Nature, spirituality, and contemplation are at the heart of two contemporary ink art exhibitions in Taipei.
Art Radar takes a look at the solo exhibitions by Taiwanese artists Yuan Hui-Li and Shi Jin-Hua, held at Tina Keng Gallery and TKG+ respectively, until 10 September 2017.
With a long history and tradition, a large – and ever growing – international collector base, and no shortage of innovation and reinterpretation by contemporary artists, ink art has become one of the most interesting artistic practices to watch today. Lauded as a resurgence when the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York staged its first large scale contemporary Chinese ink art exhibition in 2013, ink art has firmly entrenched itself into the international art scene.
This summer, Art Radar picks out two Taiwanese ink artists to know. With solo exhibitions ongoing in Taipei’s Tina Keng Gallery and TKG+ Projects, Yuan Hui-Li and Shi Jin-Hua are names to look out for in the years to come.
Breathing Ink, Burning Paper: Yuan Hui-Li
In the winter of 2015, Yuan Hui-Li (b. 1963, Taiwan) took a life-changing trip to Beijing. Air pollution had reached critical levels, prompting a red alert warning to be issued. Aghast at the levels of pollution that blighted China, the artist created the original series of work “Fiery Ink”, currently on show at Tina Keng Gallery (Taipei). In “Moist and Burnt: As Ink Breathes”, her second solo exhibition with the gallery, the artist reinterprets traditional Chinese landscape paintings, commenting on the environmental crisis that China is currently facing.
“Fiery Ink” is, in some ways, a misnomer: there is no ink involved in Yuan Hui Li’s depictions of serene mountains and trees. Rather, Yuan uses the ashes of burnt Chinese handmade paper, using their charred remains to create the large-scale works that resemble the traditional literati landscape paintings. Yuan’s works seem to smoulder; blackened, dark swirls make up the mountains and crags that populate this series of works.
Born out of a realisation that the serene and idyllic landscapes portrayed by the leisured, intellectual class no longer held much truth for the blighted environment of China today, Yuan’s works reference the majesty of China’s natural scenery, whilst also pointing out the obvious ecological threat that underpins China’s environment today. Also comprised of an installation and performance piece, where Yuan conducts a ritual-like performance, the entire series meditates on the links between past and present, as well as between the physical earth and the human spirit.
Also on show in her solo exhibition is the “Discrete Islands” series. Born out of entirely different circumstances from “Fiery Ink”, “Discrete Islands” provides an interesting comparison. Inspired by the artist’s life in Jinshan, Taiwan, where Yuan continues to live and work, the series comprises works that are delicately coloured. In this series, Yuan uses a different approach, rendering the mountains of the Jinshan landscape as abstract compositions that stand amidst subtle washes of ink. A sharp contrast to “Fiery Ink”, the “Discrete Islands” find their roots in the mistiness of the scenic coast, known for its hot springs, mountains and views of the sea.
Yuan’s deep connection with Taiwan’s natural environment comes through in an older series of work, entitled “More is Less”. Executed between the years of 2007 and 2016, Yuan combines thousands of dots and small brushstrokes to create silhouettes of the rolling landscape. Through the layers of colour and ink, Yuan’s ghost-like terrain looks almost surreal, as though hidden behind a layer of thick fog.
Showcasing her dexterity with her chosen medium, the exhibition “Moist and Burnt” is an interesting study in contrasts, drawing on traditional and innovative approaches to bring attention to the natural world that we live in. Yuan’s work has been well-received thus far: to date, she has been collected by museums such as the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Taiwan; National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung, Taiwan; Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei, Taiwan; and Juming Museum, New Taipei City, Taiwan. In 2010, she had her own solo exhibition at the Han House Museum in Hangzhou, China.
Spiritual Freedom and the Ephemerality of Life: Shi Jin-Hua
The contemporary arm of Tina Keng Gallery, TKG+ Projects is showcasing conceptual and performance artist Shi Jin-Hua (b. 1964, Taiwan). “Two Trees and a Mountain” draws its title from three key works: The Sacrifice Tree (2016), The Yoga Tree (1994–1996) and Pen Walking #160 — Pilgrimage to Mount Kailash (2017).
Inspired by The Sacrifice, a movie by Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, Shi has created an introspective body of work that explores the notions of spiritual freedom and the ephemerality of physical life on earth.
Shi draws heavily from one particular scene in the movie, where a father brings his son to plant a tree on a beach, whilst telling him a story about a dead tree that came alive. Taking the little boy and the tree as subjects for his work, Shi made them a prominent motif, creating the works The Yoga Tree and The Sacrifice Tree. Embedded in these works are also the artist’s own life experiences – The Yoga Tree finds its roots in Shi’s habit of practising yoga and meditation before a large tree, within which a large iron nail was wedged, during his time as a student in California. The nail in the tree became a metaphor for the diabetic condition that Shi faces. Seeing his own illness as embedded within him, Shi drew a parallel between his illness and the nail. Both, it seemed, were irremovable conditions that their hosts had no choice but to adapt their existence to.
An outstanding series of work is “Pen Walking”. Initiated after his return to Taiwan from the United States, “Pen Walking” is part performance piece, part conceptual art and part drawing. Many of the pieces in “Pen Walking” begin by Shi doodling on white paper or walls, usually creating wavy lines that stretch from one end of the space to the other. Shi does not stop until the lead of the pencil wears out; using it as a metaphor for the life cycle itself, the pencil slowly becomes worn down with each trace and re-trace that Shi completes.
In 2017, Shi created “Pen Walking – Mount Kailash”, which documents his pilgrimage to Mount Kailash in Tibet. Used to depict the landscapes Shi encountered through the course of his travels, the pencils gradually shortened after repeated use. Mirroring the artist’s abandonment of the self and the tangible, material world, the slow whittling away of the pencils serve as a meditative act that explores the loosening of our bonds to the material world in pursuit of higher spiritual enlightenment.
Shi’s focus on spiritual concerns stems from his own confrontation with life and death. A diabetic since he was 17, his practice has grown to reflect his own battles with his medical condition. Developing an artistic practice that places a premium on meaning and the significance of life experience, Shi’s work has been collected by institutions including the White Rabbit Collection, Australia; Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Taiwan; and National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taiwan. An upcoming solo exhibition of the artist is to be held at the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts in October 2017.
- Being a Taiwanese artist at 30: “An Ode to Thirty” at Eslite Gallery, Taipei – July 2017 – “An Ode to Thirty” provides a snapshot of mid-career artists in Taiwan from the 1970s until now
- “91 Square Meters of Time”: Taiwanese video artist Wu Chi-Yu at TKG+ Projects, Taipei – May 2017 – through moving image, Wu Chi-Yu reimagines narratives of history and time
- “Line of Vision”: Taiwanese photographer Wang Hsin at Taipei Fine Arts Museum – February 2017 –Taiwanese photographer Wang Hsin has dedicated her career to exploring the capacity of photography to forge deeper understanding between people
- “Gestures and Archives of the Present, Genealogies of the Future”: highlights from the Taipei Biennial 2016 – Janurary 2017 – the Taipei Biennial 2016 is a restrained biennale about responsibility
- Preview: 6 highlights from Art Taipei 2016 – November 2016– in its 23rd year, Art Taipei 2016 focuses on increasing international cooperation
Subscribe to Art Radar for more on contemporary art from Taiwan