Wang Gongxin reexamines his early installation works from the 1990s, which served as the precursor of his interest in the moving image.
Hailed as a pioneering video artist in China, he is one of the first to use digital editing in his practice. His solo exhibition in Hong Kong runs at White Cube until 11 November 2017.
“Rotation” is Chinese artist Wang Gongxin’s first solo exhibition in Hong Kong. The artist is known for his video art, and is one of the pioneers in using recording and projection technologies in his work. In the current show at White Cube, Wang’s installations created in the early to mid-1990s immediately preceding his shift to the medium of video are on display. Juxtaposed against these installations are three new works created this year. These new installations have been planned in the 1990s, yet the artist lacked resources back then to realise such works.
Wang Gongxin (b. 1960, Beijing) was trained in oil painting when he studied at Capital Normal University in China in the late 1970s after the Cultural Revolution. Later, he arrived at the State University of New York in 1987 as a Visiting Professor. Being in the United States in the late 1980s fostered his journey of experimentation with various artistic expressions. He founded Loft in 2001, the earliest media centre in China. In an interview with Lu Mingjun, the artist says:
Looking back over my works from so many years, it is like its own “art history”: as a student, I received training in the realist modeling techniques of the Soviet School; in my youth, I used Socialist Realist creative techniques, and imitated the Neo-Realist styles of the West; after arriving in New York, as I hesitated to give up the two-dimensional plane, I experimented with partial abstraction, abstraction and minimalism, before eventually experimenting in three-dimensional installations of various materials.
A Pivotal moment
Wang took interest in kinetic sculpture and installation while he was in America. By 1994, his artistic practice evolved into using suspended or embedded lightbulbs over surfaces containing ink or milk, exploring kinetics and light with the help of motors or digital devices. The artist returned to China in 1995 and created the video The Sky of Brooklyn – Digging a Hole in China, which cemented Wang’s role as a forerunner in multimedia art in China. The piece shows a 3.5-metre hole the artist dug on the floor in his home in Beijing, with a television monitor placed at the bottom playing looped footage of the Brooklyn sky he filmed earlier from his studio in Brooklyn.
Pivotal site-specific kinetic installations done by the artist in the mid-1990s before The Sky of Brooklyn include Dialogue and Unseatable. They address the intercultural dynamics and cultural dislocation faced by Wang at that time.
In Dialogue, two lightbulbs are suspended above a shallow tray of black ink. Held by a cable, the lightbulbs descend at alternate intervals with the help of motors, and are partially submerged in the ink as they come in contact. The rippling effect set off by the motion destablises the light reflections, as well as the shadows cast on the walls. The work serves as a precursor to Wang’s later interest in the moving image.
Unseatable was exhibited at artist-run space Red Hook in 1994. The suspended red lightbulb hovers in circles over chairs which contain black ink and white milk on the surface. The work reflects Wang’s unease due to his new environment.
Exploring video art as a medium and technology
The artist reflects upon the use of video as a medium in the same interview with Lu Mingjun:
The birth of video expanded people’s ability to understand the world. This spectacle of virtual reality is becoming more convincing as the technology continues to develop. For the generation that grew up in the Internet, and spent their childhoods hugging screens, the line between the real world and the virtual world is becoming blurred.
As the real and the virtual intertwine, Wang continues to explain his interpretation of space:
My interest in and understanding of space mainly consists of three components: real space, virtual visual space, and meditative space.
He remarks that “real space” means “a type of space that includes settings in which the viewer can enter”. Meanwhile, the “refractions and reflections of materials” and “stacked images that emerge after the viewer has entered” constitute the “virtual visual space”. Last but not least, “meditative space” is the
imaginary space in the viewer’s mind, a form of meditation touched off by the instinctual experience of the two previous dimensions – an indescribable abstract space.
Revisiting early concepts
The artist discusses his intent for this exhibition in his artist’s statement:
I have the stubborn belief that shifts in the form of art through time must be closely connected to real life, social environment and existential condition of people in the present. Virtual reality, online lives and the spread of high resolution images are constantly influencing the ways we see and interpret things, and changing our interactions and ways of communicating. The rapid technological advancement of society is accompanied by people’s aspiration for up-to-date spiritual needs. Nonetheless, no matter how fast and rapid change is, people who use computers must know that the best way to optimise your system is to ‘empty’ and to ‘reboot’. Through ‘Rotation’ at White Cube Hong Kong, I perform a self-optimisation and a ‘reboot’ on my own twenty years of artistic creation!
Three new artworks created for this exhibition include In and Out, Horizontal and Equal. They are based on the concepts developed in the 1990s. Due to the constraints on resources more than twenty years ago, they were completed this year.
In and Out consists of a suspended lightbulb embedded into a slanted wooden bench. To balance the work, the lower portion of the bench is made of marble. The lightbulb is also used in Equal – this time dipped into green ink. In Horizontal, Wang explores the idea of balance and horizontality with various materials.
In the upcoming group exhibition at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, entitled “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World”, the artist will present Beijing’s Sky. The video work acts as a follow up for Brooklyn’s Sky from over twenty years ago. Wang comments on his new work:
It makes me quite happy. It’s like there really is some kind of karmic cycle out there. It is like two holes in the earth, across more than two decades, really can show us what the sky looks like on the other side, and can link my two homes together along the shortest route.
- A look at Hong Kong 20 years after the handover: Hong Kong artists at CFCCA, Manchester – September 2017 – CFCCA takes a hard look at the 20th anniversary of the United Kingdom’s handover of the city
- “Canton Express”: art from the Pearl River Delta at M+ Pavilion, Hong Kong – August 2017 – the exhibition restages “Zone of Urgency” curated by Hou Hanru in 2003 at the 50th Venice Biennale
- Preview: M+ Screenings: City Limits at Broadway Cinematheque, Hong Kong – August 2017 – the 3-day programme responds to the continent’s rapid transformations in city life over the past two decades
- “Land of Freedom”: Indonesian artist Heri Dono at Tang Contemporary Art, Hong Kong – July 2017 – Heri Dono explores power structures and reflects upon socio-political issues of the current times in his new series of paintings and installation artwork
- “Crisscrossing East and West”: The Remaking of Ink Art in Contemporary East Asia at MOCA Yinchuan – July 2017 – the first museum along the Yellow River in China puts up its first-ever mega exhibition on contemporary ink practices
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