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Somewhere Only We Know

May, 2020

When cameras were invented in 1839, Paul Delaroche, a famous French painter said, ‘Painting has died since today’. The boundaries of sculptures, found objects and paintings are blurred when mediums are being hybridized in contemporary time. According to Delaroche, painting has been led to live a new life rather than has extended its forms and definitions. This probably means that the “painting” we know is changing its appearance. I believe expanded painting is a kind of painting's new life.

Somewhere Only We Know is an experiment. What I was trying to reach is to build two-dimensional painting in a space with three-dimensional structures. The work itself remains a geometric visual impact with colours to the audience. Spectators and witnesses form abstract two-dimensional visual images via eyes and complete the work. In this way, the connection between the painting and the space is magnified, the symbiotic relationship of the art installation and the environment is displayed.


An artwork always has multiple definitions within the contemporary context. Somewhere Only We Know is a typical one. Although as the author I am clear that I am working on Expanded painting, the audience might see the work as: 


-Site-specific installation
-Public sculpture

-Expanded painting

When Paul Cézanne found hidden links within his paintings and Alberto Giacometti made bumpy sculptures to represent space, they were both questioning what is “the actuality of vision”?  With the experience of a painter for years, I have kept doubting this question under the visual system since I have studied their works to develop my painting.


I believe people's eyes have the absolute function of mixing depth, colours, boundaries and structures in two-dimensional tableau or three-dimensional space. That is why Impressionism, Optical Art and Optical Illusion exist. 


Thus, these structures are used to lead spectators to view the material world from my way of seeing and gave them possibilities to compose new tableau through their eyes. Because of the visual illusion, things with the same colour might be composed. Colours and shapes, large structures and small structures, blocks and lines are compared and linked. 

Considering that many viewers may not touch the work proactively and cannot see the various possibilities of the mirror turning, I added a moto-turn electrical machine on the frame. This change also can avoid the risk of the shelf being pushed down by too many interactors.


Jessica Stockholder's works make the best use of colours and objects. She believes the surfaces of walls and objects are full of pictorial potential. As a painter at the very beginning, she first explored the question of boundary as it is proposed by the picture frame and then began with paint on canvas. It seems she has a natural ability to control hue. Soon Stockholder started adding different materials and objects into her works and used walls and space as carriers of pigments. The way I develop my works shares similarity to hers. With the same interests, I have paid a lot of attention to her works since I knew her. It is Stockholder's works that give me the concept of expanding painting into space . My idea of making two-dimensional abstract tableau in space came up when I saw the photos of "Angled Tangle". The high contrast colours and sharp shapes had a strong attraction.

Visual system

Visual System

I am using this work to explore a kind of visual system for installation in space. As Boris Groys wrote in Going Public:  "The artistic installation is a way to expand the domain of the sovereign rights of the artist from the individual art object to that of the exhibition space itself." Groys mentioned, "The only function of such a space is to make the art objects that are placed within it easily accessible to the gaze of the visitors." In this work, the function of the space constituted by the installation allows the artistic objects or the environment to be easily accessible to the gaze of the visitors.

Being viewed

objective matter



the ego

material world




world view


Being viewed

For artist: In this work, the frames and structures are objects. When they are framing things and showing artist's way of seeing, artist's eyes are filtering things. The compositions of structures display artist world view and thought. Thus, when artist is considering the angle of photographing and the landscape for gazing, representation is happening.

For spectators: In this work, the whole installation is an object. When people are gazing at the objects that had already been framed by the formation of their views. After views are separated from the artist's forming, spectators build their thoughts and represent themselves. The world gets feedback.


Leon Battista Alberti (Italian Renaissance humanist author, artist, architect, poet, priest, linguist, philosopher and cryptographer) wrote On Painting. In this book, he discussed linear perspective. He also putted forward a visual system.  Alberti likened a picture to a window: when a viewer looks at a picture, he seems to be looking at the world outside the window through the window. Thus, Alberti set the ideal of "reproducible image". The world is framed by picture frames or window frames, and the reality of the world is also framed. On the basis of the world of subject and object, the world is framed by the subject (visual), and the painting (world) exists because of vision.

This visual system can easily be linked to the famous window in Mr. Palomar, which is a 1983 novel by the Italian writer Italo Calvino. Mr. Palomar struggles with the relationship among "I", the ego, a looking world and a world looked at. (Read related chapter)  In the end, he finds the world looks at the world itself via human's eyes. 


Fresh Widow(1964)

Marcel Duchump

A World in A Well (2016)

Song Dong

Marcel Duchamp covered the glass panes with panels of black leather, obstructing the metaphorical view through the window that is associated with illusionistic painting. Song Dong replaced the transparent glass with mirrors, which hindered the interaction between the inside and the outside. They shared the similarity of changing the function and moral of window.

Paint and Mirrors

I used a lot of blue in my works. Blue creates a feeling of silence, quietness and nostalgia. Because of the human eyes' relative low sensitivity to blue, blue needs more concentration when people gazing at it. This behaviour allows spectators to simplify the interference from other uncontrollable factors. 


The main structure in the first version is a copy of a unique part of a flat where I used to live in. Lots of experience that were significant to me happened in that flat. Thus, the installation played a reminder role to me. Blue was used again in this work to express a silent journey of memory. 

the first version

A mirror has the functions of hiding and expanding space, which is a frequently used element in Optical Illusion Art. In the main structure, when the upper mirrors were turned, people cannot see their faces but can still see their feet, which add the feeling of mixing space and getting lost. In the meantime, several mirrors in the same work can reflect light by times, which add hallucinatory effects as well.


ECE Architecture's interactive artwork takes a familiar architectural form and places it out of context to create a playful environment. Teaming up with branding agency, Creative Forager - a team of ECE made two projects with mirrors, which engaged and delighted the community. Both projects interacted well with the natural environment. Mirror has a magical attraction towards people, which means interactions are easier to happen in a work with mirrors.

When the first time I saw Alicja Kwade's works in ​Hayward Gallery, I said she is a "professor of mirrors".

Working primarily in sculpture and installation, Kwade explores structures of reality such as time and space, as well as systems of value, that determine how we perceive the world and decide what constitutes the real.

Her works gave me a feeling of Chinese ancient landscape painting and Zen thought.


My works have got a silent transforming influence of hers, including researches about how to make coincidence in mirrors and what composition of materials can challenge the actuality of objective world.

Time line

12/02/2020 - 24/02/2020

Formed concept, sketched and made models.

London, UK

25/02/2020 - 04/03/2020

Collected materials and made structure.


04/03/2020 - 05/03/2020

Completed the first vision.

London, UK

I went back to China in the Easter vacation.

As the not optimistic situation of Coronavirus, I was not able to fly back to London. My work was forced to be remade in China.

26/04/2020 - 02/05/2020

Bought materials and made new structure.

Guangzhou, China

Different from the wood bars that I can get from the 3D fabrication workshop. I need to sand the wood first. As I was very familiar with the other making processes, most of this period was spent on sanding.

16/03/2020 - 25/04/2020

Further developed draft and design

Guangzhou, China

03/05/2020 - 13/05/2020


Guangzhou, China

As this is an expanded painting work, the use of colours directly affect the spectators' senses.

Although in the final vision I only use limited colours, I spent a lot of time doing experiments. Especially when one of the frames can automatically rotate, the possible effects of colours' composition will increase. The thickest part had been painted for 11 times. 

14/05/2020 - 16/05/2020

Added new small structure based on exist work.

Guangzhou, China

I work with space. This is not a work that can be continued work on. All the painted structures must be considered when being putted in a space. Things were added or cut according to the existing work.


Tested moto-rotation of the frame.

Guangzhou, China

To get more unpredictable possibilities of reflection, I added this part in the final version. It was also a challenge for me to learn about electric work.

18/05/2020 - 19/05/2020

Found shooting locations.

Guangzhou, China

It is hardly possible to find an indoor space as a gallery to shoot such a big installation. So I mainly focused on outdoor spaces. In fact, nature also provided a good effect and even brought surprises for the work displaying during our photography.



Guangzhou, China

The work was photographed in three different places. For easier transferring among places, I made the whole structure detachable, even though it took time. The work was moving as wood bars, which save removal costs for me. Due to the lack of sockets in nature, I couldn't achieve the auto-rotating effect that was designed for indoor display. 

Cost in London (GBP)

Mirrors                                 --- 40

Wood                                   --- 25 

Transfer                               --- 23

Pigment, glue, other tools  --- 17

Total                                     ---105

Cost in Guangzhou (GBP)

Mirrors                                 --- 38

Wood (first time)                 --- 56 

Transfer                               --- 43

Pigment, glue, other tools  --- 28

Motor                                   --- 9

Wood (added)                     --- 17 

​Total                                     ---191



There are two additional structures separately set from the main structure, which positions can be changed according to the site and space. The main structure is approximately 225cm (H) X 120cm (W) X 340cm (L). The dimension of the whole installation is variable. When showing in a gallery, it will be great if the work could be installed in a big enough space. Works from other artists will be reflected in the mirrors, so conversations between works can be created in the gallery.


A, B, C are artwork examples 

from other artists

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