Lu Zhengyuan: Be Inquisitive, Dare to Question, and Remain Vigilant

TEXT:Emily Weimeng Zhou, edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO    DATE: 2023.4.13

One may encounter the stare of an eye when strolling along Jianghua Road in Shanghai's Minhang District. The very eye, which is supported by a large red curtain, draws people to walk towards the center of the red-covered area. Four stone sculptures stand in the centre, providing a feeling of isolation, while the wind-blown curtains, brick-red walls, green lawn, and a pool of water work together to produce a surreal sensory experience with an exceptionally strong color contrast and mirrored reflection. When glancing around the space, the eye remains static, yet scrutinizing everyone from various angles.

21.JPGInstallation View of “Simulacrum·Scene: Solo Exhibition of Lu Zhengyuan”, OCAT/Shanghai Pudong OCT.

Recently, artist Lu Zhengyuan initiated a theatre-like public program entitled “Simulacrum·Scene” in OCAT/ Shanghai Pudong OCT, inviting spectators to wander through the tremendous dynamic installation constructed in an open public space. By doing so, viewers are encouraged to use their own imagination and shared experience to fully comprehend the environment. In order to highlight the separation and reinjection of subjectivity into the interaction among the field, the artist, and the audience, curator Su Lei integrates the everyday experience sparked by Lu Zhengyuan's work with the collective memory that he hopes to create via this exhibition.

“Simulacrum·Scene” is the sixteenth exhibition of “Shanghai Pudong OCT Ten-year Public Art Project” since its inception in 2007, which also serves as the latest annual program of the another phase of a ten-year project featured the theme “Growing.” In 2007, curator and critic Huang Zhuan launched this public art project which was to run for ten years and has been dedicated to discussing the relationship between art and society. Artist Sui Jianguo continually contributes to this project by creating a series of sculptures entitled “Deviation 17.5°” annually in the public sphere at Pudong OCT. In addition, in order to provide the project with a constant flow of new energy, artists with various backgrounds and characteristics were invited to create site-specific artworks and prepare exhibitions in the public space here. By the end of 2017, the project has ushered in its second decade with “Growing” as the theme, leading a crucial shift from working with established artists to emerging artists.5《偏离17.5°》规划图-隋建国.bmp

Sui Jianguo, “Deviation 17.5°”, Planning Layout

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Sui Jianguo, “Deviation 17.5°”, Site-specific Sculpture, 2022

Since the project's inception, Lu Zhengyuan has shared many identities as its staff, curator, and participant artist. The installed “Simulacrum·Scene” has witnessed the development of both Lu Zhengyuan and “Shanghai Pudong OCT Ten-year Public Art Project”. In the past sixteen years, Lu’s artworks embodied his exploration regarding the subject and boundary of sculptures, the discussion about the publicity, embodiment and everyday quality of art, and the reflections in terms of the relationship between people, artworks and sphere. Undoubtedly, Lu is familiar with the “Tian”-shaped (the Chinese character “田” appears to be composed of four equally divided squares) building structure and the patio public space it constitutes. But how can the field endeavor be re-examined, re-manipulated and re-understood in this project? Through his "Simulacrum Scene," Lu has provided his answers to these queries.

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Opening Ceremony of “Simulacrum·Scene: Solo Exhibition of Lu Zhengyuan”

View of Symposium and Press Conference of “Simulacrum·Scene: Solo Exhibition of Lu Zhengyuan”

I. Reflecting the Subject: A Theatre-like Sculpture

“Rather than constructing a real theatre, I took a theatric strategy in my sculptural creation to reconcile with the public sphere that allows for greater participation.” This gigantic experimental installation covering an area of more than 1,000 square meters, was characterized as above by Lu Zhenyuan. Besides the sensory device that can be directly experienced by the audience, the artist also intends to mobilize the iconic red walls, green grass, ponds and the unexpected breeze, among other elements in the public space. Through such an installation, the artist not only carefully examines the rich progressive and contrasting relationships among various elements on a color level, but also balances the subtle boundary between publicity and privacy, sublime and everyday elements on the perceptual level.

In fact, such an exploration in terms of theatric strategy could be traced back to the “Relationship Reconstruction: Overlapped Portraits” held at the Art Museum of Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in 2022. In this exhibition, Lu Zhengyuan’s understanding regarding the subject of sculpture has steadily diverged from the entity of “object” to a space that is traversable, interactive, and perceivable. This diversion is embodied obviously in Lu’s sculptural installation “Solid Liquid”. In order to achieve a seamless transition between softness and toughness, eternity and fragility, the artist hung hundreds of masks made of stained crystal glass on metal wires, embedding the metaphor of self, identity, and personality in the glazed glass, a material free from solid and liquid transformation. In this quiet space, spectators are invited to wander through the forest of masks, accidentally matching their faces to each mask. Through a public engagement featuring self-reflection, the tactile impression, shapes and perception which originated from the artist were able to permeate the whole area.

Lu Zhengyuan, “Solid Liquid”, stained crystal glass, metal wires, variable dimensions, 2021-2022. Installation View of “Relationship Reconstruction: Overlapped Portraits” at the Art Museum of Sichuan Fine Arts Institute.

In the same year, Lu Zhengyuan consolidated his research on spacial installations in “Reaching the Boundless”, an experimental art project exploring a relationship between performance and installation. Having applied the physical expressions in dance performance with a more comprehensive sensory experience, the artist conveys his subtle, specific and poetic experience of life  to the extreme between the four-act structure of the play. In this project, Lu approached more depth in his theatric strategy of sculpture by applying a comprehensive mobilization of actors, audience, theater space, and sensory experience. However, it is worth noting that the sculpture installation as the main body of creation still occupies the dominant position in volume and expression.

Installation View of “Reaching the Boundless”, Beijing Hi-Tower Art Gallery, 2022

In “Simulacrum·Scene”, Lu practiced further developments by simplifying the concrete “object” into four white stone sculptures stripped of detailed depictions. The four white sculptures, which are situated in such a vast and empty area, convey a sense of loneliness, yet by maintaining their stone-like physical qualities, they also demonstrate steadfast and enduring power. Besides, the bed and the chairs that are separated from each other, the stone doors connecting the steps...these everyday elements convey the artist’s continuous attention to real life and embodied experience. With particular settlements, the whole sphere evokes a sort of daily experience and collective resonance among the audience.

During the process that Lu’s comprehension of sculpture developed from physical objects to an immersive environment, it is never accurate to simply conclude that Lu Zhenyuan's theatric sculptures are pure "conceptual" and "experimental" art practice. Intriguingly, although emphasizing interaction, immersive experience and public participation, Lu has still retained a sense of sublime and monumentality in his work as featured by sculpture, while his creative vision also embodies a consistent concern for reality.

Installation View of “Simulacrum·Scene: Solo Exhibition of Lu Zhengyuan”, OCAT/Shanghai Pudong OCT.

II. Abalienating Subject: the Extended Publicity

What is intimately tied to the reflection on the subject of sculpture is Lu Zhenyuan’s continuous consideration in terms of the position of creator in public art. Lu introduced the dimension of time by generating a theatric and experimental space in “Simulacrum·Scene”. Due to the infusion of time, the static space has become dynamic and the concrete and diverse bodies are thus placed in the fluid time and space. A dialogue that is more in accordance with the public nature of the present time has been sparked as a result of such an encounter.

Nowadays, the public sphere on the Internet features “synchronicity” which empowers every individual with the possibility of convenient communication and real-time interaction. When individuals are compelled by an unstoppable and irrefutable tendency to live and move in multiple dimensions, the maximum of publicity also appears to split fairly everyone's identity and experience. Lu Zhengyuan emphasized that the time we experience today is fragmented, intersecting, multi-dimensional and hybrid. Nowadays "time" blasts out in all directions, and the word "flowing" no longer accurately describes its condition. It brings a lack of direction, which will undoubtedly lead to uncertainty and fear about one's identity and existence in general, and artists are not an exception.

Installation View of “Simulacrum·Scene: Solo Exhibition of Lu Zhengyuan”, OCAT/Shanghai Pudong OCT.

To a large extent, creativity in art, especially public art creation, continues to shake the authority and uniqueness of art interpretation and criticism. However, at the same time, artists are cautiously balancing the delicate boundary between public art and everyday life. While removing the subject of self from artworks to allow for public participation and interpretation, an artist still needs to incorporate his particular perception, judgment and attitude where it’s appropriate. From Lu Zhengyuan's perspective, this nuanced pendulum is precisely the most challenging and delicate part of an artistic creation, which inspires a constant pursuit by every artist throughout his or her life.

Installation View of “Simulacrum·Scene: Solo Exhibition of Lu Zhengyuan”, OCAT/Shanghai Pudong OCT.

Throughout our conversations on his educational background, sculptural creation, the publicity of art, etc., Lu has consistently demonstrated his curiosity, optimism and openness to new media, scientific and technological methods, and unconstrained conjectures. However, it is worth noting that he has always maintained a high degree of vigilance and doubt about the conventional concepts, historical notions and potential information gap, so he has constantly supplemented, backtracked and questioned in his work.

As he stated, communication between people has to rely on the intermediate transmission of languages and concepts, but breakthroughs and reflections are only achievable by acknowledging the limitations of these intermediaries in the transmission process. Artists are precisely this group of cultural observers with distinctive ideas. They can escape the compulsion of the age they live in and leave behind some independent voices that might not be "right answers" because they are inquisitive, dare to question, and remain vigilant.

Installation View of “Simulacrum·Scene: Solo Exhibition of Lu Zhengyuan”, OCAT/Shanghai Pudong OCT.

Text by Emily Weimeng Zhou, edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO

Image courtesy of the artist studio.

About the exhibition:


“Simulacrum·Scene: Solo Exhibition of Lu Zhengyuan”

Exhibition Dates:December 31,2022-April 30,2023

Exhibition Venue: Sino-Italian Center, No.800, Puxing Road, Minhang District,Shanghai

Academic Director:Sui Jianguo

Curactors: Su Lei

Artist:Lu Zhengyuan‍

‍‍‍‍‍Project Director: Yuan Jingping, Liu Guanhua, Wang Houdao

Exhibition Director:Zhang Haidong, Fang Yiling

Organizers: OCAT/ Shanghai Pujiang OCT