Chambers Fine Art is excited to be participating in Art Trek, a self-guided tour of Upstate Diary's favorite art happenings on May 29th & 30th, 2021, from 11am to 3pm. For this occasion, we are pleased to unveil our summer exhibition at Artfarm for 2021, featuring the work of Hong Lei and Taca Sui.
Hong Lei (born 1960 in Changzhou, China) and Taca Sui (born 1984 in Chingdao, China) share an enormous respect for the great cultural and artistic achievements stretching back thousands of years of China’s past. Born nearly two and a half decades apart from each other, however, they approach this vast subject that can be overwhelming in the hands of lesser artists from very different perspectives, partly due to temperamental reasons and partly to the different circumstances of their formative years.
Hong Lei has remarked that even as a child he loved old things. “When I saw the rice paper [of traditional Chinese paintings], I always wanted to cry.” What might have led to a peaceful cultivation of his enthusiasms, however, was set back by the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976) and he did not graduate in painting from the Nanjing Art Academy until 1987, three years after Taca was born. Dissatisfied with his Expressionist painting style, he turned to photography in 1996, as did a number of other experimental artists in the mid-1990s.
Two groups of works from this key period in the artist’s development are representative of his attempt to reconcile his passion for China’s past cultural achievements and the reality of life in the 1990s, a decade in which China was transformed by the rapid embrace of Western ideas both cultural and economic. Fixated on the sublimity of Chinese culture during the Song Dynasty (960- 1279) and in awe of such evidence of past greatness as the Forbidden City in the center of Beijing, Hong Lei looked around him and saw how this inheritance had been sadly degraded by contemporary mores. Three of his photographs dating from 1998 – Autumn in the Forbidden City (West Veranda),Chinese Landscape (Liu Garden), and Chinese Landscape (Zhuozheng Garden) – have become particularly celebrated.
Unlike the flowers and birds in Song dynasty paintings, the bird in Autumn in the Forbidden City is dead and draped in a strand of pearls while the two views of celebrated gardens are suffused in blood-red pigment. Not inappropriately, the artist has spoken of adding a “death complex” to images of classical Chinese culture.” Six images from the 2005-6 series Speak, Memory refer specifically to the sublimity of Song Dynasty bird and flower paintings although the components are no longer recreated by the artist on silk but constructed from real and artificial natural materials, branches, fruit, butterflies etc. The dead flies contribute to the sickly atmosphere. “Is this the best we can do today?”, he seems to be saying.
Taca Sui studied briefly at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing in 2003 before studying at the Rochester Institute of Technology and the Art Student’s League in New York. His attitude to the past is much more straightforward than that of Hong Lei as the present barely seems to exist for him in the three memorable series of photographs, Odes (2013), Steles (Huang Yi Project), (2013), and Grotto Heavens, (2018).
Taca may be described as a latter-day literatus, immersed in esoteric pursuits that are in complete contrast to those of his contemporaries. Each of the three series was preceded by extensive research in literary sources and archives, followed by field trips to remote parts of China that are mentioned or associated with whatever documentary evidence remains.
Odes, a series of 108 images of which eight are included in the present hanging, is the culmination of a three year project in which Taca’s travels were inspired by the Shi Jing (Book of Odes), a collection of poems dating back to the Bronze Age. Recognizing that nothing remains from these ancient times, Taca has spoken of his “search for the broad mountains, flowing rivers, ruined walls and ancient paths of the Book of Odes,” and of “bringing the work’s amorphous death and mystical concepts into reality.” The impoverished landscape that he encountered is ennobled by the subtle effects of his platinum and silver gelatin prints.
Grotto Heavens, 2018, was also the result of extensive travels in search of evidence of Grotto Heavens, sacred sites (dongtian), that were particularly important in Daoist ritual and cosmography. In order to convey the majesty of these he used color for the first time in some of the prints and worked on a larger scale than he had in the past. Using a contemporary analogy, Taca has compared these mysterious caves to wormholes, passageways through space-time that theoretically would permit journeys through space-time as mysterious as those achieved in grotto heavens.
Hong Lei and Taca Sui are both included in the current Asia Society Triennial, divided between Asia Society and the New York Historical Society and Museum & Library. Their work may be seen in Dreaming Together at the New York Historical Society Museum & Library until July 25, 2021.