Qiu Zhijie at Talbot Rice Gallery | The University of Edinburgh

Qui Zhijie’s exhibition at Edinburgh’s Talbot Rice Gallery presents a selection of his beautiful speculative mapping exercises that bring the multiple functions of cartography—from military planning to guiding a religious initiate to enlightenment—into a generative dialogue. Born in Zhangzhou, China, in 1969, Qiu has worked across video, photography, sculpture, and more but now primarily identifies as a “mapper,” a claim borne out abundantly here through ink paintings that showcase the artist’s mastery of traditional calligraphic methods.

On the gallery’s lower level, the series “Under the Sky” and “Art of War” (all works cited, 2022) consist of paper scrolls with colored-ink compositions that are at once immersively intricate and feverishly annotated. The latter series is of particular interest for the hidden messages secreted across its mountains, valleys, and floodplains. Excerpted from classic Chinese military texts such as Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, these little nuggets of realpolitik—“use water and fire as aids to the attack”–are visible only under UV torchlight.

Upstairs, “The Colour Experiments Series” wavers at the fringes of topography and abstraction, with Qiu’s luminous brushstrokes forming strange peaks and troughs of land. Reflecting the artist’s interest in new imaging technology capable of gathering a range of physical and sociological data about a given area, the works are strewn with phrases combining pseudoscientific and -sociological insights with surreal language games and allusions to various subterfuges of state and religion.

Throughout this show, mapmaking is revealed to be intricately bound up with geopolitical maneuvering, the veiling of the real in comforting fictions, and the consumption of physical space by fantasies of power.

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