Painter gives new life to tea and silk
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.