Cal­lig­ra­phy with­out char­ac­ters

Ex­hi­bi­tion seeks to trace line of ab­strac­tion through China’s his­tor­i­cal art form

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Qi Xi­jia

Although ab­stract art is a Western form that was first in­tro­duced into China dur­ing the pe­riod of the Re­pub­lic of China (1912–49), and later saw a resur­gence in the 1980s, affini­ties with the form can be found fur­ther back in the coun­try’s art history.

This can be seen in or­na­men­tal stones, the more ab­stract ink-wash paint­ings, the sparse sets of tra­di­tional op­eras, and per­haps most of all, in cal­lig­ra­phy, which be­gan at the end of the Eastern Han (25–220) and blos­somed in the pe­riod be­tween the Han (206BC–AD220) and Tang (618–907) dy­nas­ties.

The cur­rent ex­hi­bi­tion Cal­li­graphic Time and Space: Ab­stract Art in China at the Power Sta­tion of Art ex­plores the re­la­tion­ship be­tween tra­di­tional cal­li­graphic aes­thet­ics and con­tem­po­rary ab­stract art.

The ex­hi­bi­tion does not fo­cus on cal­lig­ra­phy it­self, but rather on cal­lig­ra­phy’s strong bonds with Chi­nese ab­stract art.

Set­ting aside cal­lig­ra­phy’s func­tion, the ex­hi­bi­tion con­cen­trates on the vis­ual fea­tures and in­ner power of the cal­li­graphic aes­thet­ics that helped in­form the di­rec­tion of Chi­nese ab­stract art.

“The theme of this ex­hi­bi­tion is not the cal­li­graphic but the po­ten­tial of Chi­nese ab­stract art. I think it’s time that we lib­er­ate Chi­nese ab­stract art from the du­pli­ca­tion and con­tin­u­ance of Western ab­strac­tion­ism. I think cal­lig­ra­phy pro­vides a di­rec­tion for do­ing this,” the cu­ra­tor of the ex­hi­bi­tion, Li Xu, told the Global Times.

The ex­hi­bi­tion brings to­gether 66 projects and a to­tal of 174 works cov­er­ing wa­ter­color, oil paint­ing, sculp­ture, in­stal­la­tion, pho­tog­ra­phy and video.

The most no­table fea­ture of the pieces is how they draw on tra­di­tional

Chi­nese philoso­phies and art move­ments such as Tao­ism.

Sus­pend­ing Foun­da­tion Stones (pic­tured be­low) by Shi Hui pro­vides an ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple of Chi­nese ab­stract art. At first sight, the seem­ingly heavy stones hang­ing on the ceil­ing seem as if they could fall at any time. How­ever, they are in fact made from white rice pa­per pulp, mean­ing they sway in air cur­rents.

This com­bi­na­tion of heav­i­ness and light­ness re­flects the Taoist no­tion of lift­ing heavy things in an easy man­ner.

Float­ing Mem­ory (above) by Wang Li­hua is a pa­per cut in which lines of cal­lig­ra­phy have been cut from pa­per, folded and stretched un­til the char­ac­ters are un­read­able, then hung from string. They are lit so as to cast cal­lig­ra­phy-like shad­ows on the wall, re­veal­ing the ab­stract, struc­tural beauty of cal­lig­ra­phy.

“The com­bi­na­tion of line draw­ing and pa­per cut­ting in­duces a sense of move­ment and energy. The light and shadow trans­form the space in new depths,” said Wang. “I want my work to be open-ended and to cre­ate con­nec­tions be­tween lines and space, light and shadow, to build a bridge be­tween peo­ple’s minds and my ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Born in 1982, Liu Yi is ob­sessed with kung fu, and his work draws par­al­lels be­tween cal­lig­ra­phy and the prin­ci­ples of mar­tial arts. Its ab­stract white strokes on the green back­ground bring to mind kung fu mas­ters prac­tic­ing their art.

“I think the point, hor­i­zon­tal, left-fall­ing, right-fall­ing and hook strokes in Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy have the same shape as an­cient Chi­nese weapons such as the mace, sword, staff, saber, hal­berd and bat­tle ax. To me there is a sim­i­lar

ity be­tween the moves of a sword and the strokes of a brush,” Liu said, adding he thought he would have prob­a­bly been a swords­man if he were born in that dis­tant age of he­roes.

In the video piece In walk 201503, Ma­cao-born artist Wu Shaoy­ing uses el­e­ments of flow­ing, ab­stract cal­lig­ra­phy ink to give her own com­men­tary on the art form.

The video be­gins with dots of ink be­ing dripped into a glass con­tainer filled with milk. The move­ment of the inky points is akin to lines of Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy. They present thou­sands of forms, stretch­ing into dim fog, moun­tains and rivers.

“It took more than 20 at­tempts to make the 7-minute video clip. It has not been edited. The feel­ing and the ef­fect of move­ment is closely re­lated to the ink and milk I use,” said Wu, who has been in­volved in video art for more than a decade.

Wu has ex­per­i­mented with liq­uids other than ink, such as vodka, soy sauce and milk. Date: Un­til Novem­ber 22, 11 am to 7 pm (closed on Mon­days) Venue: 7/F, Power Sta­tion of Art Ad­dress: 200 Huayuan­gang Road

200 Ad­mis­sion: Free Call 3110-8550 for de­tails

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