Visual Archaeology——Social Iconography Criticism in the Artworks of SHI Hengbo Author:WU Hong Date: 2012-09-11 Size:
  The creation of young artists as a group has become a hot topic among domestic art circle in recent years. The main credit for this issue attaches to the transformation that China contemporary art experienced since 1980s. Why is there transformation? On one hand, there fosters a tension betwee

  The creation of young artists as a group has become a hot topic among domestic art circle in recent years. The main credit for this issue attaches to the transformation that China contemporary art experienced since 1980s. Why is there transformation? On one hand, there fosters a tension between contemporary art and social, political issue owning to the unique social environment. On the other, over-commercialized China contemporary art put too much emphasis on symbol and form. Later, these two tendencies build toward a large commercial production for the sake of certain established symbol. Therefore, China contemporary art circle has reached a common view on pinning its hope on young generation.young artisty

  Although transformation the keynote, things concerning the way of transformation, as well as the identity of young artist in the realm of art history is still a highly controversial issue. Some representative points are as follows. First of all, the origin and evolution of China contemporary art, compared to the logic of western modern & contemporary art, was premature and was born congenitally deficient. So there’s an urgent need for formal language. Second, growing up under the influence of consumerism, young artists will naturally digest fast-food character of pop culture into their creation. Third, young generation focuses more on self. They fight against the mono mental set of previous generation with personalized mental fragment. The above opinions, as the most popular pre-setting identity for young artist, are becoming a selling point in some exhibition.

  I'm really dissatisfied with these pre-setting identity labels. For labels and symbols are always cater to commercial purposes. Instead of a firm shackle on their quick mind, what young artists need is encouragement to develop personal judgment, value and style. They should lead a varied art life as different individuals.

  In fact, many young artists I appreciate cannot simply be generalized by those labels. They are independent, and keep inner-examining those categorized identity which are forced upon them by others. For artists of my generation, we may need the help of continuous rational thinking to have an introspective conscious. But for young artist, an alert conscious toward fixed thinking pattern is something inborn. In a time that admiring individuality, I shall be happier to see such an alert ego rather than that of self-pity and self-confined.

  This alertness of young generation has its origin in logic of China contemporary art. I believe it is not material, technique, vocabulary, new media or market but the attitude of questioning all reasonable and concrete theory, the core spirit of contemporary art. Some people are one-sided and over-simplified by equating spirit of questioning to a social symbol confrontation. But in fact, it is a kind of skepticism over paradigm of politics, system, culture, history, tradition, custom and convention in all. The spirit of questioning should be innate for human, because the history of evolution is a history of questioning. Questioning does not necessarily lead to antagonism, just like antagonism is not always based on real questioning. However, the need for highlighting identity label has bred a symbolic “confrontation” in the market, which not only weakens the social critical function of contemporary art, but also impoverished resources of art.

  Conversely, there appears a popular calling for art ontology and for re-discovering the value of art vocabulary. If it is natural for western contemporary art returning to the concern about human and society after modern and pre-modern period, I have to say that sheer analysis of vocabulary and language fails to solve the problem China contemporary art is facing today.

  For me, the sharp differences of opinion above derive from different ways of perceiving. In visual art, both logic and vocabulary attribute to way of perceiving. Visual art history, as a process showing man’s way of observing this world and its change, covers a variety of historical connotation, such as politics, religion, cultural custom, scientific research, technique tools etc. Our understanding and expression of present world are founded on the sum of all culture connotations in different phase of history. Consequently, it is a problem of how to perceive and interpret the world, rather than a problem of “origin” of it.

  In the context of man’s visual culture history, meaning and wisdom of SHI Hengbo’s artworks will dawn on you.

  Actually, SHI Hengbo also has been going through a time looking for scheme and pure vocabulary. But he gradually realizes that, currently, there hiding a wealth of information fragment inherited from history behind our way of perceiving. We will be shocked to see the culture gene we are accustomed is filled with a mass of questionable detail. We live in a world of subjective conspiracy. It is a world build up by our visual experience and thus reflecting our subjective need and main stream ideology. Artworks of SHI Hengbo at present have passed from negation to negation. He develops and discards formalized symbol criticism and pure form of vocabulary, then returns to the theme of “human in society”. I say the way of exploring social historical criticism from the fragment of visual culture as “social iconography criticism”.

  As mentioned above, subjective conscious keeps changing and regulating our perception. This modified perceptive routine, later, builds up in rational thinking and transforms into culture, tradition, and our knowledge system. As one part, contemporary art shows its value in unceasingly questioning the fixed knowledge system which it belongs to. At his experimental site, SHI Hengbo presents the confrontation between vision and perception. He uses painting and installation to break the mirror of daily experience, and forces viewer to reassemble those culture and history information fragments. At this moment, exhibition site becomes a site of visual archaeology. Every viewer discovered their own logic out of these visual fragments. Meanwhile, the meaning of “rainbow” as a figurative subject is reinforced from innumerable visual fragments, and spread from paintings to installations. SHI Hengbo employs cheap colored plastic strips to create an illusive experience of great visual pleasure, and hides his social criticism behind this essential apologue of our time. The whole exhibition site, then, turns to an ironic visual theater, where all visual tricks in history and reality wiped out. It starts with enjoyable visual adventure and ends in heavy social criticism. However, his criticism doesn’t stop in the surface of mere slogan. It is questioning and criticizing over pre-setting social value system, cultural tradition and the origin of unreasonable reality hiding in the fragments of history.

  I expect to find more young artists like SHI Hengbo, who is intelligent and has clear conscious about their social responsibility. Otherwise, isn’t it a big travesty to have a group of young artist who is more tactful and withered in subjectivity and social responsibility than their previous generation?

  Complete first draft in Bu Yi Restaurant, Chengdu, August 25th 2012

  Complete final piece in Liang Mu Chang, Tong Zhou, Beijing, August 27th 2012

[Editor] 常霞