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Shanghai Gallery of Art
2013.09.28 Sat - 2013.11.24 Sun
Opening Exhibition
09/28/2013 17:00
THREE ON THE BUND No.3 The Bund No.3 Zhong Shan Dong Yi Road 3rd Floor Shanghai 200002
86-21-63215757, 86-21-63233355*8758
Opening Hours
Everyday 11am - 7pm
Li Zhang

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weathered root · fleeting eternity
[Press Release]

Press Release

weathered root · fleeting eternity pertains to changes that we do to ourselves or to our surroundings. The exhibition attempts to examine the being of nature and artefact, past and present, sociocultural and symbolism. With three disparate series, it is under this premise that the exhibition invites the viewers to take the time to observe and to reflect, to take the risk of expanding his/her own perception of the forgotten habitation, means and resources.

Shao Yinong & Mu Chen are recognized for their practice in a variety of media, including photography, sculptures, installations, and paintings. Their works have been preoccupied with unearthing forgotten narratives, marginal histories and seemingly insignificant details in society in order to compose a visceral vocabulary that is both compelling and uncanny. Hence, acting as the epitome for its critical reflection on social architecture as a mirror of the political, psychological and poetic character of a location and a culture. The exhibition is constructed like a weaving of meanings or a crossing of mixed senses where the specific series is layout based on well-determined motives – embroidered presences of former currencies, emblematic pillars, and collective shots of anonymous courtyards – they are all there to reveal the fleetingness and encounters of our memories that accord a central place to the questions of perception and interpretation. The works compose much more than a simple materialization and reconstruction, giving a structure and setting up a dialectical relation with each other.

Exhibition view

Here is also the first public opportunity to view the artist’s most ambitious ongoing project to date – an installation based on exquisite threadworks portraying former bank notes of different periods in time through the traditional techniques of Suzhou embroidery on sheer silk. The historical references explore our perception of time through challenging our senses. Entitled Spring and Autumn, it comprises of massive pieces that impress both in appearance and execution, with the overwhelming density and scenic exuberance of the original urrencies’compositions. The imposing presence is a dramatic architectural intervention in the gallery, rising like a translucent fortress reminiscent of a glistening baroque richness. While the exhibition is lit to reveal the finite details and textures of the sewn techniques, as well as the material’s uniquely reflective and refractive qualities, the series is not merely addressing embroidery as a needle tool leading to actual works of art. It alludes to the fragile nature of history and time: an illusory and fleeting projection that is at once historical, mental and social, reminding of the connection between the past and the present. All the elements articulate a narrative path dealing with symbolic belief and power, not only as references recurrent in their literalness, but also as metaphors that make evident of the economics and politics of a certain era of a nation. Through the sheer black yarn of soft silk, these images of once-circulated currencies appear or disappear depending on the angle of observation as reflections from the past towards the future. Thus, the project explores to what degree these previous manifestations prove to be viable forms of memories/reflections in different and changing political contexts. The artists invite the viewer to submerge him/herself in the symbolic wealth of the artworks’ narratives, in the threaded surfaces and the starkness of the pictorial gestures, with the aim of delving, from the particularity of the references employed, into universal analogies on the desire and construction of ideology and power.

Exhibition view

Shao Yinong’s practice is nourished by a keen interest in cultural and spiritual reflection. He engages themes of religion philosophies, mysticism and faith, and investigates our belief in the universe. As he reflects on philosophical considerations of contemporary life, his works explore the cultural fabrication of nature. Characterized by his deft ability to transform common materials like steel, wood and velvetinto forms and shapes reminiscent of the natural world, Shao’s works bring ideas and experience into poetic tension. Meticulous, subtle, and often immersive, his sculptural interpretations and installation scenarios offer viewers opportunities for contemplation and discovery. The artist is always with the aim of articulating the content of his work as precisely as possible.

In the new series, Heart Without Delusion,a Buddhistic term that refers to the very essence of intrinsic world or human being, Shao seizes one aspect of reality and processes it into a visual metaphor. He transforms different types of wood, and whittles them into proportioned pagoda-like appearances. Installed as a larger ensemble, they are created in an attempt to simulate imageries that are linked with dynamics in Chinese traditional architecture and monuments. In varying heights and thickness, these columnar sculptures are replete with refined details and workmanship – layers of visible tree rings, smooth carvings with natural fragments left intact. His concerns to intricate working methods and style in personal and spiritual experiences is suggested to viewers through a natural source object to produced subject to an aesthetic interpretation as well as to a physical interaction. Shao’s sculptures take on the sensory role for us to discover and respond to individual feelings and the process of perceptions about ourselves in the seemingly ordinary yet evocatively, reflective appearance that is rich in divine, mythological and sacred references.

Exhibition view

Central to Mu Chen’s photographic disposition is an interest in creating a new perspective on the spectacle of the modernity — as pictorial form, narrative device, historical memory, and medium of social engagement. The photos give us an impression that we just had a déjà vu. Her image of assembly halls, mountainous landscapes, urban weed gardens evoke distant memories even if we have never been at even a single location where the pictures were taken. Yet the artist’s intent is not merely documentary or didactic, rather to engage with psychological, emotional, and personal experiences against her chosen backdrops.

Exploring the nature of the elemental sublime, in her latest series, Heaven Rain and Courtyard, Mu Chen is drawn to Chinese courtyards where the environment is structured by the whims of humanity. The artist opens up a personal narrative of the enclosure in traditional housings designed for leisure, rest and contemplation. Yet, her imageries are not intended as a mere reproduction of nature but rather as a means of arousing feelings of awe and reflection. Printed on silk, the photographs deal with the construction of collective memory through lived experiences. These private sanctuaries, the artist shot them for the atmospheric conditions they offered, their melancholia bathed in diffused light, are a meditation that shapes the reality of past daily lives. As an entity, they introduce a cosmos of modest and tender comments about the way we live now – in our relationships and in the spaces around us.

Almost lifeless, with unchanged remnants of forgotten histories and natural elements, the artist straddles the threshold between the documentary and the lyrical – inciting defining changes in realities and exploring the boundaries of time. How we live now and how the past has been ignored or remembered, Mu Chen has made it her intent to focus on the intimate memories we all harbor in us. The fluidity at the heart of this series is not of emotions but about emotions. And the evocation is borne out of her ability to combine visual images of deep psychological insights with poetical elements, imbuing them with a glimmer of eternity. The exhibition underscores the way in which Shao Yinong & Mu Chen have been developing a consistent engagement with issues such as memory and history, by subjecting their artistic oeuvre to a process of continuous renewal and experimentation.

Artist Background

Born in 1961 in Xining, Qinghai Province, Shao Yinong graduated from Fine Arts Department of Qinghai Normal University and Oil Painting TA Class of Central Academy of Fines Arts. Through his years of study of Chinese traditional culture and insightful observation of the contemporary society, he gradually establishes his own set of personal philosophy. Looking back upon his journey in the art world during the past several decades, we see that with a particular liking for classical art. He constantly overturns and rebuilds, reflecting upon life through an observer’s eye. In 1999, his work Made in China was presented at Ouh La La Kitsch! co-curated by Li Xianting and Liao Wen, from which a sense of cultural nostalgia could be perceived. Ever since then the philosophical reflection upon the looming mystery where dreams and reality intertwine and the attempt to look for an outlet have flowed through his practice. Works such as “The Gorgeous World”, “Farewell Emperor Huizong ”, “Ways And Doors” and “The Nine Twigs ” are all examples of that.

Born in 1970 in Dandong, Liaoning Province, Mu Chen graduated from the Press Photography Department of Renmin University of China. Her early works featured a rational record of history and reality. In her recent photography, despite the consistent classic composition, a sense of nostalgia and melancholy is clearly perceived. Twilight’s Drum, Dawn’s Bell, presented at SGA in 2011, and Heaven Rain and Courtyard, which will be on display this time, are both examples of that. Against the mottled walls, grass, forests and the stone urns all give out a sense of solemnity and ritual that seems so distant from modern life. Besides photography, Mu Chen also deals with other media to further explore her perspective and means of expression. It is under such an attempt that she presented installations such as Pride and Prejudice and OEM era, casting light on the consumer culture of the contemporary society.

Family Register, a neo-photography series since 2000, was the most widely-known collaboration between Shao Yinong and Mu Chen. Family was reckoned as the fundamental element of traditional Chinese society. As a record of family history, family pedigree enabled the existence of the concept of family to transcend individual life. With a focus from personal encounters to a broader perspective, later they presented The Assembly Hall. The two artists made fun of history in a deadpan way, presenting a ticulous and detailed record of their observation. East Wind, West Wind (2008) was a new attempt they made to deal with media other than photography. By wrapping the cold frames, shining mirrors and the chandeliers including every crystal pendants with velvet, they managed to wipe off the reflecting and illuminating functions of “mirrors” and “lights” in a way that reminded people of how craftsmen worked. The absence of what would be normally expected from those subjects, in a way, prompted people to better reflect upon themselves.

Spring and Autumn, which has taken Shao Yinong & Mu Chen eights years to complete and still ongoing, depicts note patterns of different countries and different times that had long been out of circulation in the form of Suzhou embroidery. The end of certain currency usually indicated the end of certain era. The patterns and portraits that once appeared on it often embodied a nation’s totem and belief and revealed a picture of the economic, cultural and social environments of a particular time and place. In the meantime, they could also be seen as a kind of decorative illustration of identity and power. Tranquil and elegant as it is, the work is eloquent in its nature: even the most magnificent and spectacular would eventually end up in dust. In a sense, it casts light on the two artists’ perception of history, religion and philosophy.

Shao Yinong & Mu Chen have exhibited at various prestigious art museums and galleries internationally since 1994, including Center Pompidou (France), National Museum of Fine Arts (Cuba), Queensland Art Gallery (Australia), Mori Art Museum (Japan), State Tretyakov gallery (Russia), KW Institute for Contemporary Art (Germany), Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego (U.S.) and Shanghai Art Museum (China). Their works have been collected by both institutes such as ICP, FNAC, UCCA, Deutsche Bank, Belgium’s Modern Chinese Art Foundation and Guangdong Art Museum and private collectors Uli Sigg and Goetz.