Notes on Curation: the Making of "Heaven" Author:Wu Hong Date: 2013-09-04 Size:
Anyone who knows him would agree that Qiu is a sentimental and passionate artist. His earlier works make frequent use of the horse image, which, of course, is presented through personification. We are aware that horses are closely related to the development of human civilization, so that the culture revolving around horses is also a reflection of men themselves.

  Wu Hong ( Curator )

  At the very beginning I want to introduce Qiu Guangping to you all.

  Anyone who knows him would agree that Qiu is a sentimental and passionate artist. His earlier works make frequent use of the horse image, which, of course, is presented through personification. We are aware that horses are closely related to the development of human civilization, so that the culture revolving around horses is also a reflection of men themselves.

  The biggest difference between Qiu’s horses and those of his predecessors lies in that the former, in fact, represents men themselves or their traditional culture, as well as the predicament they are faced with in a modern material world. Under this circumstance, it is unavoidable that men undergo drastic inner struggles.

  The predicament also responds to the bottleneck Qiu experienced in his art creation, which is mainly because his works have been brutally turned into patterns or symbols by the art market. More and more collectors want to purchase art works of this kind as they have already been recognized by the market. Actually Qiu has some other ideas and created different kinds of art, which, however, are not necessarily valued by either the market or curators. At this point, he tried to figure out a new direction to make a breakthrough.

  Along came one of the most important experiences in the artist’s life: he made a journey into Tibet with some of his friends. At first he probably did it just to find a way to breakthrough, yet what happened and what he saw on the way gave him new ideas about how to present the ultimate concern of humans in his art. Just as Director Luo has mentioned, it is about how our civilization can sustain and continue, or how the current civilization should stick to the basic values in a modern society.

  What has happened to many other artists fell on Qiu as well: while they try to find relief for civilization through the means of religion, they end up having their own judgment and artistic styles drowned in the visual interpretation of religion. In a similar situation, however, Qiu was fortunate to quickly understand that religion is no more than a perspective for him to think and never the subject that he needed to present.

  In this process, a piece of Qiu’s early memory emerged, which is his brief experience of working in Guangzhou and Shenzhen after graduating from Sichuan Institute of Fine Arts. Just like numerous young men who went to South China at that time, he chose the Pearl River delta region because of the common imagination that it was a world of great material wealth. But as he worked, great conflicts arose between Qiu and the glamorous material world there. He began to ponder, with stimulation from the desire for wealth, where is the way that human souls were heading? He could not find inner peace on this land of opportunity, which can partly explain why he still chose to leave even if he had got a well-paid job.

  Now that artists can not acquire inner peace simply from material possession, and would suffer from a void of personal values in the mania for religion, then how one, as a professional involved in contemporary art creation, should place his own perspective of creation in the integral contemplation on the current patterns of civilization in the world?

  It is imperative to brief on how the theme of “heaven” was developed.

  When he invited me to be this exhibition’s curator, Qiu had almost ended the 19-meter-long huge painting, which gave me a strong visual impact as well as the sensation that it implied a different way of thinking from his previous works. The artist later told me about the other works he was going to exhibit and I could gradually grasp the theme that went through all the pieces. Thinking about his two other solo exhibitions—the first one was “Besieged on All Sides”held at Shanghai Art Museum with me as the curator and the other was “The Previous and Present Life” curated by Lu Hong at Wenzhou Museum—I felt something deep inside like a silkworm stirring in its cocoon, which, from my point of view, is men’s struggle against the now material dominated society. But this time, the cocoon is to be broken.

  I went to Chengdu on a business trip at the end of last year. When staying in the hotel, Qiu and I grabbed a piece of letter paper from the hotel and listed all the themes that were mentioned in his new art pieces, including spirit versus material, soul versus body, utopia versus dystopia, religion versus secularity, the transcendence of spirit and the degradation of body, just to name a few. At that point, the two of us found that all the themes pointed to one single motif: the way men expressed their inner desires. Both the world we are living in and its patterns of civilization—they represent how the world expressed itself—are the ways for us to express desires. Then the word “heaven” came to our head, which we wrote down on the paper almost at the same time!

  The driving force for the development of human civilization, or all the civilization patterns, is in essence the difference between people’s understanding of “heaven”, which, started from either a spiritual or a material perspective, is expressed and acted out. Yet what is behind the heaven stands the very best interpretation of inner desires. Pictures taken by Qiu at Wuming Buddhist College in Tibet’s Ganzi demonstrates asceticism on the path to the spiritual heaven; in the spectacles of urban “heaven” in cities like Guangzhou and Shenzhen, on the other hand, we can sense the growth of men’s desire in pursuit of material wealth.

  Then “heaven”, or how inner desires are expressed, has become a thread for us to develop the main theme of this exhibition.

  So how is the theme related to the exhibition space, the second floor of Guangdong Museum of Art?

  Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Guangdong Museum of Art was a typical piece of modern architecture with Chinese style. Its outlook has a touch resembling sculpture, also one of its most striking features. However, in order to make the structure more sculpture-like in the outlook, it is necessary to sacrifice the integrity of indoor space, which therefore has to be rather irregular. However, it also results in the merit of ampleness and diversity, not quite similar to the clear-cut “white-box” space commonly seen in other art museums. But this difference poses a great challenge for the curator when presenting a unified exhibition with a single theme. In fact when holding an exhibition in Guangdong Museum of Art during the SARS epidemic period, I had lots of considerations about the issue of space as well. In preparation for the current exhibition, Qiu and I specially paid a visit to the venue and had a field study in combination with the exhibition proposals. We found that despite its irregularity, the space on the second floor actually gave us another possibility and the key was to find the point of convergence for turning it into the spiritual and psychological space required.

  Somehow the unique structure did meet our requirement. Getting our hands on the floor plan, we immediately thought of mandala in Tibetan Buddhism, which is an abstraction of Buddhists’ perception of the world’s structure. To make it more convenient for its believers to understand, in Tibetan Buddhism a visual symbol is usually adopted to represent the spiritual existence of heaven. Mandala is exactly what they use to describe how the heaven is like. So we came up with this idea, could it be possible that we convert the architectural space in line with the spirit of mandala?

  In the very process, we found that the space expanded in a symmetrical way, which bore symbolic relationship to the structure of human body. As both the limbs and the head of a man unfold symmetrically along the spine, we can probably take the exhibition space as a representation of human body and try to build the logical connection between the two. What’s more, the dualism being played within also responded to the conflicting concepts of spirit versus body, or metaphysics versus physics.

  Thus, based on the architectural feature of the second floor on Guangdong Museum of Art, we tried to make arrangements so that its unique quality in spacial expansion and psychological effect would respond respectively to the layout of mandala and the symbolic semantic conversion about the desires in human body.

  The venue is basically symmetrical. Ascending from the stairs and entering the exhibition space, the audience would face a foyer, which used to be a dooryard but was later blocked and rebuilt. Behind it stretches a passage along which stand symmetrically four independent exhibition halls. There is still a last one that is irregularly shaped and affiliated to the venue. So our exhibition is to be presented in these five exhibition halls as well as the passage. The basic idea with which the exhibition is designed goes that it is not constrained to each hall’s independence, separation or closeness. Rather, all the space on the second floor is considered as an integral whole. In this way, while walking in such a venue, the audience would become the dynamic elements of this spacial organism. So by making use of the physical quality of the museum, we try to have an intertextual relation built around the body between the audience and the space.

  In dealing with the foyer, most exhibitions take it as the place to put up posters of introduction. However, if this practice is adopted here in our case, it would be difficult to demonstrate the organic integrity that we try to pursue. What’s more, this particular foyer happens to be in the shape of hexahedron, which inspired us so that we have turned it into a prayer wheel. When the audience set their feet on the second floor, they would be faced at first with a visual spectacle, or a man-made passage that is to lead them to an unknown world, which, again, is created as well. Therefore, once the audience enter the exhibition space, they will placed in a context with symbolic psychological implications. As for the other five sides, we put the introduction about what is presented in each exhibition hall counter clockwise, thus while reading the words, the audience moves in a way resembling how the prayer wheel is turned. Besides, a strong symbolic meaning and psychological effect will also arise from such a ceremonial activity.

  Presented in the first hall on the left is a visual model about “heaven”, which actually includes two separate pieces, one standing for “side A” and the other “side B” of the heaven. The former, titled “Heaven No.1”, contains a 19-meter-long painting and a mute video. In the painting there is a group of biting vultures and a neighing horse, which symbolizes the spiritual relief achieved after physical sufferings. The mute video, on the other hand, is an edited collection of clips from TV news and movies, which not only reveals the disasters now occurring in the world but also suggests what are the potential misfortune to fall on us if we blindly continue the current pattern of civilization. In this case, the painting is not simply a painting and the video is certainly more than just a video. Rather, there is an intertextual relation between the two, combining them to become a new art piece. Such an installation made up of a painting and a video, as a matter of fact, has built a spacial field with special meaning. With the involvement of video, the description of celestial burial is turned into some kind of cultural symbol, which encourages the audience to reflect on the current state of human civilization. Then they will realize, all the disasters that have happened in the name of “redemption” are just projected by our inner desire.

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[Editor] 常霞