To celebrate the opening of the 2012 Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale, which opened last Saturday, all this week I’ll be posting texts that I wrote for the catalogue of said exhibition. In this last piece, the sixth that was included in the catalogue, I address Wang Luyan’s Walking Man which I feel expresses many of the ambiguities found throughout this artist’s work. Thanks for your attention, I hope these pieces have been interesting for you.
Wang Luyan, Gu Dexin and Chen Shaoping’s founding of the New Measurement Group (NMG) (active from 1988–1995) represented a choice to focus their work on rule-based activities that reduced the mark of the individual to a minimum, if not removing it entirely. Wang’s own works to a certain extent also followed this way of thinking and working, but retained a marked stylistic quality that is clearly his own. At the time NMG’s approach and Wang’s work represented a position in contrast to the supposedly illogical, irrational art of what became known as Political Pop. The group’s interest in “logical” forms of presentation and the concepts that they illustrate (sometimes referred to as “rationalist”) become illustrated forms in Wang’s sharply delineated paintings, toying with barely suppressed paradoxes.
The pieces included in this Biennale include a recreation of Walking Man (originally produced in 1991) – a deceptively simple structure in glued pasteboard, seemingly representing a striding figure. Also appearing are a set of plans and descriptions that present the conceptual development of this piece to what the artist considers a point of completion.
Beyond a deceptive understanding of the form as a figure, the drawings and constructed piece display the “logical paradox”1 that—despite being humanoid in character—the form makes it impossible to tell in which direction the figure might be striding. There are no facial features or other aspects of the body that could indicate an asymmetry indicating a direction of movement. A number of the drawings present schematic images of two of these figures next to each other, titled as “Two going towards each other,” or “Two going left,” or “Two going right” – serving to present all the interpretations available through the drawing, without making any “correct” answer obvious. In another piece, what seems to be a photograph of the silhouette of the structure is overdrawn with a sort of flow chart, listing various interpretations of the movement of the figure, which attain complexity, contradiction, and then return to the original statement. Such a set of statements presented as in some way a logical progression, ultimately removes the meaning from them, leaving them as nothing but textual arrangements – much as the ambiguity of the figure ultimately denudes it of its directional meaning.
Wang’s drawn work has all the emotionless certitude of technical illustration. The artist was originally trained as an engineer2 and this shows through in this type of objective drawing where ambiguity perforce must be suppressed to avoid costly mistakes upon realisation. The ambiguity is seen in much of Wang’s works and serves to bring into play both the “normal” actions of the objects presented and also their re-action to that normality, bringing them both into the same arena of meaning, and turning the meaning of the action back on itself.
As well as tools of measurement, such as setsquares and watches, ambiguity is also applied to tools of aggression – various types of guns, tanks and soldiers are illustrated. But the aggression is turned against itself: not only does a gun fire in the regular fashion, but Wang has also adjusted the mechanism to simultaneously fire another bullet in the opposite direction, potentially harming the aggressor.
Another key image of Wang Luyan’s work is the gear. Originally a symbol of smooth-running machinery and symbolically of progress, the teeth of one gear smoothly fit into the facing teeth of its pair. In Wang’s pieces the gears lose their progressive aspect and jam into a locked state. The actions of the gears turn back on themselves, and the energy passes through the system in such a way that it negates or reverses itself.
Wang’s Walking Man takes an alternative look at the inability to proceed that the painted gears illustrate. The figure strides, but it is made clear there is no particular direction, the heightened ambiguity denying the image as referrer, and pulling the viewer back into understanding the image as the physical object in its own right.
Author: Edward Sanderson
- Wang Xiaojian, “Neo-Rationalistic Drawing: the Visual Form of Logic,” accessed 30 March 2012 http://www.wangluyan.com/EnText.aspx?ID=62&CurrentPageIndex=0.
- Goodman, Jonathan, “Wang Luyan: New Objects for a New China,” accessed 30 March 2012 http://www.wangluyan.com/EnText.aspx?ID=50&CurrentPageIndex=0.
- Originally published in Liu Ding, Carol Yinghua Lu, Su Wei (eds.) (2012), Accidental Message: Art is Not a System, Not a World, Guangzhou: LingNan Art Publishing House. pp.110–115.