In July 2019, Chen Qi left his Huan Tie studio after ten years of working and moved into a new studio located in Winery International Park Beijing. During the move, a roll of unused paper for ten years opened his artistic practice of paper-based media creation. It represents the past, the present and the future.
Chen Qi said: “Life is the process of growing and changing. So a farewell to the past is not the dead end. Instead, it is a newborn.” The idea triggered by this roll of paper contributed to the exhibition “Renewal and Coexistence: Chen Qi 2019”, which was commenced at Amy Li Gallery on 30 November 2019. Two spaces of the gallery are occupied by the artist’s new ink paintings, wooden block printings and paper sculpture. Particularly, a 1:1 reproduction of “A Place without whence or whiter” is exhibited the first time after it became the most popular artwork in China Pavilion of the 58th Venice Biennale, 2019.
The exhibition is divided into two units, namely, “Renewal” and “Coexistence”, which respectively present Chen Qi in two dimensions. One showcases Chen Qi’s sensitivity to time travel, while the other illuminates his ability in terms of interpreting space. Through bringing together two dimensions of the artist, the exhibition enables Chen Qi’s complete world view and artist view be composed. The farewell to the past does not stop Chen Qi’s extension of his previous art context. In Chen Qi’s current artistic practice, his artistic expression and language based on printmaking as well as his insight on the notion of time are continuously being developed and absorb new nutrition.
I. Renewal: “Origin of Essence”
In the process of printmaking practice and research for many years, Chen Qi’s consideration regarding the history and the essential attributes of prints can be reflected in the two viewpoints he put forward in 2018 – “purposeful imprints” and “non-mechanical plural”. The alleged “purposeful imprints” refers that the function of printmaking at present has long been different from the service of image reproduction and dissemination in the past. When cameras and digital images have replaced its obligations of printing and reproduction, what is the unique identity that makes printmaking irreplaceable? In Chen Qi’s point of view, prints need to keep a clear distance with painting. When printmaking no longer serves as a bridge for image copying, each printing plate hidden behind the image and every imprint on it are unique. Those purposeful imprints contain rich information of the creator’s psychology, behaviors and emotions as a whole. By concerning about printing plates and imprints, Chen Qi actually deconstructed the function of printmaking in history, and he attempts to reconstruct its uniqueness as an independent art category in the contemporary art field.
The notion of “non-mechanical plural” emphasizes the differences and changes that each plate should present in the specific practice of contemporary printmaking. By jumping out of the restrictions of the one plate corresponding to one image, the simplex “plurality” of printmaking can be broken.
In the unit of “Renewal”, the wooden block printing “Origin of Essence” is displayed together with its wooden block plate, which shows Chen Qi’s continuous exploration of these two concepts. Chen Qi introduced this piece of work in the interview with CAFA ART INFO. He mentioned that the whole picture is composed of two types of images: one is the ripple of water which runs through the context of his art creation; the other is the Arabic geometric patterns. In Arabic culture, patterns do not serve for beauty and decoration, but to explain the world by visualizing mathematical reasoning in the form of graphic vision. Through the superposition of these two types of images, Chen Qi would like to express the logic and rationality behind everything. In this print, the arranging graphics support the logic and rationality of the dynamic water waves. The mutual switching between these two kinds of images provides viewers with a fantastic visual experience.
From the recent work “Puncture the Ice Lack” showcased in the exhibition “Chen Qi — Experimenting With Curation and Comprehension” in Deji Art Museum Nanjing earlier this year, Chen Qi continuously attempts the technique of “reduction woodblock print”(减版, ref. Picasso’s reduction lino print), which makes his works full of uncertainty. There are five chapters in the work “Origin of Essence” series, and each of them is monoprint. These five editions are different but interdependent with each other, realizing Chen Qi’s deconstruction of prints’ pluralism. During the process of creation, some editions finished with Chen Qi’s perception and control of their particular degree of completion. On this basis, the printing plate was continuously enriched, and the new pictures were able to be gradually produced. Each imprint on this developing wooden block plate demonstrated a choice and an emotion of the creator. In this case, the juxtaposition of the five editions seems to reveal our cognitive process of knowing a matter. It starts with disorder and non-induction but will approach logic and rationality eventually.
II. Renewal: Flower and Ink
Lily is a new theme in Chen Qi’s artistic creation, and painting with ink as a medium is also a new artistic language for him.
The story happened on a roll of paper that appeared during Chen Qi’s studio-moving. What this old paper brings to Chen Qi is a sense of warm without any desiccation. It is gradually polished to a unique texture with time. Chen Qi painted various forms of lilies in ink on this roll of paper. He mentioned that although the medium of ink requires the creator to paint quickly, he still draws in his own slow pace. He recalled that each time he drew a layer and waited for it to dry, and then he painted the second layer. He created those ink paintings layer by layer. He is obsessed with the blooming feeling and the visual effect of the edges of water stains. He still creates ink paintings within the framework of prints, superimposing layers of color. However, under the influence of water, the ink and colors depict a sort of emotional splash and integration.
Chen Qi found a new artistic language in the practice of lily ink painting series, and he took the inspiration to create “Banquet”. It is different from general language of ink and wash paintings; it presents an expressiveness in itself. In “Banquet”, the ink color diffuses from the inside to the outside under the infiltration of water. It is an extension of an ink mark, imitating the posture and rhythm of the blooming flowers. In order to break the singularity of evenly filling the blank area, Chen Qi applied the effect of the collision of ink to mobilize the self-expression of every element in the picture. Thus, it realizes to resonate with the artist’s emotion.
Ink is a brand-new creative medium that Chen Qi engaged in the practice of printmaking. However, no matter from the way of painting or the expression of artistic language, the ideological framework of printmaking always runs through his experimental attempts. Presenting this new series in the section of “Renewal” demonstrates Chen Qi’s artistic shift from previous works to ink painting experiments, and also symbolizes the extension of this artistic context in a broader dimension. But for all kinds of extensions, Chen Qi sets an academic language limitation – a divergence based on the dimension of printmaking. His insistence on the inheritance and revitalization on print may reflect the unlimited possibilities of contemporary printmaking that he has proved with his own practice for many years.
III. Coexistence: “A Place without whence or whiter”
The Coexistence unit depicts Chen Qi as the artist who is adept in interpreting space and creating the multi-dimensional spacial experience. From “Notations of Time”, to “Wormhole” and “A Place without whence or whiter”, the notion of “time” acts as a vital clue in Chen Qi’s artistic context. A series of works in this section retrospect his consideration and transformation of it. In particular, Chen Qi’s grasps of time starts from nuanced feelings, captures the passage of time with keen perception and eventually presents a view in the macro universe. Through combining his nuanced perception with the intervention of spacial dimension, Chen Qi visualizes the abstract notion of time.
The title “A Place without whence or whiter” comes from the content of “Diamond Sutra”: “It does not matter to come; it does not matter to go. This is the spirit of Buddle.” In Chen Qi’s view, it reveals the appearance of life – Sometimes what seems to be non-existent actually exists. It is the case with daylight and the package of time implicated in the natural light changing.
The work “A Place without whence or whiter” was presented as a public artwork outside the Chinese Pavilion of the 58th Venice Biennale. It was a gift of life and time from Chen Qi to Venice. In order to form a virtual and realistic scene, light is transmitted through the engraved “wormhole”, which symbolizes the evolution of time and life. With the change of time, the intensity of light and the thickness of clouds both provide different visual effects in the scene.
In this exhibition, Chen Qi applied new media technology to transform this public artwork into a new indoor interactive installation. He attempts to use the multimedia projection device to simulate natural light in three different scenarios, namely, sunlight, moonlight and light in water. Apart from the imitating of the daylight and moonlight reflecting the direct changing of daytime, he introduces the light in water to realize the fusion of reality and illusion. Also, the reappearance of the element “water” traces back the ideas derived from “Notations of Time”.
Qiu Zhijie once commented that Chen Qi is an “elegant controller” but a “crazy experimenter”. It is known that printmaking is one of the earliest art categories exposed to technological updates, and it never refuses the involvement of new technologies. Therefore, within the academic frameworks of printmaking, Chen Qi is practicing increasingly diverse art media and languages. For him, it is these experiments that allow the continuous vitality of printmaking.
In the opening ceremony, Wu Hongliang mentioned that he used to use “rationality to the extreme is super sensibility” to evaluate Chen Qi and his art practice. However, from Chen Qi’s new series of works in this exhibition, he thought that such a description was insufficient to conclude Chen Qi. He recognized that Chen Qi could create works in a more relaxed way. He can place the uncontrollability under his control and convey the profound feeling through simple expressions. Chen Qi, as a time traveler, is always experimenting and is always achieving breakthroughs. Thus, it is difficult to depict or comment on his art creations as they have never been fixed and is keeping updated.
This exhibition starts Chen Qi’s experiment on the concept of his annual solo show, which is planned to conduct every end of the year. Chen Qi regards it as a reflection of himself and a presentation of his thinking and creation during the year. As he said: “This series of annual exhibitions are like layers of rock. Much the thicker it is, the harder it becomes. Year-end means farewell to the past; it also means welcome to the future.” The exhibition “Renewal and Coexistence” showcases Chen Qi and his artistic practice in the year 2019. What kind of “new vitality” will Chen Qi bring in every subsequent year?
Text by Emily Weimeng Zhou
Edited (CN) by Zhu Li and edited (EN) by Sue
Photo and video courtesy of the artist and the organizer