Pékin Fine Arts, No.241 Cao Chang Di Village, Cui Ge Zhuang, Chaoyang District, Beijing
3 Sept – 16 Oct, 2011
Chasing Sites is a relatively sedate presentation for artist Weng Wei, focusing on her ink paintings on rectangles of paper and cutouts affixed to clearly delimited sections of the gallery walls. These new works and their installation in Pékin Fine Arts have calmed the spontaneity of her earlier appearances, and this aspect of spontaneity—instigated in part by the precarious conditions under which she was then working—she now treats with some ambivalence. This show has become a critique of those conditions, with the new works as close readings of past installations, rationalisations of the things which she looked for from those venues but which she feels were lacking.
Drawn from her memories of those situations, these paintings seem to visualise some of the physical and mental conditions under which she was working. The paintings themselves are in dense black ink on heavy paper, with crisp outlines but including the occasional representation of a brushed edge. The overall impression is very strong, although what these forms represent remains ambiguous. At times elements can be discerned. There are some recognisable architectural spaces in isometric or perspective projections – the regular forms of art-fair booths in SmileAngel Foundation, CIGE 2011 (2011); and the small gallery space of Slice at Arrow Factory Space, Beijing (2010). Also occurring are representations of the iconic shapes that have consistently appeared in her work, including those of her paper cutouts that now lose their freestanding nature to become graphic forms on paper or attached to the gallery walls. The blurring of boundaries between the forms of the cutouts and the artist’s paper weavings, a feature of past installations, here has become another of the symbols in these new works.
Previously, where these shapes, elements and events have all inhabited a narrative universe defined by the artist, that aspect is now not raised and they apparently stand-alone or simply serve as pointers back to their original settings, from where they can reconnect with that literary-symbolic function within the artist’s world-view. I hope the texts and stories are carrying on in the background as I always felt that these allegorical elements energised the work, adding a surreal depth to their meanings. In the current show it seems as if the previous settings and gallery sites have taken over as this allegorical energy, as many are no longer existent and have slipped into their own histories, thus providing suitable fictions for the artist to build upon.
An aspect that I must also recognise, and which makes my own relation to this show somewhat strange, is my own implication as part of the history of these works, having represented one of the venues that is now her raw material (Anti-mapping at CPU:798, Beijing (2011)). It will be interesting to see Pékin Fine Arts’ own contribution to this legacy. One might suggest that the wall drawings that the artist has layered throughout the gallery spaces are representing this. These additions are the only coloured drawings in the show, but rely on a limited palette of pink, grey, dark green, and turquoise. A loose grid of yellow strips mark out parts of the drawings, similar to the weavings mentioned before but on a much larger grid, becoming architectural, and the structure off which the circles, weavings and shapes then launch themselves and work against.
In Weng Wei’s work the most interesting moments for me come when the artist’s library of symbols and meanings come back into contact with the world (or a world) – as narrative, installation, performance, or—as here—a far more controlled set of renditions of the past and present. While this show appears to be a valuable taking stock for the artist, I look forward to future incursions of her vision into less organised surroundings, which while perhaps uncomfortable for the artist I believe provide her with the necessary friction against which her elements can react to and thrive upon.
Author: Edward Sanderson