I have just spent a week visiting Melbourne and during that time I was fortunate enough to stumble upon one of the best exhibitions I have seen in a very long time. Currently showing at the National Gallery of Victoria are three video installations by Chinese artist Wang Gongxin. I have seen one of Gongxin’s video installations before, but otherwise am a complete novice on his work.
Gongxin comes out of the conservative Chinese art world. Having studied social realism, a form of propaganda art that was endorsed during and continued after the end of the cultural revolution, Gongxin’s practice swiftly shifted to video installation after a stint teaching in New York. The exhibit at the NGV in Melbourne showcases three works, two of which I have shown above. All three are incredible but Relating – It’s All About Ya 2010 (top set), is probably one of the most affronting and immersive video installations I have seen. Documenting the fast paced existence of humanity in China’s Beijing, the frenetic film is projected across 11 giant screens, timed and choreographed to create an encapsulating and exciting sequence. Beginning with the sound Ya, the film starts with a traditional chinese warrior. This quickly moves through to a teapot, floating fabric, vibrating coins, wobbling flabby bellies, jittering high heels and finally, a pulsating white wigged head banging dancer that morphs into trancing older woman. The installation is incredibly captivating, I watched it fully through four times, and likewise did the young kids who were running from screen to screen around the gallery.
The second work (bottom set), Basic Colour 2010 uses five elongated projected screens, each with a detail of the human body. A hand, an ear, the contours of an arched back, are all set against a soft grey background. These bodies become almost like abstract landscapes, only to be made more so by the covering and then unveiling by colour pigment and water. Unlike Ya, Basic Colour is slow and hypnotic. The colour and detail of this piece is incredibly beautiful and allows you to draw into the work in a completely different manner to the rooms either side.
Wang Gongxin’s training in social realism built a foundation of art making around the elevation of the ordinary working man. His work since the regime fell continues on this same path but without the confounds of the idealized propaganda aesthetic. The fake-ness has gone and what’s left is a body of work that deals with this subject in a truly honest and beautiful way.
If you’re in Melbourne, or are there before the 28th September, make sure you take the time to see this one. Wang Gongxin at the NGV, get in there asap. But if you’re not and want to see the full installation video, click here and head under ‘selected works’. Gongxin graciously allows you to watch the full video under the title of each work.