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Notation of Time,
2010 Chen Qi Solo Show

Curator: Tony Chang
Artist Chen Qi (b. 1963) witnessed the rise of the 85 New Wave during his college days, but he did not directly reflect the confusion of social transformation in his creations. His personality is introspective and serene, and the path of his artistic development resembles that of such artists as Xu Bing and Wang Huaiqing - searching the interior of cultural traditions for the key to cracking contemporary malaise. Since the mid 1980s, Chen has stayed faithful to his heart, engaging in meditations on individual existence while maintaining China's literati tradition with a contemporary awareness. For his recent Notations of Time series, his path of artistic transformation has extended even further, entering into the depths of the inner world.

The art of water-based printmaking * is a continuation of the infatuation with the traces of objects from Chinese ink and wash painting, and rubbings of ancient stele inscriptions. Through more than two decades of perseverance, Chen Qi has enriched the expressive power of water-based printmaking language by expanding the medium into the unknown realms of the conceptual, and pushing his works beyond the limitations of painting. For Chen Qi, water printmaking is the act of a witness of civilization and history revisiting the past and consoling the present, as well as a ritual of the artist's spirit soaring into the unknown realm of the soul.

Notations of Time No.11
Water Print, Diameter 90cm, 20 Editions

* Water-based Woodblock Printmaking (a.k.a. Water Print) Creation Method:
The artist carves an image with richly expressive cuts onto several (sometimes more than ten) wooden printing boards, and dyes them with Chinese ink or other water-soluble pigments. He then prints this image on paper, usually Chinese scroll paper, in a creative process that draws from experience and intuition to control water content, pressure and other factors. The resulting prints are signed and marked with their limited edition numbers by the artist to create the final original artwork.

Investigating Contemporary Paintings
Details, Notations of Time-White Book


Notations of Time-White Book,60x50x4cm,2010

Cut Reading
Professor Qian Dajing, Dean of Research Institute of Public Arts, the Shanghai University

Notations of Time is an assemblage consisting of pages with holes carved out of them bound together in book form. The idea for this work came from observing the holes that worms eat out of books. Looking at this cut and tattered artwork, it is surprisingly beautiful while challenging our observational experience and aesthetical judgment.

I was fortunate enough to do a tactile reading of this book, Notations on Time. Looking up close, I saw seemingly machine-cut edges outlining holes with topographic contours that shrink as they extend into the depths only to open up into yet another cave when they seem to reach bottom, causing a mild case of vertigo. When you look long enough, you will have dreamy thoughts of wormholes, caves, ancient geographic features, biological entities, splitting cells, even allusions to sex - basically any and all imagery regarding life, time and space.

As you flip between single pages, you see Chen Qi's familiar ordered beauty: sensitive interaction between curves, flowing spatial relationships between shapes, and an elegant, flat narrative like gossamer. When multiple pages are stacked together, the various holes from different pages form a disjointed outline, creating the beginnings of an illusion effect: shapes changing, shadows shifting. Through the illusory effect produced by the shift from two dimensions to three, physical forms are transformed into chemical ones, and a kind of 'breathing vapor' fills the spaced between the pages.

I believe that this is the result of Chen Qi's carefully considered poeticizing of abstract philosophical thought. He transforms the abstract narratives of objects into limitless associations regarding those objects, forming poetry through imagined objects, but this poetic element is the result of rational thought, which is what sets it apart from simple emotional expressions based on the imitation of reality. For Chen Qi, poeticizing does not equal catharsis.

each cut in Notations of Time is carefully calculated and controlled, comparable to the cold workings of a machine. The cuts are far removed from the 'cut flavor' of traditional carving. Listening to him describe the technical steps in the formation of the artwork is like hearing the design plan for an engineering project. The result is a far cry from the 'image poetry' of the mortal world, and more like the Daoist saying, 'the great form has no shape'.

Chen Qi's works have grown increasingly 'cold' in appearance, as the juices of emotion slowly 'condense'. His works are timeless, removed from the chaos of the contemporary. But his worker bee-style labors have a kind of evidentiary quality to them. He never gets carried away, he just calmly constructs. That is Chen Qi's special quality. It's just like the ancients making a complex embroidery pattern, one stitch after another. It's a prosaic and repetitive act, but the results are magnificent.

Notations of Time-Black Book,60x50x4cm,2010

Objects of Thought: Reading Chen Qi

Wang Huangsheng, Director, Art Museum of the Central Academy of Fine Arts

As for his latest work, Notations of Time (2009- ), I believe that it is a massive turning point in his creative thinking, a shift from the consideration of formless concepts within tangible things towards the probing of timeless, formless concepts to reach a concrete, physical form. 'Time' is an eternal, abstract, even indescribable thing, and from the perspective and methods of artistic expression, it perhaps stands as a challenge. Chen Qi's wisdom here is in that he approaches it from the traces of time, and uses his signature refinement and fastidiousness in thought and technique, combined with modern visual expression and image forms to materialize 'time' as artistic objects and images, which are presented comprehensively in the form of books, prints, woodcarvings and video, turning time into something tangible, something visible, and more importantly, something that can be experienced and pondered.