Tang Contemporary Art, (Gate No.2, 798 factory Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District Beijing, China) May 7—Jun 22, 2016
It has already been thirty-five years since Robert Rauschenberg exhibited his installation-paintings and painting-installations at the National Art Museum of China. De Sarthe Gallery and the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art now happen to be holding commemorative exhibitions of his work. His influence on Chinese contemporary art, which allowed artists at the time who had only ever seen modern European painting through photographs, to experience the potential freedom of artistic creation, has once again been called forth.
But no matter how much Rauschenberg or Anselm Kiefer and others subverted traditional media, Chinese artists did not demonstrate the “crisis of the frame” initiated by Euro-American Minimalism and Conceptual Art of the 1960s and ’70s. Among their works were those relating merely to “formal beauty” or “personal expression,” each of which were welcome debates revolving around the development of art itself. It seems that the active painters, in their breakthroughs at the time, were resisting widely accepted Soviet style realism or expressions of ideological irony. As the curator Zhu Zhu has said, the form of painting-installation has never become a dominant proposition in the native context. The cross-section and non-historical approach of this exhibition demonstrates that the aim is to inform the viewer that installation-painting-installations are positioned between traditional and conceptual art, and are unrelated to the recollection of, or resistance against, traditional media. Rather, they can be seen as an updated expression of the artist’s voice.
We were first introduced to Li Qing through his long-running painting series Finding Differences and Images of Mutual Undoing and Unity and Image of Partial Unity. About five years ago, he began reproducing space within the frame. Through a two-step process, the artist disguises discarded wooden windows and timber as the windows of gothic churches; he then adds painted windows which depict a countryside church in Yangzhou city, Jiangsu province. This method of depicting the landscape behind the glass is a continuation of one of his core creative ideas: the relationship of the mirrored image. The work “Rural Church (Unfinished)” (2016) brings to mind a discrepancy between the conviction of individual imagination and the reproduction of truth. Zhu Zhu refers to Chinese artists’ use of materials, the constant destruction of cities, and the existence of flea markets. In her old wooden boxes, Chen Ke portrays small creeks, waterfalls, and oceans, adding to the relative theme of the exhibition. Borrowing from the title of E.M. Forster’s novel A Room with a View as an introduction, the works are about female self-awareness. Their resistant content is vividly portrayed. All types of media enrich the narrative language of the images, allowing for more direct communication between the artworks and audience. Like Huang Yuxing’s borrowed ticking of a clock, she bestows upon the still image the possibility of time passing.
In contrast with the aforementioned works, Gao Lei is an artist who is most interested in installation. His work “F-5″ is composed of two independent parts: on a black background is a “high voltage” warning sign with a gray paper cutout bat that recollects an event in its childhood in which a bat was accidentally electrocuted. The installation consists of five iron doors and a public transportation railing, thus using industrial materials to “translate” the auspicious importance of the bat in eastern cultures. Painting, therefore, acts as a supplement for installation. In this exhibition, however, it is Yan Heng’s work that most fully embodies the concept of “installation painting, painting installation.” Metal panels and spare machine parts are Yan Heng’s customary material, his propensity for which stems from something he observed as a child—a scene that is impossible to forget: fresh meat and cold metal artificial limbs, the metal-supported flesh of a wounded veteran. Transforming this experience into a work of art, the hand-painted section of the artwork “FM”, depicting a slaughter house and a Russian-made airplane, embodies humanity’s animalistic characteristics. The metal section, a concave panel with a gauge, demonstrates the hold that science and technology have over humanity. Graphic and non-painted media all demonstrate their efficacy in this exhibition. The only foreign artist in the exhibition, Chusak Srikwan, takes the traditional shadow puppets from his hometown in Songkhla Province, Thailand, as a source of inspiration. While using traditional manufacturing methods to make leather puppets, Chusak moved the scene normally positioned behind the white screen, presenting it directly to the audience. The “objects” hanging in the middle of the space and the shadows cast on the white wall together make up his “space painting.”
Other participating artists in the exhibition include Chen Yujun, Li Jie, Ni Youyu, Qiu Xiaofei, and Zang Kunkun. The combination of non-traditional materials and hand-painted images here should not be seen as artists making efforts towards new visual effects. Compared with the 1980s and 1990s, after 2000, the differences between eastern and western artistic trends have gradually disappeared. In comparison with the older generation, the synchronicity of the flow of global information has resulted in faster development among younger generations in terms of perspective. The continuous emergence of new forms in western art serves as nourishment for their work. These eleven emerging artists help us see clearly that when the younger generation quotes this kind of western expressive form, they rely on unique psychological responses and childhood memories, using personal experience as a starting point in their quotations.