Zhao Bandi has made his reputation with staged scenarios where he and his toy panda play out everyday situations. Sometimes these consist of scenes from the life of a single father. Other times, the panda assumes the role of partner and lover. The panda is treated and acts as a 'real' character with a voice of its own that appears as speech bubbles in the photos. Zhao Bandi is brilliant at both playing with and being played by the media culture. The works are humorous, subversive, critical and seductive. Addressing the idea of media and mass reproduction, Zhao Bandi suggests that the boundary between image and reality has broken down. He emphasizes the images' potential for transformation, but also the power of the manipulating gesture: it takes so little to change the value and significance of an image.
Zhao Bandi's enchantment with the banality of modern life could seem condescending if not for the extraordinarily sincerity with which he goes about the entire theatrical set-up concerning his panda. Recently, the artist has paid special attention to state-endorsed public service announcements. These are often characterized by humorless didactic instructing people on how to behave in relation to everything from personal hygiene to SARS. Zhao Bandi appropriates, reverses and rejects the official message of these announcements. His striking images, which are presented as calendar pages, subway posters, light-boxes, and in other public places in Shanghai, mix the format of communist propaganda with the glossy advertisements that are spreading so rapidly in China. Interaction with Zhao Bandi's pieces causes one to be susceptible to the special pathos and the pleasure of the meaninglessness of it all.
Although Zhao Bandi's work frequently walks the fine line between fiction and reality, there are times when the two coincide: his video, "A Tale of Love Gone Wrong for Pandaman" is more than parody. In 2003, Zhao Bandi sued two media businesses for publishing his “Block SARS Defend the Homeland” poster without acknowledging his copyright. During the hearing, Zhao Bandi sits, forlorn, with his Panda. At the end, he reads as evidence a letter from his ex-lover, in which she explains why she is leaving him. She describes Zhao Bandi's relationship to the toy-panda as being sick, and denies that the SARS poster could have anything to do with his personality. Because of the letter (or despite it) Zhao Bandi wins the case. It's reality that produces fiction that produces reality.
Zhao Bandi (b.1966, Beijing) is a renowned artist and pioneering figure of the Chinese avant-garde movement. Trained as a painter, his practice has evolved to include performance, photography, video, fashion, film, and social intervention. Zhao has been included in exhibitions and presented projects including: M+ Sigg Collection: From Revolution to Globalisation, M+ Museum, Hong Kong (2021); Zhao Bandi: China Party, UCCA, Beijing (2017); Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2017); "Chopin Underwater" Culture Party, Sichuan (2016); Zhao Bandi Panda Fashion Show, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2009); China International Fashion Week, Beijing (2007); "One Man's Olympics" Solo Performance, Bern (2005); Zhao Bandi: Uh-oh! Pandaman, Manchester Art Gallery; Ikon Gallery, Birmingham; Plymouth City Museum & Gallery (2004); 48th Venice Biennale (1999); 11th Sydney Biennale (1998); "Moonflight", Hanmo Art Center, Beijing (1994); "China Avantgarde", Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; Modern Art Oxford; Kunsthal Rotterdam, and further venues (1993-1994); and "A New Painting by Zhao Bandi", CAFA Gallery, Beijing (1992). From 1999 to 2004, Zhao Bandi's public art projects featuring pandas appeared in metro stations, airports and streets of cities throughout China and abroad, including Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Milan, London, Manchester, Birmingham, Oslo, and Tokyo. From 2010 to 2013, his art and charity project "Trading Creativity for a Nursing Home" attracted over two million Chinese youth to submit their artworks, The revenue from which was used to establish a nursing home in Kaifeng county, Henan province, which currently houses 46 elderly adults. From 2013 To 2014, Let Panda Fly, a film Zhao directed based on his previous projects, was selected by the 29th Warsaw International Film Festival and many children's film festivals, and enjoyed a wide theatrical release in China.