Everyday Frenzies 躁动人生
As part of a running art theme, island6 unveils a series of multimedia artworks featuring electric patterns flowing through shan shui ("water mountain") pictures
and aligning contemporary media with the timeless passion of Chinese landscape
painting and poetry.
Beijing's Green T. House, with its beautifully coordinated art direction, is a perfect location for this theme. Everyday Frenzies opened on June 14, 2011, with a vernissage held by Green T. House directors JinR and Robbie Gilchrist with Red Gate Gallery directors Brian Wallace and Liyu Yeo, and attended by Australian Ambassador Dr. Geoff Raby as well as members of the island6 team.
Although the worlds
of Jin and Song Dynasty poets such as Xie Lingyun 谢灵运 and painters like Wen Tianxiang 文天祥 have changed in terms of infrastructure, culture, and economy, the aspirations of many like-minded artists remain the same today: to survey overwhelming surroundings
and overcome fear, to harness chaos through pen or brush, and to find peace in
one's mind and serenity in one's heart.
Frenzies, shan shui cliffs are replaced by skyscrapers and rivers by
roads. Still, the most spiritual of Song-era painters, like Zhang Zeduan 张择端, who once captured busy life in the city of Kaifeng, would see the island6 collective's infusion of headlights and streetlamps into the penjing landscape of trees and waterfalls as an ode
to urbanism that unites man with his surroundings in sublime acceptance.
Beneath Shanghai's ultracontemporary surface lies a thick layer of history, filled with teapots and dragons and ghosts. Viewing life from the bottom of a subway station or the
top of the World Financial Center, today's city dwellers might forget the water
mountain pictures of their ancestors. Deep rivers leading up to snow-covered
peaks may seem irrelevant to 2011 culture, but are they ever? Culture is
continuous, with remnants of one era affecting the next.
The continuity of culture is central to "Study for Birth of Earth and Sky" (施行巫术), where a modern-day Sumo wrestler performs a creation story from Annals of Dobuki.
The 506 CE story is presented in an age-old sport, represented in LEDs. Its
audience might be unfamiliar with both the story and the sport, but still
affected by the strength of meaning that the simple lights convey.
Shan shui art need not actually represent a recognizable scene in reality
but instead serves primarily to illuminate and express the ethical and mental
state of the artist. In today's cityscapes, mountains and rivers are replaced
by unfeeling concrete; the fluidity and complexity of form required to convey
internal states is found only in ourselves. Every scene bears different
contours, fresh angles, and new perspectives. In traditional shan shui
paintings, three key elements are required: a path that meanders with the page
to draw the viewer into the scene, a threshold that receives the viewers and
welcomes them in, and the heart that forms the focus of the image and to which
all elements lead. The maze of Shanghai, as Liu Dao sees it, has all of these
features embedded naturally. Every glimpse is a natural wonder and, like a shan
shui hand scroll, slowly reveals its complex and beautiful stories.
The path, threshold, and heart of "Gaojia" (高架) are more abstract and enigmatic than
those of classical shan shui. The traditional elements might possibly be
read as the path of a elevated highway, the climax of that path, and the tree
that holds the highway—and the artwork—together. Or the viewer might
see more symbolic elements in the work: the path of a city from village to metropolis, the threshold between past and future, and the biological nature that centers the experience. Mixed media of LEDs, Chinese paper cutting, and rice paper collage stained with tea allow for multiple readings.
In shan shui mixed with
pop art, rice paper mixed with video, and paper cutting mixed with LEDs,
island6 presents the everyday frenzies of contemporary China, the complex mix
of history and contemporaneity that marks cities as living beings. In island6's
arresting images, amalgamations of qipaos and pole-dancers, crumbling
structures and untouched valleys make sense. In close reverence to shan shui
masters, and in expectation of the Chinese art of tomorrow, the art is very
much of its time.
The naked swimmer at the center of "Easternmost Bay of Lake Mälaren" (美兰湖的东岸) enters the frenzied world of Surrealism as she takes a Daliesque dip through the waters of an LED interface. The streets or grass she normally strides over melt into liquid form to show footage of her body falling from an unspoken height into water and crashing along, as a star in the island6 reinterpretation of the collaboration between Dalí and photographer Philippe Halsman, Dalí Atomicus. The photograph, which shows the Catalan artist suspended in air while cats fly from buckets of water around him, is referenced as a point of inspiration for work that questions the powers of science in art. With the naked swimmer in the unusual physical scenario of RGB representation, Surrealism and fantasy are brought together in an animated artwork that celebrates the nature of our modern world.
The exhibition takes its title
from "Laments of the Gorges" by the 8th-century poet Meng Chiao 孟郊 (translated
by David Hinton):
Water swords and spears raging in gorges,
boats drift across heaving thunder. Here
in the hands of these serpents and snakes,
you face everyday frenzies of wind and rain
(The Late Poems of Meng Chiao, trans. David Hinton [Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1996], 38.)
[Brittney O'Neill, Pete Bradt, and Clare Jacobson]