February 8, 2008 by: Dom
Six Accounts of a Floating Life
Max Protetch Project Space
February 14 – March 15
Opening reception February 14, 6-8pm
Max Protetch is pleased to announce its first exhibition of new work by Bingyi in its Project Space. The exhibition will consist of four paintings and two sculptures that re-contextualize Six Chapters of a Floating Life, Shen Fu’s memoir of daily life in early 19th century China. The artist has adapted the conceits and problems in Shen Fu’s narrative in order to develop a contemporary pictorial language that describes conflicts between passion and politics, narrative and abstraction, the personal and the shared in contemporary China.
Bingyi is a Chinese artist who divides her time between Beijing, New York, and the State University of New York at Buffalo, where she teaches in the Visual Studies Department. She holds a PhD in the History of Art from Yale. This marks only the second time her paintings have been shown in the United States, but already her paintings, sculptures, and site-specific works have garnered critical attention. She will be included in the 2008 Gwanju Biennial, and noted curators and critics like Gao Minglu have written about her work.
A number of critical conflations take place throughout Bingyi’s art. Personal, even confessional aspects of memory and loss are braided together with larger questions of national and political history. In her paintings, Bingyi synthesizes figuration and abstraction, drawing both personal references and broad societal concerns into the work. The horizontal orientation and scale of the work are reminiscent of classic Chinese visual traditions like Dunhuang murals, romantic landscapes, and mythological prints. The images are rendered in a loose, evocative style that seems to celebrate the sensual aspect of painting even as it provides the foundation for the conceptual layers of the work. The results are often amalgams of familiar and disorienting imagery.
Bingyi has also produced site-specific works that she calls ‘scenes.’ Neither installation nor land art, these works challenge existing institutional structures for art by focusing on cultural questions that have been historicized at a particular, non-gallery place. In a recent work, she painted thousands of ants inside an abandoned house in Buffalo; in another, on the Songliao Plain in China (an oil production region), a ton of oil has been poured into a swimming pool full of blue water, where it floats. These works transpose the issues she addresses in her painting into an even larger, constantly changing context.
The works in Six Accounts of a Floating Life are painted almost entirely in blacks, whites and grays and incorporates a diverse set of narrative images: an airplane crash, a flag, a woman with contaminated lungs, Mao with hair growing from his back, a kissing coupled perched in the driver’s cabin of a construction crane. These images appear in the four independent but interconnected paintings in the exhibition; when the text of Six Chapters was rediscovered only four of the six original chapters remain, so the artist has chosen to commemorate the loss by substituting two sculptures.
These ‘amber’ sculptures are created when crystal resin is poured over objects with strong personal significance: a sweater, a pen, glasses, silk brocade quilt-covers, silk-worm moths. Whereas the paintings show the common locus of the personal and the political, these objects point toward the place where personal history intersects with broad themes of growth and decay, attachment and memory, desire and love.
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