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The Long Way Around

Author: Sun Wenjie 2021

“Listen to me. I don’t want to perish. At the moment of losing all that, I longed to return, not only to a country, not only to a certain region, but to the house where I was born.” ——Peter Handke

What makes “homecoming” so fascinating? Just like Homer’s story of Odysseus, who is carried off the ship in his sleep to return home; or the protagonist in Handke’s book, who tries to fight against a fate to perish and embarks on a journey back to his former residence.

Like their stories written in words, the labour captain's letter to his mother in Hu Wei's work interprets the long-delayed return of a stateless descendant, and the genuine nostalgia without an actual homeland. Drawing from (possibly) fictional mythology to bioarchaeology, references to the stateless in Malaysia and techno music, Hu Wei constructs the overall structure of this project, while his non-paradigmatic, dynamic, and variable series of works reveals even more details: the legendary creature “Capricorn” is superimposed on the Bible story about a whale’s belly; the three-channel video “Long Time Between Sunsets and Underground Waves” offers an insight into the interplay and struggle between human activity and nature from the perspective of an island; the scattered installation series "Aquatic Invasion” flows in the form of transparent, coloured alien creatures.

“...Island is the second origin. Only on the island can people feel that they are detached from the world.” Hu Wei’s investigation into the marine culture can be considered as a pursuit of “home”, which evokes our imaginations of the “sea nomad (human & non-human)” by blending maritime myths and legends. Whether these “sea nomads”, in the artist’s words, are “the stateless, territoryless seafarers; 'survivors' thrown into the sea during colonisation and human trade; or evolved animals migrating from the land to the sea as well as the legendary complex of land and sea monsters..." The fusion of “sea nomad” and the closed, circular ecosystem of island/sea is what Handke considers “well hidden among the objects of the landscape”. Due to the open, mysterious and expansive properties of ocean, the layered texture of Hu Wei's work is embraced and stretched in this exhibition.

For Handke, art has impacted the literariness of his work in many aspects. When looking at Cézanne’s landscape paintings, Handke realises that the pine trees and cliffs overlap each other in the picture, forming an interrelated, singular hieroglyph as well as a complete integration of “thing-image-script”. He sees them similar to cave paintings: “They were things, they were images, they were script; they were brushstrokes—and all these were in harmony.”

The Word painting series by Xiang Kaiyang, starting with a group titled “Flowers Bloom and Fade”, is a typical example of Handke’s viewpoint. The artist presents his consistent preference for words onto the canvas, while this body of the work points to the transformation of text into imagery for him. The role of text can be symbolic; it can be written; it can be pictorial. His repeated use of reduplication not only strengthens the painting’s inner harmony, but also explores the spiritual qualities beyond the text itself, featuring a fresh interaction beyond the conventional aesthetic relationship between word and image.

Memories are often triggered by synaesthesia: there are certain moments when colour becomes a vehicle for memory, and I have been in such colours for a while. “Green” is reminiscent of summer afternoons that I snoozed at the Orchid Pavilion, with traces dappled on the monuments, lotus ponds and tree shadows dancing quietly in the sultry sun. “Green” and “Blue” undoubtedly demonstrate the artist's subjective vision of colour, but it also allows audiences to project their personal views that maintain enduring stability in terms of imagery. It seems to me that they no longer mimic nature, but portray depths through appearance, or render the greatness of life in a precise language.

The symbiotic relationship between text and art is on one hand examined in both artists’ works through words as basic elements; on the other hand, revolving around issues of aesthetics and poetics, their art probes the boundaries between language, semantics and imagery. In Hu Wei’s video and sound installations, the absent images, limbed languages and meanings are transformed into a particular rhythm and subtle emotions. A similar treatment can be found in Xiang Kaiyang's work, where the poetic repetition is converted into a rhythmic phenomenon through semantic reduplication and overlapping images, as well as through the passage of time in the painting process.

A scenario still lingers when we finish the book “Slow Homecoming”: “I”, who returns home in youth, feel a long-lost, rare sense of homecoming after seeing his place and garden. The garden has just been dug that day, appearing to be a fresh reddish-brown colour. As Handke notes, “When I now search for the moment, my view of it is no longer that of an adolescent; I find myself, that is, the self I wish to be, timeless and contourless in that reddish-brown.” Perhaps we can regard “homecoming” as a state stripped of the notion of time, a mixture of the protagonist’s inner and outer worlds woven from memory fragments. “Homecoming” in Hu Wei’s work alludes to a projection of reality that probably involves the artist’s own struggle against “home” and freedom; in regards to Xiang Kaiyang’s work, the memories triggered by images strive to approach the original appearance of things. Isn’t it also a kind of “return” to real life?

Related Exhibitions:
The Long Way Around

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