Chinese scholars used to retreat to their studios, alone or with their closest friends, to savour moments of solitude and contemplation, to reconnect with nature, and to pursue a range of highly sophisticated pastimes. Practising calligraphy, composing poetry, playing music and chess as well as appreciation of arts and antiques were all activities that reflected the highly developed tastes, education and social standing of this elite group of gentleman scholars also described as literati. Today, many Chinese artists are once again drawing inspiration from this high point in their traditional culture, and bringing their own interpretation to an ancient subject that has inspired many of their predecessors.
‘Lodge of Tranquility’ at Karin Weber Gallery explores elements of Chinese literati culture through the eyes of three artists who are increasingly gaining recognition on a regional and international scale. Classic scholar materials such as ink, stone, ceramics and bronze find contemporary interpretations in new combinations and dimensions. The gallery space will be transformed into a Chinese scholar’s studio, the ‘Lodge of Tranquility’, courtesy of Hong Kong designer Elroy Chung.
About the Artists:
Zhu Jingyi (China, b. 1975) reimagines classic shanshui landscapes in a three-dimensional format through the application of resin onto canvas and wire to create textured structures that enliven otherwise flat, ink painted works. ‘Although Chinese people today value the role of family and society less than the past, they remain committed to an ancient belief of living in harmony with nature,’ adds Zhu.
Based in Shanghai, Zhu has exhibited widely in China, including the Today Art Museum in Beijing and Himalayas Art Museum in Shanghai, and is currently working on a large commission for Shanghai Pudong International Airport. This is Zhu’s second show with Karin Weber Gallery in Hong Kong.
Ceramic objects are integral to a scholar’s desk and studio, either as a desk accessory or as art objects in their own right – often both simultaneously. Likewise, the study of books is inextricably linked to the life of a scholar. Material and subject, time and timelessness fuse in the works of Annie Wan Lai-Kuen (Hong Kong), as she creates a selection of different sized books, seemingly frozen in time, by encasing individual works in ceramic slip. While the book is fired away, a preserved ceramic version remains. ‘We cannot duplicate reality. Our best attempt is to imitate through various means. Reproduction often relates one to existence of object, yet it can never be the same. I have always been thinking about the relationship between text and form,’ adds Annie.
Annie’s multi-volume dictionary project Lost in Biliterate and Trilingual is currently on show in Manchester, UK, as part of the exhibition ‘Harmonious Society’, Asia Triennial Manchester 2014. She holds numerous awards, including the Hong Kong Art Biennial in 2003, and is currently a lecturer in Ceramics at the Academy of Visual Arts, Hong Kong Baptist University. Her work is in the collections of the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, the Hong Kong Museum of Art, and a number of overseas institutions. This is Annie’s first show with Karin Weber Gallery.
Yang Fei (China, b. 1974), also fuses two traditional scholar objects: rocks and bronzes. Rocks have always been treasured and prized by scholars; on occasion carved and shaped to serve into ink stones, or celebrated and lyricized in their natural state. In Yang Fei’s stone sculptures, scholar rocks are enhanced by additions of the smallest bronze figures, often human or animal, to reinforce the link between Man and Nature that is central to Daoist scholar philosophy. Currently resident in Shenzhen, Yang Fei is one of China’s leading abstract sculpture artists, with solo and group exhibitions across China. As Yang observes, ‘humans, plants and animals have always played a secondary role in how people see scholar rocks. I want to use a Western approach to sculpture, and let the human figure play the central role, whilst turning the rock into a mountain. I make use of the Chinese historical figures to portray our present day craving for culture.’