Monday, October 19, 2009

The sea inside

I went out to the Dashanzi art district the other day to catch the opening of a new exhibtion space there, White Box Art Museum.
My old friend Wu Yuren was one of a number of Chinese modern artists participating in the big inaugural show.  It was quite a challenge to guess which of the many and diverse works on display might have been his.  I wondered at first if it might not have been the rather grimly realistic flayed pig skin (in fact, this was rendered in latex, with fine strands of scarlet wool suggesting webs of blood vessels on the translucent 'skin'); he has had his moments of experimenting with 'body shock'.
Ah, no.... here we are....
Dawu's piece was a simple white drawer, recessed into the wall, half open.  And when you peer inside, you find it's brim full of water.
Well, I assume it was water - but I suspect it may have been treated with something, since it seemed an unnaturally bright, swimming-pool blue; and the meniscus on it was so taut that it looked at first as if it might have been covered over with a thin layer of glass or plastic (I had assumed that it would have been covered with something, to prevent it getting full up of all the dust and such in the Beijing air over the month the exhibition is on - but no).  The execution of a thing like this is quite cunning, quite challenging.  How did he manage to build a sliding drawer into the solid breezeblock wall of the gallery?  How did he make it securely waterproof?  How did he manage to get the interior of the drawer so well lit?
This fascination aroused by the understated cleverness of the construction works nicely in tandem with the quirky charm of its incongruity; you expect to find socks, underwear, or perhaps documents in such a place, but instead..... you find a miniature swimming pool.
I think he called the piece something like 'Tranquil Sea'.  And there was something oddly restful about gazing into this draw full of calm, blue water.
Most 'modern art' of this kind leaves me completely cold; in fact, it often arouses my scorn and contempt.  I feel there are far too many self-proclaimed 'artists' around these days whose work is little more than a mediocre middle-school craft project with a pretentious caption underneath it.
But Dawu I have a soft spot for.  There's a wit and a zest about him you don't often find in artists of this type, an imagination that really is a little out of the ordinary.
I'm not sure if there's really any point to it; but it strikes some kind of a chord with me....

No comments: