With a penchant for obscure metaphors and cryptic imagery, the "Misty Poets" were a little-known movement that flourished in China during the turbulent years between 1979 and 1989. Challenging Maoist artistic ideology, their poems, like the clouds themselves, were veiled and nebulous. Today, as creative restrictions continue to expand and contract in China, their legacy of ambiguity and oblique condemnation endures.
Gone are the bold declarations and audacious iconoclasm that once characterised contemporary Chinese art. The artists in AND NOW represent the vanguard of global contemporary art, their works no longer merely reflect the transformation of China but, instead, echo an entire world in flux. Eco-anxiety, governmental crackdowns, digital imprisonment disguised as liberation – it's a brave new world that we share.
AND NOW features works from the second decade of Judith Neilson's White Rabbit Collection. Here, nothing is as it seems. A lone figure washes the body of a dead whale, atoning for destruction wrought by man; rolls of flesh become an omen of relentless progress; diaphanous flags offer the invitation of passage only to deny it moments later; despair is written in salt; glass masquerades as stone; and, with a touch of futility, silkworms enshroud ancient wood as though to stay the hand of ecological collapse.
Profound and multifaceted, quiet and melancholy, the artists speak of transformation, redemption and loss. Their shared language is one of allegory; time resides here in poetry.
Heavy Clouds 2, 2014, silk, wood, cocoons, 90 x 445 x 85 cm
Heavy Clouds 3, 2014, silk, wood, cocoons, 85 x 180 x 45 cm
Heavy Clouds 4, 2014, silk, wood, cocoons, 59 x 240 x 46 cm
When creating an artwork, Liang Shaoji will often work through the night; if his 20,000 collaborators are working, so is he. This is because, for nearly 30 years, Liang's medium has been the lifecycle of silkworms; his practice lying between the fields of art, textiles and biology. Through the manipulation of sound, light and temperature, he is able to alter the paths by which silkworms spin; producing mysterious forms, enshrouded in fine silken filaments. An extension of Liang’s Daoist philosophy, the silkworms both live and die in the process of creation. For the artist "silk resembles a visible reflection of the knotting point of time and life – the imprint of being and beings".
Located high in the mountainous Tiantai County, in Eastern Zhejiang Province, the view from Liang's studio window is one of endless clouds and mist-shrouded mountains. Believing clouds to be the culmination of life, nature and the breath of history, these diaphanous forms are a recurring motif in his work.
To create the Heavy Clouds series, Liang used tens of thousands of silkworms to veil ancient pieces of wood from the Tang Dynasty, themselves engraved with the marks of time and history. The worm's fine, white gauze becomes shroud-like: protecting, healing, mourning a ravaged environment. He relates these pieces to 'yun gen'; a device in Chinese poetry and painting where materials of great density, like stone or wood, take on cloudlike forms. Heavy Clouds accomplishes two feats, "making wood appear as light as a cloud and a cloud appear as heavy as wood".