Top-selling Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi curates Chinese figurative painter Song Yige’s first exhibition outside of Asia.
Marlborough Fine Art in London is holding an exhibition of figurative works by female Chinese painter Song Yige, a longtime protégé of auction sensation Zeng Fanzhi. The show follows the theme of a journey, featuring the artist’s imagined dystopian wonderland.
Song Yige’s exhibition of figurative paintings, running at London’s Marlborough Fine Art until 27 February 2016, is the artist’s first exhibition outside Asia. Marlborough Fine Art was one of the first spaces in Europe to profile contemporary Chinese art in the early 1990s, opening the group show “New Art from China: Post-1989” in 1993. This was the first time that many of the Chinese artists were exhibited in Europe.
Born in 1980 in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, China, Song Yige graduated from Luxun Academy of Fine Arts in 2007 before moving to Beijing where she now lives and works. For the last ten years she has been supported and collected by the renowned Chinese painter Zeng Fanzhi, who curated the show in London. His style of painting has clearly influenced and given confidence to Song Yige’s practice, helping her to create a unique visual language that now stands as her artistic trademark.
The new and existing works by Song Yige on show in London depict everyday objects and absurd situations in the natural and physical world through real and fictitious settings. Upon entering the gallery, a journey – the exhibition’s underlying theme – unfolds, through a dystopian wonderland of visual tension between human detachment and animal behaviour.
Dance Party (2015) depicts a faceless celebration of six people linked in arms and holding balloons that are strategically placed to cover their heads. They are dressed in plain yet ornate dressing gowns where the only female in the line-up stands with her feet bound in ribbons. As if in preparation for a ballet performance, the contentious bindings potentially reference the “lotus feet” tradition popularised during China’s Song Dynasty period as a way of displaying social status. This painting is placed to the left of Backyard Garden (2015), a sub-tropical dystopian unknown land of parrots perched on broken branches captured through a decaying urban concrete viewfinder.
The visual, social, historical and cultural cues in the works seem to be setting the stage in preparation for a journey through a mysterious wonderland. However, continuing into the main gallery space, the realisation there is no rhyme or reason, link or conversation between the works gains momentum. From a painting of a fresh raw bone in The 171st Bone of the Mammoth (2015) to a stack of baked bread in Bread (2014), cocks fighting in Beginning of Success (2015) to a lone skull Reborn (2013), there is no clear connection.
Instead, together, they act as if stills from a disjointed documentary film of the artist’s inner mythical thoughts and imaginary visions, where the only implication of action in the exhibition comes from the work Her Hands (2015). Here, a pair of paint-covered hands positioned through curtains has been seemingly brought together through a clap as blue liquid explodes across the scene.
The faceless are again present in Thinker (2015), where five naked individuals sit and squat in a minimal and desolate scene, again with balloons covering their heads and the women’s feet bound. These ribbon bindings are also seen in Twins (2015), tying together two identical Italian renaissance sculptures.
Identity is further unseen in the series of paintings depicting the back of people’s heads including the partially shaved head of Male Star (2014), the braided and clipped hair of Movie Queen (2014) and the African embellishment of Man with Red Head (2015). The ribbons and collective concealment of human representation in many of Song Yige’s works could be interpreted as an overall comment on the “binding” together – yet control – of society and culture.
One clear commonality in all of her paintings is the use of a monochromatic, grey-scale background reinforcing the dystopian storytelling, also making a clear reference to China’s desolated cities left empty in the wake of over zealous construction, and the haze of pollution that infects so many of the nation’s urban neighbourhoods.
An ode to this can be further seen in the piece Diamond Miner (2014), presenting a post-apocalyptic scene of a man in a dirtied yellow radioactive suit standing in an interior space decorated with cacti plants. These awkward encounters and absurd situations of nightmarish dystopias and battles of the isolation have a natural connection – yet sci-fi edge – with the real world.
It is important to acknowledge the repetition of symbolism, including isolation through anonymous identity, hidden opulence, objects such as balloons and ribbons and monochromatic backgrounds, as they reinforce the artist’s motifs and unique visual language. The paintings are laced with cultural cues spanning the world, handed over to the viewer to decide their origin with notable references to Parisian, Italian, African, Chinese, Mexican and sub-tropical histories.
This underlying theme of journey is also literally shown through the works Platonic Honeymoon (2015) and Life Journey (2014) where broken and somewhat redundant suitcases are stacked and positioned as if sculptural relics of transit and travel to unknown destinations.
When viewing the exhibition, there is a fight to find identity as the artist keeps it constantly concealed, instead creating signposts to their realities through the titles of the paintings. These interpretations help to unravel the stories behind the works and are an invitation from Song Yige to question where the objects were found, why the people are there, their presence in the bigger picture of the journey of life, as they have their close-up and are brought into focus. The exhibition provides an opportunity to create a unique journey through her visual stage sets.
Artist talk with Song Yige at Marlborough Fine Art, 25 February 2016, 6-7pm.
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