THE ART OF RUOZHE XUE: Void and Intimacy
“What cannot be tamed is art as silence. The position of art is a refutation of the position of discourse. The position of art indicates a function of the figure, which is not signified – a function around and even in the figure…. Art covets the figure, and “beauty” is figural, unbound, rhythmic.”
Firstly it is possible to describe these paintings as presenting figures bereft of motion or at standstill. Any anticipation of motion, would be slow, very slow, a form of slowness coupled with the imaginary withdrawal of speech, so in a way, both silent and slow. From here it might be claimed that the condition of cinema or staged (cinematic) photography is close by, but this neither detracts nor adds to the condition of them as paintings. There are of course so many other things that are close by: the grey sky of Beijing, friends, cameras, art history, gestures, shadows, densities, speed, the tonality of faces and moods. Such a list could go on, but whatever, it is all part of the meditation on what is close and what is remote. The logic of this art is born out of the refractions of such difference: an art that refracts sense.
There are two paintings of feet with white tights that are simply called L and R (2019). The spatial interval means they are both in isolation but also coupled at a distance. On a formal level they might be viewed as an exercise in the control of tonalities, even a modest fugue in greys and white. The light captured around the region of the toes, are rendered in a creamy, glazed application of white oil paint, which both describes and releases the visible simultaneously. Perhaps in attempting to add all of this up, we might not be aligned with the state of transience that appears to pass through the grain of the visible.
Returning to the cinematic, there is a striking relationship to ‘The Last Year of Marienbad’ (1961) by Alain Resnais and screenplay by Alain Robbe-Grillet. The characters appear to be locked within a time warp they cannot escape from and are thus left to glide around in endless configurations conflating memories of the past with anticipations of a near future (a future that refuses to arrive). At any given moment or passage it is difficult to discern what time zone is being registered so the film itself is like entering a labyrinth. In turn there is a hyper mode of spatiality in the fiction of Robbe-Grillet as if characters are being guided by an external abstracted geometry that strips them of subjective agency. An absent third person narrator (the husband) is a silent observer in his work ‘Jealousy’ (1957) as he watches his wife (named only as “A”) interact with her neighbour Franck. As the novel progresses the gap between observation and imaginary suspicion is closed. Without any direct links there are nonetheless shared traits especial in regard to the absent third person and the eraser of subjectivity. In many of the painting subjects turn away in order to face walls, or voids and even when frontally rendered they are in part in shadow. There is something closed down about each of such postures, the control in tonality of the palette aligned with the control in mood being exhibited. Not quite a universe of frozen solitude but certainly one in which affective modes of encounter are squeezed into a tight corridor of desire. Like the subdued tonality, there is nuanced passage of affect but one whose intensity is of cool subtraction. The art of Magritte and Delvaux might be evoked in this context but this would be to disregard the delicacy that is at play that takes this art way from the persistent theatrical staging of Surreality. It is not the a-temporality of the unconscious being explored, but rather the interval of the slow drift towards it.
Turning towards, turning way from, just repeated turns: there is little by way of progression. Perhaps it is impossible to add things up. Up close to things with nothing clearly to see, vision is restricted vision. Walls are in the way, shadow encloses: all the frames of visibility compress the subject. This in part explains why the gestural economy is so restricted.
In the work Untitled (2019) a female figure stands close to the wall in which her shadow is cast. The work of the Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershoi (1864-1916)
might be evoked in the relationship of the subject and the circulation of light. In his work, light offered is also touched by the incline towards its withdrawal, so returning to the work in question there is both the certainty within gesture but this is coupled with a prevailing sense of evanescence. What is being offered and what is withdrawing from this, meets within the tonal mix of nothing much occurring but being drawn into looking for such an event of occurrence nonetheless. The art of painting is in the rendering of the yet-to-come within that which is not explicitly rendered. Surrealism was the over-determination of such a condition through its evoking of dream and the unconscious whereas an artist such as Hammershoi presents a state under-determination.
The persistence of looking away is perhaps linked to partial or fragmented objects not only as a source of observation but also anxiety. In ‘Still Life no.3’ (2019) we are presented with a seeming object of desire in a pair of shoes. The shoes are depicted with an invested textual vibrancy but they are connected to a truncated pair of plastic legs that serve as interruptions of any visual pleasure because they are uncanny partial objects. Pleasure gives way to anxiety because something does not quite fit because the body imaginary wholeness has been cut. In turn another form of cut is to be found in ‘Hovering form of two pieces of leather’ (2019) in which two leather dresses hang within space cut of from both their source of attachment and their context for hanging as a pair. This not necessarily uncanny but it does lead to the possibility of either misrecognition or anxiety as opposed to being a source of visual pleasure. This in turn creates a space of arrest between the poles of pleasure and displeasure and this is never resolved because of the way the figure of desire is being trailed as the invisible component of this art. This is exemplified by ‘Nevertheless” (2019) in which a female whose face is in shadow offers her hand in light to an un-figured other. Again we are being given over to a partial scene that cannot be completed within the imaginary. The potential warmth of the gesture is undercut by the visuality of being closed by shadow. What is offered renders the viewer in a state of suspension by not having the means of resolution, there is no way a revelation of understanding might arrive because there are no narrative clues whereby this might occur. Instead we are left to put aside the before and after of the event. Within this space characters appear as remote even though we might suspect they are close to the artist so might be solicited to look with this fracturing of sense; one close up and once at a remove. This dynamic is what provide these paintings with their dynamic of push and pull, and in turn their rhythmical accord that yield excess outside of any structuring of meaning. Such a structure of meaning is not so much erased as simply declined with an under-signifying economy that disavows narrative continuity. On a gestural level this attests to the feeling of not having the space to go on but going on despite this, of painting whilst standing on the tightening wire connected to desire.
Slow, slower still, a suspended slowness that presents a construction of a suspended interval. Vermeer, Friedrich and Hooper have in different ways explored the art of the suspended interval; Vermeer utilized this state in order to close the gap between interiority and exteriority, Friedrich to open out the spatial horizon so that infinity might be accessed by the perceiving subject and in Hooper’s case, to arrest temporal flux in order to frame a poetics of loneliness. In each of these different cases, light is the primary medium for having a world rather than language, thus seeing is actualised in advance of knowing. In all three cases there might be a common feeling of being on the edge of being able to articulate this imaginary gap, only then to fall back into being-with the rapture contained within (mute) visibility. Something looks back but in looking back a movement of desire serves to disrupt the ability to link visibility with discourse. This explains in part the feeling of being left on the edge or suspended in a state of reverie.
After the advent of the Chinese Revolution the training of artists assumed a Soviet realist model that in turn was based upon French academic realist models of the 19thC. Modernism was viewed as decadent but the Chinese Classical model was also retained under the slogan of letting “the old serve the new.” These models constituted in turn a memory system unlike the Western tradition of modernity that was anti-mimetic. After the economic reforms of the early 80’s contemporary art gradually found entrance into the art of academy. Xue’s aesthetic formation derives from a synthesis of these different memory systems as he trained in the art of calligraphy, realist-mimetic painting and also studied painting in London. This partly explains the slightly elusive quality of this as an art. On the surface everything is in place on the level of syntax, context and gesture but the uncanny emerges from within this surface of presentation. In evidence is a subdued optics, combined with constricted spatial depth in which the incline of memory and the unease of the imagination are brought together, even to the point of conflation. That something has happened, or is about to happen, is not rendered as apparent. This is all symptomatic of the feeling issued from an idea of late time of restricted gestural economy. In Hold, Tear (2019) a figure is cast double. The tonal poetics derive from the night that never quite arrives. The space between the two is measured to the point of aloof distance but then they are not apart because they appear as being the self-same. Is this double an outcome of spectrality? Hands held behind the back, faces turned way, light touching the nerve of withdrawal point towards a deeper mode of displaced presence. It is a dark painting both on the level of tone and mood but a painting issuing out of a compelling lightness of touch; a fold of tone and touch. This is what we are given over to, the art of tone and touch evading common sense. Evasive: it simply goes on.
From one moment to the next, light still passes through; things or postures repeat, but repeat within delicately nuanced difference. These painting ask of us to attend to, to be with, in the in-between within intervals of time that are outside of veryday temporality. Something is close-at-hand; we are offered this something passing over, or at the cusp of passing over, into yet another state outside of presence. Incline and declines, offering and withdrawals, entry and exits, we are placed in touching range of that which eludes, a third person mode of seeing perhaps. Thequiet drama has no outcome but instead simply resolves to go on, not as in agrim treadmill or as aesthetics of loneliness or of waiting, but in order to keep open a more delicate space of becoming, becoming marked not by the absence of time, but the interval that rehearses the arrival of the condition of anopaque outside. This might sound like a nervous art but rather it is an art that retain its nerve, lets us breathe with its interior, slowly but surely expanding the capacity to breathe within images of an evasive outside.
The Plurality of Individuality: on Ruozhe Xue ｜薛 若哲’s Distorted Reality
Ahn Jae Woo
Originality. The world one sees is not the world but an original view of it. Biologically speaking, the set of physical specifics comprising one’s vision is as unique as the singular sequence of the individual’s visual experiences over a lifetime. Psychologically and philosophically speaking, every person has their own unique mindset which uniquely processes and interprets visual information. Thus, while everyone shares a single world, no one shares an identical view of it. We all see our own worlds in our own different ways, we all live in our own different worlds.
Generality. The world one sees is not the world but a generalized original view of it. Original, as it is the view of an individual, and generalized, as it is that of a culturally generalized individual. Hence reality should never be perceived by individual sight if a mind’s ambition is to converge towards it.
Contradiction. How can one be original and general simultaneously? Is logic’s oldest tautology no longer a tautology? Not quite, as anyone can recall the numerous occasions where they experience the disagreement between themselves and themselves. The you who wants to play football while the other you who plays tennis, because your parents aspire after their child winning Wimbledon one day. The you who wanted to have coffee the other day while the other you ordered tea, because you have fallen in love with a tea-phile who was sitting on the other side of the table. The you who has become an audio equipment engineer instead of a musician, as the world’s general opinion has taught you that living as a master’s degree holder in electric engineering is rewarded with a higher financial stability than an artist of sound, someone who provides the machinery with its artistic significance. Perhaps even the greatest artists of all time went/go through this seemingly contradictory experience, perhaps even Vincent van Gogh struggled with a more socialized/generalized edition of himself who perpetually argued that he should pursue more of a less post-impressionist craft.
In the discourse of human identity, we can safely say one is never one, that there has always been at least two of one in the same picture. According to Distorted Reality, we can also safely say Xue recognizes this fundamental and structural duality of oneself as well as anyone. While the subject matter of his most recent works discusses the dynamics which dictate the distortion of our time’s reality, it would be a shame to overlook a crucial property of the subject matter which suggests a more transcendent dialogue on the very nature of distortion: the sociological plurality of psychological individuality. It is evident in his works featuring two or more of the ‘same’ person or object; as for the singletons, the represented facet is defined by its relationship with a contrasting facet, hence projects the contrasting facet in the observers’ mind, reminding us of the plurality in a reflexive fashion. Xue is now a painter-turned-optician: one lens provides us with a better view on his view, the other is a mirror.
Until the 16th of November, rosenfeld porcini gallery
“绘画一开始就是一种虚拟语气…复制真实不再是绘画的任务。对于我来说，真实存在于 我的选择中，存在于绘画的缝隙里。” 薛若哲的最新系列作品探讨绘画的交流与观看机制。 这组绘画伴随着心理张力，充盈了一股冷峻的荒诞。荒诞来源于他对画面自身语言的篡改， 使得绘画内部的正常逻辑发生了病理性的变异。但若结合绘画中所营造的整体气氛，及其所 折射的心理状态看，这变异又显得合情合理。可以说，这是一组关于“差错”的绘画。吊诡的 空间关系生发于错误的透视、前后等大的人物安排混淆了她们的空间关系;差错玩弄着观者 的眼睛，逼迫他们进行饱含深思却又略显徒劳的凝视。错误的空间与透视造就了神秘荒诞的 氛围，差错在若哲手里成为了一种饱含节制的美学。
诚如马格里特于1937年绘制的那张《不可复制》所示，绘画永远无法复刻现实。但绘画 可呈现的真实可以来源于心理上的体验、对生活的体悟及对周遭环境的感应。在《体操》中， 两个有着几乎相同背影、衣着也一致的女孩站在一个看似空旷、实则封闭的房间中央，她们 规训的身体仿佛被栖息在房间某角落的一股暗藏的力量管制、把控，接受着其虚拟的指令。 画面背景中地面与墙壁的分界线与人物的腰际线发生了重合，不合常理的透视安排致使人物 所处的空间产生了些许倾斜的错觉，加剧了画面空间的抽象与神秘。
相似的人物、一致的角色、不可辨别的身份，及她们与所处空间冰冷又孤独的协议关 系，无不令人想起法国人类学家马克·奥吉(Marc Augé) 对非场所(non-place) 的定义。非场 所是在现代化发展到极致的情形下，于我们现实生活中出现的一种越发遍及的“超现代” (supermodern) 空间。随之而来的是一系列人对空间感知上的转变。当人们进入此类空间 时，他们就由平常的身份统一地转变为了对空间缺乏认同感的寻常过客、顾客或路人、只与 空间维持着单一的契约关系，他们孤独又相似。这种现象在艺术家工作与生活的北京尤甚。 伴随城市士绅化与空间流动性的加强，非场所空间由商场、机场、车站逐渐延续到了艺术家 们的工作室与住所。就像薛若哲所说:“在每个城市，一切都太新了，新得让人觉得不真 实。” 居无定所的生活状态，与各种客观原因导致的生活上巨大的不确定，使那一批生活在 大城市边缘的艺术家从心理上成为了旅人。抽离又抽象的空间，及人与空间、人与人之间隔 离又陌生的关系，所导致的心理紧张感也体现在了薛若哲的《体操》、《不规则四边形的入 又》与《或远或近》的非场所化空间里。
正如对眼睛的欺骗早已不再是绘画美德的批判标准，在薛若哲的这一系列新画中，对眼 睛的欺骗也不再取决于画中透视正确与否，而是由画外空间的光线、画的摆放位置及观者的 观看角度决定。有些绘画中的人物介于画里与画外之间，如《不规则四边形的入又》，画中 的空间通过站立在入又边缘的人物与观者的空间形成了交汇。左边那张画里从下往上看的视 角及人物站立的位置制造了危险的氛围，仿佛这个女人下一秒就要从画的边缘跌落下来。薛 若哲不仅通过对具象绘画传统的扭改，在画面空间中成功营造了一种神秘、不可言说的气氛， 这种气氛还蔓延到了画外、侵入了观者所在的实际空间。走进薛若哲的展览《存在的隐喻》， 观众会马上发现这是一个充满了斥力与荒诞气氛的展览房间——一个被背影包围的房间。挂 在四面墙壁上的肖像画中的人物将后背面对观众、拒绝着观者的凝视与窥探。可以说这些绘 画是反义的肖像画，人物在里面主要起着空间参照，与承载整个绘画机制的作用，其身份及 其它个人信息扑朔迷离。早至2013年，薛若哲画中的人物就开始与墙壁发生关系，墙的存在 给画面内部空间添加了令人窒息的局促感。对于看画的观众而言，他们所面对的实际上也有 两堵墙——画中所绘的墙，及人物如墙一般无法穿透的背影。悬挂着一张张不是肖像的肖像 画空间适当地延伸了画中的那种令人稍感压抑的荒诞气息。
薛若哲的创作历程是一个在绘画语言上删繁就简、“去伪存真”的过程。从《模拟人生》 系列中色彩鲜明却又暗含着隔离感的虚拟游戏环境，到现今由灰墙及深色地板组成、趋向极 简的概念化空间，艺术家掘弃了(同样属于非场所的)媒介环境色彩美好的外衣与具体的人 物身份，只通过他敏锐的感受力保留下那份属于这类空间特有的契约孤独感，与耐人寻味、 充满混淆性的人与空间、人物之间的暧昧关系。画面暗藏的时间性虽也发生了些许的变化， 却亦保留了一定的初衷。在薛若哲于2011年画下的《白画林》中，同一位穿着相同衣服的模 特暗示这是一个多重的时间画面，它包含了时间的三个瞬间。艺术家利用绘画的虚拟语气， 将这三枚时间晶体收凝在了同一个画面之上，暗示艺术家曾经反复目睹这一荒谬情节的发生， 即既视感的存在。在薛若哲此番的新作《不，再见》与《旅客们》中，艺术家再次将一个动 作的瞬间切割下来、放入画面，但其目的与所呈现的效果则与绘画和观者之间的交流机制有 关。《旅客们》画面中的主人公身体前倾，似正欲向前赶路。这张画挑选了一个从下往上的 观看视角，使观者刚好可以采取从画面左下方伸出来的那只手的位置，并在心理上扮演手的 主人的角色。由于人物的表情无从得知、身体语言也在最大程度上遭到简化，我们无法得知 这是一张牵手行进抑或苦苦挽留的画面。《不，再见》所呈现的也是这样一个语焉不详的画面。这两张画中，绘画所捕捉的时间的单一切片相当于一个脱离语境的悬置符号，其意义随 着观者的自身经历而流变、拒绝稳定。绘画是“断章取义的”，它给予观者多重解读的可能， 这为他们带来不同的心理感受。绘画在此不仅作为浓缩了绘画本身寓意的隐喻而存在，还模 拟了生活与日常关系中的不确定性及暧昧情形下所产生的心理状态。薛若哲利用他“绘画的 缝隙”暗示了一种绘画的真实，与一种存在意义上的真实。《存在的隐喻》亦选择以《不， 再见》中的这个徘徊于拒绝之间、游离于确定之外的暧昧手势作为起始，同时也将它作为了结尾。
Paintings about Metaphor
“Painting speaks in a subjunctive tone from the very beginning…. Reproducing the reality is no longer the task of painting. To me, the truth exists in my choice; it operates in the gap of painting.”
Ruozhe’s latest series explores the communication and viewing mechanisms in painting. Loaded with psychological tension, this group of paintings is charged with a sense of hard-boiled absurdity. The absurdity stems from his peculiar way of tampering with the language of painting, resulting in a pathological mutation in the logic within his paintings. However, if we consider the overall atmosphere that the paintings intend to create, as well as the psychological state they reflect, this variation seems reasonable. It can be said that these are paintings about ‘error’. The strange spatial relations emerge out of the wrong perspective and the arrangement of figures of equal sizes confuse their spatial relations; these mistakes are deceiving to the eyes of the spectator, compelling them to gaze in an attentive way, which is, in the end, futile. The erroneous depiction of space and perspective creates a mysterious and absurd atmosphere; error in Ruozhe’s hands has become a sort of aesthetic with a fine degree of control.
As René Magritte’s 1937 painting Not to Be Reproduced shows, painting can never reproduce reality. However, the truth that painting presents can come from a psychological experience, understanding of life, and the feeling of the immediate environment. In Ruozhe’s Gymnastics, two girls wearing the same uniform look almost identical from behind and are standing in the middle of a seemingly open, yet, in fact, self-enclosed room. Their disciplined bodies seem to be regulated by an invisible power which inhabits some corner of the room, as though they are receiving virtual instructions from it. The line between the ground and the wall in the background of the picture meets the waistlines of the figures. The unconventional arrangement of perspective gives rise to an illusion of a slightly sloping angle of the ground where the characters are situated, which intensifies the sense of abstraction and the mysterious feeling in the pictorial space.
The identical figures have anonymous roles and unidentifiable identities, and a cold and solitary contractive relationship with their space, all of which evoke the French anthropologist Marc Augé’s definition of the non-place. This place is a kind of super-modern space that emerges in our everyday life in an extreme state of modernism. What follow are a series of changes in people’s perceptions of space. When people enter such spaces, they uniformly experience a transformation from their normal identities into the role of ordinary passers-by, customers or pedestrians who lack a sense of identity and who simply maintain a one-way contractive relationship with the space. They are lonely and similar.
This phenomenon is especially ubiquitous in Beijing, where the artist works and lives. Driven by gentrification and the increasing mobility of space, non-place is gradually extending from shopping malls, airports, and transit stations into artists’ studios and living spaces. Just as Xue Ruozhe said, “In every city, everything is too new to feel real.” Living in a precarious state due to a variety of realistic causes has resulted in huge uncertainty, psychologically turning artists who live on the edges of big cities into travelers. The psychological tension emanating from the abstract and isolated space, and from the alienating and estranged relationships between people themselves and people and space, is also embodied in the non-place space in Xue Ruozhe’s Gymnastics, Trapeziform Entries, and Near, Far.
Just as tricking the eye is no longer a sufficient criterion for virtue in painting, in Ruozhe’s new series of work, deception of the eyes is no longer contingent upon whether the perspective of the painting is correct or not, but upon the light from outside of the painting; i.e., the way in which the painting is displayed and the viewing angle of the viewer. Some figures are situated between the inside and outside of the picture. For instance, in Trapeziform Entries, the pictorial space intersects with the viewers’ space via the figure standing on the edge of the entrance. The bottom-up angle of viewing and the standing position of the character create a disquieting feeling, as if the woman could fall off the edge of the painting in a second. Xue Ruozhe not only succeeded in creating a mysterious and enigmatic atmosphere in the painted space through a modification of the conventional language of figurative painting, but also extended the atmosphere to the outside of the painting, penetrating the actual space of the viewer.
As one proceeds into Xue Ruozhe’s exhibition entitled The Metaphor of Existence, he or she will immediately realise that the exhibition space is filled with sensations of repulsion and absurdity. The figures in the portraits hanging on the wall have their backs facing the audience, rejecting the viewer’s voyeuristic gaze. We can say that these paintings signify an antithesis to the category of portraiture. The figures mainly serve as a spatial reference to support the function of the pictorial mechanism, while their identities and other personal information remain unknown and indecipherable.
As early as 2013, the characters in Xue Ruozhe’s paintings have had an intriguing relationship with the wall. The existence of walls adds a suffocating, cramped feeling to the internal space of the paintings. The viewers actually face two walls – the wall in the painting and the backs of the figures which are as impenetrable as the wall. As such, the atmosphere of repressive absurdity in the painting is appropriately extended to the space where these non-portraiture portraits are hung.
The process of Ruozhe’s artistic creation is to highlight what is true to painting by simplifying and weeding out the superfluities of its language. From the colourful but estranged virtual gaming environment of the Virtual Life series to the conceptual minimal space which consists of grey walls and dark floors in the current series, the artist has abandoned the seductive colour of the (equally non-place) media environment and the specific identity of characters. What has been preserved through his artistic sensibility is a contractive form of solitariness peculiar to this kind of space, as well as the intriguing and ambiguous relationships between the characters and the space, and between the figures themselves. There is certain change in the temporality embedded in the painting, but it still retains some of the original intention.
In White Painted Forest, which Xue painted in 2011, the repeated use of the same model wearing an identical uniform implies that this is a picture with multiple layers of time; it shows three moments in time. Seizing on the subjunctive tone of painting, the artist crystallised these three moments in time and placed them in the same painting. This suggests that the artist has witnessed the same absurd scene repetitively; that is, it implies the existence of the déjà vu.
In Ruozhe’s new works, No, Bye and Travelers, the artist once again extracts a specific movement from an action and places it on the canvas; its purpose and the effect presented are related to the communication mechanism between the painting and the viewer. The protagonist in Travelers is leaning forward, seemingly on her way somewhere. The spectator views from the position of the hand that protrudes from the lower left side of the painting; he or she can identify psychologically with the owner of the hand. Since the expression of the characters is hidden from us and the body language has also been simplified to its extreme, there is no way to know if the painting is about walking hand-in-hand or urging someone to stay. No, bye is also presented as a painting with ambiguous meaning.
In these two works, the single slice of the time is not dissimilar to a detached symbol, whose meaning changes with the viewer’s own experience and resists stability. Painting is by definition ‘out of context’, which endows the viewer with the possibility of multiple interpretations, evoking a variety of psychological experiences. The painting here not only serves as a metaphor for the sake of enriching the meaning of painting itself, but also simulates a psychological state arising from uncertain and confusing situations in everyday life. The truthfulness of painting and the truth in its existential sense have been played out within what Xue Ruozhe suggests is “the gap of painting.” Not by coincidence, The Metaphor of Existence also starts with an ambiguous gesture, swaying between refusal and affirmation in the painting No, bye.
“Rene Magritte gave loaded, often hidden meanings to ordinary objectsin his imagery. He considered anything illustrative as an illusion and forcedhis viewers to question what was real and what was not.”（“马格利特往往在画中隐藏物体的意义，他认为物相即是虚假，并以此强迫观者去质疑孰真孰假。”引自《图像的背叛》）在发现薛若哲的作品中那些假作真时真亦假的隐喻之后，它似乎给我开了一扇门，这扇门并不通向答案，他通向若干的问题与可能性。
No Typography, No Iliad
“Is the Iliad possible at all when the printing press and even printing machines exist? Is it not inevitable that with the emergence of the press, the singing and the telling and the muse cease; that is, the conditions for epic poetry disappear?” – Karl Marx
Despite the impact of photography, television, the Internet, and mobile computing, painting still proves its viability and importance in today’s society. Perhaps it is because of artists’ heartfelt love of visual expression through painting that they continue to explore this ancient language. I am amazed by the speed of painting’s evolution, and once artists infuse it with emotions, painting demonstrates its continued commitment to society and reality.
We can assume that without the invention of printing, The Iliad would still have been created, but we would not have noticed.
Xue Ruozhe is an artist who is fearless in unfamiliar visual languages. He has a large collection of cameras, and his many sketches and experimental works include etchings, photography, and videos that demonstrate his strong behavioural sensitivity. In this exhibition, he returns to his mother language, painting. The language of painting directly affects the mode of expression and the final form, but it also indirectly influences the content. Painting and photography have been classified as spatial art, and both have a strong decontextualized instinct. When presented out of context, spatial art is vague and ambiguous, leaving plenty of room for the imagination.
Many artists try to avoid decontextualization in their paintings but manifest their intention in a hysterical manner. However, Xue Ruozhe embraces ambiguity in his exploration of the language of painting. He utilizes this linguistic characteristic tactfully to create a world that implies absurdity. Xue’s paintings clear a space into a stage-like void that does not conform to the physicality of the real world, and like an inventor, Xue explores and creates. The unreasonable elements Xue adopts are obscure, subtle, but also perceptible, as if a layer of metaphor is closely linked to another layer of metaphor, resembling a unique expression in the style of Marcel Proust.
The Metaphor for Existence is Xue Ruzhe’s second solo exhibition at the Beijing Art Now Gallery. I had the honour of participating in the preparation of the first solo exhibition. The concept of the latest solo exhibition follows the psychological state and relationship of the figures. This theme first appeared in the previous solo exhibition, becoming the initial idea of the current one. It is luxuriant and subtle, and it approaches Eastern aesthetics. Xue’s authentic handling of the material and its complex relationship with the spaces on the canvas is calm and decisive. Compared to the first solo exhibition, which deduced slices of reality, The Metaphor for Existence is more like the artist laying the foundations for another world and creating its inhabitants. The new world does not merely mirror reality, but deepens its dimensions. It performs a ceremony of interchanging images with reality.
“Rene Magritte gave loaded, often hidden meanings to ordinary objects in his imagery. He considered anything illustrative as an illusion and forced his viewers to question what was real and what was not.” – Quoted in The Treachery of Images. Discovering the metaphors of truth and falsity in Xue’s artwork seems to have opened a door for me. But this door does not lead to answers; it leads to a number of questions and possibilities.
总的来说,薛若哲在做一个可以被称之为是“观念绘画”的东西,观念也强,绘画也强,两强相遇却并不紧张, 而且相安无事,观念在血液里流淌,绘画于表面呈现。“去文学性”本来是观念艺术的特征之一,而薛若哲反其 道,他的文学性接近德国和俄国文学的思辨一脉,凝固而非流淌,内敛而不张扬,像是尚有余温的尸体,死 而不僵。薛若哲的绘画有很明的“手艺”痕迹,但不夸张,不那么炫技,不给人留下如何天才的感想和感受, 却与他的“观念”相得益彰。他画很多背影和侧影,未必有故事,更多地是呓语,是他和它们的对话,是它们之 间的对话。
Xue Ruozhe’s works are to see as well as to “read” for me.
When I see them, I see signs of cold, sharp, suspicious and unknowable. In addition, it is widely admitted that he paints well.
However, almost no one could discover the “secret” of his paintings if not being pointed out. Take Cancelled Landscape as an example. The painting seems to show two girls standing in cold, distanced British landscape. But this painting is more than that, beyond the two girls’ left outline, Ruozhe painted two watermark-like shadows vaguely. As a matter of fact, these two girls are also standing in front of a huge backdrop. Left-footed can be set as another example. It seems to be innocent, lyric and romantic at the first sight, but there are seven feet under the blue dress if you look again. Unthinkable is the secret of his paintings. If you try hard, you can see and read those unthinkable things beyond even imagination in all his works.
In this exhibition, most of his works are about plural figures or in another word, figures in plural forms. Being plural can be interpreted as two or more similar things or people, or two or more sides of a single thing or person, or even one entity been separated into two parts or infinite parts. Therefore, Ruozhe not only depicts figures but also expresses his ideas when creating whole-heartedly.
In a word, what Ruozhe has been trying to do can be called “Concept Painting”. at shows both concept and painting which are equally strong. But when putting these two strong factors together, what I feel is harmony, not tension. The concept is flowing in the blood of his works, and painting is the nature. “Non-narrative” was one of the key elements of conceptual art. But Ruozhe uses it reversely. His way of expressing narratives is close to German and Russian literary, stable but not flowing, low profile but not high profile, like a dead body that is still warm, just dead but not yet stiff. Ruozhe’s works have obvious signs of “using techniques”, but that is neither exaggerating nor showy, fitting well into his concept. Viewers would not feel how gifted he is when seeing his works. He paints backs and profiles without telling any stories most of the time. What he paints most are delirious and conversations between he himself and the images, or conversations between images themselves.