Floating Dust: Works by Shi Chong
Duration：2023.1.10 – 3.31
Location：Fine Arts Literature Art Center
"Floating Dust: Works by Shi Chong" was launched on January 10, 2023 at the Fine Arts Literature Art Center, and the exhibition will feature oil paintings, papers, manuscripts and other works created by Shi Chong in recent years. For a long time, through constant meditation, he repeatedly extracts and refines the symbols and metaphors attached to the body, forming a hybrid, subtle and ambiguous relationship between time, space and the body, which constitutes his pure and accurate painting fulcrum and visual identity.
Oil on canvas
Oil on canvas
If · II
Oil on canvas
Oil on canvas
Oil on canvas
Oil on canvas
Oil on canvas
Oil on canvas
Watercolor on paper
Watercolor on paper
Copper plate etching
“Hermit” Shi Chong
From the investigation of Shi Chong's art traces and the Chinese contemporary art ecology since the 1990s, it seems that it is difficult to find a clear place to accommodate Shi Chong's art. If avant-garde means being out of tune with popular art, Shi Chong's creation in the 1990s has been quite avant-garde; However, if avant-garde refers to the so-called post-modern to digital survival of new media, it seems that there is a little lack of connection with Shi Chong's creation in recent years, and even seems quite stubborn and conservative. He refused to make pointless creation and copy the life picture on the physical level. His painting is more like a kind of retro and restoration, returning to the beginning of painting, and again confined to the original relationship between human physiology and psychology, concepts and language. He said: "Static images, dynamic viewing, let psychology and physiology encounter images at the same time in uncertain expectations. I try my best to provide imaginative vision and suppress clear intentions. In order to achieve these, I have paid attention to practical methods and language forms." (See the article "Qingtong Dialogue" collected and edited by Fan Liangjun, www.chambersfineart.com ) Perhaps Shi Chong is difficult to simply define and classify in the typification and homogenization of Chinese contemporary art, or he is an artist who cannot tolerate the current popular "painting" mode.
For the carding and research of artist cases, in addition to the creation concept, theme, visual language, etc., it is particularly necessary to put them into the era, society and the entire art ecology for evaluation and analysis. Since the new century, whether it is China's social transformation or China's contemporary art ecology, it has been a historical turning point. The trend of globalization, the rise of network culture, and the generation of consumer culture have led to the fission and reverberation of China's contemporary art ecology. As for Shi Chong, this time point gradually eroded his previous way of creation and made his art turn again. He was transferred from Hubei Academy of Fine Arts to the Painting Department of Tsinghua Academy of Fine Arts in 2001. Migration means clearing up and sublating, while leaving another figure behind. Every time you turn around, you will find a different situation. Every artist with a clear idea will present the form of thinking and extension in different stages, and the completion of each stage of creation often has such sublimation value and significance, and even makes people expect everything can start again.
Shi Chong's artistic creation context is clear and recognizable. His painting has been a process of continuously deepening and purifying the painting language after constantly crossing the "truth likeness" of objects and images. This strengthens the inherent power of painting itself, so that the viewer gets a boundary between the real and non-specific scenes of the image. I think Shi Chong is now hanging himself in the world like a dust, indulging in an introverted creative state, and finally pointing to the threshold of inner freedom and vision through self-sealing, as well as seeking indelible eternity above the "embodiment". It is like watching the tactile vision triggered by his work Gap after the outbreak of the epidemic: twisted body, swollen face, dust and foam enveloped in the skin, as if floating in turbulent waves. This kind of close look brings us into the fear and discipline that we have nowhere to place because of "weightlessness".
Shi Chong's representational realism in the 1990s mainly started from performance, installation, photography, and then from photography turn in to painting, such as his “Walking Man” in 1993 and “Integrated Landscape” in 1994, “Surgeon” in 1996, “Stage”, and “Portrait on an undetermined date” in 1998-1999, and other series of works. Shi Chong tried his best to use narrative containers in the landscape he created to show his feelings about the world to the audience in a super realistic way, reflecting the intervention of social reality behind his creative consciousness solemnly, and keeping in touch with social changes at the level of understanding and expression. Between discovery and loss, through his "filter", in the face of those exposed wounds, freeze those erratic lives, magnify those absurd who turn a blind eye... The body and soul that shuttled around the scene were lost for a moment. The viewer can not only prepare for self-mistakes, but also find that each person and scene seem to have a kind of visual tension of separation from the person they meet and let the invisible become visible, and let the nonexistence imply the existence of the past.
Although the reality is sad enough and the dream is even more insipid, we may still go to the same destination, but the fact is far from simple. This is deeply disturbing, because you will suddenly find that the breadth of social reality and history is far beyond our imagination, and the power of imagination has become unbearable lightness in life. The personal situation in history is often more complicated and subtle than what we have assumed. The answers are often unexpected, and the questions involved are more thought-provoking.
Shi Chong recently told me that during the epidemic in Wuhan, some netizens published and disseminated his work in 1996 "Youth in Relief" on WeChat to express their anxiety and helplessness after the epidemic. There is no way to recreate the past life for the reviewers, even if it is a magnificent historical masterpiece. However, the meaning of a painting or a photograph can often better express the social emotions of a certain historical stage and activate new resonance and feelings with realistic pertinence and foresight. Because the visual image often appears more vivid at the end of the language. After a period of inspection, the reality and times changes that are good at invisibility, and even the reincarnation of history will automatically appear unexpectedly.
After 2001, when Shi Chong taught at Tsinghua Academy of Fine Arts, he gradually calmed down and stayed away from the noise of Beijing art circle. There is no such thing as the downfall of some so-called successful artists, or their constant reproduction in art, or even their cunning strategies for their eagerness to succeed on the secular level. He just lived in the studio, absorbed in life, and drew calmly, without hesitation or impatience. This calm is not only a kind of humanistic feelings, but also a reflection of Shi Chong's inner cognition and awareness of his self-logic, or a timely cleaning up of his past creative consciousness. Like the contemporary "hermit", he not only depends on the times, but also keeps a certain distance from them. The concern and sorting out of the "hermit" is actually a call to the broken context of painting itself. He said: After 2002, when I began to paint from hyperrealism to representational realism, they were all realistic, to varying degrees. The former realism is obviously not about realism... The problem is what you define about "realism". Problems, ideas, reflective metaphors and realistic criticism - excluding the shell of "reality", are all in the "reality", but this realism has the same shell and different connotations. (See the article "Qingtong Dialogue" collected and edited by Fan Liangjun, www.chambersfineart.com )
This solo exhibition at Fine Art Literature Art Center in Wuhan showed Shi Chong's oil paintings, watercolors, sketches and other works created in recent years. Through constant meditation, he repeatedly extracts and refines the symbols and metaphors attached to the body, forming a hybrid, subtle and ambiguous relationship between time, space and the body, which constitutes his pure and accurate painting fulcrum and visual identity. For example, works such as “Intersection”, “Expression”, etc., the originally obscure body and face are more blurred, and life shines through the outline of the image with an empty dust light. We can explore the traces of life once through his keenness and capture his existence as "dust in the shadow". At the same time, he creates a three-dimensional sense of space in a two-dimensional plane. The form of painting and the scratches on it produce mutual touch, and the facial expressions, either subtle or thrilling, form mutual adsorption, and even provide a visual inversion. A visual illusion shows the visual penetration that he can achieve by clinging to the uncertainty of characters and bodies, and with this form of painting to explore and experiment the energy of self-expression.
Shi Chong has carried out a long painting experiment on "embodiment" these years. It is his favorite way of working to do one thing for a long time alone and indulging in it. It is also a natural and psychological state that he has found suitable for his self-survival and working instinct. Perhaps the "figure" that has always been suspended in the picture is the portrayal of his "hidden shadow". Shi Chong constantly pushes the images to extreme particularity, which is not only a painting language, but also a psychological outline. However, his obsessive-compulsive manual labor reflects his infatuation with the stickiness of painting and his preference for the body. When I looked at his work "Dust Layer", the image itself appeared in the mysterious and surprising light spot, maintaining the kind of spiritual light, monologue and fable in the work. If this is a solidified visual form, it is a kind of fragile shell and rock stratum of the body shaped by him.
Among them, his strict control and careful handling are compressed, which is also his consistent calm and rational artistic attitude. He consciously suppressed and dispelled the so-called directional intention and turned it into a "static" look at each other. This transformation of viewing is objective and realistic on the surface, but completely subjective in essence. For example, his “Shadow II” transforms the parallax generated by the relationship between body, structure and order to achieve the visual effect of the separation of objects and images. It includes that he always puts women's bodies in a dark and turbid background. For example, in his “Spotlight” and “If...... II”, the bubbles on the suspended body are moistened with dust, and the erotic folds become solemn. This visual rhetorical device is like the fig leaf covering Eve's body, which may be the interpersonal context of our instinctive desire and emotion.
Art has the essence of fiction. Art is more like a dream, separated from reality. It is through the association between artists, viewers and the virtual characters in the works that art seeks some release from the relationship between "I" and "she". Because the "other" is virtual, artists can freely express their emotional tendencies and inner secrets, without concealing themselves in the real relationship with others. By entering Shi Chong's fictional image, we can get away from the heaviness of the real world. But Shi Chong is willing to wade in the edge of self, sticking to the rebellious, questioning, or his unscrupulous performance - that is a limit that only artists can reach.
The title I started for Shi Chong's solo exhibition is called "Suspended Dust", which corresponds to and connects his "Hidden Shadow" title in 2018 at Qianbo Gallery in Beijing. "Suspension" has the uncertain meaning of floating; "Dust" comes from the visual medium of his pictures, and Shi Chong insists on using a "gap" created by him during the epidemic as the theme of the exhibition. During the discussion, he thought that "suspended dust" was just a description of state, and his works were more about exploring and expressing the distance between space and time through painting. When the key words of self-identification are magnified by association, just like his paintings, they are endowed with endless imagination. This is his persistence and his obsession with self-creation. In other words, Shi Chong is right where he is. He can only use visual language to tell his own cognition and awareness, leaving traces of thinking in painting, to relieve his daily trivial.
Life is a way to get through it. It is not only entangled in personal secret psychology, but also triggered in the complex and changeable real space. We can feel the existence that our body, face and other senses cannot touch. Shi Chong is obviously more interested in describing the changes in his heart and the traces of his spirit. The way of his creation itself, so tirelessly micro narrative in this kind of images and themes, also has a sense of self exile and nihility of comfort. Therefore, Shi Chong's creation shows his thinking and confusion at the critical point of China's contemporary art ecology. In addition to his unwillingness to continue his own fixed style, the idea that supports his experiment is consistent with his thinking and obsession with painting itself.
Everyone is rooted in a forest, which is vast and boundless. Once you set foot in it, you will walk alone in the forest every day. Like Shi Chong's insistence, it starts here and goes beyond!
Dialogue between Shi Chong and Du Xiyun: The Hidden “Reality”
Time: November 15, 2022
Location: Shi Chong Beijing Studio
“Creating” Makes One Anxious
Du Xiyun(D): Compared with classical art and modern art, painters are no longer the most outstanding group in the contemporary art, and painting are also not the mainstream art form anymore. Some believe that most painters nowadays generally do not have enough painting skills.
Shi Chong(S): It doesn’t matter whether painting is the “mainstream” or not. It has existed long enough. Many contents in the two traditions of classical art and modernism are still being used today. Historically, the times no longer give painting visual advantages, painting is only a traditional existence that is still in progress.
For many art groups, it is easy to relate formal expression to the times, progress and ideas. On the surface, it seems that there is some kind of “gap” here, but it is not good to say that there is such a gap. Is it true that moving forward is innovation and not moving forward is conservatism? It is good to be “new”, but it is not advisable to say “new” without any reason.
The ability of painters cannot be viewed unilaterally. “Ability” refers to the richness of painting only in its internal aspects. In my opinion, the ability of different paintings, which are concrete and abstract, plural and few, is special or presupposed... The same is true for non-painting arts. The “painting ability is weak” mentioned here, in addition to my interest in appreciating art, I can’t say anything about the “weak” view without facing specific works. However, the “gallery style” painting in the commercial environment is a fact. Not only painting, but also in writing.
D: When looking at paintings by our contemporaries, it is easy to skim through (unintentionally), and there is a feeling that it is hard to take a pause to appreciate them.
S: The threshold for contemporary art is not high, so naturally it is the same for contemporary painting. The correct idea that everyone can make art and be an artist has affected many. When we re-read Beuys’ works, we should understand their deeper meanings rather than focusing on his “quotations”. Nowadays, the threshold of artists as professionals should not be too low.
The painting in the art history is impressive. Many people have a sense of fatalism in the process of painting, which doomed the difficulties. But art history can’t be the only one. It’s not only a burden, but also a fetter. Isn’t it possible to express when, where and where you are? As far as the popularity of abstract art is concerned, I don’t think it’s a speculation about art history? I like Tommy and Roscoe, and I also see their influence. They are not far away from today. What is farther? Maybe I can also feel the influence of the Middle Ages. It is not just “materials” that are importanthere.
The word “creation” makes us anxious. What can be urgent about painting? Everyone is retrograde in the bottleneck. Similarly, in the non shelf field, there are also some rough, superficial, empty and duplicate works. We must not belittle its experiment and attach importance to its existing or ongoing value. The same is true of painting, but in different ways. Is it for an industry that “can’t stop” when looking at paintings? I don’t know what kind of painting you have such a feeling about, and how much painting can do. In addition to its style and self-consistent logic, there is also an unavoidable “market”. It is just a painting. It has its own habits. After a long time, it must leave some reliable cases. Those who engage in art criticism see more, think more, have mixed eyes and still make progress... Therefore, it is natural to expect something. For all kinds of reasons, today’s paintings are quite rich. For the good and bad, hold a ruler!
D: However, painting is very limited in terms of material, space, and dimensions.
S: Comparatively speaking, this is a fact. Painting expresses space and ideas in the limitation of materials; It may also be conservative and seen as lacking in revolution and innovation. In short, it is a thing of the past and not progressive. If we need to be “good at dancing with long sleeves” in the face of the times, then “fishing, woodcutting, farming and reading” in rural life can be enough. But such a metaphor is not appropriate, and it is more than that.
Today, the specific practice and experimentation of individual paintings are common. Although painting has a long history, perhaps today’s painting does not belong to history. Does it belong to trend-setters? No either. For individuals, isn’t it that we should temporarily put aside the progressive and conservative ideas in the intentional axiology? If one has ideas and a way, one should meditate and think about the subject of self in this situation. Apart from caring about those you know and see, there are things yet to be demolished with a penetrating critical attitude. Since it is already in the field of painting, we should no longer talk about the long existing “limitation”. In other words, is it impossible to create under the “limitation”? Definitely not.
Derived from Reality
D: You have been focusing on painting for years. Do you ever get bored? What does it feel like to persist? It is hard to continue doing something without an inherently reasonable logic. Can you talk about it?
S: This is my job. How can I be bored? I worry more about if I’m insensitive to reality, that I have no emotions, or no ability to reflect, therefore losing the impulse to paint. Even though my paintings are not done in one stroke, but in quick and slow moves, with one step forward and two steps back, so what?
I found that for many years, I’ve been very serious of my work, and I’ve been in a dilemma. My “dream” from the past has not changed, just add little more seasoning. When I was young, I was foolish enough to yearn for revolution and freedom; Now, this is hopeless, helpless, and maybe conservative.
Around 1990s, in the social reality of China, installations and performance art were not as common as they are now, but they are outstanding with their expression. The works and actions of those artists struggled to break away from the shackles of the official, mainstream ideology, which made them influential in the art world and even with the public. Some of these works were treated as “events” and gained wide attention. I was excited and confused at the same time.
With painting, I was proud and irritated when I was young, so I was once at loss facing a lot of problems. After working with mixed media quietly for some time, I brought back my experience, situation, and thoughts to the canvas for practical creations. Beginning from a simple and straight-forward start, my paintings around 1990s for more than ten years emerged.
Admittedly, painting is a relatively traditional form of expression. Around 1990, everyone was striving to explore in artistic language and form. Moreover, because of the special conditions of China, people gradually became self-conscious in the understanding of history and reality. Ideas brought about changes in concepts, and quickly turned into artistic expression in a wide range. Back then, waves after waves of artistic styles appeared. Without the presence of a market, art was pure, lively and bright.
The limitation of painting you mentioned before was not a new subject thirty years ago. I didn’t create any new art. Rather, I appropriated installations, performance art and other elements, with painting as the foundation. In such a combination, specially and paradoxically, I completed the “conceptual paintings” of those ten or more years. Interestingly, at the start of the pandemic twenty years later, when people posted Youth in Relief in WeChat Moments without agreement, I saw surprising comments. I sighed and thought, is there such“compassion”?
D: Your paintings after 2000 don’t have a social background, stories, or any metaphorical symbol that is recognizable, but only rely on vision perception to be appreciated directly. What’s the practice behind this?
S: After the 1990s, specifically from 2002 to now, my paintings are intuitively real but unreal at the same time. They are imitations of reality, or a state of indicating matters. The “imitations of reality” include psychological and physiological aspects, and the “state” provides the direction of understanding. This is perhaps an insufficient explanation. If identifiable images are symbols that can be categorized, the experienced can directly or indirectly help us identify the content. Seeing varies between individuals, so there is always something unexpected.
My earlier conceptual paintings have a “ideological” tendency and appear to be full of sharp conflicts. This is easy to understand. My paintings now are on the other side that deflects from “nature”. Looking at them, you don’t know where you are. Are they nearing myself, or in a distance? This is what I feel – feeling upset. The issue of psychological and physiological vision mentioned before specifies to individual viewers, so it’s uncertain. There are times that I was told another meaning of my paintings by viewers, and I don’t see that as misinterpretation.
In fact, the works of the two periods are derived from reality, but in different states. Some say it is “indirect euphemism”, others say it is “ferocious animals”. It is obscure due to obscuration. It is not abstruse here, and there is no “ghost” hidden under the understanding.
D: You once painted expressionist, abstract, and other types of works, why have youbeen focusing on representational painting after that?
S: In the 1980s, when I was studying at Hubei Institute of Fine Arts, I began studying primarily Western classical art, and I was a persistent learner. When the ‘85 New Wave happened in that period, works of artists of my age stimulated and helped me. Therefore, I cross-learned between classical and modern art. I was a well-rounded student with no weakness, and I was happy learning from whoever I saw. I graduated with a lot of works created, and I almost used all the styles I learned in my graduation works. When I think back, I am glad that I built a solid foundation unintentionally.
I was largely influenced by Mr. Shang Yang, and in various ways. If students back then were willing to try out expressionism, with abstract mixed material works, it was the direct influence from my teacher. I worked with mixed material for a couple of years, and then I restarted with representational oil painting out of an accident.
In 1991, the announcement of ‘91 Chinese Oil Painting Annual Exhibition was issued in Beijing. Mr. Shang was one of the judges and encouraged us young teachers participate in the Exhibition (around 1990s, there were few thematic exhibitions). I did not paint any proper representational oil painting when I was working with mixed material. In this emergency, I recreated with the “materials” left from my mixed material works and painted a small-scale representational oil painting, Grilled Fish. I used it to participate in the exhibition, got a prize, and sold to people who like it. I was hard-working, so then I created works from those ten years, and after that, the works of these twenty years.
Standing On the Edge of a Cliff
D: From your last solo exhibition to now, your works from these three years have undergone certain changes. For example, Gap, which is closest from A.D. 2019.
S: I did not choose things intentionally for my last show at Chambers Fine Art for things like theme of a certain meaning or where to place an emphasis. It was simple because I had some works to exhibit based on mutual willingness, so we had a show. It was similar for this one. Compared to the last one, it was largely similar with slight changes.
You chose to mention A.D. 2019 for a good reason. It was the last piece from the last series, completed right before the show. From the natural process of previous pieces, I took a pause and thought of the next year, the year 2019. As years go by, who can predict how the next year will be? This painting is not complex: a flat body, intense light, crossing marks. I wrote down the year at the front side of the body. How could one stand the emotions looking back to the end of 2019?
Gap is the first work after the pandemic, and the first scene that I can think of. Who wants to think of this? But the things that nobody wants to think of is always represented.
When the pandemic lockdown was the most intense, the city was beset with troubles internally and externally. The city streets were empty, and the verbal battles on the internet was like fatal wars. Everything is still present now. The deadly virus, the gap between life and death, they are all still present.
D: The piece Intersection in this show touched me deeply. I feel that this is a sudden change for you. It looks like countless needles, broken glass, and knives brushing through a fragile body. The figure in the painting seems to be laughing and crying at the same time, resigned or lamenting.
S: It does not count as a sudden change, but the feeling you pointed out is indeed more significant in this painting than in others. This is a portrait with facial expressions. The substances that you pointed out and described in detail interacted with the figure, seemingly possessing a sense of release, of being not afraid of standing on the edge of a cliff.
When searching for an image to represent, sometimes I’m not sure about how to place the body, the portrait, and the expressions in a specific setting. In most cases, I experiment by making tentative plans. I flexibly take the uncertain subjects by mixing water, air, other different matters with the body in the same space in a mix of natural and artificial processes. After all the photography materials are out, I will spend time sorting them out, feel and imagine them patiently. In this process, I found out the scenes on them will trigger emotions and point to a relative direction. I might even dig up the other kind of hidden and illogical “reality” beneath the appearances. This happen when you are prepared – all the things gradually unfold, and this is the case with Intersection.
D: The figures in If·II is reclining, but their hands are still in an auspicious lotus gesture.Figures in If·I are standing, blurred in a polygon frame. The meaning is so complex that it is hard to make a definite judgement, but the overall feeling is melancholic.
S: The basic forms in If·I and If·II are classically constructed with great beauty. The meaning transcends the form here. The classicism and beauty here are beyond the scope of pure painting. It is a metaphor of the classical to reflect on the pain point of the “contemporary”. “Symbols” are common in art, but the meaning of symbols is hard to be embodied in a metaphor. I cannot paint it or explain. Perhaps, “reality” is unearthly.
Remember that when we were looking at the original of If·I, you were attracted by the white light at the wrist and you were surprised? We looked at each other and understood that “it” does not need explanation!
D: I remember another piece of yours, Prophet, from 1988 in gray-brown hue. That seating posture is similar to the one in Dust Layer, only different in direction. Prophet depicts a skinny elder, while Dust Layer depicts a woman. Is there a link between the two?
S: Oh, the time span between these two pieces is quite long, and they do have some comparable aspects. Prophet from 1988 uses a close composition, and stress is built up. The slender elder sits in the middle naked and upright with a stern face. The painting is almost monochrome which gives a sense of blur before the outburst. How memorable the 80s is!
Dust Layer uses a multi-layered open composition like a changing stage. The painting is saturated with color, but the intense lighting covers up details, making the figure like an apparition. Until now, we are still confused by it.
I am not a strong recorder. This kind of description is like recording things. Those who understand art believe that art is not recording nor description, and that recording is not the same as description. But without recording, there will be no better description.
D: I heard that you are going to retire soon?
S: It is very natural. I want to live in peace and step back from a “cultural environment” that is not suitable for me when I should. Actually, there is no way back for us.