Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi wrote, 'The universe and I came into being together; and I, and everything therein, are ONE.' Chinese philosophers have explored a unique and Oriental way of sensing material things. The exhibition Ganwu showcases works by nine artists and designers who incorporate Chinese aesthetics into their works. They emphasize human experiences through their materials and create works with exquisite handcraft techniques.
Taking the Song dynasty painting Six Persimmons by Mu Xi as an example, the appearance and concept of a persimmon is easily shown from a subjective perspective. Only when the artist observed the persimmons from an objective perspective, not differentiating between them as subjects or objects, could the artist reveal the persimmons' spirituality. This is what is known as 'ganwu': how the creator becomes equal to the objects being depicted, and how he or she co-exists with them.
Western philosophical thinking focuses on mankind as an object. René Descartes (1596-1650), known as the founder of Western modern philosophy, considered humans as both an object of thinking and a subject of thought. This dualism rethinks the relationship between consciousness and the human body. Unlike how phenomenology focuses on logical thinking, 'ganwu' roots itself in intuition and directs itself into a realm of instant emotion and perception. Although language has limitations, there are infinite possibilities in how one senses things.
Japanese philosophical thinking also has its own way of perceiving objects. Chinese philosophers are more concerned about the connection between humans and objects, and the unity of mankind and the universe. However, in Japan, objects and human feelings can be separate from each other. This is known as 'Mono no aware', which is an empathy towards things. Meanwhile, most of Japan is made up of islands which always face the threat of unexpected earthquakes or tsunamis. The Japanese, therefore, are extremely sensitive to the ephemeral nature of life and material things.
All of the works in this exhibition have been produced in China with artists and designers working closely with artisans. These artisans might be descendants of those who created ceramic pieces in the Song dynasty or wooden furniture in the Ming dynasty. These exquisite techniques developed by ancient masters are still used today in modern works. With designers working from different cultural perspectives, each work has its own symbolism or visual metaphors.
Just as Chinese paintings focus on combining reality with imagination, so do design objects. Something still exists in the emptiness or 'liubai' (what is left blank). The traces and creases on the work's surface are able to capture and reflect the light and shadow of the empty space beyond the work. Emptiness becomes touchable. The exhibition Ganwu gathers works that aim to make audiences more aware of the spirituality of materials hidden in the universe.
Press release courtesy Pearl Lam Galleries.