He Wenzhao | Crossing the Riverbed: A Conscientious Journey of Tracing the Origin

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By He Wenzhao

In comparison to existing or imminent impression and judgment evoked in our minds, the works on display might have their limitations or seem naïve, yet the subject the artist wishes to present in Crossing the Riverbed is far more complex.

However this is not the issue here. What is so-called a “problem” can often be solved, overcame, in order to provide it with an answer. In this case, within the framework of viewer, artwork and artist, if consumption, exhaustion, transformation, and differentiation entailed in the process of communication (presentation) among these parties were to be equated with negative capital, rather than cost, it would imply that we have already abandoned any understanding or opinion on reality or metaphorical relationship.

To elaborate on this discussion, audience’s discrepancy and misinterpretation (or mis-appropriation) entailed are precisely the basis by which communication is made possible, while they are also necessary miscellany for effective evaluation of the works.

Like the title Crossing the Riverbed, as well as, the two works on display for this exhibition, our position as the viewer is equal to that of the artist, and such distance separating us allows us to talk about the other, while introspecting ourselves.

Tracing back to the earlier works of Yu Bogong, the path he has taken was obviously not wide, perhaps more comparable for extreme car-racing, that were in fact, blocked on many tracks. In the contrary, to claim his creativity as taken a less traveled road, perhaps would be the discussant’s convenient hypothetical strategy, an attempt to limit or cap a theory, and to express one’s own opinion by diverging the subject, in order to effectively attack, devour and confiscate art – a property of the public arena.

Therefore, unless there is sufficient convincing evidence, I would prefer to find an association or trajectory for his work thus far, and to understand them in an identifiable public system. However, does such trajectory exist? In other words, are there others in art, disclosed or open, of his generation, or is he truly unique?

Tracing back on Yu Bogong’s previous artworks, it is easy to come to the same conclusion that they are works by a calm, self-efficient, and low-key yet controlled artist, who is over-indulgent on a worldview of mysticism. Just as experiences we have gained elsewhere, an easily proven valid conclusion is often only a façade, because we are usually accustomed to the superficial characteristics of our cultural apathy.

Unquestionably, Yu Bogong was faithful in working in the medium of the ancient material of silk, the artist is enamored with manipulating its various properties (softness, smoothness etc) as well as its unique cultural properties (i.e. for being oriental, traditional etc), and by which to re-interpret the contrasting the rigid and stern contemporary matters, yet infuses small dosages of contradicting implications to such soft daily material, granting it with individual will and social criticism. Moreover, among his other works of different medium and form, such individual will has been projected on the used of religion, psychoanalysis, cultural symbols and personal memories throughout.

Granted on such judgment, the quality in the artist Yu Bogong and his artwork, in my opinion, does not possess the essential characteristics of “calmness and self-efficiency” or carefree spirit of Taoism. In the contrary, his minimal and controlled formalism are his true drive, a non-suppressing “impulse to trace back to origin”. Such energy I claim as “impulse to trace back to origin” is not the bourgeois nostalgia, nor is it excess feelings of the revivalists, or it might even be irrelevant to mysticism at the knowledge level. What evokes such impulse and invigorates it are precisely our naked bodies exposed in the present without any protection that is beyond the unreliable consumerism. For this very reason, “impulse to trace back to origin”, if not for the mainstream of contemporary art, or at least has always been the undercurrent, as the consumption factor of contemporary gradually strengthens, the undercurrent represents and guarantees its fundamental non-consumption inclination, it also guarantees art to possess its spirituality under the consumption era. What grants value to art is not any currency, but its non-consumable voluntary spiritual core, our only valid hard currency is our experience and soul in its participation.

The previous discussion on Yu Bogong’s artistic affiliation and type, or the non-identified road he’s taken, this is precisely the reason why he still belongs to our generation rather than being a lonely alchemist.

To this matter, the two works on display (or the series of work), To the Origin and Transformation, is Yu Bogong’s yet another journey to trace the origin, or a goal he wishes to achieve. Unlike his previous attempts and efforts, this journey seems rather abrupt, perhaps a natural reaction to an accumulated energy, instead of calling these works his creativity, it is better to consider them as a successful breakthrough of his years of isolation and stagnation. Formally speaking, the two works shown in Crossing the Riverbed are not only breakthroughs in quantity and representation, more essentially, the works have entirely departed from its previous flavor of “educational tools” (allow the artworks to fully embody the artist’s ideas), but completely presented as an independent “sensory system”. The significance in such difference is important, unless we are willing to ignore the difference between a globe and planet earth.

Formally, Crossing the Riverbed can be separated into two parts, the main gallery shows To the Origin, consists of an oil pump (experimental glass flask), oil path (transparent tracks), power outlet (an installation of power generator and bicycle wheel), and three Mandalas powered by generators (neon lights installation); the attached gallery shows Transformation, a work consists of four different giant cicada slough (resin-fiberglass) resting in various positions throughout the exhibition space, one of them sprays white mists intermittently from its shell. During the exhibition, the power required to run the space, comes directly from the power outlets of To the Origin.

In fact, once the viewers take notice on details of To the Origin, they would soon realize To the Origin is comparable to the work of the Alchemist’s secret room, and what kind of suspect is embedded under the stereotypical images. Among different reviews, this strange artwork would present an entirely different appearance. The red liquid pumped out from the oil pump and passed through the transparent tubes, implies for its biological properties, whereas the fact is, the power generated by the shaking generator moaning like sleeping beast makes one realize the red liquid is none other than common gasoline. Therefore, the work implies an intrinsic metaphorical relationship between technology and energy; however such technological imagination is insufficient to explain the final religious significance of the white mandalas. Moreover, the orderly carried information and signs on the mandalas (point of origin and explosion, transformation and integration, sublimation and ascension) transcend any single cultural common sense. As the symbols of alchemy appearing on the generators, points to the refined enigmatic “philosopher’s rock”; if we understand the working principle of the power generator, we would associate its internal physical process with the progress shown on the mandala, that is, the small scale visible cosmic explosions.

Paradoxically, you can imagine everything, yet whatever imagined is non-reversible or neglecting other conditions of the artwork, by the same token, we can understand it, yet unable to limit any significance of this work.

The greater paradox is hidden under the title of the work. Yes, To the Origin, however, one is unable to find the beginning or the end of the noumenon, even the mandala supported by the energy of all installations also does not any a singular “complete” noumenon significance, yet combing the three, would literally be a western abuse on the original form of the Mandala. Thus, the one returning to origin, wouldn’t he be pointing at the absence of the noumenon thus to reflect on the emptiness of today’s world from the perspective of the origin.

Being in the space of To the Origin alone, what we sense the most is perhaps the artist’s anxiety and contradiction on contemporaneity. However, as the viewer turns to the space of Transformation, walking towards the magnified cicada slough, and their still poses, as well as the intermittently spitted out white mists, everything calms down. Under such highly oriental symbolism, partially we are overwhelmed with rebirth and change implied by the “transformation of the golden cicada” saying, partially impressed by the signs of life from the “breathe” coming out of the left body. In comparison to the complex and endless information in the next room, what arises here is an equally limitless or even magnified tranquility.

However, the relationship of both works should not be neglected, perhaps would suddenly be revealed through the tranquility in the transformation, the most paradoxical aspect is, the momentum shown in this work, is materialized in the white mists completed by electrical power, originates precisely from the core installation of To the Origin – the generator and its system.

Try to imagine and understand the relationship is the key to interpret the significance of these works.

Connected to the same power system, aren’t To the Origin and Transformation two coherent spaces? The absent noumenon of To the Origin is the sign of life in Transformation. In the contrary, the profound tranquil consciousness of life in Transformation is the origin of true sub-conscience in the mirage of human knowledge and awareness. In other words, the necessity to sustain a diverse and complex rational world is to nourish the life conscience deep in our soul, allowing to complete its final transformation, and transcend our perpetual wandering between good and evil.

The title of the exhibition Crossing the Riverbed does not necessarily imply a river flooded with water, possibly, it also be a dried valley scattered with rocks.

The impulse in Yu Bogong’s tracing to the origin, perhaps originates from the reconnected water source, and infusing it to our instinct and awareness.

Distinguished from today’s various artistic trends that are becoming gradually reliant on excitement, works as such, which does not possess any “visual art” appeal, but an effort to divert the obvious visual givens to a height of spiritual view, is certainly a strong dosage.