Abandoned Field: exhibition sponsored by the British Council as part of the Sino-British year of culture exchange 2015

Research output: Non-textual outputExhibition

Abstract

This exhibition, titled ‘Abandoned Field’ by the Chinese curator Tian Meng, brought together a large selection of paintings produced during the seven and a half years that I lived and worked as an artist in Chongqing, China. When living and working in such a vastly different culture, cultural and artistic differences may be thrown into sharp relief. However, such an experience also exposes the fluidity of identity and the fragility of cultural autonomy. But what was most interesting was the teasing out of prescient sensibilities long embedded in Chinese pictorial values, which I find to have a contemporary resonance, and have had a profound influence on developments in my painting. Such values are timely when now we face an unprecedented and invasive mass culture, atomising micro-management, and where psychological and physical space are at a premium as never before. The values in question are the silences, the pauses, the action and fluidity of space, inseparable from form, so well perceived in and integral to pictorial ideas originating in China and reaching apotheosis in Japan. These are manifest through the unique conception of space as a force that conditions the ‘being’ of, say, trees, mountains, water etc. and images that are based on a language of signs, supported by the calligraphic mark. This exhibition demonstrates a commitment to such values, recognising the impossibility, the delusion, of expressing infinity, but at the same time pointing to it. Images such as huts or fences etc act as signs interacting with, challenging or challenged by the space. In a city such as Chongqing, where the speed of development and technologically driven changes is ratchetted up several notches, the air often thick with concrete dust, in addition to other pollutants, the manifest results of intense industrial processes anywhere, the need to harness this parallel reality feels like a matter of contemporary urgency, there and here. Mixing concrete dust as well as other pigments, with alkyd resin on coarse hemp canvas, I sought to give material weight to the space that delivers focus and dignity, and at the same time something between fragility and presence, to the subjects at its centre. The concrete dust was sometimes a thin veil over a textured surface and colour, creating chromatic shifts within the grey. This material idea of space, as well as the presence of images, challenges the ‘Romantic’, Sublime space of Minimalism; also an influence. Ambiguities as to our relation to nature, and questions around certainties of perception are the focus in this body of work. The materiality of paint, and the Western approach of physically building and layering paintings as integral to their meaning is still a relatively new concept of painting in China. In respect of this, for the VIP opening and to an audience of just over 30 people, I was asked to give demonstrations of some of the technical procedures I draw on. The following day the exhibition opened formally with a seminar discussion with some 50 artists, curators, students, and members of the public. On the panel were Yang Shu, director of Organhaus, the international artists-in-residence programme in Chongqing, Ursula Panhans-Buhler, the German art writer and contributor to the catalogue, and myself.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 25 Apr 2015
Eventexhibition - Ceiling Gallery, Chongqing, China, 25 April - 2 May 2015
Duration: 25 Apr 2015 → …

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