Body, Humans, and Humanity in Contemporary Chinese Art
Source:artintern Author:Kuiyi Shen Date: 2014-07-19 Size:
Through representing human subjects in their artworks, what these artists deliver to viewers is their understanding of the human body, humanity, and the meaning and value of human life...

The theme of the body has an important place in modern and contemporary Chinese art because of its intimate connections to the special background of Chinese society, politics, and culture. In traditional culture and even Chinese contemporary society, indifference to individuality along and bondage of the body were widespread. From the New Culture Enlightenment Movement of the early twentieth century through the spiritual liberation movements of the post- Cultural Revolution period, and to the full liberalization of society and the economy in the late twentieth century, people’s understanding and interpretation of the individual, the meaning of individuality, the value of the individual, and even of the individual body itself underwent an evolutionary process. For the present exhibition, “The Body 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 suffered the terrors of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), with its prolonged destruction of humanity and human value, people began to rediscover and recognize the importance of the individual person. “Humanity,” with a capital H, is deeply branded into the new figurative schools, “Scar Painting,” “Rustic Realist Painting,” and the slightly later “Rational Painting” that emerged in 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 of rediscovery and reinvention. In the late 1990s, as China entered a period of rapid economic development and people’s basic living condition improved, they began to have different demands for individuality, for the value of the individual, and for the environment in which he or she would make a living, but the goal of recuperating individuality and spiritual freedom have remained 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 depictions 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 human beings and nature. Shang Yang’s recent series, Dong Qichang Plan, reveals his consideration of society, culture, nature, and the environment, and transforms it into an interpretive and participatory active cultural performance. As for Dong Qichang (1555-1636)’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 deconstructed the landscape forms of previous masters, purified them and introduced strongly abstract elements to reconstruct them, thus returning mountains and rocks to their most basic geometric forms. This gives 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.

By bringing this exhibition to Oslo City Hall, Gan Yifei has added to it a new layer of meaning. The Nobel Prize, which is awarded at Oslo City Hall every year, recognizes people or organizations who have made contributions to bringing peace to humanity. Now, in many places in the world, peoples’ lives still face many threats, and their basic right of survival is still unprotected. Therefore, creating a safe and peaceful environment for human life and survival is still the most essential problem. The thirst for life and the desire for free and peaceful existence are rights that all humans should enjoy together. This is also the end goal pursued by all the artists in this exhibition. Through representing human subjects in their artworks, what these artists deliver to viewers is their understanding of the human body, humanity, and the meaning and value of human life. Over the course of the past thirty years of rapid economic development, all aspects of Chinese society have undergone changes that were previously unimaginable. In China, however, comprehension of the true value of life, recovery of humanity, and the pursuit of freedom of the body and the spirit still have a long route to travel; I sincerely hope to see the journey accompanied by the art of these painters.

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[Editor] 刘建兰

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