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Mindful of complexities-2

(2008-12-28 14:59:52)
标签:

imaginary

legend

liangjiadian

zhang

yuan

installation

painting

分类: 评论文章

……

"Imaginary Legend" created an opportunity for Zhang Yuan to extend his talents in new other directions. The two pieces of sculpture were not the only three-dimensional works in the show. The installation One Grain of Rice Breaks the Roof was a succinct mechanism for expressing an idea, and a specifically personal nuance. It drew upon Zhang Yuan’s personal experience—an observance related to his young son—which he seamlessly translated into a three-dimensional form. Onto this was transposed that alienating, unsettling nature which reverberates in so many of Zhang Yuan’s works. One Grain of Rice Breaks the Roof was created as a sanctuary in which his son could complete his homework. Naturally, this four-sided and roofed wooden “shed” carries multiple layered meanings; as a prison cell, a detention space, where a child is forced to focus, to work and, by analogy, how the mind is confined from the moment its education begins—boxed into conventional thought patterns. One Grain of Rice Breaks the Roof in essence is also like a womb; comforting, safe, yet claustrophobic, the proportions too tall and narrow vertically to be of a child’s choosing, so clearly imposed by an external determining force. It is a highly successful piece: one example of a work for which the viewer doesn’t need to know the specific “local” background to understand and experience the conflicted emotions and concerns it to which it alludes.

 

A second installation piece, Standing Tree at the South Gate, is, however, quite the opposite. Its appearance and form is so simple: a beam of wood—the tree—leaning against the wall next to a map of the centre of Beijing and a small sketch of a man shouldering the “tree”. Unintelligible to anyone unfamiliar with an ancient story that records a similar length of wood located at the southern gate of the Imperial Palace. Whomsoever could achieve the Herculean feat of carrying this beam to the northern gate would be rewarded for his strength, diligence, prowess and determination: all characteristics believed to be the mark of a valiant man of the people. When one grasps this, the work is revealed to be touching and poignant in the climate of the moment, when as Zhang Yuan believes, such a task would find no takers amongst the governing classes who pass as the noble official class today, for such modern mandarins care little for the pure ideals of ancient heroes; nor for displaying their diligence and devotion to the public by their deeds alone. Moreover, this work is achieved through the confident piece of placing of a handful of simple, obvious and yet intelligently chosen objects with nothing to clutter or obscure the effect or message.

 

For Zhang Yuan, the construct of an “Imaginary Legend” serves as a prism through which to re-examine the world, familiar emotions as well as situations or events. This title is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the theme that links the works in the exhibition: that, one might say, is the relationship between truth and reality, fantasy and fiction, past and present. Zhang Yuan’s Muse here is a place named Liangjiadian, which is the name of the place in which he lives, and which is very different today from the noble activities its name suggests. As Zhang Yuan explains, Liangjiadian means “the place where armour is repaired and polished”[1], and also on another level “the place to show power and force”[2]. Today, Liangjiadian is the site of a waste disposal plant near a water supply with the contamination from the site seeping into the water table and creating a dangerous level of toxicity for the people who live in the vicinity and farm the land. This issue is fundamental to the Nameless Ship series—particularly the small sculptural piece—for the ship looks as if its cargo is the world’s trash…continuously circling the seas carrying a never ending stream of waste that will be flowing into a dumpsite near you soon…All the while, the people are “told” that the waste problem has been taken care of: words of reassurance that make all the right noises without ever altering the facts of the problem which remains unresolved. “Liangjiadian” is a metaphoric symbol for the environment—its neglect and destruction—and the individual’s power or powerlessness to affect change. Yet how willingly the people will believe the line they are spun: “the masses can always be manipulated”, he says. But the fact of “Liangjiadian” as a Muse or subtext is a good example of how in these recent works Zhang Yuan has proved himself right: one doesn’t need to know this background to experience the works, nor is it necessary now to know all the thoughts circulating around this topic in the artist’s mind to grasp, enjoy, be moved or disturbed by the works. What Zhang Yuan achieved in “Imaginary Legend” was to extrapolate the ideas into the broader social arena in terms that become generic and therefore universal: simple and direct.

 

The visual style of the paintings (in particular) is disparate in places. This was entirely intentional: how else to address the various emotions and nuances of the narratives Zhang Yuan sought to relay. Each painterly “style” perfectly modulates the tone of the language being brought to the intended expression to the correct or envisaged intonation. But one might also suggest that it was also because all those narratives that were competing on a single picture plane just twelve months earlier had now been unravelled and were beginning to unfold on an individual basis as separate strands of a broader narrative. It is for this reason, too, then that so many diverse approaches could emerge from the same mind, the same hand, and hold their own with so much vigour. So much resounds on the canvas without any need of amplification or explanation. Zhang Yuan revealed a passion, a quiet burning rage against the machine, against the irrational mindsets and actions of contemporary, which left a lasting impression. It was clear that Zhang Yuan is becoming increasingly clear about what he wants to say now, and concise with it. Significantly, in setting a new benchmark for the artist, “Imaginary Legend” confirmed the future potential of this artist. One year, one big step: we await the next one with a crisp sense of anticipation.

 



[1] “Imaginary Legend--Interview: James Elaine and Zhang Yuan”, Zhang Yuan’s studio, Oct. 2008

[2] Ibid.

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