Culture ∙ Mind ∙ Becoming. Re-Discover. 55th Venice Biennale.

Re-discover“, curated by independent curator Karlyn De Jongh, exhibits the work of 19 Chinese and Taiwanese contemporary artists coming from a variety of artistic backgrounds. The common denominator for their works, following the curatorial vision for this section, is their return to their Asian cultural roots and their process of transformation, re-elaboration, deconstruction, reconstruction and ultimately re-discovery of their origins, through the inclusion of history, traditional media and philosophy, symbols and imagery of Chinese culture. Mixed with their knowledge of western artistic practices, the artists’ works explore Chinese heritage through the lens of globalisation, bringing the artists closer to home and yet internationally significant and understandable to a western outlook. The results are beautiful re-explorations of traditional eastern culture and the modern world seen through the East.


Hua Qing, Line Sketching Practice No.2, 2011, oil on canvas, 280 x 280 cm

Hua Qing (b. 1962, Huabei) explores human nature, its animalistic side and its subliminal thinking. The animal theme is closely connected with the evolution of human beings and takes on an allegorical symbolism in his works. The artist wants to evoke the animal instinct that is innate in every human being. He explains that the world is essentially a non-human world, although man is the material carrier of “rationality”. The artist raises questions about the continuing ability of man to improve, rationally, the advanced society and civilised world he has created so far, while at the same time having to confront the laws of nature and the inevitable natural course of man’s destiny.


Hua Qing, The 12 Zodiac Animals, 2011, silkscreen prints, 50 x 50 cm (12 pieces)

The 12 Zodiac Animals series of sketches on paper re-interprets the traditional animal signs of the zodiac in a form of wildness, while maintaining their significance in relation to human characteristics. His series of oil paintings that represent animals are a form of study of the features of wild creatures giving them a human kind of presence, as if they were portraits of people. The artist shows his preoccupations with the future destiny of man. Man evolved from an wild animalistic state, how impossible is it for other animals to surpass man in the future of this world?


Ye Yongqing, Painting a Bird, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 150 x 200 cm

Ye Yongqing (b. 1958, Kunming) has experimented and worked in various styles, from Expressionism to works inspired by Medieval altar art. In the 1990s, he worked predominantly with collage on canvas, his series Big Posters being a famous example of his work at the time. In 1999, he started painting birds obsessively, usually one single bird on a very large canvas, an almost meditative calligraphic work, with empty space all around and the studied detailed, yet sketched bird. Proving really popular on the Chinese art market, certainly thanks to its “literati painting” inspired style, the artist has continued to make such bird paintings for ten years. For the artist, his birds embody mythology from both the East and the West. His poetic, delicate representations mix old and new traditions. In  big sweeping gestures on canvas, the artist is able to capture stillness and movement.


Cai Guoqiang, Deer and Pine Tree, 2012, gunpowder on paper, 200 x 300 cm

Cai Guoqiang witnessed the social effects of the cultural revolution first-hand, personally participating in demonstrations and parades. He grew up in a setting where explosions were common, whether they were the result of cannon blasts or celebratory fireworks. He also “saw gunpowder used in both good ways and bad, in destruction and reconstruction”. The has channeled his experiences and memories through his numerous gunpowder drawings and explosion events.

His drawings consist of a wide variety of symbols, narratives, traditional materials such as fengshui (the balance of energy flow), Chinese medicine, shanshui paintings (paintings that depict scenery or natural landscapes), science, flora and fauna, portraiture, and fireworks. Much of his work draws on Maoist/socialist concepts for content, especially his gunpowder drawings which strongly reflect Mao Zedong’s tenet “destroy nothing, create nothing.” His experimentation with explosives on a massive scale and the development of his signature “explosion events” have made the artist famous around the world.


Han Tao, Rainbow Tower, 2012, mixed media installation, 700 x 70 x 70 cm

Han Tao (b. 1979, Laiwu) is concerned with social affairs and daily news. In an era where, he says, everyone is trying to escape from the reality, he explores the peculiarities of daily life. Han Tao considers himself like a “city hermit”, observing the realities of human life in the urban environment.

Han Tao’s creation of the Towers series is directly connected to his life experiences, for his father was the director of a high voltage towers factory, and since his youth he has felt an inexplicable affinity with “towers”. Later when he moved to Beijing to begin his career, he resided in the Songzhuang artists district, where his home lays amidst an array of high-voltage towers. The Towers series express his sense of the real world of “politics, life and death”, displaying the weakness of life amidst the macro-environment and reflecting his desire for effective civil rights and cultural support.


Li Chen, Sould Guardians – Lord of Wind, 2008, bronze, 66 x 99 x 127 cm

Li Chen (b. 1963, Taiwan) displays a profound understanding of the human condition, which ripples throughout the rich depth of his zen works with their spirit of childlike innocence and unambiguous joy. He believes that life involves loss only in consequence of alienation, as the dust of regret silently accumulates in the corners of the soul. The artist aspires to a spiritual arts therapy, uncovering a wealth of joy amidst the simple life’s pleasures, innovating a spiritual space through the pieces. Humor embellishes a metaphorical engagement with the world, in the hopes of sharing this consciousness with the viewer as they appreciate the spiritual elements informing these creations. He relies on the unique techniques of traditional Chinese ink lacquering with gold and silver leaf, animating a miraculous contrast through its “heavy yet light” presence.


Zhang Huan, Naval Battle No. 2, 2007, incense ash on linen, 300 x 160 cm

Zhang Huan (b. 1965) started out as a performance artist and later developed his artistic practice to include various media such as photography, sculpture and painting among others. A very versatile artist, he has been concerned with politics, society and cultural identity. In the past few years, he has turned towards the cultural traditions of his country, exploring its traditional crafts, its spiritual soul and philosophy, its history and politics. The artist’s incense paintings are a monumental example of his latest visual practice. Collected from the temples in and around Shanghai, the incense ashes are spread over his canvases with a painstaking detailed work of light and shadow. Usually extremely large and heavy paintings, they bear the resemblance to sacred frescoes, with a solemn presence that has the power to silence the viewer in awe. It’s not only the smokey hues, the darkness prevailing, the black and white vintage feel that makes one question about history and the past, but also the texture, the visual relief and the small incense particles that are visible in the debris stuck to the canvas. The presence of lost prayers, words of despair or love, cries for help or warm heartfelt gratitude, the voices of the people who prayed and opened up their souls while burning those incense sticks that became ash, that became paintings.


Xu Bing, Phoenix, 2012, 3D-printed polyamide sculpture, 150 x 35 x 30 cm

Xu Bing (b. 1955, Chongqing) art mostly reflects cultural issues which raged during his early life in tumultuous China. After the Tian An Men Protests of 1989, he came under scrutiny of the government and received harsh criticism for his artistic voice, as it was perceived as a critique of the Chinese government. Due to the political pressure and the restrictions and censorship in the post-Tiananmen period, in 1990 he moved to the United States, like many of his contemporaries. He resided there until he was appointed, in 2008, Vice-President of the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), Beijing.

His work has always reflected upon cultural issues in China and especially on the cultural and linguistic reforms enacted by the Communist Party in China under Mao Zedong’s leadership. Xu bing in particular plays with the notion of the paradox between the power and fickleness of language, of what it means to be human, and of how our perceptions color our worldview. He plays incessantly with the role, purpose, and reality of language. during mao’s cultural reformations and the reorganization of the standard chinese language, Xu bing experienced the constant reformation of words. this constant linguistic change influenced his art: Xu bing emphasizes the immortality of the essence of language while vividly illustrating the impermanence and capriciousness of words themselves.It was not until 2008 that Xu bing set aside his post-Maoist reactionary art and invested in other topics. 


Xu Bing, Phoenix: The Interior of Urbanization, 2012, video animation and 3D printed polyamide sculptures, 150 x 35 x 30 cm

The artist’s installation Phoenix: The Interior of Urbanization, comprised of two 3D-printed sculptural works and a video animation, also addresses the issue of urbanisation and extensive construction development in China. The two sculptures on display are replicas, made in polyamide, of his monumental works in the Phoenix Project, which also constituted of two phoenixes, albeit of giant proportions, made out of scrap materials taken from construction sites around urban China. The works made a short appearance outside the Today Art Museum, Beijing, and then at Shanghai Expo 2010. This year they made their first international appearance at MASS MoCA (New York) and will be on show until the end of October 2013.

Click here to read more on Xu Bing’s Phoenix Project.


Ying Tianqi, Nirvana, 2011, mixed media, 122 x 188 cm. Collection of Jack Huang.

Ying Tianqi (b. 1949, Anhui) started working on his series of works titled “Traces of Centuries” in 2006 and completed it this year. His works are a result of his woodblock printing skills, years of research on materials, the use of materials collage, hand painting and broad press. The piece on show is one of a series that includes a small square piece of wooden sculptural relief from Huizhou, dating back to the Qing Dynasty.


The painting, which already presents a sculptural relief dimension to its surface composition, is thus enhanced through this insertion, adding also a further dimension of historical significance. The work itself looks like a wall in ruins, the whole painting looking as if it was a cultural relic, a door or a wall of a long-dead palace. The artist aims at making such ruins and history closer to the public, more familiar, more intimate, thus creating a relationship of personal memory and connection.


Chuang Che, Green Rock and Splendid Cloud, 2010, oil on canvas, 127 x 336 cm. Collection of Chan Chin-Hsiang and Hsia Hsiao-Yun, Taiwan.


Huang Zhiyang, Three Marks Formation No. 0901, 2009, ink and mineral colour on silk, 220 x 248 cm


Huang Gang, First Snow, 2011, mixed media, 190 x 122 cm


Qu Qianmei, Golden Mean, 2011, mixed media, 261 x 262 cm


Shang Yang, The Dong Qichang Project No. 1, 2011, mixed media, 218 x 506 cm


Shen Kelong, Rhapsody–Indistinct, 2008, wood and Chinese lacquer, 180 x 240 cm. Collection of Song Xuesong.


Yang Chihung, Sudden Surprise, 2013, acrylic on canvas, 112 x 162 cm. Collection of Tom Sun.


Zhang Fanbai, Standing Alone No. 2, 2007, oil on canvas, 250 x 300 cm


Zhang Guolong, Angle No. 10, 2011, mixed media, 280 x 400 cm


Zheng Chongbin, Five Definitions, 2012, ink and acrylic on paper, 285 x 289 cm


Zhou Chunya, Peach Blossoms Series – Flower Blooms, Flower Fades, Year After Year, 2009, oil on canvas, 200 x 150 cm

This section exhibits the work of 19 Chinese contemporary artists, including three renowned Taiwanese artists, Chuang Che, Yang Chihung, and Li Chen, recommended by the Asia Art Center (Beijing and Taipei). The other artists in this section of the exhibition, in addition to the ones presented above, are: Huang Zhiyang, Huang Gang, Qu Qianmei, Shang Yang, Shen Kelong, Zhang Fanbai, Zhang Guolong, Zheng Chongbin, Zhou Chunya.

You can download a combined catalogue of “Personal Structures” and “Culture Mind Becoming” HERE.

All Photographs: “Culture Mind Becoming. Re-discover.”, 55th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia. Photos: Prof Danilo Ardia.

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