With its set goals of creating more urban centers of “global city status” than anywhere else in the world, 21st-century China is seeing a growing attention to a single topic: the ever-changing environment. With such emphasis on the continuous evolution of the built environment, a philosophy of continually striving for bigger and better has resulted in the city achieving a somewhat sacred status – as an embodiment of Chinese society’s modernization, and as Lacan’s mirror, wherein one recognizes its identity via the reflected image. Urbanity has, thusly, become one of the art world’s main preoccupations. No longer do quaint rural depictions of the 1970s receive praise, but the bustling centers of trade and excess, rife with opportunity and energy. But in the contemporary’s constant race for superlatives and a reality that is built on impermanence, where does one position oneself?
In Impermanent Sceneries, Art+ Shanghai Gallery’s first exhibition of 2016, three young Chinese artists present works that stake a perspective, questioning our understanding of the city and exposing its inherently fluid nature. With bold combinations of color highlighting the nervousness, contradictions, and absurdity of the mental pressures of the contemporary city in paintings of oil on canvas, Chongqing-based artist Hu Weiqi draws attention to the oxymoronic situation of the saturated vacuum – places chock full of images and eye-catching headlines that are devoid of actual stories – what French theorist Debord defines as a “society of spectacle.” Similarly, Beijing-born and -bred artist Zhang Wenchao’s perception of the city’s rapidly changing content results in a forging of the artist’s memory of urban life, creating a fictionalized version of the city that is real only in virtuality. His works of painting and projection transform the idea of the city into the besieged fortresses of adventure games, with newly-constructed complexes dotting the urban landscape appearing as Tetris-like patterns in oil on canvas, while digital video projection adds ceaseless movement to the vacant painted sceneries. In a close reading of Shanghai’s Da Shijie (大世界, Great World) amusement arcade and entertainment complex, Beijing-based artist Sun Yu analyzes the architectural modifications undergone by the 1917 structure over the past century. By visually tracking the large-scale transformations in his works of print and painting, Sun Yu conceptually explores the accompanying shifts in the mentality of China’s consumerist society, which is always in need of ever-more spectacular sceneries.
For the emerging generation of Chinese artists, the city is a place of potential, inspiration, and endless discussion. In Impermanent Sceneries, Hu Weiqi, Zhang Wenchao, and Sun Yu combine bold, surrealistic imagery and mediums of painting and projection to examine their unique understandings of the relationship between people and the instability of the urban environment. In doing so, their reflections on the impermanence of contemporary China’s sceneries express their individual efforts to distinguish presentation from representation, simulacra from the real, and the possible from the impossible.
About the Artists
Hu Weiqi (胡卫齐), born 1987 in Yiyang, Hunan Province, China, graduated from the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in 2015. His works of painting present the complexity of China’s social environment (politically and culturally) by drawing special attention to the effects of its rapidly transitioning society. Using two bold colors to symbolize the inner conflicts experienced by the younger generation, Weiqi depicts the in-between position of a generation puzzled by the constant changes in their environment. His works have been featured in a range of group shows including 2015 Youth Art 100 Start Exhibition (National Agricultural Exhibition Hall, Beijing), College Color (Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing), Individual Visions (Hong Kong Cadillac Center, Hong Kong and Chengdu), Spring – Chongqing Young Artists Exhibition (Zhongshan Art Museum, Chongqing), Go! Young! Youth Cutting-Edge Invitational Exhibition (Art Center, Beijing), and The Trouble – Four Exhibitions (New Sound Art Space, Chongqing).
Sun Yu (孙宇), born 1992 in Yixing, Jiangsu Province, China, is a postgraduate student of the Experimental Art College of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing. In his light boxes he emphasizes the stories behind his depicted imagery, more recently expressing the narratives of important building and the collective memories embedded in them. In exploring the alterations of the buildings, his works expose the shifts in the behaviors of a consumerist society. Sun Yu has participated in groups shows including 2015 Central Academy of Fine Arts Graduation Exhibition (Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing), 2013 Outstanding Undergraduate Exhibition (Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing), and COART Asian Young Art Scene (Shuhe Ancient Town, Yunnan). In addition, he worked as Art Director for the “Wulian Mountain Image Film” in 2015.
Zhang Wenchao (张文超), born 1985 in Beijing, China, graduated from the Printmaking Department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, and is based in Beijing. Wenchao’s works employ visual systems of electronic media to add a layer of movement and virtual reality to his painted canvases, through which he expresses his individual experiences and examines contemporary life. Having grown up in Beijing, he is especially sensitive to the rapid changes and transient personal experiences of China’s capital city. His Unpredictable Journey and Swift Scenery series were selected for the CAFAM Future: Sub-Phenomena: Report on the State of Chinese Young Art Exhibition (Central Academy of Fine Arts Museum, Beijing), Future Master (Wen Xuan Gallery, Chengdu), and Unspoken Understanding Postgraduate Students’ Exhibition (Eslite Gallery, Taiwan; Enjoy Art Museum, Beijing).