Sculp­tor’s works rekin­dle links with cul­tural icons

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By LIN QI linqi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Chi­nese sculp­tor Li Xiangqun, 55, brings to life an­cient Chi­nese cul­tural icons, such as Su Dongpo, the Song Dy­nasty (960-1279) writer and states­man. He does this to bring these dis­tant fig­ures closer to mod­ern-day Chi­nese.

The Bei­jing-based artist’s works pro­duced ear­lier this year in­clude four stat­ues por­tray­ing “Four Masters of the YuanDy­nasty (1271-1368)”. The col­lec­tive term refers toHuang Gong­wang, Wang Meng, Wu Zhen and Ni Zan, im­pe­rial painters who are revered to this day as ex­po­nents of the Chi­nese literati paint­ing style.

He de­picts the four fig­ures dif­fer­ently, in­ter­pret­ing the lives of these an­cient Chi­nese artists and schol­ars.

For in­stance, the statue of Huang (pic­tured left) shows him with rolled up sleeves reach­ing out his right hand as if he is about to paint, but he does not have a brush be­cause Li says he wants to em­pha­size the man­ner of the icon, rather than the tech­nique which dis­tin­guished Huang from his gen­er­a­tion of artists.

The statue of Wang shows him re­lax­ing in a chair to con­vey a Zen feel­ing and a reclu­sive tem­per­a­ment, which Li be­lieves was cen­tral to the life phi­los­o­phy of the an­cient Chi­nese.

Li do­nated the stat­ues to the PalaceMu­seum in Bei­jing, which houses the four masters’ art­works, at the open­ing of his solo ex­hi­bi­tion on Nov 11 at the for­mer royal palace of the Ming (1368-1644) and the Qing (1644-1911) dy­nas­ties.

Be­sides the four stat­ues, the ex­hi­bi­tion ti­tled City vs Phe­nom­e­non, which runs through Satur­day also show­cases sev­eral of Li’s sculp­tures crafted since 2012, in the palace’s Jianfu Gong, or the Gar­den of Estab­lishedHap­pi­ness.

The gar­den, which was de­stroyed in a fire in 1923 and re­stored in 1974, epit­o­mizes clas­sic Chi­nese gar­den­ing. A sep­a­rate project be­tween 2000 to 2005 saw­its pavil­ions be­ing re­built. Mean­while, rem­nants of the orig­i­nal build­ings are seen scat­tered in the gar­den.

Li says ex­hibit­ing in Jianfu Gong’s clas­si­cal court­yards was chal­leng­ing. “The spa­cious en­vi­ron­ment boasts rich color tones be­cause of the ar­chi­tec­ture and the trees, and there­fore, the art­works would look rather small and even be ‘eaten up’ (dis­ap­pear into the back­ground).”

Also, be­cause of the un­even bricked ground that has sur­vived sev­eral cen­turies, he had to choose care­fully how and where to place the works.

Li’s so­lu­tion was to use white bronze as the ma­te­rial for his works, and to pol­ish the sur­face to achieve a mir­ror­like ef­fect. The fig­ures are in­stalled on a stain­less steel base.

“The smooth pro­cessed white bronze gives the works a strong in­dus­trial feel — cre­at­ing a con­trast with the sur­round­ing wooden pavil­ions, walls and bricked tiles, which are the epit­ome ofChi­nese cul­tural tra­di­tions.”

He also says that the re­flec­tive sur­face mir­rors all the ob­jects around, in­clud­ing the au­di­ence and their clothes, by which the works are merged into the en­vi­ron­ment.

“The view­ers thus be­come part of the works, and the mov­ing im­ages they see on each work form a con­trast with the si­lence of the gar­den where time seems frozen.”

Zhang Zikang, the ex­hi­bi­tion’s cu­ra­tor, says Li’s ap­proach is ab­stract, as he at­tempts to de­tach the fig­ures he sculpts from the spe­cific pe­ri­ods of his­tory they lived in — high­light­ing their char­ac­ters so that they are vivid to view­ers to­day.

Amongthe work­son­showis a sculp­ture of Con­fu­cius stand­ing on a long, re­flec­tive plate of stain­less steel, pro­duced four years ago.

Li com­pares the plate to a pa­per sheet of his­tor­i­cal records rolling out be­hind Con­fu­cius, a politi­cian and philoso­pher of the Spring and Au­tumn Pe­ri­ods (770-476 BC), in­di­cat­ing the in­her­i­tance of philo­soph­i­cal thoughts Con­fu­cius’ time.

Another­workis calledGreat For­bid­den City. It is a sculp­ture com­pris­ing 25 parts and mod­eled af­ter the palace’s build­ings. He first showed it at his solo ex­hi­bi­tion at Bei­jing’s Na­tional Mu­seum of Art in 2012.

It is now placed un­der pine trees in the gar­den’s south­ern court­yard. Its del­i­cate qual­ity forms a con­trast with the cracked red walls and over­grown weeds. At the open­ing cer­e­mony, there was a mod­ern dance per­for­mance at its base.

Speak­ing about the piece, he says: “I first vis­ited the Palace Mu­seum when I was a ju­nior (at the Luxun Academy of Fine Arts in Shenyang, in­North­east China’s Liaon­ing prov­ince). I was then over­whelmed by its im­pos­ing aura.

“This sculp­ture can be seen as the brain of the For­bid­den City. It is a statue of power through which I hope to evoke peo­ple’s ap­pre­ci­a­tion of our his­tory and cul­ture.” since

PHOTOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Sculp­tor Li Xiangqun with a statue on show at Jianfu Gong in Bei­jing’s Palace Mu­seum.

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