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Jiayu Zhang: Petri Dish

Born in 1995, Shenyang, China. Currently lives and works between Beijing and Los Angeles.


Colourful clothes lying everywhere, stuffed teddy bears, and neatly arranged linens – all encapsulating the everyday life of a dormitory building. Jiayu Zhang’s photographic series Petri Dish (2021) documents the residents and their beds in a girls’ dormitory in Beijing, where she lived for four years during college. 

Everything from over-crowdedness to homogeneous personal spaces, divided by metal frames and curtains, showcase a group housing system which is the product of collectivist education and university enrollment expansion. Although, for many young adults who are seeking for self-development, one narrow bed can provide a meager foundation for living within one’s own will. Jiayu Zhang’s Petri Dish identifies individuals’ living conditions under this grouping system and way of living, and additionally, acts as a glimpse into the unspeakable loneliness and conflicts within the young minds inhabiting it.

While exploring inter-spatial relationships between individual narratives and collective ideologies, Jiayu Zhang is a photographer and ethnographer that reflects on themes as belonging, intimacy, memory and trauma. Jiayu Zhang’s work cover photography, film and performance, and she has been exhibited at Flatiron Gallery in New York and California Institute of the Arts in Santa Clarita, among others.  

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Edited by Tofu Collective