Chinese is a character-based language, which does not rely on an alphabet. However, it was Romanized to fit the QWERTY keyboard in a homogenising effort, giving rise to Hanyu Pinyin — the most common input method of Mandarin. For artist Yujie Zhou, language serves as the cultural lens through which we apprehend and attribute meaning, and it is inherently shaped by power dynamics. Despite lacking intrinsic meaning, QWERTY stands as a symbol of Western dominance and authoritarian power structures.
In the context of Zhou’s practice, QWERTY is a metaphor for linguistic fragments — the residues of the translation process and the untranslatable gaps in language. The fragmentary narrative is the weapon of choice that Zhou employs in her determined attempts to breach the wall. By doing so, illegibility functions as a form of protest to confront the autocratic nature of segmentation systems.
In her exhibition QWERTY at Hippolyte’s gallery, Zhou interweaves her exploration of language, power, and resistance. The exhibition space is intimately connected with two shadows — from a photography work and a video work, which are inseparable from the discipline inscribed within Zhou’s body and memory. Photography in Chinese essentially means “capturing shadows,” while the etymology of photography refers to “drawing with light.” Through the lens of capturing shadows, she seeks the light that emanates from collective struggles and embraces her true essence. Amid the space’s shadows, Zhou’s textile works — created with the jacquard weaving technique — reveal her way of writing through the creation of artworks and her diverse attempts to defy conventional collective ideologies. The existence of the artwork is both evidence and a symbol of shared experiences.
The artworks featured in QWERTY are part of a series titled Panoptic Segmentation. From a self-reflective and critical standpoint, the series aims to question the relationship between socially constructed collective narratives and the fragmented, anonymous, and silent forms of individual protest.
Yujie Zhou (b. 1997, China) is a visual artist based in Helsinki. Through performativity and a decoded notion of language, her practice seeks to interrogate dominant historical narratives and power structures while reframing collective individuality. Zhou completed her MA in Photography at Aalto University in 2023. Her work has been exhibited internationally, including at the Finnish Museum of Photography, Photographic Centre Peri (Finland), BFoto Festival (Spain), and alpha nova & galerie futura (Germany) as part of Berlin Art Week 2023. She is set to participate in the Saari Residency maintained by the Kone Foundation in spring 2024.
The exhibition has been supported by Finnfoto.
Photographic Gallery Hippolyte
Kuva: Yujie Zhou, 1989 in Translation, 2022