Employed by spiritual traditions of both western and eastern doctrines, mandalas act serve as sacred (and secular) narratives, composed of icons and symbols aimed at unifying its viewer with a sense of oneness.
Xu Kong observes the mandala as a visual illustration employed in meditation and its ability to provide solace to viewers. The exhibition examines the sequence of patterns and personal codes used by four artists working in the mediums of video, painting, and photography, and applies their work to the significance of iconography in meditation.
Art + Shanghai Gallery exhibition, Wuwei: Being and Nothing explored the common ground between the mandala-creating practice of mindfulness and the Taoist/Buddhist concept “Wuwei” (non-action), emphasizing being in the moment and how it applies to particular artworks. As a principle employed in creativity, Wuwei explored selfless action as a doctrine used by five artists working in video, painting, sound and performance. Engaged in the creative process, the artists were not concerned with any particular outcome, emphasizing the journey rather then the end (work) displayed.
While Wuwei sought to investigate the human ontological dilemma for being in the world, Xu Kong is marked by unconventional imagery of a more metaphysical nature. The exhibition focuses on the use of space and more specifically how trivial codes and patterns are used by an artist to communicate meaning to an audience. Both are representative of more ‘abstract’ art, yet highlight distinct aspects, Wuwei, the action and Xu Kong the visual.
Art critic and scholar, Gao Minglu, refers to such artists, often filed under the umbrella term of abstract art, as “Maximalists” [1950s Minimalism and late 20th century Western Modernism]. For Gao, the artists go beyond the formal appearance of an artwork to express an individual perception through daily practices.
Expanding Gao’s theory to include ‘non-Chinese’ abstract art or Maximalism, the physical form of the artwork is not the essence of the art, but rather the presence of art is found in the relationship between the artwork and the artist’s affect on it, as impacted by the his/her environment. His point is illustrated in Xu Kong through the works of artists who expresses his/her spatial concepts through repetitive forms, creating an infinite, non-linear, narrative and/or space.
And as scene in Wuwei, such narrative landscapes are capable of establishing a meditative apparitions for both the creator and viewer alike. Similar to the philosophical poetry of early 17th century Europe or Tibetan Vajrayana mandalas, the works of Xu Kong are seculamentals (secular sacraments) to be venerated not for what they are, but for what they represent. They symbolize an understanding and feeling that cannot be read and must be experienced.
[i] Gao Minglu wrote a number of articles and journals regarding his critique of the theory of Chinese Abstract art. For the purpose here, I refer to his comparison of Chinese “Maximalists” and religious (namely Buddhist) practice of meditative visualization through mandalas. “The squares, dots, and lines symbolize the repetition and triviality of everyday life. They are the expression of self-development in an urbanized context that keeps its distance from the outside world...Almost all these abstract artists stress repetition, continuity, and a simple, unaffected state of mind. They focus on creating an internally satisfying spiritual realm.” [“Does Abstract Art Exist in China”, Artzine Magazine, 2006, pg 6-8].
A visual artist, born in Massachusetts, Fariba Alam has roots in Afghanistan and Bangladesh. She graduated with a BA in Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures from Columbia College, Columbia University in 1998 and received her M.A. from New York University in 2004. She is the recipient of a Fulbright fellowship in Photography in1998.
Her work integrates tile installations, archival photography, and self portraiture in order to create large scale photographs and installations. Throughout her work, she re-imagines cultural artifacts, geometric patterns in nature and Islamic architecture. She utilizes minimalist and conceptual techniques of repetition and sequence reassigning archival photographs with transcendental properties, and reconstructing history as present in the creation of space.
Born 1974 in Paris, France, Fabrice Guyot is a multidisciplinary artist and curator working in Paris and Shanghai. Formerly at the Fine Arts School of Paris as a student of Annette Messager, he has also attended workshops with Hans Haacke (in NYC), Ken Lum and Barbara Kruger. He worked as an assistant for artists such as Jochen Gerz, Lothar Baumgarten and Gabriel Orozsco in addition to organizing exhibitions in New York, Shanghai, Amsterdam, and France. He has also collaborated as a multimedia designer for TV companies and Art and Fashion magazines.
In a tradition of questioning and challenging the notion of beauty, Fabrice Guyot’s artworks not only ask the position of objects and representations but the status of the viewer, both geographically and mentally.
FRACTEID, as a portmanteau word, is used to describe a linguistic blend of “fractal” in its definition of fragmented geometric shapes that can be split into parts, and the Greek word Eidos (used for example in kaleidoscope) which refers to Plato's Ideal Forms and evokes the term "Eidetic memory,” defined as the ability to recall images, sounds, or objects in memory with extreme accuracy and in abundant volume.
Born 1965 in Taipei,Taiwan, Huang Zhiyang graduated from the Taipiei Chinese Cultural University in 1989 majoring in Chinese traditional ink painting. He is renowned for his ink and oil paintings of repetitive triangular organic shapes, a form he has employed in his works, from figurative scroll paintings, to the phallic sculptures shown in the Taiwan Pavilion at the 1995 Venice Biennale.
Huang’s triangular shapes are the artist’s absract expression of patterns found on leaves and in microscopic views of bacteria. They are likewise a reference to the texture stroke technique employed in ink landscape paintings, combining a traditional technique with contemporary aesthetic.
Born 1979 in Tainan, Taiwan, Wu Gengzhen (Jam Wu) graduated from Shih Chien University Architecture department in 2006. He is an emerging artist who works in the mediums of photography, set design and even poetry. His works are inspired from his childhood memories of growing up playing near the riverside in Tainan. In 2006 he won the Emerging artist grant from Taiwan’s renowned dance troupe, Cloud Gate. With his grant money, he seized the opportunity to travel and research in northwest China. During his travels he was inspired by Chinese folk art, and its relation to eastern philosophy and religion.
While his work is often conceived as being predominantly decorative and design based, his recent museum and public space installations have given rise to personally commentary unique histories of Taiwan and mainland China, emphasizing issues of self-identification and ‘oriental-ization’ in contemporary Chinese art.