The Burden of Representation: Abstraction in Asia Today
01.05.2010 ¡V 27.06.2010
Press Preview and Exhibition Tour: 30.04.2010, 5:00pm to 6.00pm
Private View and Reception: 30.04.2010, 6.00pm to 8.00pm

Curator: Eugene TAN

Artists: CHEN Jie | DING Yi | GONG Jian | Masato KOBAYASHI | Jane LEE | LEE Kit | Michael LIN | LIU Wei | Milenko PRVACKI | YANG Jiechang | ZHAO Zhao

The Burden of Representation explores the state of abstraction in Asia today. In particular, the exhibition examines how artists in Asia have been and are continuing to rethink abstraction¡¦s relationship to representation. To what extent is abstraction about pure form, its representation or relationship to reality, or about representing the ¡¥unrepresentable¡¦? The exhibition demonstrates some of the positions in abstract painting in Asia today, and highlights how abstraction has become a point of convergence for different ideas about painting, including the social and the political. This in turn demonstrates the possibilities for abstract painting and its significance for cultural production today, in a context dominated by figurative and realist modes of painting.

The works of Yang Jiechang and Ding Yi mark an important transition in painting in China and a point of departure for the exhibition. Yang¡¦s paintings from his 100 Layers of Ink series demonstrates the transition from traditional Chinese ink painting towards an understanding and emphasis of painting¡¦s materiality and objecthood, and hence towards a representation of the real world. Ding Yi¡¦s systematic and process-based painting, from his Appearance of Crosses series, also mark another break with traditional Chinese painting through the use of the ¡¥+¡¦ and ¡¥x¡¦ motif, as a departure away from illusion and representation. These engagements with abstraction happened during a time when figuration dominated the practice of painting in China, where the tensions between abstraction and figuration mirrored the tensions in post-war Euro-American art, between Socialist Realism and Abstract Expressionism. In 1980s China, abstraction was considered by the establishment as antithesis to social realism, as the former privileged self expression and subjectivity, as opposed to collective expression in the latter.

Apart from the political, the exhibition explores other positions in abstraction in Asia today. The work of Chen Jie continues the process based painting that Ding explored, looking at the processes of painting and construction of images. Jane Lee¡¦s paintings extend this exploration of painting¡¦s processes to painting¡¦s materiality, examining how an engagement with painting¡¦s materiality, its paint, support, canvas, etc., can result in new paradigms of representation. Gong Jian, meanwhile explores the relationship between text, representation and emotion through paintings made by the repetitive transcribing of his thoughts and emotions.

Masato Kobayashi¡¦s paintings engage with the relationship between abstraction and minimalist objecthood, between the illusive representational space of painting and the real space that the paintings inhabit as three-dimensional objects. Kobayashi¡¦s shaped monochrome paintings illustrate the tension and contradiction inherent within the representational paradigm of Western Modernist formalism, when minimalism emerged as its logical evolution. However, in addition to drawing attention to the real space in which the paintings are presented, Kobayashi¡¦s shimmering and seductive paintings also transform the space and allude to the physical presence that painting can possess.

Milenko Prvacki¡¦s paintings, meanwhile, explore the lyricism of abstraction, or synthetic abstraction. They de-construct the visual language of painting. Abstraction in his paintings functions not as a mode of representation, but is utilised as a device to reveal the construction of the images and visuality in the finished paintings. Through this deconstruction, Prvacki¡¦s paintings engage with modernist abstraction¡¦s goal to represent the ¡¥unrepresentable¡¦, but unlike the spiritual or transcendental that modernist abstraction sought to represent, Prvacki¡¦s work reveals that what abstract painting can represent today is derived instead from the real and the everyday, and from the structures and systems within our world whose logic and operations we might not fully comprehend.

It is also through the everyday that the political returns in the exhibition, in the works of Lee Kit, Michael Lin, Liu Wei, and Zhao Zhao. Their work draws upon aspects of their everyday surroundings and environments to present new perspectives about society. The floral motifs In Michael Lin¡¦s paintings are appropriated from traditional and widely used decorative fabric in Taiwanese society. The brightly-coloured and elaborate patterns, which are imbued with strong mythical and superstitious significance, contrast with the austere and clean lines of contemporary minimalist design, an aesthetic denoting class and taste in contemporary society. This jarring contrast is reminiscent of, and highlights the distinction between low and high forms of culture that persistently exists within society. Lin¡¦s paintings emphasise how in this day and age of globalisation, the floral patterns, in their high art guise, lose their relationship to their origins, their association with Taiwanese culture¡¦s adherence to notions of craft, tradition, superstition and continuity.

In a similar way, Lee Kit¡¦s paintings take as their starting point, images of household cloths found on the internet. These are then reproduced as actual paintings and used in daily life for the purposes they are intended, as cleaning cloths, table cloths, etc. These paintings are finally returned to the context of art as paintings, thereby collapsing and exploring the intricate relationships between art and the everyday. The relationship between the mass media and the everyday is also explored in the work of Liu Wei. His seemingly geometrically composed, colour-field paintings are derived from television signals caused by disturbance, a central concept in his work. Zhao Zhao¡¦s paintings meanwhile, similarly take as their starting point, the materials and phenomena he finds occurring in and around his studio space.

The works of these artists demonstrate that much of contemporary abstraction in Asia is rooted in some way, to the representation of the everyday. They testify to how art is ultimately tied to reflecting aspects of lived reality, how they are representations of our social reality.

An exhibition tour by curator Eugene Tan, with artists Masato Kobayashi, Jane Lee, Lee Kit and Milenko Prvacki will be held during the press preview on Friday, 30 April 2010 from 5.00pm to 6.00pm. The tour and press preview will be followed by a private view and reception at 6.00pm.