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Escaping the Paradox Trap – Impressions on Recent Work by Wu Mingzhong

Escaping the Paradox Trap

– Impressions on Recent Work by Wu Mingzhong

Ji Shaofeng


  Every era has its own texture, ours is that of glass. In glass there is hardness, fragility and vulnerability.

-Wu Mingzhong


  I admit: when I first entered into Wu Mingzhong's studio and was confronted by his canvases, I was deeply shaken. It was an intense experience. I was directly affected. As an individual, the work seized me: Hey! Hey! Be Careful! These glasses, bottles, bizarrely shaped glassware – a visual celebration, while threatening vertigo – insistently beseeched me to avoid "clumsy movements" and to "handle with care". Such is the latent power of Wu Mingzhong's recent work, "Beware", a miraculous and captivating sensation of fragility is made felt. Extraordinary, the colours transcend the canvas and emit a vital flame. At once stimulating and stunning, it speaks to the spirit and, within the background of the canvas, one is able to catch a glimpse of passionate reflections on the artist in contemporary society.


  None can deny the fact that 2002 was a key year for Wu Mingzhong: The year he changed his style and began to use glass as an expressive tool in the series Handle With Care!, Hey! Be Careful!, Shoot!, etc… Perhaps his method was better suited to the exhibition of his platonic reflections on social reality, once begun there was no going back, leading then to Glasses!, Be Careful, Baby!, Eat Up!, How Long Does Love Last?, May Duchamp's "Fountain" Please Pardon the Idiot Wu Mingzhong! And May Duchamp's "Chess Match" Please Pardon the Idiot Wu Mingzhong! Glass fascinates him to be sure, its transparency, luminosity and magnificence. However, his reflections are more immediately concerned with the most ingenious ways in which these characteristics can be translated onto canvas. These figures and wine filled glasses, his vessels and bottles, either deep red or fluorescently pink have become the visual – and very effective – mark of Wu's questioning of social reality. Beyond polished beauty, a deeply entrenched and worrying message lies plain to see: a warning of "caution". Beneath the calm surface, anxiety is present, an underlying current constantly threatening to erupt. Wu Mingzhong's voice resonates from within this work – one that emanates from the soul: He states that "The more beautiful a material is, the more fragile it is. It is the fragility of magnificence. Material these days is all about beauty, flash and power, people in search of consumption, luxury and pleasure: As well they might! But that search and excessive dependence on material things robs man of his independence and capacity for originality. Material things will never solve the problem of man's vulnerability. On the contrary, it will only serve to aggravate it. Man, originally a creature of flesh and blood, no longer exists, he is nothing more than a being made of glass and he does not belong: he is left with only the material contents of glassware and that which is refracted toward the exterior world. Glass and alcohol are the characteristics of our age. I paint men made of glass to express the fragility inherent in contemporary reality, the fragility of the relationship between man and himself as well as with others and the environment." After an extended period of research and observation, Wu Mingzhong had finally found the material best adapted to the expression of his vision – glass. He tirelessly rendered its texture, integrated within the rest of his artistic ventures, explored it and sought out its multiple capabilities… to the point where his cultural language and intellectual orientation go without saying: social reality is paradoxical in every respect. Overflowing with magnificence, it is also fragile, dangerous and nothing in the universe is beyond the reach of its ensnarement. As Georgia O'Keeffe put it: "How absurd, and yet how beautiful!" We are reminded of a dream and then we awake to realize that the reality in which we live is fragile, that the environment is fragile, that feelings, daily life, sincerity between individuals are all fragile… We have made a transition from a society of political fragility to one that is mercantile and even more fragile still. The super-consumerism promoted by multinational capitalism is vertiginous, agonizing, it disrupts and destroys. Confronted by reality, in politics as in life, artists can no longer allow themselves to remain dilatants. Lyricism is out of the question. His only recourse is to attempt to escape the trap of paradox. But to flee (that is to say take distance from) our monstrous and chaotic reality, that is easier said than done. Who can forget the "dead silence" that followed, twenty years ago, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger? Or the endless reflections on the nature of "vulnerability" that were triggered by the thick smoke of September Eleventh? Presently, the global rise in temperature shows us once again, as if it were still necessary, to what degree the existence of the human species is fragile and the extent to which our environment is in a constant state of deterioration. The friend that sits at the negotiating table today may be the enemy who takes up arms against us tomorrow. In order to reap rewards, interest groups from powerful nations manage to perpetuate insurrection in Palestine, Israel and the Gulf: how often have the hopes of those who's goal is peace been torn to shreds as a result? Of course, Wu Mingzhong does not address these issues directly, but his visual iconography is a glaring confirmation of the vulnerability of individuals and of reality.


  In Be Careful, Baby!, we are confronted with women's legs. Whether or not the spectacle sets off a spark of desire or yearning within the brain is of little importance. On the contrary: the point is to demonstrate how our lives gradually disappear beneath an amassment of "pretty things". Women's legs are attractive to men; they also cause us to recognise the fragility and ambiguity of such relationships: the slightest rupture… An incredible amount of prudence must be taken in our treatment of others, of their gender. Relationships must be contemplated with circumspection. One is reminded of the cries of Laocoon: "I fear the Danaens, even though they bare gifts." However beautiful and coquettish these legs may be, they are, without a doubt, fragile and dangerous, the epitome of the universal constraints and vulnerabilities of the human species, an open challenge to the moral standards present in our daily lives. With May Duchamp's "Fountain" Please Pardon the Idiot Wu Mingzhong! And May Duchamp's "Chess Match" Please Pardon the Idiot Wu Mingzhong!, the title, while curiously redundant and literary, does not cause us to recoil. On the contrary: in contemporary art, imitation and the corruption of the classics constitute a means of re-addressing linguistic characteristics and given that Duchamp's character has become so well known as to no longer require explanation, there results a feeling of levity. A joke that leans on art history, one that highlights the complexity of society, the heterogeneous nature of our existence within that society and as such, questions anew the ethical norms of an age that has become ever more vulgar and superficial. In so far as determinism in art history, he has returned to a clean slate, but the power of emotional, psychological and cultural suggestion present in his work situates him at the heart of the matter.


  Behind his dizzying images, his 2006 work entitled Eat Up! on the subject of Chinese nutritional habits, seems to hint at something more dangerous and poignant. Humanity would live in a state of perdition. Through the mode of fables, the constant latent possibility of the destruction of the world is evoked. "When we have eaten all that can be eaten, nothing will remain but man…" The material is very modern; it once again allows Wu Mingzhong to charm us with his incessant search for perfection and his master's sensitivity toward contemporary artistic form.


  In this world of glass, politics, street scenes and sex are combined in evermore ingenious ways. Wu Mingzhong lightly blurs the line between the interior and exterior universe. Based within a language of realism, his compositional technique allows him to explore abundance and dynamism through concision, pictorial emotion and sincerity with precision. The power and contemporary nature of his artistic language, as well as the unreality of the space he creates, fills his work with beauty and a strong sense of "now".  


16th of January 2007  2:15pm in Shimen

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