Temporality is a matter of life. Housing is temporary; employment is temporary; marriage is temporary; wealth is temporary; nation is temporary; life is temporary. It says in Buddhism that everything (including both abstract concepts and specific matters) is no more than a process, which involves developing, stabilizing, deteriorating and disappearing. As China undergoes vigorous transformations, temporality becomes a defining characteristic of the current social climate and has tremendous effect on our mentality and psychology.
In ancient China, there were people who would take shelter in a flimsy hut and were content with it. Even though the hut would get shaky and risk being torn down in wind, its resident wouldn’t be disturbed by it at all. On the contrary, he would focus his energy on meditation instead and remain worry-free and happy. He had realized that everything beyond his own soul is transient and he refused to be troubled by such external matters.
Fast forward to the present, we’ve moved into high-rises, made of reinforced concrete and well-equipped with armed guards and electronic monitors. But such an "upgrade" of physical environment hasn’t necessarily granted us increased happiness or a more carefree life. Some of us have developed acrophobia or contracted "air-conditioner illness". Beyond these ailments, the truth is that these solid concrete fortresses can’t keep us from feeling restless, uncertain and lost about life, the future and ourselves.
Either for making a living or for changes, we move around, from the countryside to the city, from the small city to the big city, from one side of the city to the other. We go wherever work is calling and have to make do with a lifestyle that’s full of rapid, disruptive change driven by market economy, completely oblivious of what would become of us tomorrow and terribly longing for stability. While building our modern metropolitans of concrete jungles, we willingly trade in the old for the new. "Demolition" and "moving" becomes a very modern set of phenomena that we are still unprepared to cope with. The inescapable consequence of the ceaseless discontinuity of change is our sense of disorientation.
Another loss that we have bear as the result of a new free market economy being married into an underdeveloped social system is our inner insecurity. The relatively steadfast and loyal relationship between individuals and jobs is disappearing in China. While we seem to gain more freedom and flexibility in the choice of work, the kind of material and psychological security and guaranty that our parents could obtain from a job is a luxury that we are denied today. We hop from job to job, sometimes out of choice, sometimes not. Agreement too has lost its original purpose of bonding and provides no more than short-termed assurance.
Evoking immediate needs and providing short-termed satisfaction is the golden key to quick amassment of wealth in business operations. The latest generation of mobiles, the latest generation of computers, the latest generation of digital cameras, the latest generation of electronic games, the latest generation of shampoo, the latest generation of fast, the latest generation of Pepsi coke, the latest generation of artists…"Generation" is not a unit of a few hundred years any more. Instead one generation can be rendered out of date and abundant in the elastic time span of a few years, a few months, even in a few days and a few hours. We are indulged into the incessant pursuit of "the latest fashion". Inexhaustible efforts are put into devising more and better details, appearances, functions and advertisements that contrive to keep us hooked. We chase after instant diversions and material improvements, even though the satisfaction is always a fleeting sensation.
To pay for such temporary contentment, we have to work very hard. As we work harder, we then demand more. It’s a vicious cycle. We have got cars, subways, magnetic suspension trains and airplanes. Mechanization, electrification and tele-communications have helped us increased efficiency. Still we haven’t been able to slow down our pace or get much more leisurely time. We are in constant rush, out of breath, and getting busier by day. Recently a friend of mine has told me that her dream life is to have 15 minutes of muse and breakfast time in the morning. It sounds ridiculously simple but the sad thing is that most of us have allocated that 15 minutes to some tasks which would contribute to our financial well-being but not necessarily psychological betterment.
We urban dwellers alternate our waking moments between moving houses, changing jobs, going after the latest fashion and partying like there wouldn’t be tomorrow. We generally wear this expression of loss, anguish, emptiness and despair. Material improvements are incapable of concealing our physical and mental exhaustion, cultural confusion and ideological crisis. Are we so trapped in our wants for materials that we fail to see through the "temporality" of everything? To meet with temporary and superficial needs becomes the very aim of our living. It’s inevitable that we are caught in a spiritual vacuity and in consequence we become vulnerable and apathetic, only setting off fiercer craving for more instant and more stimulating satisfaction. We continue residing in colorful bubble-like illusions, indulging in temporary and incomplete pleasures coupled by fear and hopelessness over the possibilities of having our delusions broken.
As artists, neither Chen Wenbo nor Liu Ding can grant us with a sense of security or point us to the way out. They are however, sensitive and sharp observers and critics. The beautiful, ingenious and simple images in the works of Chen Wenbo and Liu Ding are an aesthetic manifestation of the sociopolitical climate. Their artworks are needles aiming at the bubbles hanging over us.
This two-man show features four of Chen Wenbo’s latest creations. For this large-scale painting series, he’s adopted objects and details from the urban landscape: shimmering cars, a dark tunnel that stretches for no end, master keys, a hazy and decadent club corner, dazzling glazed ceramic tile and a few dices. His works capture the various moments of modern life characterized by overblown desires, money power, superficiality and instability. He glosses his paintings with a light that gives their surface a fittingly dreamlike quality.
Liu Ding tells his side of the story through minimal-looking and elegant embroidery works as well as an intelligent installation in the middle of the room. Sporadic mushrooms are randomly embroidered with shining silk thread on large white canvases and appear to be weightless, dainty and dangerously attractive. These images have originated from Liu Ding’s white capsule-made installations, which take the form of glittery and fragile mushrooms. His mushroom evokes a symbolic morphology. On the largely white canvas, they seem to be rising up and up, like balloons and bubbles. It’s a playful play on the unanchored and shifting nature of the urban social space.
12 cm x 24 cm x 10 cm
Liu Ding maintains an Artist Portfolio at absolutearts.com. View more work at: