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Wu Mingzhong: Beyond Red and Festivities

Wu Mingzhong: Beyond Red and Festivities
Pi Li
 
“Children who have access to the world of fairy tales do not grasp its rationale. Adults understand it, but unfortunately their entry is barred.” This line by a popular author would seem to me to be a perfect commentary on the work of Wu Mingzhong. It hails from a tiny personal kingdom made completely of glass. Of course, the goal is not to build borders: it is a matter of passing on the artist’s conception of society and history. Even in his initial stage, his work always possessed historicist roots: the framework within which his figures evolved survived despite their transmutation into an abstract substance. He very quickly shifted into glasswork and red liquids, added one to the other and took on the “fictionalisation” of real society. Television personalities, political or classical scenes drawn from art history, Wu Mingzhong seems to be set on deconstructing, in his own manner, all that is sacred, strict and canonical.
 
The most solemn scenes undergo a metamorphosis. They become fragile, transparent. Take a bustling crowd and transform them into glass receptacles to be stacked together in a box: the lightest accidental jostling, the barest malevolent bump, and they smack up against one another and are broken into a million pieces. Or rather a smiling politician: in the form of a wine glass, luminous and colourful, it would serve as a source of relaxation and would broaden your field of vision. I find Marcel Duchamp’s urinal even more interesting, a jest that has become a classic and in which the artist exhibits his flippancy through glass and red liquid. From a device used to relieve one’s self to alcohol decanters, from the commonplace to the ornamental, light and heavy: rendered through a pictorial style of such utter simplicity, Wu Mingzhong succeeds in creating the most varied set of conceptual transformations with the greatest of ease. 
 
His work sometimes makes me think of The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio; a work commissioned by the Church wherein the painter captures the moment when the apostle, unable to believe in Christ’s resurrection, touches the wound. For all intents and purposes, though it be wrapped in a cloak of solemnity, what Caravaggio truly wished to express were his doubts about religion. On the same token, within Wu Mingzhong’s work I see a “glaring scepticism”. His paintings seem to describe, as if it were real, a brightly coloured Lilliput in glass. The figures, the surroundings, everything is transformed into a toy. Though in terms of colour and texture his work sparks an easy reminder to Gaudy Art, popular at one time, there exist fundamental differences between the two. Gaudy Art is the expression of a vague moral judgement upon reality. What Mingzhong expresses retains some doubt, some defiance toward social reality and its historic values. The former relates to a rather arrogant chintzy elitism, the later is more closely linked to conceptual deduction through contemporary art. Without a shadow of a doubt, granting these works only a superficial perusal would result in a simplistic reading of their meaning; the social judgment is very present. When he reduces a historic personality to the state of a   decanter, superb but void of any substance, he transforms political reality into joyous revelry with indeterminate ends. Its true face, its core, becomes a void, an unlimited postponement. To lend history and politics the appearance of toys is the manifestation of his concepts, it is the visual heart that would have their value systems become more contemporary, from spiritual essence we move to The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Kundera.
 
The fact that the artist introduced the material form of history and politics as concepts within his work has resulted in a modification of the visual mode his canvas must adopt. It is therefore difficult, once this latent idea has been well understood, to find a suitable slot for him within the familiar framework of expressionism or realism. The essence of Wu Mingzhong’s visual language is drawn from his renouncement of all inherent linguistic strains and his absolute devotion to the impression of a fictional image. Within his work it is impossible to find any accent or touch that would suggest realism or expressionism, his stimulus is drawn from the image itself, his feel for it.
 
That is not to say that his language is static. Between Handle With Care, My Friend! and the more recent Eat Up!, the artist has gradually shifted from a detailed narration of his concept to a more intense expression of a visual atmosphere. A number of trait symbols that once helped to identify his work have fallen by the wayside over time, even those that might have acted as “trademarks” and to some extent have guaranteed his financial security. Take his most recent work: the original characteristics of glass are ever more subtle. Expressive power is now being achieved through the form that the liquid has taken. Eat Up! represents crowds made up beings with indescribable features, running from one end of the canvas to the other. Beings that seem to emanate a kind of inexhaustible terror that an individual feels when confronted by his own evolution in the post-industrial age. In accordance with the evolution of this language, Wu Mingzhong has shorn away everything that could have served as an identifier, glass or liquid, it would seem that no impression of “hand crafted” has been allowed to remain. He sets himself on producing transparency and a uniformity of colour of an industrial quality in order that nothing be real. 
 
By all outward appearances, his goal is to create images by hand of an industrial quality through the elimination of all evidence of the craftwork involved in his method. As a result, Wu Mingzhong’s paintings ever more closely approach what we call “bad painting”. Traditional criteria no longer allowing him to satisfy his conceptual needs, in order to better convey his ideas, he sacrifices the individuality of his language. This paradoxical relationship – between language and concept – is a recognizable trait of his creative system. One might say that he is painting “anti-paintings” because the visual form he is in search of, for an infinite number of reasons - technical, financial, even those brought about by visual tension - is impossible to achieve. Through what would seem to be the most original of methods, he produces extremely intense images. If to be an artist is to look toward the future, “anti-painting” becomes a subtle satire of the so called theory of the evolution of language and an artist that approaches from the point of view of “bad painting” seems to come into closer proximity with a reflection on the very essence of his art. Wu Mingzhong’s method suggests that what is important is not to fiddle with the dissection of what pictorial art is, but to go in search of what can be done with it. Even now, within the media deluge that is our present circumstance, in so far as visual emotion is concerned, painting continues to offer a means of probing the future in a richer and more intense manner. 
 
10th February 2007
 
 

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