Paper, a material known to the modern world as a white material used for writing, sketching and photocopying.
Existing in the form of papyrus during the third millennium BC in ancient Egypt, the paper medium we know today began its roots in China during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 - 220 AD). Scholarly research suggests that the inception of papermaking can be attributed to Cai Lun, an imperial official, whose discovery of paper consisted of a combining mulberry, old rags and hemp waste. Forever changing the landscape of how history was recorded, transported and preserved, Cai revolutionised the art of papermaking and ultimately the road to modern civilisation. In a way, it can be argued that paper holds a significant place in the lives of Chinese people because its origins began and flourished in the world of their ancestors.
Celebrating its seventh birthday, the annual and travelling exhibition, On Paper, has conducted 15 exhibitions with over 400 participating artists. Curated by Chang Feng (长风), the show has made its way to 541 Art Space in Sydney, Australia.
Pursuing different forms of artistic expression, Chang asks his artists to experiment with the concept, uses, and 'inner spirit' of paper. In the past, artists have used traditional white paper, watercolour paper, sketching paper, discarded newspapers, glossy magazine papers, and thick cardboard paper. Creating works that emphasised the quality of paper, artists have employed watercolour brushworks, pencil markings, oil pastel smudges, and ink washes to test the endurance of the material. More recently, artists have been even more bold in their practice by transforming the medium into pulp, squashing and squeezing the paper into another abstract form, and reconstructing ripped up pieces into collages. By employing new techniques to play with paper, artists began to create new meanings and re-interpretations of one of China's oldest inventions.
In 2018, the curator brings together 10 renowned Chinese artists from various geographical regions across China. Once again, the materiality of paper is the subject of the exhibit and additionally, many of these Chinese artists re-contextualised their practice within the contemporary Australian art scene.
Close-up view of Qin Jian's work. Image Courtesy of Chang Feng.
Installation view of Qin Jian's work. Image Courtesy of Wendy Fang.
The first work that catches one's attention is Qin Jian's large paper installation, which the artist creates wonderful dancing silhouettes of various angels and figurines. The playful creatures are sprawled out across the floor and viewers are invited to come up close and inspect the finite details of the paper sculpture. From the thin strands of paper curled to resemble angel wings to the soft creases that create facial features and bodily gestures, Qin's work is disquietingly beautiful. The silver tonality of the work gives off a steel-like impression, however upon closer observation, it is revealed to the audience that the sculptures could easily tumble over with a slight breeze. Some are small and close to the ground and others are almost life-size and stand balanced. Such stoic visions of paper-cut angels and figurines gives a different perspective of paper, which is traditionally seen as 'light' and 'whimsical'. Perhaps Qin wanted to challenge our preconceptions about paper and thus playing with the physics of creating balancing paper sculptures.
"Looking for Enemies #16" by Guan Wei. Image Courtesy of Chang Feng.
Behind Qin's work is a modern re-interpretation of the Chinese imperial landscape painting. Renowned Chinese-Australian artist, Guan Wei creates a humourous, yet inherently political artwork that comments on contemporary military action. By marrying the conventions of ink scroll painting with depictions of modern warfare tools - soldiers with rifles, tank vehicles, and helicopters, Guan interweaves tradition with modernity. Asking the audience to consider the two inventions of China: paper and gun powder, Guan contemplates global change and the state of contemporary China. But how do these two products of Chinese invention interrelate? The first is used as a tool of preservation and the latter as a tool of destruction. Perhaps, on a surface level, Guan is referring to the destruction of the many Han to Song dynasty paintings during the Cultural Revolution. Or perhaps, he is commenting on the silent power struggle between the East and West. Or perhaps, he is considering the larger conflicts between the past, present and future. What becomes erased and what doesn't? History can be tricky and dependent on the author.
"Girl 3" (2017) by Wang Xiao Jin. Image Courtesy of Chang Feng.
"Girl 2" (2017), "Girl 3" (2018, "Girl 4" (2018) by Wang Xiao Jin. Image courtesy of Wendy Fang.
Presented as a triptych, Wang Xiao Jin's works are provocative. The lips of the young girl are lush, full, and suggestive, but her eyes are covered with photographs of Chairman Mao and erotic scenes from traditional Chinese paintings. Utilising Chinese newspaper clippings from the Cultural Revolution, the use of paper here becomes an unconventional 'canvas' for the work. It both frames the girl's face and also the narrative in which the artist wants to portray through the lines of text that peek through the oil paint. Presenting three different stages of Chinese history: i) the early Chinese dynasty era, ii) the rebellion against the imperial court and establishment of the People's Republic of China, to iii) the young girl representing the modern world, perhaps Wang is commenting on the changing status of women's place in history. This is evident when considering the court paintings, since the women appear subordinate to their male counterparts, whereas the modern day girl appears dominant and unafraid of her sexuality. Thus by using newspaper as a material for art making, Wang plays with text and images to create new meaning.
On Paper: Supreme presents many more fascinating and thought-provoking works by Chinese artists including Guan Yi, Guo Jian, Han Xing, Wu Liangyan, Yang Zhiling, Yin Kun and Zhang Dan. The exhibition closes at the end of this week on Friday, 27th of April, 2018.
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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