In the Heat of the Sun
Life arouses memory in the midst of endless vagueness, and the aroused memory again embraces the
present. Memory does not reside in the past; memory is the present, yet at the same time is the future of
yesterday. Memory refers to some mental activity which is continuously recurring and represented
through voluntary or involuntary reminiscence, as if some form of the traces of the past, embroidered on
all the scenes that one experienced. Walter Benjamin, in his Understanding Brecht (Versuche uber Brecht),
said that the true criteria of life is memory, and that only memory enables us to look back and either
intensely scrutinize or skim through life with the power of lightening; and at the same time, that memory
could compose a true history in the midst of the present.
Benjamin also emphasized the importance of ‘oblivion’ to freshly compose new history by summoning
memory. Oblivion, as a state of non-remembering, is a latent memory, not a lost memory, and is of
significant value. Oblivion is therefore not some forever-extinct memory, but a status of a memory that
could re-occur at any time. If not in a state of oblivion, all memory would become as obsolete and useless
as an old archived pile of documents stored in the drawers of a deserted warehouse. On the other hand,
those forgotten memories conjure up the present through involuntary self-reflection, filled with new
awakenings and meanings.
The most known example of involuntary recollection could be said to be Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost
Time or Remembrance of Things Past (À la recherché du temps perdu). In this novel, Proust recorded life not as
actual happenings but as the following of the tracks or sequences of the memories one had experienced.
For him, involuntary self-reflection enables those long-subdued and withdrawn memories to surface,
triggered by a flash-like impetus; to then go through a dramatic composition which concurs to the
present senses and again exposes the true life. The whole process excites the hidden value of memory and
attempts to retrieve memory’s lost identity in the midst of present time, whilst reiterating the meaning
and value of time. In this sense, oblivion is the most important form of memory and could be the true
criteria for genuinely defining the ‘me at present’, going beyond the commemorating of a finished past.
This exhibition, , attempts to expose the convergence of this somewhat
seemingly-complex metaphor. Here, what it means by “convergence” is the brink of a point, a point
which attempts to newly-define and observe the current status, abruptly summoned to new awakenings
and enlightenment. These awakenings were suddenly summoned by involuntary retrospection. To make
things more concrete and complex, then to visualize this subject with examples, this exhibition invited
artists who were born after 1970, who are also called Post-70s Chinese Artists. These artists were
appropriate for this subject because they spent their childhood in the ‘70s, during which time the Chinese
saw the most drastic paradigm shifts at all levels of society including historic, political and economic
These Post-70s Chinese Artists all lived through The Cultural Revolution, the Tiananmen Square
Massacre and the economic boom that came with the government’s open-door policy whilst actively
importing capitalism. These artists witnessed and experienced the upheavals and vicissitudes of Chinese
history and yet have also benefited from the economic revival of their country. They have been able to
openly absorb Western culture/thoughts without hindrance. Very young at the time, the fierce sociopolitical
struggles of the time seem somewhat distant to them, an object of blind fetishism or idolization.
It is easy to speculate that there must be a sweet infatuation with capitalism, which occurred concurrently
with the fetishism of the political struggles of the time. We should not acquiesce to the drastic
enhancement of political freedom earned through such crucial changes in the social system. This
exhibition kindles our surmises and expectations of seeing the visual indicators of the traces of that era of
turmoil laid in their latent memory, experienced in their childhood, but who are now in their 30s.
The eight Chinese artists who participated in this exhibition do not candidly or directly reveal their
general memories of the turmoil of contemporary Chinese history, although this must be what identifies
their generation. However, we can sense the dim afterimage of that era subtly implied underneath their
work. These memories are not a complete memory per se, yet are archived in a small corner of their
minds and deserving of reflection. We do not have to gauge how well and accurately their childhood
memories are portrayed nor try to speculate which point of history they wish to convey. However, it
must be worth noticing the traces of collective memory that are distinct for their generation. This
exhibition aims to reveal how their memory is summoned to the present through involuntary recollection,
yielding new meanings.
Let us look into individual works. The paintings of Li Qing aptly expose the coexistence, confrontation
and synthesis of contrasting worlds and social classes when encountering drastic change, as witnessed in
his childhood. He juxtaposes two paintings, almost identical except for a few differences, and shows the
process of converging two or more images with his consecutive photographic work or painting. These are
like his personal essays upon reflecting how the contrasting ideas have converged, synthesized and been
modified during the era of his childhood. While Li Qing’s memory represents how the ideologies or
thoughts went through schism, coexistence and synthesis in a somewhat symbolic way, Tu Hongtao’s
memory expresses the psychological insecurity and confusions of the present time. Tu Hongtao’s main
motif is urban desire and shows this subject in a narrative form. Tu Hongtao articulated piles of humans,
fragments of life, as a mountain hill, representing the confusions and fears caused by China’s drastic
reforms and opening. The blunt expressiveness and treaded, unidentifiable background and people grope
in memory upon which one does not really wish to reflect, some memory that cannot be identified.
Wu Junyong’s world is fantasy itself, seemingly from the realm of fairytale. The protagonists who are
wearing cone hats perform collective actions that are seemingly witty and fantasy-like, and this is a
symbolical cynicism of the socio-political disorder. This is Wu’s criticism of the Chinese government’s fall
to the spell of the redundancy of meaningless rituals. Wu’s protagonists repeatedly strike altars or cut off
dragon’s heads, as if to chase away the communism that hovers around the Chinese airspace, exposing
the confusion and wandering of the Chinese social structure after the reform and opening. Wu raises his
cynicism and criticism of the Chinese government not as a serious tone but by ironically portraying them
in fairytale-like fantasies.
MadeIn is a group of creative artists established in 2009 with Xu Zhen at the center. While the
previously-mentioned Wu Junyong’s works rouse discourses on the ghost of communism still haunting
China even after reform and opening, MadeIn’s works discuss the aftermath of the non-discriminative
assault of capitalism that bludgeoned China. Their world stands upon the irony produced by the
discrepancies of the dichotomy of actual truth and rumored truth of the capitalism-infused China.
MadeIn discusses this subject through various mediums. Chen Wei produces somewhat stage-like
photography with articulate mise-en-scene, dream-like backdrops and riddle-like narrative. Chen
meticulously directs props, costumes and compositions and talks about his inner landscape and
fragments of memory. The dark and handicapped mind and memory of the scars of the past are seen in a
symbolical and dreamy way.
Project without Space is the joint group of Chen Shaoxiong, ex-member of Xijing Men, and Liu Ding
from 2010. Their paintings show multi-layered masterpieces well-known in art history, and video work
that contains the artists’ discussions to complete them. Their attempt is significant in the sense that it
connotes how contemporary art is reborn as the successor of the true course of art history by reflection
and retrospection, not by idly residing in formless self-denial. Their work opens up discussions of how
art form can participate in society and, ultimately, the value of art.
Zhu Yu is the well-known Chinese avant-garde artist who caused a sensation in early 2000 with his
performance that appeared to be a person eating a human fetus. In this exhibition, Zhu presented his
‘Stain’ series, which depicts finished tea cups, and ‘Pebble’ series. These works uniquely combine Eastern
thought with Western hyper-realistic methodology. His ‘Pebble’ series reminds one of the ‘sari’, the endresult
of true Buddhist practice and asceticism; pebbles as a superstitious symbol that signifies the
various lives inherent in a pebble. His ‘Stain’ series attempts to portray the oriental thought of surveying
the whole of life through remnants of a life in the past, as symbolized by the leftover stains of tea.
Lastly, Yang MauYuan offers colorful ceramic works with the head of a Venus or an animal with a tint of
humor. Yang traces back the Western/Oriental history of the human exploitation of animals, which stems
from how humans differentiate themselves from animals. Yang defines the circle shape as the ideal
archetype of all things since times primitive. Venus is the standard of beauty in the West, and the Unicorn
is found in many mythologies; the ‘cow’ and ‘camel’ are very close to human life. These subjects are
portrayed with inflated bodies conveyed in ceramic art, which is generally regarded as the art form of the
East. With this, Yang aims to combine and connect the past with the present and the East with the West.
This exhibition summoned the childhood memories of the post-70s artists because their childhood
memories, produced by the turmoil of the China they grew up in, are still linked to the 21st century. This
exhibition aims to grasp the collective memory that transcends their personal memory so to find the
passion and hope for the life that is now astray and lost in the course and facing of the contemporary
world. All this is possible because this is the true model of history, and the true criteria of life is memory,
as cited by Walter Benjamin himself.