My Perspective of He Wenjue's "Movie Paintings"
Source:Artintern Author:Feng Boyi Date: 2008-09-10 Size:
In the world of Chinese contemporary art, the experiential existence rendered in the form of artists’ works often represents retrieved memory.


In the world of Chinese contemporary art, the experiential existence rendered in the form of artists’ works often represents retrieved memory. During the rendering process, most artists search the present space and time for historical memories, from the aspect of the visual images existing in memory and at the present time. They measure changed space and time by counterpointing images of a different time. In doing so, they have their values and emotional trends reflected, and even their enigmatic longing revealed. When television became popular as a common household appliance in China in the 1980s, movie frames constituted the major image resource of their memory of growth. The utilization of this resource in their works, therefore, largely originates from their visual reminiscence of their childhood. This is one of the reasons why old photographs, old pictorials and old movies are exceptionally adored by Chinese artists.

Honestly speaking, I could not comprehend Wenjue’s movie paintings, when he started his series in 2006. What I knew was simply that these paintings were copied from some classic movie frames in a post-modern fashion. It was only when his latest paintings were finished that I came to understand that his masterpieces were going to show off. For people who share similar experiences with Wenjue, viewing his paintings not only evokes memories of an eventful past, but also a pleasant sensation of “violating some sort of rules”. This is directly related to his methodology of extracting and transforming attractive movie frames and closely linked to the growth experience and the memory of his generation. Born in 1970s, he experienced China’s reform and opening-up throughout his time in elementary school. His adolescence was accompanied by the excitement and disorder of social reform. Like China was seeking for its new position in human history, China’s movie artists were going to great lengths to rebuild the unbalanced art world with the viewfinders in their hearts. After experiencing the uneasiness of gaining a vague idea of sex from movies in China’s depressive social environment and all the frustration of his manhood, maybe Wenjue already regards sex as commonplace without the profundity of defying established convention and without the pleasure of struggling for freedom. Both curiosity and pleasantry come from his free and flexible painting style, and elapse with a life style marked by fantasy. With the collapse of obsolete and fettered value, the labyrinth of desire and impulse, and even sexual pleasure, have become naturally accompanied by a sense of defiance and disobedience. In fact, movie directors’ patterns of desire are always revealed by the plots, roles and viewfinding modes of their movies. By viewing Wenjue’s movie paintings, we can gain an insight into his desire from a unique aspect. Most enigmas of life come from youth beyond one’s grasp and comprehension, which iterate warm scenes and tender memory. Because of their rarity, the enigmas become marked by sorrow, melancholy and perfection. This entails that Wenjue’s persistent desire is quietly harbored in his paintings.

Some people say that “generation” is a deceptive idea. They believe that it is a concept created by those people who are eager to categorize themselves. Time is a system marked with scales to measure space without beginning and end. When something comes into existence at a certain time, it can no longer come into existence again, it is no longer independent, and it is inherently combined with the temperature, humidity, noisiness and its entire surroundings then and there. Wenjue’s movie paintings embody the thoughts and feelings of his generation, which are not shared with the next generation. Memories constitute the major part of a generation’s experiences and feelings. The differences between the experiences and feelings of different generations, therefore, largely lie on the differences of memories. In the process of establishing the experiences and feelings of a generation through art creation, the establishment of the generation’s memories plays an important part. The reason why I use the verb “establish” is that memory has to go through a transformation process before it becomes art. The process is not automatic, and it involves artists’ huge efforts, which is actually the gradual establishment of cultural memory. Wenjue’s movie paintings always echo in my mind, because I have experienced the same scenes and mental conditions depicted in his works. Many other people share similar experiences with us, therefore, his works naturally echo in their minds as well. Maybe it is meaningful to further reflect upon this kind of echoing. What causes the echoing does not naturally evolve and is not sought by us. Instead, it is imposed on us by our time and society. Nobody can ever elude or refuse this kind of imposition. We have to grow up as regulated by our time and society. And we may end up possessing similar experiences and memories, while believing that they are unique individual experiences and memories. From this viewpoint, the uniqueness of Wenjue’s movie paintings is determined by China’s special historical and cultural conditions. Thus I believe his works can serve as a complement to history textbooks. Although the paintings have their own inclination and preference, they possess characteristics of time and individuality and are reconstructed based on filtered memories. In my opinion, viewing Wenjue’s movie paintings is undoubtedly one of the best means to feel the atmosphere of his time.

[Editor] Mark Lee