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Zhang Enli

Author: Philippe Pirotte 2015

Zhang Enli’s painting obviously operates on a non-literal level, and perhaps almost abusively so, in order to create holes and ruptures in the present flow of continuous, streaming, and often inflationary communication. Art in Zhang’s conception is not meant to communicate something. It might even not require some kind explanation. His art has a right to exist, even the more so when it is not translatable. Most probably his painting escapes all of the above, it just enhances our experience of that which we know but seemed to have forgotten.

According to French philosopher Gaston Bachelard an image situates itself halfway between a representation and a ‘thing’. Even if Zhang Enli paints a lot of ‘things’; for example rolls of paper, wires, sacks, the paintings reaffirm at the same time there status as an image, be it only for the grid that the artist applies to all his canvases even if he paints from memory and doesn’t use it as a tool to transfer the image from a sketch or a photograph. Bachelard considered images the only reality we could experience, or it was only through images that we could experience reality,  and I am convinced Zhang shares this thought. His images install, a discontinuity in our contemporary geography of dispersion, and they create silences in the noise of communication.

Zhang Enli’s recent paintings form these moments of discontinuity in our experience of time. They fixate us, the onlookers. Their opacity has paralyzing potential. His works refuse to become language or conversation. Contrary to communicative speech that is directed outwards, Enli’s work can be compared to a form of inner speech, seemingly incomplete. We find ourselves in a diorama of which the narrative remains disturbingly out of joint. His recent works resonate from a no-man’s land, or even a discursive void. We experience representations linked to a whole topology of transformations, at once expressing and disguising desires and fantasies. By almost obsessively tackling the same motifs like for example the play of messily entangled wires, we perceive alternate meanings of individual signs, and interpretations displace one another almost instantaneously.
Against the media that are asked to stimulate and satisfy a massive demand for comforting imaginative identifications, Zhang Enli’s works aim at the spectator as a desiring subject, the one who is fascinated by a ‘thing’: the inhuman non-object of human desire. Those ‘things’ show themselves when they lose significance and when only their materiality as a signifier comes into view. The material shifts in Zhang’s works enhance alienation. In that sense, he affirms a very basic function of art: instead of undoing the world of its strangeness, the artwork is the dubious apparition of that which escapes every aim at transparency. Instead of inviting us to become self-conscious, art invokes the experience of wonder. Art brings the real into play as that which is radically heterogeneous in relation to any imaginary or symbolic construction that helps us to constitute ourselves. This partly explains the misunderstanding in communication between contemporary art and the larger public. The public expects the artist to depict reality in a beautiful or spectacular manner, while for the artist this type of reality resides in the realm of the imagination. The artist either takes a step back, to the pre-imaginary, or he appropriates the products of this imagination in such a way that their uncanny character becomes manifest. It is this stubborn and risky autonomy, claimed by the images themselves, which acts as critical locus.

Zhang’s abstract ‘space paintings’ clearly relate to an environment without really engaging with this environment. It is above all about the work of art itself. Zhang empties his acts of specific motives or aims that one could ascribe to them. His very artistic acts refuse any story that would legitimate his praxis or even explain it. It seems as if he wants, by applying gestural patches of colour in close proximity, but without preconceived design, to liberate a space from (his own) authorship. He questions through this work in the exhibition space in a very serious way what doing whatever precisely is, in order to reveal a room containing but gestures of construction and deconstruction. This not in terms of achievements, but rather as unsuccessful realisations, or better non-realisations: futile and ineffective gestures with which one resists the request to realise something, an often categorically demand that would remain unnoticed, if not exposed by an art-praxis that exactly finds the point or moment where the work stops communicating.

Philippe Pirotte
2015 Sept.

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