Feeling History in Cultural Tours
Wang Lin

Feeling History in Cultural Tours Brief Comments on Wang Xiaosongs Works

Wang Xiaosong and I got to know each otherat a seminar on urban planning in Mianyang, Sichuan Province. Sharing the sameinterest in history and culture, we talked a lot and discovered that our activitieswere focused on different fields. This unexpected experience allowed me to geta better understanding of his speech, deportment and way of dealing with peopleor things. Back to his early years at the Central Academy of Arts and Design,Wang created bold works concerning human reproductive organs. During his stayin Germany he also created cartoon drawings of animals while receiving theinfluence of neo-expressionism. Later, when Suzhou River was temporarily closedfor shipping, Wang presented a large-scale performance — a piece of performanceart concerning the environment and in subsequent years he created a number ofdistinctive abstract paintings. That was quite a remarkable achievement.

Wang Xiaosong is a very intelligent artist;he is both clear-headed and clear-sighted, always presenting a swift and agileresponse. This can be reflected by the fact that he can move freely like a duckin water between Chinese and German cultures, between the figurative and theabstract, easel and non-easel paintings, as well as between creation anddesign. There was a time when he treated fish as a main subject. Fish and otheraquatic animals naturally became cultural symbols in his works, reflecting theartist’s mental state in an international life: full of excitement andillusions, yet with worries and loneliness.

This process is a manifestation of anindividual’s mental state during cultural journeys. Wang Xiaosong’s typicalimage is that he has a Beuys felt hat on his head and wears a long queue likethe one dictated by Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). In his unrestrained personality,he displays free individuality and maturity in an unrestricted manner.

Wang Xiaosong’s recent works appropriatelyexpress such individuality. Fresh and mature, red, yellow, green, blue andother primary colors are intensely and thrillingly piled upon the metal plate,like integrated circuits spreading extensively. The thick and heavy is thepainting’s weight between and behind the layers, with steel adopted for thecanvas’ framework, relief-like pigments utilized, and holes left between thelayers, thus making the painting’s space special and varied. Meanwhile, thedense, regular arrangement and the textures of the painting formed byideographs and confusing codes help to produce a complex sense of form therebystimulating an interest between the seemingly recognizable and the hardlyidentifiable, as if a person was lost in a labyrinth. This arouses the viewer’sdesire to seek, and brings about perplexed visual feelings.

Wang Xiaosong’s works also have anothernoticeable feature — timeliness, which is rarely seen in abstract paintings.Owing to the integration of materials and abstract composition, artists usuallywork on spatial relationships while relying on performance to express time. Incompositional works, there is certain difficulty in displaying time, but Wanghas managed to do it well. First, the fragmentary symbols he uses have a senseof history, resembling today’s unreadable computer codes, ancient ideographs,or moveable-type engravings. Different tenses congregating in pure and specificmodels manifest the artist’s sharp sensitivity to cultural connotations offorms. Second, when making a painting, Wang intentionally reveals the lowestlayer, making the surface layer as if weathered or eroded, a variable contrastto the thickness of pigments. The traces of time thereby are linked with thesense of history in those symbols. Lastly, tactile impressions caused bytextures of the painting can produce a psychological impact and engenders acertain feeling of time through changes from denseness to fragmentariness andto sparsity. Visual sensations arouse our pity to history [ ?? meaning andcontext not clear, should it be sympathy towards history vis-à-vis reality thatbecomes history ?? ] and the reality that constantly becomes history. Suchimaginary [ ?? imaginary or imaginative ?? ] experiences allow us to cherishour inherent historical values in terms of history, culture and contemporarymodern art.

As for his concern over today’s culture,Wang feels deeply about the impact of economic globalization on culturalintegration. He is also aware of the flatness of post-modernist spiritresulting from the mass media and consumer culture. He would not relinquish hisChinese experience during extensive international exchanges nor theindividual’s consciousness and creativity among various cultural trends. Wangdeterminedly associates his historical interest in Chinese culture withpresent-day Chinese people’s living experiences. The presence of a sense ofhistory testifies to cultural identity and the pursuit of value, and manifeststhe Chinese spiritual dilemma during an era of technological bureaucracythrough symbolic visual experiences. In the present cultural context whenmodernism is leaving further and further away, abstract art is no longer theself-deduction of language as an ontological entity. On the contrary, thesignificance of creativity in language can only be permeated through historicalcontext of a painting and its relationship with current culture, as well asthrough an individualized, contemporary linguistic expression. Abstract art canfully become the historical witness to human mentality and psychology, and thuscriticism should change its value judgment concerning abstract art. This iswhat I have gained from reading his works.

Wang Xiaosong’s unrestrained style,courage, insight, and perseverance in pursuing art as well as his specialfeelings for history and culture have led to the retention of features uniqueto the East and West — a product of the East and West — during a deepinterpretation of his works.

This article serves as a preface.

Taohuashan Mountain, Sichuan Fine ArtsInstitute

October 14, 2007