chen zhen retrospective at galleria continua
‘l’attraction / l’illusion’ (1990) 22 x 90 x 120 cm sand, metal, glass, typewriter, newspapers, slide projector image courtesy of hangar 028 paris e galleria continua
born in china but living much of his life in paris until his death at 45 years old, chen zhen is one of the most recognized artists of the chinese avant-garde, investigating the sites of engagement between east and west even as he explored extremely personal and spiritual questions through his art. with ‘les pas silencieux’, galleria continua in the italian city of san gimignano in tuscany opens a largescale retrospective on zhen’s lifework, comprising works produced between 1990 and 2000. the exhibition meanders through galleria continua, with works throughout the exhibition rooms, the stalls area and stage of the former theatre, the garden, and the gallery’s arco dei becci space.
likewise in content, the pieces are not organized chronologically or thematically, but instead in a way meant to reflect zhen’s own confrontation of the intersections of chinese and western culture. living in post-maoist china for over thirty years before arriving in france in 1986, chen zhen describes the transcultural thinking model behind his art as ‘transexperience’, a transcendent place wherein one can observe and experience the points of both tension and communality across different experiences. the concept is rooted in the three fundamental notions of ‘residence’, ‘resonance’, and ‘resistance’, and his work draws from the fruits of his own life experience in china, europe, and abroad.
a later thread in zhen’s work, influenced in part by the haemolytic anaemia with which he began to suffer at age 25, is of the world of medicine and bodies. even here, the influence of both of his cultural experiences is clear, as his projects take foremost as their foundation the idea not of organs or houses or clothing but rather life itself and the ways in which it is shaped by organic materials and principles.
‘l’attraction / l’illusion’ (1990) 22 x 90 x 120 cm sand, metal, glass, typewriter, newspapers, slide projector image © chen zhen
a few of the many works in the ‘les pas silencieux’ include:
‘beyond the vulnerability’ (1999), a fictional landscape of fragile architectural forms made from candles; and ‘un village sans frontieres’ (2000), wherein zhen used birthday candles to construct an imaginary ‘universal village’ of equality. the pieces draw from the artist’s experience teaching architecture to brazilian children, stirring their own investigations into society and nurturing their dream of one day owning a home of their own. see also designboom’s previous coverage of ‘un village sans frontieres‘
two pieces from ‘six roots’, a 7-installation allegory in six parts that investigates birth, childhood, conflict, suffering, recollection, and death-rebirth– the six stages of life according to zhen– borrowing its name from a buddhist expression describing the six senses of the body (sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing, consciousness). see some of the other pieces of ‘six roots’ alongside other works in zhen’s 2000 exhibition ‘a life project – becoming a doctor‘
‘la désinfection’ (1997), about which zhen stated: ‘at first sight the work shows a steam cooking system, but instead of food there are books. this work shows us the extent to which man needs two different forms of nourishment for his existence: material and spiritual nourishment.’
‘field of synergy’ (2000) 2000 x 1330 x 900 cm iron children’s beds, plastic tubing, wooden chinese bed, lights, fan, motion-sensor, numbered polystyrene balls, fabric image © attilio maranzano, courtesy of galleria continua, san gimignano / beijing / le moulin
chen zhen, on his work ‘the field of synergy’ and his artistic process as a whole:
‘the word ‘synergy’ is a medical term. It describes the coordinated functions and synthetic capacities of the various organs of the human body or of different medicines. […] in my view the word ‘synergy’ does not just denote a concrete ‘common capacity’ in the material sense, but also a way of thinking […] in common language it means considering each thing in the context of its essential factors. it goes without saying that in my case, this word means above all else a ‘collection of energy.’‘
‘enfance / childhood’ (from ‘six roots’) (2000) installation view of ‘six roots’, museum of contemporary art, zagreb, croatia bathtub: 184 x 54 x 80 cm boat: 104 x 375 x 146 cm courtesy of galleria continua
‘jetons divins / caisse démoniaque’ (1991) 250 x 150 x 100 cm iron, wood, objects image © ela bialkowska, courtesy of galleria continua
detail on ‘jetons divins / caisse démoniaque’ image © ela bialkowska, courtesy of galleria continua
‘synergie silencieuse’ (2000) 250 x 700 x 50 cm metal, glass, copper tubes, gas circulation system, newspaper ashes, waste of electric and electronic objects image © daniel moulinet, courtesy of galleria continua
‘la voie du sommeil – sleeping tao’ (1992) 202 x 250 x 143 cm (each bed) water, pigment, objects, light box, metal, neon, wood image © ela bialkowska, courtesy of galleria continua
‘le bureau de change’ (1996 – 2004) installation view of ‘valeurs’, 2004, 11th biennale de pancevo en serbie 350 x 500 x 350 cm coins, wood, metal, water, ceramics, glass, light image © igor antic, courtesy of galleria continua
‘mémoire / memory’ (from ‘six roots’) (2000) installation view of ‘six roots’, museum of contemporary art, zagreb, croatia 300 x 400 x 200 cm fabric, iron, ink courtesy of galleria continua
‘un village sans frontières’ (2000) 54 x 32 x 22 cm chair, candles image © sandrine aubry, courtesy of galleria continua
chen zhen (6 articles)
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