The Ideal Places —Discussing recent artworks of Chen Yufan
It has been over seven or eight years since I met Chen. I was just graduated and thinking about relevant issue of traditional Chinese landscape painting while I saw his artworks at the first time. A friend of mine introduced me Chen's artworks and mentioned that his paintings are with 'Penuma of Landscape'. His artwork brings a feeling of peace to me, a real peace while a real anxiety behind the scenes. Also, the unique white tone with pyrotechnics vestige in his panting has a real touch of the scenery of Chinese mountains and rivers compare to other artists artworks in the same genre. I assumed that he has obtained this kind of technique from the meditation in the forest. However, I could not feel any 'Penuma of Landscape' few years after, it may because that I had depth understanding of traditional Chinese landscape painting from the perspective of humanity. When we are talking about a painting with 'Penuma of Landscape', it seems like we are saying a dish full of aroma scent, it is an implicit concept. I have been following his updates all those years and I have noticed the changing of Chen's artworks and found out more details after I visited to his studio this year.
The Uncertain Scenery caught my eyes when I stepped into his studio. I was speechless and could not find any words to describe my feeling. For sure, Chen's painting of The Uncertain Scenery is a real uncertainty and difficult description artwork. I was trying to explain it from visual perspective, finding more details from his painting. However, it seems easier but meaningless to me to explain although it contains metaphor. It is most likely a battle between artist, material and canvas. It has most characters of contemporary art without self-identity, it has unbalanced tones and modelling, looks like abstract work but not in real typical form. If I insist to put a name on it or describe it in poetic view, I could only replicate a piece of art review from Clement Greenberg. Or a proper word that I have been wondering to explain his painting—'inopportune', a less talent and elegant artwork than before but worthy to discuss. The composition between the piece of wood in the centre and the side canvas are inopportune. Any segment in the artworks shows the feature of itself as an abrupt individual but part of the whole.
Another artwork called Derivatives has the similar feature to t_he uncertain scenery_. Chen applied the method of splicing wooden blocks to demonstrate the surface of distorted canvas that caused by a twisted frame. He attempted to reproduce and duplicate the surface of canvas. In fact, it seems go to the opposite way, becoming a straightforward assemble of wooden blocks. Apart from that, the artwork Potted plant shows a more complicate concept. It also attempted to reproduce a house plant. However, the Potted plan_t is not a single direct concept, it is an expandable and personal way of appreciation in terms of composition and objects in artworks. For example, we can consider a building as a house plant within a city. Therefore, it seems no doubt that Chen's artwork P_otted plant is a piece of standard house plant from literal definition, but still with suspicion.
Chen employed unitary technique to his artworks to disclose the nature of the material by using varied forms and structures such as two or three dimensions, from Chen's perspective of arts, all the materials that have been applied to his art works are the symbols of individual objects. For instance, in the uncertain scenery, the wooden blocks are not only the wooden blocks themselves, it also represented the relevant objects to the canvas, meanwhile, the canvas could apply the same theory. Moreover, in Derivatives, the composition of wooden blocks could not be considered as the duplication of the canvas, it created a dialogue between the wooden blocks and the canvas. Also, in the Potted plant, the materials such as the wooden blocks, the canvas and the lines and shapes represented the nature feature of individuals not the use attribute as materials. Therefore, what messages that artist tended to send to audience by using these materials, in my point of view, it remained me of one line from Sarah Kane which is 'leave me alone, do not bother me, do not ask me, do not touch me and do not leave me.'
I was impressed by the design of the tea room inside Chen's studio. He made wooden wall, Japanese Tatami, wooden tea table and chairs. I could feel his preference of wooden material. He made lots effort to the decoration only for short-term lease of three years. Chen said that I prefer living in a comfortable environment no matter how long the place I rent for. Appreciate every moment and the space that he stays, it is an admirable life style that we long for. In other words, it is essential to respect the spiritual world that created by ourselves. Chen also mentioned that he has high interest in my recent article about 'Objects', and now I could understand the reason from observing his new artworks. He figured out the meaning of 'Objects' by tracing Mulan River simultaneously I found out the insight of 'Objects' by following 'Landscape'. What a coincidence!
I want to explain the concept of 'Objects', it is not a really implicit one. It could be considered as any specific substance, or even a thought, an issue and a question. For instance, in Chinese language there is a term called 'Ge Wu', it means studying the nature phenomena of objects. 'Ge' means studying and researching. 'Wu' means object. In modern empirical scientific field, science can be considered as the way of studying the nature attributes of objects. For instance, 'object' in anatomy is the body, 'object' in phytology is the plant, 'object' in physical is the structure and motion of object. In social science, 'object' is the social development and structure in sociology; 'object' is the occurrence and relevant issue. The guidance method behinds these 'Ge Wu' disciplines are Philosophy.
In general, there are two types of philosophy to indicate 'Ge Wu'. One is materialism, another is idealism. The only philosophy in empirical science is materialism, it used visible and measurable material as the standard object. In ancient China, the main proposition of Zhu Xi, a Chinese philosopher in Song Dynasty is that 'Ge Wu' indicates materialism. He stated that the Truth is hidden in 'Objects'. In other words, we need to explore the Truth by studying the 'Objects' in specific disciplines. On the contrary, Lu Jiuyuan, another Major philosopher in Song Dynasty argued that Ge Wu' is the idealism. Firstly, he agreed with that to study objects is to study specific material in varied disciplines. Then, Lu also considered that the Truth is hidden in our inner world, it is the reflection of our thoughts. Thus, Zhu Xi pointed out that to approach the face of the Truth is to study all sorts of objects; and for Lu Jiuyuan, 'Ge Wu' is a method of understanding the nature sound of material by studying less objects.
Apparently, Zhu Xi's theory of 'Ge Wu' demonstrates the respect to scientific research and the word 'Ge Wu' is most likely to be replaced by 'researching' under the context of modern civilization. But, artists and critics pay more attention to Lu Jiuyuan's 'Ge Wu' theory which focuses on obtaining intelligence from understand our inner world rather than researching and studying from outside's. For instance, there is a popular term in Japan called 'Artisan Spirit' which was derived from Lu's theory. For Lu, the way of how far we approach to the Truth is not measured by how many books or knowledge we have got, even a skillful chef who masters one dish could be considered as Truth pursuer. However, Zhu had an opposite opinion that the only way to approach Truth is to acquire numerous knowledge. Moreover, from the perspective of Wang Yangming, a Chinese philosopher in Ming Dynasty, the Truth exists inside our inner world, we do not need to study and research for obtaining it. Therefore, 'Ge Wu' means amending the deviations regarding our thoughts and beliefs incessantly.
In conclusion, the 'Objects' that Chen Yufan mentioned indicate the immaterial objects in idealism theory. Like most of artists and their creation, Chen applied material as media during creating progress. In fact, Chen considered the material that he used as a representative of its own natural attribute. For example, the wooden block represents mother nature; canvas represents the artifact material; pigment is pigment itself not colour. All these materials are no longer the segments of artworks but have their individual attributes. Thus, artist has an intimated connection with the materials, creating a dialogue between inner world—the heart and outer world- the objects. In other words, being committed to the objects.
Therefore, I could not help to ask that how an artist can make connection with wooden blocks, canvas and class pieces during creating progress? A coincidence? Or a choice? General speaking, Chen chose to do invaluable things from another people's opinion. In fact, we are unconsciously making connection with objects and emotional contact in our daily life, such as cooking, babysitting, fixing computer and managing company. We found out their nature attributes after long-term communication. In Chen's case, he discovered a way of creating artworks with his personal trace in terms of life. He produced artworks under the prerequisite of 'invaluable things' not so called 'contemporary art'. It looks confused, but most of talented artists are following their own paths and procedures to create art without the restriction of rules of contemporary art, meanwhile pursuing 'invaluable things' but has own meaning to themselves. To explore the nature attribute of materials and objects is to make our heart liveliness. It seems like that we could feel much more extensive when we obsess to a thing, a matter or an object than a person, it is a metaphysical feeling relative to objects. Even we could say that it is fetish. But is it that simply to make the conclusion from it?
I looked at few unfinished paintings of Chen after tea time in his studio. For instance, in his new painting Underworld, those small sized wooden blocks placed in individuals' blocks are designed by himself. Every block has the similarity to each other. The handmade blocks carried Chen's unique personal temperament and the trace of his working ethic and habits of using tools. It is hard for me to explain what personal temperament right now, but I could predict his future feature: he will go back to his 'Mulan River' and become a wise man surrounded by children who listening his old stories about his youth. At that time, he is stubborn and a little bit aggressive with intelligence and a sense of curiosity. And maybe one day he will back to his warrior days like a swordsman in the underworld.
Age could not wither the soul of youth. Those artists who have young mindset are under the influence of their previous experience during the rough time. They encountered the restless loneliness and dilapidated conditions while they were young. For instance, the painting of Chen named 'cast it to the sky' shows a poetic scenery and a sense of fragmentation of his hometown. If we could have deeper insight of his feelings for homesickness and living a life without fixed abode, then we may understand the sadness and romance features in the 'Mulan River'. It also remains me of a Chinese poem about hometown at the ancient time, it described the homesickness and anxiety of soldiers during the wartime. They realized that where they were trying to conquer would never be their homeland. However, there were no way to turning back. In the painting of C_ast it to the Sky_, it seems to demonstrate a broken scenery that similar to the one where those soldiers were facing, a scenery full of homesickness. Thus, cast it to the sky seems like shouting to the past that have no chance to return. Hometown is always the place that wanderers are longing for.
Over the past few years, Chen Yufan's creation theme has always been relative to Mulan River. He also made collaboration with his brother Chen Yujun with the same theme. They have same memories about Mulan River and hometown, a poetic, abstract and original place, a place that they could never return but could not ignore in terms of art creating. Mulan River is the resource of the creation which brings inspiration to them. For Chen's recent paintings, Objects become the main focus. The reason why is that everyone needs to find a supporter, a home to return and a haven as the shelter of the heart while living in this modern world. We are struggling for pursuing a calmness place in reality without depth insight into the ancient quote' what keeps changing is not the outer world, is the inner world of ourselves'. Therefore, the theme of Chen's new exhibition is the habitat of Ideal which is the place that everyone longs for to live. It is not far away, it is not on the other side of the river, not in the future but exists inside the concentration and stillness at the present. He attempts to create a hometown of the heart for everyone to return not only for himself.
'The ideal place' exists in these 'Objects' that Chen chose for his paintings. These so-called inappropriate objects which come from nowhere reflect his inner world. His paintings are the container of his heart. It more likes a traveller carrying his backpack as a home on the way at all times. In this sense, Chen chose art creation as a haven for his inner world is a way of being free of vulgarity without alternative. This abstruse concept seems to confuse audience but in fact, for artist it has merely offered an opportunity to reveal the natural emotion in this rational world through creating. Have other people already found out the haven for themselves? Unfortunately, freely expressing emotion as an essential thing has become a difficult and restricted behaviours in reality. Therefore, it is hard to make conclusion of that aesthetic and critic are considered as an approach to atonement, normal or escape. At least, we could acquire ephemeral peace from Chen's artworks while we are weary of struggling in this utilitarian world.
Press release courtesy Aye Gallery.