中文
Galleria Continua
San Gimignano
Beijing
Les Moulins
Habana
Roma

CHINESE ARTISTS AND THE CHARM OF MATTER

‘Waste Not: For an everyday object to become a work of art, it is necessary for it to embody meaning, so even the most common things and image could be attributed with artistic value.’— Wu Hong


Since the late seventies, many Chinese artists have experimented with the use of various materials in their artistic work, demonstrating their belonging to a specific era and culture, transforming common objects from everyday life into installations and sculptures. These artists have used old humble everyday objects, obtaining sculptures, often autobiographical, belonging to a specific historical period.

In their practice they've used children’s toys and organic objects such as fruit and meat, they've reused railway sleepers to build conceptual temples, fireworks to convert them into paintings, or construction materials to make hypnotic videos, and they've revised the ancient theory of furniture-making to bring them back into the contemporary world, demonstrating their complexity, richness and consistency.

The need to explore the creative power of materials continues to exist strongly in the lives of artists like: Chen Zhen, Qiu Zhijie, Gu Dexin, Zhuang Hui, Sun Yuan & Peng Yu, Kan Xuan and Cai Guo-Qiang.

Chen Zhen

Chen Zhen, born in Shanghai in 1955, studied at the Shanghai School of Fine Arts and Crafts (1973) where he then started teaching in 1976 before going, in 1978, to the Shanghai Drama Institute where he specialized in set design and became a professor in 1982. He was fascinated by the science of human body, he was an artist who made of experimentation and philosophy of life his own expression of art. 
At the age of twenty-five, Chen Zhen was diagnosed with an incurable illness, an experience which gave him vast insight into the value of time and space at a strong analytical level.
In 1986, after arriving in France, Chen Zhen began to concentrate on installation art. His work began to develop according to a transcultural school of thought, a concept that the artist called ‘Transexpérience’, based on the relationship between man, consumer, society and nature. 
Although Chen Zhen’s career was sadly cut short in 2000, his open-minded approach and quality of his work gained him widespread international recognition for his innovative approach to installations, that often present a dialogue between cultures, unusual material alliances and new connections between Eastern traditions and the Western artistic vocabulary. Chen Zhen transformed his research and curiosity into artistic creativity and art. He experimented with a variety of materials; from everyday objects from Shanghai’s humble everyday life, to handmade crystal made in collaboration with experienced Italian craftsmen and simple candles of common use all over the world. He combined Chinese and Western scientific knowledge and cultural and literal concepts, always juxtaposing them. 

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Cai Guo-Qiang

Cai Guo-Qiang was born in 1957 in Quanzhou, Fujian Province, China.
Cai Guo-Qiang received a BFA in stage design from the Shanghai Drama Institute in 1985. He resided in Japan from 1986 to 1995, after which he moved to New York, where he has lived and worked ever since. In 1984 Cai first began experimenting with gunpowder and in 1989 staged the first of his public explosion events, which would become integral to his practice. He utilizes gunpowder’s charged identification with China, where it was invented, to create allegorical, sociopolitical commentaries that riff on saltpetre’s (potassium nitrate) associations with ancient medicine, ritual fireworks, and modern violence. By using explosives as pyrotechnical events outdoors or as a medium on paper, Cai recasts a quintessential Chinese material that takes the form of “burned paintings” carefully manipulated and conducted in their execution. In his varied practices and materials, Cai draws freely from ancient mythology, military history, Taoist cosmology, Maoist revolutionary tactics, Buddhist philosophy, pyrotechnic technology, Chinese medicine, and images of terrorist violence. Cai’s elaborate symbolism coded a metaphysics that would operate in his work over decades, where disaster and renewal, sickness and healing, and art and war are all revealed as part of the same unstable system. 

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Gu Dexin

Gu Dexin was born in 1962 in Beijing, China. He is one of the most important Chinese figures to have started as a self-taught artist. Gu Dexin was one of the very first in China to experiment with the different nature of materials, organic and non-organic, fascinating and repellent at the same time. Gu’s visual language is full of imagination. The works are left free to celebrate their irrepressible, playful and unlimited will to live, which if at first seems to be about a naive and uncontaminated world, it represents instead philosophical and practical themes of real life, analysing taboos and political and social situations of contemporary China. In 1989, he was among three Chinese artists included in the epochal exhibition “Magiciens de la Terre” at the Centre Pompidou, which was the first international display of contemporary art from China. Throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, he participated in a long wave of “China shows” with installations of fruit, meat, and plastic that consciously refused to engage with the symbolic legacies of Socialism. Gu disliked the idea of imposing onto his viewers a given reading therefore he always titled his works first with serial numbers, and later simply with the date on which the works were completed. Elements and sequences that appear in his earliest work recur throughout his oeuvre— apples and sides of meat first depicted in paintings resurface later as real objects in installations. His ultimate decision to end his career and return to “normal” life in the same Beijing residential compound where he grew up and made nearly all of his work has been read by many commentators less as a rejection of art than a protest to society. Gu left art for good in June 2009 after opening his last solo show at Galleria Continua / Beijing. 

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Kan Xuan

Kan Xuan was born in 1972 in Xuancheng, Anhui Province, China.
Kan Xuan was born towards the end of the Cultural Revolution, in the early 1970s. Her initial training combines the classical practice of classical Chinese ink painting with experimental video, accompanied by artists at the forefront of Chinese conceptualism such as Geng Jianyi (1962, China) and Zhang Peili (1957, China). Their early efforts in Hangzhou paved the way for video art and conceptualism, which gave rise to many of the most interesting artistic practices of the last twenty years. Ranging from performance to photography and video, her early works focus on everyday life recording, in a meditative conscious way.  
Kan Xuan’s extraordinary ability has always been that of communicating and articulating the real presence, “the here and now”, addressing issues that have no time and that demonstrate the materiality of existence and subjectivity. Her work is marvellously human, it portrays an immediate sense of being as a sensual and visceral experience in which aesthetics is interpreted in a combination of sight, touch and sound. Her relational play of the body with objects and phenomena fascinates the observer attracted by the small pleasures of the experience that often converge in a strong sense of irony.

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Qiu Zhijie

Qiu Zhijie was born in 1969 in Zhangzhou, Fujian Province, China. He is a leading figure in conceptual art and new media. The artist, writer, curator and teacher has earned critical recognition worldwide for his thought and practice of “total art”, which forges new cultural meanings from various philosophies and systems of thought from all time and everywhere. Qiu’s first investigations gave shape to multimedia installations using organic material, ancient and found objects, photography and video, often with interventions and performances. 
Since about 2010, Qiu has been mapping the imaginary networks of his sociological, philosophical, cultural, political and epistemological research. A virtuoso calligrapher, ink painter and landscape cartographer, Qiu was commissioned to create Map of Theatre of the World (2017) for the exhibition “Art and China after 1989” at Guggenheim Museum in New York. In the work ’Map of China - Arabia’, currently present in our Beijing gallery, Qiu Zhijie continues his ‘Mapping the World Project’. This is a project that sees the artist literally "map the world" through large, detailed and beautiful maps. Topics such as politics, religion, mythology and society as well as ideas, relationships, objects, and cultures are interconnected in these maps, offering a different way to understand their relationship to one another, and eventually our relationship to each other.
Qiu Zhijie is also a well-known and published art-writer as well as a curator, for which he has curated important events such as the 2012 Shanghai Biennale and the 2017 Venice Biennale. He is also the Dean and professor of the School of Experimental Art at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing and professor of the School of Intermedia Art at China Academy of Art. 

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Sun Yuan & Peng Yu

Sunyuan was born in 1972 in Beijing, China and Pengyu was born in 1974 in Heilongjiang, China.
They studied in the same years at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, the city where they still live and work today. Throughout the 90s, they started to become prominent, managing to come away from the artistic norm of that time while also questioning the principles of the international art world. Their use and adoption of unusual materials, their engagement in past struggles and their awareness of the current context are all factors in making their work relevant and extremely relatable.
Throughout their artistic career, Sun Yuan & Peng Yu have deliberately incorporated provocative materials into their work, ranging from live animals to human flesh, bones and oil. The work of Sun Yuan & Peng Yu is based on the incessant confirmation of paradox, on the perpetual search for the dualities between reality and falsehood, the manifest and the concealed. Their apparently provocative work is the demonstration of a continual analysis of life through experience in which the viewing public is often invited to participate, with the will to find the essence and substance hidden behind appearance. 

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Zhuang Hui

Zhuang Hui was born in 1963, in Yumen, Gansu, China. He lives and works in Beijing. Zhuang Hui is a multifaceted conceptual artist whose main activities include performance, sculptural installation and photography. Born in Gansu Province, he attributes his early interest in art to his father, who was an itinerant studio photographer. Performance is an important part of Zhuang Hui’s work, it doesn’t always take place in front of the public but it’s a fundamental part of his work and its realisation. Zhuang’s best known works include impressive installations and a series of large-scale portraits of groups of workers made with a party camera that allows very long formats. Zhuang Hui has always been deeply motivated by humanistic as well as aesthetic concerns. While his work spans a wide range of materials and approaches, almost all his works tell us about real events and places. At the core of his work is the direct experience of the political ideals that underlie the era in which we live and which are slowly unraveling in the face of modernity. 

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