These new works by Zhan Wang continue his explorations of the nature of the universe and the forms that make up our understanding of it. Long March’s galleries have been divided into two areas, which might be characterized as a light space and a dark space. The light space presents floor- and wall-mounted panels of smashed rocks painstakingly recreated in the artist’s signature stainless steel, along with a centerpiece block of resin holding the ghosted shape of another rock suspended within it. On the ceiling, a spotlight punches through a small opening so that, on the other (dark) side, a cone of light crosses the room, catching motes of dust in its beam. Aside from this penetration, the dark space simply presents two small video monitors, stacked on top of each other behind a column. One shows a rock suspended in deep blue ocean waters, and the other the documentation of how this first video was produced (by attaching a camera rig to the rock and dropping both into the sea).
Art can tell us something about its world, and at the same time it can tell us something about our world. Aside from what we ourselves bring to the table, the artwork can do this by being clear or opaque in its meaning, both experiences worthwhile in their unique ways. However, where the artwork is opaque or self-absorbed, if it cannot or will not provide a space for the viewer to relate to it, this then becomes problematic. There is a suspicion that Wang Mai’s new exhibition, with its complex symbolic objects and imagery, no matter how visually interesting an experience it might be, is problematic in this way.
Five monumental structures are distributed around the gallery space, coated in slicks of pigment. These multi-coloured, yet muted, painted surfaces have taken on the turbulent patterns of weather systems, or of ink in water. Despite their geometric shapes, the surfaces have a plastic quality, giving an organic effect to the objects. On the floor on one side of each of these monuments stands a tripod, supporting a vertical, tubular arrangement of hard-edged gold or silver tubes, but with additions of hand-formed plastic or clay elements in day-glo colours formed inside or around them. The polished metal, and neon colours, of these tubular structures stand out in contrast to the generally darker palette of the monuments against which they stand.
Recently I was asked by the Chinese publication, BazaarArt, for my choice of favourite artwork of the last year. It was obviously a very difficult choice, but the artist Ma Yongfeng’s work stood out for me. Here are the original responses I gave to BazaarArt:
At the Bernard Controls factory, on the outskirts of Beijing.
Why does this particular item become your “love of the year”?
In amongst the complacency indicative of a broad swathe of art production in China and its lack of meaning outside its own closed community, Ma Yongfeng’s work stands out for its willingness to take some intelligent and provocative risks with form and context. “Invest in Contradiction” came about as a result of his being invited to take part in the unique and far-sighted “Social Sensibility R&D Program.” This program has been developed by the Italian artist and curator Alessandro Rolandi as a series of artist placements at Bernard Controls, a small engineering factory on the outskirts of Beijing. Having spent time with the workers to understand the situation his work would have to exist within, Ma’s contribution became a series of stenciled or graffiti’ed statements dispersed throughout the building. The messages were culled from the artist’s own observations of the reality of the workplace, as well as from conversations with the workers. “Invest in Contradiction,” which Ma prominently stenciled on the workshop wall, is an adaptation of the company’s official slogan: “Invest in Confidence.” Of course, it’s a very real risk that where an artist is asked to produce work as a direct reaction to spending a short period of time amongst their audience, the resulting work simply patronizes them without really creating any mutual communication. In this case though, Ma’s slight adjustment to the official statement adds a touch of humor and a little bit of a utopian vision to this prosaic workplace.