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  • Maria Dolfini

A review of Back to Nature, Zhang Chong’s exhibition at Taipei Treasure Hill Artist Village

Updated: Jan 5

談《歸去來兮》 張翀寶藏巖國際藝術村計畫

Artist Leading the Way | Taipei Artist Village: Exclusive Interviews with Artists-In-Residence

Written by Maria Dolfini

Edited and translated by Chung Ying Ying 鍾盈盈


Scroll down for the Chinese version.

Courtesy of Taipei Artist Village.


By proposing new approaches that combine historical research and natural resources in order to discuss unarticulated aspects of contemporary society and human nature, the Shanghainese artist Zhang Chong 張翀 presents his new works at Taipei Artist Village. On September 8th, 2019, his solo show Back to Nature 歸去來兮 spanning installation, sculpture and video art, opened in the unique exhibition space of an old air-raid shelter in Treasure Hill Artist Village after his two-months residency in Taipei. The exhibition unfolds in the form of a conceptual and material exploration, understanding and artistic rendering of the themes of parting, transformation and the opposing elements of ice and fire as found in Buddhist philosophy and Taiwanese unique history. The result is a poem woven through the threads of history, nature, philosophy, religion; but, foremost, it is an ode to human nature.


Zhang Chong found inspiration in Treasure Hill, a locus that witnessed the development of Taiwanese modern history as a silent companion. Firstly built at the end of the Qing dynasty more than 300 years ago, the temple of Treasure Hill was a centre of Buddhist devotion; the village then underwent an unstable history of Japanese colonisation, water conservation and military control during the twenty century. In the 1980s, the village faced the threat of demolition due to a fast process of urbanisation; it was eventually preserved and turned into a historical site, then an artistic and cultural project, called ‘Taipei Artist Village’. Fascinated by the history of change of this settlement, Zhang Chong conceived his works in response to the environment and in accordance to his long-standing personal interest in departure, change, contrasting natural elements and implicit emotions.


The title of the exhibition, Back to Nature 歸去來兮 draws from a famous poem written by the Chinese pastoral poet Tao Yuanming – also known as Tao Qian- during the Eastern Jin (317-420) and Liu Song (420-479) Dynasties. After years of official career at court, Tao famously decided to abandon his post and return to his homeland, living in seclusion surrounded by nature.

These movements of life and the chain of change are filtered through a Buddhist perspective and ritualistic lens in the exhibition. In fact, according to the artist, Tao Yuanming in ‘returning home’ detached himself not only from the socio-political affairs of the time, but more fundamentally from the endless pain and mundane feelings of samsara, reaching a ‘Pure Land’ of seclusion, meditation and potential enlightenment.


These ritualistic undertones are materialised in Zhang’s works into the elements of ice and fire, which are also essential marks of change and disappearance. The installation Vanishing Ice welcomes the audience at the entrance of the show. True to his research-based approach, Zhang found an eighty-year-old ice shop in Taipei that had gone through several historical changes, witnessing the development of Taiwanese economy and eventually falling into decay because of the raise of the refrigerator industry – thus in many ways similar to Treasure Hill Village. The installation features four ice cubes - daily transported into the exhibition space - that slowly melt through the support of an iron table. The transformation of the art piece throughout the day and the disappearance of its actual materiality are fascinating themes that recur in each of the artworks in different though correlated shapes.


Zhang Chong, Vanishing Ice, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.


Fire of Rebirth is an installation featuring flowers burnt and transformed into charcoal, finally displayed in a Japanese Ikebana arrangement which touches upon themes of rebirth, nirvana and endless disappearance. Fire is, in fact, inextricably related to Buddhism as worshippers, whether to pray the gods, communicate with their ancestors or celebrate festivities, use fire. Nirvana and the detachment from the cycle of samsara also takes place in fire. However, fire is also destined to live in the moment and disappear; if on one side the withered flowers reach eternity within their charcoal envelope, their extreme fragility and threat of disintegration invite the audience to question human perishability. Zhang Chong points out that – metaphorically as well as physically– his exhibition: “started with ice and ended in fire..”


Zhang Chong, Fire of Rebirth, 2019. Courtesy of Taipei Artist Village.


These apparently diverse and contrasting materials reveal the underlying fluid thread of disappearance, departure and farewell – themes that Zhang Chong relentlessly researches and majestically displays in his oeuvre. Although on the surface separation is the central focus of the exhibition, Zhang Chong explores a range of emotions and physical sensations that include the lapsus of time before and after the farewell. He poetically gives structure and voice to the passion and warmth of the encounter, the silent confusion and insecurities of relationships as well as the cold vacuum and difficult transition that follow the goodbye. All these underlying, unavowed emotions construct our daily experience and interpersonal communication, but their subtlety is often difficult to pin down, impossible to express. In this sense, Zhang’s artworks seem to place relentless importance into the spatio-temporal frameworks of the ‘here and now’. Here is the place of encounter, the harbour of emotions and physical exchange, here can be a decision as well as a possibility; now is the separation between past and present, and the desire to break away from the cycle of samsara and reach freedom. Separation is thus a theme repeatedly addressed in Zhang’s oeuvre, but what makes his art so fascinating, in my opinion, is that this action is not judged nor solved; it comes for different reasons and is inextricable from human life. Departure draws lines between lovers, strangers, family and friend relationships, and, more existentially, it crosses the boundaries between life and death. In the artist’s words, “Parting can be seen as an end or a new beginning. It could be a sense of sorrow or a passion for freedom. It can be warm, and it can be cold. Parting is ice as well as fire..”



Zhang Chong, Fire of Rebirth, 2019. Courtesy of Taipei Artist Village.

What is so impressive in the artistic practice of Zhang Chong is that he succeeds in rendering these cryptic feelings and ungraspable existential questions into concrete sculptural realisations. His approach to material also necessitates praise, since he relentlessly engages with different mediums in response to a specific topic or environment. However, in facing each material -it being metal, clay, video, ice or fire- he challenges himself to converse with it on a deep physical and psychological level, always choosing the most integral, experimental and, in many cases, less obvious process to realise his artistic creations. The result is a personal and elegant encounter between material and thoughts, art and philosophy which exist only in the restrained and unique time of its appearance; already destined to disappear.


Zhang Chong, Fire of Rebirth, 2019. Courtesy of Taipei Artist Village.

With such a poetic and critical approach to his practice, Zhang Chong takes his art into a higher conceptual sphere which transports the audience to both their domestic emotional routines as well as to broader philosophical concepts of life, death and rebirth. There is definitely not one easy way to interpret Zhang’s art and its layered expression of human nature, but to let these artworks speak of their constant transformation and reflect the volatile journey that is human life in its fluidity and fragility.

Written by Maria Dolfini




ABOUT THE ARTIST

Zhang Chong is a multidisciplinary artist based in Shanghai, where he returned after completing a master’s degree in Sculpture and Installation at Alanus University of Arts and Social Science in Alfter, Germany. His practice includes a wide range of materials, ranging from installation, sculpture and sound art. Recent exhibitions include Danyszgallery, Shanghai 2019; Edmond Gallery GmbH, Berlin 2018-2019; Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf 2018; Galerie Kunstbroeders, "Rising Stars", Netherlands 2018.

https://cargocollective.com/zcjssj


Zhang Chong, Back to Nature, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.


談《歸去來兮》 張翀寶藏巖國際藝術村計畫


藝術家帶路 | 台北國際藝術村: 駐地藝術家專訪

文/Maria Dolfini

中文翻譯/ 鍾盈盈


上海藝術家張翀以探討當代社會及人性為主軸,結合歷史考察與自然資源,今年九月,在台北國際寶藏巖藝術村發表了一組新作。2019年9月8日,張翀在台北駐地兩個月以後,在寶藏巖藝術村一處古老的防空洞內,舉辦了一場橫跨裝置、雕塑與實驗影像的個展,名為《歸去來兮》。開展於概念及物質之間的探索,張翀以藝術轉繹了冰與火的概念,並以其獨特的觀點詮釋了佛教哲學和台灣歷史中的分離經驗及其轉變,最終在展覽發表時蔓延成一首貫穿歷史、自然、哲學、宗教的詩,一曲對於人性的頌歌。


座落於台北市中心的寶藏巖,默默地在此地陪伴並一同見證了台灣現代的發展史。透過調查與探訪,張翀在此找到了他的創作靈感。寶藏巖寺始建於300多年前的清末,曾是一處佛教信仰的中心。上個世紀,在經歷了日本殖民統治、水源議題、軍事控制等紛爭後,20世紀末,寶藏巖又面臨了被拆遷的命運。經過了一連串抗爭,終於被以古蹟的方式保存下來,並以共生聚落的姿態,成為一處具有人文藝術景緻的藝術村。著迷於這樣一個具有複雜歷史背景的地方,張翀以其長期關注的離別、變遷、矛盾對立的自然元素、人的內隱情緒等主題進行反覆構思,最後用作品回應這個龐大議題。


展覽的名稱《歸去來兮》取自東晉、南宋的文學家,也是著名田園詩人代表陶淵明(又名陶潛)的一首名詩。陶在經歷了多年朝廷生活以後,決定辭官退隱,回歸大自然的懷抱中。透過藝術家之眼,這樣一連串的生命變化結合佛教的哲學及儀式化的形式,最終呈現在展覽裡。事實上,從張翀的角度看來,他認為陶淵明在“退隱還鄉”時,不只是為了離開當時的政治事務,更是明白了世俗,才欲逃脫無止盡的輪迴中的痛苦。另外,陶淵明詩中的世外桃源,被藝術家轉繹視為一片“淨土”,他的歸去不僅僅只是回到實體上的自然,更是精神與心靈上一處可停泊的港灣,使他能夠逃脫人生不斷在“去”與“來”之間的選擇與徘徊,並從根本上遠離這樣的輪迴。


當概念被進一步實體化為冰與火,張翀作品中所瀰漫的儀式感及其指向變化及消逝的展覽主題也就跟著明朗起來。放置在入口處迎賓的《消逝之冰》就是其中一件重要作品。創作時,張翀在台北發現了一家有八十年歷史的老冰店,它同樣也歷經了幾次歷史性的變化,在許多方面都與寶藏巖相似,這冰店就成了這次創作發想時的起點。作品中一共擺放了四個冰塊,在每天早晨被遇到展間後就在鐵桌的支撐下慢慢融化,最終消失。消失本身就是個迷人的主題,展間中每個藝術品的物質變化及消逝都以相異的型態彼此互相關聯,並指向相同主題。

而《重生之火》是展間中另一個以碳花創作的裝置作品,以日本花道的形式呈現,討論了重生、涅槃和無盡的消逝等議題。火,其實與佛教信仰者有著千絲萬縷的關係,無論是向神靈祈禱、與祖先溝通還是慶祝節日,很多時機人們都會使用火。另外,也常有涅槃之火與火中輪迴之說。張翀作品中的花朵在木炭裡雖煉成了永恆,但他們那種極度脆弱並指向消逝的特性,處處都像在邀請觀眾一起思考並探問人類的存在。展間中的兩件作品,就如同張翀在展覽開頭時提示的:我的展覽始於冰,終於火....。


這些明顯對立矛盾的元素在展覽中貫穿並揭示了消逝、離去和告別背後的種種脈絡。藝術家並以莊嚴的方式雄偉地展現了這些主題。雖然表面上分離是展覽的核心重點,但張翀也探索了一系列人類的情感及身體感受,關於那些告別前後的片刻時空。他以詩意的方式表達了相遇時的激情與溫暖、關係的沈默困惑與不安全感,以及告別後的空虛與艱難。所有這些秘密的、未開誠佈公的潛在情緒構成了我們的日常經驗和人際互動,微妙之處往往難以確定,也無法表達。從這個意義上來說,張翀的藝術作品似乎在“此地此時”的時空框架中佔有極重要的地位。“此地”就是相遇的起點,是情感,是身體,是交流的港灣,“此地”可以就是一種決定,也可以只是一種可能。而“此時”就是介於過去與現在的中間體,也同時是一個渴望擺脫輪迴,達到自由淨土的靈魂。分離是張翀作品中反覆提到的主旋律,但使他的藝術如此引人入勝的是,藝術家並沒有任何去批判或試圖解決的意圖,卻留下很大的思考空間。分離皆來自不同的原因,與人類的生活如此密不可分。在情人、陌生人、家庭和朋友關係中,分離就像劃了線,甚至以更存在主義的角度來看,分離本身就是跨越生死的界線。而用藝術家的話來說,“分離可以看作是一個結束,或是一個新的開始。這可能是一種悲傷的感覺,也可能是對自由的熱情。它可以是溫暖的,也可以是寒冷的。分離是冰也是火”。


在張翀的藝術實踐中,令人最感印象深刻的是他成功地將人性隱晦的情感和較難理解的存在主義辯證性問題皆轉換為具有具體形式的現實。另外,他對待作品素材的態度也是值得讚賞的事情之一。張翀總是大量且大膽地與不同媒材接觸,根據特性,再做出適當的選擇以回應特定話題及環境。面對每一種材料,舉凡金屬、黏土、影片、甚至是冰與火,他都喜歡挑戰自己,從深層的生理和心理層面與之展開對話。身為藝術家,張翀總是選擇完整又具實驗性,甚至有些難以觀察的過程來實踐他的藝術創作。這樣的藝術創作,是一次優雅又個人,屬於物質與思想、藝術與哲學之間的邂逅,存在一段特定並且嚴謹的時空裡:從開始就註定走向消逝。


以這樣一種富有詩意並飽含批判性的手法,張翀將藝術帶入了一個較高層次的概念空間,並引導觀眾帶入到他們的家庭情感生活,以及更廣闊的生、死、重生哲學議題中。光以文字解讀張翀的藝術作品並不容易,其對人性細膩又有層次的理解與轉繹,是讓這些藝術作品以自身力量發光的重要因素。脆弱、流動、蛻變,張翀的作品仍在不斷訴說,持續反映著人類生命的變動旅程。


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