The exhibition addresses aspects of an ongoing, alarming Sino-American military build-up, seen through the lens of performance art, painting, and public interactive art. The artworks evoke the unsettling figure of the “hero”, patent in the invincible uniformed figure of the Red Army soldier inscribed in both artists’ childhood memories.
In the words of Eric Shiner, “Shen Jingdong converts Communist icons in his paintings and sculptures in an unprecedented way, creating sumptuous works that cunningly turn these images of power into candy-colored and glistening figures that are more likely to be found on a toy shop’s shelves than marching through Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.”
Shen witnessed and was partly influenced by the notorious and subversive ’85 Art New Wave’ movement from Nanjing, that advocated a rationalistic approach to artmaking, in opposition to the academic, social-realist painting of the times. While his work has one foot in the supposed glory of the past, the other foot is firmly set in the ambiguous but relentless narrative of present day China. Aesthetically influenced by Western Pop Art, Shen deems the Chinese soldier a friendly-looking instrument to nonetheless be reckoned with. And he does so with exactitude.
By contrast, Jon Tsoi’s response to militarism is expressed through the prism of Taoism and its notions of chance, as well as via abstract expressionist principles that likewise reflect randomness and unpredictability. Tsoi’s performative painting is not only created blindfolded, but is resurrected, repaired, and restored by a blindfolded audience. In such engagements, Mr. Tsoi also references the original concept of Lucio Fontana, ‘concetto spatiale’—slashing the membrane of two dimensionality canvasses in order to highlight the ‘third space’ behind the picture—a method tilled by the legendary Japanese expressionist group Gutai Art Association, and advances it dramatically.
Together in this project, Shen and Tsoi generously allow for their work to hybridize into a risky, but poignant counterpoint. The sumptuous, slick, perfectly controlled soldiers of Shen Jingdong confront the ignominious slashings of Jon Tsoi’s sharp knives, and subsequent re-weaving. The result may remain a mystery as deep and perplexing as the history of China itself.