Friday, July 2, 2010

The Abstract Question

(Hong Kong Gallery Guide June 2010)

Osage Kwun Tong
May 1 to June 27

The latest group show at Osage Kwun Tong, The Burden of Representation: Abstraction in Asia Today, aims at a broad question: the positions of abstract painting in Asia and in turns, its significance for cultural production against social and political invasion. The premise is a pointed one given the implication of burden in the curatorial conception. What is the boundary abstract painting seeking to illuminate and to transgress?

Illusion underlines the works of Chinese painters Yang Jiechang and Ding Yi, who focus on the transition of painting as a meditative act to its representation of reality. Yang departs from traditional Chinese ink painting in ‘100 Layers of Ink’, which alludes to the materiality of landscape and an opening in history that the audience must cross. Ding employs more playful motifs in ‘Appearance of Crosses’, though the work heightens the sense of collective expression rather than the subjectivity that is the starting point of the painting. If Yang and Ding have sought to transcend the representation of the real, their quest remains partially unanswered, as their works highlight the presence of cultural and social consciousness rather than its breakdown.

Japan-born Taiwanese artist Michael Lin examines s similar constraints through his floral motifs, traditional and aesthetic icons that turn into shallow denotations in contemporary society. Set against minimalist and contrasting design, the images represent the loss of meaning of abstraction and art amid the trends of today’s popular culture. In a similar vein Lee Kit reproduces images from mass media to signify the collapse between art and everyday life, though Lee’s effort lacks drive. Ambitious as they are, his narratives come across as a palette of somewhat diffused efforts than a concrete assembly of his ideas. Deconstruction also runs through the work of Milenko Prvacki, who dissects the visuality in painting in ‘Collection: The Ultimate Visual Dictionary’, which pinpoints the presence of reality in abstraction.
Prvacki’s lyricism is an attempt to define and defy the burden of representation that lies at the heart of the show, as it touches on the strength of artist’s subjectivity against larger cultural production. Yet Prvaki’s answer may be more ambiguous—and scattered—than succinct to audience that is unfamiliar with abstract art. Chinese artists Zhao Zhao and Gong Jian takes the exploration to their mindscape, where their brushstrokes are minute or repetitive transcribing of their response to the external world. Gong’s concern with the interaction between emotion, text and expression has a linear, simplistic flow, though there is a hint of deeper emotion that seems to be missing on the canvas. One wonders if the artist stops himself short in communicating his interiority to the audience, or if the creative impetus could gain fuller weight.

Liu Wei shows a different kind of restraint in ‘Yes, That’s All!’ and ‘Purple Air VI-15’. His color-field paintings are contemplation on the image-saturated nature of our society, of the surroundings we are confined by in everyday life. Disturbance is at last a stimulus in art, where people can decipher reality in freedom and isolation. ‘Yes, That’s All’ is one of the stand-out pieces in the show: it is sharp, coherent take on the conflict between representation and the real world. Masato Kobayashi chimes in the dialogue with his ‘Light Painting #9’, where objecthood takes on an illusive guise. The allusion to reality is inherent in the shaped monochrome painting that stresses the space and dimension of the art form.

If The Burden of Representation: Abstraction in Asia Today sets out to review the state of abstract art in Asia at present, it presents possibilities and hints while some of the selected artworks are rather weak in their emotional or visual impact. The question remains, though it is certainly a worthy direction to explore.

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