When Western European artists live and work in China, cultural and artistic differences may be thrown into sharp relief. Oliver Gosling, Aimie Herbert and Carmel Pia have lived for a time in Chongqing, the heart of south-west China. Such an experience may expose the fluidity of identity and the fragility of cultural autonomy; in addition, it may have an accelerated honing effect on the art work produced. But what is most interesting is the teasing out of prescient sensibilities long embedded in the host culture. The three artists represented here trained in Britain in the context of Western Modernism and contemporary art, developing work, however subliminally, within that context. However, from the outset, there has been in each of them a propensity for suggesting a no-mans-land of vast spaces, which may be urban or landscape in feeling, without any sense of place, but which may be ruptured or challenged by things within it. The presence and manipulation of material links all the works and creates tensions between surface and depth, often suggesting a luminous or material darkness.
For the Chinese, especially in the great literati tradition of landscape painting, it has always been clear that images are based on a language of signs, a world in-between, not an imitation of Nature. Space (or voids) plays a vital and significant role. It denotes power in silence; it balances the seen with the unseen. Of course, in such a huge country as China, contemporary art now is multi-faceted. Many Western influences are absorbed (the ‘contemporary’ being largely a Western construct), which mutate according to context. However, the flow has also gone the other way, and Chinese, as well as Japanese, pictorial values have had a significant influence on some developments in Western painting. Such influences are timely when now we face an unprecedented and invasive mass culture. The influences in question are the silences, the pauses, so well perceived in and integral to pictorial language originating in China and reaching apotheosis in Japan.
This exhibition demonstrates a deep connection to such values. They are values that transcend cultural boundaries, and are the unique contribution from China and Japan to pictorial language that can have a profound resonance today. They address needs that can be felt more pressingly in a city such as Chongqing, where the speed of development and technologically driven changes is ratchetted up several notches. For over 3000 years the Chinese and Japanese saw art as a parallel alternative to everyday cares, not a mirror. It was a powerful acknowledgment of the need for balance, not romantic, but part of a process of realignment with the essential aspects of greater Nature to which we belong and on which we depend for our existence. Space is the emotional anchor. Within it motifs and objects tease and challenge the depths. But all motifs are subsumed in the greater space. Space conditions presence; when the space pulls forward, it interrupts the form and suggests ‘Intervals of Silence’.