IN BETWEEN DAYS IX – EXPLAINED PIECE BY PIECE
27th June 2019
If you have been questioning yourself whether to go see the latest group exhibition at Art+ Shanghai Gallery In Between Days IX: Works from the Gallery Collection, the answer is – undoubtedly – YES!
“In Between Days” is the ninth edition of the summer group exhibition series run annually at Art+ Shanghai. The series has been created almost nine years ago by the gallery founders as there was an increasing, almost an urgent demand to showcase new works from a progressively growing stable of gallery artists at that time.
First edition of “In Between Days” in 2011 at Art+ Shanghai Gallery (at 22 Fumin Road)
Currently, there are about thirty artists that the gallery represents, meaning that all of these artists are continuously creating new series of works, developing new concepts, evolving and polishing their skills, trying new materials, and experimenting with new ideas.
There are roughly five to six exhibitions the gallery can hold annually, most of which are solo and duo exhibitions. Simple mathematical calculation tells you that there is an absolute need for group shows like this to keep the public informed about the latest breakthroughs and news from the artists.
The series of the In Between Days: Piece by Piece news posts is to discover the stories each piece of artwork on view contains.
First, we are going to have a closer look at the works by one of the most established artists of the gallery Wang Haichuan. For the ninth edition of In Between Days, the artist presents two new paintings on canvas and an installation composed of two wooden doors.
In Between Days IX exhibition view: On the left: Door 7#A, Door 7#B, mixed media on wooden doors, 185 x 90 cm (each), 2019; on the right: Tale of the City, mixed media on canvas, 180 x 200 cm, 2018
Wang Haichaun’s collaboration with Art+ Shanghai Gallery started in early 2017. The first showcase of his works at the gallery in February that year was accompanied by an insightful talk on his artistic career moderated by an Art Historian Julie Chun.
Wang Haichuan’s first appearance works on view at Art+ Shanghai Gallery as a part of the group exhibition “Beyond the Border” (January 2017)
The showcase at the gallery has coincided with Wang Haichuan’s appearance at the 11th Shanghai Biennial 2016 with a large installation of assembled furniture pieces entitled “Tongyuanju: Seven Days”.
Installation view of Wang Haichaun’s installation “Tongyuanju: Seven Days” at the 11th Shanghai Biennial
Soon enough his first solo exhibition at the gallery The Fortuitous Encounter of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella on a Dissecting Table curated by a Beijing Art Historian Kang Xueru followed. During the time Wang Haichuan’s solo exhibition was held at Art+ Shanghai Gallery, his furniture creations have also participated in the Shanghai International Furniture Fair. This quick overview of Wang Haichuan’s past two years appearances in Shanghai is only a fragment from the long list of exhibitions, biennials, and residency programs that he has participated in throughout China and the world. You can learn more about Wang Haichuan’s exhibition history on his artist’s page here.
“The Fortuitous Encounter of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella on a Dissecting Table” Wang Haichuan Solo Exhibition View at Art+ Shanghai Gallery (September – October 2017)
Exhibition view of Wang Haichuan’s “Her Universe” installation at the 23rd Shanghai International Furniture Expo (September 2017)
Two years since Wang Haichuan’s works are debuted in the gallery, and now his new works – two paintings on canvas and installation of two wooden doors – are back to Shanghai for the ninth edition of In Between Days.
If you have seen Wang Haichuan’s works before, you will surely recognize his painterly language regardless of the surface that he chooses to work on. Whether executed on canvas, wooden doors, windows, or trunks of trees, his paintings are unified in their eclectic imagery, irregular visual structures, and defiance of the normal and conventional.
Wang Haichuan, Diary 1, mixed media on recycled windows, 102 x 125 cm, 2017
Wang Haichuan, Pagoda, mixed media on black-and-white photograph and wooden panel, 81 x 61 cm, 2018
Wang Haichuan, Landscape, Acrylic on Tibetan paper, 51 x 77 cm, 2015
You might think his works lack logical coherence we are accustomed to seeing in our everyday life. Alongside portions of architecture, we notice silent and extensive smears of paint, peculiar graphic patterns besides disjointed forms and floating landscapes. People, animals, birds, flowers, household items are positioned next to the depictions of ancient murals, religious scenes, recent news stories, and legends from the western and eastern worlds.
Wang Haichuan, The Tale of the City, mixed media on canvas, 180 x 200 cm, 2018 (currently on view through August 31st, 2019)
Wang Haichuan, In the Wild, mixed media on canvas, 150 x 150 cm, 2018 (currently on view through August 31st, 2019)
Wang Haichuan navigates, sources and compiles a vast collection of imagery from high and mass culture, from figurative and abstract, to the most mundane, religious and out-of-the-ordinary.
The artist begins from individual sensory experiences to record and expand on minute details, individual emotions, and memories of the everyday. He interweaves reality, dreams, and metaphors into the discourse of his painting. But what he also sees as an essential part of his image-sourcing practice is the collection of discarded images that he picks up and utilizes for his visual narration. Everyday images are being produced, commoditized, stored and circulated on an unprecedented scale. Never ever has the world been so overloaded with images as today. Some of them remain private, while others are made public and even carry the potential to change the course of global events. But with such a high rate of image production, like in any other kind of manufacturing, the waste of materials is unavoidable. People cannot help but create ephemeral images that are soon to be discarded. Forgotten, unwanted, ‘deleted’, they acquire a new life, identity, and purpose once they enter the frame of Wang Haichuan’s work. Painting allows Wang Haichuan to construct a kind of atmosphere that lets the viewer escape the chaos of reality and enter a perfectly ordered world within a work of art. Indeed, his works possess a “fable” character that uses descriptions of non-words to hush the clamor of spoken language.
Surrealistic as they are, his works set a great search for meaning, as they involve the viewer in the quest where the questions are as important as answers. The artist actively challenges our preconditioned perception of reality and most importantly our experience of viewing an art piece. He encourages us to get actively involved in the process of interpretation, questioning and creating our own meaning.
Wang Haichuan, The Doors 7#A, 7#B, mixed media on a wooden door, 185 x 90 cm, 2019 (currently on view through August 31st, 2019)
Various found objects like pieces of furniture, textiles, tiles, black-and-white photographs, window frames, and doors are also a part of Wang Haichuan’s collage of ideas.
The practice of artistic upcycling of images and objects goes back to his earlier work in Tongyuanju, former Chongqing Copper Cash Manufactory. What became known as the Tongyuanju project, that has significantly influenced the course of Wang Haichuan’s artistic career, initially started in 2010 as an art education program.
The Gray Period
To understand the complexity and the significances of the Tongyuanju project on Wang Haichuan consequent artistic practice, however, one needs to rewind two years back and look at the year of 2007 when Wang Haichuan had closed his architectural and landscape design company and taken up painting again after many years of running his creative business.
At that time Wang Haichuan focused his artistic exploration on architectural forms of residential compounds, building façades, portions of courtyards, polished up gardens, and areas of constrained landscapes meticulously designed by people. His paintings were executed in oil in subdued cold shades of grays and blues. The portrayed scenes were devoid of any human presence; his architectural compounds appeared perfect, but also abandoned and a little ghostly. The architectural style of the buildings reminded of villas in the Mediterranean and expensive compounds in North America or Japan. In truth, many of those buildings that appeared on his paintings were much like the requests he used to receive from the clients when working in the field of architecture and landscape design. In the artist’s own words, they were “rootless structures”, alienated from the traditions of Chinese living.
Wang Haichuan, Fountain, oil on canvas, 150 x 250 cm, 2011
Those series of works reflected Wang Haichuan’s criticism of the new foreign looking urban landscapes that sprouted in the country after the introduction of the market economy, but more importantly they have expressed the artist’s resentment of a new lifestyle that many Chinese people adopted after thoughtlessly and instantaneously casting away their own cultural origins. In the absence of a better way to express their newly acquired wealth and influence, the nouveau riche demonstrated their new status with outlandish real-estate properties that borrowed identities from western prototypes but lacked their own authenticity. Wang Haichuan’s refined depictions of soulless and deserted structures that resembled stage decorations contained artist’s protest against superficiality, ignorance, and lack of cultural judgment.
Encounter with Tongyuanju
In 2009, Wang Haichuan introduced a new subject matter to his works that was a vivid juxtaposition to the perfect villas and polished up gardens of his previous series. The artist turned to portray deteriorating residences that were bound to be demolished as a part of an ambitious urbanization process. Those were the typical building structures that mushroomed during the active industrialization era in the 1960-70s around China. That was when old staff dormitories of Tongyuanju were captured in Wang Haichuan’s paintings for the first time. The lifestyle of the former factory’s employees that did not change despite the rapid transformations in the country, the communal style of living that was still exercised, and the sheer bits of history and collective memory that the walls of Tongyuanju have preserved, contained great value and interest for Wang Haichuan and had subsequently stimulated the artist to engage into a deeper conversation with the local population.
Wang Haichuan, Tongyuanju, oil on canvas, 168 x 300 cm, 2010
Wang Haichuan admits that on the preliminary steps his interest in Tongyuanju mainly stemmed out of concern for the poor and marginalized group of people that populated it. Therefore, the initial interaction took a form of art educational tutorials that welcomed everyone from the local community to participate, create and exhibit their works of art in various media. The short-term art workshop series represented by the project of Tongyuanju turned into an ongoing and profound conversation through different activities between the residents and artists from Chongqing and abroad. For Wang Haichuan, it particularly took a form of a social intervention that examined how social systems and certain living environments had the potential to structure people’s entire nature and prefabricate their behaviors and responses to certain situations.
Wang Haichuan’s artistic interest in the Tongyuanju encouraged him to experiment with new media. He saw numerous limitations in painting when it came to expressing new ideas and experiences that he had encountered during his work with Tongyuanju community. He became particularly drawn to working with installation as an alternative artistic dimension, “an upgraded version of the painting” that he could relate more to architecture.
Wang Haichuan’s engagement with the Tongyuanju community also resulted in a number of exhibitions that eventually led to his installation “Tongyuanju: Seven Days” being selected for the aforementioned 11th Shanghai Biennale in 2016.
If feels like Wang Haichuan’s idea of “unwanted” images that he has collected for the creation of numerous of his recent paintings is deeply rooted in the idea of unwanted furniture that he has collected for his installation, but more importantly, in the idea of ‘unwanted’ people that were left behind once priorities changed. In fact, one of the stimulus to create the installation “Seven Days” (along with other furniture installation pieces) was of a deeply spiritual nature, as the artist wanted to provide the local residents with space, a ‘shrine’ where they can complain, reflect and pour out their concerns and disappointments in utter privacy.
Wang Haichuan’s practice of collecting “discarded items” gives them a new identity, purpose, and life. This way the artist is able to create a new alternative ending to the stories that otherwise could pass into oblivion.
This practice of collecting and reviving old images and found objects continues into the present day. The Door series that are a part of In Between Days IX were picked up from the nearest demolition sight next to Wang Haichuan’s studio. “I thought there should be a lot of stories behind those doors, so I took them and painted on them”, – remembers Wang Haichuan.
Two paintings on canvas that are also currently on view “In the Wild” and “Tale of the City”, are painted over his older works from the “gray period”.