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Catastrophic Beauty: Art in the Age of the Anthropocene

Michael Arcega, Robyn O’Neil, QIU Anxiong, John Sabraw, SHANG Yang, Jean Shin, Yi Xin Tong

Qualia Contemporary Art, Palo Alto, CA

October 10 – November 20, 2020

Catastrophic Beauty: Art in the Age of the Anthropocene
Catastrophic Beauty: Art in the Age of the Anthropocene
Catastrophic Beauty: Art in the Age of the Anthropocene
Catastrophic Beauty: Art in the Age of the Anthropocene

Chambers Fine Art is pleased to announce the opening this past week of the group exhibition Catastrophic Beauty: Art in the Age of the Anthropocene at Qualia Contemporary Art, California, in collaboration with Qualia Contemporary Art and Talley Dunn Gallery.

Xiaoze Xie, the Paul L. & Phyllis Wattis Professor of Art at Stanford University, has guest curated this exhibition featuring seven exceptional artists -- Michael Arcega (b.1973), Robyn O’Neil (b.1977), QIU Anxiong (b.1972), John Sabraw (b.1968), SHANG Yang (b.1942), Jean Shin (b.1971), and Yi Xin Tong (b.1988).

Catastrophic Beauty: Art in the Age of the Anthropocene addresses the impact of human dominance over the environment and explores its psychological, aesthetic, and philosophical implications. “We live in an era identified as the Anthropocene with proliferation of new technologies and rapid ecological changes: climate warming, rising sea levels, extinction of biological species, surging population and explosive urbanization,” says Xiaoze Xie. “Artists in this exhibition confront this pressing reality with acute perception, imagination, resistance, and hope.”

SHANG Yang’s work concerns the environment and humans’ future, “Cataract” and “Decayed Book” series exemplify his wide range of experimentation with non-traditional materials. John Sabraw is an artist and an environmental activist who collaborates with scientists and engineers on many projects focusing on sustainability, particularly on water contamination caused by acid mine drainage. His paintings incorporate pigments that are extracted in the process of restoring polluted streams in southeastern Ohio. Shanghai-based QIU Anxiong’s work draws inspiration from explosive urbanization at a breathtaking pace and scale, and the enormous transformation China is going through. His animated trilogy New Classic of the Mountains and Seas (2006) mixes contemporary life with imaginary creatures to create a dreamlike and nightmarish world. Robyn O’Neil’s work conveys the anxiety of climate change, the terror of violence and destruction, and ultimately, an existential emptiness. Her graphite drawings and animation We, the Masses (2011) depict small everyman figures as isolated, self-absorbed, helpless, and purposeless in vast, bleak landscapes. Korean-born American Jean Shin is known for her sculptures and installations made through elaborate processes using accumulated recycled materials. Her work Intervals (2013) alludes to the ephemeral nature of music and culture at large; and another installation piece Projections #1-5 (2018) calls into question our blind faith in technological advancement and the very idea of progress. In Chinese-born American artist Yi Xin Tong’s tapestries, he intricately interweaves photographs of the quasi-natural areas in the peripheries of New York City and freely combines them digitally with images of science, history, and archaeology mined from the internet. San Francisco-based artist Michael Arcega creates mixed-media installations that inventively combine sculptures and drawings that he makes with a wide range of found materials, objects, and cultural artifacts. He adopts the methodologies of anthropological studies to humorously speak about colonialism, consumerism and our obsession with innovation.

Shang Yang (b. 1942) is considered a pioneer of ecological art among Chinese artists of his generation. A highly accomplished painter, Shang Yang moved away from his early figurative style towards a more experimental and conceptual approach in the early 1990s, and his work has been concerned with the environment ever since. According to the artist: “For years I have been using ‘grand landscapes’ to express my concern about the relationship between humans and our environment and about our future survival as a species… the different expressive styles of the artists of the middle ages [agree] on this single subject—nature at one with humans. Now they no longer exist and have been replaced by a fake nature.” (Shang Yang’s Views on Art). 

Included in the exhibition, paintings from his recent “Cataract” and “Decayed Book” series exemplify Shang’s wide range of experimentation with non-traditional materials: various chemical substances such as ethylene, as well as plastics, metals and mixed debris. “Cataract No. 3” (2017) calls to mind the rugged and cracked surfaces of a destroyed terrain, as well as ghostly geographic mapping. In Shang’s “Decayed Book – Politics,” “Decayed Book – History” and “Decayed Book – Literature,” (three works from 2018) the notion of decay is expanded to suggest broader cultural meanings. These “books” are like deserted battlefields or ruins -- fragmented, tilted, charred, defaced, emptied-out and erased – haunted by memories of trauma. 

Scientific diagrams and illustrations, along with detritus, commodities and patterns of plants and living creatures populate the densely montaged tapestries by Chinese-born American artist Yi Xin Tong (b. 1988). Inspired by his recent endeavors as an amateur fisherman, Tong takes numerous photographs of the quasi-natural areas in the peripheries of New York City and freely combines them digitally with images of science, history and archaeology mined from the internet. In Tong’s tapestries, all of these different elements are woven together, overlapping and obscuring each other, creating a disorienting world in which the natural, the cultural, and the technological are intricately intertwined.