Interview with Hua Gallery artist, Xuhong Shang

1.) How and why did you begin studying art?

I spent my childhood and adolescence in the era of the Cultural Revolution, in which life was dull and monotonous. Art was an outlet for my disappointment with real life. Reading fiction and poetry, both Chinese and foreign, were the only amusements in my childhood, and I indulged in my imagination. I have been pursuing art ever since I started learning to draw when I was ten years old.

2.) You used many traditional Chinese art forms in your works, such as the paper kites in “A Paradise Up in the Air” and the hanging scroll in the “Virtual Series”. What role does traditional Chinese art play in your own art?

In a complex world like ours that is so globalized, I don’t deliberately seek out Chinese elements. The spirit of Chinese culture cannot be found by only looking at the surface of it. What I care about most is how viewers experience and perceive my work. The spirit of traditional Chinese culture is a force that naturally flows through the artworks.

3.) In the “Virtual Series”, you used acrylic on canvas made as a Chinese hanging scroll. It reflects that you want to pursue the ease and gracefulness of traditional Chinese art by using modern materials. Do you regard traditional Chinese art as an aesthetic portraying Utopian ideals that contradict modern realities?

In the “Virtual Series”, I recall the visual force that is found in traditional Chinese landscape paintings, which pushes the viewers away from the images to a viewpoint where they can see the entire landscape in a single glance. This is contrary to Western perspective, which often draws the viewer’s focal point closer to an image. Pushing the viewer away from the images might be a way to cut them loose, or to allow them to raise questions, or simply to awe them. We hardly recognize this visual force any more; this might be because we are used to viewing things from afar on modern aircrafts, or maybe we have already distanced ourselves from nature without realizing it.

I applied acrylic diluted with water to the back of the canvases, and let the paint permeate the canvas naturally. It resulted in organically abstract images on the front that were both visually elegant and spontaneous. The natural and spontaneous qualities mirror the Taoist concept of non-doing, according to which one becomes in harmony with the universe by behaving naturally.

4.) You finished most of your education in art in the US. Why did you choose to create your multi-media art of this time period with traditional Chinese art elements? What aspects do you find that your work shares with traditional Chinese art?

I hope to create a general atmosphere that the viewer can feel. I’m not interested in portraying specific elements and stereotypes. I believe every viewer has his or her own way to explain the relationship between the true and the false, the real and the imaginary. This uncertainty is the challenge that I’m facing. The idea of coexistence between the tangible and the intangible in traditional Chinese art has inspired me, and I’m exploring the uncertainty of reality.

5.) We found the work “Pond” very interesting. It blurs the boundry between illusion and reality, the realistic and the artistic, two-dimensionality and three-dimensionality. What do you want to convey through this work?

The ambiguity in my work expresses the uncertainty of reality. We ourselves have caused such uncertainty. The fact is, our conscience has created names for things around us, thus generating a sense of distance and, essentially, the world where we live. The conflicting relationships that we experience are all based on a structure built by our cultural background, our imagination, and ourselves. However, this intricately designed structure only has bubble-like permanence; it is just as conflicting as everything else in the world.

6.) You used paper kites and industrial fans in your work “A Paradise Up in the Air”, and created a poetic scene in an industrial setting. Do the paper kites represent a fragile dream world? Or does it represent something else? What inspired you to create that melancholic, yet beautiful work?

People have been worried about air travel since the September 11th attacks and other similar terrorist activities afterwards. The feeling of uncertainty has become a phenomenon. I did a photographic series about airports, and the installation “A Paradise up in the Air” is the continuation of that series. White curtains surround the installation; inside the white curtains, white kites fly aimlessly as they cannot get out. One has to face uncertainty in his or her journey alone.

7.) Could you talk about your work “Random”? What do you want to convey through this work?

The ‘Random’ series of paintings will be put on a wall in a random order, just like damp leaves that stick to garden walls. The black-colored shapes are shown on backgrounds with simple colors, and they don’t really correspond with the viewer’s usual perception. They seemingly have some kind of meaning, but they are placed in a way that makes it difficult to tell what that is. They are indefinite answers to indefinite questions.

Hua画廊: 您最早出于什么開始萌生學習藝術的想法?
商徐宏: 在我的童年及青少年时代正是中國大陆文革时代,生活是那样的苍白,乏味,对艺术的爱好及学习能够感受许多现实生活中不能获得的宣泄,沉醉在漫漫的幻想中,小时候能解闷的事是读中外小说,然后喜欢读诗歌,留着长发,脏兮兮的,觉得自己特浪漫像普西金似的,10岁开始练习素描,从此对藝術的追求就没停止过。
Hua画廊: 您在作品中使用了很多中國传统文化的元素,比如“几乎系列” 类似山水长卷的展现形式,以及“未知”装置作品中的纸風筝和丝帘,您是如何看待中國传统藝術在您的创作中的地位及角色?
商徐宏: 在这样一个多元的世界中, 國际属性更为广泛及浓厚的时代中我并不刻意寻求中國元素,中國的文化精神不是面具,我更注重观众在我作品中的体验过程及感悟。传统文化精神是一种在藝術作品中自然渗透的氛围及力量。
Hua画廊: 在作品“几乎系列”中, 您采用山水长卷的形式,在颜料和材质上却选择了丙烯及画布这种颇为現代的材料.您在作品中尝试着用現代材料, 現代创作方法追求中國古典美術中的飘逸随性, 是否可以说, 中國传统美学在您的心中是相对于現代現实社会而存在的理想乌托邦呢?
商徐宏: 在作品“几乎系列”中,我更多的在回味中國传统山水画中所具有的视觉推力,把观众推向距离画面尽可能远的视点以获得一览众万山的感受. 此视觉推力与西方传统绘画中的透视法将观众的视觉焦点拉向画面最近并走进画面而有着相反的力量. 把观众推向距离画面更远,或许是一种飘逸,或许是一种疑或,或许是一种敬畏,或许是我们今天在现代飞行器上己习惯的视野,或许我们早己远离自然而混然不觉。
用水性的丙稀颜料只涂在画面背后,任由颜料自然渗透到画布正面使之偶然形成画面,完全在视觉的盲目中完成并达到一种偶然天成的抽象,使其更为自然,使之飘逸随性, 也似乎更适合中國道家的理念:无为而为。
Hua画廊: 您的藝術教育更多是在美國完成, 您为什么选择使用某些中國古典藝術元素來完成您的現代多媒体藝術作品? 您認為中國古典藝術傳統与您的創作在精神上有什么共同點和契合之處?
商徐宏: 我希望提供给观众一个氛围去感受,而不是特定的元素与面具,我相信每一个观众都有自己的阐述当面对幻觉与真实,现实与虚似. 这种不确定性也正是我所面临的挑战,中国古典传统藝術中的虚实并存的理念丰富了我的逻辑,使我漫游在是与不是之间. 就像是一场秋天的夜雨使我能神游其中.
Hua画廊: 您的裝置作品“池塘”非常有意思,它模糊了幻覺与真實, 二維及三維之間的界限,您想通過這樣的模糊表達什么?
商徐宏: 这种模糊是表达对现实的不确定性,这种不确定性是由我们自己所构成的。事實是我們的意識給予了事物的名稱,制造了距离感,創造了世界為我們所生存. 我們所謂的“重要及關系” 以及“現實与意象”其實都基于現實所制造的使人信服的框架之中并且在我們的思維中突現,而且也源之于我們各自的文化背景及想像.就像在生活中常常會遇到的有些事物發生時會提醒我們這种精心設計的框架就有著肥皂泡沫般的持久性.
Hua画廊: 在您的大型裝置作品“未知”中,您將手工制作的紙質風箏和批量生產的工業制風机組合在一起,營造出工業化之下的詩意環境. 在這件作品中,被栓在電風扇上的紙風箏是否象征着我們的脆弱与飄忽,總是向着無盡的遠方追尋着理想呢? 或者有其它的隱喻? 是什么促使您想要制作這樣一件略帶哀傷而又充滿詩意的作品?
商徐宏: 在旅行中发现去机场及乘飞机旅行己成为一种忧心忡忡的选择。9/11事件以后这种带有侥幸心理的社会行为已成为一种广泛的社会现象。我为此用电子相机记录了一组机场系列作品,“未知”装置作品是这组影象作品的延续。装置作品笼罩在漂浮的苍白色的幕帘中,白色的纸質風筝在風机吹动中无奈地飞翔着,无法预料是每-次旅程的必然。
Hua画廊: 跟我們談談作品“無由系列”,你想通過這些碎片式的作品表達什么?
商徐宏: 小型的“无由”系列绘画作品将在展厅中无秩序地挂在墙上,就象是那些潮湿的被风吹动的树叶瞬息粘符于花园的墙上,它们黑色的图像呈现在简单的色调之上,违背于思维的正常捕捉,尽管似乎在建议图像应被确认。但它们被悬而未决地悬挂在墙上,施展着最终无法明确的意义及界定. 宣泄着對現實無法确定的矛盾与沖突.