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The Train Garden is open to the public every day
At the end of 2018, after graduating from Lyon, I returned to Beijing and rented a one-bedroom apartment next to my home in Shunyi district as my temporary studio. Enjoying the cheapest rental among the surrounding houses, I had to pay the price. No public transportations, no convenience stores, there were even no neighbors; only some landlords who quickly decorated the rooms, and my studio was one of them. I clearly remember that I brought two boxes of things the day I moved in, one was painting materials and the other was activated charcoal bags. But at that time, I still felt warm. At least I ended my everyday routine as a student and had my own little world. All these complexities came together in one word: Welcome back to China.
After working in the apartment for two months, I began to feel a strong sense of nothingness. Life was different from the time when I was living in France, where protests and conflicts of opinions were everywhere. The “reality” that I was concerned about disappeared without a trace after returning to China for two months. I hardly met anyone on my way to the studio every day, and naturally, I hardly say a word. I suddenly felt that even if I died at home silently tomorrow, even if my previous ideals and slogans came to an abrupt end, there was nothing to regret, because this was just a vain dream built on nothingness. At that moment, I felt that I had lost the so-called “basis of reality”, and it was indeed very disillusioning. Until a very later time, I realized that I didn’t lose it at that time, but just like my visa, the “basis of reality” of my time in France, was also withdrawn when I returned to China.
At the beginning of the following year, I wrote a concluding article “If One Thing Is Important”, which connected social events that scattered all over the world at that time: The Yellow Vests Movement, the missile strikes against Syria, Manifesta 10 and so on; for a moment, I was thrilled and felt that the “world” was back again. Writing is such a magical thing, even in this small apartment, it can be reconnected to the world through words and information, and yet it is destined that the structure proposed by this writing is far from my real life at the moment. Soon, I was “lost with the world” again. But in the last sentence of the article, I wrote “eagerly desire”, perhaps this hasn’t changed until today. What I “desire” for? Let me explain later, just like the title of this exhibition, this process of fulfilling the desire will be an “obscure adventure”.
At the end of 2019, after returning to China for more than a year, I had gradually become familiar with the domestic sense of identifying and discussing political history. It was the year of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. However, this “festival” that radiated the whole country and penetrated every detail of daily life was rarely mentioned in the contemporary art world, and either was there any exhibition or text responded to it. I was wondering, after my “lost with the world”, was our social reality also facing some kind of division? Therefore, risking having a taste of artworks from the early PRC era, I wrote an article named “Empire’s Legacy: On ‘Pacing: A Journey of 70 Years’ and Its Silence”, trying to reopen a dialogue with these classic and even mainstream histories. An interesting thing also happened that year. On the “River flowing without a Beacon, 1979” curated by Lu Mingjun, my painting ChinaCapital was placed on the same wall as Wang Guangyi’s work. It again aroused my interest in early Chinese contemporary art: Is there really any connection between us and this period of history? Because before that, Zhang Xiaogang, Yue Minjun, Fang Lijun, and Wang Guangyi were someone that no longer present in our experience, they are historical and periodic. When it came to the beginning of 2020, at the gallery exhibition “Pu Yingwei and ChinaCapital”, I tried to restart the concept of “political pop” to illustrate the structure of today’s reality. It was also at this exhibition that I met He Juxing. As a person from that generation, he is very familiar with the history without doubt, from political pop to “cleanse away humanistic passion”, the vocabularies that are slightly cliché today. It also allowed me to advance my knowledge of that generation from the millennium market miracle to the ’85 New Wave. Later, we decided to do such an exhibition: bring out these historical works, respond directly to this period of history one on one, and regard today’s reality as the “manifestation” of this history.
In the exhibition “Obscure Adventure”, the first work Sketch of FATHER, or Visual Politics Preface depicts the sketch of Luo Zhongli’s work Father, which won the golden prize of the National Youth Art Exhibition in 1980. Luo Zhongli was the university president during my four years in Sichuan Fine Art Institute (SFAI), and his masterpiece Father represents the realistic spirit of SFAI. At that moment, I didn’t realize the political energy in the combination of farmers, portraits of great men, ballpoint pens, etc. Until I returned to China and went back to Chongqing, looking back at the Hongyan heritage and those revolutionary narratives, then I realized that from the scar art like Cheng Conglin’s A Snowy Day in 1968 and Gao Xiaohua’s Why, which directly criticized the Red Guards, to the “soil art” and the following “The Flow of Life”, SFAI seemed to navigate extremely close to the actual situation, which cannot be summed up by the abstract “painting tradition” only. Today, I consider this as SFAI’s “visual politics” tradition.
The second work Imitating Pan Yuliang (Black Man) responds to my second educational background: 5 years at École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, it was also where Pan Yuliang graduated. Institut franco-chinois de Lyon also funded Pan Yuliang’s studies in France. Time has passed, when I graduated in 2018, I completed my first exhibition in France at Institut franco-chinois de Lyon. The institute at the time was revived during Xi Jinping’s visit to France in 2014 and plays a completely different role today. Pan Yuliang’s own painting Black Man is one of the “cosmopolitan group portraits” she painted when she was in France. I remember when I saw the original painting, I was shocked by the red color filled in the painting, whereas today I approach the issue of Sino-Africa relations in another way. But I believe that maintaining the greatest kindness and respect for others is our unchanging consensus. We all look forward to a more open society, however, as political correctness and pluralism on the rise, I am not sure whether we still have the right to persuade others.
In the remaining works, all relationships can be regarded as a one-to-one correspondent fulfillment of prophecy: Wu Shanzhuan’s 32 Wrongly-Written Characters: 3/3 is transformed from an abstract, big-character-posters-like structure to an applicable font library Empire Font (Subtle Difference between Reds); Li Shan’s two geese in The Seventh Day of Every Week No.67 is embodied as the flirting between capitalism and socialism with Chinese characteristics in Dream of Unity (Lovers); Mao Xuhui’s scissors (or phallus) in Glossary of Power Series is manifested as the difference and exploitation of globalization in Global Position; Liu Xiaodong’s Broccoli and Mushroom is cited as today’s central powers and their vassals, right next to it, the national flags of China and the United States blend with each other and soak in red and blue tones, while portraits of racial minorities slightly appear in Star Cluster… But just like Zhou Xiaohu commented: “Your own political interpretation is not as appealing as Jin Feng’s interpretation from the perspective of sexual identity and psychoanalysis.”, which I deeply agree. After all, these works made in certain historical point are reflections of the profound history behind them. It is difficult to take it all with a single bite. This exhibition can be regarded as a proposal.
March 24th Beijing