow, and green. Then I utilised the folding paper technique to cut out 16 symmetrical radiant lines. The form of a breast appears in the centre symbolising nourishment. Skulls symbolise death on the outer lines. Beyond the lines, new life forms are moving and seeking a chance to survive. 

The Moon’ symbolises Mother Natures receptive nature, giving birth out of darkness, and letting it go. The composition offers a visual idea of a huge full moon. Yet, it could be read as sun and moon, decay and rebirth, beginning and an end. 

The immersive soundscape by Andrew Zhou takes audiences on a visual journey for the ears in seeing rhythmic melody.  

Australian native plants 2022
Drawing, Chinese ink and pastel on paper
30 x 40 cm, 16 units

Artist statement: These quick sketches were produced in December 2021 when I visited the Australian Plant Bank in the Australian Botanic Gardens, Mount Annan.