From January till July 2015 I was the artist-in-residence in 'Projectstudio China', provided by Mondriaan Fund and hosted by Institute for Provocation (IFP) in Beijing.
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The work I started developing in China consists of sculptural, photographic and filmic elements. In a contemporary Beijing one finds an ever changing and rapid society where fine details are not very appreciated. The work and research I did basically focus on the act of seeing, the contemplation over the details that make the whole: emphasizing old symbolic language within traditional Chinese medicine with philosophical systems such as Feng shui.
To be able to cook down and express all my experiences and finds in China, I decided to zoom in on an everyday sight, the common grey walls of the hutongs. (A Hutong is a type of narrow alley or small street that makes grids around residential courtyards. Hutongs can most prominently be seen in Beijing and is commonly associated with cities in the north of China. Grey is the overall color of these walls.)
To me the grey hutongs walls are a complete manifestation of the everyday (Chinese) life: the now, the history and the future. These walls manifest the whole society and at the same time they inhabit parallels to abstract expressionism and illogical societal behavior with their patched up appearance. In contradiction, these walls also offer protection and safety. All societies are layered but to me the Chinese society holds especially many hidden layers. Not only to me as an ‘illiterate westerner’ but seemingly also to the common Chinese.
All kinds of hidden layers can be found, from literal to mental, and this way these walls with their repairs, hidden messages and discoloring’s became one of the protagonists for my project in China.
While researching and documenting the various use of textile in public space and everyday life I came across old traditional rituals still present in contemporary China. I became especially fond of a certain ritual concerning prosperity. The wrapping of the head of statues with a red cloth is a final stage of what is called a ‘Kaiguang’ ceremony (literally means "opening the light" or “seeing the light”). It's a way of consecrating new businesses. This was a ritual that came to play a big part in my artistic process while being in China since it’s include not only the part of hiding but also the act of seeing. After the performance of a Kaiguang ritual it is believed that the statue will have become an animated "auspicious animal" (ruishou). That is when the red cloth is removed from the head of the statue, it means it is alive and will now see the light.
The installation ‘Matter of gradation’ consist of a huge wall collage made of felt, textiles, drawing paper and calligraphy silk. A video is projected on parts of the collage, placed in line with selected parts of the materials. The white plinths the projector stands in are equally a part of the work and recurring in the projected video on the wall. The piece is almost abstract where the transformation from literal to abstract takes unusual turns and creates new manifestations of space and yet again new, not anticipated, layers. In a theater like fashion an alternate space is created where the margins between photography, film and sculpture becomes intertwined. The initial subjects has been transformed into abstract bits and pieces and yet been reconstructed into a new coherent whole: an actual collage, urging for contemplation and observation.
A matter of gradation is a complex work without making anything complicated. The work is a transformation of my experiences and observations during my time in China. It mixes and refers to various layers in the (Chinese) society with hints to old Chinese traditions just as well as it’s emphasizing the materials as important narrators. Nothing is random and the expensive traditional calligraphy silk is equally important as the grey felt: both pointing to traditions in both east and west. The loose hanging calligraphy silk sways in the draft while the felt catches the sound and makes the room quieter. Traditional, contemporary and personal symbolism that altogether makes a stage and with its play, the work subtly wants to trigger our skills of association and the very act of seeing.
The feed back from the public at the final exhibition at the Black Sesame Space was heartwarming, where observant visitors found parallels and traces from ‘the everyday nothing’ to classical Chinese calligraphy via Beuys’ ideas of therapeutic powers.