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A few mushrooms are scattered on the black cloud-like background, in a seemingly random but cruel way. They either lie or lean upside down, while the roots are united with some dried parts, with a sign of separation from the earth or the tree. At 1.8 metres high and 4.6 metres long, this Scattered Mushrooms (2022) is the largest in Yan Bing’s Mushroom series and also the final chapter.
Mushroom series began in 2018. Before that, more of Yan Bing’s works are paintings without objects, such as the fur textures in the Cowhide series, and the depiction of a single still-life object (Potato series). Yan adds fictional whip marks to the hide, or occasionally cuts into the potatoes, reproducing the pain in the objects to which they relate. Turn to this series, such bonding evolves into a more complex mimicry: Yan paints classically, he adjusts the volume, colour, light and shadow numerous times, thus constructing tensions and aesthetics as sculpture, poetry and theatre, allowing his mushrooms to gradually break away from dullness and physical texture to take on a sculptural scent. And mushrooms, more like babies than themselves, or some kind of huddled creature on the canvas. Mushrooms which are not deformed, are taken out of the reality.
Yan Bing rarely makes direct and simple profiles of still life, but this kind of “mimetic” does not mean that he tries to create a monument. His approach is more like a sense of tenderness derived from natural scarcity and the tragedy. Spending long periods of time in the arid and barren land, the space in which Yan spent his childhood was desolate and closed. These stories and memories, as well as undercurrents that lie beneath life have always enveiled him with a thin cover .Yan unconsciously depicts beings tainted with the scent of the Northwest, and by integrating abstraction and classical structure, the work touches not only on the silent fate of all things, but also on a solemn and tearful realisation of life. So it is not hard to understand, why the first thing we feel is great swathes of silence and compassion, rather than his superb painting skills when being in the SSSSTART space.
Early on in Yan Bing’s first solo exhibition “Temperature”, curator and mentor Liu Xiaodong realised the core of his work: a kind of warm that was lacking in this fast-growing era of the global village. As the title of the exhibition, “ODYSSEY” refers to Yan Bing’s creative approach and his wandering experience; the English word, odyssey, can also point to a certain fatalistic philosophy of the “final home” of mankind. The fluidity of contemporary society has given rise to a fear of impermanence and people attempt to find more solutions to the interrelationship between the self and the outside. Yan Bing naturally perceives the essence hidden under the surface, in the cruelty brought about by nature and city life. His restrained effusions touches on what Benjamin described as “the soul of the living”, a soul that is affected by the fact that “but it is so only relatively, with regard to goods, right, life, and suchlike, never absolutely, with regard to the soul of the living.” The violence has always been there, whether it is objective or subjective, or mythical violence — an unbreakable destiny. Even history, has been dominated by statutory violence, making and maintaining rules, and finally reduced to a tool for maintaining the status.
Such pain also surfaces vaguely in the sidewall work Half of a Potato (2017). The large potato half is suspended in the darkness, like the light and dark sides of a face in a portrait painting; the dark background separates the object from its true function. And its truncated cut, like a divine slash, magnificently, and with a self-inflicted slash, reveals a wild, violence that comes from nature, the system, and even the human race itself. “Half of a Potato is my self-portrait.” he said. This violence is even more evident in the knife shaped scraps of canvas that hang on the walls of the second floor of SSSSTART. This fragment could be considered a prequel to Scattered Mushrooms(2022), which Yan Bing cut into pieces before discarding them, leaving only a sharp outline. Thus, the mushroom that emerges from the earth becomes a new form of life. The black cloudy land in the background seems to be tumbling with huge waves, or a touch of divine light contained within. It penetrates history and infuses life.
“The land, the flesh and blood to which it is bound are just superficial.” Whether reflecting on the art world or everyday life, from an earlier time, what Yan Bing conveys is a more fragile core. There is an installation work Stove (2009), in which Yan Bing engages directly with his homeland: he mixes earth and straw together and then build in the form of a beehive to parasitise the chimney of an iron cooker. Earth and straw here are the basic materials of the old rural houses in the northwest, the visual and perceptual memories of Yan Bing’s youth. They maintain a delicate and fragile balance with the crumbling old stove, and as the artist moves them to Beijing, earth mixed with the memories becomes strange and new – they build new dwellings (beehives), growing out of the old and sticking together again. Then turn to he latest work The Broken Tree (2022), an object that Yan was met during his return to his hometown. The broken tree leaps like a fire on the sand, and the background moves from indoors to outdoors. The materiality of the work gradually diminishes and is replaced by a probing of the psychological and divine dimensions. By repeating the journey of leaving home and returning home, Yan Bing engages with a divine Other. Through this process, he has gained a deeper understanding of himself and has shifted his approach from indoor to the outdoors, in search of a wider world.
Where do we come from, all the happiness and pain we feel, what drives in life, and where are we returning to? In Earth and Mirror (2013), a mixture of triangular, rectangular or circular clay is glued onto the surface of a mirror. These figures are a way for the artist to subsume the world, and the different forms he perceives turn into the most primitive enlightenment, pointing to the core of all forms – the ultimate of the universe. It is not necessary to find answers or try to solve a particular problem, but being sensitive and kind is always not bad. Farming, the most basic part of human civilisation, seems to be a curse after agriculture and trade emerged. The myth revered by the people becomes an illusory projection, and as people turn to the mysticism for healing, the collective subconscious becomes the primary driving engine, and we become part of a swarm of sardines, connected to a common brain machine. However, Yan Bing has always used the most simple language to portray the most pure human perceptions, his way of creation is actually away from a certain anthropocentric narrow observation, responding to the existence of nature itself and interrogating himself from it, backing and forthing to the fusion of spirit and body.
This is the universe as seen from the dry sea.