OCAT Xi'an | 2017·Autumn Exhibitions
Nothing is ever what it appears to be: all artistic expression is illusion. Yet, it is also true that art always seeks to mirror reality. The ways in which artists work with “the real” are myriad; in OCAT Xi’an autumn exhibition, as well as presentations in Xi’an Showcase and Personal Space, participating artists demonstrate a range of dynamic, highly individual approaches to reflecting reality in their art.
Shanghai-born, now New York-based conceptual artist Jian-Jun Zhang began working with historic artifacts in the mid-1990s. The work of past artists has always worked to inspire later generations, but as the twentieth-century drew to a close, contemporary artists no longer sought to extend the ideas of masters who had gone before them. Instead, if they turned to existing, familiar forms of art and culture in their work, it was to question the value of art in their own times. Jian-Jun Zhang does this with painting, where Chinese ink and oil paint are overlaid on canvas and on rice paper; together and separate at the same time. This produces compositions that may be Eastern in aura but are far from being brush painting in the conventional sense of Chinese painting.
Equally, when Jian-Jun Zhang began using the familiar forms of pottery from China’s dynastic past, it was to reflect upon aesthetic values that pertained to craft through what we term “tradition”, and which are so altered today. He was also interested in considering the value we place upon objects from the past; how do we quantify “value” in art and culture at all? Conflating debates about appropriation, ready-mades, pastiche and production, we might ask how will his pots be valued by future generations should they be dug up in a thousand years’ time? But the real question is what they represent of art today.
Wang Haiyang is known for exploring the surreal nature of the unconscious mind; the stuff of dreams, which some believe are our truest response to reality. Visually, compared with the clear shape of academic realism that characterized Wang Haiyang’s early animations, his new works are almost entirely abstract. Yet, for reasons that are explained in the artist’s introduction, they are deeply rooted in reality. In fact, the actual experience of his physical being and psychological condition during an extended period of isolation. The state of being alone is one with which all artists are familiar. It is how most must create, but to be so alone can be challenging, not least lonely, where upon it becomes easy to doubt their work, and themselves. The process of dealing with himself proved for Wang Haiyang key to unlocking new avenues of experience. The resultant works embody earnest, honest truths.
Tao Hui begins from real situations but choses a playful manipulation of reality. He draws upon familiar human experience and forms of cultural expression only to rework them in subtle ways. So seamless is the blend that it is not immediately obvious what is real or invented. Except it would not be art were it to be so entirely deceptive; Tao Hui leaves gaps in which the duplicity is exposed, our awareness prompted, the real problem under discussion revealed.
Painter Zhou Fan rounds out the year in our Personal Space with a remarkable series of intense and intricate paintings which, whilst appearing at first glance to be delirious expanses of pigment in dizzying combinations of dot, line and pool, are the artist’s expression of disquiet at the direction in which the present is moving into the future.
Autumn exhibitions run from September 23 2017 to January 28 2018.