Transformer, Washington DC
September 18 – October 31, 2009
Recently, I have been a little obsessed with mo, Chinese ink, in my artistic practice. It is an unyielding medium of uncompromising integrity and immediacy while it is also gentle, yielding and resilient. Its cultural heritage runs deep in Asia, which means this art-making tradition has become quite stylized and codified.
When the opportunity to curate an exhibition came up at Transformer, my first thought was to explore some current and on-going artistic practices that aim to expand and re-interpret the practice and tradition of mo. Often, in the continual search for new media, forms, methods and concepts, contemporary art practitioners discover exciting possibilities within tradition.
The research led me to a wealth of artists, some of whom have dealt with this subject matter for many years, in quite varied approaches. The Ink Storm exhibition chose to look at the exploration of ink through the works of three artists. It’s exciting to present these artists’ works to the Washington DC audience.
CHEN Shaoxiong’s ink-drawing-video diaries melt digital memory recordings and traditional methods of ink drawings into highly personal views of the current ebb and flows of the world. The videos are composed of casual yet exquisite drawings that are quickly rendered, spontaneous and full of life.
Many juxtapositions and transformations can be found in The Days: the most traditional recording device of drawing vs. the state of the art of digital photography; concepts of time: the fluidness of time flow in Chinese painting and video art vs. the fragmentation of contemporary life; the events described range from the loves songs heard by local factory workers to power lunches at Art Basel; four ways of viewing the same set of events that loosely describe the life of the artists parallel the way we are viewing this “Rashomon column”. Chen’s ink videos are insidious interpretations of our contemporary psyche.
DAI Guangyu’s site-specific installations and performances are imbued with socio-political messages through simple and powerful gestures. Formally and conceptually, like Chen, Dai’s work deals with the time component of ink painting, with featured elements that allow the installation to expand and reveal in time. His performances are not merely following the trajectory of western performance art, but also exploring the performance nature of traditional Chinese calligraphic or painting practices.
Empires Borders was specially made for Washington DC and the Transformer storefront space, through the symbolic spread of mo, investigating the significance and influence of a culture in philosophical domains. As ink flows out of the formation of China via American-store-bought-soil, the expansion of ink mutates both sides of the picture plane, revealing an excerpt text from the I-Ching regarding changes in the world.
Paula TSAI approaches her work quite differently from the previous two artists. Without taking on the burden of history and tradition, her organic ink forms investigate the formal deconstruction of ink painting process. The nuances of rice paper’s responses to the play of mo are explored, isolated and magnified in her sensitive and delicate drawings. Concurrently, behind formal play, we find that Tsai’s work deals with concepts of the individual and the collective, the negotiation of uniqueness within the collective.
The work comes full circle in the drawing for Transformer, as the individual forms of ink rings are selected, cut, arranged and reconfigured into a Mound, a name perhaps more modest and unassuming, but nonetheless informed by the most iconic form of landscape painting—mountain. Yes, it might be more abstract, but I find myself reading it similarly as I would a landscape painting—I step back to take in the whole view, but I also lean in, eyes drifting from one plane to the next, lingering here or there, taking in the scenery one cell at a time.
– Jennifer Wen Ma, Guest Curator