ABOUT PARTICIPATING ARTISTS
In Smoke and Fog, Côté explores the realities caused by smog (an expression taken from the contraction of the words "smoke" and "fog"). Following curator Yan Zhou’s invitation, most of the project was realized during a creation residency in Beijing in 2017, where the environmental context initiated the exploration of the social and poetic dimensions emerging from this phenomenon. Smoke and fog intertwine the human body and smog on a shared experiential boundary, exposing and committing them to each other. It is also a reflection on the screen, the surface, the depth, the thinness of the image and the attitudes generated by mobile devices. The installation makes it possible to connect the gazes and build a place for the image in tension between mobility and immobility and gives way to an open narration in constant transformation.
The planes in both these drawings seem to block as well as enable the passage of smoke, steam, clouds or air from one side to the other. Either way, the whole process seems quite inefficient. In the context of this show, one could see these drawings as a metaphor for taking in air and toxic particles in the same gasp, or releasing pollution that cannot be contained. I don't mind these interpretations, but for me, the inefficiency that is manifest here is more general, not only in what it can encompass symbolically, but in its tone as well, just as humorous as it is tragic.
The single word "environment" used as the title of the work means “environment” in French. Yet, if one plays with the word, it also suggests a possible detection of the word “ (“envy” in English) contained in the word etymologically. The artist believes that the environment will become “smoggy” as human envy multiplies. In this work, only the red letters emit light; other letters are left dim.
In China, one encounters a mode of living where aesthetic, philosophy and ethics are more or less integrated pursuits. One of the central binding elements is the flow of Qi (energy) and its nuanced manifestations. The ways to direct, distribute and ensure the flow of Qi are implemented across a spectrum of beliefs and practices including Taoism, calligraphy, Tai Chi, acupuncture, Feng Shui, etc. Chinese conceives the world (micro and macro) as a single atmospheric organism composed of a multiplicity of intensive zones and channels of Qi. The calibration of the flow of Qi between these zones generates a harmonious universe.For “Breathing”, I decided to take up Tai Chi practice, in order to experience Qi first hand. As Breathing is an experiential and exploratory project (rather than an exhibition) that anticipates future iterations and development, his work in Galerie B-312, the first iteration of Breathing, is simply to document his Tai Chi learned over the past months (from YouTube and attending some classes). The work is presented as both a performance and an inconclusive instructional video. As Breathing develops and travels to other sites and venues, so will his skill and ability to deploy Tai Chi beyond its health and aesthetic application to implicate larger social and political dynamics and issues. Yam Lau sees his work on Tai Chi as symbiotic to Breathing as a project.
Talcum is both a soothing material, soft and delicate, and a dangerous one, that can asphyxiate and obstruct any porous surface, from skin to lungs. Her wall project will reference the dual nature of this material, through her own experience as someone asthmatic, and also through all the images that come to mind when one thinks about issues related to breathing: ventilation filters, pulmonary alveoli, plants that purify air, etc. In her drawing, all these things will disappear as if they were covered by fine dust, and reappear as if they were gasping for air.
Li Ming is a lens-based artist and an architect who has classical Chinese painting and calligraphy training. In his work Traveling in the Mountains, he displaces traditional Chinese silk or rice paper with Chinese official newspapers and the wastewater collected from an air purifier used in his home as a replacement of traditional ink, to paint classical Chinese mountains and water paintings. Smog has become a nightmare in most areas of China for more than two decades, there is no escape from it. The political and social suppression in China is parallel to the smog and people have no choice under this state-capital power, there is no escape from it. The official media always whitewash the truth and lie to the people. Li tries to find the spiritual support from classical Chinese paintings in which there seems to be an ideal world, and he takes it as a way of nonviolent resistance just as ancient literati. This series of work is a direct and anguish reaction to the reality in China. Using poor material and painting in rapid and emotionally charged brushwork to depict the remote ideal aesthetics, however, the ideal world seems cannot come into a coherent form, and the classical world seems to be deconstructed again in the circumstance. There is a dilemma of positioning oneself in relation to the reality and the ideal. Is there still the possibility to survive as a reclusive, as a remnant in contemporary time? Will the resistance to the global state-capital power be possible?
Ren Jie is a sculptor, a textual/material and multimedia artist who taught at Shanghai University and recently moved to Guangzhou to teach at the sculpture department, Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts. Her work attends to people’s sensibilities and consciousness/unconsciousness of social objects, production processes, and environment. She seeks to contain multiple perspectives of thinking and profuse traces of to process in concise, reticent, and abstract visual form, to avoid an over-simplified political statement and to illuminate aspects that are unspeakable, sensitive, and inspiring to suggest deeper and richer political content and intentions. Something inside, Something in between Ren Jie uses two kinds of materials: black felt cloth and ultralight clay to make a sculpture installation. Ren Jie uses black felt cloth to make elongated octagon forms in three different sizes and assembles them to different groups. These different octagons have a kind of inner rhyme and natural law, which is similar to the formation of mineral crystals in the natural world. The formation and the final assembled forms of the octagons cannot be predicted. The visual forms of the octagons and their assemblages imply uncertainty and alienation. The production process of the felt cloth includes dyeing and high-speed stitching, both are closely related to the air, breathing, smell, and temperature. The production and trading of the felt cloth connect different geographical places, which also encompassed Ren Jie’s personal living experiences. Felt cloth is produced in Jiangmen City in Guangdong Province, it is traded in Shaoxing City in Zhejiang Province, and is sold in Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Shanghai. The route map of the textile object’s production, trading, and sales connect the Pearl Delta Area and the Yangtze River Delta area. Ren Jie experimented with a new material, which is a mixture of ultralight clay and quartz sand. The new material is slim and light, creates a feeling of fluidity, and has a visual and tactile effect similar to that of the artificial stone surface. Ren Jie mixes the ultralight clay and colorful quartz sands with the black fluff produced during the material production, to make layered grids of different sky colors, from clear sky blue to smog gray. She inserts the black felt cloth octagons in these grids to create a Something inside, Something in betweenThe materiality of the two materials used in the project has significant meanings. They look somber but are actually very light; on the other hand, the content and meaning hidden beneath the lightness are as somber as the polluted air and our existing environment. The conceiving sensibilities and ideas reflect the richness and unspeakable aspects of the theme of the Breathing project.
In 2015-2016, Xu Tan interviewed four people from East Asian areas or had East Asian backgrounds, through their stories, to make visible the mixed consciousness of the relationship between human society and nature. These people include a villager from a Hakka village in Guangdong Province, China, whose mother had a mystical experience in the woods and the village neighbours expressed their feelings about ling (natural spirits). The second interviewee is Mr. Shigeru Matutani, the former director of the Kyoto Botanical Gardens, who discussed why Japanese gardens and horticulture have an intimate relationship with religions and the difference between Japanese gardens and European gardens. The third interviewee is a teacher and a social activist in Singapore who tried to live an ecological-friendly way but suffered from the consequence of the neglect of the ecological consciousness of her neighbours. Xu Tan also interviewed a Chinese American architect and a community activist in San Francisco who was inspired by planting and devote to preserving sites of community memories. In “social botanic” projects, environmental concerns and awakening of social consciousness bring people together to act in a kind of soft resistance (Xu Tan’s term), to rediscover life in interrelated relationship between people and the natural world.
Zhang Qingfan had a formal modernism architecture education at South China University of Technology and Beijing Institute of Civil Engineering & Architecture. Her interest, however, is to combine modernism perspective with the aesthetic experience of classical Chinese architecture and gardens. Her architectural works, including building design, renovation, garden-making, artificial rock formation, have won numerous international and national awards. Zhang often made paintings and drawings of classical Chinese gardens and artificial rock formations in the late hours at night after work and reading. In these paintings and drawings, she fascinates an alternative space that is unlike any contemporary urban spaces and imagines dwelling in the world of the ancients. The process of groping and conceiving space and expression is like the winding path in a garden, which leads her through shades and uncertainties to reach spaciousness and light. The pearl-like hours at night helps her to release the obtrusive existential burdens of the malicious realities. These quiet and imaginative classical gardens on paper are her oxygen. “Human community woven into the primal ecology of a spontaneously self-generating and harmonious Cosmos" (David Hinton), this is the essence of the classical world imagination. Even the world is fractured, we are longing for an ideal world that is coherent and united, a childhood world constructed by arts where the heaviness of being is lifted, and the lightness of spirits a light unto the imagined gardens.
David Hinton understands the Chinese concept of ritual as society blossoming as an ongoing sacred life, and it is a part of the much larger generative Cosmos. In this Cosmos, ritual structures daily life and values as ethics that attend to both the human society and the nonhuman environment. In urban areas, the residuals of the ancient ritual life are hardly existent and recognizable. While in rural areas, rituals survive in customs and festivals; connect the past with the present, the local, and the Nature of the modern world and the modern men. In his early work Shanxi (a Northwestern Province in China), photography artist Zhang Xiao captured villagers in traditional theatre costumes on the way to a performance in the Spring Festival. They looked like coming from nowhere or alighted from legends. The villagers transcended themselves, the reality, and the contemporary time in their collective daydreaming. The theatrical world made the desolate and miserable village liked an immortal fairy world, surreal and fantastic. Even the most critical Western countries would applaud the Chinese government’s efficiency and power in improving environmental pollution. In metropolitan cities, greener and scenic urban spaces with more blue-sky days are proof of the success. However, the yellowish air that wraps the heroes and beauties, gods and sages in the photos of Zhang Xiao’s work, discloses the brutal reality of inequality: the modern world can redeploy the air as well as capitals and powers. The hinterland of the immortal Cosmos is bereft of its inherent harmony. Villagers dreamt in illusions created by rituals, and the absurdity of the reality was waiting as the curtain to be drawn close.