Lowest Resolution

Zhang Peili’s Lowest Resolution consists of a long, narrow, dark alley with a small LCD screen hanging at the end. The LCD screen plays a video, hardly recognizable from distance, of a girl in a red school uniform. The distance makes it difficult to see exactly what the girl is doing or to hear if she’s talking or singing, or maybe crying. The visitor is drawn to the screen to find out what is being displayed but punished for his curiosity. The closer the viewer gets to the screen, the more the quality of image and sound deteriorates before eventually turning into a fuzzy snow and murmuring noise.

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The closer the visitor gets to the screen, the fuzzier the image becomes, until its resolution is reduced to a single pixel. As the viewer moves away from the screen again, the image reappears, from a threshold distance of about six meters, completely in focus again. The distance between the visitor and the screen, however, becomes so great that the image can no longer be recognized. The participant is thus involved in the issue of choosing the correct distance and attitude with respect to the reception of content produced by media, or by digital means. The most immediate position, directly in front of the screen, appears, in this light, to be the least favorable one.

From a certain distance the viewer can distinguish two people having sex with each other. The video depicted on the LCD screen is actually a Chinese sex education video. Lowest Resolution points to a Installation outside of
 exhibitionpuritanical streak in Chinese political culture. Peili uses this artwork to point out the ambiguous view on sex in China, where sex is taboo. The notion that sex is somehow ‘forbidden’ to speak of has inspired a strong tendency of voyeurism. It is exactly this voyeurism that Lowest Resolution tempers with. The urge to see the sexual content that is being depicted on the LCD screen is being punished by making the content even less visible to the spectator.

Paul Gladston in an interview with Zhang Peili: “In the case of Lowest Resolution, you show a Chinese sex education video using digital technology that makes the image increasingly illegible — more heavily pixilated–the closer one gets to it. Arguably, this could be interpreted as a feminist critique of the patriarchal gaze as well as a performative demonstration of what poststructuralists would argue is an inescapable slippage between desire and knowledge; that is to say, the notion that the closer one gets to a desired presence or meaning the more indeterminate it becomes. All of which places your work more or less squarely in relation to the legacy of the Western avant-gardes and post avant-gardes.” [1]

Lowest Resolution also deals with objective and subjective perception in relationship to its (re-)production by the media. This allows a shift of focus from the perspective of voyeurism to that of the medium. By combining both perspectives, Lowest Resolution seems to embody what David Rokeby meant when he was comparing the medium to a mirror. Alltough, in this case, the technology does not reflect recognizably. [2] It does so on purpose, to distort the sense of self and point out the experience of curiosity and voyeurism.

Relations to other artworks

Lowest Resolution bears similarity to a broad spectrum of artworks. The deterioration of images is also used in artworks like ‘Die Photokopie der Photokopie der Photokopie’ by Timm Ulrich (1967), ‘Beatles Electroniques’ by Jud Yalkut & Nam June Paik (1966) and ‘Dawn Burn’ by Mary Lucier (1973). Just like Lowest Resolution, ‘Video Flag Y’ by Nam June Paik (1985) used video screens as a portret to make a political statement. Bruce Nauman’s ‘Live-Taped Video Corridor’ (1970) also revolves around perception of video images correlated with the viewer’s distance to the artwork.

When we look at the way the viewer percieves the artwork in combination with the notion of voyeurism, Lowest Resolution can be compared to the images of the nude woman in Kenneth Knowlton and Leon Harmon’s Studies in Perception 1 (1966). Both artworks seem to play with the notion that, how fuzzy or unclear the image might be, depicting sex or nudity appears to make the viewer fill in the blanks and grab their attention.

In 2007, Lowest Resolution was exhibited in the Dutch Electronic Art Festival.

Zhang Peili is a Chinese video artist who’s artworks are often critical demonstrations of how propaganda and censorship are enforced in China. More information about the artist can be found here.



[1] Recurring Intimations of Disorder: A Conversation with Zhang Peili (by Paul Gladston) (2008) Link. 

[2] Rokeby, excerpted in Edward Shanken, red. Art and Electronic Media. London: Phaidon, 2009: p. 223.

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