WATER KNOWS THE ANSWERS
-Curatorial Notes

2021

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In December 2020, it happened that I was working in Hangzhou, and I had an appointment with Junru for coffee at Starbucks in Binjiang Powerlong City. It was not very cold, and after drinking two large cups of hot American style, we stood on the side of the road waiting for the bus as usual. Jun Ru suddenly mentioned that he, Yu Xuan and Jin Hao wanted to do a three-person group exhibition, and hoped that I would be the curator of this exhibition.

I heard a general idea of ​​doing an exhibition, and the idea was very general. The unknown is the only future that can be fully foreseen, given the very small volume of their works at the time.

However, from another angle, this is not a boat on land. The exhibition includes works and curators. The smaller the initial works, the closer the exchanges between artists and curators, and the more variables in the process. One step at a time, one step at a time. From start to finish, the temptation will be far more interesting and meaningful than any difficulty we may face. Besides, Yuxuan, Junru, and I were close friends in the oil painting department in the early years, and we also paid close attention to Jin Hao. On the one hand, out of complete trust in the tacit understanding between me and my old friend, on the other hand, out of a will to take risks, the car arrived, and I agreed to this project. 

 

 

The Edge of Hometown

The Chinese name of the exhibition is "Cheng Yu", which means city and islet respectively in Chinese. The city, originally intended to surround the defensive wall of the city, generally refers to the area enclosed by the city wall. Islet refers to the flat-bottomed hills or small islands attached to the mainland or around the island. When the tide is high, it is separated from the mainland or the island, and when the tide is low, it is connected to the mainland or the island, just like the upper and lower teeth. side, sometimes back in the arms. The three artists are young people born in Dalian, China and living in Hangzhou. Dalian is located at the southernmost tip of the Liaodong Peninsula. As a city surrounded by the sea on three sides, it is both a city and an island. The exhibition is named "Cheng Yu", "Cheng" is used to describe the hometown, and "Yu" is used to describe wandering.

Dalian's urban environmental ethics, history and humanities, urban planning, technology investment, ecology and other aspects are closely related to this natural geographical condition, so it also has the image of a coastal city. "Image" is the sum of people's impressions of a city, and "identity" is an internal social space concept, which is related to the history and environment of a city and presents a certain degree of uniqueness. While Dalian as the birthplace endowed the three artists with the identity of the early Yuan Dynasty, the "hometown" was also recognized by the artists as the identity of Dalian. This identity is the identification of the shared characteristics of the local group as a result of people giving meaning to the place - it carries the environment, individual memory and collective memory that nurture the artists. They have all been away from home for several years, and their relationship with Dalian is like the relationship between an island and the mainland. 

For people who have been away from home for several years, which one, "hometown" or "hometown" can more accurately describe the existence of the place where they grew up? Hometown is more of alienation in the sense of time, shrouded in more hazy memories; hometown is more of a departure in the sense of space, with a full sense of belonging and fireworks. Life in a different place brings a sense of alienation to the old people who return to their old places. In essence, time is moving forward and cities are renewing. We are often accustomed to the ever-changing places where we live, but we are surprised by the rapid changes in our former residences. It's always easy to create an unfamiliar feeling of "never going back."

"Can we go back to Dalian?" The three artists faced such a question. During the 10-month exhibition preparation process, they repeatedly established and subverted self-interpretations based on their personal experiences, and repeatedly opened themselves up to find answers. However, whether we can go back or not, whether we call it our hometown or our hometown, it is the place we keep looking back.

Wearing the stars and wearing the moon, tossing and turning, letting go is home.

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Exhibition site

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Dalian map

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Exhibition theme colour

Water knows the answer

Water has no shape, and it flows according to the ground.

Water Knows the Answers as the English name of the exhibition, extends the romantic artistic conception to the Chinese name "Cheng Yu". Water connects pieces of land, and beyond the city is water.

Water and land have a positive and negative relationship. As long as there is flow, there is departure and arrival. In the process of flowing, people adapt themselves to the land they go to, just like water. Most of the paintings in this exhibition were completed in Hangzhou, which is the cultural soil where the three artists took root and grew together after they left Dalian. How do they get a foothold? How to grow? How do you view your relationship with Hangzhou? How to imagine the future? Do they choose to stay here, or do they expect to continue to flow? - We may be able to see some traces of Hangzhou.

Water has no fixed shape and always has a shape. The shape of water is determined by the container, and as Marx once said, people cannot see things around them that are not their own images, and everything is proving itself. When we say "world", we often refer to the world of human beings, the world of our social relationships (including, of course, things that are strongly related to human existence), rather than the whole that includes all existence in the world. In essence, in the late stage of exhibition preparation, "Dalian" has become a downplayed fact. The exhibition is not examining Dalian but examining the artist's interpretation of his relationship with the world. The three artists took landscapes and traces out of the world to form their "sights". These elements are then mixed and reshaped in their personal universe and formed into three separate identities that contribute to their own special meaning. Feelings and mental states can affect the formation of "seeing", and the way of viewing and the pictures you see are important. Therefore, we also do not appreciate their work as it is in reality. Each representation is the way the three artists think about the relationships around them, revealing their actions. These representations allow us to observe the connection to the world held by the artist’s contemporaries, as well as the sensory and psychological states they present in their works. However, we can only observe the people of the same era, and the exhibition discusses only the three of them and does not reflect the ambition of the symptoms of a generation.

Water has weight and lightness. Water can be slow or fast. This is also our lodging for the exhibition "Cheng Yu" - calm in the land, dialogue with Hangcheng; agile in pursuit, drifting with thoughts. As the Roman Emperor Augustus' motto "FESTINA LENTE" said: Slowly, fast forward.

Negative space

Walking precedes curating.

In mid-May 2021, I went to Dalian, accompanied by Uncle Zhang (Jin Hao's father) and Jun Ru. Over two days, I visited the families of three old friends, toured their homes, and walked through the neighborhoods where they lived as children.

In the middle of the exhibition planning, when I was a little confused about how to use the exhibition narrative, I saw a questionnaire about the artist Zhao Zhao, the director of the Ullens Museum of Art, in Beijing 798. At that time, I was a little enlightened. Maybe our exhibition can also be a questionnaire manual like this, where the artist answers the questions and the readers summarize the statement. However, as the artist and philosopher James Lee Byar once said, "I can answer a question, but am I smart enough to ask it?" Asking questions is hard, It's not a premise that you know all the answers, but a way to dig into the problem. This is also one of the reasons that prompted me to take a trip to Dalian to contact the family members of three old friends to find clues to ask questions. The most interesting is the scene where we visit Uncle Liu (Yuxuan's father) office, Uncle Liu, Uncle Zhang, Jun Ru and I: the father of two absent artists and the artist and curator present, a strange combination without blood relationship Sit down and talk about an exhibition. In several chats, I found an introduction to asking questions, and also the later "Stones from Other Hills - 50 Questions for Artists".

 

To be honest, I used to think that the content of the three drawings was somewhat deliberate. At least in my conception of the exhibition, it must be sincere, simple, and it doesn't matter even if it blurs the territorial characteristics of the city. How to present the truth? If I want to do such an exhibition well, I must read my artists by reading Dalian. Facts have proved that in the process of walking, we did not deliberately look for anything, and the historical relics kept appearing in front of my eyes. Perhaps this minute is still the magnificent Plaza 66, and the next minute, you will walk into the dilapidated buildings of the Japanese colonial era surrounded by building fences. Then, without knowing it, they walked almost everywhere they painted.

Dalian is a young city, just turned 100 years old, but it has gone through vicissitudes in the modern history of China. In 1897, Tsarist Russian designers built a city with squares here and named him "Dalini", which means "distant city". In 1905, the Japanese occupied the city and changed "Dalini" to "Dalian". In 1945, the Anti-Japanese War was won, and the Soviet army entered. In 1955, the People's Republic of China has been administered until now. Over the past 100 years, the regime has changed too quickly, and urban construction has not been able to keep up with this pace. When I was walking in Dalian, I wrote the word "Archipelago" in my notebook to describe the feeling of the ruins in the center of the city. "Houses with traces" are like archipelagos, which exist in clusters all over the city: at the end of the street, at the corner of the alley. The city surrounds the island, and the island constitutes the city.

"Negative space" is used by Rosen to describe the existence in the city that is not determined by the concept of planning will but generated by the vitality and personality of different cities in the book "The Land of Flowers". If we say that the modern buildings built in the process of Dalian's urbanization are the "positive space" for the city to move forward, then let's borrow Rosen's "negative space" to refer to the relics of Dalian's urban center. They overlapped the epitome of Dalian's changes in just a hundred years, and existed as a public cultural symbol of the city to a certain extent. The French philosopher Henri Lefebvre proposed in his theory of space that a city is a geographical concept with “qualitative normative”—a relational existence constructed by people’s activities in objective reality. In Dalian I have seen today, the heterogeneity of urban space is very high, and a small area contains mixed development of various business types and functions. However, most of these development volumes are small. Although Dalian is qualitatively standardized, a large number of old buildings, either in pieces or in isolation, are still kept in the same space without anyone touching them, resulting in a certain social integration and architectural style. the hybridity.

 

 

The buildings in the city vary in style, each with a unique history. Whether it is Yu Xuan's "The Window Sill", Jun Ru's "Dalini's Back" or Jin Hao's "Distant - The End", we can easily see such a common existence in most of the works of the three artists and common themes. I must stress that although the houses with traces may have a certain meaning to be painted, they do not "force new words to express sorrow", because this kind of negative space is literally scattered in the city, everywhere visible. The exodus of young people, the incomplete iteration of the city, and the slow update speed... The contradiction between urban culture, historical problems and real development is gradually revealed. How can such questions be addressed? The exhibition must grasp the scale of the narrative.

Curating itself is not a gesture, and neither is the curator. I try to avoid documenting this matter as much as possible. Although in the previous curatorial meeting, we had jointly explored the history of the city and shared collective memory, on the one hand, to have a more thorough understanding of the three artists' perspectives on issues, and on the other hand, to maximize the creation of content. But in the late stage of the preparation of the work, everyone returned to the picture itself. Because in the end, the picture presented to the audience will be a result of translation. There is no need to establish the so-called "three-dimensional feeling" in the exhibition in order to show the depth of the exhibition research, otherwise there will be some seemingly rich but irrelevant existences.

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Interviewing Uncle zhang

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L: Distance-The End, Zhang Jinhao, 130x130cm, 2019

R: Visiting Dalian

Aisle

Yuxuan and I have been in the same class for four years in college. We have always had a good relationship, and I am very happy to be able to watch his changes as a bystander. It can be said that we not only have a considerable part of the knowledge system established in the same model, but also have a tacit cooperation model with each other - I am responsible for the system and sorting, he is responsible for freedom and imagination. However, his freedom is not boundless hip-hop, but a state of superficial ease and inner competition. Sometimes I think he is more like a southerner, very sensitive and delicate at heart.

For Yuxuan's painting, the test is not something that can be grasped, but the ability to stand by at any time while giving up. Even in his mature paintings, he has always been very clear: the comfort zone is not the place to settle down now. He is not a person who seeks stability, at least in the past few years, he has been giving up and starting again, which is too rare. "Giving up" is an operation for Yuxuan, which not only provides complete space for his imagination but also helps him to get out of the way of viewing that is on the verge of being solidified again and again. Vision without intention does not mean passivity, but a way of communicating with the world without the will of power.

"The impression of the past is vague, and the vaguer it is, the more necessary it is to express." Yuxuan is obsessed with discovering the shadow of time in places closely related to his own life. In the exhibition, the keywords of his works are daily life, traces, passages, spiral staircases, etc. The creative process has gone through twists and turns, from focusing on the daily traces in Dalian's streetscape and urban places at the beginning, to focus on finding specific elements to discover the connection with the past.

From the two "Staircases" we can clearly see his exploration of the element of "spiral staircase". The spiral staircase only presents the starting point or the endpoint in the two-dimensional plane, and the invisibility of its leading place leaves the viewers with ambiguous guessing space. When the function of urban places changes over time, the traces left by the places show the change of human lifestyle, and the visible traces and the vague impressions are mixed. The vaguer, the more people have the desire to trace back. As a metaphor, the spiral staircase is a time-space bridge built by Yuxuan in the picture, which includes his research on architectural form symbols and spatial geometry. This reminds me of Escher's famous "Never Ending Staircase" in the history of optical illusions. Escher builds his ideal city in paradox through an impossible staircase, and Yuxuan is also building a passage for him to dialogue with the past himself through his spiral staircase. Metaphysically, at the other end of the aisle, there is a specific time, place, and event that only he himself knows - such a narrative is very montage.

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Staircases, Liu Yuxuan, 130x200cm, 2020

M.C. Escher, Relativity

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Growth

Junru and I have been in the same school for three years, and we hit it off right from the very beginning. In my impression, Junru has always held an open observation perspective, observing corners of life, social phenomena, history, nature, and the world. There are traces of life in almost every one of his paintings. Junru has a strong ability to empathize, which makes everyone feel comfortable communicating with him. Most people who are familiar with him have felt the "affectionate" look in his eyes when listening. However, observation and empathy are not the same as following the flow. Junru and Confucianism have their own insistence.


Sometimes I think this person is quite "old-fashioned", he will collect some things, most of them have stories or the emotions of people related to the objects, and take them out and watch them again and again from time to time. Preservation is a futuristic movement that preserves the roots of the past and the present state, from which Junru and Confucianism are absolutely capable of drawing and transforming energy. No matter how many complicated scenes in front of him, they transformed from him into slow feelings and poetry. I think this reflects the aesthetic contemplation he possesses. The Southern Song Dynasty painter Zong Bing wrote in "Preface to Painting Landscapes": "Saints contain Taoism, and sages cherish their tastes." The word "Chenghuaiweixiang" can be appropriately used to describe the aesthetic state of Jun and Confucianism. : The process is not limited to "taste image", but from "taste image" to "viewing Tao". Bao Sangkui believes that the aesthetic state under aesthetic contemplation is to "transform and shape" various appearances under the premise that the subject is freed from the utilitarian world. This is what I see as the aesthetic state of Jun and Confucianism: full of emotion, spiritual freedom, and high spirits.


Junru's interpretation of the scene in these paintings of Dalian has two starting points, one is based on experience, the other is based on senses. From experience to senses, the turning point occurred in May, which is also the process of a gentleman and Confucian knowing himself. Starting from experience, it is based on his understanding and imagination of Dalian's history and nature to feel how the works are connected and developed with the grass and trees around it, such as "Dalini's Back", "Autumn Leaves", "Jieshan" Street No. 66", etc., all selected are historical buildings with stories. Starting from the senses, it is to feel the "image" of objects, such as "Fugue in Early Spring", "The Sun Also Rises" and other corners that reveal vitality. Some stories can't be told, and some stories can't be told, but the sun will rise and set as usual, and urban life will continue to grow. As a painter, no matter how in-depth understanding of the architectural history you care about, you must eventually return to the picture. Junru chose to return to the language of painting, in which he hears, smells and sees.


Here we can see a timeline in him: stop in the present, look for the past, and believe in the future.
 

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At the End of the Forest

Liang Junru, 110x110cm, 2021

A corner of Junru's room, Dalian

Distance


I heard about Jin Hao around 2018. I first noticed him when I saw a few small sketches of him on Weibo. Later, I saw that he has been drawing Dalian. Jin Hao is a very easy-going person. His simplicity and sincerity made us go directly from "heard" to "acquaintance" in the first meeting of exhibition planning. Because Dalian is the subject that Jin Hao has been painting for the past two years, his paintings as a visual presence set a part of the visual tone for the exhibition at the beginning of the curation.


Jin Hao's creation also has a process of change. From the performance of urban gray at the beginning to the pursuit of urban light at the back. He has been collecting the sunset in Dalian for a while, and he said that the appearance of the sun about to set gave him a sense of belonging to Dalian. When the creator uses all senses to receive a space every day, a particular moment of his obsession must permeate his unique cognition of this space. What is then reflected in the picture is the emotional sum that can be called "urban impression". Many street scenes in Dalian are "far" to Jin Hao, one refers to the traces of time, and the other refers to the way people who are far away from their hometown see their hometown. We can not only see his memory of the past, but also his reflection on urban construction. For example, in the original Dalini City Hall painted in "Far Away - The End", what is painted under the stable and atmospheric building is the rigid architectural baffle of the city scene. At this point, Jin Hao did not choose to erase the completeness of the building, nor did he avoid the incompleteness of the city, but took the picture as a portrayal of reality, revealing his attitude towards the present.


Jin Hao is obsessed with the weather-beaten look of architecture, and we can see a clear texture in his paintings. Liu Xie said in "Wen Xin Diao Long · Searching for Colors" that "there is always more with less, and there is no ambiguity". In Jin Hao's eyes, Dalian is tragic, and he embodies a poetic concept in his paintings: the unified texture enables each painting to convey the keynote of the city with less and more. "Huainanzi: Talking about the Mountain," says: "Seeing a leaf fall and knowing the end of the year, seeing the ice in the bottle and knowing the coldness of the world." Jin Hao kept looking for the people in the block with a searching attitude. Symbolic aesthetics, like an urban sewing machine, connect those forgotten mottles in the city. The new land is actually as fragile as these mottles. With the wind and the rain, it will be submerged at any time, just like human life.


The senses of reality and memory are both holistic and three-dimensional. We always have an inductive feeling about the past impression of a certain city. The way of expression of a piece of work will induce the visual activity of the viewer. In the stable pictures framed by Jinhao’s many horizontal and vertical cuts, we can not only see the eternity revealed by the historical buildings and the unease they dispel but also Hearing the frailty of the city and the twilight of the hero seems to be a wave of disappearance.

 

 

 


August 2021 in Guangzhou

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Distance

Zhang Jinhao, series photography, 2020-2021

Exhibition site

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