This exhibition brings together works by eight Chinese artists who respond to the complexities of the written Chinese language. Whether exposed at an early age to the practice of calligraphy or simply conversant with its basic premises, none of the artists here, with the exception of Gu Wenda, work in the traditional medium of ink and brush on paper.
“This art may be seen as a comment on both the evanescence of life and the constraints of living in China…”
Gu Wedna, Yang Jiechang, Wang Tiande, Qui Zhijie, Feng Mengbo, Song Dong, Cui Fei, and Hong Lei, Characters. Installation view. Courtesy of Chambers Fine Art.
Author: Chambers Fine Art
This exhibition brings together works by eight Chinese artists who respond to the complexities of the written Chinese language. Whether exposed at an early age to the practice of calligraphy or simply conversant with its basic premises, none of the artists here, with the exception of Gu Wenda, work in the traditional medium of ink and brush on paper. Instead, we find calligraphy on silk and canvas supplemented with video (Yang Jiechang), burnt into xuan paper (Wang Tiande), executed by flashlight (Qiu Zhijie), reduced to one bit form and silkscreened on panel (Feng Mengbo), created from grape tendrils and photographed (Cui Fei), and, finally, painted in water on stone (Song Dong). For the most part the artists’ emphasis is on form rather than content and on unorthodox methods of execution. Qiu Zhijie, chose to write in reverse and from left to right rather than from right to left and top to bottom as is normally the case. Hong Lei uses ink not to write or depict a mountainous landscape but to create a miniature, three-dimensional mountain.
Gu Wenda, Yang Jiechang and Wang Tiande have all been conversant with ink painting and calligraphy from an early age and have developed practices that refer in strikingly different ways to the traditional understanding of this quintessential Chinese form of expression. In his extensive Pseudo-Character series (1983-87), Gu deprived characters of their meaning by reversing the order of the component parts, executing them upside down, for example. Yang Jiechang chose to explore the character of the medium itself in his Layers of Ink series, but has also produced a number of calligraphic works in which, as in I Often do Bad Things, he often uses banal statements and sometimes writes in English. Wang Tiande adopts a more nuanced approach. In the ongoing Digital series, he continues to develop a technique he discovered by accident when burning ash from a cigarette fell on a sheet of rice paper creating forms that resembled Chinese characters and landscape forms. Typically, a landscape or calligraphic inscription executed in ink on paper and representative of tradition is covered with a sheet of translucent xuan paper into which forms reminiscent of the under-painting are burned. Glimpses of tradition can be seen through Tiande’s contemporary scrim.
Qiu Zhijie and Feng Mengbo are strongly attracted to classical Chinese culture as seen from different perspectives. Qiu is a gifted calligrapher who likes to explore unconventional methods. In a series of calli-photographs, he combines two of his principal interests, photography and calligraphy created by the deft use of a flashlight instead of a brush. He wrote in reverse order to create legible images in the photographic prints. After pursuing what Feng Mengbo, China’s foremost new media artist, once referred to as “a decade-long romance with the computer,” the artist has recently returned to painting. For the Yi Bite paintings dating from 2010, Feng Mengbo turned to images from the Jieziyuan Huazhuan (The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting) and randomly selected groups of characters from Buddhist texts. Reduced to one-bit form-the smallest amount of information possible for a computer image-and silkscreened onto wooden panels covered with silver leaf, these harsh black forms contrast in every respect with their source of inspiration.
Of these artists, Cui Fei and Song Dong owe the least to traditional calligraphy. Cui works with twigs and thorns and Song Dong, although he uses a brush, does not use ink. Cui’s work encompasses painting, photography, and installations, but unites them all in a deep love of nature that she finds in materials such as “tendrils, leaves and thorns composing a manuscript symbolizing the voiceless messages in nature that are waiting to be discovered and to be heard.” For Song Dong, calligraphy is a private activity that does not result in tangible results capable of being admired by connoisseurs. In his celebrated Water Diary (1995-present), he commits his most intimate thoughts to water on stone on a daily basis. Recorded only in photographic form, Song Dong’s extended calligraphic practice may be seen as a comment on both the evanescence of life (a classic Buddhist theme) and the constraints of living in China where privacy is in short supply and committing thoughts to paper can be a dangerous activity.
Song Dong practices calligraphy without using ink. Hong Lei, on the other hand, uses ink as a sculptural material without diluting it or using a brush. In his he uses ink to create a miniature mountain, a discreet homage to the material used by Chinese painters and calligraphers from the earliest times until today.