Anxiety and Retention
Curator/Host: Mao Xuhui
Artistic Director: Li Ji
Exhibition Arrangements: Liu Lifen
Design: Huang Qi
Host Organizations: TC/G Nordicaï¼ŒYunnan University art Academy
Yunnan Arts Institute Fine Art Academy
Artists: Zhao Leiming, Bao Fusheng, Wang Aiying, Luo Fei, Chen Changwei, Lei Yan, He Libin, Li Ji, Tang Zhigang, Sun Guojuan, Wu Jialin, Cheng Jiankun, Geng Yunsheng, Li Jiankun
Opening: 20:00, July 23, 2004.
Add: TCG Nordica, Xi ba road No.101, Loft,Kunming
Yunnan Beilongda Digital Technology Company
Kunming New Era Trading Company
Kunming Beiyi Image Strategy Company
Kunming Hanyi Cultural Exchange and Advertising Company
Anxiety & Retention
by Mao Xuhui
Following the thought liberation in the 80s and started in the 90s of last century, a tremendous change is happening accompanying the high-speed development of China’s socio-economy. No one can avoid the stress and challenges brought by the collapsing of old values and the booming of new concepts. Art is without exception. Actually, in modern China, art has seldom chances to become a taste with independent development. There have been lots of efforts made in different historic stages to separate art from political or class struggles and end up entangling colors and missions empowered by the age, in which the personal ideals are either drowned in the flood of the age or smashed in the reality. It is hard for art to get rid of the influence or restriction of the age and society. With the changes in politics and international relations come up with the economic development in present China, the mono situation art faced under the strict control of official politics in the 60s and 70s of last century has gradually become a multi development atmosphere more related to the changing market and with more freedom. Art today, on the contrary, touches the problems in the reality in a more dynamic and flexible way; it probes in a sensitive way the important influence brought to people by social changes. Art carries in a relatively independent way the construction of spiritual values and the soul-searching of relations of human and society, human and development and human and environment. In my observation, two points have drawn my notice. First is an anxiety commonly existed towards the rapid changes, which present either as a disturbed mood or a confusing predicament, or even chaos and horror. On the other hand, quite a few artists retain some of the past concepts and moods different from that in present society and keep an attitude of somewhat betrayal. I myself brief them as anxiety and retention. As for the planning and organization of this exhibition of eleven artists and four photographers in Yunnan, my intention is to present the characteristics commonly existed in modern art and to provide visitors a sufficient understanding on modern art.
In a perspective of the two factors of anxiety and retention, some of the works present one of them and others present both. Or it can be said that the two factors are in an interactive way —— some of the retention arouse from anxiety, and some of the anxiety is caused by retention. Todayâ€™s art is an object that can be commented continuously, in which there are more than one possibility for explanation. The only judgment or conclusion has less and less persuasion. Its significance is multiple as the increasingly strong democracy has paint a more colorful luster to the meaning of art. Artistic creation has a personal purpose and preference, however, as it happens in a certain historic stage, the feeling and understanding to it can be traced to a certain life and cultural background. Anxiety and retention is not a unique characteristic of the works in this exhibition. The works in the exhibition are not collected because of this theme; they can be analyzed in other perspectives as well. The selection of the theme for this exhibition comes purely from my personal observation.
Anxiety —— it is a direct non-adaptable reaction to the rapid change, a sensitive state, which includes disturbing in the reality, agitated mood or even horror. Anxiety or arising anxiety is one of the important factors in modern art. Anxiety often reminds me the voice in Screaming of E. Munch, thrilling and despairing, a screaming without response is the destroy of an individual. Anxiety is more directly presented in the works of those young artists. The oil paint of Zhao Leiming, Bao Fusheng and water-ink portrait of Wang Aiying give us an impression of anxiety.
Dream and No title of Zhao Leiming are presentation of his personal state; a series of crazy, yell and thrill are released by scrawling in a way without scruple. Fury mood and punk stands are symbols of the youth in modern society; young artists share the similar experiences in different generations. In a crazy business consuming age, the early yuppied youth loose the rebellions they deserve; the over pursuit of fashion and materials results the lack of normal naive and necessary spiritual flame in a society, so the expressionism is still a spiritual phenomenon worth retaining and advocating, which will always be an enemy of vulgar and commercialization.
In Breath and Suffocation of Bao Fusheng, a face is rapped by white strips unscrupulously without any reason (Breath) and shrouded by plastic-like transparent covering (Suffocation). Life encounters a tremendous misery and is invaded by the outside world and suffering a fatal murdering, who is the murderer? What is it that is so hostile to life and threatens life? The artist gives no answer. The two pieces give people a stressed irresistible feeling of a life-suffocating power.
Biology by Wang Aiying focuses on a certain zone —— the giant jointing part between the expanding city and the countryside —— in a state of mixed dynamics, ambition, chaos and disorder. She boldly uses water-ink material and method to present the facial state of the group living there, the squeezing of strong contrasted colors and the exposed body “dissects” the reddish nerves and nervous muscles under the skin; they are so twisted and ugly that a visual effect created by the artist in a real shocking way. Art somewhat is a creation of inner feelings incapable to relieve; forced by inner and outer pressure, art will go beyond the traditional garden to explore a form related to the present living.
The works of Luo Fei are self-examination in present living in a serious altitude. His behavior work Incidental Death (the work implementation is recorded by video and pictures). A dead man (acted by the artist himself) in white plastic raincoat appeared in some of the places in our daily lives —— at a table in a dinning hall, the stairways of a residential building and suburb railways —— and aroused different reactions of the passerby, in which the measure of humanity was sharply tested and the dominant reactions were disappointed, insensitive and indifferent. Another work of him Puberty has something to do with the urban expansion. In the video, two long shots were used to present the busiest downtown city, contrasted to the dirtiness and chaos in the lateral zones such like jointing part of the city and the countryside. It is actually two unbalanced spheres and the disturbing characteristic of a modern city. This situation is continuing everyday and the distance between the rich and the poverty is expending. The artist expresses his doubt to modern civilization in a brief and stern language. Such kind of doubt has forced him to implement another behavior work more extremely —— he will not use any of the transportation tools to whatever the place he would like to go in the future five years instead of walking. It is an altitude extremely against the modern civilization and the common values. As an undergraduate student, Luo Fei’s inclination in his work is so different from that in the upgrading development. Is it his unfortunate or the unfortunate of the society? It is not easy to answer.
The works of Chen Changwei can be divided into two parts. In Shadow (video), a young man (the artist himself) was walking back and forth on a modern busy and noisy highway. The frame was continuously folded with stimulating shots of violence, sexuality, blood, hot dance, cartoon and daily news. This work expresses directly how the patterns modern civilization be good at confuses people’s brains. Facing these fantastic and confusing frames, what has been felt is more nervousness than pleasure. As a disturbance and violence brought by the output in IT age, it is meanwhile a portrayal of not-know-what-to-do, perplexing and troublesome. His sculpture work Twelve Symbolic Animals for the Present & Previous Incarnation indicates a characteristic of humor and fashion, an utility of resources of ancient civilization and the preference of mysterious games in daily life of modern people —— an interesting joint of traditional values and modern daily life.
Retention —— I often feel worried and result in a kind of anxiety. In modern development at a high speed, loss is happening everyday. It might be a street, a river, a forest, a village, a piece of field, a memory, a language, a lifestyle, a concept, an ideal, a tool, an atmosphere, a city, a factory, a voice or a rhythmâ€¦in general, anything that is a bit aged is facing the loss. It has become a rhythm or necessity —— the price for the development is loss; the faster the development is, the more you lose, which has go far beyond the acceptance of an ordinary person. So nostalgia and retention is a common inner activity. Art as a container with superior sensibility and a tool for releasing inner oppression, artists keep their state of anxiety and retention in their works.
Lei Yan’s pictures Demolition of the Experiment Building recorded truly the change happened in front of her window. It was a normal camera and it took her wholly one year to photograph the course of the demolition of a symbolic building from 1950s and the booming of modern architectures afterwards. The course is just a miniature of this age. I am shocked by the miniature she photographed in a stern and objective perspective. This is a place she has worked for the passed times and scenery in front of her window for so many years. Today, however, everything can be changed within one year. The change in reality is cruel, never taking care personal minds or personal feelings of an ordinary one. The reality has become a stress people should carry; otherwise there is no reason to live at present.
In He Libin’s paint The Folding Scenery, it is another kind of demolition. So far as it concerns for him, his addiction to traditional Chinese water and mountains and the loss of that in modern time has become the root for his anxiety. He is good at using materials and their textures to form a picture of wildness or being destroyed; the rust-spoilt texture folds the classical style of Chinese water and mountains —— a reconstruction of modern version of traditional Chinese water and mountains. There are no high mountains, flowing waters, mist curling-up or calming down to reach a further distance existed; the traditional techniques related to it disappeared as well. However, the real creator of all these is not the artist himself. Like the land tortured by war fire described by Kefer, is an exposure of the bloody history of human being. He sometimes paints a palette on the burnt land and it seems asking a question: whose â€œmasterpieceâ€ is this? During the 2nd World War in his studio in Paris, Picasso pointed his Guernica to the visiting German soldiers and said: â€œThis is your masterpiece!â€ Whose masterpiece is it for the disappearing Chinese water and mountain? This must be a torturing and complex question.
Li Ji’s works are concerning the break of civilization and the separation of men and animals. He has being devoted in the relation between wild animals and modern life. In his oil paint Pet, those endangered friends of men are placed at the same position of a modern fashioned lady, in which a close relation are retained of men, animal, environment, history, humanity, nature of animals and the common natures of both of them as well as a potential anxiety of separation of men and animals. Many short-life behaviors and programs of modern materialism in the name of development have brought problems threatening human survival. Environment pollution, ecological imbalance and spread of diseases have become a part of our modern daily life, which bring lots of worries and crisis in survival. In our modern culture, seldom we can see a truly concern and genuine description of animals. Li Ji’s works as a compensation to that loss, is more important his retaining altitude, a serious warning on one hand, a special sphere he brought to modern art on the other.
Concerning the survival environments and culture (even if those are passed or disappearing), is what Chen Liu wants to pursuit. Slope of Yellowish Earth is just scenery in the suburb of the city he has being lived. However, the clear water and frogs with staring eyes is a picture long time ago, which disappeared in the city he has lived for at least half a century. The quietness and the pure clearness is just an illusion, a painful desire and a retaining of expectation in one’s heart. Such kind of super realistic scenery is just a visual compensation to the lost paradise and the lost times like a passing river. Spirit of the Temple is another retaining altitude of the artist. In the dialogue with the aged sculptures, those part connected with the reality have been found; those arahants with a strong worldly tone seem visually have something to do with those images living beside him, which provides the artist inspiration for creation. The Spirit of the Temple has a charm beyond the time and space. Such kind of feeling is actually a correction of casting aside all the old —— nihilism in our modern society.
Children’s Conference by Tang Zhigang, in a perspective of social life, is a metaphor of the passed political lifestyle, especially those highly politicized times during the Cultural Revolution. Satire on that age does not mean a thorough deny of that age. The nature of collectives and the political tones from that age is still continuing; the songs, vocals and performances are still remained in our social life, only lost their positions in mainstream. Children’s Conference is a platform where a ridiculous farce of power struggle is performed —— a place many people have fantasized with and a nightmare in many people’s survival. Another sphere indicated in this work is disturbance; more evil nature of human will be exposed naturally in a society in scarcity of rations and law. Children’s Conference is a picture of anxiety.
To create with the unforgettable personal experiences is a direction in her art in recent years for Sun Guojuan, which could be said a common characteristics for female art. The nature of female is with more feeling of retention, as they themselves are the land that bears and creates lives. The world becomes tender because of their love —— a quality never being easily given up or in which a beloved can be traded with —— the significance of the female in this world and their irreplaceable values. That is why females are full of anxiety. In her photograph The Returning Country Road Is Such a Long Way, Sun displays her special status and a depression brought by it. So far as I know, she is the only artist with a passport of Korea living in Kunming with all her family members remain in Pyongyang. In her life, there is a mixture of blood of Chinese and Korean. A main symbol for these trio photographs is a typical Korean dress, which is a gift from Chairman of Kim Il Sung at the age of seventeen. Special gift and flower-like times are her experiences full of sunshine. Many years have passed by and there have been too many changes both in China and in Korea. The Korean dress she collected and cherished looks still so colorful in the blue sky in Kunming. It is a sentimental memory of history and youth, as we can see in the picture a maid in Korean dress standing there gracefully, happy and nice.
As the forwarding speed of modern personal feeling experience is so different from that of social development, people can feel at ease and justified only if many aged things are retained. If the past has been blasted at one stroke, people will feel vanity, loss of integrity and spiritual balance. At any time when historical memory is lost, or history is twisted or ignored, people will go to a decline way. Through analysis on many works, I can notice that whatever the radical styles the artists have adopted, in their essence are full of those unchanged sophisticated factors in humanity. It will be nothing but an output of mingling love and hatred, struggling kind and evil, justice and liberty, fantasy and crazy, anxiety and retention. It expresses their ideas about life, retaining human feelings and history in all kinds of patterns you can imagine. This basic quality against a society in which materialism is mobilized will result a betrayal altitude and anxious mood. To my point of view, this kind of relation between art and social could not be more normal. If art looses its stands, is there reason for its existence?
On the other hand, art is a spiritual river that goes from the past. If there were no cross-cultural researches on traditional African sculptures by Picasso and Braque, there could not be the cubism. If Boeys did not abstract nutrition from the aged German culture, its legend, theology, natural science, universal theory from the Renaissance giants of L de Vinci, Goethe and human intelligence study from Steiner, how could the existence of unprecedented radical exaggerated conception of art come into being? The modern art might have stayed beside Dushang’s Urinal in silence. The self-construction and change of art depends on the utility and retention of historic knowledge and traditional culture, otherwise its language is so poor.
The photographs in this exhibition have provided us a more direct and persuasive background for the reality —— a quality and basic function that is retained since the birth of photography. These works have a power of truth recording, focusing at the changes in cities; a pure black-and-white language is used to disclose the course of demolition and construction —— a sphere most commonly seen in this age —— and people’s state in this situation. With a symbolic characteristic in them, they will become precious memory on history in this developing age at a high speed.
Wu Jialin’s Chitchat retains a peaceful living environment of ordinary residence in cities that is actually a disappeared lifestyle. Today’s residence live in one another newly established mono tedious residential areas; living condition change results in upgrading of lifestyle. His Fashion Models in Miao’s Village is a direct contrast of the lifestyles of fashion and the past. Fashion here is not contradicted to the past, but a new harmony. In his sensitive shot, the artist has provided us a hope (at least in pictures) that past exists at the same place and merges with modern.
Barber’s Shop and Sewing Machine of Cheng Jiankun are retention of a past lifestyle of ordinary people, a lifestyle we all lived not long time ago or in our childhood. It has been replaced by other forms in the cities we are living except in those areas near the cities or in countryside. His works bring us back to the situation we have been so familiar with.
In the modern cities we are living, demolition is something we are always familiar with. Geng Yunsheng’s lens records specifically the course of tearing-down of those streets and aged houses we can identify with. His stern shots are an indelible memory of this city. The more such memories we have, the more signs we will have.
Li Jiankun’s pictures are views of modern city. Those buildings and views of fashioned streets constructed on the same former place have totally buried the past. Fashioned ladies, new transportation tools and buildings without any identity are a miniature in China’s cities. In recently twenty years, such pattern without any local identity have covered all over China and changed the history in a tremendous speed. It seems Chinese do not have a custom to remain historical cities. Our common concept on development is to destroy the old and establish the new; a new life seems not begin only if the past has disappeared. To understand such a rhythm might be helpful to understand the pressing altitude of a developing county on its way of modernization.
I sometimes feel lucky that art today remains a different measure of values from that of the social reality. What being remained is the memories of the past and indelible expectations in our hearts. Never the less the true anxiety and retention is an indispensable spiritual property in this society. Without them, whatever developments at how fast the speed we obtain would never fill the accompanied scarcity in spirit, the disappointed vanity and helpless feelings scattering among people.