Apr 26th 2019 to Jun 15th 2019

curated by Yang Zi

Wu Wei: Making A Character

If an allegorical Chinese character were to be assigned to each one of Wu Wei’s work based on its semantic system, then the character must consist of radicals in three kinds: it must be a common industrial or handicraft material, a formal element for its visual construct, and serves an allegorical purpose. In fact, in the foreword of this exhibition, "The Gigantic", the artist has elucidated these relational features. For instance, next to the short phrases in Chinese, "Versatility”, “Three Illusions”, “Life Line”, “Blood Line”, “Aura" among others, one finds pieces of hardware or paper cuts that mimic animal fur, which will appear repetitively in various forms and orders throughout the exhibition. By preserving their original forms, connections, processings or decorative purposes intact, Wu Wei allows the physical connections among them to become the non-allegorical transitive verbs. These verbs, drawn from the relationships among the various radicals, unannounced in the foreword section, are implicit types of composite. 

Take the work Fortress for example. The "animal skin" made of red paper cut matches the term "Blood Line", above it, are the three squares aligned from bottom up in an order of diminishing dimensions: the silver metallic block at the tip of the Fortress matches the "shield", the black plexi-glass matches its "illusion", and the top is adorned with an illustration of the sun found in the lithographical edition of The Illustration for Buddhist Cosmology (Daqian Tushuo) from the Republican Era, prescient for an unrelenting atmosphere in any scorching environment. The "aggressive" conical pricks (wooden ring stand) poking out of the fortress, foretell the imminence of behemoth warfare. These radicals, "shield", "illusion" and "aggression" dab the notional image of warfare equipped with modern weaponry and witchcraft, while the gap between these elements is filled with the more literal image, "fortress under a scorching sun".

If we were to look at the pictorial elements of Fortress through the prism of the American art world of the 1960s, they would inevitably be conceived as "pop". Their representations of actual sites and scenes in spite of having adopted a non-realistic approach nevertheless interrupt their formal purity. In other words, the artist has preserved the most conspicuous formal qualities of abstract art, while appropriating misrepresentation to circumvent the obstacles that hinder their becoming – "pure" art is inept to confront the relationships between history, reality, society, and the self. Fortress presents the figurative qualities absent in the other works such as Talisman, Strategy, Central Plain of “The Gigantic”. In deciphering the works, the viewers would have to speculate the meaning of the artwork by following the clues, taking the "radicals" into consideration with regards to the corresponding relationships revealed in the foreword and the things, actions, notions one is familiar with. However, even for the most abstract subject, the "pictographic" or "allegorical" way of character construction would nevertheless leave certain features to convey meaning through the "radicals". Likewise, favored by the modernist art tradition, when we look at Fortress, or other works such as Wind Monster, Resistance Line, Location that share a similar work method, we may also overcome the obstacles of the "pictorial", and conceive them as abstract and allegorical forms. 

Hence, when looking at the exhibition “The Gigantic”, verbal and pictorial translations are entwining processes. Both share the common traits of arbitrariness and openness. The “linguistic” and “pictorial ” parts in Wu Wei's works overlap, compress, integrate, implode with one another that ultimately undermine the intrinsic legitimacy of these domains, which would no longer firmly serve as the mediums that accurately communicate and convey information. The exhibition "The Gigantic" provides a framework for these works. It points to the general direction of Wu Wei's fictional world characterized with antiquarian qualities. In the case of this exhibition, it's strung together by the color red throughout the exhibition space, a color commonly seen on the walls in palaces and temples in ancient China, was used to expel evil.

Composure seems to be the gate into this fictional world, matched with the nine wooden blocks for "exorcist tools" in the semblance of the doornails on the front gate Chinese officials from ancient times. Having grown up in a residential compound for factory workers in Henan Province, while the magical legends, fervent warfare, solemn ceremonies, and hearsay stories fascinated the artist, yet the visual blueprint that could allow him to access this world more intimately was absent. What was available to him at the time, were the state-owned factories for China's industrial revolution, and their firm, gigantic, chiseled, grim and repetitive visual rhythms. Hence, bringing together the indelible visual memories with the unforgettable oral dissemination of linguistic tradition became Wu Wei's work method. For this very same reason, the "translations" between language and imagery would not come into a cul-de-sac where interpretation is rejected and direction is lost.