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Force as Fulcrum ——SELECTED WORKS FROM THE COLLECTION OF WAN

By Bao Dong

 


 

Lu Xun used “pulling one’s hair with one’s own hands to leave this earth” as the analogy for criticizing those who pursued the “authentic art and literature” by isolating themselves from social contexts, this analogy has since become an idiom, commonly used in the present[1]. This metaphor stands semantically on the basis of the physical principle for action and reaction, known as Newton’s Third Law that essentially states, an object can be its own fulcrum and force while staying immobile.
 

 

Although this seems to be the inevitable condition contemporary Chinese art has to confront – our artistic practice should be our own fulcrum as well as our own force – if not considered an obstacle. In fact, this is the pivotal character of the historical experience of third world modernity, where we need to achieve two or more, or even entirely contrary things through this action.

 

In the process of reforming our traditions, it’s still important to preserve our cultural subjectivity; in addressing the social function of art, it’s still necessary to demand artistic subjectivity; when confronting the future, it’s still necessary to revisit the past… The process of modernization in China has always had various layers and obstacles. These existing historical experiences in today’s reality should be the knowledge about history in our conscience.

 

In fact, this kind of deliberate representation in our discourse and action embodies a natural contemporaneity, which has transcended the logic of linear progression of modernity, which can neither predict the foreseeable goal nor discover a reliable reference. As it’s becoming a recurring event, in this sense, it’s nearly impossible to distinguish the Chinese modernity and contemporaneity.

 

If “crossing the river by touching stones” is a cautious and practical approach in our historical experience, then “force as fulcrum” implies a kind of self-confident and free-spirited imagination for the present. Let us imagine someone who jumps up and down, twisting and turning one’s body, but unconcerned about one’s somewhat awkwardness. 

 

[1]  See Lu Xun On the Third Type of Person, first published on November 1, 1932, in the Shanghai periodical, Les Contemporains, Vol. 2, No.1.

 

Bao Dong

Lu Xun used “pulling one’s hair with one’s own hands to leave this earth” as the analogy for criticizing those who pursued the “authentic art and literature” by isolating themselves from social contexts, this analogy has since become an idiom, commonly used in the present[1]. This metaphor stands semantically on the basis of the physical principle for action and reaction, known as Newton’s Third Law that essentially states, an object can be its own fulcrum and force while staying immobile.

 

Although this seems to be the inevitable condition contemporary Chinese art has to confront – our artistic practice should be our own fulcrum as well as our own force – if not considered an obstacle. In fact, this is the pivotal character of the historical experience of third world modernity, where we need to achieve two or more, or even entirely contrary things through this action.

 

In the process of reforming our traditions, it’s still important to preserve our cultural subjectivity; in addressing the social function of art, it’s still necessary to demand artistic subjectivity; when confronting the future, it’s still necessary to revisit the past… The process of modernization in China has always had various layers and obstacles. These existing historical experiences in today’s reality should be the knowledge about history in our conscience.

 

In fact, this kind of deliberate representation in our discourse and action embodies a natural contemporaneity, which has transcended the logic of linear progression of modernity, which can neither predict the foreseeable goal nor discover a reliable reference. As it’s becoming a recurring event, in this sense, it’s nearly impossible to distinguish the Chinese modernity and contemporaneity.

 

If “crossing the river by touching stones” is a cautious and practical approach in our historical experience, then “force as fulcrum” implies a kind of self-confident and free-spirited imagination for the present. Let us imagine someone who jumps up and down, twisting and turning one’s body, but unconcerned about one’s somewhat awkwardness. 

 

[1]  See Lu Xun On the Third Type of Person, first published on November 1, 1932, in the Shanghai periodical, Les Contemporains, Vol. 2, No.1. 

 

Wang Yin, The Short Story Magazine & Tombs

The 1993 The Short Story Magazine series grounded Wang Yin’s essential questions he thereon addressed in the practice of painting: how has the oil painting, this foreign "species" evolved into its current state in China. Wang Yin's approach is to place this artistic medium in a greater context that is, the contemporaneity of the entire Chinese society, in understanding its evolutionary relationships with the entire cultures and society.

 

In the painting The Short Story Magazine & Tombs, The Short Story Magazine was a literary periodical founded in 1910, after the May Fourth Movement, where Mao Dun, Zheng Zenduo, Ye Shengtao have been its editor-in-chief, during this period, it has become the critical promoters for new literature in China. And the figure in this image was drawn from Wang Yin’s impression of farmers from other works of art, whose lackadaisical or idle composure does not match the typical farmer class seen in socialist art and literature, yet who wore the popular hat from the Cultural Revolution period. The Tombs, was the title of Lu Xun’s first collection of essays, published in 1927, and in 1993 was the year this painting was completed. As much as this work on canvas embodies certain expressionist style, its color palette is replete of impressions for “earthy oil painting”. In such a way, Wang Yin has stacked together Chinese modern artistic and cultural experience of the entire 20th Century. 

 

Geng Jianyi, Eternal Rays of The Sun

Eternal Rays of the Sun series were works Geng Jianyi has prepared specifically for the 1993 Venice Biennale. The work may seem to embody the “political pop” style, when in fact the artist’s emphasis was not to highlight the red, bright and glorious background of the Cultural Revolution and its representation of the farmers, worker, and soldiers class. Instead, it concealed a visual game where the center of each painting consists of the shifting foci of the group photograph on the backside of the 5 yuan bill. As if these paintings are five fixed frames of an animation, the radiant background could thus be taken out of the political myth and be restored to its initial impetus in visual design. In this sense, this work was meant to disenchant, rather than creating a myth to demystify, it confronted the experiences of a time through an individual's everyday sentiments, this was the ingenuity Geng Jianyi has preserved throughout his lifetime.

 

Wang Xingwei,Ji Gong 

Duan Jianyu, The Muse Has Awoken No.3

Both Wang Xingwei’s Ji Gong and Duan Jianyu’s The Muse has Awoken No.3 both offer conspicuous comical impressions, which on the one hand, articulate a kind of literary comedy from the narrations of the figures on canvas, their expressions, motion, theatricality and etc., while stylistically – be it Wang Xingwei’s compositional momentum and the exaggeration rendered through brushwork, or Duan Jianyu's kitsch and crass emphasis – give shape to the comedy of mannerism, providing theatricality for the language of painting. Thirdly, they are comical on a cultural history level as they have adopted the Baroque style to portray the Mad Monk and placed the Goddess on Dunhuang murals into modern countryside context, this kind of casual yet poignant fusion has taken the “La Comédie Humaine” approach to respond to the rapidly evolving Chinese society and the unsettled dust of cultural order. 

 

Ma Qiusha, From No.4 Pingyuanli to No.4 Tianqiaobeili

Tao HuiThe Dusk of Teheran

Ma Qiusha’s From No.4 Pingyuanli to No.4 Tianqiaobeili and Tao Hui’s The Dusk of Teheran are both performances captured by a single camera lens, and both of which have strung together the stories of a lifetime through a single-channel video. Among the younger generation of contemporary Chinese artists, video art has become the mainstream, but those who have adopted this medium to manifest their personal perspectives are still few. “Art for the sake of life” is another classic expression for this kind of personal expression, not only is it part of the modern Chinese art, but also a core component in ancient art and literature, that the concerns of life of an individual as an “analogy” for society and history, this is how new artistic medium or genre grow their roots in existing Chinese experiences.

 

Qiu Xiaofei, Venus at the Outlets Mall

Venus at the Outlets Mall was Qiu Xiaofei’s critical attempt to look at painting through the perspective of an object. The sculpture in his work is the one found in the outlets mall close to his studio, but the disproportional ratio in the night setting has made the sculptural replica into a referential point, what Qiu Xiaofei was more interested in commanding was the object in the painting, painting as the object, and the possible relationships between the object and the painting. In addition, he adjusted the sentimental qualities in these relationships on the pictorial, color and material levels. Eventually, the painting and the image, color and lighting, site and material became mutually interrupting yet congruent factors to the overall composition. This phase marked Qiu Xiaofei's transition from "image" to "painting" when the physical quality of the painting is recognized and represented, could painting truly confronts today's experience as a conventional vehicle, and Qiu Xiaofei's recent works experiment on a different level as he preserves this medium. Qiu Xiaofei's transition from being "academic" to "pictorial", to "installation" and lastly returning to "painting", seems to follow a logic against the artistic form, but one that embodies a true understanding of precedent and subsequent painting practices in contemporary Chinese art. 

 

Wang Jianwei, Production

Production was the work of art Wang Jianwei presented on the 10th Documenta in Kassel. This work could be both considered as a documentary film and a video work. Wang filmed a few groups of people in the public spaces of Sichuan. In this 60-min clip without any traces of interviews, large sections its dialogues and monologues did not build up a central narrative, on the contrary, its discontinuous empty shots and its intentionally added artificial noise done in post-production engendered a kind of ambiguous and mixed – either politically or aesthetically - visual presence. Likewise, the title of the artwork equally embraces this bewildering character. "Production" is both a terminology rich in every day and local experiences, and a technical term with critical and theoretical implications. In all, this work is not only prescient for Wang Jianwei’s ongoing ambivalent attitude and approach thereafter, but also underscores the wavering conditions between “left and right” for contemporary Chinese art.