Duan Jianyu and Hu Xiaoyuan

Duan Jianyu and Hu Xiaoyuan

Rockbund Art Museum

Left: Hu Xiaoyuan, See, 2012. Video installation, 7:30 minutes. Right: Duan Jianyu, Sister No.18, 2012. Oil on canvas, 217 x 181cm.

March 14, 2013

Duan Jianyu, Hu Xiaoyuan
A Potent Force
January 26–March 31, 2013

Rockbund Art Museum
No.20 Huqiu Road, Shanghai, China


Rockbund Art Museum’s current show A Potent Force is a duel from January 26th to March 31st, 2013. A Potent Force, curated by Karen Smith, brings together the work of two strongly individual Chinese artists, Duan Jianyu and Hu Xiaoyuan, both of whom happen to be female. As a title, the phrase A Potent Force was conceived to intone the lyrical, introspective, and sentient intellectual prowess that characterises these two subtle plays with painting (Duan Jianyu) and conceptual video and installation (Hu Xiaoyuan). It further references the nature of both artists’s analysis of the world as they experience it.

Hu Xiaoyuan touches her audience through her art, in a distinctive fashion. Her works express the hidden significance embedded within the surfaces and images of material reality, or else eke out or conjure up an inner truth from it. Viewing her works is not a light and easy experience; Hu Xiaoyuan demands that we expend effort in interpreting her works, and so she purposely confuses our senses—making things difficult for us. By wrapping layers of meaning, she makes it so that we must pick and scrutinize before we get at the meaning. In a way, this process is like a path to greater awareness: only by undergoing hardships and by seeking out clues can we discover the true significance of such a path and of such things. We can only rely on our own efforts to reach this awareness, which is part of the reason why Hu Xiaoyuan places all kinds of forks on the way, so that viewers must seek for themselves and thereby be rewarded all the more. In her works, there is no distinct narrative, no beginning and no end. Rarely does she tell us clearly, let alone direct us towards what we can or cannot feel. Hu Xiaoyuan says:

“My creations don’t have aim at a fixed visual effect—in fact, the works can have many openings, and everyone can see something different. But I do hope that everyone feels something and are touched by the works.”

Duan Jianyu is one of the finest artists in China today. The world she depicts has an intellectual focus, while still managing to be attractive on a visual level. Her visual style appears naive and childlike, but her mechanism of painting is in fact meticulous. Duan Jianyu is very familiar with the achievements of past generations of painters, and she herself is a master storyteller and a documenter of the age. Her stories are not just intended for critics and curators, but also for the general viewer—the true target of her stories. Looking back on the last fifteen years of her creation, we can clearly see how her paintings are like minimal and concise illustrations of human life, which open up dialogue with people from any cultural background. All the elements Duan Jianyu uses are real, but in her fabricated magical universe, all kinds of these elements are placed side by side, so that reality itself becomes miraculous and fantastical. With the literary techniques of great literature and with a vivid imagination, she captures the full tapestry of life in her paintings. Duan Jianyu says:

“While painting, I am engrossed in the connections between real life and painting, and about how to build the structure of life and art on the picture plane. Painting and reality are two parallel worlds, interlinked, and I shuttle between the two, back and forth, with the aid of metaphors, similes, and metonymy.

Imagination is the lubricant for everything. It’s mysterious, and shies away the moment you speak of it. And imagination and mystery are elements I love in paintings.

While painting, I try to find a narrative openness, to allow the surface of the painting to take in all kinds of resources so that a painting is not merely a singular narrow picture plane but become encyclopedic. It can be stern and serious, but it can also joke and laugh.”

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Rockbund Art Museum
March 14, 2013

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