Beijing, Apr. 2013: At first glance, Pomegranate, Liang Yuanwei’s solo show which opened recently at Beijing Commune, appears to be a rather radical departure from this artist’s previous solo show in the same space in 2010 (Golden Notes). Golden Notes amassed a group of paintings of a similar format – canvases with floral patterns picked out from an overall gradation of coloured paint. Pomegranate, however, seems to present a rather more experimental proposition, and rationalisation of Liang’s practice. In this new show she seems to be dealing directly with the mutable nature of colour: as it is affected by the nature of materials over time, the nature of individual perception, and the nature of mechanical (or otherwise) reproduction. However, both shows, Pomegranate and Golden Notes, have strong parallels, and can be seen to represent different aspects of a consistent line of research into the appearance and effect of colour, as it exists in painting and in the world. The following interview was conducted by email.
Liang Yuanwei, Pomegranate, lipstick on paper, set of 35, 2011-2013; Courtesy of the artist.
Edward Sanderson: Taking the show Pomegranate as a whole, am I right in thinking that you are trying to investigate the vagaries of the reception of colour, and specifically the reception of painted artworks understood as collections of colours?
Liang Yuanwei: I actually treat the exhibition Pomegranate as one singular work of art, and, yes, I consider these factors through it.
ES: The process around which Pomegranate is built up begins with an on-going series of small paintings on paper, the coloured areas of which are dictated by the creases left when the paper is scrunched up and then flattened back out. This series uses lipstick as its medium, and over time this unstable material has changed consistency and colour. Your process then brings in various people to translate the colours of these paintings into Pantone references, then into paint samples, which are then selected by the gallery staff and applied to the wall of this show in various ways.
Why have you set up this convoluted process?
LYW: The conception of this exhibition came from a similar structural treatment that is found in my other paintings; that is, design a logical procedure, and from the process of this procedure through to its final execution, uncontrollable factors that exist in the act of human involvement and tampering are brought forth.
ES: What do you think this process is telling us about painting, or the world? What are the meanings of your choices?
LYW: For me, the act of art-making exists parallel to all the other things in the world. In my own creative practice I imitate the world, thereby understanding the world, in order to create the world.
ES: Do you consider the “paint” works as installations? Or paintings?
LYW: I consider the whole exhibition to be one painting. The interconnectedness that forms between the five walls – such a relationship is the painted surface.
For example, if you were to throw a very light ball against one wall, it would bounce off to the opposite side, and again to the next one; the trajectory the ball takes on is the painting. The “works” on each wall in the Pomegranate exhibition are not explanations or exist in any way hierarchically; all the walls are of equal ranking.
Liang Yuanwei, Meaning, oil on linen, 20 x 20 cm, set of 4, 2004; Courtesy of the artist.
ES: Also included in the show are four paintings from 2004, entitled Meaning. These represent scrunched up pieces of tin foil placed on coloured surfaces (book covers, I believe). The tin foil takes on the colours of its surroundings in its reflective surfaces and as such these paintings can be said to be less about the tin foil in itself than its transmission of these colours.
LYW: That’s right.
ES: There’s a parallel with the polished stainless steel sculptures by [Chinese artist] Zhan Wang. Zhan sees their mirrored surfaces as taking on the features of the surroundings to create a link between the forms of Taihu rocks and the urban surroundings of the Chinese cities in which they are often placed. In contrast to this, your own Meaning paintings deal with an abstract idea of colour itself, rather than the foil’s reflection of any particular “thing.”
Do you see the these paintings having a wider significance than just being about “colour,” like Zhan’s understanding of his rocks’ place in society?
LYW: For me, art is not a tool. Art has its own composition; art interacts with the larger social structure, but I would not say that art is a means of documentation, explanation, or that it exists for the use of the social structure.
Meaning is one of my earlier works. At that time I was simply concerned with the reasoning behind how an “artwork” becomes an “artwork.” I titled the work Meaning, because the subject of the painting—the tin foil—is a meaningless thing. Yet for me, the meaning of a thing comes from its relationship with the surrounding environment; it is the surrounding that brings meaning to the thing, and with that in mind, that’s how I proceed with composing the painted surface.
In this exhibition, I included this older set of artworks because they indicate a continuous line of thinking to that which takes place in my recent investigations. Another reason is that they happen to be the top and bottom half of the structure; in addition, the sizes of these paintings and the lipstick on paper works are identical.
Liang Yuanwei, Pomegranate, Paint, 10x20cm, set of 120; Courtesy Beijing Commune Gallery.
ES: When you say, “the top and bottom half of the structure,” do you mean literally (either above and below on the wall, or relating to the tin foil in the picture?) or metaphorically/theoretically?
LYW: Using the four paintings of Meaning as an example, visually speaking they are structured in the manner of “a top and a bottom.” Each painting is composed of a top and a bottom colour block, tinfoil sits in the middle of the two colour blocks acting as a connector – this suggests that the subject of the paintings is not the paintings themselves, but a reflection of the idea of “relation.”
In the exhibition, the 120 colour blocks on the wall are arranged in the format of a top and a bottom; the two large colour blocks are also composed in a top and bottom manner. The lipstick works on paper are also arranged in the same way. There is a similarity to all the walls, and that is the “top and bottom” structuring.
The corresponding relation of the “top and bottom” is a relation of contrast. The whole exhibition also started from the contrast of the old set of lipstick drawings to the new set.
My study has always been regarding “relationships.” In the Golden Notes series, I utilized the logic of physics in the relationship between the different paintings to set up the exhibition (the colour range relationship of the diptychs and the contrast relationship of the large and small works).
In Pomegranate, I utilized both a vertical treatment of the logic of the mind (all the artworks arranged chronologically and according to evidence) and a horizontal treatment of the logic of physics (all the artworks arranged according to size and colour) to compose this exhibition.
The similarity between the two exhibitions is not only related to a focusing on the reception of colour, but also on these “relationships” as well. As I said, in both exhibitions, each of the exhibition spaces is to be considered as a singular piece of artwork.
Pomegranate attempts to look into the productive schema and the metaphorical meaning of a kind of equitability of “relationship” or “structure.” As in my paintings, their methods of production were carried out systematically from top to bottom, and from one section that connects to another. In Pomegranate, I started working with lipsticks on paper, and they developed from one series to the next. This mode of production is dissimilar to the system of the branching of a “tree”; the structure and model are more akin to that of a “hive,” or the way “pomegranate seeds” are arranged; it is a kind of “butterfly effect.”
ES: Does this have any relation to the Gilles Deleuze rhizome?
LYW: I have come across the works of Gilles Deleuze but I’ve never read any of them. My idea of the structure of the “hive” and “pomegranate” comes from observing my own artistic practice; I discovered that I have always been using this way of thinking to propel and continue on with my practice, and it is unlike the way a “tree” grows. I asked a friend who is familiar with the work of Deleuze what she thinks about this, and she answered: “If the making of a work is based on the principle of the rhizome, then that is a mockery towards the theory of rhizome, because that makes the artwork a supplement to the theory, and no longer the rhizome itself. It then returns to the idea of the ‘tree root’ where there is a difference between the main root and the branch root.” – I think my friend said it very nicely.
I believe both Deleuze and my own ideas then coincide, and I am in agreement with his theory. But my work is not an interpretation of his theory.
ArtSlant would like to thank Liang Yuanwei for her assistance in making this interview possible. Thanks to LvJingjing of Beijing Commune and Lei Chak Man for translation assistance.