Friday, July 2, 2010

Vanguard of Transgression

(Hong Kong Gallery Guide October 2010)

Hanart TZ Gallery
4 to 26 September 2009

Shanghai-born artist Qiu Jie makes big statement in both form and substance. At Hanart T Z Gallery, Qiu’s massive, meticulously detailed drawings weave traditional Chinese with cliché West in an ideological transgression. The artist’s visions are delivered with painstaking techniques, while Qiu is search of a finer balance in his iconography.

Qiu is clearly more at home in a prominently Chinese landscape. Woman and Tiger is an effective summary of the artist’s themes: sexuality, the twist of traditional Chinese art with Western perspectives, and his play on historical artifacts. The stamp of ‘sadomaso’ leaves no room for ambiguity for those who do not understand the Chinese text in the drawing. The artist is an observer–Qiu Jie is a pseudonym that means ‘foreigner’ or ‘outsider’—of the risqué. Yet Qiu’s daring goes far beyond his illustration of the explicit. In Woman and Tiger Qiu fuses exotica into canonized Chinese traditions in a seamless manner, which legitimizes his creative visions.

The artist’s triumph echoes in Celebration of the Harvest. Chairman Mao appears in the image of a recurring cat figure – a pun on the transliteration of the Chinese character for cat – and reaches out to his rewards from the West. Chinese authority is again in control in Poetry of President M. The reinvented image of the chairman stands tall amid classical Chinese images, next to a Coca-cola can as a symbol of Western culture. Both works are inviting in their layers of composition effects: the images and colors flow, along with the works’ thematic movement. Qiu’s touches are concise, assertive of his artistic heritage and his embrace of Western influence.

The two drawings titled Da Zi Bao 1 & 2 – a term that means propaganda banners or public critique during the Cultural Revolution – are in murkier waters. Qiu mixes kitsch references to the West with Chinese icons—it hints at the clichéd perception foreigners often have of China, as much as the yearning Chinese project onto the West. Both views are sadistic, Qiu says in his drawings: this is where Qiu falls short of a convincing blend of cultural references. The text, images and icons he chooses are pressing in a scattered way. The fragmentation does not strike a conceptual note, and the critique is lost in Qiu’s lavish efforts.

The deepest resonance of Qiu’s work is lost on those who do not understand the Chinese language or have little knowledge of its literature. The underlying theme of Woman and Tiger is Qiu’s self-reflection: the Chinese text in the background is confessional poetry, and the references to The Dream of the Red Chamber point to illusion and repentance. So much for the outsider’s remorse over his obsession with the risqué and his voyage out to the Western art world—there remains an unresolved conflict in Qiu that many of his audience would not see.

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