Painter gives new life to tea and silk

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE | CULTURE - By LIN QI linqi@chi­

How can left­over leaves be re­cy­cled when no longer pro­duc­ing a fine cup of tea?

Beijing-based Jiang Ji’an boils and bakes them to make art­works. He rubs leaves into pulp to make a piece of pa­per; he bakes other leaves and grinds them into pig­ments that he uses to paint. He se­lects leaves that still main­tain a good shape and at­taches them to paint­ings.

Jiang’s ready-made paint­ings are on show at his on­go­ing ex­hi­bi­tion at the Asian Art Cen­ter at Beijing’s 798 Art Zone. Ti­tled In­be­tween Ob­ject and Shadow, he uses or­di­nary ob­jects such as tea leaves and silk to cre­ate paint­ings that con­vey a schol­arly tem­per­a­ment in the man­ner of a Song Dy­nasty (960-1279) work, as well as en­cour­age philo­soph­i­cal think­ing of how peo­ple to­day should per­ceive the ob­jects.

Jiang started pro­duc­ing ready­made art in 2009.

The pop­u­lar­iza­tion of digital tech­nol­ogy has brought in an age when peo­ple look at im­ages in­stead of text and learn about things through photos.

“It has brought paint­ing to a cri­sis point,” says Jiang. “My cre­ations of ready-made art can be seen as a re­sponse to this cri­sis.”

By us­ing or­di­nary ob­jects, he hopes to take au­di­ences away from paint­ing as a re­sult of us­ing col­ors to draw shapes. He wants them to fo­cus on the new ways that these daily ob­jects can be used and ob­served as parts of an art­work.

One thing on show is how “silk” is used as the ma­jor ma­te­rial for paint­ings. Here, Jiang cuts out parts of a piece of silk and uses the re­main­der as the paint­ing sur­face. The cut-off part is cooked to pro­duce con­cen­trated col­ored wa­ter which he later uses as the paint. Then he sculpts the left­over rag into a shape and places it with the painted part to com­plete the work.

“The ap­proach of trans­form­ing the silk of­fers a feel of a daily rou­tines. In Chi­nese art, ever since an­cient times, it has al­ways been prac­ticed in such a way that it has an in­ti­mate con­nec­tion with dayto-day life,” says Jiang.

He says that Western art was in­spired by Chris­tian­ity, from which it has de­vel­oped a style that is quite the­atri­cal, some­times cou­pled with very stim­u­lat­ing, destructive and bloody el­e­ments. But Chi­nese art, he says, is rooted in the tra­di­tion of Con­fu­cius, which high­lights a schol­arly tem­per­a­ment and be­lieves that cul­ture should be part of one’s daily life.

For in­stance, he paints and prac­tices cal­lig­ra­phy, not as a show­case of per­form­ing for oth­ers but as a way to cul­ti­vate him­self.

Jiang ex­pe­ri­enced a wave of ad­mi­ra­tion of Western art af­ter it was in­tro­duced to China in the 1980s. But in the early 1990s, many artists re­al­ized the im­i­ta­tion­would of­fer them no fu­ture, and ex­plored new styles of art by re­turn­ing to Chi­nese cul­tural and philo­soph­i­cal roots.

Some like him turned to tra­di­tional medi­ums and tech­niques, but looked for in­no­va­tive ways to ex­press them­selves.

He also tried in­stal­la­tion, video art, out­door art and per­for­mance art, by which he broad­ened his vi­sion and came to re­al­ize that any medium can cre­ate qual­ity art as long as one doesn’t re­peat him­self or be­come cap­tive as a hostage of the mar­ket.

His stud­ies of an­cient Chi­nese philoso­phers such as Laozi and Zhuangzi have also al­lowed him to aban­don prej­u­dices and stereo­typ­i­cal ideas.

Through the works on show, he ex­presses an op­po­si­tion to an in­dus­tri­al­ized way of think­ing that stan­dard­izes ev­ery­thing like a fac­tory or an as­sem­bly line does.

He also shares with his view­ers the warm touches of these silent ob­jects in his works, re­veal­ing that the ob­jects are as free asweare and they have a wis­dom of their own.

“I’ve never in­tended to do works that sur­prise view­ers at first sight but lack an en­dur­ing charm as time goes by,” he says.

“Our cul­tural tra­di­tions are still rooted in us and need to be passed down. The ques­tion ishowto awaken them and trans­late them into a con­tem­po­rary con­text.”


Jiang Ji’an has cre­ated ready-made art for some seven years.

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