Below are three exhibition reviews I wrote up for Time Out Beijing’s May issue
Without a Home: Ji Dachun
Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA)
The UCCA has been jam-packed with great exhibitions over the last few months. One of the more understated of these, Without a Home, a solo exhibition of Ji Dachun’s paintings, makes a very deep impression. Ji utilises traditional Chinese art forms and injects them with a post-modern twist, occasionally satirical, but more often grotesque. What marks Ji apart from many of his Chinese contemporaries is his refusal to accord any overt political meaning to his works.
The bulk of the exhibition consists of Ji’s acrylic on canvas bamboo and tree paintings. The bamboo shoots and tree branches twist and crook their way across the canvases. Amongst the branches, like windswept trash, are caught body parts, cellular structures and scalpels. Painted in stark monochrome, the images are nightmarishly penetrating.
One such painting, ‘Bird Painting Without Bird’, portrays bamboo segments stitched roughly together. From the segments fungi of ears, hearts and digestive organs infest. In another, ‘Plastic Brains’, a tree has morphed grotesquely into something seething with cell growth. Flabby tissues expand within an already terse tumour. From the branch supporting it, strands of worm-like cell structures stretch across to another inflated growth. Painted in a blue monochrome, the canvas is reminiscent of an x-ray, and with tags attached to each cancerous growth, the picture of nature as medical freak is complete.
What these paintings tell us exactly is left ambivalent. Genetically modified and grotesque, Ji’s trees and bamboos communicate the same uneasiness and fear as Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, of human intervention gone too far.
A handful of Ji’s less abstract, more satirical paintings are also exhibited. Although displaying the diversity of Ji’s work, these do seem somewhat out of place in the exhibition.
Whatever one takes from Without a Home, Ji Dachun’s monochromatic images of organ infested bamboos and Frankenstein trees seers itself into one’s consciousness. Whilst avoiding overt political commentary, Ji’s images reflect a sense of fear and disorientation, universal in the modern world.
Transience/Intractable Objects brings together four Chinese artists to reflect on permanence, or the lack of it, in society today. Diverse in its media, the exhibition presents Yang Ming’s 3D-printed replicas of the detritus of uprisings, two neon strip lighting installations by Liu Yin, abstract photography by Liu Yue and the computer art of Aaajiao (aka Xu Wenkai).
Upon entering the exhibition, the viewer is greeted by ‘Fabrication’, Yang Ming’s commentary on the voracious appetite of the media to document and archive events, the consequence, intended or unintended, being to stultify the passion and reality of reality itself. A giant image of a man poised for battle in a street fight towers over a carefully displayed collection of smooth resin replicas of shards of glass and smashed rocks. The display of the objects of these clashes gives permanence to their occurrence, but at the same time bleaches them of their true meaning.
The second section of the exhibition contains three works whose musings focus on impermanence in aesthetic beauty. Liu Yue’s striking photography captures fleeting moments of light in regulated geometric shapes – hexagons and quadrangles of phosphorescence on a black background. The shapes seem to tremble and quiver for release into a form less regulated and more natural. Is it in this moment, captured, that beauty lies?
Liu Yin’s neon installations glare garishly and buzz loudly. Through the absurd image of a rabbit blowing bubbles, Liu also gives us a work ready to break its boundaries, tubes poised to pop, joined in destiny with the bubbles they represent.
The final work in the exhibition, and perhaps its weakest, is Aaajiao’s computer images of rocks gradually marked with pixels of colour. It speaks more of incremental change than of transience.
Transience/Intractable Objects is perhaps a little disjointed an exhibition. However, its unifying theme of the inability to maintain a moment, whether that be of fleeting aesthetic perfection or of emotion and power, makes a strong impression, particularly through Yang Ming’s politically salient ‘Fabrication’.
The Position of Interference: Zhao Liang
Three Shadows Gallery
Zhao Liang’s solo exhibition, The Position of Interference, mixes serenity and violence with meditative beauty. Through photography and video work, Zhao skilfully utilises stillness and movement to capture a sense of helplessness capable of manifesting only as anger.
The exhibition space of The Position of Interference is shaped by traditional Chinese scrolls, which hang elegantly from the ceiling and leave viewers to form their own path through the exhibition. With names like ‘An Essay on Branches and Leaves’, the photographed scenes on these scrolls could be the subject of traditional Chinese landscape painting. Tree branches twist upwards to circles of floating cloud and layers of misty mountains, marking scenes suspended somewhere between serenity and loneliness.
In the centre of the exhibition hangs one scroll on which two videos are projected. On the one side, the documentary piece ‘Narrative Landscape’ shows a slowly panning view of mountainous scrub land, jagged and desolate. On the other side of the scroll the short video piece ‘Bored Youth’ portrays one young man’s lashing out at the bricks and mortar of an abandoned building. Filmed in the oppressive heat of summer, sweat glistening off the man’s bare back, the video shows the boiling over of suppressed anger.
In contrast to the rest of the still and silent show, ‘Bored Youth’ is an agitated short film, whose camera never ceases motion and whose abrasive sound multiplies towards a chaotic crescendo. The presence of this video dominates the exhibition, adding an unsettling twist to the quiet scenes of trees and mountains, rocks and clouds with which it is juxtaposed.
The Position of Interference relishes contrast. Its use of stasis and motion through photography and video creates an exhibition which itself fluctuates between two radically different conditions; tranquillity and chaos.