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An Entrance To Ink Art And The Ink Art Collection of M+

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An Entrance To Ink Art And The Ink Art Collection of M+
View of Installation at The Weight of lightness: Ink Art at M+. Image courtesy of Erin Li.

'The Weight of Lightness,' M+ museum’s first ink art exhibition opened on 13th October and is currently on view through 14th January next year. With more than two thousand years of history, ink art, including both calligraphy and painting, is one of the most prominent visual languages in Chinese culture. Throughout history, it is also a medium that is widely practiced by artists in other parts of Asia, Middle East, and beyond. In the contemporary art world today, although art practitioners relentlessly push boundaries to free ink art from its Asian cultural confinement, it is still a medium understood as exclusively Asian by the public outside of the small circle of cultural practitioners. The curator of 'The Weight of Lightness,' Lesley Ma, through a diverse selection of artworks created by artists from different countries employing various mediums, sets out to highlight the museum’s ink art collection as well as to demonstrate the boundless potential of ink art. The thematic display of the exhibition on one hand provides an entrance for audience who are new to ink art to navigate the 56 pieces of artworks in the compact display. On the other hand, the artworks are grouped by themes in a decontextualised manner, through which the curator proposes an alternative discourse about ink art. 
 

View of 'The Weight of Lightness: Ink Art at M+'. Image courtesy of M+.

The exhibition is segmented into three thematic sections. In the first section ‘Scripts, Symbols, Strokes’, most artists engaged with the points, lines and strokes of characters. Starting an exhibition of ink art with fascinating examples of artworks that deal with different aspect of characters on one hand reminds the audience that ink art is not just about ink wash painting. On the other, this curatorial decision is very sensible and predictable, as calligraphy and painting were and still are thought to share the same origin in Chinese culture. For the second part of the exhibition, it is about a subject that has long been the interest of ink artists: landscape. ‘Desire for Landscape’ exhibits landscape artworks in different mediums. Although these artworks shares a common subject, their divergence is as relevant as the commonality. In the last part of the exhibition, ‘Beyond Material’, visitors will see artists use their creations to articulate different abstract concepts and values. Under the thematic grouping, visitors can have clear expectation of what they would encounter in each sections. Every single piece of artworks in the exhibition is so rich in itself and the grouping will never exhaust those artworks’ depth. If this is the case, how can we take these artworks beyond three themes?
 

Since the exhibition takes a thematic approach, it unavoidably omits the circumstances in which they were created. Take Xu Bing’s Book from the Sky as an example. It cannot be simply understood under the simplistic framework of ‘Scripts, Symbols, Strokes’ although the work reflected the artist’s intention to deal with the structure of Chinese characters. A thorough interpretation of the work has to be built on the pictures of the upbringing of the artist as well as the historical context surrounding it. Since both of his father and mother worked in the Department of Library science at Peking University, Xu Bing spent most of his childhood in the university library being surrounded by books. This peaceful child time was called to a stop with the onset of the Cultural Revolution. During which the artist’s father was considered as a reactionary with Xu Bing witnessing his father being criticised publicly. Xu was greatly affected by the sociopolitical environment of the time. These encounters and experience cannot be taken out of the picture when we look at Xu’s Book from the Sky. We need to pay attention to the context in which the artworks are created in order to respect and enjoy them. It does not only apply to Xu Bing’s work but every artwork in the exhibition. 
 

View of 'The Weight of Lightness: Ink Art at M+'. Image courtesy of M+.

The curator also invited a guest curator to develop a music experience for visitors. The guest curator, Lei Liang, is a Professor of Music from University of California, San Diego. He chose a list of 12 songs, which are put on headphones for visitors to borrow and to accompany them to enjoy the show. Four songs for each session, these songs are chosen to echo each theme and the related artworks. This musical part of the exhibition also want to response to a question: Can an image be heard and a sound by seen? When visitors walk into the exhibition with the music, the artworks and the exhibition are no longer only visual, but also sensual and spatial. The music encourages you to use your body to react to the expressive brush stroke of Tong Yang-tze’s calligraphy work, the power of the running river in Wucius Wong’s landscape painting, the tranquility in Ni Youyu’s Galaxy, to name but a few. The exhibition demonstrates that ink art should not be bounded geographically and materially by the deliberate choice of including artists from different countries and artworks of various medium. With music, it also takes ink art beyond its visuality and transforms it into a participatory experience. 
 

One may ask what ink art really is when it is almost taken beyond itself? It is not an easy question to answer. Anyone who attempts to answer it, however, has to bear in mind of the history of the medium on one hand no matter how far it may take us down the history lane. On the other hand, one also has to recognise that we no longer live and think like our ancestors who shaped and created the social environment that made possible for the creation of ink arts we thought of as traditional and masterpieces today. In order to make ink art relevant to the present time again, one cannot avoid putting the contemporary perspectives into the picture. 'The Weight of Lightness' starts and end with Nam June Paik’s Wurzel aus. The artist painted a square root sign without any number on a hanging scroll. A square root without numbers is an unsolvable mathematical problem. The audience has to provide a number to give meaning to the square root sign. It is a also the case for ink art. Not only artists and curator, audience also has to actively engage with the medium for it to have boundless potential.
 

 

 


Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.


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