By Andrea Ryan
Six accomplished Chinese artists from the Beijing Studio Center are visiting New York City and Art Farm Nebraska this summer to develop an artist residency exchange program between the two countries. The artists’ latest work is an intriguing indication of how an East-West cultural dialogue would invigorate contemporary art-making.
Zheng Xuewu, founder of the Beijing Studio Center, has exhibited extensively both here and abroad. For his recent “Century Text” project, he rolled, pressed, and treated 120,000 daily newspapers from all over the world to create as many bamboo reed-like rolls. The rolls were knitted together into 80 larger rolls, suggestive of the bamboo books of China’s Spring and Autumn period associated with Confucius. The work’s formal sensibility “quiets” the drone of the dailies, allowing the work to dialogue with traditional culture. Recently, Xuewu has begun pairing his “century texts” with iconic works of both Eastern and Western art to dramatic effect.
Sunbai Jun creates abstract ink wash paintings using traditional Chinese ink mixed with white pigment or acrylic along with color washes on Xuan paper. His experiments with merging traditional Eastern and Western media yields a rich variety of “motley” washes and fine alterations in the accumulation of particulate matter on the surface of his works. Sunbai Jun’s trains his materials on marks he calls “corroded circles” arrayed in a disorderly linear matrix. The swirling densities of the marks echo the irregular accumulation of pigment at a different level of resolution. Sunbai Jun has exhibited widely in China and Australia.
WeiBo Xu uses the material of language, specifically Chinese characters, for his two- and three-dimensional work. His “movable type” series includes scrolls pressed between a grid of hand-carved, woodblock typeface of Chinese characters. The resulting cubic forms are bound with leather straps and portable. At Art Farm, Weibo Xu re-figured the ancient Chinese tradition of bamboo books by cutting, drying and sanding local reeds and asking each artist in residence to write on the reeds about their experience at Art Farm. “Reed Grass Book,” an array of approximately 40 reeds, loosely suggests Smithson’s “Heap of Language” yet the subtle ordering of both the reeds and the handwritten letters mines the rhythms in the heap.
TongXu Wang’s recent photography creates smart, visual dialogues between icons of China and the U.S. In the series, “Moments of Dislocation,” each photograph is composed of a folded back page of a Chinese magazine alongside an American counterpart, allowing the images on the page to “dialogue” with one another. The placement of the folds varies to referee the ensuing dialogue. Bruce Willis stands shoulder to shoulder with Chairman Mao. Zhou Enlai gazes glowingly at a young American Olympic winner. Chairman Mao, holding up the national emblem of China, looks to Bill Clinton who is convulsed in laughter, his arm around Hilary, who lovingly at her husband. Salient political commentary is captured in these images, running circles around our bankrupt political discourse.
Mu Ke creates complex surfaces on small round or oval canvases. The titles of several recent bodies of work highlight the interest in the atmospheric: “Future Meteorological,” “Natural Dialogue with Air Flow” and “Changes in the Weather of the Universe.” The work recalls Turner’s late paintings, where the vast skies of Turner’s landscape paintings were apotheosized into an atmosphere of dense, spiritualized color. For Mu Ke, the natural elements of his titles are metaphors for inner landscapes and the canvases are correspondingly more intimate in size. He describes his work as “putting the lives of emotions into images.” Ten of his paintings represented China at the 2012 Cultural Olympics in London earlier this year.
ZhanChi Song is a figurative painter whose work merges elements from Eastern and Western modes of representation. In the recent “stroll” series, four figures dance against a variety of landscapes as diverse as a Buddhist-inspired tapestry, a quiet shoreline, and the interior of a movie theater. The ethnicity, gender, dress and gestures of the figures vary but the grouping persists, each is led by a Pied Piper of sorts, though his instrument varies as well. At Art Farm, ZhanChi Song is painting on thin paper over old wooden boards to reveal the grain of the wood in paint. These wood grain paintings form the basis for new landscape paintings, long and thin, with the wood grain variously evoking clouds, wind, and waves. Small objects such as a feather or a farmhouse are drawn into the horizon and establish scale. The metaphorical equivalences between the natural elements in these paintings evinces a spiritual dimension to his work which is elsewhere evident in the cycle of paintings he created for a Buddhist temple in China.