In the exhibition presented in Mirrored Gardens in the Panyu District of Guangzhou, Zheng Guogu creates a space where energy converges.
Working across a range of media, Chinese artist Zheng Guogu explores narratives of collective experience.
Zheng Guogu (b. 1970) is a conceptual Chinese artist who works across photography, calligraphy, painting, video, installation and sculpture. He emerged in the 1990s at a time when great changes were happening in China. Zheng’s work often engages with the culture of his hometown Yangjiang as well as issues emerging from a new China, placing these within the context of trends of global contemporary art.
Breaking out of established artistic practices
Zheng is also part of the Yangjiang Group, an art collective founded in 2002 in Yangjiang with artists Chen Zaiyan (b.1971, Yangchun) and Sun Qinglin (b.1974, Yangjiang). The group aims to open their practice by removing established rules and controllable conditions. They use Chinese calligraphy from which they develop a diverse practice that includes performance, photography, painting, video and installation. They use the medium of calligraphy, traditionally considered an elite embodiment of Chinese culture, to explore narratives of collective experience.
In an interview with the Oxford Art Journal, Zheng explains about the use of calligraphy by the group:
The intention behind Waterfall [a work of over 1000 pieces of calligraphy written by people, not professional artists] was to allow calligraphy to escape from the monotony of real life, to reflect upon the fact that it should no longer serve as a spiritually and culturally unwitting slave. We want to allow it to depart from merely being a vehicle for the study of elite or ordinary semiotics, to surpass the limitation that analyses calligraphy purely on the level of form and allow it to be studied for its energy.
The group works with non-professionals in order to challenge the position of calligraphy as an elite art form. In addition, their creative process aims to free the final product of what they create from the initial idea. As Zheng explains, the “original concept […] seems to appear out of nowhere, emerging in the boundless moment from one second to the next”. Through this emergent process, the group hopes to break away from conventional expectations of form in order to create “calligraphy beyond calligraphy”.
The Yangjiang Group’s interventions often take the form of series of daily actions and processes, which they act out in galleries, museums and site-specific exhibitions at art festivals and art fairs. These interventions can include eating, drinking, bartering, gaming and gambling. The group expands the concept of contemporary art beyond both traditional form as well as the standard gallery setting, responding also to their local environment.
Aspiring to a world of pure energy
In the exhibition “Zheng Guogu: The Winding Path to Trueness”, Zheng’s paintings transmit visions of sensory energy that develop along various trajectories and temporal processes until they reach a final product of colours and images. These are not intended to be symbols, but rather a world of pure energy. Zheng creates this layered environment in Liao Garden, an ongoing garden and land project initiated in 2005, which is presented here.
This research seems to be quite different from Zheng’s alterations of consumer culture, which he has been working on since the 1990s. However, he has always had an interest in the relationship between the way individuals view themselves and the way images are formed in the contemporary world. This image-making includes how people consume images as well as how images, texts and colour influence people’s desires and dreams.
Zheng explores these themes through reconstruction of digital images in the series Great Visionary Transformation, which transforms traditional Tibetan thangka paintings, projecting onto them human desires. Through manipulating these classic images, Zheng investigates the changing nature of the human figure and the identity of the individual that is continually changing.
In the series Aesthetic Resonance of Chakra and the Brain Nerves series Zheng unravels invisible bodily energies and different sensory dimensions. As the exhibition text observes,
when we enter the exhibition space of Zheng Guogu’s “The Winding Path to Trueness” we can still faintly discern the state of these energy convergences: those with extreme ups and downs, and great sorrows and happiness; the rational person, the recluse, the one who makes something out of nothing; the individualist, the objectivist, the projector; the wealthy, the creator, the adventurer; the cosmist, the mystic, the deformed; people who are calm and at peace, or people who are weak and indecisive; the featureless, the featured, and the unfathomable.
The exhibition encourages visitors to reflect on their own energies they each carry with them and questions what every individual could do with these energies when encountering art. This dialogue between art and the energies of the environment is something that Mirrored Gardens actively encourages.
Mirrored Gardens, an initiative of Vitamin Creative Space in the Panyu District of Guangzhou, seeks to combine proximity to nature and contemporary art practices. Designed by Sou Fujimoto Architects, the space was developed between 2011 and 2014, based on research of contemporary living conditions, local history and the experience of daily existence.
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