Body, Humans, and Humanity in Contemporary Chinese Art
Source:Artintern.net Author:Kuiyi Shen Date: 2012-03-06 Size:
The theme of the body occupies one of the most significant positions in modern and contemporary Chinese art because it has a close relationship with the special background of China’s contemporary social, political, and cultural development. In Chinese traditional culture and even contemporary society, ignorance of individuality and bondage of the body were equally widespread.

The theme of the body occupies one of the most significant positions in modern and contemporary Chinese art because it has a close relationship with the special background of China’s contemporary social, political, and cultural development. In Chinese traditional culture and even contemporary society, ignorance of individuality and bondage of the body were equally widespread. From the early twentieth century’s New Culture Enlightenment Movement to the spiritual liberation movements of the post Cultural Revolution period, everyone’s recognition, understanding, and interpretation of the individual, individuality, the value of the individual, and even the individual body itself underwent an evolutionary process. For the exhibition “The Body and Beyond,” Curator Gan Yifei has selected works by fourteen artists of different ages, histories, educations, and professional backgrounds. They include roughly three generations of artists who have been active in the Chinese art world since the Cultural Revolution.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, after having experienced the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, people began to rediscover and recognize the value of humanity and human beings, which had suffered such prolonged devastation. The word Human in capital letter is deeply branded into “Scar Painting,” “Rustic Realist Painting,” and the slightly later “Rational Painting” of the era.

Exhibitors in the present exhibition Shang Yang, Gao Xiaohua, Qin Ming, Zhu Yiyong, Gan Yifei and others were intensely involved in this process. In the late 1990s, as China entered a period of rapid economic development, and as people’s basic condition of existence improved, people had different expectations for the individual, for the value of the individual, and for the environment on which he or she would rely for a living, but the goal of returning individuality and spiritual freedom have always been a subject of concern to contemporary Chinese artists. The “beyond” that Gan Yifei emphasizes in this exhibition conveys that it is through the body—the flesh—or abstractions of the relationship between humans and the surrounding environment that contemporary Chinese artists seek knowledge of the human and ultimate human value.

Regardless of whether it is work by artists born in the 1950s, such as Gao Xiaohua’s Female Nude, Qin Ming’s Body Series, Gan Yifei’s Infinity Series, and Zhu Yiyong’s Black and White Diary, or by artists born in the 1960s, such as Hu Jundi’s Seduction, Li Xinjian’s Fox, Ma Lin’s Body’s Feeling, and Liao Zhenwu’s The Myth, or works by the even younger Lizi and Wang Shaolu, all use direct depiction of the body, whether realistic or expressive, whether bright and colorful or dark and gloomy, whether direct and concrete, or illusory or absurd, to voice their appeal to cast off bonds, and to seek freedom. Here we see sincere explorations of the human body, direct expressions of human desire, or deep questioning of the relationship between human beings and the reality that surrounds them.

There are also some artists who through more abstract forms explore the relationship between people and nature. Shang Yang’s recent series, Dong Qichang Plan, reveals his consideration of society, nature, culture, nature, and the environment, and transforms it into an act of cultural interpretation and participation. As for Dong Qichang’s art, historically concentration has focused on how he synthesized the achievements of the old masters to create his own style and establish the canons and conventions for later literati landscape painting. But to achieve this individual style, it was most important that Dong Qichang deconstruct the landscape forms of previous masters, simplify them and introduce strongly abstract elements; in reconstructing them, he return mountains and rocks to their most basic forms, which makes his paintings have a modern feeling even today. Shang Yang’s Dong Qichang Plan is not a passive representation of nature, but expresses his worry about the environment, his suggestions for solving the environmental crisis, and his consideration of how people living in a modern society face basic existential crises with a fundamental instinct to survive. His is an active cultural involvement that uses landscape as a vehicle to participate in interpretation and reform of reality.

The curve and extension of shiny metal tubes set against the abstract space in Gan Yifei’s Infinity Series also vividly implies the manipulation of human nature and an appeal for straightforwardness in a wider environment of ignorance. Xu Ze’s Silent Land and Homeland, Liu Xintao’s Rotten Night, also from different angles query the relationship between human beings and their living environment. Qiu Guangping uses the bodies of horses to symbolize the struggle human beings face.

Another very important and unique characteristic of this exhibition is that almost all the artists use the language of painting to express their concepts and demands. In the post-modern art world, with conceptual art dominant, the traditional artistic language of painting faces an unprecedented challenge. The appearance of various new mediums provides wide choices for the expression of artists. Many artists and theorists claim that painting has already died. But these artists continue to use painting as their artistic language, which itself is a kind of manifesto. This kind of insistence in the present day is not easy. They realize that this declaration of “the death of painting” is just one form of discourse. “But this, in fact, was a liberating idea…It liberated artists from the task of making more history…It is a moment…when perfect artistic freedom had become real.”[1]

  China’s recovery of humanity and its people’s pursuit of freedom of the body and the spirit still have a long route to travel; I sincerely hope to see it accompanied by the art of these painters.

  [1] Danto, Arthur C. Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspective. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1992. p. 9.

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