22 Jul APERTRUTH Full Text by Linjie ZHOU
Eng | ไทย
As we move firmly into the era being called “Late Capitalism” we are seeing the battle between the values of truth being heavily contested. Truth wavers back and forth between surface and innermost takes on reality. Experiences ask us to take things at face-value, even using stereotypes to drive our perceptions. But when things get complicated, we tend to focus harder on the judgments that we make.
Modern culture has been on this trajectory since the 1990s when superficiality rose and hypervisibility became the new norm. Society wanted everything on view and exposure became capital. Our brains grew oversaturated with the bombardment of surface level culture in the form of entertainment, news, and other social distractions. Lately, as the ramifications of this age show themselves more frequently, we’ve been forced to look inside, trying to uncover a deeper reality.
Western culture has been deeply influenced by the social relation between generality and depth since the time of Plato. Now, we live in a unique moment in history, as the world is united by the models that were born of these ideologies, we are seeing the battle of truth and reality manifesting itself in many ways. Regional problems have expanded to have global consequences. The easy access to knowledge has made truth debatable. In the year 2020, society is undergoing a complicated trial with how it sees itself.
For this group exhibition, we see ourselves peering through the lens of 8 Chinese photographers, A Dou, Yanchu SUN, Xiaoliang HUANG, Yanfang DU, Marc YANG, Wei ZHANG, Bo HE, Lanpo ZHANG, each of them is exploring the forms of truth. We divided them into 2 groups, to explain and show the different perspectives of being.
The general nature of being is concerned with “how things are” or “how things seem”. The artwork in the first room present how artists’ lives are, through their doings and observations. It shows calm and nostalgic narratives.
The deeper nature of being is concerned with “how things ought to be”. The artwork in the second room reviews how we investigate the idea of life through our analysis over it. It evokes confusion and tension.
When we often attempt to describe how things are, we look at reality in its past form. After all, our past memories have had more time in our mind than the present ones. When looking at the work of Yanfang DU and her 2013 series, “Dreaming back homeland”, we see artwork combining 2 parts; painted figures on Xuan paper, and photos from her hometown. When Yanfang DU was in the art academy, after many years painting, she subconsciously felt that she wanted use her brush to fill the empty memories in her mind. She realized this fully when she returned home for creating her graduating thesis and a rush of remarkable memories from her childhood came back in her mind, filling her with nostalgia. She had always wanted to express these types of emotions since she began creating artwork; the feelings of lost memories, empty, living only in her mind now. Her memories stand strong as her own life’s truth. But with the passing of time, as we all change, we look back and we wonder how real our memories still remain to be. To create her artwork, back in her hometown, Yanfang DU modeled children who had been left-behindas characters from her own childhood. She then painted them out, following her own childhood memories. She combined her drawings and her hometown photos together to show a complete image, showing the unforgettable feelings of her hometown and her childhood. “How things are” or “how things were” becomes a truth that eventually lives in our minds only, no longer being a part of reality.
When considering the experimental developer painting artwork of Yanchu SUN, we see a work that is a pretext for starting a story or a tale that lies outside the truth; a collection of the images, cut off from their initial context. Yanchu SUN uses developer and print fixing solution as “Ink” for creating artwork on photographic paper. What is created has a similar effect as the free-flowing expressionistic styles seen in Chinese painting and calligraphy. In the dark room, as he worked he needed to control the exposure, quickly developing and fixing the photo paper. They drawings are covered, buried, layer by layer, under pigment and other material. The language remains the same, but the method and process have changed dramatically. The objects he pulls out are not hyper realistic, but they tend to lean close to the real. Though breaking from traditional form and medium, the works stay true to what real Chinese art represents, and it also matches the spiritual connotation of Chinese freehand brushwork, and though using artistic knowledge and truth from the western model, it’s evident that Yanchu SUN has been influenced by Chinese traditional painting and calligraphy.
If we examine the works of Xiaoliang HUANG, we see atmospheric photographic works; a ‘set’ of shadowsand layers, silhouettes and cut outs that reflect a time that has passed. Getting his inspiration from the hand shadow game of his childhood, he used his own understanding to reconstruct the various terms of the seasons in a traditional Chinese culture; this series shown is his summer series. He is a person immersed in his memories. All of these childhood memories deposited in his mind and gradually fermented, finally becoming the re-creation of these shadows. His artwork is poetic. When you look at his artwork, you get the feeling that it’s kind of in a dream, all the pieces in grey tones. They look like a stop motion in a movie, evoking some blurred memories from of its viewers. These vignettes display a secretive viewpoint, feeling as if you are looking through a darkened window to another world. The photographs have a childlike freshness to them that point out thatas time hurries by, we grow up into the youth of a new complex era. The world that we begin to chase after then becomes part of our ideals. Children’s realities are the things they obsess over during simpler days. Time goes by, we forget them all, until we are attracted by life again and start to ponder the meaning of it.
When looking at the “Where What When” series from Chinese photographer A Dou, we see a flowing balance between black and white light, the tangible and intangible; a cycle that has never changed. The works are rooted in their surface appearance. They appear so light and heavy at the same time, longing for some order. Their disorder seems to blend in with each other and also fight with each other, and a new order and new life are born in the collision. When we talk about truth, it’s often a battle over how we structure it. We may find ourselves in debates over how we perceive what we think we know and whether perceptions are placed on top of us already. We may muse about how to reason with what we have experienced and whether it was good or bad. These wonderings go outward and frame the scope of what constitutes a reality to us. It seems clear in many regards that we structure a lot of our realities around general patterns we notice. But in the real life, the patterns keep changing and the disorders blend into each other. New things are created. New histories, new possibilities. A Dou’s work seeks to frame the abstract form of truth and reality, before the order or logic and language can settle in.
Once the philosophical aspect begins to drive our perception of truth, we long to know deeper truth. What might have first been thought of as universal, now becomes re-evaluated for evidence that proves it to be true. When we think more profoundly, we may feel the truth is not that easy to take. Looking at Wei ZHANG’s series “Artificial Theater”, we can see how depth plays out on our psyches.
Artists have no ideological evaluation of these virtually synthesized people, they have become symbols that are just constructed. Political culture had been eliminated under this kind of juxtaposition, and the artist wants to express is questioning of individual identity and value. These “variant” portraits are no longer the “spiritual” carriers carried by the subject itself, but the “materialized” representations.
What is seen by our eyes is not necessarily the truth, and this has become a phenomenon in today’s society. The standard of judgment for identity is set by the mass media. The self-worth of people is measured by comparing with artists, leaders and heroes. What caused this to happen was a consumption-driven society. Artists also arouse the viewer’s deep thoughts. So in such a consumption-driven society, are the values we believe and the roles we play still so important?
Considering that humans are prone to attribute truth to particular belief systems, we can argue that the values of truth are not consistent enough to eliminate all of our questions about reality.
The nature of truth itself depends on who considers the information relevant. The effects this has on humanity can manifest itself in the form of a combative society.
Photographer Bo HE exhibited “Since then, no one has talked with you” as a series referring to terrorist attacks or violent incidents. All of the artworks consist of 3 parts: the portraits, the Morse code and the audios. He composited the portraits of attackers who were identified by media into one face using the methods of Francis Galton (1822-1911). Galton devoted many years of study to the use of ‘Composite Portraiture’, in which photographs of different subjects were combined, through repeated limited exposure, to produce a single blended image. In this style, the face is the base of the picture. For Bo HE’s work, hundreds of news pictures about these incidents became the tiny fragments that compose the face. The face is covered with the close-ups of the victims’ mouths. All the mouths form one sentence which comes from this incident and the sentence presents itself in the manner of Morse code. The audio combines the sounds of news reports and chaotic sounds from the scenes. Expressing truths like this is difficult. Talking can feel one-sided, and one-sidedness can hinder the full expression of the reality of situation. So, he could only go back and deal with the two points of violence and terrorist attacks themselves: the attackers and the victims. Does truth have a limit before it becomes uncomfortable? Do we tend to follow realities that lead us to comfortable truths?
The works of Marc YANG reflect a perspective of an artist engrossed in documentation and sociology. The sharp contrast in his work frames the moment distinctly and gives the space needed to allow a narrative to arrive. The images equally inspire and haunt us. In this series, Marc YANG documents the life of the Kurdish, one of the most ancient ethnicities in the Middle East. Throughout history, they’ve held the lowest social status and suffered the most intense resistance as they have had to live in the cracks of several countries. They have a strong sense of national pride and national cohesion, even under the huge pressures from each country where they live. They have a complicated situation in the Middle East, and their survival continues to face more uncertainty. With most of the news about them coming from western countries, Marc YANG wanted to use perspectives and experience based on his own personal time with this group since 2015. Each artwork combines 2 photos that make a strong contrast. Their connection, both emotionally and visually, is a frame for a range of experiences with truth and life. Between these 2 images lie a world of endless stories and realties. The juxtaposition has us question what is happening. When we think about our lives, how many shades of reality do we encounter? What mysteries would our lives present to others if present this way?
The mystery of life is the ultimate hidden truth for humanity. Lanpo ZHANG delves into this as the final artist in the inner room, presenting from his “Giant biography” series. For his first artwork, he constructed a giant scepter, consisting of images of captured American artillery barrels, temple- top scriptures and Hevajra. This scepter is sen slanted in from the brightest spot at the entrance of the cave. Lanpo ZHANG is concerned about discussions between people and power and wants to show history as a shaping process of time, space and humanity. The details in his work show the endless complexities involved in that. In the world of eternal life, it seems everything is far more distant and extensive than in the world of mortal life. The work forces us to face the difficult task of re-exploring the depths of human nature. The works provide a view into reconstructing what life truly is about. This work shows the contradictory history of functionality and excess, crime and punishment, humanity and divinity, thought and judgment, concealing and revealing. It is precisely this series of contradictions in reality that Lanpo ZHANG is drawn to, and that keeps him in constant research and discovery. The descriptions of what we identify with in real and imagined life are present at the same time, providing a fuller image of what our mental vision of life truly is. In Lanpo ZHANG’s view, our truths and realities are the sediments and layers of civilization in the rock of life.
— Linjie ZHOU