‘I hope when they look at my work, audiences think about how this material has been used in daily life, and how this feeling is different from experiencing it as a piece of art.’

Born 1981, Luzhou, Sichuan. Lives and works in Beijing.

Zhao Yao says that audiences have just one very simple decision to make about his work: do they like it or dislike it? A conceptual artist who loves puzzles, brainteasers and mazes, he has made a practice of painting abstract, geometric works on unusual materials including plywood and printed, woven cloth. For Wonder 20150908, he replicated aerial views of Chinese airports – a symbol of the nation’s breakneck pace of modernisation – onto commercial carpet. Airports are among the strangest and most artificial places in the modern world. They are landscapes of waiting: acres of carpeting, mountains of plastic, and an intoxicating – and toxic – atmosphere of jet fuel. Zhao Yao’s representation of a liminal, in-between place reminds us that Chinese artists inhabit a globalised world of porous borders and instant communication. Airports, he says, represent the struggle between modernity and nature.

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