The ancient Chinese poet Bai Juyi commented as follows on the topic of April (the month comprising both the Qingming and Guyu solar terms): “In men’s realm, after the fourth month, blossoms have all but spent.” Hence, April seems to be portrayed as a realm of tranquility. The season of spring belongs to the world of poems. The late Chinese poet Haizi chose to take his own life in springtime, with the parting words “In spring, ten Haizi’s are fully reborn.” In the north of China, spring heralds a long process of bidding farewell to winter, and constitutes the dawn of a new world. In the final sequence of Jia Zhangke’s film The World, a man asks a woman: “Have we all died?” to which the woman responds: “We’ve only just begun.”
As April heralds a tranquil spring, four artists will present four different artistic approaches to viewing the world.
After his series of architecturally inspired works, Meng Zhigang started to take an interest in the spaces of everyday life. He searches for generic, abstract spatial patterns in the mundane, concrete realm of life. He primarily depicts pure geometric spaces, such as the oft-reappearing Taihu-stones with their oriental aesthetic sensibilities, which combine objective spaces from everyday life carrying cold, abstract overtones with objects that have a tranquil, oriental beauty to them. The paintings of Meng Zhigang possess an ethos of divine embodiment. An artist who similarly portrays spaces of everyday life is Guo Lijun. Meng Zhigang being more concerned with the structural beauty of everyday spaces, what Guo Lijun is trying to convey by depicting the spaces of everyday life on mirrors, is a type of living space that is both phantasmagoric and real at any given time. As all things in existence are essentially mirrored objects, depictions by the artist will sometimes be depictions of such mirrored objects. In his creations, Guo Lijun uses performance as a method of expressing these mirrored images, imagined and real at the same time.
Artists Yan Ke and Xu Xinwu are concerned with two opposite extremes. Yan Ke portrays his subjects as microscopic still lifes. In this exhibit, Yan Ke explores the seasons from a microcosmic vantage point, approximating that which people of ancient times referred to with the metonymic saying “the fall of a single leaf heralds the coming of autumn” (一叶知秋 yi ye zhi qiu). Apart from dealing with the microcosm, Yan Ke’s microcosmic viewing angle also comes through in his intricate and meticulous depiction of objective images. The microscopic view portrays the state in which objective entities find themselves, and aptly reflects the subtleties of the artist’s creation. Perhaps the intended meaning of Yan Ke’s works is best illustrated with a line from the Doctrine of the Mean: “In order to carry out the full breadth of things, one must exhaust their refined essence.”
Xu Xinwu, on the other hand, makes use of the same sort of abstraction in all his paintings, with portrayals ranging from the macrocosmic realm to objective spaces. From these pertinent depictions, the artist tries hard to distil meaning that is both macroscopic and intrinsic. If Yan Ke’s paintings can be said to present us with ordinary marvels, then Xu Xinwu’s paintings are about pursuing intrinsic qualities through the depiction of the vastly immense.
As spring stealthily dawns upon us in the month of April, the works of these four artists present us with the aura of muted mysteries.