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Brief Encounters on the Milky Way

Single-channel video, 2017, 05:00

Standing Alone, digital photography, Xiaowen Zhu, 2017
Brief Encounters on the Milky Way documents the peculiar encounters of an astronaut character walking on iconic Essex Road in East London. At once a mixed community and rapidly-gentrifying area, Essex Road witnesses daily routine and urban changes, absorbing solitary and collective actions tacitly and evidently. This astronaut character is elaborately dressed and bizarrely choreographed, evoking a sense of foreignness and otherness. On the one hand, he/she undoubtedly disturbs a number of random passengers on the street, in an almost hilarious way; yet on the other hand, various people find the ‘astronaut’ amusing and approachable, especially children and young adults. Switching between walking down the street and standing behind a large window front, the ‘astronaut’ appears to be a test of tolerance and openness towards something unusual, unfamiliar and unexpected. 
The project is commissioned by Tintype Gallery, London and supported by Arts Council England.

Brief Encounters on the Milky Way

by Xiaowen Zhu

no one comes from nowhere

here i am

walking on the unfamiliar land


my view

different from yours

seeing stranger things

they bounce off the daily routine of local pedestrians

who are so comfortable with their surroundings 

that they have constructed throughout their lives

which appear to be foreign to me



am i an astronaut or an astonishment 

i wonder

wishing to be both

in the glimpse of brief encounters on the milky way

my way

going away







wave my hands

after you wave yours

those small, gentle hands of yours

like the first blossom of yellow tulips in the faraway field

wanting to be caressed by my silver gloves 

the very ones that are touching the screen in front of me

the screen is cold

by the way


i stay

for my new friends

no matter if i’m understood or not

hundreds of languages 

not enough to communicate

we only need the simplest gesture

such as walking between two places

building a connection with a warmth of contact

like introducing two friends


one, two, three

ten, twenty, thirty

i’m losing count

of the stars on the milky way

on my way

going away



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