“So Near Yet So Far”: the subjective and objective universe by Chinese artist Ni Youyu

Perrotin presents Ni Youyu’s first solo exhibition in Hong Kong.

“So Near Yet So Far” features 12 pieces by the Chinese artist to offer a comprehensive view of his diverse practice.

Ni Youyu, “So Near Yet So Far”, Perrotin, Hong Kong, 2018. Photo: Ringo Cheung. Image courtesy the artist and Perrotin.

Ni Youyu, “So Near Yet So Far”, Perrotin, Hong Kong, 2018. Photo: Ringo Cheung.
Image courtesy the artist and Perrotin.

A winner of the 2014 Chinese Contemporary Art Awards (CCAA) as Best Young Artist, Shanghai-based Ni Youyu (b. 1984) explores themes related to nature, time and traditional art in works that are enhanced by his reflective and contemplative nature. A graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts at Shanghai University, he has shown in various international museums, including the Power Station of Art in Shanghai, the Bern Art Museum and Luzern Art Museum, Switzerland, and Gwangju Museum of Art, South Korea.

Ni’s practice transcends time, limitations and purpose. The artist often notes that his creative practice is not defined and fixed by the limits in antiquity and modernity, nor does it reflects a purpose of reinventing paradigms. While Chinese paintings often engage with antiquity, Ni’s works give a spin on the ways to access space between all temporalities and material objects while his works draw inspiration from traditional Chinese painting. The artist’s works could be described as part of a larger repository of universal cognizance rather than a subset of a particular genre and time period.

Ni Youyu, “So Near Yet So Far”, Perrotin, Hong Kong, 2018. Photo: Ringo Cheung. Image courtesy the artist and Perrotin.

Ni Youyu, “So Near Yet So Far”, Perrotin, Hong Kong, 2018. Photo: Ringo Cheung.
Image courtesy the artist and Perrotin.

Ni Youyu, 'Dust (Fog II)', 2017, mixed media painting, 121 x 160 x 7 cm⏐475/8 x 63 x 23/4 in; drawing with frame: 31 x 41 cm | 12 3/16 x 16 1/8 in. Image courtesy the artist and Perrotin.

Ni Youyu, ‘Dust (Fog II)’, 2017, mixed media painting, 121 x 160 x 7 cm⏐475/8 x 63 x 23/4 in; drawing with frame: 31 x 41 cm | 12 3/16 x 16 1/8 in. Image courtesy the artist and Perrotin.

One example is Ni’s “Dust” series, often assumed to relate to the cosmology of the Five Dynasties and Northern Song Dynasty (907-1127). Using precise and scientific techniques of grid division, Ni maps out the intersections between Chinese and Western cosmologies. The work is populated by astronomical tropes, emitting not only a lively and spirited vibe, but also a sense of tranquillity. It speaks to the fundamental level that cosmology is simply temporality coupled with spatial concept to produce a sense of ephemerality. This relationship resonates with Perrotin‘s recent exhibition title, “So Near Yet So Far, suggesting temporality is indefinite and malleable by various perspectives.

Ni Youyu, 'Waterfall & Rockfall', 2016, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 120 cm⏐783/4 x 471/4 in (each). Image courtesy the artist and Perrotin.

Ni Youyu, ‘Waterfall & Rockfall’, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 120 cm ⏐ 783/4 x 471/4 in (each). Image courtesy the artist and Perrotin.

Ni’s interest in tracing the fundamental cognizance is reflected at the heart of his creative process that attends to the shifts and relocations of social modalities such as identity, nationality, race and class.Therefore, Ni’s works emphasize that the interplay between antiquity and modernity becomes accessible with dust representing the composition. In Waterfall & Rockfall (2016), Ni superimposes paradoxes, conflicts and resonance onto one another to literally and figuratively deconstruct the ideal model of Chinese landscape.

Ni Youyu, “So Near Yet So Far”, Perrotin, Hong Kong, 2018. Photo: Ringo Cheung. Image courtesy the artist and Perrotin.

Ni Youyu, “So Near Yet So Far”, Perrotin, Hong Kong, 2018. Photo: Ringo Cheung.
Image courtesy the artist and Perrotin.

Repetitively and experimentally applying the water-wash technique, Ni uses the pressure to wash away layers of paint until the texture appears as wuluohen, a type of Chinese calligraphic stroke that resembles the trailing of ink to rainwater trickling through rough surfaces and cracks. From far away, the work gives off an impression of a landscape painting with wrinkled texture, but on closer examination, the work embodies a three-dimensional feel with its tactile quality. The visual variances prompt the audience to question what is reality and what is fiction.

Ni Youyu, 'Relic', 2018, mixed media on canvas 220 x 600 cm⏐865/8 x 2361/4 in. Image courtesy the artist and Perrotin.

Ni Youyu, ‘Relic’, 2018, mixed media on canvas, 220 x 600 cm ⏐ 865/8 x 2361/4 in. Image courtesy the artist and Perrotin.

Also playing with illusion, Relic (2017) is a large mixed media work on canvas where the temporal dimension of the work is again distorted. As the title of the piece suggests, Ni presents a new and perhaps more detached perspective towards the general understanding of traditional Chinese landscape paintings. Eroded and water-washed, Relic takes a transparent perspective and visually looks like specimens of historical remnants. With formal analysis, the piece may pass as a traditional painting. The visual illusion prompts the audience to reflect on their preexisting knowledge that may not inform them more accurately on what they see.

Ni Youyu, “So Near Yet So Far”, Perrotin, Hong Kong, 2018. Photo: Ringo Cheung. Image courtesy the artist and Perrotin.

Ni Youyu, “So Near Yet So Far”, Perrotin, Hong Kong, 2018. Photo: Ringo Cheung.
Image courtesy the artist and Perrotin.

Ni Youyu, 'Freewheeling Trip VIII', 2015-2016, photograph collage; with frame: 20 x 60 cm|77/8 x 235/8 in. Image courtesy the artist and Perrotin.

Ni Youyu, ‘Freewheeling Trip VIII’, 2015-2016, photograph collage; with frame: 20 x 60 cm | 77/8 x 235/8 in. Image courtesy the artist and Perrotin.

Freewheeling Trip (2015-2016) is a collage of images from multiple obscure photographers on almost the same subject. While using Photoshop that is capable of perfecting images, Ni intentionally retains the margins and points of contact between subjects within Freewheeling Trip. The lines symbolise the manipulation involved to emphasize the number of works by different photographers, highlighting their present while merging them into a single piece of work at the same time.

Ni Youyu, “So Near Yet So Far”, Perrotin, Hong Kong, 2018. Photo: Ringo Cheung. Image courtesy the artist and Perrotin.

Ni Youyu, “So Near Yet So Far”, Perrotin, Hong Kong, 2018. Photo: Ringo Cheung.
Image courtesy the artist and Perrotin.

The “Inches of Time” series (2012-2013) accentuates the temporal fluidity that Ni emphasizes and practices. The work is a collection of handmade rulers, which although seem highly accurate and precise like machined-made rulers, they are still not accurate for any practical purposes. The artist describes:

On these “rulers”, every “millimeter” slowly expands according to my instantaneous feeling. Each scale eventually forms certain “numerical length”. However, there exists a difference in error between each distance and therefore in the real length of the ruler.

Ni Youyu, 'Orchestra', 2017, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 120 cm⏐471/14 x 471/14 in. Image courtesy the artist and Perrotin.

Ni Youyu, ‘Orchestra’, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 120 cm ⏐ 471/14 x 471/14 in. Image courtesy the artist and Perrotin.

One may wonder if a “subjective ruler” is still a “ruler” under this circumstance. One view is even although the handmade rulers do not serve their functional purpose of measuring distance, they symbolise a unit of measuring time under this context. Ni imposes our experiences of time into a symbol of time in terms of emotions and space. “Inches of Time” in turn questions such sensibility while also highlighting the grey area in our words and languages. This inspiration in fact draws from the fundamental skepticism of the artist about the standard of value and the quality of art in our era (concept taken from Zhu Zhu, “To Measure with a Subjective Ruler”).

Ni Youyu, 'Pagoda No. 8', 2017, wood, steel, 207 x 63 x 63 cm⏐811/2 x 2413/16 x 2413/16 in. Image courtesy the artist and Perrotin.

Ni Youyu, ‘Pagoda No. 8’, 2017, wood, steel, 207 x 63 x 63 cm ⏐ 811/2 x 2413/16 x 2413/16 in. Image courtesy the artist and Perrotin.

While exploring Ni’s works in “So Near Yet So Far”, the audience embarks on a constant and dynamic exploration to understand not only the works, but also the artist. The exhibition presents various works that tap into the artist’s philosophies and views on traditional Chinese art, social norms and other shifting contexts. The diverse media and creative processes speak to Ni’s constant experimentation and exploration of the different awareness and knowledge of the universe.

Gabrielle Cheng

2264

“So Near Yet So Far” by Ni Youyu is on view from 24 May to 14 July 2018 at Galerie Perrotin, 50 Connaught Road Central, 17th Floor, Hong Kong.

Related Topics: Chinese artists, identity art, nationalism, painting, gallery shows, events in Hong Kong

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