26 Contemporary Chinese Artists Explore Materiality in ‘Allure of Matter’
CHICAGO—Containing a massive paper wave, a tower of leftover fat, and a tiger-skin rug of 500,000 cigarettes, The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China encompasses 48 works from 26 contemporary Chinese artists in an exhibition on view now in Chicago. Focused on the materiality of seemingly every day objects, the exhibition prompted artists to explore how substances like tobacco, plastics, and Coca-Cola could be fashioned anew. “Taken together, the works introduce a broader framework for understanding global contemporary art, which I call ‘Material Art’ or caizhi yishu, where material—rather than image or style—is the paramount vehicle of aesthetic, political, and emotional expression,” said co-curator Wu Hung.
The Allure of Matter is an extension of a trend artists in China began in the 1980s as they experimented and “exploded fireworks into paintings, felted hair into gleaming flags, stretched pantyhose into monochromatic artworks, deconstructed old doors and windows to make sculptures, and even skillfully molded porcelain into gleaming black flames,” a statement about the exhibition says.
Today, artists involved in the project, like Ai Weiwei (previously), Hu Xiaoyuan, and Cai Guo-Qiang (previously), are engaging with that provocative tradition through their multi-media works that often fill entire rooms, like gu wenda‘s human hair structure that is suspended from the ceiling. “Their monumental works represent a multifaceted phenomenon that inspires us to ask big questions about our relationship to the everyday material world around us as well as the interrelationship between Chinese art and broader trends in contemporary art globally,” co-curator Orianna Cacchione said.
If you’re in Chicago, make sure to check out the exhibition at both the Smart Museum and Wrightwood 659 before it closes on May 3.
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SISTER: An Intimate Stop-Motion Short About a Family During China’s One-Child Policy
Animator Siqi Song explores the deeply personal implications of China’s One Child Policy in her powerful animated short, SISTER. The film uses felt stop-motion animation to tell the story of a family that conceived two children during the years—1979 to 2015—that the Chinese government controlled the number of children families could raise. An adult man, the film’s protagonist, looks back on his youth and the complicated family dynamics among siblings and parents.
“Growing up with my brother has been a privilege and a bittersweet experience for me,” Song explains. She shares that, being an exception to the rule, she has been the subject of many questions from friends about the experience of growing up with a sibling. “I also want to tell the stories of my friends, who would’ve had a different life if their siblings were born,” says Song. “This film is dedicated to this group memory.”
The Los Angeles-based director and animator has worked on several of her own highly lauded shorts, as well as on the feature film Missing Link. Watch more of Song’s films on her website (where she also shares behind-the-scenes shots), and follow along with new projects on Instagram. (via Short of the Week)
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Impasto Oil Paintings by Li Songsong Explore Historical Events as Cultural Artifacts
Li Songsong uses dramatic textural repetition to create portraiture and landscapes in his large-scale oil paintings. The Chinese artist often centers visual narratives around historical events of the 20th century, working from found photographs and news images. In some instances, the story becomes more personal, as in “Civil Rather Than Military”, which depicts Songsong’s grandfather. In a statement about the work provided by Pace Gallery, Songsong shared:
I started this painting a month after my grandfather passed away. It’s from a photograph of him that I think was taken in the early1960s, when he was about my current age. I know what kind of person he was, but not until this year was I really willing to think deeply about him. I used a technique in which it is nearly impossible to paint delicate details, but in the end, the work still ended up with lots of expressive detail and an almost idealized quality, as if from a fairy-tale.
In both his intimate and anonymous paintings, Songsong balances content with process, employing tactile techniques that obscure the subject and emphasize the painting as an object or artifact in and of itself. Take a closer look at Songsong’s work in his solo show “One of My Ancestors”, on view through December 21, 2019 at Pace Gallery in New York City. You can also explore more of the artist’s work on the gallery’s website.
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A Dyed Wool Cloak Made From Scratch in the Chinese Countryside by Li Ziqi
Li Ziqi (previously) presents pastoral glimpses into daily life on her farm in the countryside of China through her Youtube channel. She records common projects and necessities with precision and care, often focusing on the tasks needed to created a multi-course traditional meal or demonstrating the ways she prepares for the region’s harsh winters. In a video from earlier this year, Li walks her audience through the steps of knitting and dying a floor-length purple cloak with wool sourced from a neighboring farm. The five-minute film follows her journey across the snow-strewn mountains, watches as she inspects and brushes out the gathered wool, and features cameos by a few puppies and a very tiny lamb. You can view more snippets from her life on Facebook and Youtube. (via swissmiss)
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Mirrored Ceilings and Criss-Crossed Stairwells Give a Chinese Bookstore the Feeling of an M.C. Escher Woodcut
Zhongshuge bookstores, designed by Shanghai-based architecture firm X+Living, feature incredible rooms coveted by book and illusion lovers alike. Each location in this chain of Chinese bookstores has uniquely designed spaces with reflective elements that immerse guests in parallel environments. In the Chongqing branch, criss-crossing staircases and a mirrored ceiling double the room for an effect that seems straight out of an M.C. Escher woodcut or an infinite Indian stepwell.
In the Yangzhou location, each book-filled room also features mirrors, but many are found on the floors rather than ceiling. These glassy elements are meant to appear like mirages, a reference to the city’s canals, rivers, and lakes. You can take a quick peek inside the Yangzhou-based location in the video by Great Big Story below. To view more of the Zhongshuge libraries, visit X+Living’s website. (via Design You Trust)
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Hand-Painted Ceramics of Everyday Objects Inspired by Classical Chinese Paintings
Chinese artist Wan Liya paints natural sceneries inspired by traditional Chinese paintings onto ceramics of contemporary household items. Soda bottles and soap dispensers become highly decorative objects, blurring the line between traditional and contemporary craft.
Each piece has its own detailed illustration—some feature birds perching upon blossomed trees, while others depict rugged mountainous forms. However, when the objects are arranged together, they compose a larger picture. The images are inspired by Wang Ximeng’s 12th-century painting One Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains, a large piece depicting mountains and lakes meticulously painted on Chinese silk.
“The idea of this installation work is based on one of the top ten [most classic] paintings in Chinese art history,” says Wan. “The Emperor Song Hui Zong liked [Wang Ximeng] very much and called him into the imperial palace and taught him personally when he was 18 years old. He died when he was 21 years old. Now, this is the only painting by him left.”
Influenced by Wang Ximeng’s skill and craft, Wan Liya reinvents his traditional Chinese style by placing the imagery onto contemporary objects, elevating the meaning and beauty of ordinary, everyday items. To view more of his work visit the China Design Centre’s online gallery and visit Wan’s website.
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Editor's Picks: Animation
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.