A Field Guide

12 Mar 2021 – 11 Apr 2021

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Hosted by: FORMAT International Photography Festival

A Field Guide is based on photographer Zhao Qian’s own experiences and imagination, providing a guide or map to the artist’s thoughts and ideas as he travels between two cities – San Francisco and Shanghai.


But this guide is not intended to be an authoritative understanding of Zhao’s journey. There are no directions, names or definitions. The environments created are indicative of a cultural displacement Zhao experienced as he switched between the two countries.

The specificity of national identity is elided in non-sites such as airports, where all design decisions—from wayfinding signage to furniture to advertisements—are driven by maximum legibility and functionality.

Within those levelling conditions, Zhao’s observational sensibility has the vibrancy and idiosyncrasy of a lucid dream.  Scale shifts, odd juxtapositions, aggressive colours, and video sequences all contribute to an immersive effect that translates the montage strategies of surrealism and postmodernism into our fully digital present.

Confronting the flattening tendencies of screen-culture—in which complex real-world objects, places, and emotions are dispersed into arrays of pixels—Zhao responds by mapping this flatness onto the dimensionality of a gallery or exhibition space.

His open-ended Field Guide has infinite configurations. In that sense, it is not definitive in the traditional manner of the “field guide” format, which is intended to help the reader to identify flora, fauna, or other things in their natural environment. Instead, Zhao Qian’s work makes us wonder if contemporary image culture is now in fact our natural environment.

In that new reality, the artist’s roving attention is an invitation to us all to create our own field guides to our imaginations and creativity.

A Field Guide by Zhao Qian was selected by FORMAT 21 Open Call Juror – Niamh Treacy, FORMAT Co-ordinator.

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