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.


ESSEX ROAD IV – Eight Contemporary Artists Interpret A Very Particular Part of London


November 8, 2017

 8 December – 13 January


Now in its fourth year, Tintype Gallery invites eight artists to each make a short film connected to the mile-long north London street.  


Edwina Ashton

Chloe Dewe Matthews

Benedict Drew

Judith Goddard

Matthew Noel-Tod

Paul Tarragó

Richard Wentworth

Xiaowen Zhu


The gallery’s large window, on a busy corner in Essex Road, becomes a public screen for six weeks over Christmas and New Year. The films are back-projected into the window, shown on a loop from dusk to 11pm, highly visible to a broad-range of the general public who pass by the gallery. 



Essex Road is in the borough of Islington, London. It is roughly a mile long stretching from the Angel to Balls Pond Road. Essex Road runs parallel to its more upmarket neighbour Upper Street and in fact used to be called Lower Road. It has a remarkable number of independent shops and small businesses and a strong neighbourhood identity. It is an area with marked social and economic divisions.



Athens Digital Arts Festival (Greece)


Strangelove Festival (UK)




© 2019 by XIAOWEN ZHU, all rights reserved