Wen Jing: All in the Looking

“Wen Jing”: Li Shurui & Chen Jie solo exhibitions

Aike–Dell’Arco (Room 2/F, No. 1 Building 50 Moganshan Road Shanghai 200060) Sep 6–Oct 6, 2013

On the opening night of Li Shurui and Chen Jie’s duo exhibition “Wen Jing” at Shanghai’s Aike-Dell’Arco Gallery, Li Shurui showed up in a cyan and white striped dress—a colorful patterned outfit fitting for an exhibition of light and shadows. “I just happened to buy it before the Shanghai opening,” Li Shurui let it be known insouciantly, perhaps not wanting her dress to take center stage. The comment, however, seemed unlikely, coming from an artist who not only refuses to compromise but obsesses over details—surely her delicately tailored suit was not an accidental street find. Whatever the case, one thing is certain: Li Shurui’s paintings are certainly not accidental in any sense of the word.

Li Shurui paints with an airbrush. By adjusting the harsh, industrial colors of the spray paint, the painting surface becomes filled with blurred hues—exuding a romanticism rare in pure colors. From afar, they look indistinct and almost ethereal—but closer up they produce an optical clash of different colors and spaces. It actually becomes hard to focus as if the barrage of complex data taken in projects the images in the recesses one’s mind. In “Wen Jing,” Li Shurui only displayed one work, “Love,” which is made up of eight triangular and three-dimensional shapes directly sprayed on with color, placed around a corner as though they were reflections in a mirror. The blue mesh pattern, transitioning from dark to light, in a wave-like effusion from the center to the edges, creates a hypnotic effect. The ends of these jutting triangles hang on the wall, with points uncertain of their direction. Their possibilities hesitate between a cosmic universe out of balance and an earthly element poised to crash down to earth, forming a feeling of movement in the whole installation. The plasticity, colors, mesh-like patterns—all these elements not only prick the retina of the viewer but instigate the whole space to join in. The subtle changes in the blue and the revelatory nature of the white, (like a ray of sunlight), transform a cool minimal, restraint into gushing romantic pathos. While Richter turned abstraction into a visual expression of a reality both indeterminable and ungraspable; in Li Shurui, one sees a more poetic expression of love.

Chen Jie’s canvas, meanwhile, is divided into countless little square blocks and then refilled with color one by one. What may sound like very tedious work—with the artist tenaciously following his own set rules— results in a pellucid work of abstraction bearing hints of the waves of the sea and the endless expanse of the heavens. Repetition, for the artist, is first and foremost a measure of the body in its journey to the otherworld. Classic abstract art in its post-modern development proceeds from the dot or the line, colored or empty, in either instinctual expression or optical logic; along with this is the artist’s own bodily experience, bundled up with the artist’s own history. The classical, the historical, the cultural, the natural, a healed wound, the meditation of the spirit—abstraction becomes the Deleuzian rhizome; it no longer sprouts arboreally but spurts forth being transplanted from the criss-cross mesh of rhizomes.

In “Wen Jing,” many such rhizome-like transplants occur. Chen Jie, on the white walls between the paintings, copied a passage in the original English from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, along with further investigations through a particular lexicon as well as non-sensical Chinese words generated automatically from the internet. These three seemingly disjointed elements—abstract painting, Shakespeare, internet codes—appear together in the same space, resulting in an astonishing display of the artist’s meticulous thought processes which invites us into a magical game of perception and reason, belief and skepticism. This is where Chen Jie’s wisdom lies. His abstract paintings start off from a controllable action, yet the destination is a colorful spectrum that upsets the viewer’s visual logic. If Li Shurui employs a three-dimensional, calm installation to narrate ideas about love, then Chen Jie’s works extend the subject, through the flatness of the works, into the solitary depths of doubt.

Perhaps this is just as well that Chen Jie, in white, matches Li Shurui in her colorful blue-and-white outfit—accidentally on purpose. It’s all in the looking.

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