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Bridging Beijing_Wu Di_Part 1_CML

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Hello everyone, welcome! This is our first series of interviews that we are doing that is tentatively called Bridging Beijing. This interview is being conducted in advance of the exhibition A Composite Leviathan curated by James Elaine that features artworks from artists in Beijing and Shanghai. My name is Cara Lewis. I’m one of the directors of Bridge Projects, a gallery in Los Angeles and I am joining today by Clover Zhou. and I’m gonna read her Bio. Clover is an art critic, art theologian, and visual artist. She is a longtime writer for ArtForum China. and she has published hundreds of articles in Chinese art journals such as The Art Newspaper China, The Art World, Randian, and Vision. (She) has a master of arts in fine art from Dalian Polytechnic University in China. and a master of arts in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. She has been a curatorial assistant on A Composite Leviathan. and wrote an essay for the coming catalog. She is going to introduce Wu Di one of the artist in A Composite Leviathan. and I will turn it over to her now. Hi everyone. It’s really my honor to be here to have this conversation with Wu Di and Cara. Wu Di is a Chinese artist who lives and works in Beijing. I've known her since 2013. She’s really one of my most memorable artists in my career as an art writer. Just a brief introduction of her background: She graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing majoring in mural painting. She had her first solo exhibition in 2009 in Beijing. So far she has had three solo exhibitions in different galleries. Wu Di has trained in Classical drawing and painting since she was pretty young. Even now, imagery from classical Western paintings provide the starting points for her work. In recent years, she has been carefully stripping away any overt figuration or narrative through processes of spontaneous addition and subtraction. These abstracted, gestural paintings are characterized by a bold use of chiaroscuro, the luminous light and rich shadows of which recall religious icons and old master paintings. And now I’m gonna start sharing my screen, and Wu Di is gonna join us to guide through her artworks. My works around this time, this series, Female and Male... It has many coupled animals. They live and multiply. There are some signs like bees which I designed myself. I think they are related to natural reproduction and other biological structures. That’s why I designed this sign. Around that time, I thought, throughout all ecological systems, The reproduction of animals allows human beings to exist and persist. This series is also from the year of 2008. Around that time, I made a lot of collages. In the paintings, there are many black balloons made out of reflective paper. When you walk towards the paintings your face is reflected on the balloons. So it is called You. This was in my first solo exhibition, but this artwork was much earlier. It was from when I first started having exhibitions in PIFO. I found a photo of refugees. It is called Shooting Stars. It has three or four paintings in it. All of them came from news photos. In the exhibition, there was an artwork wrapped in various materials. Beside each work, there was the original news photo, including the time and location of this event. The origin is a cruel and bloody news photo. I reproduce it with some luxuriant silk and gauze. It seems that everything is splendid and beautiful, right? But if we come close, we find it is very cruel. Take the first picture, for instance. It is an exhibition photo. It has a cross on it. I made a small room in the gallery. In my opinion, a cross is like a way. Wow, this is so interesting, because we Christians often say that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and the cross is an important symbol of Jesus. So, even though you are not a Christian, interestingly, your work delivers this message. Yes, I really don’t know. My knowledge of all kinds of religions is actually very shallow, you know? But I don’t know why it is that, since the very beginning, I have used many elements from different religions. At that time, it was still very early, 2009, and I was still young. I wasn’t sure what I really wanted to do. You know? I feel like it is a kind of searching for something in the unseen world. Yes, it feels a little bit like that. Only 10 years later I realize that I have started walking towards where I am now. This should be from my second solo exhibition. All of the works in that show used some methods that are very close to classical paintings. They look very Western, but all of these are fake. When people came to this exhibition, someone asked me: “Aren’t the artworks in this show very expensive?” They’re not, but I just made a very fake show, you know? For the painting in the back, I could have used a print to show the body, but I decided to paint it myself. This painting was originally painted by a German artist from the Northern Renaissance. Cranach, possibly, painted a part of the body of Eve. I made some changes. I painted an eye, very much like graffiti, on a classical painting. The little dog, like the rest of the show, has a strong sense of ritual. The little dog has an animal head and the body of a human baby. The chair is also from a German artist in the Northern Renaissance. His artworks are not very numerous. This image is like one of his paintings portraying a patron. I put this image onto something like a crown. This is a human without arms and legs. The aim of this whole exhibition is to reveal or question notions of equality, such as the idea that God is equal to all of us. There is another work painted on a headboard called Dance of Death, which has some freaks in it. (Think “carnival freaks.”) In Holbein’s Dance of Death, there are the king, the priests, women, and babies. For him, all humans are equal when confronted with death. For me, I used many malformed images to convey this message in this show, including a see-saw (Successor). This kind of balance is caused by the control of one party Rather than real balance, like a see-saw. This is my solo exhibition in 2017. It was a very integrated exhibition. Around that time, I looked at many classic paintings with the theme of Jesus’ descent from the Cross. Artists from different ages and different areas all have interpreted this theme. I personally very much like the sense of rituals in religions, so I printed out the pictures of these paintings of Jesus’ descent from the Cross, and then I obscured the narrative elements. Not this one, but others—like this one. Yes, yes, this was Rembrandt. I turned the portraits into mushrooms. In some other paintings, delete all narrative elements. I want to know whether, without the narrative elements, but with only colors and structures, would the paintings still deliver some sense of ritual? I’m curious about the one before that image. Each of the heads feels so luminescent. They feel like lights or candles. I’m curious about the figure as light. Especially because of the exhibition, “Light through the cracks,” I would like to hear you talk about each of those. What looks like a face is really illuminating from within. From my personal perspective God has no face, you know? I think God, or some higher level of energy... it is not describable. So I replace their images and their narratives with gold. Therefore it turns into a sort of energy or a manifestation of natural ordering principles. It can’t be described through our language. So each of the human faces are reflecting that. Yes, I am definitely a spiritual person, but I do not have a religious commitment. In China, if you go to school and study oil painting, you are more exposed to Western art It is much easier to find the Western oil painting themes. In China, you are also more exposed to Buddhist culture, but it is really difficult to combine it with oil painting. So many people ask me: “Why do you use Western themes to paint?” It is simply because I have studied this since I was a little kid. It’s almost an interesting marriage actually between Eastern philosophy and Western painting. Yes! I myself like to read Tao Te Tsing. I mostly read the Eastern culture. I’m influenced by these things. Yes. So in your paintings, we can see the combination of a really huge area of darkness and the bright gold. In addition to the use of Classical Western painting style, do you also have some metaphorical meaning in it? I think this is just a better way to present the contrast and make the gold look more shiny. In the painting, gold is more like a material, a sort of energy. It is not a painting language. It is not a paint. No other color of paint can replace gold. That’s why they use it in the churches, so that it would catch the light, the sunlight, before there was electricity, you know. You need to catch the reflection of the candles and the sunlight coming in through the small spaces to be able to amplify that light within the church spaces Yes. I also have used some silver. Golden and silver foil. I also present them indoors without using artificial light. This way, when the sunlight comes in, the gold color would be highlighted, and also the silver. So I don’t need the light in the gallery space. In this exhibition, we barely use any artificial light We only have some small lights shining on the paintings. I personally very much prefer natural light, even when I paint myself. The natural light can help people to enter a special atmosphere, at least for my paintings. If you visit this exhibition, it is very different in the morning and in the evening. It changes all the time according to the sunlight. The colorful light that shines on the other wall changes from being clear to being vague and expansive. The reason that I applied these colorful filters is that it allows you to see clearly how the light moves. It simply makes a scale for the light. This artwork is from the same show. I cooperated with another artist to make this artwork, with Ge Ouda. We made this Golden River. It is a recorded video. The river flows and flows ceaselessly. When I started making this work, I had decided on the way to present it: In two cylinders like two lamps, like two sources of energy that flow, like two pillars of light in the exhibition space. If it is possible, I will make it even taller, but currently I can only make four monitors for each side. In your Christian church, there are a lot of paintings that are very beautiful . I think I can make a very simplistic space for the church. just with these energy pillars. They roll over and over. Very modern, very simplistic, and very cool. It is also like a space that is detached from reality. If it were tall enough, as soon as you entered it, you would be detached from reality. For example, whenever I enter a space like a temple or church, I feel like I am far away from the world. I feel like my soul is here but not me as a person. In the future, we can have spaces like this underground. We won’t need people to paint anymore, if, in the future, we live very fast-paced lives, or if we go to another universe. Hahaha, just imaging. If you are about to take the spaceship to go to another planet, you can make a space like this in a capsule. That’s really beautiful, I think. During this time, during the staying at home, and the COVID, for me, I spent a lot of time by moving water, by a river, nearby, in the mountains in the Angeles Forest; so I think there is something universal about a river, and about its nourishing quality. That’s something we all feel immediately. This kind of takes me to my next question which is, just in this moment, right now we are experiencing unprecedented events across the world. How has that impacted your practice, specifically, being someone who is so interested in the future, envisioning things, envisioning how we are going to be related with the work in the future? I’m curious how this time has impacted your work, what you are looking forward to right now. We experienced SARS when we graduated in Beijing. We were also locked at home. I feel like, for artists actually, your painting and your life weren’t affected much; but this time the epidemic has lasted for a long time. Totally didn’t anticipate this. Imagined that it would come to an end after a month. Neither did I anticipate that the whole world would become like this. I was quarantined in Beijing for fourteen days, and I couldn’t go anywhere but only to stay at home. So I just read the news. I felt like many people were pursuing, you know, like “Give us an explanation. Give us an answer.” or our government, bla bla bla, right? But I feel like we humans should return to the basics, which means to come to yourself. What do you need? Do you really need that much? I myself have been reflecting on my life Do I really need that much? If this situation just continues, what should I do then? Don’t expect others to change, you know? And of course, for some people, it’s their mission to raise the issues to the government and to solve the problem. Then what about other people? Isn’t it that we should think about whether we really need so much? For myself, it is pretty simple. I just paint and eat at home. Everything becomes really, really simple, Listen to the voice in your heart, you know? Listen to the true need of your body. Or if the epidemic just never passes away, And you need to keep your life like this, I think it is impossible to request from the outside world. It’s more about your own state. How do you adjust to this sort of life? What is the true need of your heart? Actually, I think nature has taught us a lot: The air, the earth, and water, etc. Many things are for free, you know? Without these things, you would see that you cannot live; but because they are all free, you don’t even appreciate them. Our questions have almost come to an end. There is an additional question: Take this artwork as an example, You use very strong, repetitive elements in your previous works. We often see a lot of repetitive elements, repetitive colors. So what is the meaning of the action of repetition in your art practice? My everyday work in the studio is very repetitive, painting a painting, and painting over paint repetitively, until its energy appears. I remember, in the Buddist temple, there is a kind of copper bowl. When a man sweeps a stick around the bowl like this, the volume and energy of its sound would expand. It is probably an Eastern pattern: In your whole career, you repeat something until it generates some energy. I think it is a process. I’m also excited to see what it will become. Very interesting. Your answer is beyond what I imagined, because “repetition” has become a very important concept in Western modern art. I remember that, in the foreword of your previous show, Shixian mentioned Beckett’s theories about theater art and the use of repetition in the “theater of the absurd;” but actually that use of repetition reflects a very pessimistic perspective that life is a ceaseless repetition. It’s meaningless; or the meaning is not in this life. But from your Eastern perspective the repetition is actually very positive. True. In fact, I also have some tendency towards notions of futility, but my understanding of futility is positive. I think everything is meaningless. The meaning does not exist, but not in a negative way. Rather, the meaning just does not exist. Take a tree, or a mountain, for example. Its existence does not require you to define it. It is strong enough that it doesn’t need a meaning.

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Duration: 1 hour, 8 minutes and 15 seconds
Language: English
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Posted by: chancleta on Jul 2, 2020

Bridging Beijing_Wu Di_Part 1_CML

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