Though immersed in the digital age, with its forecasts of a paperless world, we remain surrounded by paper. Pékin Fine Arts’ exhibition New Paper features recent work by four members of the upcoming generation of Chinese artists, each of who utilizes paper to create decidedly contemporary artworks. None of the artist’s shares the neo-classicist’s attachment to paper’s roots in traditional Asian visual culture. Instead, the common focus of New Paper is the medium’s usefulness as a stepping-off point for a variety of deeper explorations.
In New Paper, the four artists’ interests in the medium are informed by its conventions without being bound by them. Fu Xiaotong experiments with the surface quality of paper and the manipulation of its sentimental visual associations. Li Fuchun “upcycles” cardboard mailing boxes from on-line purchases into objects of aesthetic desire. Yang Dongxue taps into paper’s aural qualities to produce new sounds/music, refocusing the audience’s attention to a relatively unexplored aspect of the medium. Na Bu Qi re-situates the sculpting process back to its two-dimensional roots in drawing. Her large-scale, black-and-white drawings necessitate 3D sculpture and video renderings, rather than the reverse.
Simple paper material is used in each work; however, the tradition of artists’ using paper in preparatory sketches is not their focus. Instead, each artist goes beyond paper’s formal limitations and associations, creating works that examine issues beyond mere technical production and critiquing the art world’s obsession with materiality and value.
Today, across China, a tension between traditional fine art aspirations and utilitarian aesthetic choices remains. How to maintain high standards and still ‘Serve The People’? This is where paper comes in. In China, paper is politically correct: it is the cheap and available material of the masses. Basic prowess in drawing or painting on paper remains a prerequisite for admissions to the best art schools. Even the most avant-garde and rebellious of Chinese artists still retain a modicum of pride in their technical prowess. Yet paper is also the refined medium of aspiring and historic literati painters and calligraphers. For these reasons, paper is a great equalizer. And as each of the artists in New Paper show us, paper lives on in exciting and surprising new ways.