Peng Wei weaves tradition and modernity in ink works that express the universality of human emotions.
The Suzhou Museum’s Contemporary Art Gallery becomes the stage for a play between Peng Wei’s ethereal, timeless ink artwork and the architectural surroundings of the exhibition spaces.
A poetic atmosphere imbues the spaces of the Suzhou Museum’s Contemporary Art Gallery, with contemporary ink works playing in perfect harmony with the architectural surroundings. “I Thought of You” is Chinese artist Peng Wei’s latest solo exhibition, running until 12 March 2017, at the Suzhou Museum and co-organised with the Beijing Fine Art Academy and TKG Foundation for Arts & Culture.
Curated by Wu Hongliang, Deputy Director of the Beijing Fine Art Academy, the show features more than 50 works created by the artist in the past five years, coreographed throughout the exhibition spaces in dialogue with the architecture of the museum. The exhibition is the most “audacious” to have ever been mounted in the Contemporary Art Gallery and as the press release writes,
The entire space is cocooned in translucent fabric and divided into seemingly endless sections. Much like unraveling a mystery, visual illusions rendered through acts of concealing, guiding, or twining usher the viewer into the depths of the exhibition, where, varying from the traditional Chinese garden scenery, “a different view with every step” unfolds.
The Art of Ink
Beijing-based Peng Wei was born in 1974 in Chengdu, China, and graduated from the Department of Eastern Culture and Art at the Nankai University with a BA in Literature and an MA in Philosophy. From 2000 to 2007, she served as an editor of Art. In 2007, she became a guest painter at the Beijing Fine Art Academy.
Peng Wei created her first series of work in 2000, entitled “Stone”, and followed by seven series, including “Shoe”, “Robe”, “Painted Installation”, “Letters from a Distance” and “Shan-Yuan”. The artist’s oeuvre merges a variety of media into her practice, including ink painting, installation, video and photography. Known for her outstanding ink work, she weaves traditional Chinese painting and personal vision, blurring the boundaries between tradition and contemporaneity, East and West, past and present.
On the occasion of her solo show, the exhibition at the Suzhou Museum was designed by Keisuke Toyoda of the Japanese design studio Noiz Architects, in his second collaboration with Peng Wei to date. The exhibition is divided into three sections – the Garden, the Journey and the Temple – grounded in the artist’s “Good Things Come in Pairs” series of silk shoe installations, and inspired by the winding paths of Suzhou gardens, as well as the geometric lines in I. M. Pei’s design of the Suzhou Museum.
In the Garden are Peng Wei’s “Here’s by Chance” paintings, part of the “Lost Stones” series, as well as delicate landscape albums like “The Best Things in Life Are Free”. Here the artist plays with the traditional notions of landscape and the value and aesthetics attached to it. Literati in ancient times loved to enjoy nature, whether in reality or fiction, through images and representations and miniature reproductions. The arrangement of Peng Wei’s works throughout the exhibition space, in a labyrinthine flow, gives a three-dimensional quality to the otherwise two-dimensional works on display, echoing the faux mountains and rocks in the Suzhou Museum.
With the help of the exhibition design, the sunlight is redirected into plays of light and shadow aptly created through the use of translucent curtains, which in their flowing presence reflect the ‘movement’ of the scrolls from Peng Wei’s “Letters from a Distance” and “Good Things Come in Pairs”, her silk shoe painting installations.
A series that won her the Signature Art Prize 2014 at the Singapore Art Museum, “Letters from a Distance” incorporates letters by Western authors and artists, thus substituting the traditional inscriptions found on Chinese classical paintings. As the press release expands,
Seen in the works in this exhibition, Susan Sontag’s letter to Jorge Luis Borges discusses the disappearing of books and the struggle between eternity and the present, while the story about Olympia serves as the Impressionists’ voice of indignation on the injustice that Édouard Manet suffered, and as a discussion on the prejudice in the art history. Both exemplify the kind of themes that deeply concerns Peng Wei. The West is the East. The end is the beginning. The vicissitudes of life, the mysteries of civilizations, and the philosophical ponderings in Peng Wei’s work blend together in the intertextual space with a lingering poignancy.
Peng Wei’s latest portrait series entitled “The Song of Sings” debuts in the exhibition, and is the artist’s first attempt at portraying figures in ink on a large scale. Inspired by the garden culture of Suzhou, the human figures that once were a minuscule presence amidst the landscape are now placed in the foreground. Quoted in the press release, Peng Wei reveals:
The common thread that runs in my past body of work is the relationship between objects and figures. I tend to highlight the materiality of painting. Whether it’s memories evoked by a memento, or sorrows elicited from old trinkets of people now gone, objects project all kinds of human emotions and man’s destiny.
A Universal Existence
“I Thought of You” represents the perfect stage to understand Peng Wei’s work and its exploration of the universality of human emotions. The artist speaks of universal values and feelings that bind all humanity into one common, universal existence, through the anonymity of her figures. As the press release concludes about the exhibition,
Despite the anonymousness of the common people she portrays, these subjects’ emotions — friendship, longing, solitude, content, or melancholy — are universal, even with a pinch of Pop art sense of humor. The history of civilizations sees humanity derive from divinity; hence humanity should be treated equal as divinity. At the end of the gallery hall, these sentient beings are juxtaposed with large-scale installations in the Temple, which is cocooned in pristine white curtains, telling the stories of human and all living things, of man and gods, in all their ordinariness and grandeur.
C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia
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