Learning from the Literati 4

: Artist Statements

September 14th, 2013 - October 29th, 2013

Chai Yiming: "Journey to the West, Nos 1 and 2,” ink on paper, 161 x 35 cm, 2009

The name of the work is "Journey to the West," but could equally be called “Fairy Dream,” because there are so many images. I draw daydreams, the kind of dreams that happen when your eyes are open.

One of my intentions in painting is to bring new ideas to the audience. I only provide ideas, and leave the rest to the audience. At the beginning, I have no idea how a painting will turn out, as the way I paint is very adventurous and random. The shapes I paint lend themselves to various different associations. To some extent, what I paint is like ukiyo-e, which encompasses a wide variety of subject matter. Some of the characters in the paintings are transparent people, who find themselves within various forms of time travel.

Chinese paintings are not “viewed” but rather “read,” like reading a book. My works need to be read closely otherwise they seem chaotic. Some elements in the picture are employed to confuse the audience. I want those viewing my works to enter into the painting — to take part in the game.
I paint in a state of chaos, combining Western and Eastern religious elements of time and space, the present and past. West and East are interwoven.

My works begin at one point and meander in different directions. The human brain is always a mess,especially in modern society. We are have an urge to see a movie, and then later I want to go eat French fries. My works reflect myself, a chaotic person.

My work blends together a variety of techniques: coarse and fine brushwork, double hook calligraphy, straight lines and scattered lines and painting without an outline. Usually people do not combine so many different techniques. Qi Baishi used to paint green vegetables and worms, rendering the former with a big swath of color, and painting the latter in a delicate way. However he only combines two types of painting styles in a realistic fashion. My works are mixed.
My compositions are very casual, giving them a feeling of free expansion. At first a painting appears abnormal, before I coax it to slowly return to being normal. This is not unlike some people who look normal, but expose their true temperament when they start to talk. I just disguise my painting in a cloak of normalcy.

While I paint, I often change the direction of the paper in the aim of convenience, and never use a fixed mode of thinking. I prefer an open working method, as a fixed method would be boring.
I create the works in two steps. First, I draw on a large piece of paper, then I cut up the painting, put the pieces back together and reorganize it. After a while, when I’m inspired, I come back to the paintings and work on them again.


The literati sat under trees, the resin of which made even their hair sticky with wisdom, or so we see fit to believe. Through the lineages of sticky-haired disciples, these disciples became teachers and in turn taught their disciples, continuing the cycle, though sometimes they changed their minds and ran away in a frantic rush. They sat under more trees, dipped their brushes in ink, and caressed their long beards pensively. They grew their nails, and on and on for centuries of weeks, all the way to this gallery and the resin on its concrete floor, truth was passed to us. We now hold our elbows in the palm of our hands and speculate on its value for a few minutes.

As with previous work, my interest lies in forms of communication and their shortcomings, on the way particles of truth are shed and lost as this is passed from one another and from here to there and back, and on how truth is not a chair and if we try to sit on it we’ll just fall onto our ass on a merciless floor.

Li Haifeng: “Rockery,” pencil drawing on paper, 175 × 75 × 4 cm, 2011

The rockery, as an element of the garden, acts as a symbol of the long-held human ambition to return to nature. But this long-held ambition has morphed into a kind of “knock-off” or shanzhai culture. The plastic bags floating in the rockery create a contrast of strength and weakness, but also complement the balance of the work. The bag is not only a product of modern civilization but also a portrayal of modern civilization. We don't know what's in the plastic bag, and this creates a curiosity, a sense of fantasy, which stimulates an impulse to open it.

Li Xiaofei: “A Packet of Salt,” audio, color, HD, PAL, 07'23'', Chinese, English subtitles, 2013

Salt — a necessity for everyone — is often ignored by most people. It is frequently overlooked, as a part of the whole meal, an element to which people don’t give much thought. It is hidden behind the food, hidden within it. It has trouble attracting our attention, and it wouldn’t be counted amongst the spiritual necessities of mankind. Only occasionally when salt runs out, do people say: “Oh, it’s time to buy some salt.” Then we find "a packet of salt."

The process of making and transporting the salt, the producers, people and factory either have something or nothing to do with it. Under the bleaching rays of the sun, in the silence of the lense, people slowly approach and pass by the camera, without saying a word.

Monika Lin: "The Exemplars," woodcut, 1 of an edition of 20, 24 x 22 cm, 2013

“The 24 Exemplars of Filial Piety” are a group of tales compiled by Yuan Dynasty scholar Guo Jujing. The tales were used as a means of teaching children the importance of filial piety. They range from the son who feels the pain of his mother’s bitten finger from miles away to the son who sits quietly by his parents’ bed drawing the mosquitoes to drink his blood instead of theirs, so as not to disturb their sleep. These tales had great impact on past generations, but attitudes and practices regarding family life have shifted in more recent generations due in part to urbanization and population migration, and the independent attitude of the new generation in regards to traditional notions of “family.”

On July 1st of this year, a new law was passed to address the reality of children moving away from the family home and community — leaving a growing population of elderly without proper care or frequent family interaction. The law, called “Protection of the Rights and Interests of Elderly People,” has nine clauses that lay out the duties of children and their obligation to tend to the “spiritual needs of the elderly.” Although a real and growing problem exists within the aging communities in China, family estrangements have many layers and causes. Compelling individuals to travel great distances at significant cost or during the crowded official holidays (acknowledged as the largest human migration in the world every year), can be a burden some will not be able to manage. Estrangements due to family discord or abuses would not be excused. Then there are those that find ways around the law. Already there are entrepreneurs offering their services to visit in the stead of offspring. A loop-hole has already sprung up, declaring the substitution of a paid visitor an acceptable stand-in for the child.

Ouyang Wendong: “A De-materialized Sculpture, Nos 1 and 2,” installation, Chinese eaglewood, sandalwood, Benzoin sand, aluminum, dimensions variable, 2013

After the Enlightenment, people began to question the idea of marble and wood as symbols of immutability. This is a problem that art museums will face in the future and stimulates introspection on the question of the artist as an individual. With this question, Cezanne began to deconstruct painting as a medium; Duchamp used a urinal to raise questions; Boyce directly expressed the inner spirit of sculpture through the vehicle of the human body. And the torrent of creativity unleashed by the minds of creative individuals up until today has resulted in a number of excellent works — especially today with the endless production of surprises. But in this boundless expression, in this “everyone is an artist” era, artists are limited by their own religious sentiments, philosophical ideas, market mechanisms, and so the artist is lost and the public is lost as well.

This is something we must first reflect upon. However, if we regard the current chaos as a product of the long history of contemporary art practice spanning thousands of years, we can liken it to the words of child, in need of correction. Problems will be easily solved, since children eventually will grow up. From Hegel’s “Lectures on Aesthetics” to Danto’s “end of art theory” it all seems like preaching to the choir.

If the root of art is to serve and disturb, or to disturb us and express abstract ideas, then it can only become a “walking corpse” something of negligible value.

To take the “materiality” out of the sculpture or de-materialize it, we weaken the habitual aesthetics of the object in order to learn to different points of view — looking both outward and inward. The only way is for the artist to put down the harness which limits his thoughts and his abilities, and for the public to lay down their reliance on habitual aesthetics — then art can have a powerful effect on every one.

Wei Qingji: “Landscape,” ink and mixed media on rice paper, 70× 136cm, 2009

Ink is not an expression of identity, it is not a weapon of soft power, it is my own choice to use this media as a means of expression. I like to use it and am good at taking advantage of this media and it’s flexible nature and the limitless possibilities of painting language expression.

Simultaneously, I tend to endow my works with a new humanistic spirit, resulting in the works becoming an open space haunted by my various experiences, feelings, thoughts, and memories. What is implicated in the suspenseful, pan-religious situations are perhaps new imaginings, personal passions, the subconscious, historical traces, religious mystery, and of course, sexuality and temptation.

Most of my paintings are concerned with memories or everyday life. I’m interested in exploring the relationship between the traditional and the contemporary, in finding out what traditions have endured and in what forms they exist in us today. I believe that tradition and spiritual fluidity can keep our memories coherent, and are thus indispensable in maintaining the vitality of our culture. It can remain as something recognizable, while at the same time ensuring the constant transformation of our culture. Certainly, we can never return to the past, nor express ourselves in the same way as before. I’m dedicated to making traditional media express new voices, and relating both images and ideas to our everyday experiences.

My interest in the relationship between the traditional and the contemporary may be vague and ambiguous, but it is in this vagueness and ambiguity wherein lies its charm. It is of little importance whether this relationship is seen as a kind of connection or betrayal. Instead of clarifying explicitly I’m just trying to contribute a neutral view, to prevent my narration from falling into a new kind of discursive hegemony. The painting technique that I have been practicing is in fact my current cultural standpoint: that is, not aiming at being faster or newer.

Wu Jian’an (Andy Mo): “Bamboo Grove,” charcoal and pencil on paper, 79 x 110 cm, 2011

For a long time literati have been painting bamboo, but the question I am interested in is how to reinterpret the relationship between bamboo and literati in a contemporary context. Once while passing by a newly-built neighborhood in Beijing, I chanced upon a gardener fixing brackets on newly planted bamboo. I was moved by the fact that he was still using bamboo. This juxtaposition reflects the current state of urban life, plagued by crazy construction. Tall buildings spring up like mushrooms. Planting several bamboo trees in the clearing between buildings, and spreading a few flowers and plants through the grounds turns the place into a so-called "natural" space. A friend of mine who is an architect said the reason why we can no longer paint Song and Yuan Dynasty landscapes is that we are too far removed from the natural. I think we’ve not only left behind only a bamboo forest and a few flowers and plants, what we are missing is the spirit of Chinese traditional literati.

Xu Zhifeng: “Concrete Bonsai,” mixed media, pomegranate, soil, ferrocement and concrete, concrete base size: 34 x 17 x 8.5cm, bonsai size excl. concrete base: 30 x 40 x 30cm, 2013

In terms of bonsais I prefer the “landscapes” without “flowerpots.” The urban landscapes we see around us have no pot. Our desire for nature involves the redefinition and human sculpting of nature. The trees planted along the sidewalk and the overhanging baskets of plants on the elevated roads are the source of inspiration for this work. "Concrete Bonsai " challenges this cycle of bondage and liberation.

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