Testament that well-financed expatriate Chinese artist whose conceptual work of the 1980s stands as a monument in the development of contemporary Chinese art can still make some-thing of relevance (“things” remade from construction sites in Beijing)
Phoenixes Rise in China and Float in New York
Xu Bing Installs His Sculptures at St. John the Divine
By CAROL VOGELFEB. 14, 2014
A Passerby (过客):
has long been one of my favorite Zhong Biao images. It is a painting from almost 20 years ago, long before Zhong shifted from oil to acrylic as paint of choice, and longer still before he started to add considerable elements of abstract imagery in his work. The painting is typical of Zhong’s hyper-realism, acutely drawn figures, personable and yet iconographic, as though this is not just any phone booth decked out in a global brand, it is this phone both, as distinctive as the autobiographical Zhong and, I am going to guess, his grandmother. Most notable, though, is the curvaceousness of the ground, suggesting the planet earth, and thus a global picture encoded with a smattering of signs, global and not.
The collapse of space-time is what I’m considering, though, when jumping to a 2010 Light Year (光年):
There is, I believe, considerable consistency from one to the next, only the constituent elements have shifted from landmarks of built and natural environments (Mt. Fuji, Coca-cola, the Forbidden City) to landmarks of larger space-time context, galaxies, planets, meteorites, and on down. The same coalescence of place and time, brought together through Zhong’s single lens vision which zooms in and out at once.
Putting the two images together meanwhile suggests another possibility, namely something approaching spirituality in Zhong’s work。 This is something I’ve never considered at length, but looking across works separated by decades there seems to be a more than accidental consistency to religious imagery (broadly construed). To go out a bit on an interpretative limb, in Light Year there is an impression of the Sistine Chapel, and the figure of Christ attended to by angels down right,
which loops back to the baby, oddly adult and somewhat surly as in early Renaissance work. Meanwhile, the title (Passerby) suggests much more Buddhist orientation, with the three generations framed by the comings and goings and the cranes, symbols of longevity. These hieratic dimensions, forming their own specific gravity of spiritual nature, take us back to the cosmic space-time of Zhong’s Light Year. In short, looking at these two, Zhong’s work appears to have changed more on the surface than on the inside.
Fresh from Cambria Press blog, generous write-up about my book:
Another fantastic thing for Cambria Press at this year’s MLA (as was the case last year for Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian’s book and E. K. Tan’s much-lauded book) is how some titles were published right in the nick of time for the MLA!
Dr. Manfredi’s book sets a high precedent because it illuminates the important dynamics which fall outside of general narratives given how modern Chinese poetry production has been addressed only very broadly in scholarship. The importance of Chinese visual tradition to modern Chinese poets is a good case in point. Accordingly, this book addresses specific manifestations of the nexus connecting modernity and visuality in Chinese poetry. It begins with a discussion of May Fourthpoetics as exemplified in the groundbreaking work of Li Jinfa, China’s first “Symbolist” poet. From there the book traces notable developments of visuality in the new form or free verse writing (called Xinshi or “New Poetry”) through mid-century modernist experiments in Taiwan (focusing on Ji Xian). The book also explores the avant-garde poetry of Luo Qing and Xia Yu before returning to mainland Chinese developments of Misty poets Yan Li and his contemporaries.
The book includes rare, stunning color images of the poet-painters’ works. It is also part of the prestigious Cambria Sinophone World Series headed by Victor H. Mair (University of Pennsylvania). Be sure to check out the China Avant Garde blog too!
Modern Poetry in China will be on display again at the 2014 Association of Asian Studies (AAS) annual conference in Philadelphia, but you don’t have to wait–read it online now!
Don’t forget Cambria Press is offering a 40% discount on all hardcover titles for the MLA. Please use coupon code MLA2014; the offer is valid until Feb 14, 2014. Librarians can use this code too, so please pass this on to them! Download the Cambria Press MLA catalog and booklist.
I thought I’d repost some of my favorite old Zhong Biao works along with newer work marking among other things changes over time. The image above, ”Today” (今天) (acrylic on canvas 400×280 centimeters), strikes me as good a starting point as any for such an exercise.
There was not much new in the “Today” image in 2009 when it was created, as an abstract method juxtaposed with human and other animal figures have both been core elements of a Zhong Biao picture since 2005. The figures themselves are also not particularly new, with birds and airborne human beings being about as close to thematic constants as Zhong’s work provides. The most notable element of the canvas, the belly-flopping corpulent fellow, on the other hand, had not emerged in any work before, as far as I know. He, spectacular as he is, seems more variation on a theme.
I couple “Today” this with his 2013 “裁云剪水” (acrylic on canvas 130 x 388 cm):
The title is a challenge to translate. Literally its “trimming clouds and cutting water,” a phrase drawn from Ming dynasty critique of poetry that is miraculously perspicuous and creative. The work is expansive, sharing many features with Zhong’s largest painting to date “Mirage,” most particularly its panoramic quality. What is new here is relatively minute point of the abstract box, new to the vocabulary of his painting. Rather like pointillism of Seurat, one needs to take a few steps closer to see them:
Upon closer inspection, the polygons, all white in this painting, emerge as angular portals of light, like windows or other apertures in fixed structures. They also refer to pixilation, interruptions in what should be seamless digital universe that may or may not intersect with (un)virtual reality. This is particularly true when they are in a background of darker colors, such as the street level boxes around the pedestrians’ feet:
What also intrigues me about the geometric elements is their implication in terms of practice. As I’ve observed Zhong work on painting, the abstract component is usually applied first, and human and other figures drawn out over time from them. The abstract brush work is dynamic, rapid, and in larger canvases involves something very much like dance to execute. The squares are a different kind of image production altogether, it seems to me. In order to find out just how this comes together I guess I’ll have to make another trip to his studio and hang out there for a few days and watch what happens.