Light Calligraphy # 4
"Light Calligraphy # 4", color print in light box, 100 x 130 cm
Opening exhibition in our new gallery space, Sophie-Gips-Höfe Berlin-Mitte
ASIA: THE PLACE TO BE?
In this exhibition, the question ASIA: THE PLACE TO BE? is brought up 13 times. Nine artists are from China, three from South Korea, and with Gerhard Richter´s Mao, dating from 1968, there is also a representative of the ´Western look´ towards the East.
Never before and in none of this galleries had Alexander Ochs shown a portrait of Mao. Now, in the first exhibition at the new space, the vague face of the ´big chairman´, shining in the dark, can already be seen from the entrance hall. The conflict between today´s China and the founder of the people´s republic is reflected in the 70/30 formula which is proclaimed by the official historiography – i.e. 70% of his deeds are today considered to be correct, 30% as wrong. From the Westen point of view, this historical pragmatism seems to be extremely strange. Though artists who partly lived the terror of the cultural revolution found another way to express the progressive distancing look back. Under the ´Mao-Pop´ label, with their screaming colours and sometimes the esthetics of propaganda posters, those works express their ironic though broken relationship with the recent history of China. Especially this type of works were very popular on the Western art market of the 90´ies which also resulted in a wave of more or less commissioned works. Exactly this period of the Mao-cult coincided with the opening of Alexander Ochs´ first gallery and with it the decision to refuse to go along with the tendency of the art market.
The dilemma of the Western reception of Asia
The exhibition ASIA: THE PLACE TO BE? focuses on the dilemma of Western reception and the henceforward booming art tourism in the Far East. Have we lately been speaking of a flourishing market for (not only) contemporary works by East Asian artists, any creating of contexts are missed out and the problems of blatant lacks are only rarely expounded.
ASIA: THE PLACE TO BE? is opening with the yet cited Mao-portrait by the German painter Gerhard Richter. The painting is dating from 1968 and was created in reaction to Warhol´s large-sized, heroic Mao. By implying minimal color contrasts on a scale of shades of grey, Richter is disolving the protagonist´s face and is thus reflecting a scene of instability. Given this fact, the work is forming a relevant ´intro´ for the Asian artists´ works. And still: there is the question of the ´specific Western view´.
ASIA: THE PLACE TO BE?
The exhibition is raising this question especially under two points of view. On the one hand, it´s alluding to the over and over repeated topos of the Western media, saying that the future of the West lies in China. On the other hand, each work grants insights into the Chinese internal perspective. Here, the scope of works is ranging from flashbacks into the dark chapters of Chinese history like the Japanese-Chinese war in the 30´ies and 40´ies, the bright and dark sides of the industrialization and the devastating consequences of the cultural revolution. At the same time, the energetic atmosphere of the art scene becomes visible, taking a multi-media stand on ´the here and now´ in China and Korea.
What´s presented in the exhibition ´Mahjong. Chinese contemporary art of the Sigg Collection´ (currently at the Bern Kunstmuseum and as of autumn 2006 at the Hamburger Kunsthalle) as a documentary scope, ASIA: THE PLACE TO BE? is giving precise examples through chosen artist positions: there is no such thing as the characteristical Chinese or Korean in the art from China or Korea.
By saying goodbye to this cliché, the gallery visitor has at least two options: first, the displayed work can be seen and compared to other International artists and/or the displayed will be taken as an invitation to take a look behind the scenes. The second way leads to the realistic past or presence of Eastern Asia. With the example of expressive brush strokes, depicting industrial scenarios by Cui Guotai (born in 1964), the exhibition even offers this background, and also with the Wang Bin´s documentary film ´Tiexi District´ which drew a lot of attention during the Biennale in 2002. For several hours, the film is showing the tristesse of the meanwhile completely run-down, formerly favorite industrial plant Tiexi in the Chinese town of Shenyang. Asia: The place to be?
In his work Vibrations I (oil on canvas, 2005), Yang Shaobin (born in 1963) picks up another painful chapter of Chinese history: the Japanese-Chinese war of the 30´ies respectively the 40´ies. In a frosted blue, the Japanese bombers tremble over the sky of China. With Gerhard Richter´s Mustang-Staffel (1964) at the back of our minds, which brings up images of the destructive low-flying plane attack over Dresden during World War II, Yang´s painting is clearly communing. Typically enough, the air planes on both paintings are flying towards opposite directions.
At first, Qin Yufen´s (born in 1954) installation appears to be quite decorative. Red and black Mao jackets are floating in visual proximity to Richter´s Mao. But it´s not as it seems. Accompanied by a Chinese observer, the mobile-like construction is changing into an allusion to the deep pits between the followers of Mao´s ´red ideas (keeping in mind their bloody, red consequences) and the formerly commoners. The later became the target of the cultural revolutionaries´ unstoppable hatred. Through this work, the memory of tragic impacts into the chronicles of innumerable Chinese families is turned into a cipher which will stay uncomprehensible to any Western beholder without background knowledge.
Despite their artistic simplicity, the displayed scenes of Wang Guangyi´s (born in 1957) oil on canvas paintings do seem to be rather cryptic. With the esthetics of cheap-print picture stories from times of the cultural revolution, they turn the proportion of positive/negative upside down. White outer lines dig into the black background and thus create the association of the traditional Chinese cut-out at the same time. Once, those picture stories had been created to allow the big number of illiterates on the countryside to make themselves familiar with the ideological guiding principles of the party or to give guidelines for the daily behaviour. Today, the present young generation of China does no longer understand the partly double iconography of those pictures. However, it´s not less irritating to see precisely pictured situations such as a group of young women who demonstrate with a happy expression how easy it is to construct a gas mask out of day-to-day objects.
The seemingly body-paintings, but realistically 3D-computer graphics by Kim-Joon (born in 1966) only admit little delight. Though leading the gallery visitor into the presence, colored by neon lights, but in the end, the titled people groups ´We-adidas´, ´We-Jesus´ and ´We-harley´ turn out to be monstruous patchwork bodies. Their skin has been converted into an advertising space.
In her series Breath (2003/2004) and Face (2005), using watercolor on paper and then transfering it onto canvas, the artist Yoo Junghyun (born in 1973) is destroying the myth of the beloved child. By freezing the child´s body into the shape of a doll, which is decorated by traditional, floral designs, she bereaves in the second series the child of any possible demarcation to the outer world. The lovingly painted floral ornaments make the apparant deformation of the blured body shapes and facial features look even more gruesome.
Wang Yin (born in 1964) is far away from the very shady insights into the past and present living realities in Asia. Some of his works show landscapes with people in a ´locus amoenus´- atmosphere while for this exhibition, he commissioned peasants to paint a traditional floral design which is covering up the entire canvas. In case expressions like decorative art or even kitsch come to one´s mind, this would even meet the artist´s intention. Also, targeted failurewill not counterdict his interpretation of art. He even perceives his paintings which are either not at all or only partly painted by himself, as a focused sabotage of the art market, merely keen on commerce.
With their superficial ordinariness Hai Bo´s (born in 1962) photographs allow a genuine view onto the China of two times. The artist arranges old black-white photographs, up to 30 years of age and depicting relatives, friends and acquaintances, along side with pictures which show the same people. This time, though the people are put into the same pose, the photographs are in color. Beside the undiable characterics of each person, the pictures show the traces of time and the change in fashion – if one can even talk of fashion with regard to the uniforms of the Mao-look.
The works of Yin Xiuzhen (born in 1963) und Miao Xiaochun (born in 1964) take up the phenomenon of the big city. Yin´s suitcase object Portable City: Singapore (2003) materializes what all Asian metropolies have in common: the fascenating but also nerve-wracking speed which lets everything change, and the corresponding mobility which is asked from the residents of such an environment. Compared to their real model, where this is not possible, the artist grants permanence to the buildings and the natures in her ´portable cities´. Miao Xiaochun´s digital enhanced photograph Orbit (2005) puts one of Asia´s cities into the center which has already become the international symbol of acceleration: Beijing. Different speeds are made visible through different exposure times. While pedestrians within the hectic urban scenery are clearly recognizable, cars are turned into a mere movement, and the contours of a big construction plant is blurred to such an extent that the created effect of space and depth reminds us of the picture composition in classical landscape paintings.
Light Calligraphy (2005) by Kyungwoo Chun (born in 1969) invites us to return once again to Gerhard Richter´s Mao. Despite making use of color photography (Chun) instead of lithography (Richter), the associative nearness is striking. Nontheless, it´s not the subject matter ´Mao´ to which Chun is creating a reference, but the alienating relation with the displayed. Also Chun is showing faces which pop up in the dark and which disappear into the darkness. While Richter turned towards the unknown with his kind of portrait, Chun, on the other hand, alienates the usually known in his pictures. This effect is even enforced by Chun´s use of caligraphic signs. They run through the painting´s center and are thus altered that they lack any kind of expressiveness.
At the end of the exhibition is Chi Peng (1981) as the former student of Miao Xiaochun and also, the youngest of all presented artists. With his digital enhanced photo series ´I Fuck Me´ (2005), he is ´drawing´ a less simpathetic, marked by double standards, image of the interpersonal relations in China. ´Mirage´ is a comment from the Chinese artist´s perspective to the Asia-Hype which is addressed by the exhibition title. Like a swarm, Chi Peng´s androids are flying towards Singapore. "Everybody is heading for Asia, but do they really know, where they want to go exactly?"