A photo from Gary Zhexi Zhang's exhibition at Bloc Projects. A catfish animal is submerged in a tank with coins. The tank is lit in a golden hue.
Somerset House Studios

Grounding Practice: Gary Zhexi Zhang & Waste Paper Opera

Sat 16 Jul
Lancaster Rooms
New Wing

In an interactive workshop employing collective singing, listening and discussion, Gary Zhexi Zhang and Waste Paper Opera bring participants together to explore world-making through instances of catastrophe. 

[…] will render universal, this fatal catastrophe, which must detach one world from another.

Abbé Raynal, A Philosophical and Political History of the Settlements and Trade of the Europeans in the East and West Indies (1770)

Catastrophes, whether as epochal turning points or the spectre of an end, have long been moments of political and philosophical reckoning – of a collapse between self and other, and of the unmaking and remaking of worlds.

In the years preceding the French and Haitian Revolutions, Abbé Raynal saw the “fatal catastrophe” as the inevitable time-to-come at which Europe would pay for the crimes of colonisation, and the “New World” would come to replace the old. Popular prints in mid-19th century Japan depict workers praying to the catfish deity, maker of earthquakes, for rectifying the economic order by destroying the houses of the wealthy and letting riches flow through society.   

Taking moments of historical and potential future catastrophe as catalysts for the making of new worlds, the group will ask through discursive and experiential activities: what reckonings are, or could be, born out of these moments and what might we learn from these? 

About the artists

Gary Zhexi Zhang

Gary Zhexi Zhang’s current projects explore financial fictions and weird temporalities in the time of catastrophe. A recent body of work, Cycle 25, documented events that shape the boundaries between speculative beliefs and material realities, like natural disasters, scam nations and cosmic economies. As an artist and researcher, he has undertaken fellowships at the Berggruen Institute in L.A. and Sakiya - Art Science Agriculture in Ramallah. He is a co-founder of collaborative studio Foreign Objects, which was incubated at NEW INC and received a Mozilla Creative Media Award. As a writer, his work has appeared in ArtReview, Art Papers, Frieze, and others; he is the co-author and editor of Catastrophe Time! (Strange Attractor Press, forthcoming). 

Waste Paper Opera

Waste Paper Opera is an experimental music theatre collective, run by composer, researcher and performer James Oldham, and artist, writer and designer Klara Kofen. Recent works include ‘Syrup Tracing’ (2020), an Ideas of Noise commission that reimagined Cyrano de Bergerac’s 1657 science-fiction tract Voyage sur la Lune, using DNA sequences of a newly discovered dictyostelium as the basis for dramaturgy and musical material. Their first collaboration with Gary Zhexi Zhang was a Medical Research Council funded project that explored the life-cycle of parasites, which culminated in a performance entitled ‘Vorephilia’ in spring 2018 at the Cambridge Junction. For ‘‘i’-the opera’ (Tête à Tête 2017, Glasgow International 2018), they collaborated with programmer Janelle Shane on a neural network libretto. WPO has hosted workshops at Central Saint Martins (OurHaus Festival – 100 Years of Bauhaus, Oct. 2019), and Limehouse Townhall (L (AI) BOUR, ‘useless l(ai)bour’, Nov.2019) and curated the interdisciplinary performance series Whole Punch at the Rosemary Branch Theatre. WPO collaborates with performers, artists, researchers and makers to create multimedia performances. Their interest centres around the potential of opera as a form of interdisciplinary making to convey and transform knowledge, and connect between fields, practices and ideas.