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Life Consciousness and Cultural Attribute

A deep impression that Qionghui Zou’s recent artworks give to people is her heavy reliance on media’s represent ability. The experiments conducted on diverse media and the mastery of materials all reflect the artist’s outstanding controlling skills.

——By Guiyan He

a critic,curator and Museum Director in China

Love Vow,Mixed Media, 47.2''X50.2'',2013

For Qionghui Zou’s artistic creation, no matter Cicada’s Sentiment, Cicada’s Language, or the most recent Zen State, to highlight the “property” of materials seems very crucial. Of course, her acceptance and application of materials mainly have benefited from her studying at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 2011. However, from the beginning, she didn’t want to make the use of materials just stay at its formal physical level, but meanwhile to inject simultaneously symbols and narrative into the paintings, and to combine the artwork and her own realistic life experiences. Actually, the meaning of media used for easel painting should belong to the aesthetic aspects of modern painting. Since the Renaissance, the core concepts of Western classical painting were to reproduce reality in a two-dimensional plane. Therefore, the basic purpose of painting is to represent the world. Only easel painting began to abandon the descriptive function and return to the plane, so that the “properties” of media itself could move towards self-regulation, and to achieve independent aesthetical meaning. Because, the noumenon value of media was obscured by the three-dimensional visual illusion in the classical stage. According to the interpretation of American critic Greenberg, the essence of modern Western painting history was to move to plane, to purity, to the history of media. So since mid-19th century, a clear path of development is that artists have been promoting the expressive ability of materials into an aesthetical level. From Courbet’s emphasis on the texture of painting to Cubism’s usage of “collage”, and to the readymade of “Dada” period, media has become truly independent both materially and aesthetically. Nevertheless, as for the development of Chinese’s easel painting, artists haven’t consciously emphasized the importance of material in painting expression until late 1980s because in the past themes came first during the creation process, while the meaning of materials was a secondary matter and was always shadowed.

Just paying attention to the material meaning of Qionghui Zou’s artwork would also easily fall into a single aesthetic category of modern painting, and neglect the strong life consciousness contained in artworks. Therefore, to get rid of modern media theory, artists also need to go beyond material’s “property” and explore different information concealed in materials. How did Qionghui Zou solve this tough problem? For artists, one approach is to combine the material and the formal expression of the artwork. This exploration is fully reflected in the series of Cicada’s Sentiment. In order to find an unique language and a kind of original art, the artists tried various techniques, such as collage, rubbing, grinding, burning, and so on, trying to maximize the expressive ability of the materials, and meanwhile these materials are not isolated but more or less connected to the forms and structures of the paintings. “Significant form” is the purpose of their existence. Another approach is to integrate symbolic factor into the painting. “Cicada” eventually becomes the “primary image” of these series. In Chinese culture, “changing into a butterfly” was once given a wonderful meaning, which was a metaphor of rebirth and transformation of life. Cicadas which only absorb nectar were also used to metaphor the pure and noble merits of human being. On the one hand, the living consciousness and moral meaning that Cicada implies, as a representation or cultural reflection, have certain connection with the survival context of current people. From this perspective, the variety of cicada images is a kind of cultural symbol, its role actually is the index of meaning, providing a channel for the audience to comprehend the artworks. On the other hand, the overlay, separation, and juxtaposition of different images of cicada will also become an important element of the form composition of the artwork. Thus, in Qionghui Zou’s artwork, “cicada” has double value, it is a symbol to inject meaning for the work, and also it is a necessary approach of expression to form internal structure of the painting.

However, during the creative process, the presentation of materials’ “properties” and the symbolic expression of images are in a tension relationship. Without the intervention of images, materials would be confined to the form, but if the symbolic factor is dominant, it will inevitably obstruct the aesthetic meaning of the materials. And for artists, this is a paradox. Thus, to reconcile this contradiction and seek a balance between them is undoubtedly the key to the success of the work. To minimize the conflict formed by the tension, Qionghui Zou diverted to focus on the processing of the tones. In the series of Cicada’s Sentiment, the artworks, almost without exception, have one tone. The keynote is deep and introverted, and sometimes even diffuses a kind of tragic consciousness. Due to Cicadas’ hardship of completing the life rebirth, or the artist’s survival experience, the dignified tone and the tragic atmosphere all will strengthen color’s expressive ability and make the themes of artworks become more symbolic. In fact, the formation of these tones is not entirely the subjective expression of the artist; on the contrary, inspiration comes from the rips of bronze, rust, cracks. That is why tone becomes another important dimension. The deep keynote not only reconciles the conflict between media and image, but also adds symbolic meaning into the sentiment and atmosphere of the artworks.

From the series of Cicada’s Language on, there have been great changes in regarding to tones. Because the artist employs techniques of ink and watercolor, the painting seems more ethereal, and its color contrast also becomes more intense. If the Cicada’s Sentiment series are focused more on the visual structure of the paintings, then artworks of Cicada’s Language are emphasized more on language and technical experiments, and aesthetically they are close to the expression of poetry and imagery. The transparency of watercolor and the repetitive rendering can not only endow the painting with mottled texture, but also can make the color expression of artwork become more penetrating. Similarly, these artworks have certain visual image of traditional ink painting due to the use of ink. The repeated rendering and fragmental strokes make the painting has more or less a flavor formed by the Cunfa (the wrinkle technique). Another change of artist after the series Cicada’s Language was to return to the tradition in aesthetical nature while paying attention to imagery expression. Apparently, the process stems from the artist’s “subtraction” in color expression, which is to pursue the “purity” of color; another effort is the artist’s consciousness of language expression, which makes the methods of expression have methodological awareness. More importantly, the artist needs to endow some meaning with the artwork to keep intrinsic connection with traditional and local aesthetic tastes. This pursuit was further strengthened in the Landscape Series (2013), in which the artist added some new styling elements such as mountains, stones, woods and trees. Although this drawing and taste are far away from traditional landscape, the visual description of these objects is still connected to the tradition. Even focusing on the making of materials and the expression of texture, but the aesthetic temperament of Zou Qinghui’s artwork is oriental and imagery.

Dream Link, Mixed Media, 47.2''X50.2'', 2013

Meanwhile, Qionghui Zou is an artist who makes much account of accident. The stress of chance lies in that she doesn’t want to let her artwork fall into the established forms. Those unpredictable and original, instant effects can also from time to time stimulate the artist’s creative passion. As the artist once said, “the picture is more focused on chance and accident effects. I pursue of a state of unconsciousness. For the relation among these cicadas, you can feel they are communicating, thinking and discussing.” Obviously, the artist wants to connect the accident and certain living state of cicadas. Of course, chance can cause danger for the creation of artwork because once the painting is out of control chance can damage the form and internal structure of the painting. From the series of Cicada’s Sentiment, the emphasis on handcraft and process has become the characteristics of Qionghui Zou’s artwork. However, different from those conceptual artists, there are no traces of conception left during the process. For her, this process is not just a physical act of painting, but also a kind of enhancement, practice of wits. The experience will finally melts together with the living consciousness evoked by cicadas. As for the recent series of Zen State, the artist once explained that “they are not cicadas, which let me think of a kind of spiritual orientation, and the inspirational space is no long a narrative space. I have the thinking of Zen philosophy. It is about the belief, a relationship between human beings and gods.” In these works, the artist consciously uses some visual images of the past, such as the stone reliefs of Han Dynasty, carriage images of medieval to generate meaning in the new visual structure. Repeated transferring and numerous grinding will bring more possibilities for the imagery expression of the artwork. In the artist’s view, this creative process has more or less Zen philosophy.

To sum up, Qionghui Zou, in her recent artworks, aims to blend the Western modern media with the Eastern aesthetic images, and hopes to combine the formal expression and symbolic presentation. She looks to inject new narrative in the two-dimensional expression, while the emphasis on process, chance and originality enriches the expressive ability of the artwork. Meanwhile, artworks such as Cicada's Sentiment • Chaos, Cicada's Sentiment • rebirth, just as the contemporary societal fable of survival context, while the life consciousness evoked by “cicada” is not only liked to the deep, and rich colors, but also can generate a kind of cultural representation. Because they try to penetrate the appearance of reality, and explore the inner world of contemporary people and construct certain unique spiritual image.

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