by  on Apr 01, 2013

Xiaowei Chen manipulates minute ink lines into vast expanses and surreal scenery. Chen’s solo exhibition, “Above and Beyond the Clouds,” curated by Jiankun Xie at the Research House for Asian Art in Bridgeport, Chicago, literally revolves around her vast and exquisite drawing, Detached Clouds (1.2m. x 32 m.), which spreads almost the entire length of the gallery. The drawing serves as the focal point of the exhibition with her smaller artworks around the periphery of the space.

Xiaowei Chen, Thinking Balance, ink on paper, 15″ x 15″, 2008 (Image courtesy of Jiancun Xie)

In Detached Clouds, Chen used layers of super-fine ink lines and colored pencil on white fabric to detail the space before, between, and amongst the clouds. Beginning with an immense cascade of ice, the work melds into the sea, an expanse of mountains, and a landfill, and then eventually becomes the abyss of space that exists beyond the earth’s surface. This space is at least one-third of the drawing, a striking expanse of textures and patterns one encounters when she takes flight. As the eye moves up the fabric, the artwork gracefully extends from the floor toward the ceiling. As the abyss preceding the sky lightens, delicate bright sky-blue lines work into the fabric, eventually becoming a saturated layering of the color. This work is grand both from afar and up-close, guiding the viewer to the sky.

The distinct mark making in Detached Clouds also composes Chen’s nine-panel work, Comet in the Night  (12 in. x 12 in. each), and her large-scale works Halo I, Halo II and Halo III. Though precision remains key, Chen’s line drawings such as Anatomy of a Cloud9 Months and 10 Days, and Viewing maintain intricate use of line. Instead of creating depth with texture, Chen draws fantastic dream-like imagery and gnarly organic shapes twisting into each other that, because of the acute detail, provide an optical puzzle for both the mind and eye.

“Above and Beyond the Clouds” closes April 5, 2013. 

Artist Wang Ye-Feng talked about his work, featuring on the X Zine, issue 5.

by Hanna Yoo

These days we accept technology with the greatest comfort than ever, whereas there is also a growing fear for technology supplanting the place for human being. Calling to complicate such a binary understanding of our relation to technology, the idea of technology seems deeply embedded in (post)modern definition of humanity.

This question resonates with the way the digital media artist Jihoon Yoo addresses his presence in the society. The artist invites the audience to his virtual performance where the two meta-realities, the idea of stage performance and that of the virtual, come together. He creates the image of virtual performance happening in the virtual theater using 3D software. Yoo’s skilled manipulation of 3D graphics allows him to perform a full range of virtual roles involved in the performance from choreographer, operator, performer to lighting, costume, and stage designer. To Yoo, these virtual roles, paradoxically, serve to assure his place in real world.

In Yoo’s darkened virtual theater, the metallic bodies are on performance that seems to exist between dance and circus. Unlike the stunning spectacle the circus performance creates, however, the whole production designed by Yoo encourages the viewer to focus on a sense of isolation underlying the performance. The performers appear to drift away in the air rather than displaying a set of disciplined movements.
The performers’ metallic bodies, recalling the image of the cyborg, represent visual cliché associated with the technological utopianism. Perhaps resulted from external or internal injuries, several parts of their bodies, including breast, wrist, and feet, are distorted and disfigured. Such a vulnerability of the seemingly sturdy shell of their bodies expresses the emotional reality that Yoo thinks he lives in.

The reflective nature of the metallic surface functions as a good metaphor for the artist using 3D graphic language. The reflection is, while it is representative of whatever is in front of it, essentially an ephemeral image that is never in contact with the surface. Likewise, Yoo’s primary question arises from his own experience that his masterful handling of 3D graphic software, which constitutes a crucial part of this young artist as a member of technology generation, ironically prevents him from getting something more profound out of the very technology. The performers therefore may be called the artist’s avatar in that the materiality of their bodies simultaneously connect them to and disconnects them from the world.

The dual quality of the reflective metal underscored in Yoo’s work suggests to rethink a simplistic understanding that the technological advancement directly causes the loss of humanity in modern society. It is in fact us who have volunteered to have our lives benefit from technology, despite our awareness of its destructive possibility entailed; it is also us who has developed the technology to express its dual nature. In this sense, the feeling of alienation might be the most transparent manifestation of the essence of modern life, rather than solely result from the presence of technology. Perhaps the impersonal way we interact with the technology reflects the impersonal way we interact with others.

by Ross Jordan

The rise of China on the global stage has received a great deal of attention from media and governments around the world. However, within the changing global landscape China is not without its own interior tensions and struggles. Wang Ye-Feng’s (Frank) newest interactive video installation, Well-disciplined Kids (2012), is an allegory of power, history, and propaganda in the contemporary moment. Utilizing virtual technologies usually found in the video gaming industry Frank has created a parade of military power, patriotic indoctrination, and historic iconography of Chinese contemporary society. The result is a surreal environment of menacing figures and empty symbols of power.

I met Frank on a  cold raining Saturday for lunch.  He picked me up and we drove down to Chinatown for some warm food. Spending time with Frank is always a broad existential experience.  Our conversation weaved in and out of public concerns like politics and the global economy to the private difficulties of continuing to make artwork outside of art school while trying to pay bills and rent.  Whatever the difficulties, since graduating with an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2011 Frank has been busy with exhibitions at the Hyde Park Art Center and the Gene Siskel Film Center. This June he will take his artwork outside of ChicagoLand to the Santa Fe International New Media Festival where he will be a featured artist.  A transplant from China, Frank’s artistic practice has developed in interesting ways while he has been in the States; richly layered, critical, and pleasantly disturbing.

Frank told me he was taught at a young age, like all school children, how to be a patriotic Chinese citizen of the Communist Party.  He would go on to help design public statues for the Chinese Government. One particular statue was of the celebrated Chinese General Dehuai Peng who led an army on the Long March, a year long strategic retreat from anti-Communist forces in China. Only one tenth of the soldiers who started the March survived, but the myth and history of the period boosted Mao and his communist party into power. After questioning Mao’s leadership Dehuai Peng was stripped of his position and, for several years, was made an example though publicly humiliating confessions and prison torcher. A year after Mao’s death his reputation was posthumously rehabilitated at the end of the Cultural Revolution by sympathetic allies inside the Communist Party.

A student of history and a collector of ancient Chinese artifacts, Frank is hyper aware of how  historical figures are manipulated over time and how power is derived from those figures. He finds these images of so-called heroic figures empty and riddled with contradictions that are hard to reconcile with contemporary culture.  “There is no content,” Frank told me.  It is within this emptiness his newest video installation finds its meaning.  In Frank’s words, “No content is content.”

Well-disciplined Kids is a tryptic that responds to viewers movements as they walk in front of the projection.  Large babies in the background stare and reach out at the viewer across all three frames.   On the left and right, smaller babies in the  foreground crawl and climb on China’s newest jet-fighter and hang off the nozzle of a tank. This mash up of killing machines and expressionless babies is a schematic of the game-like arms race between global powers and the early indoctrination of children into a Chinese society that is sometimes regulated by the disappearing of detractors.  For the center frame of the tryptic Frank had tapped into China’s historical use of animals as symbols to convey power. He has created his own heroic figure. A nude woman, babies strewn about, with a head that is an amalgamation of deer antlers and a pig’s snout. She is rendered in the same monochromatic grey as the war machines making her a prop similar to the military jet and tank.  This figure, flanked by symbols of military might, is a menacing mother of well-disciplined children.

As a viewer walks in front of the images the figures respond with jerky, rapid movements, and stare out at the viewer.  The exchange of gazes and movements implicates viewers in a feedback loop.  We are the audience of a military parade, an integral part of the propaganda. We are not removed from this surreal world, but an essential element of it. In the end the military parade is undermined, as some of the well-disciplined babies seem to be playing “fornication” on the tank.  Like any great nation, adults show-and-tell their new war toys like children while babies, properly indoctrinated, try to play adult games.

Frank’s images land in an area of extreme juxtapositions revealing the weakness and weirdness of nationally inherited images that no longer hold much credence for younger generations.  He likens it to the feeling of “wanting to lift the world, but you have no leverage.”  This empty void is where Frank’s surreal world-scapes, mirroring our reality, thrives.