Of Time Suspended
Source:Artintern Author:Dr.Beate Reifenscheid Date: 2008-07-10 Size:
A few short years ago, foreigners coming to Beijing were most impressed by the masses of urban residents cycling down the streets, often in the plain uniforms prescribed by Mao Zedong.


A few short years ago, foreigners coming to Beijing were most impressed by the masses of urban residents cycling down the streets, often in the plain uniforms prescribed by Mao Zedong. These scenes have now gradually disappeared from the cityscape. Instead, progress and high-speed development are devouring the ancient structures of this highly complex capital. Despite its five thousand years of history old streets and hutong (traditional residences), traditional China has given way to this modern and international megalopolis. With rapidly growing consumption and a booming economy, there is little room left for individuals. Like swarms of bees, hundreds of blue-uniformed workers listlessly cycle the turbulent streets of Beijing, no longer individuals and with but negligible roles in the world at large. However, they are now more like antiques or fossils from the old China and the last bastion of slowness in the bustling activities of a capitalistic market economy.

Mou Huan’s painting is devoted to visionary and surreal phenomena, slow-motion actions, inertia and also the same fantastic coherence of acting figures which are not so unlike the drilled and trained " United Chinese". However, to read Mou Huan’s work as social criticism would be a gross oversimplification.

When examining more closely Mou Huan’s creative process and its development in Germany over the last decade, the surrealistic structure of the works stands out, reminiscent of Chirico or Dali. The relations between the figures are peculiar and disproportionate, each having its own independent existence. They are divided from the next, or in other words, they are frozen in an inert narrative. Space, architecture and setting serve only to intensify this suspension of time and magnify the loneliness and isolation of the figures portrayed.

Through this technique, Mou Huan had long ago begun exploring narrative. At once, his vision penetrates through walls, finding desolation and ennui in the apparent plenty of life. His visual language has transformed drastically from that on which he was weaned in China, and reveals threads of his once-alien European experience woven within. But above all, it is art itself that has exerted the greatest influence on him.

Over the past few years, Mou Huan 's visual language has become more compact. His narrative repertoire concentrates more on a few acting protagonists, often associated with a group of mammoth babies, whose physiognomy shows distinctive Chinese features, but possibly reminds us of Jörg Immendorff's famous Lidl-Babies. Mou Huan’s brushstrokes evoke effortless, floating and trackless movement in his singular series of bicyclists. The same is true in many of his motion studies, in which anonymous and faceless people in Tai-Chi-activities float in the air. These three examples alone are sufficient evidence of Mou Huan’s incredibly concise formal expression and the vast perception of potential in his work. His characters express a kind of unique balance between a quiet realism and apparitional fantasy, placing action in the interstices when time stops, as if frozen. This type of logogriphic picture game expands to a multiplicity of interpretations, in which suggestion is more powerful than portrayal. In addition, the fusion of foregrounded characters with the background renders the two nearly indistinguishable, not only because of ambiguity in contour but also only slight differences in color—in some places the only difference is the number of layers of color. Viewers often feel compelled to close their eyes, in the hope that the definition and clarity that the image lacks will spontaneously emerge. But it never does.

The visual richness of Mu Huan’s works derives from the sensitive texture of his brushwork and the delicate process of colors through which he makes the best use of minute nuances of light and shadow, for example, his choice of beige grey or grey which tends towards blue. When these two colors are put in conversation, a warming effect is produced. Mu Huan’s three “Squatting People” is a picture of people, yet their identities remain undisclosed. The work merely shows a typical Chinese situation of squatting people. Like an army troop in an infinite loop, the arrangement of three squatters extends into the distance. Their rigidity and lightness - as if they were ready and waiting for a surprise attack- inform a visual conflict of emotions, enhanced by a phantasmagorical atmosphere created by the use of light and a diffuse frigid grey contrasted against glittering bright light reflections. Despite the choice of theme and the use of light matched with almost unnatural colors, the effect is not completely outside reality, but rather one of differentiating “insane” details of color which challenge our usual habits of seeing and generate a form of alienated familiarity.

Mou Huan’s “Floating” series evokes similar feelings to those described above: each work shows the apex moment of a high leap, reminiscent of a magnificent karate master. The “Floating” series of paintings evokes power, elegance, agility and an "invalidation" of time which is produced in an instant. If our senses could record everything over again in slow motion, if life could replay itself like an opera, then the moment of a leap from the summit would be unforgettable. That moment would become eternal. The inimitable in Mou Huan’s work is the sublime impotence of action, time and space, and its direct conveyance to the viewer. Floating is to be without a concrete form. As figure melds with action, there is a natural and mutual reflection, in which the distinction between viewer and the viewed is erased.

Mou Huan’s recent work still continues in his original vein, those spectacular Chinese themes (infants, floating people, bicyclists, etc.), with titles such as “Windowshades,” “Light” or “At Noon.” These demonstrate Mou Huan’s current pure style of painting. The voyeuristic spectator sees only segmented female bodies—a woman’s back, bent thigh or a gentle pose under soft light, blending into the background as one body. But there is more. Mou Huan works to eliminate the natural boundaries between human figures and painted background, between object and a non-tactile sense of time. Light, atmosphere and sky are intangible after all, existing only in the visual realm. In the light of day, these become material, yet still intangible. Light is that which most fiercely affects our sense of tangibility and the perceptual mood. Under glittering light, forms becomes endless and inexpressible, because their contours have already been inhaled by the light and dissolved. Mou Huan’s seemingly very simple themes develop presence through tangible objects and an unrealizable reality, abandoning his characteristic “narrative” painting. The surrealistic techniques which accompanied his early works has vanished. The focus no longer on “narrative,” the painting itself becomes the locus, through the power of color and the observation of light. These are his guidelines and expressive methods in his newest works. It is these elements that make Mou Huan’s new works both contemporary and timeless. Mou Huan bridges ancient China and this new age, shaking off ephemerality and superficiality at once. His paintings prove permanence and timelessness, strength and power in a particularly Eastern fashion. In this way, Mou Huan’s work opens a bridge between China’s ancient traditional culture and this new age, between the spiritual power of the East and the dramatic and rapidly changing 21st century West.

[Editor] Mark Lee