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Scorching Reality- "Anxiety in New Life"

 

Scorching Reality- "Anxiety in New Life" 
Zhang Songren
 
  The anxiety of youth has no national borders. A depressing sense of anxiety can enclose liveliness in a shapeless condenser; the stifling air bursting with desire for beginnings. It seems as though only screams of happiness or anger can break through this imprisonment, allowing the sound of excitement momentary release, and returning a balance to this drowsy and low spirited being. Song Yonghong is the guitarist for the rock and roll band "Fly".
 
  Since "Campus Life", a 1988 copperplate print with fountain pen, Song Yonghong's imagery has always maintained a sort of nervous ambiance: in a calm environment there swells up a confrontation without words, a mad movement without noise. It's a nervousness that can be heard in the sound of scratching metal and the sharp lines of the fountain pen. Song Yonghong has always kept a sharp touch on this sort of copperplate print, slashing depression and oppression with rigid and indigestible resentment. There is no gentle expression in his paintings; interpersonal relations only reflect the meaninglessness and absurdity of life. Song Yonghong's anxiety is reflect, on the one hand, in an unbalanced sexuality that produces many kinds of comical and deformed narrations of sexual phenomena. At a deeper level, Song Yonghong's anxiety is an extreme confusion regarding life, especially when it is concerned with the positioning of oneself vis-à-vis another. Such positioning is often invaded by sexual desire and power. The confusion is revealed through the suspenseful plots that attract viewers to his work. This becomes a method through which the artist's psychological state is relieved.
 
  From the perspective of art tradition, Song Yonghong's typically lonesome imagery and sexual attraction are obviously influenced by Baroque art. However, the sources behind Song Yonghong's allusions are often more violent and cynical. He does not possess the resources of the Western European classical cultural environment that Baroque artists relied on. Song Yonghong's anxiety is more pressing and terrifying. His cultural environment is the current nihilistic society; it is generally discontinuous with tradition and will be followed by an unshaped new culture. If the Baroque was a reflection of the restrictive mores of the Western middle class, Song Yonghong reflects the oppression of a society of naked power that lacks the cultural standards of humanism. The exposed color of his oil paintings form1989-1992 began to clearly discuss this topic, the vibrantly colored paintings from 1992-1995 pushed this marginal spirit into a new period's ghost-reflecting mirror.
 
  The series of exposed color paintings powerfully propagated a restrained violence—for example "Hammer" and "Riding the Public Bus". The monotone brought out the narrativity of the works; they became like story illustrations. Moods of anxiety seemed even more stressful in painting that were lacking plot; thus, the birth of plot became an outlet for venting emotions in Song Yonghong's paintings. Some of these plots had a sense of actual possibility: for example, "City Moat" and "First Step in a Physical Examination." There were also plots that seem to have the wantonness of day-dreaming: for example, "Sleeper Cart" and "Blue Plate Sheets". The viewer and the covert voyeur occupy the same perspective, as though wearing the emperor's new clothes; they are able to look on without restraints. Such absurd imagery can relentlessly reveal the evil thoughts and voyeurist psyche of the common person. New works like "Beside the Pool" and "Moat of the Forbidden City" are set in a more realistic and credible environment, and place greater emphasis on the participation of both the audience and the painter. Facing "Moat of the Forbidden City" and other works, the audience member will inevitably feel awkwardness, as if he had abused his viewing rights.
 
  From the psychology of the voyeur, Song Yonghong pushed toward a motivated intervention; the indifference of voyeurism and the idea of invasion have also developed into cruel thoughts. The barber in "Professional Smile" controls his customers with a hideous grin; they are satisfied with a momentary tool of control. "Conveyor Works" and "Nurse's Office" further remind us of the role-abusing relationships in our everyday life. The clear narrative Song Yonghong adapts in his paintings further exaggerates the sense of banter and absurdity. The smeared paint appers to smooth out the artist's emotions and to cool down the fleshy-substance of paint. Song Yonghong's world makes people laugh, yet it's thin on relationships.
 
  The desolation and lack of meaning in life is the key to the suspended ambiance of Song Yonghong's works. For instance, "Before a Window" portrays the emptiness of ambiguous relationships between man and woman; the helplessness in "Balcony" and "City Scene" has aspects that seem to be restricted by a realistic environment of vibrant colors but with neither importance nor unimportance. The emptiness in one's soul bestows on the most boring situation dramatic suspense: perhaps something significant will happen, perhaps the break through has already appeared. But we don't know what it is, perhaps it's nothing at all.
 
  Only in terms of the instinctive motivation of life, the stimulation of sexual desires and power, can one comprehend the subjects in Song Yonghong's world. It is a rock and roll vibration of happiness and anger that gets them excited. This is the Vanity Fair of China in the 1990s, it is also a ghost-reflecting mirror of China's new generation. These paintings are cynical yet humorous, beautiful yet philistine. Song Yonghong is not concerned with saving the face of others, but he is also not easy on himself. In this new life of clarity and inescapability, humor is the only agent of purification.
 
 

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