A leading figure in Chinese contemporary sculpture, Sui Jianguo has developed richly conceptual creative ideas and expressive techniques over nearly forty years of artistic practice. As both creator and educator, he has constantly pondered and explored the foundations of sculpture. The artworks presented in this exhibition can be seen as a summation of his creations over the past decades. In his artistic explorations under the title The Shape of Time, which have been ongoing since 2006, the artist has gradually revealed the internal relationship between himself and sculpture, in what has grown to become his main creative thread. The artist has successively cast off the cathartic expressions of his early career and the iconographic techniques that followed, stripping away modeling techniques in a process of the “minimization of creation” that draws him ever closer to the core of creation itself.
In the series Traces, featured in this exhibition, the work of the sculptor has been simplified into the grasping and pinching of the hands. These most basic acts of the body allude to the substantive relationship between the creator and the material. With its unique submissiveness and softness, this clay pressed by the hand stands as the most faithful record of the artist’s body. In the undulating surface of the clay, the artist’s hand becomes an absolute, undeniable presence. As he affirms his own identity, the artist also bestows the clay with a completely new name—through the interaction with the artist’s body, this soft material, which has long been overlooked as a mere carrier throughout the history of sculpture, has for the first time become a portrait of itself, and through industrial technology in 21st century, has assumed the properties of a public monument. In the video work Physical Trace, exhibited in tandem with the sculptures, the indispensable role of the body as agent is revealed with more clarity. Each instant of the artist’s application of force into the clay is captured with a high speed camera, bringing the act of sculpting closer to an instance of performance art. The hands that continuously “perform” on the curtain wall of the exhibition space fill the spatiotemporal gaps in the depressions on the surface of the clay, and blend the two into a complete scene.
For the most recent sculpture works presented at this exhibition, the artist used high definition 3D scanning and printing technology to capture and restore the contours of his hands on the surface of the artwork. The artist’s application of this new technology in his creations is the result of a breakthrough, realized in 2015, in experimentation that dates back to 2008. This breakthrough overcame the technical limitations in magnifying the original clay studies, and now bring an unprecedented level of detail to the surface contours of the sculpture. This breakthrough in precision is more than just technical. It draws closer to the artist's aesthetic ideal—artworks generated through technology that record the properties and results of forces applied to a material with the precision of scientific experiments, approaching the objective revelation of the corporeal nature of sculpture. This openness to scientific and industrial technology is the essence of the modernity in Sui Jianguo's art.
The exhibition runs through to April 1, 2017.
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