Chambers Fine Art is pleased to announce the opening of Wu Jian’an: Seven Layered Shell. Since Daydreams, his first exhibition at Chambers Fine Art in 2006, Wu Jian’an has won wide acclaim for the way in which he utilizes techniques derived from the traditional art of paper-cutting in increasingly ambitious multi-layered works and installations.
It was the outbreak of the SARS epidemic in 2003 that led to the creation of Daydreams, his first mature series of paper-cuts. For Wu Jian’an, however, paper-cutting was not an end in itself but the means by which he could express his fascination with Chinese mythology and the fantastic aspects of ancient civilizations worldwide. For his subsequent exhibition, The Heaven of Nine Levels (2008) and the installation Mountain Ranges exhibited at ART HK 11, he turned to Chiyou and Xingtian, ancient Chinese heroes who achieved ever-lasting fame for their bravery in adverse circumstances.
The tendency toward extravagant elaboration is even more pronounced in the works included in the present exhibition, Wu Jian’an: Seven Layered Shell. As described by Professor Haun Saussy in his introductory essay to the catalog, the simple outline of a human body “turns out to be immensely complex. The shadow fragments. The one body is now teeming with smaller bodies that are themselves teeming with smaller bodies. The bodies at their various levels peer at us with countless eyes or go about their business, ignoring us.”
The exhibition comprises two bodies of work, a series of paper cuts related to the installation Seven Layered Shell and Rainbow. In the former, three hundred and sixty cut-out forms are used in different combinations to create seven images of different aspects of the spiritual world. Through a process of free association, references to western cultural icons such as Darwin, Mao, Freud and Einstein cohabit with monster figures that derive from the Shan hai jing (Book of Guideways to the Mountains and Seas), an early Chinese geographical treatise. The monochromatic environment created by Wu Jian’an’s banners in the original installation of Seven Layered Shell contrasts with the dazzling palette of Rainbow which is centered on a free-standing sculptural form in the center of the gallery. In the words of the artist this “shows a man and a woman placed back to back with cloud motifs emanating from them, clouds that drift and circle, searching for ways to re-enter the physical bodies like the endless circulation of the life-force.”
Familiar as he is with a wide range of esoteric visual and literary materials and choosing to work in a technique that has its origins in folk-tradition, Wu Jian’an occupies a unique position among Chinese artists of his generation. In his ability to communicate messages from an inaccessible past, he may be seen as a visionary to whom the immediate concerns of life in the twenty-first century which figure so prominently in the work of his contemporaries are only of passing interest. He offers us a window into forgotten worlds.