Gardens of Emotion
Mystery of Existence
Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
|Traversing the Labyrinth of the
Curator: Tony Chang
The extraordinary revolution that is taking place in Chinese contemporary society and culture poses a challenge to Chinese artists. Their critical thoughts towards themselves and the social spirit are accompanied by a sense of duty to change artistic concepts and refresh artistic language. Chinese printmaking is also experiencing a rebirth. Print artists born in the '70's and '80's are casting off the restraints of stale printing language just as they are examining contemporary issues. A New Mark in Chinese Print Art-Traversing the Labyrinth of the Contemporary Spirit exhibition explores the existential conundrums faced by young artists: the break between individual existence and cultural identity, the conflict between historical heritage and reality, the global onslaught of consumerism...It is becoming difficult to manage the diverse community of ideas, a situation akin to being dropped in a labyrinth. But for the pure of heart, those who uncompromisingly face their inner selves, this labyrinth becomes a playground for the soul. Groping around in the unfathomable depths of the labyrinth, their passion for life and creativity burst forth.
Spiritual Drama in the Labyrinth
The curator has paid particular attention to the internal narrative connections between different themes. The connections between figures in the works are like a play in multiple acts, Hamlet's passion meets the elegant restraint of Peony Pavilion, ancient and modern are entangled, and the artists, who are trapped in a vortex of the spirit, have together formed a narrative in the chaos of China's contemporary spirit: bald children playing in the Hutongs, feminism that examines the self through story from the Book of Rites, a robe-clad boy feeding coca-cola to a crane, a blackbird galloping through society and the collective unconscious...they all tie together to weave the spiritual journey of life from childhood, through adolescence, and into adulthood, from the growing pains in childhood memory to reverence for individual as adults in social groups. Through this labyrinth odyssey of theirs runs a microscopic narrative that brings together contemporary sociology and the subconscious.
The exhibition is split into eight parts, tracing the spiritual path from childhood to adolescence and adulthood: in Hutong Memories and Mischievous Youth, the present and the past of the old Hutongs are jumbled together (Huang Kai), and indignant youth sit on the banks of a river, mocking the passage of this mortal world (Xu Hongxiang). Social Observation and Dreamtime are two sides of the same coin; the artists' observations of reality are subjective, and the dream realm illuminates reality's impressions on the soul. In Gardens of Emotion and Feminism, female self-awareness is straightforward and incisive, but full of irrationality: the naked fruit of life is bursting with sadness (Chen Xiaodi); a lovely ancient woman's face is covered with birthmark-like flowers (Li Mingjuan); a woman's shadow swings among Song Dynasty lotus leaves (Tian Hua), a naked man and woman duel in a mist-covered garden (Wang Qing), while Jin Songmin rears her sword against the wood, boldly chasing after the schisms of the self; these bodies in the dark explore the Mystery of Existence. Kang Jianfei is one of the more mature artists in this exhibition. This rebellious youth has spent the last decade in the rigid art academy system. The image of the blackbird has accompanied him in the growth of his art and life experiences, with his themes moving from a symbol of the release of self to one of individual alienation in the collective conscious. In youth, we can play, rebel and wander endlessly, but outside the labyrinth of youth lies the labyrinth of adulthood, and it is just as clouded in mystery. Kang begins his explorations of the social labyrinth with Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.
From Carving Games to the Recreation of Images
In this exhibition, the heartfelt and unconventional print works by the artists show us a new face of contemporary printmaking in China. Huang Kai uses a style borrowed from comic panels and the faded-color feel of woodcut to recreate childhood stories in the Hutongs. The nostalgia is permeated with a contemporary sense of anxiety. Huang Kai's strong personal style stands out from a generation of Chinese artists influenced by Japanese manga. Fu Bin's lithography has the richly layered texture of fashion photography, capturing the spiritual anxiety of the middle class; Zhang Ying's free-flowing vertical lines symbolize the fall of the spirit, and create an illusory feel; Jin Songmin uses a combination of drawing and woodcut, using freeform and serendipity to break the rigidity of print art. In their works, Chinese contemporary print art breaks out of its linguistic cage and boldly borrows from other art forms such as photography, comics and ink painting. The artists focus on using more expressive language to convey the passion in their hearts, yearning for a more vivid depiction of cultural life in this world. Their creations take the intricacy of print art into the rich sociological imagery of contemporary art.
Opening and Reconstruction of Artistic Language
For Kang Jianfei, experimental language has an important metaphysical significance: in his 2008 works, he has broken the patterns of image layout; he first uses woodcut to create his imagery, then prints these images either intentionally or serendipitously on the paper, the resulting picture creating strange story plots on the page; the same images produce new stories when placed in different combinations, with the plurality of the images and the uniqueness of each story creating a tense, paradoxical relationship. In his installation scenes, print boards of hundreds of people and animals are stuck in the sand under a withering tree, and stories are implied in these arrangements: people traveling, a housewife crying in anguish under a tree, a bird surveys the scene from a tree branch, a child grasps a knife with evil intent¡it is like a darkly humorous fable of life. The flat surfaces of the wood mix together in the space in strange ways, conveying unique sentiments. Kang Jianfei has opened up new possibilities with his conceptual innovations in print art.
In this global art trend where concept takes precedent, Chinese new media, installation and other experimental art forms seem to lack a deep cultural foundation for their explorations. For the eager and enterprising young print artists in this exhibition, the language of printmaking, rooted in the traditional Chinese woodcut, is something that cannot be replaced by other mediums, and is full of conceptual potential. The indirectness, the concept of plurality and the conflict between mechanical participation and handcrafting form an open system, a fulcrum for creating the extraordinary in Chinese art, and they are affirming the future through their brave practices.