Chambers Fine Art is pleased to announce the opening on June 13 of Like Moths to a Flame: Recent Works by Ye Nan. This exhibition is a development of procedures glimpsed in Phosphorous Red, Ye Nan's first exhibition at Chambers in 2010. In the past three years, Ye Nan has developed a more in-depth understanding and application of red phosphorous as a particular artistic medium while continuing to accentuate the playful and conceptual aspects of the work.
Ye Nan was born in Hangzhou in 1984 and graduated from the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou in 2006 where he was a pupil of the prominent multi-media artist Qiu Zhijie. He has since developed a practice that embraces installation, video, photography and painting.
In his first major body of work, Phosphorous Red, Ye Nan used phosphorous, the material used in match heads, in a suite of prints that incorporated imagery from a wide range of sources including space travel and colonization, nationalism, politics, the principles of chemistry and physics, and rock music. After two years of experimentation in which he further refined his use of this potentially dangerous material, he embarked on a series of large paintings, the subject of the present exhibition, and narrowed the focus of the thematic content of the works in order to concentrate on the deep-lying symbolism of his material.
The title of the exhibition Like Moths to a Flame comes from Ye Nan's musings on the phenomenon of moths flying into flames which is believed to be a result of the insect's built-in celestial navigation. Moths rely on their inherent compound eye structure to determine their direction in relation to moonlight. However, when an artificial light source appears, moths misidentify the artificial light as moonlight and fly towards it. Instinctively trying to maintain a constant angle with the light source, a moth flies around the light in a spiral trajectory, circle after circle, until it dies of exhaustion; or it flies into the flame. From a scientific perspective, the act of moths flying into flames is purely instinctual; on the other hand, in a literary sense, there is deep pathos.
In this exhibition, he covers the surface of his canvases with red phosphorous, turning the canvas into a large matchbox striker. He then strikes matches on the canvas like magical paintbrushes, creating light and energy in the dark. The energy leaves its traces on the canvas, forming an image within the painting frame. The whole process is akin to producing an artificial light that attracts moths to the image, constructing a scenario between thereal and unreal. In other groups of paintings, images of candles and chandeliers, human and animal forms as in the striking Eyes of a Psychopath and Accidental Death of a Snake No. 2, emerge from the friction of match against phosphorous.
At the bottom edge of some of the paintings, spent matches testify to the artist’s success in avoiding the potential hazards of his technique.