The group show “Becoming Oneself”, running until 18 February 2017, explores the notion of Self.
1 x 3 Gallery in Beijing features the work of three Chinese artists, Meng Huang, Li Xin and Li Linlin, born respectively in 1966, 1973 and 1992. The artists explore the meaning of “oneself” and the process or journey to become it.
The curator and founder of 1 x 3 Gallery in Beijing, Du Xiyun, set himself the goal to assemble a group show entitled “Becoming Oneself” that would reflect on the questions of “What does ‘oneself’ mean? How do we become ‘oneself’?” He then continues to state:
The answer will unfold slowly as we move ahead, make choices, make mistakes, correct them and continue on the journey. This is a path paved by the individual will, as one experiences gains and losses, the meaning of becoming oneself will slowly be revealed.
Du Xiyun suggests that for artists, art is the way to find “oneself” each according to their own unique lives, their chosen medium and through exertion of will. The works of the three exhibiting artists is quite different from each other, reflecting not only their individuality but also the generation gap that separates them. But they also have a common ground since they all grew up in China, sharing the same culture and language.
Berlin-based Meng Huang’s (b. 1966) paintings are characterised by uninhabited landscapes that contain traces of human activity. The places he chooses to portray all have a connection to important events or situations. In an interview with Du, the artist states that he uses 20 different shades of black in his work. Over an extended period of time starting in 2003 he started to paint in the outdoors and in order to complete his large canvases he would live outdoors until the work was completed. This he feels gave him a unique experience that one cannot get in a studio setting. While relying on traditional materials in his work, Meng feels that he is in fact tackling contemporary issues.
In a dialogue between the curator and the artist entitled “Sound and Shadow in the Deserted Landscape” (23 November 2016) we read the following:
Du Xiyun: Strong emotions accumulate in your pictures, which seems to be exactly “contrary” to the “nothingness” you just mentioned?
Meng Huang: On the premise of universe being the background, I agree that limited life is “nothingness”. The meaning of life, in some sense, is acquired during the process of searching for meaning. On the premise of eternity and nothingness, man can only show the value of his life through his own behavior. A limited living body faces eternal nothingness. This is not fair. But those who possess strong vitality never give up their doubt and questioning and gaining freedom through their will. … As a painter, I can only pick up the brush and paint without any hesitation.
Li Xin (b. 1973) divides his time between Beijing and Paris. His abstract ink images resemble clouds, mist and waves. His principle medium, the artist explains in a conversation with the curator, is water to which he says he adds “a little ink […] to better express the colourless and formless water”. From the existing range of ink colours, Li Xin limits himself to only using grey in his work. He explains in conversation with Du entitled “No Effort, No Info: Li Xin on ‘Water Painting'” (20 November 2016):
Li Xin: The myriads of changes of water cannot be completely portrayed. … Therefore, I’ve basically given up the expression of the appearance of water. Each work is a self-portrait of the author, but it is not a face portrait. Maybe it is a “genetic portrait”…
Du Xiyun: Are they the psychological portraits of yourself?
Li Xin: They are my cultural and spiritual DNA. I’m no a scientist. Here I’m just speaking metaphorically. The so-called “DNA” is non-physical DNA; it is the fundamental component of a cultural or spiritual living body.
In his oil painting series entitled “2016.10.2 H” Li Xin replaces water with oil. On first glance these paintings seem almost monochromatic but upon closer inspection they reveal a yellow background and border under the predominant shades of blue. In the introduction to the exhibition Du Xiyun explains:
Careless viewers accustomed to fast-paced signs and symbols can easily overlook these paintings that contain “no-data” and seem “effortless”, but a mindful observer might find in his work an invitation to slow down, to stop and gaze, and let the possibility of something new to grow again.
Creating ink and oil paintings with a mindset that produces abstracted images “without effort”, however, does not mean without preparation. To the contrary the artist carefully prepares all the materials and his own state of mind before embarking on a new work.
Li Linlin (b. 1992), the youngest artist in the show, presents in her installation Decameron a total of 30 school desks (15 are on view), which when seen from the front give the appearance of an orderly classroom but when viewed from the back each desk reveals a unique vision of individualistic and at times disturbing, adolescent dreams and anxieties.
A dialogue between the curator and Li Linlin entitled “Juxtaposing Goodliness with Cruelty” (22 November 2016) exposes the artist’s thinking:
Du Xiyun: You look rather quiet, yet your works are filled with strong emotion and cruel aesthetic taste. Do you constrain yourself in daily life?
Li Linlin: I think there are always two sides to one’s personality. The outward appearance is often not the real self. I never consider myself having the inclination of self-constraint. Many of my works are much influenced by movies and plays. The aesthetic core of my art is pursuing the beauty of dramatic conflict. In the current Chinese society, more lacerated realities than those in my works are on show every day. To express the current time is the indispensable responsibility of the artists of our generation. I am indeed a very quiet person, but it doesn’t mean there is no struggle in my heart.
Du Xiyun: Do you think avoiding the current lacerated reality is the choice of many artists who are of similar age to you?
Li Linlin: I think the younger generation of Chinese artists, as a whole, have a tendency of avoiding reality. Of course, each person has a different attitude towards reality. My art does not reflect politics or other sensitive contents. I’d rather adopt the forms of myth and fable to express the reality of another level.
Li’s second body of work entitled “Rebirth” tackles the theme of life and death. The work is made out of real animal skeletons, bodies of dogs and cats acquired from pet hospitals combined with mushrooms made out of synthetic materials. In a conversation with the curator, Li Linlin explains about the work:
Du Xiyun: Touching upon the issue of death and real animal skeletons, do you feel scared or empty?
Li Linlin: I’m not scared of animal skeletons, but I’m scared of nothingness. The meaning of the series “Rebirth” is to bring life back to dead animals, which can be counted as a way of triumphing over death.
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