薛滔的形式实验

薛滔作品《同胞》,2011年

薛滔作品《同胞》,2011年

薛滔的形式实验

文/罗菲

2000年后,实验艺术在云南的发展有两个重要节点,一个是2001年创库艺术社区在西坝路101号的成立,该社区由艺术家和艺术机构自发组织成立,成为中国最早的艺术社区之一。作为昆明的艺术文化中心,它极大促进了本地艺术家们的群体实验,本地艺术家与国际艺术家的协作以及艺术界与公众的交流。另一个是2005年至2006年的“江湖”系列艺术活动,该项目聚集了各地实验艺术家,以极其活跃的方式在各类场所开展艺术现场,融入大量民间娱乐和游戏精神,发展出极具市井气息和庆祝美学的先锋派样式。这两个节点都见证着本土艺术家们在实验精神上的自觉推进,为中国当代艺术的发生、发展提供了独特的考察价值。

创库初期是云南艺术家群体实验的首次集中爆发期,其中群展“体检”(2002)、“羊来了”(2002)和“影子”(2003)将本土70后艺术家的整体面貌向公众充分展现。随后他们以群体方式出现在上海、北京等地,云南新生代的艺术力量由此得到迅猛发展。薛滔作为这时期成长起来的实验艺术家、活动组织人,产生了非常重要的推动作用。

薛滔1975年生于云南大理,1994年在大理创办“红心社”艺术家群体,2005年在北京创建“候鸟天空”艺术空间,推动云南艺术家与各地的联络。2012年他从北京回到昆明,积极投入到推介本地新兴艺术家的工作中,为他们策划展览,撰写文章。作为活动组织人、策划人、联络人,他为云南艺术家所作的贡献已广为所知。

这里要来讨论下身为实验艺术家的薛滔。作为艺术家,他自2000年以来始终采用报纸创作装置作品,其作品具有简练明朗的形式和厚重感,为报纸赋予了特别的陌生效果,我想这是艺术家在形式方面努力的结果。因此从形式实验的角度看,薛滔至少在三个层面展开了探索:有关时间的形式,有关能量的形式以及有关语言的形式。

首先看有关时间的形式。报纸作为发布信息,传播思想的媒体在全面进入数字时代的今天已日渐式微。在今天,信息发布与传播变得越来越自由,信息流的发生越加密集,以致难以留下可触摸可嗅到的信息本身:油墨里的文字与图像。报纸作为传统工业社会的三大媒介之一(另外两样是电视和广播),它是唯一使得信息可直观存留于时空中的媒介,这个社会所发生、宣传和思考的一切如确凿证据登记在报。薛滔的创作,正是对这些信息的证据进行重新塑造,将报纸拧成绳状,再根据不同的结构搭建、堆积成不同的物体,如“椅子”、“挂毯”、“核”、“柱”、“帐篷”、“鼎”等。这些物体并不具备实用性,并且随着时间的推移,它们会变得越加脆弱、泛黄、褪色甚至受到损毁。这些作品的物理生命及其刊登的信息将渐渐衰老,这是薛滔作品的时间性特质,是一种有关时间的形式实验。在这种形式面前,观众会产生一种有关“过去”的意识,有关“旧”的意识,有关“消亡”的意识。在数字时代,信息从不老去,也不会被损毁,只会下沉,所以才需要人们不断点赞。在薛滔的实验中,时间的形式在报纸这样有限的媒介上被充分证实其存在,以此唤起观众对物质世界“永远不变”的期盼。

薛滔通过长时间繁重密集的手工劳作,把报纸拧成捆,用铁丝铁架搭建框架,再将拧好的报纸牢牢包裹在结构上面。这种方式克服了观念艺术中那种简单挪用的智力游戏,他秉承了艺术这一古老行业中对双手的颂赞传统。这是艺术家区别于哲学家、科学家等其他角色的根本性体现:用双手制造形式及其意义。这在多位云南实验艺术家身上都有所体现,如和丽斌、张华、孙国娟、雷燕、苏亚碧等,他们注重双手对材料的塑造和双手留下的情感痕迹。薛滔双手对废旧报纸的处理方式也为平凡物赋予了一种恒定的能量,他对报纸的拧与捏,以至他的情感、意志都被双手塑造于作品的体感之中,这即是人们常说的有体温的作品,也是薛滔作品打动人的地方,犹如表现主义绘画留下的笔触。我认为这也是薛滔作品最独特也最有难度的地方:如何始终保留双手的能量在作品上?使那些本来就会变形脆弱的报纸不会因时间而减弱,这比绘画更难,因为绘画作为能量的痕迹已经在那里,而薛滔的装置是要想办法留住最初的那种能量。它有时更像雕塑,给人一种恒定的存在感。我认为他主要是通过对单件作品的结构处理以及空间展示方式上的处理,来唤起视觉上恒定的能量感。犹如极简主义大师封塔纳(Lucio Fontana)在画布上切割的那一刀,半个多世纪过去,仿佛作者刚刚撒手离去,画布始终饱满地绽放在那里。因此,如何用双手为平凡废旧物赋予一种恒定的能量,这是薛滔对能量的形式实验。

薛滔的学艺经历在70后艺术家中也具有代表性,他从传统学院艺术起步,学习色彩与造型,然后用现代主义理念与方法进行创作,之后进入全球化情境中的当代艺术,用个人化语言表达全球化语境中的艺术关切。薛滔的创作,从2000年至今,也呈现出这样一种从现代主义艺术向当代艺术的转向,从做一个《太阳》(2002)到做《一捆》(2008),即从再现/表现能力向个人语言能力的转向,从“像一个物体”到“是一个物体”的转向,从“像一件艺术品”到“是一件艺术品”的转向。由此,薛滔的艺术语言走得越加开放和个人化,以致近期多件作品不再是传统意义上的雕塑或者装置,而是一次次观念行动的结果,如每天撕碎报纸的《如来神掌》(2013)和舂出来的《国情咨文》(2012)。通过对语言的形式实验,薛滔扩展了自己的方法论,材料的可能性,观念和形式的力度,其成果令人赞叹。

薛滔的艺术不止在形式实验上下功夫,在精神性(spirituality)、观念性、社会性和展示方式等层面也值得我们作进一步考察。这里之所以对形式实验稍加阐述,是因为中国当代艺术自上世纪九十年代以来,对现实问题的关注大过对形式问题的关注。并非对现实的介入比形式实验更次要(有时甚至更急迫),但我认为艺术的核心任务仍旧是对形式的更新,形式更新能让艺术对现实的介入变得更加敏感而锋锐。正因为此,薛滔的形式实验十分难能可贵。

薛滔作为2000年后云南重要的策展人和艺术家,从他那里我们可以窥探到中国当代艺术发展的独特境遇,本土当代艺术的活力以及作为艺术家的智慧与信念。

我把薛滔放在“云南当代艺术”的叙事逻辑里来介绍,不是因为他只是一位在云南活跃的艺术家和策展人,更不是因为他的作品有何种典型的云南特色,他的形式实验早已突破这些藩篱,他的作品早已在国内外重要双年展和艺博会上被介绍。正因为他多年在北京生活工作以及在国际上的展览经历,才促使我思考,他和那些有类似经历的艺术家会如何把外界的生存经验、文化碰撞和艺术探索带回到云南本土?他们的本土经验又如何被带入到全球化的当代艺术实践中?我看到,像薛滔这样的艺术家和他的同仁们,通过艺术实验、策划与写作,正在推动一轮地域性当代艺术的自主叙事,这将是中国当代艺术接下来十年甚至更长时间被关注的理由。

2014年6月29日

 

《艺术的终结之后》读书笔记(一)

安迪·沃霍尔“布里洛盒子”,摄于瑞典现代美术馆

安迪·沃霍尔“布里洛盒子”,摄于瑞典现代美术馆

艺术终结之后 读书笔记(一)

【按】前段时间一篇访谈小范围激起了云南青年艺术家们的讨论,大家看到近些年的艺术现象,当代艺术在云南呈回落态势,不再有明显的探索性实验性的“宏大叙事”。05年-06年“江湖”之后,随着艺术家的出走或转型,云南当代艺术的火焰渐渐熄灭下来。并看到更多以审美体验为根本诉求的创作(比如风景),而非思想观念的革新推进。我将近期阅读的16年前阿瑟·C·丹托在艺术哲学方面的重要著名《艺术的终结之后》,摘录部分与大家分享,一起思考我们所创作的艺术。这是一部比较激进的著作,但作者为我们提供了一个比较清晰的历史线索和界限划分。

序言部分

假定我扛着一把雪铲回到历史中,我可以解释它用来铲雪多么有用,这容易被理解,但是如果我扛了两把雪铲回到历史中——一个是现成品,另一把仅仅是一把铲子——他们会发现很难看出它们之间有什么差异。

我们已经真正地进入了一个多元主义的时期。不存在一个正确的创作艺术的方式。

艺术体制急剧变化,我们已经进入“后历史”时期出现的极端多元主义。例如,在美术学院里,技能不再被教授。学生一上来就被看作艺术家,教师在那里只是帮助学生实现他们的创意。这种态度就是学生可以学习任何他需要的东西,为的是创作他想要创作的东西。……在高级的美术学院,学生有他们自己的工作室,教授们也是艺术家,定期来观摩,看一看正在做什么,给出一些指导。……数以千计的博物馆修建起来,但不是展出那些“经受了时间考验”的珍宝,而是展出当下正在做的事情。……艺术家到处旅游,他们变得国际化。……艺术世界自身已经没有中心,人们会说,中心到处都是。

【评注】去年夏天在瑞典皇家美术学院短暂拜访,做讲座。学院规模看上去只当中国的一家小型私立小学。但每个学生自己选自己的工作室,一个人一间,然后根据自己创作需要去找老师,丝网印刷、油画或者录像、互媒体。约瑟夫说,皇家美院每年有一千人报考,只招二十人,他考皇家美院好几年了,都没过。这次做完“圣愚”个展,它准备带着展览资料去申请,希望能过。而这正是文中提到的模式,学生一上来首先是艺术家,教授也都是艺术家。在诺地卡有好些瑞典中学生都做过个展,他们高中毕业后做段时间艺术家,然后抱着资料回去考美院。美院不是看你的技能,而是你的观念。

同样,在北欧,各类博物馆都开设了当代艺术展览空间,比如我们“桥梁II”的两处展馆,乌普萨拉市立博物馆以及一位已故当地艺术家的故居博物馆,两处除了永久展出那些藏品外,都在近年开设了当代艺术展区。

多元主义意味着人们可以仍然是传统艺术家,但只是作为一种选择。 Continue reading

薛滔访谈:当代艺术在云南

艺术家薛滔

艺术家薛滔,摄影:罗菲

薛滔访谈:当代艺术在云南

时间:2012年12月27日下午
地点:昆明创库
罗菲:TCG诺地卡画廊策展人
薛滔:艺术家
和丽斌:艺术家、策展人、云南艺术学院美术学院油画系主任

一、从云南出发

罗:你是云南最早做非架上艺术的艺术家之一, 1994年在大理创办红心社,2005年在北京创建“候鸟天空”艺术空间,一直推动云南艺术家与外界的联络,见证了云南 70后艺术家的整体起步到发展。请介绍下当时发起红星社的状况。

薛:我1989年进入画室学画画,那时在读初一,1994年高中毕业考大学。我们之前在画室一起学画画的人,大多数毕业后就结婚生子,没搞艺术了。那时不像现在,突击三个月考美术,那时考四五年都很正常。我觉得那么努力考艺术,最后没有坚持下去太可惜了,喜欢的东西应该坚持。兰庆伦、段义松、石志民等,我们组成一个社团。当时还不知道八五新潮 ,只是从杂志上看过伤痕美术 。都是大理的艺术青年,作为一个社团主要是为了帮助大家把这个爱好继续下去,定期做活动、展览、交流,但没有明确创作方向。1997年后成员就多了,苏亚碧、刘琨他们加入进来。当时昆明除了美协的展览,其他展览一个也没有。我们1997年第一次做展览,2000年第二次展览在云南艺术学院美术馆,陈长伟他们加入进来。后来每两年有一次,以双年展的方式,也是受当时双年展模式的影响。

罗:05年做了“候鸟天空”艺术空间,这个还在吗?

薛:2002年后昆明的展览就多了,尤其是有了创库以后。2003年和向卫星他们一起做“影子”新媒体展,当时你也过来帮忙。然后在红香蕉画廊、诺地卡展过“羊来了”。2003年我们去上海参加春季艺术沙龙,做了一个“高原反应”的展览,2004年在上海多伦美术馆做了“紫外线”展览。当时中国有一种萌动,艺术家都在积极活动。因为中国艺术界经历八五思潮,再到“后89” ,之后就黯淡了。1990年代到2000年是沉寂的状态,2000年之后突然有一种力量在爆发。陈长伟、和丽斌、和嘉我们当时在上海停留很长时间,和各地艺术家接触。人的激情一旦打开就收不住了,大家都有一股冲动,感觉到中国艺术界即将发生大事,但不知道是什么。
2004年我与和嘉去了北京,在通县滨河小区,那是圆明园画家村解散之后的一个聚集地。当时圆明园的画家一部分被遣送回原籍,一部分有钱的去宋庄买房,还有一部分搬到通县滨河小区。何云昌当时在那里,艳俗艺术的主要成员都在那里。可我想,我干嘛来这里,如果我为了过小区生活,我在昆明就可以过得很好,有工资,有保险,我辞职来北京不是为了这个。后来就去到索家村弄一个空间,是云南艺术家集资做的一个空间,就是“候鸟天空”,想在北京做一个云南的窗口。
成立半年之后,索家村就开始拆房子了,市领导整顿市容,拆违章建筑,索家村就属于此列。我刚刚辞掉工作,借了钱来做艺术空间,结果才开始就面临悲剧。后来拆迁队来了,大家都还在睡觉,听到轰隆隆来拆房子。法院、法警、城管、警察、大型挖掘机把我们全部围起来。 Continue reading

“四季.春天”云南女性艺术展

这是本周五即将在创库开幕的展览,欢迎大伙儿前来参观!

“四季·春天”云南女性艺术展

【展览信息】
主办人: 毛迪
策展人: 孙国娟
艺术总监: 雷燕
学术主持: 张光华
参展艺术家: 白雪娟, 白薇, 陈玲洁, 陈弈伟, 费敏, 费雪梅, 管赛梅, 郭俊秀, 姜静, 吉燕飞, 雷燕, 刘丽芬, 刘晶晶, 陇艺梅,李竞飞, 李双玲, 茅以芸, 马丹, 普艳, 普华仙,裴梓烨, 苏娅碧, 宋梓萍, 孙瑾, 孙和林, 屠潇, 王涵, 王爱英, 王钰清, 王海琳, 武妍希,叶松青, 杨文萍, 杨雁楸, 杨丽花, 玛丽安娜·萨基Marianne Csaky (匈牙利), 玛丽安 Marjan Verhaeghe (比利时)

承办 云南嘉利传媒有限公司,云南信息港房网频道,云南当代艺术网络社区
合作: TCG诺地卡画廊, 井品画廊
开幕酒会:2010年3月5日,20:00
展期:2010年3月5日–3月31日
展览地点:昆明创库TCG诺地卡画廊,井品画廊
电话:0871-4114691, 4114692, 4181088
网址:www.tcgnordica.com

【展览推介】

春天是万物吐纳希望、抖擞精神的美丽时节,此时总有令人振奋的消息传来。2010年的新春伊始,云南的女性艺术家群体首当其冲,用一场精彩的视觉盛宴揭开云南当代艺术的又一个嘉年华。由云南的35位女性艺术家和来自国外的2位女性艺术家联合举办的“四季·春天”云南女性艺术展,3月5日晚八点在位于西坝路101号的创库艺术主题社区内的TCG诺地卡画廊和井品画廊同时开幕,展览将开放至3月31日。

一直以来,“边缘”是云南当代艺术语境中的核心问题,对云南的艺术家尤其是女性艺术家来说,边缘就意味着需要克服更多的“艰难”,需要付出更多的“坚持”。云南的女性艺术家做到了,她们就像苦争春的桃李一样,在寒冷又漫长的冬季里仍然保持着创造力和战斗力,在无枝无叶的外表里面做着开花、结果的准备,当第一缕春风掠过的时候砰然绽放。这种绽放并非孤芳自赏,而是女性艺术群体单纯的生活方式和朴素的价值体系的互勉互励,是女性追求自由、平等精神的广泛传播。在她们的作品中,观众既可以读出花草什物中蕴含的浪漫主义的细腻情感;又可以读出她们从政治、审美、历史和心理分析的多重维度阐释生活的复杂尝试。“四季”这个由云南女性艺术家孙国娟发起策划筹备的云南女性艺术展事项目,从2009年的“冬”展到2010年的“春天”展,已成功举办了两季,它仍将继续。我们相信有着自发且强大生命力的云南女性艺术家群体,对推动中国女性主义艺术的繁荣有着积极而深远的意义。

【展览召集】

2010 四季 · 春天 云南女性艺术展 序
孙国娟

我们为期四年的展览计划从寒冬来到了春天,春天能让人想到的总是很多。

我年轻的时候以为,自然中的那些枝叶落尽的树木,在漫长的冬季里生命是完全静止的,只是到了春天,那温暖的风,才把它们从深睡中召唤了出来,后来有一次我坐火车坐在一个老农的对面,那时春天才刚刚开始来到,车窗外昆明郊野的桃花已经在盛开,我们谈论着那些掠过的花和树,老农告诉我:桃李都是苦争春的!他的一句“桃李苦争春”,让我突然间有了一种很深感动,也开始了解了那些花和树,原来树木并没有在冬天了无生机的外表中沉睡,它们在寒风中仍然保持着创造力和战斗力,在寒冷又漫长的冬季它们在无枝无叶的外表里面忙碌着,为了创造一朵花儿,一片树叶,一颗果实,它们已经为春天准备了很久,等待了很久,它们是真正知道珍惜春天的,当春风掠过山川还带着寒意的时候,春天的第一个时间来到了,桃花和李子花砰然绽放了。

2009-10-10

【展览前言】

2010“四季·春天” 云南女性艺术展 前言
文/张光华

自是寻春未有迟,何须惆怅怨芳时?南风复沁满园色,绿叶簪阴花满枝。恰那蓬勃春色于春城绽蕊,是这被瑟瑟寒冬封存一载之云南女性艺术再度蜕变,现涌动于静寂而下之铮容的视觉盛宴。云南女性艺术家集体破译2009金融顽巫的冷酷咒语,消解了在玫瑰温柔的毒刺下息作“睡美人”的黯淡传说,毅然于彩云妆扮的群山南缘精彩演绎女性艺术“国际之春圆舞曲”,在观众的期待中迎来2010的璀璨绽放。

云之南的女性艺术既非“主义”也非“策略”,而是一个信仰“自由”与“美”的集群单纯的生活方式和朴素的价值体系。在社会性别的文化预设所编织的性别差异谎言中,她们表现出善良地聪睿和温柔地挞伐,从公共领域的敏锐指涉到私人空间的窃言密语,嘲讽一切不怀好意地政治化关联,重新审视性别、种族、年龄和阶级等加诸于女性身体的标签属性。在现实的生活中,她们从身边的花草什物召唤浪漫主义的细腻情感;在艺术的世界里,她们从政治、审美、历史和心理分析的多重维度阐释具体化的复杂尝试。不懈地努力使她们寻到了打破谎言的意愿、决心和想象力,使我们的生活可以重塑、改变和改善。

四季交替如月历之晦朔,云之南的女性艺术势必在破茧、蜕变、翩飞、孕育的美丽重奏中帧帧刷新这个不断提升的艺术语言系统,这是从孤独中觉醒的女性艺术家个体发出得新的集体宣告。

在此,谨代表所有参展艺术家向为云南的女性艺术事业无私丰献的孙国娟与雷燕,表示诚挚的感谢!

2010.02.25

【主办寄语】

春 语
文/毛迪

春是让我度过严冬的期盼和幻想。夜来风雨声,花开终有时,春城的春天总是悄然而至,那些花就这么笑盈盈的开了。

从“85”一路走来的女性艺术家孙国娟及70年代就开始艺术创作的女性艺术家雷燕,精心策划了为期四年的云南女性当代艺术联展,以轮回的四季为周期,从去年的银装中走进了今年的春意。在春城昆明和煦而温暖的气氛中开幕了,带着女性特有的温婉浪漫的气息,也有着铿锵玫瑰的坚毅。云南女性当代艺术以一种独立,团结,进取的姿态展现在大家面前,这是一份难能可贵的精神,也是一份春天的礼物。在此孙老师及雷老师整合了云南活跃而优秀的女性艺术家作品,带来一股芳香的艺术之风,呈现了云南女性当代艺术的整体面貌及现状,同时也让大家看到云南女性当代艺术的活力与希望。优秀的女性批评家张光华女士为展览担任学术主持,更为展览的呈现添上了精彩的一笔。

这个四年计划是由女性艺术家自主策划筹备的艺术项目,有着自发且强大的生命力,对整个中国女性当代艺术的推动有着深远的意义,我为之赞叹,也为之感动。在此感谢诺地卡及井品画廊提供了展览空间,嘉利传媒王利军先生以及云南信息港房网频道的大力支持。希望云南的当代艺术受到社会各界的关注及支持,更希望女性当代艺术能够成为中国当代艺术史上的绚丽奇葩!

2010年3月3日于昆明

Thirty Years of Landscaping

Thirty Years of Landscaping
The roadmap of landscape in contemporary Yunnan art
written by He Libin

The year of 1979, was an important one for many Chinese. With the People’s Republic of China witnessing its first year of opening-up and its 30th anniversary, the government’s cultural and art policies began to loosen up. This year, artists working in Kunming, Yunnan, such as Ding Shaoguang, Jiang Tiefeng, Yao Zhonghua, Wang Jinyuan, Liu Shaohui and Wang Ruizhang formed an artist group named “Shen Society.” They  chose the name “Shen Society” for several reasons: first, 1979 was the Year of Monkey in Chinese Lunar Calendar, and one meaning of “Shen” in Chinese language was “monkey;” second, the Monkey King was a popular figure among Chinese; and third, they wanted to express the desire to pursue freedom and truth and uplift social justice, as “Shen” can also mean “uplift.” This group of artists often got together to discuss art, and chose to learn the idea and style from Cubism and Fauvism in modern Western art and to pursue the language of formal beauty in art. In 1980, Shen Society organized an exhibition of 120 artworks from 23 artists in the Museum of Yunnan Province. In the following two years, they organized some artists to hold exhibitions in Beijing and Hong Kong. Their paintings in the main have a tendency of flat painting and decoration deformation, characterized by gorgeous colors, and, through the portrait of the life of minorities in Yunnan, exhibits an aesthetic style featuring intertwined illusion and emotion, exoticism and imagination. The new style, just like a fresh breeze in China’s painting community, at that time still imbued with the style of revolutionary realism in the Cultural Revolution, together with the contention about the style and subject of the fresco1 in Capital Airport, triggered a massive debate about formal beauty across the country, the first nationwide sensation started by Yunnan art. At that time, some younger Yunnan artists were still in college, such as Mao Xuhui in Yunnan College of Art, Zhang Xiaogang and Ye Yongqing in Sichuan College of Art, and Mao Dehai in Northeast Normal University, who asked his university to assign him to a job in Kunming after graduation. These young people, active in thinking, got together naturally, maintained correspondence with each other at college, and went together in Kunming during vacation to watch exhibition, go out for living sketch or discuss art all day and or night. Similarly, they also drew nutrition from Western modernism. But unlike the artists of Shen Society, they accepted the cultural heritages such as expressionism, surrealism, symbolism and existential philosophy. Undergoing the adolescent frustration and rash, they found the Western modernistic ideas and philosophies, particularly those after the impressionism, somehow consistent with their mentality. At that time, artists such as Zhang Ding, Wu Guanzhong and Yuan Yunsheng frequently went to Yunan to sketch, hold exhibition or give lecture. Young artists like Mao Xuhui were also influenced by the concept of “formal beauty2″ raised by these artists. But when they saw the exhibition of German expressionism in the summer of 1982 in Beijing, they were tremendously excited and shocked, realizing that it was expressionism that was the right approach to express their feeling and mentality. Another trace was their experience of traveling to Guishan Mountain several times for live sketch. In 1979, Mao Xuhui, Zhang Xiaogang, Ye Yongqing and Yang Yijiang, still college students, went to Guishan Mountain to sketch. Guishan, which they long yearned for, was a village of minority Sani people located about 100 kilometers away from Kunming, a pastoral place very much resembling the scene in the paintings of 19th century French Barbizon School artist Jean Francois Millet. Before them, many senior artists also went there and portray Guishan with the Soviet realistic approach and expressionist language of light. Mao Xuhui and his colleagues also used similar language in their expression, but they always had a feeling that those splendid portraits somehow fell short of their feelings. In the following several years, they went to Guishan several times and gradually found the language that suited their feelings. Mao Xuhui’s “Mother of Laterate: Guishan Series” accentuated the tremendous energy concealed in the red soil, and the people, the trees and herds growing from the red soil are gushing, flushing and erupting, with burning primitiveness and lust everywhere. Zhang Xiaogang’s “Behind Mountain” and “Evening Breeze” exhibit the blunt and rough touches like Van Gauge, portraying the primitiveness and hardship of life in a mountainous village. Ye Yongqing drew upon the composition principles of Western classic fresco in his “Sani Sisters in Shepherd Village,” “Sheep Killed by Wolf in Front of Village,” “Blind Girl Going Home” and “Startled Bird” etc, and sketched a series of pastoral lyric pictures by setting some narrative details and scenes. It was the landscape of Guishan that shed some light onto and awakened their mind long sealed in urban life, and presented a stark contrast with their status and mentality in the city. Back in city, Mao Xuhui finished his artworks like “Red Volume” and “Private Space,” depicting a moving volume struggling to shake off the outside shackles and pursuing the true self when running, reflecting the fact that the confrontation against social ideology is evolving to resistance to everything outside self. Life and dream, reality and illusion, intertwined in his chaotic think, are scarcely distinct from each other. In June 1985, Mao Xuhui, Zhang Xiaogang, Pan Dehai and Zhang Long brought their artworks with them and held an exhibition named “Neo-figurative” in the Art Gallery of Jing’an District, Shanghai. What is “neo-figurative”? Mao Xuhui explained in the introduction of the exhibition: “…the concept of ‘neo-figurative’ is devised in an attempt to transfer art away from a vulgar sociological tool and the whole set of false models and social interests that are resulted and to art itself, and to free artists from the position of dependent and slave and restore them to the height of noumenon of man.” Thereafter, the neo-figurative school held several exhibitions in Nanjing, Kunming, Chongqing and the U.S., and later launched activities like “Southwest Art Study Group,” until the full stop when the majority of the members of “neo-figurative” participated in “China Modern Art Exhibition” in 1989.

After 1990s, the artists returned to the status of everyday life, when Mao Xuhui painted “Everyday Epic” series and “Patriarch Series: Vocabulary about Power,” Zhang Xiaogang began to work on “Big Family” which later attracted wide attention, and Ye Yongqing was drawing “Big Poster.” In addition, a school of even younger artists began their journey with a range of exhibition activities: “1992 Painting Exhibition,” “Present Status,” “Individualism,” “Types of Life,” “Urban Personality,” “First Exhibition of Oil Painting Society” etc. Landscape was presented in their artworks with characteristics different the “neo-figurative” school in two ways: first, the anxious sentiment was manifested, and man appears confrontational with landscape; second, the identity of self was blurred, lost, and drifting in weightlessness. In 1992, Zhu Fadong carried out his action of “Notice Seeking Lost Person” in Kunming by looking himself by posting notices seeking himself all over the city in order to express his generation’s feeling of the loss and seeking of self identity in early 1990s. Zeng Xiaofeng’s “Electric Saw and Landscape” juxtaposes electric saw, a symbol of modern industry, and landscape in the same picture, in which the savage electric saw is ripping and devouring ancient architecture and natural landscape, thereby exhibiting fierce clashes between industrial and natural landscapes. Luan Xiaojie in his “Trunk and Branch Series” treats human and tree as a whole body, producing a Delvaux-style grotesquery and surrealistic scene. The objects in the picture, resembling both amputated limbs and muscles, stack in the ambiguous space, glittering with queer shine, while the shallow trunks and branches appear illusive and fragile. Wu Jun’s “Dusk Shadow in Wind” portrays blurred human figure floating above a dilapidated city, with the picture pervaded by endless anxiety. Duan Yuhai’s “Beauty and Limousine” puts a pretty woman, limousine and cosmetics in the same picture, presenting the new orientations and changes in the Chinese society after the 1990s. Li Ji’s “Fashion Girl” also employs the language of gaudiness and juxtaposition by putting a woman with heavy makeup and her pet in a single picture, erotic yet exotic, just like Yamato-e in modern time. In their artworks, everything from the confrontation between humans and their surroundings to drifting in weightlessness is illustrating a kind of potential anxiety and anguish, collectively reflecting the chaos of value, loss of individual identity and the spiritual journey to regain it, juxtaposed by China’s faster process of market reform and urbanization as well as aggravated destruction of natural environment after the 1990s. Their artworks were a reflection of that generation of artists’ collective experience of urban life, and directly heralded the look of the artworks of artists born in the 1970s and 1980s.

After 2000, consumerism and fashion have become the mainstream value in urban life, and the modern popular culture, involving film, magazine, web, cartoon, pervasive advertisements, has constitutes the daily environment for urban dwellers. Artists grown up in such an environment are clearly split in aesthetic approaches: some inherit the scene of anxiety from the previous generation of artists, reflected in their artworks by the tendencies of self-ostracism and anti-metropolitan; others uphold and practice the aesthetics of transient coolness, clamor and popularity, in order to acquire new inspirations and art resources by plunging themselves into the scene of metropolitan consumerist culture. Whether they are anti-metropolitan or putting themselves in metropolitan, landscape exhibits a tendency of virtualization and patching up. Since 2003, several important art events heralded the début of post-1970s and 1980s artists. Exhibitions such as “Health Checkup,” “Sheep Is Coming,” “Altitude Sickness,” “Ultraviolet Radiation,” “Entertainment Is Paramount” etc. on the one hand highlighted the young artists’ sensitivity to and concern about
the relationship between their growth and changes of their surroundings, and on the other hand reflected the divergence of the above-mentioned aesthetic perspectives. In 2003, He Jia began to draw his “Balloon Man” series, which portrays a range of human-like figures without clear identity or complexion, with shining colors all over, drifting or walking in the city or amidst natural sceneries which are thin and transparent, beautiful but illusive just like these balloon men. Zhang Jinxi’s “Glass Man” series exerts the beauty of transparency to the utmost, whereby the body of the glass man reflects the surrounding landscape, which together with the man presents a sense of illusive yet transient vanity. Guo Peng recorded the landscape in Kunming Park with his camera and endowed strong colors to these traditional garden views with manual rendering. Nevertheless, these pictures look in every way like frames of exotic images imbued with a smell of decadence and mustiness. Yu Hua creates an image of a rabbit mingled with man, placing themselves in a metropolitan like a fairy tale, consciously getting lost in the urban labyrinth. Contrary to these artists, some others followed the tradition of expressionism and deliver a primitive and remote flavor with conflicting and turbulent pictures and heavy yet provocative colors. In Zhao Leiming’s paintings, men are always placed in closed space, where even natural landscape appears suffocating, and distorted human body locked in the space is like imprisoned beast struggling. Lan Qingxing’s “Crazy Talk,” “Wind Talk” and “Wind and Rain” portray weeds, starry sky, red trees and red human body to express the desire of man to leave the clamorous urban and return to simple nature. However, would therefore going back to the past be meaningful? He did not give an answer. Shi Zhimin went further with his “Glacial Epoch,” where there is no civilization, no urban, nor the natural landscape today, but the extinction of everything, cold and silent.

As a cross section, the artworks of the above-mentioned artists represent the true situation of post-1970s and 80s artists. Overall, they are more diversified, and values individual difference and experience more, and their artworks also exhibit diversity and new aesthetic tendencies. But this group of artists also generally manifests a tendency of vanity. Whether they are committed to this country or ostracize themselves to somewhere far away, would such approaches actually solve the conflicts and dilemmas in the real world, and deliver an everlasting value to lend the artists experience and enlightenment? Answers to these questions are expected only after necessary observations.

Time keeps on changing, and each generation has their own dilemmas and problems to face and solve, and to confront with the perpetual beings in nature; what the Yunnan artists in the 1940s saw were beautiful landscape and Eden-like minority culture, in which they were enchanted; what the artists in the 1950s saw were the perching images in their inner feeling, where they found their mother of spirituality; artists of the 1960s held themselves slightly aloof when faced with the nature; the disruptive situation of the artists of the 1970s had them see nothing but a realm of vanity whether they placed themselves in urban or returned to nature, whereas artists in the 1980s were lost and enchanted in the landscape of alienation….Facing the eternal nature, what insight do the artists arrive at? Could they acquire from the nature a fundamental wisdom that cuts across everything in the universe, so as to provide mankind today and tomorrow with an enriching and meaningful way of migration in this world? This should be the shared mission and direction for several generations of Yunnan artists.

March 9, 2009 at Yun Yi Xuan, Kunming

Notes:

1. Capital Airport fresco: On September 29, 1979, then China’s largest modernized airport – Capital International Airport, was completed, when 7 giant frescoes in its lounge were also unveiled to the public. Among them was a 27 meters long and 3.4 meters long fresco titled “Water-splashing Festival – Paean of Life” drawn by Yuan Yunsheng, portraying the scene of Dai people (a minority ethnic group living in Southwest China, particularly Yunnan) celebrating their Water-splashing Festival. The fresco consists of two parts: on the front side of the wall was scene of Dai people carrying water, splashing water and dancing; on a smaller wall to the east were scenes of bathing and courting. Because of nudity in this bathing part, the fresco was covered with a curtain several months after it was unveiled for show. On the eve of China’s National Day on October 1, a grand ceremony of completion was held for Capital International Airport, one of the key national construction projects shortly after the Cultural Revolution. The frescos in the lounge unveiled at the same time became a sensational event for China’s art community that year. Among all these frescos, “Water-splashing Festival” was the largest one, and the first artwork appearing in public space with nude human body ever since the People’s Republic of China was found in 1949, triggering widespread debate in media at that time.

2. Formal beauty: In 1981, artist Wu Guanzhong published an article titled “Content Determines Form?” in the 3rd issue of the journal Art that year, for the first time raising the question of “formal beauty” in art. Wu argued that in artworks, the form could came to existence before the content, a proposition that retorting the principle of “content determines form” in art in the Cultural Revolution and triggering a nationwide debate about content and form.