Comment: BANG!

Belief means absolute obedience to authority without any doubt. It is impossible to question it before accepting it.

- Ludwig Wittgenstein

Religions and myths begin with no particular forms, but after interpretation by different ethics with the knowledge and logic they had imply, the connotations have been largely changed. In many cultures one single deity has eventually replaced the anonymous many, and the individual responsibility of each god was therefore given to the new god. The Isis of Egypt is the name of thousands of deities, and Allah in the Koran means the name above one hundred gods.

China, so far a nation under control of a centralized state government, recognizes no higher power. On the one hand, this lack of recognition is due to the nature of oriental religions in a Chinese society, on the other it means that there is no clear boundary between sacred and profane worlds in China. Through traditional Chinese art forms, Liu Dahong and Qu Guangci make use the ambiguity between the two worlds in their art in order to dissect the ideas of religion,  monotheism and worship as they question the compliance to authority and the obedience to religion by the multitude.

Like religious paintings, Liu Dahong's artworks are all narrative, and his narrative system refers to western art history. The scurrying pygmies are the Chinese edition of paintings by Hieronymus Bosch, the similarities in styles, hues, the collage fashion, metaphors applied by the narrative structure and the religious implications are quite evident. Such an appropriation-- allegorizing heaven and hell to the social situation, or intervening in classical paintings by adding or substituting some modern elements-- is more and more common in contemporary Chinese art. The fermentation of Chinese flavor in the 21st century gives Liu Dahong's art a fresh feel, but undeniably such a development is a matter of course.

The "Hall" series conveys multiple levels of text and meanings.  The series includes the "Buddha Hall", "Mao Hall", "Confucius Hall" and "Christ Hall" that symbolize people's beliefs in authority, and "Dining Hall", "Ceremony Hall" that represent the practice of doctrines upon class consciousness. Among these halls, the "Buddha Hall" demonstrates the artist's attempt most directly. In the Orient, artworks regarding religious themes usually will be presented with perfection and heavenliness, but such characteristics are not seen in Liu Dahong's  work at all. Instead, the artist has calculatedly created chaos by placing parallel elements in his painting.  Images of the frequently waged crusades in the history of the West, the horrifying witchcraft and the rigid statues of westerners have changed the Tibetan Buddha hall into a theater of the absurd. In the center an innocent girl struggling to get away from the stake is the most dramatic spectacle, and the giant, puppet-like Buddha along the people standing or sitting around constitute the scene of trial. In the backdrop, the landscapes and atrocities of wars often seen in western religious paintings are a keen contradiction to the people piously praying in the front. Their belief looks so hopeless.

With similar endeavors, the artist has created disarray in his "Dinning Hall" again; nevertheless, this time he placed peace among the disquiet. Liu Dahong vividly depicted the people, men and women, old and young, dinning in the hall, and the viewer can almost hear the sound of their chewing. The disturbance was restrained. Zhang Hong has an unusual view about this painting: "Eating in the communal dinning hall soothes everyone because it assures us that we share the same stomach, even the same digestion system. That's the basis of the “Communist histology”. The beggars behind the dinning room, presented sculpturally, reminds me of the Japanese comic "Drifting Classroom"-- what it implies is not class difference, but the discrepancy between worlds in different dimensions.

The fatalism in Qu Guangci's art has been compared to the myth Gotterdammerung. Fatalism can't be clearly interpreted without depicting fears and anguish, that's the reason why Qu presents suffering, despair, regret and helplessness in both his "Knife Gang II" and "Killing Bear". "Killing Bear" is an exceptional work and the first featuring a riding animal. The dynamics of an obese man riding on a cow is comparable to the lively movements presented by Peter Paul Rubens, and the protagonist bending backward to stab the bear draws an association in my mind with the image of Japanese writer Mishima Yukio as a savior.

Qu's people are not as noisy as Liu's, the former simply wants to create a personal stage for his own sarcastic mimes. According to Roland Barthes, "coldness" is an essential element in popular shows, and the killing in popular shows "has inherited the legacy of myth. For example, a nod of the god would change the whole fate of human beings, and the magic wands of fairies and wizards also follow this tradition". The stages of Qu belong to the same narrative tradition-- gangsters or deities don't talk, they solve problems simply by signaling. The black humor carried by the moves of Qu's works is a proof of Barthes' idea: "What is really effective is silence."

The obesity of Qu's figures is also suggestive. Overweight figures with stereotypic Chinese facial characteristics have expressively represented the insignificant multitude, and their intolerable mediocrity is an irony of the divinity they believe in. Such a sardonicism has existed in both the eastern and western worlds for a long time, but the artist did not merely appropriate it, instead, he transforms it . The icons of "Tall Man I" and "Tall Man II" come from the old European autocratic regimes. The artist has reproduced symbols that were loved by autocratic powers. The frozen gestures are august and authoritarian, as dignified as gods. But their solemnity is disturbed by one thing: the long and thin legs that destabilize them and the audience is urged to reflect on their overly empowered authority. In a complete symbolic system, Qu Quangci's has proposed a deep self-examination of the past, of the collective memories we rely on and the truth we pursue.

 

BANG!
AURA GALLERY BEIJING