Since his first exhibition at Chambers Fine Art in 2006 Wu Jian ‘an (b.1980) has established himself as a unique figure in contemporary Chinese art. Having chosen paper-cut as his primary means of expression in his early work, he has continued to use this technique in increasingly complex multi-layered compositions and installations that frequently utilize thousands of components. Simultaneously, the range of references embodied in his works has grown enormously, embracing a multitude of mythological, esoteric and contemporary references since his installation Mountain Ranges was shown at Art Hong Kong in 2011.
For Art Basel Hong Kong 2014 he is represented by Three Thousand Years of Smiling Faces which consists of a series of 12 related “smiling faces,” each work larger than the previous one. Each face is an extraordinarily complex collage of hundreds of small paper-cut figures. The figures are cut from a special watercolor paper which has been dyed and dipped in wax, then sewed onto backing paper and framed.
The first and smallest face in the series is in the form of a grasshopper. The second face is slightly larger and this time is in the form of a mantis, an insect that consumes grasshoppers. The third face is again slightly larger and is in the form of a bird, an oriole, a creature that eats mantises. The faces continue to increase in size and work their way up the food chain through the 11th face which is in the form of a mongoose, and the 12th face which is in the form of an eagle.
The small paper-cut figures which are collaged together like cells in the human body to create each of the twelve smiling faces come from various sources such as:
1. Organs, such as Brain, Heart and Index Finger
2. Figures from myths or historical legends, including Fu Xi and Tan Sitong
3. Reenactments or fantasies based on historical incidents, such as Legend of the Eunuch and Incident of the Western Canon
4. Body behavior or social behavior, such as Coveting, Trying Out, and Slap in the Face
5. Literary figures and concepts, including Fire Death (from the essay in Lu Xun’s book Weeds) and Don Quixote
6. Objects with implied meanings, such as Tea Pot and Broken Knife
7. Imaginary devils, such as River Nymph and Goose Goblin
Starting with the smallest work in the series, the faces in the food chain may be identified as follows:
8、蜣螂 Dung Beetle
Gifted with a wild imagination and extraordinary technical skills, Wu Jian’an’s new works surpass even his previous accomplishments in the art of the fantastic. His smiling faces composed of thousands of writhing figures and bizarre objects, multi-layered and brilliantly colored, offer haunting insights into the subconscious and evocations of alien customs and systems of thought remote from us in time and place.