ShangART Gallery in Singapore presents “Imagination is Reality”, an exhibition by artists Hu Jieming and Hu Weiyi, who are, in turn, father and son.
The show is the result of ShangART’s Southeast Asia 2018 residency programme, and showcases 20 new works produced collaboratively by the well-known Chinese artists Hu Jieming and Hu Weiyi. Art Radar looks at the exhibition.
Father and Son
Hu Jieming is one of the pioneers of digital media and video installation in contemporary art from China. His work tends towards interdisciplinary practices that involve a multitude of fields of knowledge. Working with photography, video and digital interactive technology, he raises ideas and questions about time, space, history and memory. Hu Jieming was born in 1957 in Shanghai, where he continues to live and work. He graduated from the Fine Arts department of the Shanghai Institute of Technology in 1984.
Exhibiting widely, Hu Jieming has held solo shows recently at the Yuz Museum and the Aurora Museum in Shanghai, ShangART Gallery in Beijing, as well as participating in “Reactivation”, the 9th Shanghai Biennale at the Power Station of Art (China’s first state-run museum of contemporary art) in 2012 and the N Minutes Video Art Festival in 2011, also held in Shanghai.
Perhaps his most well-known work is The Raft of the Medusa, a huge photo-tableaux work from 2000, which updates the point of reference of the romantic chaos of Théodore Géricault’s 1818 oil painting from a sinking slave ship to contemporary China. Tourists, clubbers, musicians, students, sunbathers and protesters now crowd a raft made from empty Coke cans and Pepsi bottles. Hu Jieming’s photo work can be seen as emblematic of Cynical Realism, the movement that came to define post-1989 Chinese art around the world.
In the work, the artist is using a recognisable icon of the Western canon with intent: as a legible art historical reference that at once announces his own engagement with that tradition, but also a separation from it through his use of photo-collage and new media. As he commented in an interview with artist Zhang Qing in 2010,
First of all, installations, videos, mixed media and new media have their own path of development. It has nothing to do with us. They were introduced to China from abroad, just like English. Though we can speak English, it’s not our native language; its emergence and disappearance are not in our control. Secondly, there were some practical factors involved. These new art forms developed from scratch in the 1990s. We needed a new, internationally accepted language to enrich our context. Since [they are] closely related to communication, people pay much more attention to the work.
In his practice since, Hu Jieming teases out the complicated relationships we have with visual culture and history in the post-internet age, namely the superabundance of images, an excess of information, and the apparent relativism of the political, social or intellectual realms.
Following family tradition, his son is also an artist. Hu Weiyi was born in 1990, and is a new media artist currently living and working in Shanghai. After graduating from the China Academy of Art in 2013, he continued his studies as a Master’s student at the School of Intermedia Art under the tutelage of pioneering video artist Zhang Peili. His work is permeated with explorations of the unknown, and grapples with life’s mysteries. Hu Weiyi explores the relationship between randomness and nature, often through his own subjective expression whilst also articulating the audience’s position and reflexivity. His recent exhibitions include “Flirt”, a solo show at M50 Art Space in Shanghai in 2014, “COSMOS”, the inaugural exhibition at the Shanghai 21st Century Minsheng Art Museum, and “No Express” at the UCCA Pavilion in 2015.
ShanghART’s Southeast Asia residency
The collaborative exhibition currently on show at ShangART, on view until 23 May, is the result of ShanghART’s Southeast Asia residency programme for this year and showcases about 20 new works created by the artists during their travels in Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand, which they have undertaken since December 2017.
Using Singapore as their point of departure, the artists took on the roles of travellers as they studied the local contemporary cultures and natural landscapes in each country, striving to understand the heritage and history of the region. Through their works, the artists present their intuitive responses and narratives to the urban and natural landscapes that they encountered.
Produced over the course of the residency programme, the works exhibited include the remodelling of historical artefacts into video installations, along with conceptual photography and videos inspired by their experiences. Hu Jieming’s photo series “Orchard Road” (2018) explores the relationship between people and the environment, reinterpreting the movements of people in the urban landscape.
Whilst previous works have focused on China as his place of work, the city is important to Hu Jieming’s practice. As he noted in conversation with Zhang Qing,
I choose these elements because I’m familiar with them. They are part of my life experience. For the same reason, I seldom choose rural China as the backdrop of my work.
The images in “Orchard Road”, on show in the ShangART exhibition, are testament to the artist’s ongoing preoccupation with cities – at once a homogenising and estranging force. As cities get more and more alike, so the artist uses his photographs – often digitally manipulated – to expose the visual quirks and relationships of their depiction. As Hu Jieming continued,
[A]s the construction of globalized cities speeds up, cities are greatly influenced and quickly lose their distinctive characteristics. The destructive force is significant. More and more cities, both old and new, now lose their individuality. Constant construction and deconstruction produce more and more standardized cities. The progress of urbanization gives rise to the loss of a “sense of community”. By means of the technology of digital images, a utopian vision was achieved in the work.
Hu Weiyi’s presents a series of photographs entitled “Apart from Snow, there is Everything” (2018), which imagines a scenario in which winter befalls a tropical environment, depicting ideas such as the construction of bodily representations acting as part of the scenery and the constrained activities of people under the pressure of intense heat. Tourist monuments are transformed – and appear in the images as snow-covered, even in the blistering and bright sunlight – creating an impossible reality that questions received history.
Reflecting on the environment in Southeast Asia, throughout the exhibition the two artists illustrate a series of stories about the tropical climate of the countries they visited. The intense sunlight found in these countries results in a diffused impression of a region that does not experience winter. Their work seeks to uncover the historical context behind their local experiences, and create a contemplative image that reconciles the nostalgia of the past with an expression of modern society in search of past memories.
For example, the video installation A Story in a Camera tells a story of humanity and nature through two characters whose paths converge under spontaneous circumstances. In contrasting the natural and urban scenery of Singapore by drawing parallels between forests in nature reserves and the city’s concrete jungles, the short film provokes us to reflect on our sense of existence as we strive to differentiate between what is imagined and what is real. Projected through a remodelled antique film camera, the work’s apparatus and presentation further highlights the complexities between the portrayed, the perceived and the real.
Utilising clever composition, manipulation and presentation techniques, Hu Jieming and Hu Weiyi have created a body of work that engages with the history and present reality of the countries of Southeast Asia. Their works in photography and video installation represent a marked effort towards the conflation of past and present, the real and the imagined, and the potential and the absurd.
“Imagination is Reality” by Hu Jieming & Hu Weiyi is on view from 14 April until 23 May 2018 at ShangART Gallery, 9 Lock Road, #02-22, Gillman Barracks, Singapore 108937
- “Going and Coming”: in between stillness and movement with Chinese artist Jiang Zhi at Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong – May 2018 – Jiang Zhi explores the transcience of life in his ‘moving’ still lifes
- Cinerama: exploring the moving image in Southeast Asian art – March 2018 – “Cinerama” presents the work of 10 Southeast Asian artists working with moving image
- A pioneer of China’s ’85 New Wave: Geng Jianyi (1962-2017) – artist profile – March 2018 – a prominent figure in China’s ’85 New Wave movement, Geng Jianyi passed away on 5 December 2017 at age 55
- “Detour in Times”: 7 contemporary Chinese artists at Guangdong Times Museum – January 2018 – 7 contemporary Chinese artists are on show at “Detour in Times”
- “Rotation”: Chinese multimedia artist Wang Gongxin’s first solo exhibition in Hong Kong at White Cube – October 2017 – hailed as a pioneering video artist in China, Wang Gongxin is one of the first to use digital editing in his practice
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